Chapter One (Unedited)

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Julianna

December 18, 2012 – Just after midnight

I sat tucked into the small window seat of my bedroom and burrowed under the blanket, savoring the warmth it gave me. With the lights off, the flurries of snow could just be seen in the dark. The weather forecast had called for a snowfall on my birthday, but I hadn't gotten my hopes up. Therefore, it was a pleasant surprise as the antique grandfather clock downstairs heralded in the new day to see the ground outside turning white.

I rested my forehead against the cool glass of the window and closed my eyes. The peaceful silence sank into me and I smiled. Today was my Sweet Sixteen. My parents, in an attempt to hide the fact they'd been fighting again, had said I could stay home from school. Which was fine, considering the following day started winter break anyway. My mind drifted, not quite dozing, but not fully awake either.

A streak of light suddenly flashed, bright enough to pierce through my closed eyes. Startled awake, I jumped and smacked my head against the glass of the window. I let out a yelp of pain and scrambled off the bench, tripping over the blanket as it tangled around my legs. My head clutched my forehead where it throbbed and I glanced around my room, dazed.

"Mom! Dad?" I cried out, as the room began to slowly spin a circle around me. I took an unsteady step forward and bumped into a small table I kept a lamp and my alarm on. Both hands flew to my ears and I winced when the table toppled in the dim room and the contents on it crashed to the floor. The sound practically vibrating through my ears at a frequency almost painful.

I suddenly felt hot, like I had a fever, burning up and began to sweat. Scared, I called out for my parents once again. "Mom! Daddy, please!" My skin felt tight, my heart was racing and my head began to pound. I dropped to my knees, crying.

The door swung open so hard it bounced against the wall and I looked up to see my mother racing into the room. She'd obviously been asleep, her blonde hair disheveled and eyes still had the blurry, unfocused look to them. But as they landed on me, they widened and cleared immediately.

"Glenn! Call 911, now!" she yelled over her shoulder as she raced over to me. She dropped to her knees beside me and wrapped an arm around me. "What's wrong, Anna? What happened?"

Before I could respond, my father skidded into the room with the phone clutched in his hand speaking quickly. "–at 665 Stoneridge, yes. I'm not sure, hold on," he said to the person on the other end then dropped down beside me. "Carlie, what's going on?" he asked my mom, worry dripping through his tone.

I opened my mouth to answer, then watched in shock as the world started to slowly tilt sideways. My mind sluggishly registered my mother screaming. Helpless, I could only lay there as everything faded to black.

***

I fell, the distance great and daunting. One moment I was standing in solitude and the next the wind rushed around me. I'd known it would happen; one didn't go against commands and not be punished. But mercy was sometimes necessary, and love was to be shown, or so we'd been taught. I had learned through my time nothing was black and nothing was white, but there were many shades of gray. Others weren't ready for such truths.

Pain. Such excruciating pain enveloped me from within. The agony had me writhing and twisting in the air even as I continued to fall. The screams were inhuman, and I barely recognized them as my own. It felt as if everything within me was being turned inside out, broken and pieced back together, but not as it should.

The burning misery of my body plummeted faster and faster, ever gaining momentum. I knew what had happened to me, just as I knew why. The feeling of bitter betrayal swept over me, overriding the intense discomfort my body was experiencing. As the Earth rose to meet me, there was no regret for what had caused this. I knew I would make the same choice again, for it was what we'd been asked to do.

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