Enter the rafflecopter at the bottom of the post to win some cool prizes."I need to get you to the hospital." He was taking responsibility for me. Only my parents had that job. I stretched my hand out in protest, but the lack of depth perception had my trembling fingers grazing his overheated neck. I swore his whole body shook. When five-year-old Anna Pierce is offered a chance to have nightmare-free nights for the small price of her voice, she jumps at it. Silence has to be better than all-consuming dreams about blood and death and fangy monsters. The bargain she strikes comes with a secondary benefit, visions of a person's future potential. The combination of visions and silence changes her very nature and soon she's diagnosed with autism. Twelve years of living in her head comes to a screeching halt the moment Peter Davis pulls her out of an icy river. Her new life has her twirling, tiptoeing, and crashing through unfamiliar territory, one filled with a cranky grandma, a knocked up cousin, an unpleasant cousin, a bunch of mostly good vampires, and the boy who rescued her. To top it all off, the deal she made at five is no more. Anna is expected to talk, to figure out her resurfacing nightmares, and to control her ever-growing powers. And she'd better get it done soon because if the good vamps want a piece of a living, breathing Touched girl, the evil ones simply want. They'll take Anna for their very own. Soul Walker is the first book in the Touched Girl Series. It's approximately 91,000 words. Be on the look out for Soul Bender, coming March 2013.
Twelve years ago
I wanted to be just like her, I even loved her name, Daniella. She told me she was five years old, same as me, so I decided we were sisters. She could be the pretty brown princess and I could be the messy blonde princess.
“Deal, Anna. We'll be dream sisters.” I wished she came to me in the real world, but this was good too. I twirled around in swirls of colors and danced with seahorses, but she stood there looking mad.
“No, don't ask,” she said with her small fingers pressed over my mouth. “All done talking now, Anna, or the nightmares will come and your gift will be lost.” I nodded because I wanted her to smile again. The next day I sang with my mom during breakfast and I told my dad all about the prettiest princess I had ever seen.
That night I choked on my screams because Daniella meant it. The bloody biting nightmares would come if I talked.
Three months later Mom and Dad cried right in front of me because some woman in a boring outfit said the word autism. Six weeks after that, Dad said he was done with Washington and done with all the diagnosis talk.
We packed up, said goodbye to my cranky grandma, and traveled the world, part of the world. “Beaches, Sam. Sun and the warm ocean will heal all of us.”
“We don't need healing, Sue. Anna will talk when she's ready.”
“If you're not paddling, then you're drowning,” yelled out the overly fit river rafting guide. He was the only one of us who looked good in a wetsuit.
“Your dad wants you to feel the high that only nature can bring. I want to show you that out here dressed like this, we are all equal. No one looks good wearing something that squeezes and pinches what was intended to rest and sit.”
After my mom called our wetsuits “the great equalizer,” she glanced over to the blond, ridiculously hot guide, who until an hour ago had the upper half of his suit hanging at his waist, and conceded that he was the exception. My dad agreed.
If I had to imagine what a Brett would be like, cute, unkind, and bossy would be my assessment. I could see goodness in him, but right then I wanted nothing to do with the vision of him four years from now coaching an all girls' basketball team to the state championships.
It was my first experience with mountain runoff water. Before that day, the coldest wetness I had ever experienced involved reaching into a cooler in vain to find the one Orange Crush that my mom took care to include with the plethora of various beer brands.
“Little girl, we are not sight seeing,” Brett said as he cut his paddle through a roll of aqua water. “Anna, right? All I need from you is a simple 'got it.' You don't even have to call me Sir.”
“I'm happy to call you Sir,” my dad said, sounding too calm considering the almost violent bobbing of our raft. “Let me try it out. Sir, would you please stop ogling my seventeen-year-old daughter. Sir, would you mind thinking back to our phone conversation when I booked this rafting/B&B excursion with Great Cascades Adventures.”
The Anna-disclaimer as I liked to call it went like this, “Anna doesn't talk. She's brilliant and sensitive, but for now she's nonverbal.” The word nonverbal often came out in a rushed exhale, and the word autism never slipped out of my dad's mouth.
Dad gave Brett a high eyebrow raise, then nodded to my mom. Her turn.
“She is lovely, though. Isn't she?” I shook my head with the barest hint of a smile playing at my lips. “The orange vest really brings out the lavender tint in her eyes.” Brett stared at me for a second before checking to see if my dad caught him ogling again. I realized Mom might have just set the guy up, her own way of admonishing his behavior. This time I broke out in a full smile. No one looked out for me like my parents.
“Anna, Anna! Paddle!” The shouting came from my dad. His panicked voice could not dislodge me from the shock of the arctic wall that just hit my body. I tasted the sweetness of untouched water and my body stood at alert, but my hands held on to the paddle unable to do the job we spent the entire sunrise rehearsing.
“Shit, we're not in position,” the guide's almost playful arrogance now a fleeting memory. I looked over to Brett finally remembering what I was supposed to do, but the roller coaster beneath me had my paddle swiping through froth. “We missed it. I'm sorry, we missed it.”
“They can't do Class IV,” my dad said, then he looked back at me. Something like a painful hiccup escaped my mouth. With all my heart, I wanted to wipe that terror right out of his eyes. My mom made a sound like mine, but longer.
Her paddle weaved back and forth too quickly to be effective. Dad and Brett took longer, more powerful strides, but Brett's constant curses, my parents' frantic prayers, and the storm of froth and ice-cold water said it all. We couldn't handle Class IV rapids.
