This started out as a short story I wrote back in 2011, but is now the first chapter of a full novel I worked on in 2012.
I sprinted down the deserted street, my black umbrella gripped tightly in my hand, as the rain poured down on me. It was as if the sky was crying for me, the person that was missing, as I had cried the night before. My eyes darted back and forth as I pushed away the hair that kept blowing into my face. Why was this happening to me? Why did he do this?
I had been moving for nearly half an hour, though the destination I set out for was merely five minutes from my starting point. I could not bring myself to stop. My legs wanted to keep carrying me, as if running would release the panic that occupied every inch of my body. My chest was tight; my lungs strained against it as they tried to expand with each new, shallow breath.
There was a goal in mind, a destination I was determined to reach, and it was obvious by the look on my…the face. My dark boots splashed urgently through the moonlit puddles as my pace quickened. I was nearing the spot and stopped suddenly, the area beginning to look familiar to my frightened gaze.
Darting past the dim streetlamps, towering above my head on elaborately ornamented poles, I attempted to get my bearings. Scanning the buildings that rose up on either side of the cobbled street, my mind raced to find the information hidden back in the recesses. Instead, it caught the memory of yesterday that I had attempted to force out.
My heartbeat pounded in my ears and my body shook, quivering with fear and shock as I ran, nearly blinded by my tears, down the dark hallway. I stumbled into walls, but I didn’t care; there was somewhere I needed to go, and it was in sight. This would tell me, once and for all, what I was terrified to know.
Placing the flickering candle down harder than I needed to, I illuminated the room. Light bounced off the perfect, spotless items that filled the corners of the bathroom, but I was only interested in one object.
The pane of glass before my eyes told me falsehoods, reflecting back an image that did not belong in this house. Sleek, black locks of hair flowed down over the figure’s shoulders, caressing them with softness. Brown eyes glistened in the beams of light that hit the pale face and shattered its world.
I slowly pushed the sleeve of my nightgown up to reveal my right shoulder. Rising out of the skin was the familiar red mark, the circle with the “X”. It seared with white-hot pain as I grimaced and let my sleeve drop down to cover it up once more, knowing all too well that nothing would cool it.
My hands slowly moved upward, running over the unusual features, trying to make sense of it all. The hands—they were smaller than I remembered. The thin legs felt like they would not hold me upright much longer. What was happening? Who was this stranger that was trying to take over my life?
This was all too much to process, to hold in my mind. I fell backward onto the porcelain edge of the white tub, unable to keep my weak legs steady. My brain pummeled my skull as it raced with thoughts and possible ways to proceed from this point. I dropped my head down into my hands as the throbbing began to get worse. In an instant, I was lying on the cold floor as if the pain had launched me forward.
Grabbing the edge of the counter that towered above me, I used all my strength to pull myself up to my knees, and then slowly back onto my feet. Reaching for the nearest object, I wrapped my already white knuckles around it. I felt the blood—someone else’s blood—pulsing through my body as I picked it up and smashed the mirror, like this act would change something.
Glass rained down around me as I fell back down to the floor, some of it etching tiny red lines into my skin. But that pain didn’t matter.
The unfamiliar had taken over my body.
Quietly treading up the steps in the dead of night, I reached the menacing blue-black door with the familiar numbers engraved on the front. They were barely visible with only a shadowy bit of light from the moon illuminating them, but I knew this place well. I traced my fingers over each number, taking a moment to gather the courage I’d need. Raising my hand, I knocked against the door, softly at first but gaining strength through my fury. A few seconds later, the door began to creak open, revealing the wrinkled face of an old woman.
“Ah, I knew we’d be seeing you. The girl is here, Deimon,” her voice croaked out, sounding like a witch’s cackle.
I stepped through the door warily; following her finger’s beckoning motion, which proceeded to point me down the hall. My feet dragged along the carpet as if they were trying to pull me back out into the night. Carrying myself down the murky red, worn out rug, I made my way through the narrow hall, only a few candles lighting my path. The walls were slanted, giving the house an unrealistic and rather unsteady appearance. It felt like walking through a nightmare.
I wrapped my arms around myself, feeling the chill of a ghostly presence following behind me. Reaching the end of the hallway, a huge black door that seemed like it shouldn’t fit inside the house stood before me. Gathering up all the nerve that I could possibly find inside myself, I grabbed the metal door handle and slowly willed my body forward.
Before I had even made it partially into the room, I heard the low chuckling coming from the corner, which was dimly lit by a piece of wood ablaze in the fireplace. One could barely make out the features of the space; however, having been there many times, I knew the picture of the area was forever burned into my mind.
The walls were covered in dark paper, the color of blood, with russet lines running in jagged patterns, presumably some sort of significant design, all over it. In the right corner, a wooden desk and leather chair sat in front of lofty, towering bookshelves, each completely filled. The other corner held the large marble fireplace and that tall, black leather chair, conveniently placed in the shadows.
