Read Chapters 1-2

DISCLAIMER: Copyright © 2018 by Christina Zoe

All rights reserved. This chapter or any portion may not be reproduced or used in any matter whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

This is merely a first draft, and is therefore not yet ready. Please disregard any placeholders of text that have not been yet outlined and shall be fixed in the future.

Chapter One

JUST DO IT.

The dark side of her mind cried, and so did she.

Save they weren’t tears of fear. No, there wasn’t a speck of fear flowing through her veins. The thought of eternal peace soothed her scattered mind and her heavy limbs, eased away doubts with its promise of freedom.

Her sweaty palms made the railing harder to grip—easier to let go when the time came, she thought—and in a few minutes each and every one of her messes would be no more than distant memories of a dark life. Her existence would slip into an empty nothingness the second she let go and plunged into the darkness waiting beneath her feet. The moment she felt truly ready.

She wanted to say the moment couldn’t come sooner, but something tucked deep into the darkest corners of her mind still had her fingers squeezing that rail. Still held her feet from sliding forward and into that plummeting drop. And still, that didn’t stop her as she beckoned the darkness—as she called to her end.

For months she had been trying to convince herself whatever pain she would face tonight would be worth it, that it would never amount to the horrors she had endured up to this point that had brought her to the bridge firstly.

Her memory bank reeled before her eyes; each time this coming night flooded her mind—how many times it had consumed her thoughts, so much to the extreme of nearly being struck by a car while crossing the road; thinking about how much she hated every part of breathing. She was disappointed when it hadn’t hit her. Her blank face met the driver’s frantic own, as he shouted his remarks to “Watch where you’re going, stupid kid.”

Truthly, she had been watching. Her thoughts had mostly taken over as they always did, but a small pocket of consciousness knew exactly where she was—and that the car was speedily advancing. All the more reason to hurry and cross.

But long since had she stopped caring for the opinions others seemed to have of her. What she thought about her own self, even. Stupid kid, indeed, though she’d heard worse from her own parents all her life.

Selfish, each time she longed for an escape. She felt selfish for ever contemplating suicide, and the eternal burden it would bring to her eldest brother, Jesse. He would truly be alone, just as she thought everyday. But everyday proved harder to deal with, harder to wake up each morning and remember to breathe, to put on that false smile for Jesse and none other.

Rayne Dawes lost her grip on any hope for a future an achingly long time ago, being something she knew she would never be able to grab hold of again. Nothing but emotional numbness coated her insides, and Rayne couldn’t help but think that this was the only way for her to finally feel something—to finally make a change.

But with each second she clung to the outer rail of the iron bridge, looming over the edge with her feet barely having much to balance on, calmness wrapped its warm arms around her. Or was that warmth merely a taunt by Death himself?

What if he isn’t ready for me yet? What if I survive by some freak miracle?

Miracle?, she nearly choked on a solemn laugh. For who, exactly?

A ‘miracle’ that would crack apart two branches in a single path: Live as a lifeless vegetable until the day her lungs stopped working; or wait for someone to pull the plug, either out of burden or desperation—depending on who was at the end of the cord. At least she would rake up quite the hospital bill for her worthless mother while she was forced into hospitalization.

She doubted Jesse would want to live with her after he’d found out how damaged his little sister truly was, after she’d planned to leave him, too. Would he ever truly forgive her? Would he hold it against her, and think only of it during the times she’d get under his skin? Enough for him to turn away and let her rot on her own for nearly letting him wilt away first?

No. Over-thinking, stupid thoughts. Jesse didn’t have such hate in his heart as she did hers.

At times Rayne would dare lean forward; locking her arms in challenge of her shaky strength, letting her hang closer to a rocky doom. She ruled it a test to see whether her heart would flicker with panic as she exposed herself to the taste of her life’s end. A test to see if she was ready. But each time, it still flickered. She was not ready.

Feeling the cool night’s breeze soothe her bruised and cut skin, she taunted Death back. She controlled her death, and right then, there was nothing more exhilarating.

A sigh escaped her. What had her life come to? Rather, why had her life come to this? Nineteen years old with a scholarship at [SCHOOL HERE] for [HOBBY HERE] waiting for her to start adulthood in just a few short months.

