Unearthly Page 1

Prologue

In the beginning, there’s a boy standing in the trees. He’s around my age, in that space between child and man, maybe all of seventeen years old. I’m not sure how I know this. I can only see the back of his head, his dark hair curling damply against his neck. I feel the dry heat of the sun, so intense, drawing the life from everything. There’s a strange orange light filling the eastern sky. There’s the heavy smell of smoke. For a moment I’m filled with such a smothering grief that it’s hard to breathe. I don’t know why. I take a step toward the boy, open my mouth to call his name, only I don’t know it. The ground crunches under my feet. He hears me. He starts to turn. One more second and I will see his face.

That’s when the vision leaves me. I blink, and it’s gone.

Chapter 1

On Purpose

The first time, November 6 to be exact, I wake up at two a.m. with a tingling in my head like tiny fireflies dancing behind my eyes. I smell smoke. I get up and wander from room to room to make sure no part of the house is on fire. Everything’s fine, everybody sleeping, tranquil. It’s more of a campfire smoke, anyway, sharp and woodsy. I chalk it up to the usual weirdness that is my life. I try, but can’t get back to sleep. So I go downstairs. And I’m drinking a glass of water at the kitchen sink, when, with no other warning, I’m in the middle of the burning forest. It’s not like a dream. It’s like I’m physically there. I don’t stay long, maybe all of thirty seconds, and then I’m back in the kitchen, standing in a puddle of water because the glass has fallen from my hand.

Right away I run to wake Mom. I sit at the foot of her bed and try not to hyperventilate as I go over every detail of the vision I can remember. It’s so little, really, just the fire, the boy.

“Too much at once would be overwhelming,” she says. “That’s why it will come to you this way, in pieces.”

“Is that how it was when you received your purpose?”

“That’s how it is for most of us,” she says, neatly dodging my question.

She won’t tell me about her purpose. It’s one of those off-limits topics. This bugs me because we’re close, we’ve always been close, but there’s this big part of her that she refuses to share.

“Tell me about the trees in your vision,” she says. “What did they look like?”

“Pine, I think. Needles, not leaves.”

She nods thoughtfully, like this is an important clue. But me, I’m not thinking about the trees. I’m thinking about the boy.

“I wish I could have seen his face.”

“You will.”

“I wonder if I’m supposed to protect him.”

I like the idea of being his rescuer. All angel-bloods have purposes of different types—some are messengers, some witnesses, some meant to comfort, some just doing things that cause other things to happen—but guardian has a nice ring to it. It feels particularly angelic.

“I can’t believe you’re old enough to have your purpose,” Mom says with a sigh. “Makes me feel old.”

“You are old.”

She can’t argue with that, being that she’s over a hundred and all, even though she doesn’t look a day over forty. I, on the other hand, feel exactly like what I am: a clueless (if not exactly ordinary) sixteen-year-old who still has school in the morning. At the moment I don’t feel like there’s any angel blood in me. I look at my beautiful, vibrant mother, and I know that whatever her purpose was, she must have faced it with courage and humor and skill.

“Do you think . . . ,” I say after a minute, and it’s tough to get the question out because I don’t want her to think I’m a total coward. “Do you think it’s possible for me to be killed by fire?”

“Clara.”

“Seriously.”

“Why would you say that?”

“It’s just that when I was standing there behind him, I felt so sad. I don’t know why.”

Mom’s arms come around me, pull me close so I can hear the strong, steady beating of her heart.

“Maybe the reason I’m so sad is that I’m going to die,” I whisper.

Her arms tighten.

“It’s rare,” she says quietly.

“But it does happen.”

“We’ll figure it out together.” She hugs me closer and smoothes the hair away from my face the way she used to when I had nightmares as a kid. “Right now you should rest.”

I’ve never felt more awake in my life, but I stretch out on her bed and let her pull the covers over us. She puts her arm around me. She’s warm, radiating heat like she’s been standing in sunshine, even in the middle of the night. I inhale her smell: rosewater and vanilla, an old lady’s perfume. It always makes me feel safe.

When I close my eyes, I can still see the boy. Standing there waiting. For me. Which seems more important than the sadness or the possibility of dying some gruesome fiery death. He’s waiting for me.

I wake to the sound of rain and a soft gray light seeping through the blinds. I find Mom standing at the kitchen stove scraping scrambled eggs into a serving bowl, already dressed and ready for work like any other day, her long, auburn hair still wet from the shower. She’s humming to herself. She seems happy.

“Morning,” I announce.

She turns, puts down the spatula, and crosses the linoleum to give me a quick hug. Her smile is proud, like that time I won the district spelling bee in third grade: proud, but like she never expected anything less.

“How are you doing this morning? Hanging in there?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

“What’s going on?” my brother, Jeffrey, says from the doorway.

We turn to look at him. He’s leaning against the doorjamb, still rumpled with sleep and smelly and grumpy as usual. He’s never been what you might call a morning person. He stares at us. A flicker of fear crosses his face, like he’s bracing for horrible news, like someone we know has died.

“Your sister has received her purpose.” Mom smiles again, but it’s less jubilant than before. A cautious smile.

He looks me up and down like he’ll be able to find evidence of the divine somewhere on my body. “You had a vision?”

“Yeah. About a forest fire.” I shut my eyes and see it all again: the hillside crowded with pine trees, the orange sky, the smoke rolling past. “And a boy.”

“How do you know it wasn’t just a dream?”

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