Chapter Seven

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Everything in me stilled as the figures moved around, like smoke in the air, curling and twisting in their pale purplish light. The realization hit me after a moment of staring, disbelieving, at what was before me. Aliens. Luyians. And even as recognition smacked me in the face, I still wasn't sure. I'd never seen Beck's true for before—he drew it for me, once, but never was able to show me. Once the Luyians pick their human form, they can't change back. At least, not on Earth.

And now I was staring at four newly touched down Luyians, in the flesh. Well. Sort of.

The smoke and light filled beings curled around in the air, as if wandering around in a circle in the roadway. A strange feeling worked its way through me as I watched them move around, something similar to disbelief, to a certain kind of shell-shocked. It was one thing to believe Beck in there being aliens—that took me a while, in all honesty—but it was another to be faced with them, in the day, in reality.

And there were four of them.

Cassian rustled the bush behind me, parting a few branches with his fingers so he could see. The shadows of light paid no attention to the sound, but I gripped Cassie's fingers tighter. Please don't speak, I thought in the little boy's direction, my heart in my throat. Don't speak, don't speak, don't make a sound.

Cassie, though, seemed to understand, and kept his silence.

The shadows shifted, and paper materialized from their...bodies. Their hands? From the shadowy space where their hands would've been. From the distance Cassie and I stood at, I couldn't see exactly what was on the pieces of paper, but they flapped in the breeze, the one that the darkening sky brought along.

A second later, the light that held the papers positioned in midair turned into skin, fingers, hands—a body.

It was like watching a high budget scifi movie. All at once, their purplish-like glow morphed into more skin-like appearance, the lilac pigment seeping away. The four beings of light turned into four humans—three women, one man. One of the women had straight black hair that nearly reached her elbows, her almond-shaped eyes half-hidden by a pair of pink glasses frames. The other woman stood tall, taller than all three of the aliens combined, with her dark hair twisted back into a high ponytail. The last woman stood with the paper crumpled in a small fist, the appearance of a teenager almost, her auburn hair similar to Beck's. Every one of them wore a black ensemble, like they were about to go on a heist.

But the man...the man was what threw me. Because he was tall, he was broad-shouldered, and he was entirely familiar. He was...he was...

He was the striking image of my father. My dead father.

"What street are we on?" the man demanded, his voice pitching low as he raised his voice. The sound of it took all the air from my lungs, like the words themselves reached into my chest and pulled every last drop of oxygen out, ripping along my throat and leaving me raw. Cassian's hand twitched in my own, but I didn't even know if he was old enough to remember my father. Yeah, Grisham Falls was a small town, but it wasn't often that the Michaels' and the Verandez's paths crossed. Still, those five fingers were grounding, and though the world still swayed beneath my feet, I didn't feel like my face was about to be introduced to it. "The meeting point was on Fletching, wasn't it?"

The black-haired woman shifted on her feet, folding her paper up and slipping it into her back pocket, pulling out a small metallic device. "Indeed. But this seems to be named Brooke. At least, that's what my meter tells me."

The man—not my father, no, no, no—frowned, his dark mustache pinching on his lip. The mustache threw me for a moment, because Dad hadn't had one since I was littler, years before he passed. But it was still him. No, not him. But I couldn't help but trace all of the features that I could see; the wideness of his nose, the set of his eyes, the cut to his hair. My father, through and through, and yet...not. But there was no trace of the alien hosting his face. "How far is Fletching from here, exactly? I'm sure he's already waiting for us."

"Not far. It's in that direction," one said, pointing in the direction of Cassian and me. My breath stalled in my throat, afraid they'd see us peeking. But they didn't launch after us; they remained in the same place. "Are you sure he's had time to collect everyone?"

"The mutts will have taken care of what he hasn't," the auburn-haired girl said, pointing off in the direction of Fletching. "He's good, he'll have cleaned up this mess."

Cassie started tugging on my hand, hard, hard enough for me to stumble back a step. The bushes rustled loudly as my hand fell from the branches, but before I could see if the sound turned any heads, I stumbled back, back into the backyard. "Cassie," I whispered as quietly as I could, grabbing his arm.

"We need to go," he whispered back, eyes wide and frantic. I could see myself in them—dazed, absent, pale. "They're going to Fletching."

I blinked, trying to understand why his words sounded like they were under water. "And?"

"We're going to Fletching," he said, pinching at my fingers. "That's the place Beck is meeting us, isn't it?"

Yes, I wanted to say, that is where Beck said he'd meet us. Beck said he'd meet me there, at his apartment, in the closet.

"We have to beat them there," Cassian went on. "We can't cross paths with them, Jonas. We can't let them abduct us. That's what aliens do, and they will. We have to beat them to Fletching and hide."

Beat them to Fletching. Cross paths. Cross paths with my father, my dead father, the alien wearing my dead father's face. "Cassie, they're closer to the street than we are. This was my shortcut."

"Yes, but they think Fletching is in the direction of my house. If we leave now, we'll be able to beat them." His tiny lips screwed up as he looked up at me, and he tried to shake me. "Please, Jonas, please."

Beck, I thought to the universe, clenching my jaw so tight that I could feel my teeth shake. Beck, why couldn't you have been standing four inches closer. Oh, that's right. Because I pushed him. Damn it.

"Jonas!" The noise that came from his throat was so quiet it almost sounded like a mouse's squeak.

"Okay," I said, forcing myself to shake out of the shell-shocked stupor, readjusting my position on Cassian's hand. "Okay, let's move before they come this way."

That was the response Cassie was waiting for. He jerked me, hard and fast, nearly pulling me off my feet entirely. The coldness in the air had seeped into my muscles, making them stiff and solid-feeling, but he pulled me into movement. My shoes slipped on the frost that covered the grass—no, not frost. It wasn't cold enough for frost, was it? But the entire ground glittered as if a thin layer of ice covered it.

But the ice looked...purple.

Cassie led the way back through his friend's yard, and this time I didn't pay much attention to the toys littering the grass, and the toe of my shoe came down on a baseball bat left in the tall greenery. It rolled under my weight, twisting my ankle. Cassian's hand slipped from mine as I hit the ground, my palms barely catching before I hit my face. I yelped as a stab of pain worked its way up my ankle, one that sounded way too loud in my ears.

"Jonas!" Cassian knelt down immediately, grabbing at my arms. "Get up, Jonas. We have to go. We have to move. Get up."

The watery grass tickled my fingers, but as I rubbed into it, a familiar scent washed over me. The dew wasn't dew at all. It was cool to the touch, but slippery, slimy—I'd felt this material before. It was on the business card Jev gave me almost a year ago, coating the paper—coated in something that almost killed me.

I pushed to my knees, swiping my hands along my apron, trying to get as much off as I can. "Don't touch the grass," I said immediately, looking down to where the hem of his jeans dragged, and how the material was darkened. "Don't let it get on your skin."

"Get up," he said again, pulling on my skin, hard enough to bruise. I tried to push to my feet, but as soon as I tried put weight onto my foot, another stab of pain shot up my ankle. I didn't cry out this time, but sucked in a sharp breath, dropping back to my knees to relieve the fire. "Jonas."

"I can't," I told him, my body shaking from the memory of pain. I glanced to where my ankle folded in the grass, my skin touching the glittering material. "Cassian, I twisted my ankle. I can't walk."

Cassian froze. "You have to walk. They're—"

In the direction of the bushes came voices, loud voices. The voice of my father's rang out, close. Close.

They're coming.

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