Some would have called that freedom, though she had never seen it that way. Pay ones life away to a corrupt system that cared more for money than the well being of their students, than their education and future? Only to then plunge into a world of debt that any offspring would potentially suffer from? That was not the life for her. In fact, there was no life for Rayne at all, as she believed.

So there she hung, dangling her laden limbs off the edge of one of Ohio’s tallest bridges, ready to wipe her name from the universe’s breath. No threatening knives held to her back. No guns pointed to her temple, fueled by intentions of homicide. Just her.

I am the gun, the knife, the murderer, she chanted.

Rayne heaved a long and deep breath before slipping her pinky finger loose. It hung in the air, the brisk wind clinging to the dampness of the humid iron rail. Her heart flickered again.

Still not ready…

She denied the quiet tinge of fear that had begun knocking on the door to her mind, worming its way into her body through its deep cracks, slowly weighing down her limbs like wet sand filling arteries. One by one, she would be ready then. And if a finger slipped on accident, she would call it fate.

Luca and Callan are waiting. They’re all waiting for you. Be free.

A loose, sullen smile tugged at the corners of her lips at the bittersweet thought, but a tear still slid down her cheek. She blamed it on the wind and licked her lips, tasting the chilled saltiness as possibly one of the last flavours she’d ever experience.

The other pinky now, and the added looseness sent her jerking forward a bit further. She glanced at her loosened hand, her usually-tan knuckles stark white from the gripping pressure.

Rayne could almost taste her freedom. Could almost feel Callan’s arms tightening around her, pulling her in for a million kisses, and she swore she heard an echo of Luca’s high-pitched, contagious laugh. What happened three years ago had changed her life forever.

Rayne wished and begged for her mind to turn off, but she was tired.

She was tired and she was heavy, and each day that thread of fire in her soul was thinning, leaving her to await the day it would snap and she would drop for good… never feeling tired again.

It would be worse if it had snapped when she weren’t ready, she swore. She had also sworn it had been the reason why she decided to cut the thread herself, so she could brace for the long fall down. Only to feel like she had some sort of control over her life, for once.

Jesse had begun consoling her every day since the incident, saying she had done as much as she could, that it had been enough. More than what anyone else there had done for their little brother, Luca.

But the darkness that walked with her like a second skin mocked her to this day, taunting over and over. “You didn’t try hard enough.

Her ring finger slipped off.

It had taken half a year to come out of hiding and another seven months until the whispering rumours and pointing fingers died down, a bit.

Just a bit.

She loosed another finger free, an index this time, and realized she had been crying, tears running hot then cold down her cheeks. Her heartbeat quickened and the tears sang a solemn song that matched its pace. Rayne prayed for the haunting screams to stop once she passed onto the other side. But even that was most likely too much to ask for in a life like hers.

“Are you ready?” Her words were shaky and fractured, almost as shaky as her clammy hands, sending tiny jolts of panic through her as she kept readjusting her grip.

She closed her eyes against the cool wind, preparing for the release. “You can do this,” she whispered. Her eyes fluttered closed. “Just breathe and think of Luca. You owe him.” Her words came out like liquid fire, as though even her subconscious knew she should have saved him. More more more, said the countless demons echoing in her skull. You could have done more.

After years of being abandoned by everyone she had ever met, Rayne had confided in herself for conversation. For trains of thoughts, sometimes even sympathy, because the wind would not judge. The silent night sky would not throw a whisky bottle at her head when she would ask if there was food in the fridge for dinner. The beautiful moon had not cared to snicker or whisper each time Rayne answered a question in class.

Her brain had convinced her of believing that even Jesse often grew irritated with her when she would vent or speak, over-analyzing his body language and facial expressions as she spoke. And so she trusted only herself with that desperate need. The need to speak without thoroughly thinking each word through, to merely prevent pity or taunting from others. But none of that would—

Rayne was cut off by an intense and unnatural smell of sweet honeyed roses flooding her nostrils, and her eyes flicked open in trembling panic. The bridge was surrounded by nothing but limited foliage, rocks and mountains; nothing that sweet should have been lingering unless…

Someone had followed her.

It could be the smell of perfume—or maybe freshly baked donuts, she didn’t know. Though she had never smelled a perfume that potent or lush. It was almost artificial. So foreign and strange.

