Touched by Darkness

 

 

 

 

There are two sides to every coin. It's Quinn's call. Darkness or destiny.

Story Synopsis:

Quinn Taylor’s perfect life is crumbling. Dad’s left, mom’s a workaholic, and Jeff, her boyfriend of four years, has betrayed her. To make things worse, her inner demons are materializing everywhere and the whole school’s spreading lies about her weird behavior. Aaron Collier, a mysterious boy with a troubled past, comes to her defense. An intangible energy draws her to him. She wants to tell him about the demons, about unearthly shadows and leathery beasts crouched on her shoulder. But she’s afraid that he’ll turn his back on her, that he’ll confirm her worst fear: that she’s crazy. Jeff wants her back. Her demons push her to the edge. Time to flip the coin. It's her call: Aaron or Jeff, truth or lies, darkness or destiny.

 

CHAPTER 1

Shadows of the Mind

     
Quinn Taylor pressed herself against her headboard, knees tight against her chest, lights on, duvet gathered around her like a shield. She pressed her headphones hard against her ears and rocked herself to the beat of the most obnoxious music she could find in her playlist.
She stared at the clock on her bedside. The red minutes clicked through the hour. Six-thirty. Half an hour until sunrise. She willed time to speed up. Click, six forty-five. Her eyes watered, she yawned and slapped herself on the cheeks. She yawned again, eyes blurring as the red numbers swirled in front of her. The rocking slowed; her eyelids flickered and then shut. Too worn out to fight, Quinn slumped against the headboard, her unconscious desperately clawing at reality as the dream dragged her into the familiar fog.
Dry leaves littered the forest floor; their brittle veins crunched under her black leather boots. She glanced over her shoulder, searching the darkened woods. We’re coming for you, Quinn. The shadows gathered, whispering. Earth to earth.
“No!” She screamed, jolting herself awake before sleep carried her any deeper. Three empty cans of Red Bull glimmered from beside the bed as Golden-pink light oozed across the butter walls, painting the room in the warmth of sunrise. Her alarm clock screamed. Seven twenty. She had slept right through it. She fumbled for the off switch.
Past mornings she slammed the snooze, but not now. Not after months of spending the last hours of nightfall huddled under the covers like a child. The last thing she wanted to do was go back to sleep. 
Quinn slipped one foot from under the covers and onto the floor, ready to pull it back if she felt threatened. She kept her back to the lighted window and her eyes to the still shadowed side of the room.
She pulled out the earphones. Silence of an empty house washed over her. In response, she flicked her mp3 player to her favorite morning radio station, pulled out the earphones, and popped it into the docking station. “XTRM the extreme music station. All your favorite hits, all the time. And now here’s Skipping Zombies’ new hit, Intensity.”
No time to placate her fears if she wanted to get to school on time. As a gesture of defiance, she turned up another notch on the radio, pushed back the covers and stood facing her closet.   
Quinn’s Westland High cheerleading uniform hung on the back of the closet door, a mocking reminder that she wasn’t allowed to wear it again until Friday and then only to attend the pep rally, not to cheer. Benched for academic probation, no less. Now she was forced to watch from the sidelines while Kerstin stalked the vacant captain’s position, like she had stalked Jeff.
She shoved the cheerleading uniform into the closet and grabbed a pair of jeans from her dresser pulling them up over her slender hips and around her tiny waist. She pulled a grey long-sleeved v-neck tee over her head, paired it with a dark purple scarf, and padded across the pristine oak floor to open the window and let some air into the stuffy room.
The scent of fresh cut grass filled her senses. The leaves of the giant oak tree still clung to the trees, a mix of gold and green on the cusp of their autumn decent.
She pulled her black boots from under the bed. A dead leaf clung to one of the soles. She pulled it free and brought it to her nose. It smelled musty and damp, fresh from an autumn walk in the woods. Earth to earth, she thought.
A cloud blotted the sun and she shivered as the chilled October breeze brushed through the open window, fluttering the floral drapes. She jumped forward, slammed the window shut and scanned the room for any signs of her dark visitors. Something crouched in the shadows watching her. She shivered and backed towards the window, the dawning light restoring her senses. Don’t be stupid. You’re perfectly safe.
Her iphone vibrated, startling her as it rumbled for attention. Three deep breaths calmed her jitters. She grabbed the phone. One new text message flashed on the screen.