If I talked, I would have asked them to act normal again. I wanted my overly affectionate, carefree parents and the know-it-all guide back. I had voice in me and I could do it. Fix everything. My quiet, that brought sweet dreams and moving pictures, seemed a high price at that moment. I could sing, but that would only halt their saving actions, and surely we would all drown.
“Could we just get out and swim to shore?” My mom tried to whisper, but her voice was near a yelp. The men shook their heads. Brett pierced her a look that said, “Could your guardian angel swoop you all up and carry you to dry land? Sure.” I flashed on my long ago nightmares where blood and death were the backdrop. The fear I felt at five spiked through me enough I almost dropped my useless paddle.
“She's a good swimmer, Sam.” My mom paired her words with a reassuring smile. He rewarded her effort with a fraction less terror in his eyes. Another painful hiccup escaped my mouth when I thought of how deep he had to dig to give her something, anything that resembled hope.
“There's a drop coming!” Both men reached for me but it was too late; I was through the air. My mom's yellow drenched hair tangled with the orange material of her life vest as she screamed my name. Long, masculine, mismatched arms reaching out for my airborne body cracked against each other, giving them the feel that they were not made of soft skin and breakable bones.
The water swallowed them, turning all the vibrant colors I’d been swimming in all day, from Brett's blond hair and golden skin, to my mom's scarlet fingernails, to my dad's streak of purple hair he’d dyed the night before, all to a wash of white.
I hit what felt like rough pavement, but pulled me under like angry quick sand. A wall knocked the air out of my lungs and the ice froze my eyes open as I searched for my parents. The cold stood on my chest, collapsing whatever kept a body from turning into a puddle of flesh on the ground.
Even with the suffocating pressure all around me, I resigned myself to staying put. “If you ever get lost, stay put until one of us finds you.” Dad's number one rule and I felt more lost than ever before.
The rushing water gifted me by swelling around rocks, the only reason my body escaped deathblows at every turn. I braved an intake of breath, only to despair when no one else appeared in my view. Had I ever been alone on any of our adventures?
The relentless current sucked me down again. Lightheadedness or plain exhaustion dragged my thoughts from survival to the old ladies with all the vivid stories on the islands we traveled most of my life.
Legends usually started out this way. An all-alone-child wishing for something only a little girl could imagine, and then fate would step in and grant it. In the end, the child wished for something she really did not want, when all she had before was lost for the rest of her days.
If I stayed under and wished I were a mermaid, my favorite of all the ancient tales, legend would be summoned, but I would lose my parents. Parents didn't swim alongside their baby fish girl for the rest of their lives.
I took back my wish that I had so many times asked for long before I knew anything like this was possible, and popped my head out of the water. Still no one, just the impressionist painting look of trees lining the banks that were bone-crushing rocks away from me.
I decided not to become a fish, and not to drown, and not to stay put, but that did not make me safe on dry land. I could pray to the Goddess of Melting Glaciers and see if she could be merciful enough to give me a wave, but there were no waves, just walls.
I stopped feeling the ache of the cold, as I suspected would happen. The body is very helpful when you're hurt. Just wait it out and your brain will take care of it. I would have to count on that, as I had made my decision to be thrashed against rocks, since that was my only path to land.
The first hit knocked the air and lingering water out of my lungs. I was part grateful for that. The next one caused a popping sound in my wrist. I let out a cry, my first real sound that day. The third rock met with my head. Absolute worst-case scenario.
The heat of the blood ran over my face, bringing back feeling to that part of my body. The ice and fire fought, causing searing pain from head to toe as my brain started losing its numbing power. I looked around at the greens above me and the crystal blues and cotton ball looking whites surrounding me, as everything turned red, then black.
“Come back. Please don't go,” said a raspy voice that did not belong to my mom or dad, not even Brett. My body convulsed, and the shivers of cold forced my eyes open, then closed.
Uneven earth and spiny twigs bit into my shoulders and alerted me to what I missed a second ago; I made it. Just to prove my guess correct I fell into a coughing fit like those old lady smokers at the nursing home my mom took me to when I was a little girl.
My eyes throbbed from the near drowning and from the missing image of my parents.
“Anna, thank the Gods.” I smiled at the Gods reference, and looked up at the speaker of my favorite line. His face danced and blurred, but he seemed familiar, maybe because he knew my name. “You're hurt. I'm sorry it took me so long to get to you.” I tried to sit up, but my worn body kept me down.
“I need to get you to the hospital.” He was taking responsibility for me. Only my parents had that job. I stretched my hand out in protest, but the lack of depth perception had my trembling fingers grazing his overheated neck. I swore his whole body shook.
I tried to sit up again, but this time my head denied me the movement. I ran my fingers over my forehead. I couldn't find the gash or the blood that had turned the suffocating froth princess-pink.
I rolled to my side and faced the river. “Anna, they're gone. I couldn't save them.” Them? Had I lost one of my parents and Brett? How terrible a person was I, that I hoped Brett made the number plural and not my entire world lost forever?
I shook my head, aching to undo his words. I wanted to change my nature and grill the man who looked like a boy, but whose voice commanded something, but I wasn't sure what. He picked me up, his heat scalding my icy skin. My eyes stayed glued to the racing waters.
“They’re all gone.”
“No, no, no, no.” My voice sounded more foreign than my rescuer's. This time the darkness felt almost like my visions, my gift, what I called my running pictures. Only I couldn't make out what I was seeing. No future accomplishments flashed in my mind, no future potential forced my whole body to twirl around in delight. Just bursts of life that went by too quickly register anything.
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