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       Fated, p.2

           Sarah Alderson
 
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  She narrowed her eyes at him. Nothing came for free. That had been one of her father and Joe's favourite sayings. Her dad would walk in here, pull up a counter stool and demand a free coffee. Joe would laugh, pour him one and tell him nothing came for free, before setting the bill in front of him.

  Evie stepped forward and, with her eyes still on the man, picked up the notes. She folded them and put them in her apron pocket. 'Thanks,' she said, reaching for the empty coffee cup.

  'I'm opening a store just over the road there,' the man said. Evie looked at where he was pointing, over the street at Cardman's Old Bookstore. It was boarded up and had a To Let sign hanging off it.

  'Really?' Evie asked, unable to contain her surprise. Her mum usually knew everything going on in this town before the people it was happening to even knew it themselves, but she'd said nothing to Evie about a new shop opening up.

  'Yes, it's more of a boutique than a store, really,' the man said and Evie noticed for the first time that he had an accent, though she couldn't quite place it.

  'What kind of a boutique?' Evie asked. Her mother would want to know.

  'Clothing. Fashion,' he said. 'Seems like the one thing this town is missing is some good fashion.'

  Evie studied him again for any sign that he was joking. 'Are you expecting to turn a profit?' she asked.

  The man threw back his head. 'Sometimes it's not about the money, it's about the dream,' he laughed.

  'Your dream is to dress the women of Riverview in couture?' Evie laughed. 'Good luck with that. This is a farming community, the only fashion the women here are into involves denim and leather - and probably not in the way you're thinking.'

  She shook her head and made to move off. Weird. This man was so weird. And so soon to be bankrupt.

  'You know, I'm looking for a sales assistant, if you're interested,' the man called to her back.

  Evie paused. She put the coffee cup down on the counter and turned to him. 'What are you paying?'

  The man shrugged. 'Thirty dollars an hour.'

  Evie's eyebrows shot up. Thirty dollars an hour? Was the man insane? That was almost four times what she made here.

  'Forty,' she replied, blanking her face.

  An amused smile seemed to be skirting the man's mouth. 'Thirty-five.'

  She wanted to burst out laughing but she held it in, biting the inside of her cheek instead. 'Deal,' she said. 'When do I start?'

  'Tomorrow.'

  Evie thought about it. 'I work two other jobs - this one three evenings a week from five till ten and then I help my mother out in my dad's store on Saturdays and Wednesdays. Other than that, I'm all yours.'

  The man appraised her. 'When do you find the time to sleep?'

  'I'm trying to save as much money as I can right now, so any extra work is good.'

  'Well then, Evie, I guess we have a deal. Tomorrow is Tuesday, so I'll see you at ten a.m.'

  She frowned at him. How had he known her name? She guessed he must have heard Joe or Tom say it earlier. 'OK.' She nodded. 'Can I know who I'm working for?'

  The man stood and Evie stepped back involuntarily. He was enormous - solid muscle underneath his suit - and the seams looked fit to burst on his inside thigh, not that she was looking. But she sure as hell noticed that he wasn't built like the farmers around here, who were wiry and tough - he was built more like a body builder.

  'My name is Victor,' he said, holding out his hand. 'Victor Lassonde.'

  2

  Evie turned the lock in the door. Main Street was dead. All the stores were dark - only the yellow street lights were eclipsing the darkness now. Two cars were parked up in the shadows out front. Someone climbed out of the passenger seat of one and walked in her direction. She flipped the Closed sign quickly. There was no way she was serving another customer tonight. Not even if they waved a twenty-dollar tip in her face.

  She backed away from the door and flipped the light switch, collapsing the whole place into blackness, and then she headed behind the counter to gather up the trash bags. The sound of someone trying the door made her jump. She looked around, irritated. Couldn't they read? That was a Closed sign on the door.

  There was a guy standing in front of the glass looking in, staring directly at her. His hand was still on the door handle. He was about six feet tall and wearing a floor-length black leather coat. Evie took in the whole of him in one glance and felt something similar to a rock settle on her stomach. Something wasn't right about him. In fact, something was most definitely off. Then she realised it was the sunglasses he was wearing. Ray Bans. In the middle of the night.

