Everneath, страница 1часть #1 серии Everneath
TWO WEEKS AGO
I was picturing his face—a boy with floppy brown hair and brown eyes—when the Feed ended.
At first I didn’t know what had happened. I didn’t know where I was or why it was so dark. I knew only that the pain inside me—the feeling that I was being drained from the inside out—had subsided, and now everything was numb. Maybe I no longer existed.
“It’s over,” Cole whispered in my ear.
I wanted to answer, but my mouth wasn’t working.
“Nikki, try to open your eyes. ”
That was why it was dark. My eyes were closed. I’d been squeezing them shut for I don’t know how long. The muscles around them had forgotten how to relax, so it was some time before I could pry them open.
When I did, they stung, like a fresh wound exposed to cool air. After a hundred years they had forgotten how to produce tears.
It was still dark all around us, but as I worked on my eyes, the black forms that had bound me to Cole began to peel away, as if an oil slick were lifting from my skin.
I could see.
I looked at my arm, from my shoulder down to the elbow, and a little lower, to where it disappeared behind Cole’s back. My skin was so pale. Almost blue. I was wearing a black tank top. I tried to remember putting it on but came up with nothing.
“Nikki. Try to stand up. ”
I shook my head, surprised that I could move my head at all. The Shades, with their black, fluid forms, had cocooned us so tight for so long. Cole’s head was next to mine, his chin resting on my shoulder, his blond hair touching my cheek.
“You can take your time. ”
“Mmm,” I said. It was all I could manage.
I started with small movements, flexing my fingers and my toes, shocking my hibernating muscles awake. Cole did the same. I could feel his fingertips pressing into my back, restarting the circulation.
I worked up to my knees, my legs, my elbows, making small movements against Cole’s body. But where I tried to separate my legs from his, the skin stung. It was as if we had been sewn together, and I was ripping us apart.
I groaned in pain and pulled him tight against me again.
He let me. “I know it’s going to be hard, Nik. We’ll just take it slow, okay?”
I nodded, and he held me for a few long minutes before we tried to separate again. This time, he rubbed the affected skin as we went, and I had a brief memory flash of a woman ripping a Band-Aid off my knee, and then rubbing it to ease the pain.
But when I tried to focus on the image, it slipped away and I was in the dark again.
I shook and reached for Cole, but this time he grabbed my wrists, gently and firmly.
“Nik, I’m sorry. The Shades say the Feed is over. I know it feels weird, but we have to get used to it. ”
I wasn’t sure I believed him. Without his embrace, my body felt empty and hollow, as though we were one person, divided. Except it wasn’t an even division. He had taken away everything that made me … me. And I would only be me again when I was next to him. I wasn’t sure my body would survive on its own anymore. I was no longer whole.
Even though I was trembling, I sat up. My legs dangled over the stone ledge of our alcove and I looked around. We were in a giant cavern, the walls of which were filled with hundreds of alcoves just like the one we were in, but they were all empty.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew we were the last ones to start the Feed, so we were the only ones left. Stairs built into the rock zigzagged up the walls, leading to the alcoves above us. The ground was covered in a sea of black sludge that swelled and pulsed like a lake in a storm.
More Shades. Hundreds of them. Maybe thousands.
“They’re stretching out too,” Cole said from behind me. They should be. The Shades had been wrapped around us for the entire century, unmoving, funneling my own energy directly into Cole.
I turned my head until I could see him in my peripheral vision, deeper inside the alcove. His was the only voice I’d heard for the past hundred years. The only name I knew anymore. He rubbed his eyes, trying to pry them open with his fingers. “This part never gets easier,” he said.
I faced forward again, looking out over the dark ground. I had this niggling feeling that I was forgetting something very important. The more I tried to figure out what it was, the more my heart pounded. If I could just remember, my heart wouldn’t explode.
And then it hit me. When I’d opened my eyes, I’d forgotten the face. His face. That’s what it was.
I closed my eyes again, and there he was. Hair that flopped forward in a tangled mess. Big brown eyes that could search me out in any crowd. Callused hands that could lead me anywhere.
I couldn’t remember the name that went with the face. I’d lost it years ago.
Cole shifted so that he was sitting beside me. He had shaken off the shroud of a deep sleep. “Nik, look at me. ” There was a strange urgency to his voice. I twisted my head to look at him and was struck by how attractive he still was. I had been in his arms, but I hadn’t seen his face for a century. It was the same. His blond hair framed his dark eyes—eyes that were wide open now, in surprise. His gaze roved over my face, my body. “How did you do it?”
“Do what?” My voice sounded strange. I wasn’t really paying attention to what he was saying because I was thinking about being wrapped up with him again. Being whole again. I started to lean toward him, but he put his hands on my shoulders and studied me.
“You … you’re still the same Nikki. You survived. ” He cupped my face in his hands, and then turned it left and right, as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “I found you. ”
“What do you mean?”
He shook his head with a strange smile on his lips. “I mean, I’ve searched for you—for someone like you—for thousands of years. ” He tilted his head back and gazed up, as if he were thanking the cavern ceiling for something. He clasped my hands so tightly it hurt. “You have no idea what this means. This. Never. Happens. Nik, you don’t have to go to the Tunnels. You can stay with me. Become an Everliving. ”
He jumped off the ledge and stood on the ground, the Shades there making way for his feet. He reached out his hand. “Come with me, Nik. ”
I looked at his hand, and then up at his face. “Where?”