Had 2 go 2 work early again. More probs with the build design.

There’s $ on the counter for pizza 2nite. Don’t w8^. I’ll be L8. Luv U. Have a gr8 day @ school. X :-)


Mom’s text messages reeked of text speak lists posted on parent’s websites like how2comunic8withyourteen.com.
Quinn brought up the touch screen keypad and replied, deliberately spelling out every word to the letter.
Thanks, Mom. See you tomorrow. Don’t work too hard. Love you.
She shoved the phone into her pocket and made her way to the bathroom, ritually switching lights on and off as she moved down the darkened hallway.
“Nice bags under your eyes, Quinn.” She said to her reflection. “You look like you haven’t slept for days.” She giggled at herself. “God, no wonder you’ve been benched. You sound deranged and look as pale as a vampire. And let’s face it, vampire is soooo last year.” She switched to her favorite fake posh English accent. “Alive is the new undead, darling. You’ll never make it through the day looking like a character from Twilight. Let’s try to look legit with some help from a little wave of my magic wand.” Quinn waved the concealer pencil in the air before dabbing it on her dark circles. She added a little blush, some mascara, and pink lip gloss. “Eat your heart out, Bella Swann.”
Quinn clicked the hallway light on and stepped into the pool of amber light. She flipped the bathroom light off, clicked the stairway light on, flipped the hallway light off and so on following the pools of light to the bottom.
Downstairs felt safe. The cloud had dissipated and the sun streamed in through the floor to ceiling windows. Quinn covered her eyes to keep her retinas intact. The kitchen gleamed like a show home kitchen. Quinn couldn’t remember the last time an actual meal had been cooked in it, if ever.
Andrew Jackson peeked out from beneath her car keys on the black granite countertop. She folded the twenty and put it in the pocket of her jeans. Maybe she would order Chinese, a nice change from pizza. No time for toast. She grabbed a cereal bar and two more cans of Red Bull from the cabinet, popping the top and guzzling half of one as she headed out.
Fifteen minutes later, Quinn pulled into one of the last empty spaces in the school parking lot and glanced at her watch. Just enough time to get to class, if she ran. Slamming the door of her cherry-red Mustang, a sweet sixteen gift from mother dearest, and not the classic Volkswagen Beetle that she asked for, she darted for the main entrance, dodging a few other late students as she sprinted past rows and rows of cars.
Rounding the corner of a white pickup, she froze. There, blocking her way through the front doors, were Jeff and Kerstin. Kissing. Jeff stroked Kerstin’s hair. They went for another round of tonsil hockey, took a brief pause to check the time, and kissed again.
Quinn ducked behind the bed of the truck and hoped they’d finish their CPR practice without noticing her. “Please go in, please go in,” she begged under her breath.
Jeff nuzzled Kerstin’s neck. Kerstin nibbled his ear. He laughed. She grabbed his hand and they disappeared into the building.
Relief washed over Quinn. She leaned against the truck, the cool metal calming the heat that rose in her cheek. Something moved behind her. She froze. A shadow crossed to her left. Sunlight drenched the concrete around it, intensifying the contrast of absolute blackness forming beside her.  She glanced at the bright sun, not a cloud in site.
Calm down, stupid. They hate the light, besides, you’re fully awake. It’s Kerstin. You’ve been caught spying. Or maybe Jeff…God, how embarrassing. Don’t give them the satisfaction of letting them see you embarrassed.
She took a deep breath and got ready to act as if crouching behind a truck was a perfectly normal for a Wednesday morning. She straightened, casually adjusted her backpack and turned to face them.
The dark silhouette lay as if painted on the concrete, long and lean, clearly defined, backpack slung across one shoulder.
Afraid of your own shadow? Now that’s embarrassing.
Quinn laughed at herself and stepped away from the truck. The sun dimmed behind another bank of clouds. The silhouette faded with it, lines blurring from black to grey. She moved towards the doors, the shadowy mass split in two, one moving with her, the other moving to the left. Two distinct Quinn-shaped shades silhouetted against the ground, mirror images on each side of her.
Her heart sped up. She watched the twin shadows and took another step. The right one followed her as normal, but the left one moved a fraction of a second later, stalking her.
“Not funny!” She paused, waiting for some response. “Kerstin!” She expected her smirking face to appear from behind a car. “I know you’re out there. Jeff?”
Her shadow stalker leaned forward, bending at the waist until its shaded lips touched her ear. “They’ve already gone to class with no thought of you. Look around. You’re alone, Quinn.” it said.
Quinn pinched herself hard enough to leave a mark, pain flooding her arm.
The other shadow joined in, bending forward like its doppelganger. “You did see them though, right? Kissing, groping. They can’t get enough of each other. Did he kiss you like that? Like he wanted to devour you? He never loved you,” it said.
Quinn covered her ears, but the voices came at her from the inside out.
“Not like he loves Kerstin. And why should he?” The dark Quinns joined hands. “But you’ve got us. We’ll never leave you.” They circled her, dancing, singing and teasing like children on a playground.
“Kerstin is pretty.”
“Shut up.”
“Kerstin is smart.”
“Shut up.”          
“Kerstin is...”   
“Shut up!” Quinn’s words echoed off the cars in the empty parking lot and collided with the clang of the first period bell.