“Shit,” she murmured, frantically glancing around. “Shit, shit, shit.” Too-long strands of dark brown hair whipped wildly across her face in the cool air, clinging to her damp skin. She shook her head to rid them from her eyes, hoping to steal a look at the figure potentially approaching. The hasty movement caused her hands to slip, and her heart nearly gave out until she regained balance.

Heart thundering in her chest and gripping the rail with all fingers now, Rayne studied the narrow ledge beneath her. Her hands had grown clammier from the nervous rush that had crashed into her. Her breath came in ragged drawls, a near gasp as her mind swirled to the rushing of her blood.

The thread was thinning quicker now, but she no longer was as prepared as before. Coward, she sneered at herself.

All she saw was darkness, the silhouettes of trees through the rolling valleys below, cast against the moonlight. All she heard was the soft buzzing of the night bugs.

Her heart skipped over every other beat but she willed herself to think about nothing at all. Still, someone could be near. She’d need to be utterly out of sight.

Rayne slid down halfway to an almost crouch, as far as her arms would permit before locking. She bent her head low and curled in on herself, in hopes of appearing less noticeable, with her arms and shoulders awkwardly angled behind her. She squeezed her eyes shut as she hung lower to the ground. Not ready. Not ready. Not ready. The all black clothing had been planned for an emergency like this.

Her scattered heart made her scattered brain ramble with every outcome she had prayed would never come to. Who am I kidding?, she thought. Fear was engulfing her by the passing second, and her skin was aflame with horror and despair and anxiety and she had suddenly forgotten how to breathe for good and oh, God—

No. Breathe. It took a few heartbeats until Rayne reminded herself the basic procedure of inhaling and exhaling oxygen.

Thinking back to a few moments ago, standing tall without a fear in the world seemed a joke to the amount of terror she now felt.

Two minutes passed.

Three.

She waited and saw no one.

There were no footsteps that followed the smell. No murmuring words from afar; just the still air and her defusing, frenzied thoughts.

Rayne loosed a breath and squeezed her eyes shut to clear her head, then released them in a snap the moment she realized it had been a false alarm.

It was only paranoia. Only her over-alert senses psyching herself out.

Slinking back up, she mumbled her thanks to whomever was looking down on her for once. Luca. Callan.

The beautiful scent of the candy covered roses still lingered, growing stronger with each shallow gust of wind, and her muted turquoise eyes fell closed as she let it calm her. She needed to concentrate on what she had come here to do. When she opened her eyes again she half expected a prodigious rose kissing her face by the intensity and closeness the smell had come. Instead she saw a lustrous neon object carried by the light breeze nearly twenty feet away.

The sky seemed to die, all air around her ceased to exist.

 

 

 

Chapter Two

THE SOUNDS OF WHISTLING WINDS disappeared, along with the soft chirps of nearby crickets and rustling of the trees, as if all life has been sucked out of the world around her. She heard nothing. Felt nothing. And all she could see was a bright blur in the distance.

“What.. the fu—” Rayne breathed, her own voice harsh against the unnatural void of silence. She squinted at the glowing light that hovered mid air above the bridge’s drop. It took its time floating toward her, so effortless and light in the dark and empty sky.

As it approached, the lovely, flowery scent filled her trembling body with a different kind of warmth that coated her sticky skin and seeped deep into her bones. She embraced it, breathing it in slowly, and felt her lungs open to the comforting heat it offered.

Although she enjoyed it, her conscience quickly chimed its’ disapproval to the fact that it was not particularly normal to find a mysterious glowing ball of light, sailing through the dead sky above a large valley at this time, draining away all sound and feeling with it.

But Rayne didn’t care.

She flicked that folly pessimism over the bridge and inhaled the hypnotizing smell of delectable harmony.

Love, peace, freedom, all blended into a milky warm feeling that coated her heart.

This feeling was everything she had ever wanted to feel.

She was transfixed in a state of tranquility. Opening her eyes once more, the ball of light had floated within reach.

A drone?

No… A feather.

A bright glowing feather, no longer than the span of her hand, gleaming of the most stunning neon colours she had ever seen.

Against the contrast of those magical swirling shades and the dark sky, were etchings of what could have resembled ancient and intricate abstract carvings, like lace, she noticed, as it inched closer before whirling back again.

Her jaw slackened, uncontrollably hypnotized as the carvings burned the blackest ink.

