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       Light, p.14

           Adrienne Woods
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  The inside of the market was huge. Its long, grimy halls were filled with numerous stalls. It smelled stale, though there was an underlying sent of rotten food mixed in there. The only ventilation in the building came from the doorway.

  The stalls sold a range of goods: services, foods, beverages, linens, crockery, everything I could think of.

  Carefully avoiding the gazes of the shoppers and merchants—I had to assume everyone was a potential enemy here—I found a few stalls with canned food, bottled water, hard bread, and packets of dry food. I waited until the workers were busy to grab something.

  I didn’t think. My hand reached out for the nearest object, and I stacked it into the pocket I had fashioned. It rolled down to the bottom of the blanket.

  I walked on by, my heart galloping in my chest.

  I looked around. Nobody suspected a thing. Nobody even looked in my direction.

  I found myself on the opposite side of the market and stole some food from another stall.

  Each time I took something, my stomach turned and my heart raced wildly. I never stopped walking, keeping my head down. Part of me was waiting for someone to yell, “Thief!” But that never came.

  Would the third try be as successful as the first two?

  I aimed for a stall that sold bottled water. Again, no one paid attention to me as I grabbed some water. I picked up my pace.

  My gaze caught a poster on the wall.

  I edged closer to the wall to see the image better. It was a wanted poster. The person of interest looked like me. There was a reward offered.

  My heart skipped a beat before it picked up again. Sweat dotted my brow.

  The food I had grabbed would have to be enough. I couldn’t risk coming back here, not if my face was plastered on wanted posters all over. If anyone saw me, recognized me, they wouldn’t think twice about handing me over. I was certain every single person in that village needed the extra money.

  I walked out of the market and rushed back to my cabin, glancing over my shoulder every ten steps.

  When I was safely inside my cabin, I emptied the contents of the blanket onto the kitchen table. I had water and two unlabeled extra-large cans.

  I shook them. They sloshed. Well, I couldn’t be picky.

  The water bottle was sticky and slightly dirty, but at the least the water was drinkable.

  I took a few gulps and let the liquid run down my throat.

  I’d never thought I’d miss the taste of clean water; the way it wet your throat and washed away the horrible dryness in your mouth.

  The rainwater hadn’t been clean, and it had made me sick to my stomach, which only dehydrated me more.

  I considered the cans. I could survive without food for a while, but I needed to keep my strength up, which meant I’d need to eat. I’d just have to make these cans last as long as I could.

  To play it safe, I would visit the market in nine days. It would be best to put as much time between visits as I could.

  I stashed one can in the empty fireplace and stared at the other, pondering how to open it.

  I wished I could do what Mom had done. She’d just spoken a small incantation, thrown Dad’s sand in a cupboard, closed the door, and voilà, a cupboard filled with food.

  I could probably manage it, but my sand had been diminishing ever since we’d escaped from the cells. It seemed as though the longer I stayed ion the Oblivion, the harder it became to get the sand flowing. These last few days, there hadn’t been more than a couple of particles.

  I went outside and scoured the ground for a sharp rock, which I was sure would do the trick in opening the can. When I found one, I went back inside and started banging on the tin.

  I hoped the contents of the can held something edible. Soup, maybe. Or beans, the kind in tomato sauce. Maybe it would be SpaghettiOs. Hell, I’d even eat corned beef.

  My stomach grumbled, and my mouth was watering just at the thought of food.

  At last, my banging paid off and a hole appeared in the tin. I pried it open with the rock, widening the hole. My hand was cramping and I shook it, flexing my fingers. I peered inside, but I couldn’t make out what was in the can.

  I brought the can up to my nose to smell it. It wasn’t spoiled, but it had a meaty smell. I dipped my finger into the mush. A blotch of fine meat and sauce coated it. Sort speckles of grain as well. Tentatively I licked my finger.

  It needed spices, definitely needed salt. Beggars can’t be choosers, I thought as my stomach begged for another taste. I had no choice but to dig in if I wanted to survive. No matter how hard I prayed for death, my survival instincts kept winning.

  I lifted the can to my mouth and took a big gulp, letting the mush pour down my throat. Though I gagged a few times, I somehow finished the entire can. I wasn’t satisfied, not nearly, but I felt better.

  I settled on the sofa, covering myself with the blanket again.

  Just as I was about to fall asleep, my stomach clenched violently. I couldn’t contain the nausea.

  I sprinted outside and dropped to all fours, emptying my stomach onto the ground. The food must have been off.

  Why couldn’t I catch a break?

  I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand as I staggered weakly to my feet. I went inside and passed out on the couch.

  I wasn’t sure how long I spent on the couch, but over time, the nausea subsided and I felt a smidgen better. I rested there on the couch, sleeping, slowly healing, languishing in weakness and loneliness.

  I stayed away from the other can for almost four days, before my weak body’s signals for food became too much to bear.

  I had no choice, not if I wanted to survive.

  I’d lost so much weight. My tattered clothing hung loosely off my body.

  I repeated the same banging on the second can as I had with the first, and I was pleasantly surprised when the contents revealed themselves to be something resembling bean soup.

