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Monster

Summary:
I'm nothing but a monster burning in a hell that only exists in my head. There's no hope left until one harmless glance chances logic and binds two eternal enemies together in a twist of fate. Can the escape from this hell be found in an infuriating dimpled grin? Or is this another dark, dirty trick of my own mind? A forbidden passion, heat, and intense anger—this is no fairytale.


Notes:
[Disclaimer: Monster is an originally plotted fic. The ideas within this fic are not to be copied in any way, shape, or form—I have not given my consent to any manner of copying. All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the intellectual property of their respective owners. All canon concepts and characters are the property of the Twilight Saga's author, Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended. Similarities are for the sole use of fan fiction, and no profit has been or will be benefited from the posting of this fic.] Emerging Swan Award 2012, nominated into Fandom Choice Awards.


15. Monster

Rating 0/5   Word Count 7284   Review this Chapter

"I feel it deep within,
It's just beneath the skin
I must confess that I
Feel like a monster
I hate what I've become
The nightmare's just begun
I must confess that I
Feel like a monster
I feel like a monster." - Skillet.

Chapter Fifteen

Monster

I had never experienced anything like I did in the early weeks of my fourteenth year. It was harsh. It was cruel. It was ugly. Above all things, it was the time that formed the monster in me. There were many hateful words I could use to describe that experience, but without it, I never would have learned what it meant to struggle. I never would have learned what free will was. I never would have discovered the magnitude of the monster inside me.

I wouldn't complain about the events of that time. I had been the Fruit Loop in the box of Cheerios for quite a while, but it never mattered. So what if I was a little loopy? There was no reason to complain about leaving a legacy, even if you were wacko when you did.

I could describe each bloody detail about what happened in that year without a pause or a flinch. Some shuddered at the gruesome stories I shared. Others couldn't stand to even listen to the tales from those times. When I thought back on that part of my life, I might have smiled at the hardcore trouble I was. It was almost amusing to think about. But even through all the blood and struggle, it was worth it, for that time had changed me in more ways than I could have ever imagined.

May 11th, 2005.

Nothing. I felt absolutely nothing. I was just a weightless form, hovering in between existence and nothingness. I could feel my body being moved, lifted and placed onto a soft surface. When I tried to open my eyes, nothing happened. The blackness continued on forever—it was a never-ending land of nothing.

"Sam," I breathed. "Paul . . . where am I?" There was no response other than a dull ache in my lungs.

I was alone. The thought was comforting, yet chilling at the same time. Where were they? Where was I? I knew I had to escape wherever I was, but I didn't even know how to move. There was nothing I could do, and I was so tired…

Maybe I had slept a bit. One moment I was tired, and the next I wasn't. I felt faded, slipping in between one wave of pressuring blackness to the next. The ocean of darkness still surrounded me, and I was still floating. In some places, I swear I saw colors: blurs of white and brown. All of them were smudged, though, and they were formless, meaningless.

"What?" I spoke to the colors, my voice a sharp wisp of wind. "What do you want?"

"Miss Uley," the colors responded. The sound of their voices was low and deep. "You're fine. Just close your eyes and sleep."

I could feel my head shake slightly, stubbornness rising up inside of me. "No."

One of the colors—I think it was the white—sighed. "She must have been given a heavy dose."

The brown laughed. "She needed it. Our hunter did well to inject her. What a pity, though, that she took his life. I don't think she realizes how truly disoriented she is."

"Only time will tell. The ones with mental issues usually are the hardest to treat."

"No." The brown's tone turned hard. "She won't be treated. She will be punished for what she has done. She's not even tamed. She's too far gone."

I thought the white and brown continued to talk to each other, but I couldn't tell. I was opening my mouth, trying to argue against them, but my throat was too dry. The white and brown swam together before my eyes, clashing, and were swallowed by the blackness.

Sleep captured me once more. It could have been for seconds, minutes, or even hours. But this time, when my eyes opened, it was only a reaction to movement. I was being rocked back and forth, my feet dangling a few inches off the ground.

Blackness had taken over my vision, leaving me nearly senseless. I could still feel the edge of my clothing brushing against my skin in motion with my body, but nothing else. There was the tap of footfalls and an occasional drip of water, but otherwise, nothing made sense. I stayed limp, letting the darkness hold me close, until finally, the tapping stopped, and I could hear the slow moan of spreading doors.