The feather danced around her, swooping in close then pulling back far, far enough out of her reach. Over and over and over until she whimpered, wanting it near again.

A thought crossed her mind. The night sky was too still, with no wind to push and pull the feather. So how in the world was this possible? It were as though it were playing with her. Teasing her. Like it was…

Alive.

The feather seemed to brighten the stars above, illuminating the sky as its stage to perform. Just for her. Rayne blinked. Surely, this couldn’t be happening. Or had she already slipped and fallen and passed, now hallucinating small tastes of what the afterlife carried? Knowing she hadn’t been prepared, and slowly easing her into a death as to not send her in a shock that would have her spirit roaming home for the next eternity.

If that were the case and she was forced to be stuck in this Ohio hell scene for eternity, she would need to write a serious complaint to whomever laid claim to the rules of the afterlife.

She could feel the bold energy radiating from the feather as it pulsed through the air, through her bones, right down to her core, forming a dull headache.

The feather floated a few inches closer then snapped back in a zip around her head, stopping abruptly by her cheek. Rayne startled, slipping out a small gasp and pressing herself against the bridge’s railing. One false move and she was done. Unprepared.

Tightening her grip and securing her slick hands, Rayne licked her dry, full lips and swallowed the lump in her throat, not daring to move as the feather hovered the side of her face. It barely moved, but still prickled her skin with its growing heat. Her vision flashed in and out of white, faster than she could discern.

Suddenly, she felt the heat die out in a snap, replaced by an airy softness as the feather grazed her damp skin.

A sharp flash of the brightest lightning blinded her at the sudden contact, and with eyes clamped shut, she felt a bolt of hot air and a liquidy wave of electricity rush through her veins.

Red-rimmed eyes flew open and Rayne let out a piercing scream as she was suddenly center of a glowing field of deep turquoise grass, the same glowing marks as the feather engraved into every strange plant nearby, every leaf and stem and tree trunk. Even the clouds had a similar faint design cast against their pink-white cotton.

No longer dangling along the side of the bridge of her hometown valley, Rayne’s eyes strained against a sky of swirling purples, mints and blues holding up the fluffiest clouds that swam with dozens and dozens of floating islands all around her.

They were of all colours, shapes, and sizes, some cupping giant waterfalls plummeting into pools of shimmering silvery.

Dead. She had to be dead if she were seeing this.

Each cloud rendered perfectly vibrant spirals of hues that seemed to be in a constant swirl, meshing and blending into one another.

Breathing. This world was breathing.

It was nearly impossible to tilt her head too high without the two painfully bright and massive white suns biting through her retinas. Bizarre-looking trees with leaves of colours she had never seen grew as tall as the floating islands. Some thicker roots twisted and wrapped around certain islands appearing crumbled and ruined, an attempt to help support their weightless float.

Trees peppered the glowing grasslands in clusters, meshing and swirling with their own sparkling complimentary colours, and all with trunks of peculiar reflecting bark. Everything glittered and shone with a different kind of beauty that was so bizarrely unnatural and unfamiliar that it made Earth seem so desolate, boring.

Upside-down trees with bright purple leaves, sunflower-lollipop flowers, enormous insects nearly the size of Rayne herself, twinkling white bodies of water—her eyes couldn’t move fast enough.

The land stretched on forever, with the most beautiful textures and colours conceivable to the human imagination. A stunning, pearlescent silver sea twinkled in the far distance, and she instantly wished she were bathing in it, forever washing away her thoughts of pain and death.

Impossible, this place was utterly impossible—and yet everything one would expect for their afterlife.

Everything sparkled and glowed a soft, yet vibrant, mix of pastels and neon, as if the world she was somehow in was an effortless watercolour painting set under a blue-light and made to glow.

She felt lighter, happier, full of love and life and laughter, ready to burst at any moment. Her heart felt as though it would leap out of her chest. With no control of her body she let out a stream of tears, different from the ones she had shed on the bridge.

She must have blacked out from the adrenaline and slipped from the bridge, crossing onto the other side. Which meant…

She truly was in Heaven.

For a split second, and for the first time, Rayne felt as though she had finally won the internal war—

But she had spoken too soon.

Because for as fast as it had all appeared, the ethereal valley vanished, and Rayne was stuck in a black abyss for a few empty heartbeats.