  I wished I could warm it up, but the wood outside was all wet and I hadn’t had enough forethought to bring some in to dry days ago when I first arrived. I wasn’t even sure I could make a fire if I wanted to. Lethargy and hopelessness had prevented me from even trying.

  I pinched my nose and gulped down the concoction, praying it wouldn’t make me sick again. It didn’t taste as bad as the first can, but it wasn’t a delicacy either.

  I swallowed the bean soup until it was all done.

  Two days later, I was back in the market.

  The poster was still on the wall, but others surrounded it now, obscuring some of it, though the picture was still visible.

  I covered my head with the makeshift hood and walked down the aisles.

  I grabbed three tins and two bottles of water before a guy at one of the stalls saw me.

  I ran as fast as I could, losing him in the crowd.

  My next trip to the market was two weeks later. I was extremely careful this time. In and out, Chas. That was the plan.

  In and out.

  Stealing water was easy, because the stall was always packed with people.

  The food was more difficult to get because there were several stalls that sold food. I found a stall which dried food hanging on a long line. I assumed it was meat, but the light sand clinging to it made me wonder if it was even edible.

  So I moved on. I found the cans again.

  Someone unfamiliar was manning the stall today—not the guy who had seen me the last time. Still, I was scared that it was a trick to catch me. I staked out the stall, walking around in circling, pretending to peruse the goods offered by the other stalls.

  I’d easily been here for two hours, which had really messed up my plan of getting in and out as fast as possible. Then, as I saw another thief being caught, I took my opening. Everyone was making a huge fuss about the thief; all eyes were on him.

  I strode over to the stall, grabbing a few cans and stashing them away.

  “Hey, you!” I heard a man yell. I didn’t look, just willed my feet to
get me out of here. The man chased me, hollering for the authorities.

  I tried everything to get rid of him, but I couldn’t shake him. No matter where I turned, his voice would pop up behind me again. For a fleeting moment, I wondered whether the canned food somehow carried a tracking device. And though I knew it made no sense, I grabbed them out of their hiding place and hurled them away from me. I spun and ran in the opposite direction down the alleyway. Footsteps pounded down alley and I retreated further into the darkness, hiding behind a crate. I peeked over the top of the crate and watched as the man from the food stall and a couple of guards hurried in the direction of the canned food.

  I took a breath of relief as they disappeared from my line of sight.

  But my relief was short-lived.

  A low growl came from behind me.

  I froze on the spot. The hair on my arms stood on end.

  I turned my head to the darkness behind me. I could barely see anything in the darkness.

  But I could feel that I wasn’t the only living thing here.

  “Help me,” I heard a woman’s soft voice, followed by another menacing growl.

  Pure instinct came over me. I had to save this woman, whoever she was. But how would I manage to save her and myself?

  “Help me, please,” she begged. “I don’t want to die.”

  No growl came this time; instead it was a whimper.

  Images flew into my mind.

  I was stunned, as I’d only experienced this when Mr. Grey had projected images into my mind. Never had those images been as horrible as what I was seeing now.

  Three men were beating her. A gasp left my mouth as I recognized one of them as Briggs. The beatings carried on until the men seemed to get. I feared that they would rape her, but the images stopped.

  How had she managed to project those images into my mind?

  It was quiet all around me. She wasn’t speaking anymore.

  “Are you okay? Where are you?” I asked. No answer. Even the beast was quiet, like it was waiting for me to make a wrong move.

  For some reason, my sand moved freely again. It wasn’t specs anymore, it was… sand. It lit up the alley so I could see fractionally better.

  “Where are you?” I asked again, keeping my sand in my hands.

  I blew some of it to light up more of my surroundings and then I saw a heap that must have been on top of the woman. A Hound? Had it ravaged her to death?

  The sight made me drop all my sand. I wanted to get out of here, but my conscience would haunt me for not trying to save this poor woman.

  I looked around for an object, something to defend myself with, but all I found were plastic crates and one wooden one. Everything else was trash. I broke the wooden crate and gripped a plank in my hand.

  My sand was still flowing. Was that how it worked? Did my sand sense whenever I was in danger?

  I inched toward the Shadow Hound lying in the far corner. Blood pooled around it. I went closer and inspected its hind legs. Its legs were short, skinny stumps that lay akimbo.

  The blood wasn’t blood either. It was black sand.

  I tried to look for the woman, tried to lift the Hound to see if she was underneath it, but she wasn’t there.

  The Hound whimpered at my touch. My eyes widened. One side was completely bashed in.

  “Don’t hurt me, please,” the voice came again.

  I dropped the Hound and scurried backwards.

  “Help me,” she begged in a tired voice.

  The voice was coming from the Hound. It was the woman.

  Briggs had been beating this poor Hound, and for some reason, I could hear her. She sent another image into my head, this one sweet, not at all brutal.

  The images told of her companions. There was another smaller Hound with her. And a woman with light brown hair. And a boy with dark hair and glasses and gorgeous broad shoulders. I gasped in shock, wanting to see more, but the images started to fade as she drifted into unconsciousness.