  'We're closed,' she mouthed, wondering whether he could even see her, shrouded as she was in the shadows behind the counter.

  The boy didn't respond or smile or act in any way as if he'd seen her, though his hand did drop from the door handle. He turned on his heel and strode back towards his car, coat flapping like a windsock behind him.

  Evie stood there a full minute, trash bags clutched in her hand, waiting for the sound of a car engine turning over and accelerating away. Nothing. The street stayed fathomlessly silent. She edged towards the door and peered through the glass. The cars were both still sitting there; empty as far as she could tell. The guy in the long trench coat was nowhere to be seen.

  A feeling of unease crept through her but she couldn't stand there all night like a total wuss, hovering in the gloom. So she took the bags and walked to the back door and opened it, annoyed with herself for getting so freaked out over a boy who looked like he'd gotten lost on the way back from Comic Con.

  The back lot was empty except for the giant metal dumpster just to her right and her dusty old Ford parked a few metres to her left. There was a single light blazing above her head, illuminating the door and the concrete step she was standing on. She headed straight towards the dumpster with the bags in one hand and a tin of coffee grounds in the other - and that's when she saw him, on the periphery of the shadow line, his coat splayed out behind him.

  The hairs on the back of her neck bristled. She drew in a breath and did a quick calculation of the distance between her, the boy and the door.

  But before she could figure out where to run to, the boy in the sunglasses stepped forward into the zone of light. She saw that he was a little bit older than her, maybe twenty or twenty-one. He was wearing black jeans and leather biker boots, and a black wrinkled T-shirt with some kind of slogan on it. A part of her brain registered that he looked ridiculous, like an extra from The Matrix, but the other part warned her not to tell him so.

  At least not yet.

  He stopped just in front of her.

  'Evie Tremain?' he asked.

  She froze, her mouth falling open. How did he know her name? Who the hell was this guy? As she studied him, she suddenly heard a voice in her head start screaming at her to run. She could hear her own heartbeat - it sounded like a horse smashing its hooves against a stable door. Her eyes darted instantly over the lot, looking for her exits.

  'Evie Tremain?' the boy asked again, impatient now.

  'Who wants to know?' Evie asked, buying time. The back door was about ten metres behind her or she could try to get around him and head down the side alley and out onto Main Street. She took a small step backwards. The diner was closer.

  'The Brotherhood,' the boy replied tonelessly, closing the distance between them in a single stride.

  Evie couldn't rein in the laughter that erupted out of her. 'The Brotherhood? Seriously? What is that? The name of your death-metal band?'

  The boy - whose face had been expressionless until then - suddenly frowned in confusion, as though he didn't know how to answer her. The sound of crunching gravel broke the silence. Evie's eyes flew to the far end of the lot, which was sunk in darkness. Was someone else there? The boy followed her gaze, looking over his shoulder.

  Adrenaline pumped through Evie's body in one giant surge. She dropped the trash bags and took a step back, twisting her body as she moved. She brought h
er arm up like her dad had taught her, fingers curled into a fist, and in the second that the boy turned back to face her, she smashed it into the side of his head.

  The boy's head spun with the force of the punch, his sunglasses flying across the lot.

  'Hit first, ask questions later,' she murmured to herself. Her dad had always said it was better to be safe than sorry.

  She turned to run back towards the door but the boy lunged for her, shrieking. She raised her arm instinctively, ready to smash it into his face again, but then stumbled backwards letting out a cry. The boy's eyes were inches from her own, his pupils fixed and dilated. And the thing that had stopped her, and made her stomach scrape the floor, was the colour of them. They were bright, carnation-red and totally unseeing. The boy flailed his head from left to right, as though someone had thrown acid in his face, his outstretched hand groping blindly in her direction.

  He's blind, Evie realised, her thoughts assuming some sense. He can't see me.