The first thing that returned was my sense of smell. The scent of my surroundings struck me hard. Naturally, I recoiled, my nose scrunching in distaste. The stench was utterly sour and raw, shooting through my nostrils in a fiery blast before erupting in my brain. My head pounded, my eyes brimming with wetness produced by the sharp stinging sensation. My stomach clenched and I gagged, my throat squeezing as I inhaled more of the acid-like stench of raw chemicals.

After a few more moments, my buzzing ears popped, restoring my hearing. It was hard to tell if I really could hear; the world seemed to have gone silent. My sense of taste had disappeared in the swell of my tongue while my sense of touch was diminished by the waves of chills freezing my body. I swayed in place, measuring my breath as I was set down in what I thought was a gooey liquid of some sort. I continued to breathe slowly, blinking rapidly at the smudges covering my vision until they too had disappeared. Another few moments passed as my eyes adjusted to the dim room. When the blackness had finally completely faded, I realized that I was in a cell.

It was not your typical jail cell. A jail cell was much more comfortable than this. The cell I was in was in fact a real cell—a place meant to actually confine someone. Rain leaked from the sodden ceiling made of dirt, the thriving darkness undisturbed by the firm dirt walls that blocked out the precious warm rays of sunlight. My vision wavered as I continued to sway, dizzied by the condition of the cell.

Bodies were closely packed together, dressed in the same bland gown that I was wearing. All of them were female. The black hair and droopy cooper skin of each individual made everyone look like siblings. Ribs protruded from below each thin gown. Shoulder blades popped out of backs. Postures were hunched over, and each pair of skinny arms was wrapped around a sunken belly. My stomach rolled again as my eyes took in the pool of ankle-deep muck. It was all a pond of human waste and rotting food; items dropped from the weak, trembling hands of one of the prisoners. The waste swirled around my own ankles, squishing into my toes and sloshing around my legs as I leaned forward, taking a short step.

Not a single person moved. All of them continued to quiver, their bodies cowering while the walls of this hellhole closed in on them. They kept their heads bowed and their arms tucked to their sides, not even acknowledging my presence. All of them completely ignored me, with the exception of a young woman who stepped through the huddle, tripping in the waste and landing on her elbows.

My first impression was that she was dying. This whole place reeked of death and sickness, but just one look at this woman made it clear that the end was near for her. Her russet skin was pale with a greenish tint, and her eyes seemed to have been forced into her skull, rimmed with bruises. The woman hacked and coughed with each shaky breath, her bones were prominent, and her rubbery skin hung loosely over them. Her hair was stringy, too; black as crude oil, shining with grease, and just as limp and lifeless as she was herself. She lay there with the waste around her, not blinking as she gazed blankly at the dirt above her head.

Despite her condition, she still angled her head to look at me, sensing my attention. Her eyes were dull and blank, the warmth in the chocolate brown hue sucked out. My brow furrowed slightly at the look in her eyes, but I had no other reaction. She stared at me, studying me, and I stared back.

After a long moment of silence, the woman smiled. Her mouth simply twitched, the white, chapped line of her lips so thin they might have shattered. She spoke slowly, her voice feather light, a scratchy rasp.

"Aren't you a little too young to be in here?"

I continued to stare, my eyes glued on her frail form. "Aren't you a little too sick to be in here?"

The woman's eyelids drooped shut. "I suppose you are young but not the youngest of us all. Yes, I am sick." The skinny veins in her neck popped out, her chest rising and falling as if talking was exhausting her. Still, the smile remained on her face. "I am much too sick. But I can't leave because the Makah tribe simply has no mercy."

"Makah." I repeated the name on my tongue, my brow furrowing even more at the foreign sound of it.

"Yes, girl. You are in the women's wing of a Makah jail. Have you not noticed all of us are Quileute?" She paused to wheeze. "They think our tribe is full of demons." She paused to collect her breath, the smile showing up once more. "All because of our legends. They capture us when they can and put us in these death traps. The only way you get out is to fight."

Chills prickled up and down my spine as I listened. I kept my tone firm and my gaze steady. "I can fight."