Walking into the room, the atmosphere became even more fearsome. The scent of herb and spice was overpowering, making the air exceedingly stuffy and hard to breathe. A chill flooded over my body, despite the warmth emanating from the constantly blazing fireplace.
My feet stepped silently forward, my knees beginning to shake as I entered this sanctuary of darkness. I drew in a deep breath, clenched my fists, and tried to keep as steady as possible, knowing I would have to be strong in here.
Carrying along on my journey toward the chair, I brought myself close enough to see the body that sat on the creased cushion. The chuckling stopped but the smirk remained on the man’s face.
“Anna, I knew we would be seeing you.” The sinister face emerged into the glow of the crackling embers. His eyes burned blood red with death, and his sharp, white teeth glinted through his malevolent smile.
“You know why I’m here, Deimon,” I said tersely, shoving down the lump of fear that was forcing its way into my throat.
“You missed me, didn’t you? It’s been many days since we saw you last.”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes, instead, keeping my determined gaze as steady as possible. “I’m in no mood for your sarcasm, Deimon. You know what I want.”
He stood up from his chair, slowly moving over to the fireplace and leaning against the mantle. His cape-like outfit of mauve and black velvet swirled around his legs, barely missing the edge of the flames.
“What would you want? I have nothing of yours, Anna,” he said, sounding sarcastically innocent.
“Don’t give me that,” I snarled back, convincing in voice but not in posture as my quivering knees broke the façade of strength that I had donned.
“What if I don’t want to give it to you? I mean, I quite like the way you look now.”
“The way I look like someone else? Someone no one knows? Someone I don’t know?”
Pushing himself away from the mantle, he began to travel toward me. Reaching his rough-skinned hand out, he held my face, pulling it up to meet his gaze. His eyes seemed to ponder the features for a minute, taking it all in. Then, his expression changed to a look of delight, pleasure in the job he had done, as he dropped his hand and began pacing around the room. I stood in the same place, watching him, following his every move.
“What if I were to agree to give it back?” he leered.
“We would work something out. Or I will keep up our original bargain; I’d be better off that way. At least the stolen life would truly be mine.”
“And if I were to refuse?” I stayed silent as he strode up to me once more, moving his face close to mine. “You wouldn’t be able to do anything, would you?” He chuckled again.
He was correct about this. I was weak, powerless compared to him—or at least that was what he wanted me to believe.
“Exactly as I thought. Are you forgetting who gave you the little power you have? I can control you, destroy you in less than a second, and you come to me, ungrateful for what I have done.”
“You thought I would be grateful when you changed me into a stranger?” I growled through clenched teeth.
This time, the fear had truly left me. There had been anger boiling beneath that layer and now it was ready to burst forth. My knuckles were bright white from being clenched and my body was shaking. I felt my face heating up and the words I wished to scream choking in my throat, wanting to be released.
“You forced me into this; against my will you made me join you. Do you consider capturing me, stealing me from my family, as my consent to this?” I screamed at him.
I was outraged that he would even imply that I wanted to be someone I’m not. He changed me into this; he made me a different person on the outside. But he could never change who I was on the inside.
“Don’t you dare scream at me! You knew this was coming; you knew from the very beginning. This was part of the deal…” He jabbed his finger at me to accent each word he spoke.
“It was not a deal of any sort!”
“It was either this or your death!”
“I’d rather be dead than live like this!”
Our voices had slowly been rising and now, with that sentence, we crashed down into complete silence aside from the hissing and spitting of the fire. We stood there, staring into each other’s equally piercing gaze.
“When I took you in years ago, you were forever bound to our group. I gave you a new life, a perfect one, and all this time you’ve known what I required in return. You knew you were to be like us. They are all different and now it’s your turn. This is all part of the life you are required to live now and a consequence of the one you wished to live in the past. You are one of us and you have the mark to prove it.” He said this more quietly and through gritted teeth, yet it still rumbled threateningly in my ears.
“What do you even need me for? What purpose will I serve?” I cried out angrily, but he did not respond.
I couldn’t believe that I was fighting to remain myself. It is naturally taken for granted that one will continue to live as they always have, in the body they were born into. I was now no longer myself; I was a different person, an unfamiliar person, on the outside. However, on the inside I was still Anna, and that is what hurt me the most.
“The terms are the same, Anna; either you stay this way, with us, or I take your life.”
“You already took my life.”
And with that, I turned and stormed out of the building, back into the rainy streets that once knew me. Glancing down, I caught a glimpse of my reflection, lit by the glow of a single lamp, in a puddle that had formed beneath it. The strange face stared back at me; that which was separating me from the ones that I loved, the life that I once cherished. Long black hair, instead of blonde, adorned my head and the eyes that gazed back were brown, not blue. As I stood there surveying the face, trying to get used to it, I could no longer tell whether the wetness on my cheeks was the rain or my tears.
I would forever be an unfamiliar.