  I laid my hand on her, feeling the sporadic rise and fall of her torso. She was barely breathing.

  I had to help her. I had to find out the truth. How did she know Leigh?

  She was heavy. There was no way I’d be able to carry her. I’d have to leave her to find something that would help me transport her back to my cabin.

  I searched around the alley, but I found nothing. A cart would be nice. I tried to conjure one, but to no avail. My sand was low again, since I wasn’t in real danger to unlock the rest.

  The crates I had seen earlier would have to do. I pulled off my blanket. I knew it was dumb, but this creature needed my help. And I needed hers. She was the only one who could help me get the answers I needed.

  I tore my blanket in long, thick strips to tie her to the crates. I braided them to make them extra strong and lash them onto the crate. The knots were tight; they would hold. When I was satisfied, I went back to where I’d left her.

  She was still breathing.

  The sun was setting and I decided to wait for nightfall before I moved her back to the cabin.

  I tried to lift her, but she was so heavy.

  Still, I didn’t give up and tried again. She groaned as I pushed and pulled at her. Her head hit the crate quite hard. By the time I had her on the crates, my muscles were strained and all my energy had left me.

  I sat against the wall and waited for nightfall. The only thing I managed to steal today was water. The cans were long gone. There must have been some sort of tracker that had let them follow me.

  It was a foolish thought, but it was the only thing that made sense.

  I opened one of the bottle of water and took a few gulps. I’d use the other one to clean her wounds.

  What had she done to deserve the beating Briggs and the other men had given her?

  When the first stars started to shine, I went over to the crate and bent down.

  I had half the blanket unused and decided I’d rather cover her with it than use it on my own face. She needed it more than I did.

  I started pulling at the crate. It was heavy and moved with a screeching sound. I didn’t want to think about how the hell I was going to succeed tonight.

  So, I thought only about the feet in front of me, and my goal was to get there.

  I only reached the second alley when I couldn’t pull her anymore. I’d never felt so defeated before. She was a dead weight. I didn’t have any strength left to pull her.

  I was never going to get her to the cabin.

  It all became too much for me, and the next thing I knew, my body was heaving with sobs, tears and snot streaming down my face uncontrollably. I didn’t want this to be my destiny. I didn’t want to be stuck in a dark and horrible place like this.

  I longed for my mother, for her advice, her strength, the way she always just knew what to do, especially in situations like this.

  I missed Natalie and Charlie. I wanted Mr. Grey, but I’d seen what the Oblivion did to him. He wasn’t compatible with it, even if his Tula was a Shadow Caster.

  I missed Leigh. So, so much. Why hadn’t he come to see me in my dreams? Had Selene reprogrammed him by now? Or was that all a lie?

  I’d seen him in this Hound’s mind. Even if it had only been a vague image, I had seen him. I needed to know if he was real or not.

  Voices up ahead filled the alleyway. It was a man, obviously drunk, and his friend trying to get him home.

  “I told you, Rooofush,” the one slurred, “it’sh what I shaw.” He gave a loud burp.

  “Okay, okay, I believe you,” Rufus said, supporting his friend. Luckily, they were heading in the opposite direction.

  Footsteps hit the ground with a loud thump from behind me. I whirled around.

  A hooded figure knelt down next to the Hound.

  “Leave her,” I hissed, but the figure threw his hand into the air and gestured at me to wait while he inspected her.

  My eyes caught the bracelet on the man’s wrist and I recognized it immediately.
  It was my savior.


  Help, I need somebody, Help.

  “You?” I asked.

  “Where did you get this Shadow Hound?” He didn’t even acknowledge me.

  “In one of the alleys. Why did you save me?”

  He didn’t answer.

  “Who are you?” I asked as he stopped examining her injuries.

  No, no, no, she couldn’t be gone. She’d been breathing just breathing a couple of minutes ago. I pushed him out of the way, which he hadn’t expected, and leaned over her body.

  She was still moving.

  Why wasn’t he helping her?

  “Why did you help it?” he asked.

  Something told me I shouldn’t tell him that she’d communicated with me. So instead I said, “It’s cruel to leave a living creature to die. I couldn’t do it.”

  “This is a Shadow Hound. It was executed, sentenced to death. Do you know what they’d do to both of you if they find you?”

  “I don’t care. It couldn’t be much worse than what I’ve already gone through,” I bit out, stroking the Shadow Hound’s neck.

  Her skin was hot beneath my hand, no doubt from the inflammation from her wounds. I was in way over my head here.

  “If you’re not going to report us, then I suggest you get out of our way so we can move on.”

  I stood up and grabbed the reins again, using my suddenly renewed strength to pull her along behind me.

  He snorted and I stopped. “You’re going to pull it all the way… to where?”

  “I found a cabin in the woods. Not far from here.”

  He frown, and then he shook his head. “That cabin belongs to Old Frid. If he finds you, you’re dead.”

  “Oh yeah? Did he perhaps have long, bushy hair and a couple of missing teeth?”

  He frowned, narrowing his eyes, but remained silent. I had my answer.

  “Found his decaying corpse in the bathtub. I think I’m safe from him,” I sneered. I pulled the crate again.

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