"Good." The woman sighed, her body slumping when the breath escaped. "When they throw you in the ring, that's your only shot to stay alive. They'll put you against our own people that they have brainwashed—those who have won other fights and have been set into lone cells. They will be strong and trained to fight and kill you." She wheezed again. "Good luck."

I knew I was scowling now, but I couldn't help it. My tone turned defensive. "I don't need luck."

The woman was silent again, her breathing fainter. "You sure have some fire in you." Her left eye cracked open, followed by her right. "Maybe just enough to keep you alive. Maybe just enough to mean something. Maybe…" The words tumbled from her mouth as the woman hunched over, her chest still.

All I could do was stand there. I knew there was no reason to try and do something because there was nothing I could do. It was almost as if the whole world had stilled, time itself pausing to respect the woman.

Apparently the men—the Makah men—who worked this place didn't think much of respect. A few moments later, the doors swung open and two of them marched into the room. They held themselves stiffly, their expressions stern and emotionless. My eyes locked on the wide, open doors, instantly thinking of escape.

There were only two men and dozens more women in here. In a heartbeat, all of us could have slipped past the men and escaped while we had the chance. But none of them tried to. In the corner of my eye, I saw everyone scurry into a corner as the men came in. I knew I probably could escape if I set my mind to it, but I was frozen in place. Something was holding me back.

The Makah men ignored all of the sickly people. Each man swept an arm under the woman, lifting her. Her tiny body dangled from their grips as they carried her out. I couldn't help but notice her head bounce with every careless step. Her eyes were still open, too, clouded and lifeless. The men didn't even bother to look at her, though; they simple carried her through the door before shutting it with a crashing bang.

Darkness slid over the room, enveloping it. Silence followed. I wrapped my arms around myself, knowing if I found the group that the huddle would warm me up. But I didn't go. Instead, I stood alone, the last words of the woman playing in my head as I continuously remembered the clouded look in her vacant eyes.

()()()

If I was going to fight, I was going to have to be ready for it. The woman had warned me that we were here for that reason. If the fight was inevitable, or the only way to survive, then fight I would. Every morning after the shade of darkness lightened ever so slightly, I hiked to the shallow edge of the cell. It was there where I trained.

I threw punches against the wall until my knuckles ran bloody. I strained and stretched my muscles until they screamed, reaching maximum flexibility. Breathing exercises, slow and deep, taught me to breathe naturally in counts of eight. All of it was harmless, but my little audience watched with fear in their eyes.

They were just another cluster among hundreds, stationed at the edge of the huddle. Every time I threw a punch, they winced. When they saw me stretch, they cringed with each movement. Whenever I started my breathing exercises, all of them held their breath. Their dead eyes were glued on me like magnets. I didn't know what their problem was until I heard few of them whispering to one another.

"She killed someone," one of them rasped in a hushed tone. "That girl killed another. I heard the guards talking about her one day."

"She's a crazy one, is she?"

"Yes! Why else would she be here at this age? She can't possibly be past her teens."

They paused, falling silent for a moment. I continued to stare at the wall, counting my breaths as if I were oblivious to them. Inhale. 1, 2, 3, 4. Exhale. 5, 6, 7, 8.

"It's even worse that she's training."

"Maybe she'll kill us."

"No, not maybe. She will kill one of us."

I was in haze, trapped in some fuzzy nowhere. But hearing those words did set some tiny ticker off inside of me. My patience with the women, talking about me like I was too stupid to understand, was quickly dying. I focused harder on my breathing.

If it weren't for the loud groan of the cell doors opening, I probably would have hurt one of them.

Twice a day, the doors parted and two guards stepped in. They came to call out a name, and then dragged the woman out to fight. At least, I assumed so. But once a woman left, she never returned. That was how it always was until one day, it all changed.

The doors parted for a third time. The two guards marched in, carrying a battered body between their shoulders. The women shuffled nervously, weak heads raising slightly, dull eyes flicking around nervously. The body was tossed carelessly on the floor as the guards turned, closing the doors with a mighty yank.

In just an instant, the silence shattered. Voices rose and the women shuffled over towards the door, the mucky waste slurping at their feet. The curiosity had even taken me over. I found myself trudging through the waste toward the body.

I ducked under elbows and shoulders, slipping through the tightly packed bodies until I was at the front of the huddle in full view. The body was of a woman, who had the same copper skin and dark hair as the rest of us. Her eyes were closed, her jaw unnaturally swollen. Blood was caked on her face and seeping into her hairline. The woman's breaths were shallow; she appeared to be too weak to lift herself out of the waste.