  Out of the corner of her eye she saw a dark shape wavering behind the boy. It seemed to extend and stretch out, like a time-lapse sequence of a shadow lengthening. And then it coiled like a whip and lashed towards her.

  Evie dived. She threw herself hard to the left, out of the boy's grip and out of the way of whatever was coming towards her. She heard a crack as it smashed into the tarmac and another frustrated shriek from the boy.

  She staggered backwards, her eyes on the space that had opened up between her and the guy in the coat. The whip or rope or whatever it was was lashing back and forth between them. Evie's brain refused to process the possibility that what her eyes were actually looking at was neither a rope nor a whip but a tail. There were scales on it and it moved like a rattlesnake. Ropes didn't look like that.

  The boy dropped to the floor now, and started scrabbling around on the ground for something. His glasses, Evie thought, spying them lying cracked in half on the asphalt by her car.

  'Need some help, Caleb?' A girl's voice called out from the edge of the darkness.

  The boy with blood-red eyes swore at her in reply.

  'If you want help you need to put your tail away and ask nicely,' the girl added.

  The word punctured Evie's brain like a poison dart. Tail. She tripped backwards, trying to feel for the door behind her. She stumbled on the step, and felt herself bump up against something solid. It wasn't the door.

  She spun around and found herself stepping on the toes of a white-faced boy. A girl in a neon pink minidress stood next to him, smiling surrrrprise.

  Evie skittered backwards, letting out a yelp. How many of these freaks were there?

  These two weren't wearing sunglasses and their eyes weren't red. The boy was dressed in scruffy jeans, bashed-up Converse and a Nix cap. The girl was tall with long black hair, and the bright pink of her dress clashed with the green tinge of her skin.

  'We've got this, Caleb,' the girl in the pink dress called out to the one with the tail, not taking her eyes off Evie.

  'Well, hurry up, would you, I don't want to be here all night,' another boy's voice answered from the darkness.

  So there were more of them over there, Evie thought, panic starting to weave its tentacles around her limbs. How many did that make? Four or five at least.

  'What do you want?' Evie asked desperately, spinning around to face the girl and boy blocking the back door.

  'We want you, Evie Tremain,' the girl in pink said, striding forward. She put her hand on Evie's arm and Evie looked down, as her skin began to burn intensely.

  She screamed and, with a final injection of adrenaline and anger, swung the tin of coffee grounds she was still holding at the girl's head. The girl let go of her instantly and started yelling.

  Evie skittered back out of her way, skidding towards her car, dodging around the boy on the ground with the tail.

  With the tail! Her brain screamed at her as though it wanted her to pause awhile and figure it out. But her arm was still burning, as though the bone itself had caught alight, and the skin was blistering and it was all she could do not to faint right there and then. She started fumbling with her one good hand for her car key, buried in the pocket of her jeans, and felt the sob start to burst in her chest.

  The boy in the Nix cap was bent double, pointing and laughing at the girl Evie had hit. And the sound of it, the childish hysteria of it, was like a shucking knife opening Evie up. She glanced upwards even as she scrabbled for her keys. The girl was holding the side of her head, screaming and trying to scrape the wet coffee grounds off her face. She spat a gloop of saliva and glared furiously at Evie.

  Evie's fingers closed on her keys. She yanked them from her pocket, watching as the girl and boy moved in on her. She was just prey, she realised. She was completely cornered. There was no way out.

  And then the sun came up. Or it felt like it. The whole lot lit up as if someone had flipped on some floodlights. The shadows wiped out and Evie was blinded. She threw an arm up to cover her eyes, trying at the same time to squint for the source of it. She could hear screaming and a hissing noise - the sound of wet meat hitting a flaming grill.

  When her eyes adjusted she saw the boy in the Nix cap collapsed on the ground in front of her. He was sizzling and smoking and screaming like a stuck pig. The girl in the pink dress had him by the arm and was dragging him towards the trash container and the thin shadow it made on the ground.

  'Evie?' a man's voice yelled, snapping her out of her frozen state.

  She looked up. She recognised the voice - the accent. 'Yes,' she answered, scrambling to her feet.

  'Get over here!' he yelled.

