Prologue

The day had been normal. Beautiful even. The Maddy family drove through the winding forest roads, canopied by trees and the odd glimpse of sunlight. Gabriella Maddy had been napping in the middle of the back row, her head resting on the shoulder of her little sister. Stretching her arms out like a cat, she pulled herself up, cursing the stiffness in her neck. It was then she realised that something was missing. It took a moment for her sleepy brain to acknowledge the fact that she had forgotten to use her seat belt. Groaning at her stupidity, she reached for it. The next thing she knew, she was flying.

In her post-nap daze, she was oblivious to the screams of her parents, the squeal of brakes and the agonising din of metal cramming itself together. All she felt was the sensation of soaring. Like an eagle, she flew towards the sunlight, crashing through the windscreen as she went. The screen shattered; fragments of glass tearing through her soft, ivory skin. Gabriella could see the glass inside of her arm, shining like glitter in the sunlight. There was no pain. Just a numb sense of falling. She could hear her body slamming onto the bonnet of the opposite car; the distant screams of her baby sister; the groans of the other driver trapped below her.

She could not move her head. Her fingers. Her toes. Gabriella watched as bright red lava erupted through her skin and flowed down her arms. In her numbed mind, she could not register the reality of the situation. She just watched, eerily fascinated, as her life fled from her body and trickled across the bonnet to soak the tarmac below.

I’m dying. The thought erupted through her mind. She blinked, confused at first. Shouldn’t she be scared? Upset? Angry? Instead, she felt at peace. In her fifteen years, she had accomplished little. She had only ever won cheap certificates printed at a rush the night before award presentation. She had never been kissed. She had never even tasted sushi. But none of this mattered now. Gabriella could feel death closing in. The world around her was growing darker and cooler. Closing her eyes, she imagined heaven. It would be full of cats, she decided, and lemon tea. There would be no school and she could lie in every morning. Her room would, of course, clean itself.

But death didn’t come.

Gabriella flung open her eyes impatiently. She found herself laid out on the ground of a forest clearing. Her body remained insolent to her demands. She tried to move her head but she found herself unable to do so. All she could do was look up at the trees above her, the leaves shielding her from the sunlight.

A twig snapping from nearby told her she was not alone.

Gabriella tried to scream for help but no sound came out. She opened her lips and closed them, finding them as useful as a goldfish’s. Her head felt light and her vision blurred. Through the fog, she could just make out the shape of a young woman, kneeling over her. Her skin was pale, far paler than Gabriella’s and her hair was fair, almost silver in the dim light.

Gabriella felt the ice-cold touch of lips on hers before she slipped into the blackness.

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