"Mary! Mary, Mary!" an alarmed voice that sounded closer to a squeak rose above the other voices. A frail, aged woman pushed through the crowd. She knelt before the battered woman and placed a hand on her shoulder.

"Are you all right, Mary?"

The chatter broke down as the woman frantically shook Mary's body, her eyes bulged in shock. Mary didn't answer.

"Mary! Mary, listen to me! You can't die like this, Mary! Hang on, you're gonna make it! Come on, come on!"

Mary smiled, her lips pulling back over broken teeth. The woman sobbed at the sight, her whole body trembling. "Oh, Mary."

"O-Ou-Ouch," Mary rasped miserably.

The woman jerked back suddenly. "Mary? What'd I do?"

Mary squeezed her eyes tight, and her words stammered. "H-head. Hurts."

The woman started to speak but never got the words through her lips. Mary rolled to the side suddenly, her body twisting into an awkward angle. Her mouth popped open and her gums pressed together until they turned white. Mary suddenly started to twist and convulse in a violent manner, her breathing completely stopping.

I wasn't a super genius, but I knew that Mary wasn't going to last. The fight had probably resulted in damage her skull; the guards were heartless bastards for bringing her back here. The screeches and screams of the people were drowned out as I zoned out of focus, allowing everyone else to fade into a hum in the background as I shoved my way back into my corner.

Nothing else mattered anymore. The only thing that meant something was the breath in my lungs and the beat in my heart, growing louder and stronger every day. I was determined to survive, unlike Mary. I was determined to fight. I was determined to use my own fire to survive. And nothing would stop me.

()()()

Days of training passed, time becoming nothing more than short periods of light and outstretching darkness. Everything but my purpose faded away. Time meant nothing. The women being dragged out to fight, screaming as they were torn out of the arms of their beloved, were no longer people, but motivation. Even I was nothing; nothing but a fire fueled by a strong loyalty to my tribe.

Until they pulled me out to fight.

By the time the guards pulled me out and directed me into the fighting arena, I was gone. There was no Jordan Uley; she had seeped away like the moisture of the sodden ground above my head. The only thing left of her was a blank and twisted shell of what she used to be.

The guards trampled through the doors on one of those darker mornings, shoving dusty, cracked bowls of vomit-like slop into hand after bony hand. It would have made any outsider gag if they saw the way the women's eyes lit up at the sight. They slurped down mouthfuls, sighing as if the slop was the only good thing left in their lives. The even sadder thing was that it probably was one of the few highlights left. But I had more to work for than a bowl of crap. Actually, I was nearly positive that I would puke my guts out if I even took one mouthful of the stuff.

Each day when a guard thrust the bowl into my hands, I refused to eat it. Of course, I would take it just for show, but then I would pass the bowl off to some other sickly, ratty woman. The tattered remains of her own gown would tremble with her anxious shivers and she would frantically gulp all of the slop down in seconds. I would offer a tiny smile when she thanked me before searching for a shallow path through the waste to train for the unavoidable.

Eventually, the guards proved that they had brains, however little of it, and realized that I was going to continue passing the slop on and would not eat it. On that special morning, the doors clanged open and one of them, dressed fancily in knee high boots and a gas mask, pushed his way through the huddles calling out my name.

"Uley! Uley! I need a Uley!" he shouted, his accent heavy.

To my amusement, the guard spent a long while searching through the muck, slurring curses each time he failed to find me in a cluster of women. But eventually, he found me standing alone in the corner of the cell. He gave a shuddering sigh, bending over with his hands cupped on his knees, his breath coming in pants. I stared blankly at him until he raised his head and snatched me up, hoisting my thin body over his shoulder. He marched back through the gathered women, still grumbling.

I glowered blankly at the moaning walls as the man carried me through the cell. The air was pumping in and out of my lungs and whistling out my ears. I shuddered violently at the chill. Was it really this cold outside, or was it just the adrenaline zooming through my body at an impossible pace?