  She ran towards the source of the light and saw who it was. Victor Lassonde. He was standing there in his suit holding what looked like a torch in his right hand. In his other hand was something that looked remarkably like a gun.

  Probably because it was a gun.

  Evie jumped behind Victor, clutching at his arm, her heart rattling at a hundred beats a minute. A million questions ran through her head, the first of which was What the hell are you doing here?

  She heard herself voice it.

  He didn't answer her.

  'Half-and-half, get the Hunter!' someone screamed.

  Evie looked over Victor's shoulder. The girl in the pink dress was the one screaming. But who was Half-and-half? And who was the Hunter?

  The girl dumped the boy in the Nix cap by the dumpster. He curled up in a tight ball, whimpering and steaming in the shadows.

  The girl looked up at Evie, her eyes glinting. 'The girl's mine,' she hissed.

  Evie cowered backwards. She felt Victor edging sideways towards the door of the diner and followed his lead. But the girl in the pink dress with the greenish skin was blocking their way to the back door.

  Victor had his back to Evie, his gun raking the parking lot in front. Why wasn't he firing at these crazy people who were trying to kill them? thought Evie. Why wasn't he aiming at the girl in the pink dress for starters?

  Just then the girl lunged towards her. Evie let out a scream, and stumbled as though someone invisible had shoved her. Evie flinched backwards as she heard a gunshot. She watched the girl reel backwards, clutching her arm.

  Evie reached for the handle just as a shadow sprang across it. She teetered as though on the brink of a waterfall, sound rushing her ears, goosebumps raking her body. Then whatever it was was gone, leaving only a reverberation in the air that echoed through her body. Evie's knees smacked the concrete step and she let out a cry, but Victor hauled her upright and flung her towards the door.

  Her fingers closed around the handle and she yanked it open.

  3

  Evie collapsed onto the linoleum floor, breathing so hard she thought her lungs had stopped working. The images in her mind were swirling into patterns the same way that oil did when it rainbowed on water. She suddenly became aware again of the pain shooting up her arm. She lifted it up and saw the skin blistering red and popping in tiny white bubbles wher
e the girl had grabbed her. She closed her eyes and, on three, managed to drag herself to standing, aware only dimly that Victor was in front of her, wrestling some heavy boxes in front of the door.

  She turned to the sink in the storeroom and ran the tap, shoving her arm under the spray.

  'Water won't help.'

  She twisted around to look at Victor. 'What?'

  He was done with barricading the door and was now pulling a phone out of his pocket.

  'Water won't help,' he said again, dialling a number. 'It's not that kind of burn.' Then his attention switched to the person on the end of the line. 'They've left. I'm with her now. But the area needs securing - yes - and call Risper and Earl. It's time.'

  He snapped the phone shut. 'You could try urinating on it,' he said over his shoulder, crossing to the window and peering out. He had extinguished the torch and they were in semi-darkness, the storeroom illuminated only by the outside light shining through one small window.

  'What?' Evie said, looking at him in horror. The pain wasn't lessening - in fact it felt like the water was tearing actual strips of flesh and nerve from her arm. But she wasn't about to pee on it to see if that made it feel any better.

  'Or bicarbonate of soda works.'

  Evie stared at him, her teeth gritted. He had his back to her, his gun drawn. She drew her arm out from under the tap, holding it against her T-shirt.

  'Who are those people?' she asked. 'What do they want?'

  Victor turned around from his stake-out position by the window. He holstered his gun. 'They're leaving.'

  And, as he said it, Evie heard the sound of cars revving, followed by the squeal of tyres.

  'Who are they?' she asked again in a half-whisper.

  'They're the Brotherhood,' Victor replied.

  'They're not a death-metal band, are they?'

  Victor frowned in confusion. 'Excuse me?'

  Evie shook her head. 'Never mind.' Why was she cracking jokes? 'They knew my name. They were looking for me. Why?'

  Victor put his gun down on the side of the sink and stretched over her head. He grabbed a jar of something and then turned his attention back to Evie. 'They wanted to kill you.'

 
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