“Out of here. ” He gestured to the giant cavern. “You can live forever like me, and you won’t have to go to the Tunnels. ” His face involuntarily grew hard. It seemed even immortals were scared of the Tunnels.
I reached for his hand, then hesitated as I remembered that face. The one with the brown eyes. The boy with the hands that fit mine just right. I’m not sure how, but I knew if I went with Cole, I’d never see that face again. The boy with that face was not an Everliving.
He was a human, and he was on the Surface. Where I’d left him. I knew it like I knew I needed air to live.
“No,” I said. I pushed away from him and stood up on my own. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew I had another choice. “I’m going home. ”
The Shades at Cole’s feet whipped into a frenzy at this. “Wait,” Cole said, the realization of what I’d said sinking in. “Wait! She doesn’t know what she’s saying!”
But they didn’t change course. One Shade rose from the whirlpool and, in front of my eyes, morphed into the shape of a dagger, driving itself into my shoulder. It felt like a hot poker, searing through my flesh. As I screamed, other Shades gathered round. They snatched me up, and in a whirlwind of black, I flew through the air as the sound of Cole’s voice grew faint behind me, shouting my name.
Where am I?
I wasn’t in the Everneath anymore; the light was too bright, the odors too strong.
I rolled over onto my back and found myself staring into fluorescent lights that weren’t lit, yet I had to shield my eyes. I looked around. On my right, a mop leaned against the wall in the corner, next to a brown wooden door with a NO ADMITTANCE sign. On my left were rows and rows of potato chips and candy, a couple of soda fountains, and a counter with a cash register.
It was a store—a convenience store, probably—and despite the brightness of the place, it was the middle of the night. I realized how dark the Feed cavern must’ve been if even the middle of the night was too bright for me here.
I shifted, and a sharp pain shot through my shoulder, still tender from where the Shade had stabbed me.
I closed my eyes and pictured the boy with the brown hair, and as I took in my first really deep breath of Surface air, a name to match the face came to me. A name I’d been trying to cling to for a century.
Park City High School.
Five and a half months of my Return left.
It was too soon.
But, really, I’d been gone for a hundred years. Everything about my old life would feel like it was coming at me too soon. Especially high school. I stepped through the doors of Park City High and nearly choked on the smell of fresh paint. I glanced around. None of the other students seemed to be affected by it, but it made my eyes water.
The halls of the high school looked the same, reminding me that aboveground—far above the Everneath—only six months had passed while I was away. Time moves differently in the Everneath. One hundred years to me was just months on the Surface. Everything was the same. And everything was different.
A banner hung above the entrance to the upper-class hall. PARK CITY HIGH: HOME OF THE MINERS. Right then a few large boys dressed in football jerseys and jeans ran under the sign, jumping and high-fiving the Miner’s chisel as they went.
Junior year. A waste of time in one respect, considering I’d never make it to the end of the year, let alone graduation. I only had six months before the Tunnels came for me.
But I needed to be here. Needed to glimpse, for a moment, the life I had before. The year I should’ve had. To see Jack one last time, despite how we left things. To see my family again.
This was my chance to say good-bye. It was a chance I didn’t get last time.
I scanned the hallway, searching for his face, but looked down quickly after catching a few questioning stares. I knew he was here somewhere in the building. The thought gave me goose bumps.
At least I had enough emotions left inside me to even get goose bumps. Blushes and chills didn’t take much— I’d recovered them about a week ago, along with all of my memories. But it was the stronger emotions, the ones that produced laughter and tears, that eluded me still.
I glanced down at my schedule. First-period English literature. As I checked the room numbers at the tops of the doors, curious whispers floated along the hall behind me, hanging in the air above my head.
Isn’t that Nikki Beckett? She looks awful….
Is she still using?
Has to be…. What else would do that to a person?
Does he know she’s back? Does he know she’s strung out?
When I found the right room, I clutched my books to my chest, lowered my head, and walked through the door.
Someone—probably the new English teacher—called from near the front of the classroom. “Miss Beckett, is it?”
Hearing my own last name did strange things to my heart. Made it beat a little faster. A little harder. It had been so long since I’d had a last name. For a hundred years, Cole had called me only by my first name. It was how the Everliving treated their Forfeits—if you didn’t have a last name, you didn’t have a life outside the Everneath. Nothing to want to come back to. Maybe that was why he was so surprised that I chose to Return.
I stopped just inside the doorway and lifted my head toward the teacher, keeping a few strands of hair in front of my eyes as I nodded in response.
“Welcome. ” She hesitated as she took in my appearance. People did that a lot. My dad told me it was because I looked like a malnourished animal, ready to sprint. I’d lost a lot of weight, and my dark hair no longer held any curls. “The principal told me to expect you. I’m Mrs. Stone. I see you have the textbook. ”
I nodded again.
“There’s an empty chair in the back there, and here’s a supplemental book on mythology. ” She pointed toward the rear of the classroom, but I kept my gaze on her. “You’ll have to work hard to catch up with the rest of the class. ”
I turned and shuffled down the middle row until I reached the empty place at the back. Once seated, I took out my notebook and pencil and leaned forward over my desk so my hair created a curtain on either side of my face.
I could do this.
But I could taste the curiosity in the air. Literally. Cole used to tell me that the Everneath would change me—make me more in tune with the emotions of others because I was so empty of my own. Now that I was back, I could “taste” emotions hanging around me.