The man only took a few minutes. The footsteps softened. Moments later, he halted completely, yanking open a smaller door. The man ducked through it, not minding at all when my head nearly bashed into the top of the frame. I snapped my eyes shut against the sudden flash of bright sun. I slammed into the ground hard, tumbling and rolling head over heels. I tumbled for only a few seconds, but it could have been forever; time dragged by slowly. My eyes opened, staring down at the dust caking my skin.

Raising my head, I coughed out a nice sized cloud of dust before steadying myself, rocking from side to side on my feet. The brightness wasn't from the sun. In fact, the sky was its usual dark grey hue, the clouds a barrier as they selfishly soaked in all of the sun's warmth for themselves. No, there was no sunlight. The only light in the area was produced from a rounded spotlight pointed directly at me, straight into my eyes.

My eyes darted down, scanning beneath the rays of light to study my surroundings. I was in a wide, open mud-pen. The ground was torn and cracked, dried with soil the color of the waste in the cell. There were no sharp objects, no weapons—not even small rocks. This "ring" that the woman had described was just an empty field, open for nothing more than for physical combat. As I started to adjust to the lighting, I also noticed that the fighting field wasn't even guarded. No armed guards or towering walls. Just a simple, high wooden fence wrapping around the dusty ground in a wide circle.

I knew better than to believe that it was possible to escape this. My eyes focused onto the wall, picking out the details, until my eyes caught the nearly invisible quivering line that wrapped around the wall. I squinted, tilting my head as I took in the hum of the electric buzz. It was wire. Electric wire meant to trap in fully-grown humans inside. A brick wall wasn't necessary when you had a wire with the nasty sting of a high voltage shock.

Caught up in the interest of the wire, I was completely mesmerized until the door across the fighting ring swung open and shut again. The boom of it closing pulled me back to the present. My head snapped up as a young woman—or girl, I should say, because she didn't appear to be a day over seventeen—slowly strolled toward me. Her chin was raised, a smirk on her face, and a strut was put in her step. Her hair was black and braided back, her copper skin lighter than a usual Quileutes. The girl grinned, a sadistic look lurking in the depths of her dark eyes.

"Hello," the girl greeted me with a cackle.

I ignored the greeting, dropping my foot back, angling my body to face her. She flashed a dirty smile as she stepped closer, her pallid face showing distinct signs of sickness. My jaw set and my eyes narrowed when she continued to approach.

"You're a mute one?" The girl planted her feet firmly in front of me, her eyes evaluating me. My expression was frozen, and I thought my body might have been, too, but it leaned forward naturally, shifting into a defensive stance.

"Well, that's okay. My group always said they put the strong ones out against weaker ones to get it all over with, so I'm going to have to bust your guts out anyway."

The girl launched herself at me without a second of hesitation, her fingers stretched out for my throat. I weaved around her arm and spun behind her. Dust spewed up from our movements. The girl puffed and coughed a little but turned and charged again, only to get the same result.

'Fight' was the wrong word to describe this. It was more like a dance. She punched, kicked, thrashed, and shouted in a frustrated manner, kicking up dust from the ground. I was amused at the whole thing, going along with it. Until she hit me.

The girl was glaring at me, pulling her arm back before snapping it forward. My feet dragged along the dry surface, slowing me down. The girl's fist connected with my cheek in a crack and a burst of sudden pain. She cackled, a high-pitched squeal of laughter, and stepped away from me.

I lost it.

My body crashed into hers, sending us both to the ground. I landed with my knee in her gut, digging in deep. I shoved my knee up toward her ribcage, my ringing ears not hearing the cracks. She swung her hands wildly at me, but I caught her wrists and gave them a slow, agonizing twist, forcing them back down against the ground. The girl's back arched and she let out a pained cry, but I didn't pay any mind. I was defending myself; I was driven in the need to survive. I held her against the gritty ground, my mind whirling. Somehow, through the ringing in my ears, I heard the buzz of the wire.

A smirk appeared on my twisted expression. I jerked the weakly thrashing body around and slammed it against the wooden wall. I hopped to my feet, lifting her head up before flipping her over, pressing the revealed skin of the girl's throat into the wire. She screamed, making a beautiful, agonized screech.

The sound trailed off as the life was zapped out of her.

The guards were in the ring a moment later, walking briskly over to me. Their hands clasped on my shoulders and pried me away from the body while their arms locked under my own. I twisted my shoulders, grinding my teeth and shouting out slurs of curses, but they ignored me. I was dragged back into the cell once again, staring at the limp body while I burned with suppressed fury.

()()()

Killing had become natural—an instinct, a talent, even a duty. Days muddled together; the common sense in me had disappeared further. I hadn't been able to remember anything; fighting was life. Even crowds of Makahs had started to come and stand outside the ring to witness my brutal victories. Fight after fight after fight…

She spits. Spits right in my face. The glob of saliva plops onto my cheek, running down before it dribbles onto the dusty ground beneath my feet. The woman laughs obnoxiously, showing brown, chipped teeth.

"I really just have to squash this little squirt? Can't I have a better match?" The woman is groaning, smirking as she sizes me up.

I stare at her, clenching and unclenching my fists, fingers slipping on the sweaty surface of my palm. Heat boils inside me, escaping in little droplets of salty perspiration. The woman's laughter echoes through my mind, pounding in my head, pushing me closer and closer to the edge of my control. Finally, I can't take it anymore.

I snarl at her. Not a spit, not a sharp blurt of words. It's a feral snarl, teeth exposed.

The woman's eyes flare. She bellows, shouting out something else, but I don't hear it as she charges toward me. I swear I can see the world quaking as she approaches, her hand reaching out toward me. . .

A duck, a twist, and one massive shove later, my opponent comes crashing down. My nails sink into the skin of her throat, nose wrinkled in response to the sour scent of her final breath. I fade away from all meaning as I tear until the struggle is over.

Behind me, the crowd of Makah residents go wild as they cheer my fifth victory.

My eyes started to burn, the sensation bringing me back to the present. I walked slowly toward the gate, heading back toward the cell at an ambling pace. Sharp wisps of cold air raked down my throat, bile rising against it. I scowled down at someone else's hot, sticky blood that stained my skin. While I studied the crust of dried blood under my nails, I started to question the reasoning behind my actions. Why were we fighting each other? If I was really fighting to survive and help my tribe, why was I killing the crazed ones?

I never got the chance to answer.

"Go on, kid," a guard snarled.

He thrust the end of his gun into my back, shoving me into the door. Acting on instinct, I raised a hand and started to turn, ready to smack the gun right out of his hand. But then I saw the blood on my hand again and I found my fingers curling back into my fist, my hand dropping. I exhaled slowly and ducked under the metal door before me, disappearing inside the blackness.

()()()

I pace. My thoughts have slipped away, leaving me blank. I can see through the dark curtains around me, but the world has drowned in the depths of blackness. I continue to pace, my own heart frozen, the blood of many others crusted underneath my fingernails.

Eyes are tracing my movements, evaluating me carefully. With every step, I can feel the air shiver with another woman's wince. I soak in their fear, feeling an ecstatic charge rush through me at the knowledge of their fragility. My feet gently squish into the rising waste as I pad through the cell.

Normally I didn't have to worry about anybody touching me. As I made my way through the cell, people whisper frantically and shuffle out of my way. But today, one broad woman, feeling rather bold, sees me. She stares at the tangle of my hair, the dirt masking my face, and the blood in my nails with a horrified expression, her mouth gaping in shock. She stumbles as I approach and slams into me, two hundred pounds of squeaking, terrified surprise.

The instinct to defend swells inside me the second she makes impact. My nostrils flare, my eyes widen, my jaw sets. My rough palms meet her body in a brutal shove. The attack continues as her squeaking voice rises into shrieks. I come at her, swinging, as she tries desperately to retreat. With every hit, her eyes droop further and fade away. I advance on her until two arms slip under my own and drag me away, leaving the frozen, distorted screaming face behind as it sinks into the pool of waste.

They threw me in a lone cell.

I sat alone in a dirty little stall-like thing, my knees almost comfortably drawn to my chest. Despite the everlasting supply of fresh air offered by the wide bars, I couldn't clear my head. Mud slopped and dried on my skin, and the churning winds of the incoming storm howled in the background. I was completely alone, and I liked it that way.

A soft sigh slipped from my lips. I leaned my head back against the wall, my eyes fluttering and blurring slightly while they adjusted to the white light of the lamps outside. Two guards were carrying bodies out from fights. They marched through the light of the lamp, and then disappeared into the shadows, returning empty handed. I watched the same pattern happen in boring repetition until the face of one caught my eye.

Through the tiny crystals of the spitting rain, I saw her. I could have recognized her anywhere. The pitch black tangles of hair, the scrawny limbs, and the unmistakable innocent in those plump lips and chocolate eyes. Yes, I did recognize that girl. The ghost of her memory whispered in my ears.

"This is my life, because Z is my big brother. He's a good brother; he takes care of me. This is my life, but you don't fit in, just like pretty roses don't go with dead roses. I think you need to go. Good luck."

A twisted smile lifted on my face. I raised a hand toward the little girl from the gangs, a gesture of greeting. The movement distracted the bulky guard carrying her and caused him to turn my way. I couldn't tell if the guard was curious or suspicious, though, because my stare was frozen on her.

When the man turned, she crumpled. She sort of fell—not in a form of surprise or loss of balance, but in a limp, helpless way. She tumbled back through the air. The guard's arms stopped her from hitting the ground, but they didn't stop her head from rolling back. They didn't stop me from seeing the girl's face.

Her innocent beauty been punched out of her. Her swollen face was covered in blotches of black and blue. Cuts, bruises, blood, the whole deal. I stared, locked in place at the sight of her. Nothing stood out more than the clouded glaze that covered her dark eyes.

The guard seemed to have lost interest in the distraction. He shook his head and mumbled something strange to himself. He continued to saunter through the light.

I choked back the bile in my throat. My smile dropped with the whoosh of my exiting breath as I smacked back against the wall. Sweat coated my back, trickling down off the tips of my fingers. This had to have been my fault. How did I not notice the girl here? I remembered the words of the first woman I saw here: "I suppose you are young, but not the youngest of us all."

This whole thing just might have been my fault.

The sweat slithered down my legs, covering my body in a heavy layer. My head was spinning. My breathing stuttered. The air around me was suddenly much too hot, like flames of impossible heat had been injected straight into the atmosphere. Colors flashed before my eyes, scrolling through my mind, pulsing and in fast-forward. Lightning cracked, a white blaze in the ink-black sky, bringing another shudder through my body.

My heart hammered against my ribs with the power to break right through. The walls of the sticky, muggy cells leaned in toward me, swaying and multiplying before my eyes. The air grew even thicker with the heat, squeezing my throat and packing into my lungs. My nails gritted into the wall as my knees started to knock together with the tremors crashing through me. I was tearing apart, inside and out. My skin was peeling away, the fury and hurt inside me bleeding out. I probably would have fallen to bits right then and there if it weren't for the interruption.

"Jordan."

The voice was nothing the first time it met my ears—just a slur of sound, strangled as if it had come through murky water. My shoulders jerked roughly, jamming against my head. Searing pain shot through my bones. My head rolled back into the wall and my eyes stared blankly straight ahead.

"Jordan," the voice whispered. "Stop."

As if I could have stopped. My control had slipped through my grasp. Somehow, I had the strength to force myself to pull in another breath. Fire smoldered in my veins, eating away at the final scraps of what was left of me.

"Honey, listen to me." The voice was demanding now, a hard edge slicing through the sweet tone. "You can't do this right now. Just take a nice, deep breath. There you go . . . easy now."

In an instant, an insane rush of air charged into my lungs. Reality pieced together in a swift clap, right before my eyes. I blinked once, the fuzzy outline of the cell sluggishly refocusing. I peeled my sweaty hands from the wall, rubbing my throbbing face with them. Once I removed them, the clarity of the cell came into perfect focus.

The whole dreary cell was now ignited with a soft, silver light, burning into the midnight air above my head. I smiled a little at the sight of it, blinking in curiosity as the light started to form a figure. I peered closer, my brow furrowing in confusion. The silver light approached me, growing brighter and brighter until it stopped, the figure fully formed, and I could clearly see the silver shape of my mother before me.

"Sweetheart," she whispered in greeting. A very familiar, tender smile played on her lips.

My tongue seemed swollen, blocking out my words. I carefully studied the flawless face of my mother, having to tilt my head down to look at her because of the height difference. Her black hair was down, not even bothered by the wind, and she looked so innocent. So real. I extended a hand to her to touch her shoulder, but my hand slid through the thin, empty air.

I let out a heavy, disoriented breath as I stared into her light eyes. "You're not real," I told her firmly.

My mother simply smiled, her illuminated teeth showing as if she was laughing silently to herself. She didn't respond to my question, but instead continued to speak in her gentle murmur.

"You're losing yourself, Jordan. You can't keep fighting like you are. Right now, you are fighting for the Makah tribe. Just look at yourself, sweetheart."

Her words tugged at my heart, twisting it as if trying to squeeze something out. My fingers found the dents in the wall again, my bloody nails snuggling into them. "I'm protecting myself. Isn't that what I have to do? Keep myself safe? Isn't that how I'll learn how to help the tribe?"

Again, my mother didn't answer my question. Her silver form flickered as if the shadows were starting to drag her in too. Her icy gaze met mine. "Just why are you fighting them, honey?"

The question struck me hard. I, too, had asked myself that very same question, but I still hadn't found an answer. Was it really teaching me something to kill another? Or was I really losing myself, letting them get inside me, letting them control me?

I focused harder on the question. My mind scattered, unable to process all the thoughts at once. By the time I had registered my mother's long silence and looked up, the silver light had vanished into thin air. In the beams of moonlight, I swore I could still see a tiny ball of silver flickering on the ground.

I knew what had to be done.

When the guards came by in the morning, I was already waiting for them. My fingers were curling into my palms, the knuckles on each hand stained with black and blue bruising.

I stood in the middle of the fighting ring, my eyes trained on the door when it opened, revealing a thin, trembling child. Her wide chocolate eyes darted around, her arms hugging her body while she dragged her feet through the dirt. She studied the crowd and her eyes widened further, her head snapping from side to side frantically until finally, she saw me.

Those chocolate brown eyes popped out of her head. She opened her mouth as if to scream, but by the time she turned around, the doors had slammed shut, locking her into the ring with me. The bell clanged. Silence fell over us.

My feet moved swiftly as I circled the trembling girl. She was at least smart enough to step with me—I never saw her back. I pressed in closer with every circle, moving around her until I could feel the steam of her breath on my skin.

I could feel the anxiety of the crowd in the probing stares that rested on me. I raised my foot and stepped down lightly in front of the girl, standing before her. She tilted her head back slowly and gave a horrified squeak. The movement caused her hair to tumble back and she tripped, crashing into the dusty ground. She squeezed her eyes shut, her lip poking out as she shook. Tears fell.

The crowd started to murmur, the ground shifting, dust swirling as they all shuffled around to get a better view. I raised my hand slowly, my breathing even as I stared down at the girl. One of her eyes cracked open for a second, and then squeezed shut again. She trembled while she waited for me to deliver the blow.

Only, I didn't. Instead, I turned my back and paced away from her. I headed back toward the door, my gaze set on the guard there. I wouldn't fight this fight. I wouldn't kill this girl. No matter what the crowd thought, I wouldn't.

A hush spread out through the crowd. Feet shuffled and eyes bore into the back of my neck. They stayed silent until one man's voice boomed over the others.

I couldn't understand his words. He spoke quickly in the Makah language, waving his arms around. He didn't look very happy.

Murmurs broke out through the crowd. Others were yelling too, but their words were lost in the slur of sudden motion. I continued to stare back at them.

The words flowed in an angry rush out of my mouth, my voice scratchy from lack of use, but still loud and clear. "I won't fight this damn fight. There's no reason to do this shit anymore."

The crowd fell silent. Each angry gaze fell on me, expecting. Waiting.

I gave them nothing.

My hands trembled with fury while it burst and swirled inside of me. I stared back at the crowd until very gradually, they started to speak. At first a murmur, then a shout, raging and angry. Their words built higher and higher until suddenly, all of them were roaring and lunging at the door.

The outburst of the Makah people was electrifying; satisfying the heat inside. My gaze met the intense expression on every face, and suddenly, I felt so powerful. I felt alive, almost as if my body were buzzing with electricity. I was flying, soaring with pride. I was so high up, I felt unstoppable. I was unstoppable. Nothing could ever pull me back down.

While I was caught in the sudden feeling, my senses didn't pick up on the guard as he shoved through the crowd. I only noticed him as he raised his gun to his shoulder. There was an abrupt boom and the little, cheery girl beside me collapsed. My grin dropped and my knees followed. I wasn't fast enough, though, and it was the second crack of the man's gun that brought me down.