CHAPTER 2

New Beginning

      Aaron Collier shifted his backpack over his left shoulder and glanced down the hall, getting a fix on his target. With his right hand, he deftly spun his locker combination, glancing up between numbers to make sure Quinn hadn’t escaped into the cafeteria without his knowledge. Just fifteen rows away, she flickered in and out of his vision as the crowd of hungry students came and went.
In AP English they had been put in the same discussion group to debate if Hamlet really loved Ophelia. Quinn curled her hair around the finger of her left hand, strangely silent as he argued that Hamlet’s love for Ophelia had been true, but his need for revenge had overpowered all other emotions. Aaron could relate. 
“Quinn, what do you think?” He asked.
She startled. Her blue eyes locked onto his, bloodshot, tired, no makeup could hide the dark circles and bags. Clearly she hadn’t slept for days.
“I agree.” She turned from him, glanced over her shoulder, and went back to the absent minded hair twisting while the discussion moved on. 
He wanted to touch her, to get a glimpse of what troubled her, but there was no grantee his ability would work. It was unreliable at best and his connection with Quinn probably wasn’t strong enough to evoke anything other than his own desire. Then he would have to explain an unwarranted touch. He pulled his hands inside his shirt sleeve in case they betrayed him at the last moment.
She’d sat next to him in calculus, tormenting him with the sweet apple scent of her perfume. Her dark purple scarf pulled tight around her throat, a shield from the world. She tapped the end of her pencil on the back of her hand and shifted in her seat as Mr. Gordon droned on about the rules of differentiation. A can of Red Bull peeked from her backpack. No drinks allowed in class. The drink drove her to distraction. She slipped her hand over the top of the can every few minutes like an addict checking her fix was close at hand.
Aaron had been distracted too, with his own Quinn addiction, spending the hour watching her, his muse, as the words flowed from his pen.

Under the pale moon my life began.
Hand in hand
The soulless garden of my heart
bloomed in the light of your eyes
To know you
To love you
Alpha and Omega
Beginning and end
Of life as I know it.

He had re-written it five times to make the handwriting perfect, memorizing it as he memorized her face. He waited for Mr. Gordon to turn back to the whiteboard and folded the paper into a small square. He planned to drop it into her half open backpack, perhaps accidentally brush her hand as she reached for the comfort of the can.
The minutes ticked by. The folded piece of paper never detached itself from his hand. The bell rang. Quinn grabbed the backpack and bolted. Aaron balled the paper in his fist and chucked it in the bottom of a wastebasket with a banana peel and a half empty bag of potato chips.
Now, time redeemed itself and fortune smiled on him for the third time in one day. It had to be a sign.
Say something to her before Teresa and the others show up. Say something, anything. No! Not just anything.
In his head, Aaron rehearsed the perfect line. Heard you and Jeff broke up. I’ve been in love with you since I first saw you. Jeff is an idiot. Go out with me. I know we were made for each other. That line screams restraining order. You can do better.
“Yo, Aaron! What’s up?” Marcus leaned a muscular shoulder against the neighboring locker, blocking Aaron’s view of Quinn.
Aaron shuffled to the right until her golden hair flashed back into sight. Kerstin’s a slut, Jeff’s an asshole. They deserve each other. True, but maybe a little too blunt. He thought.
“Did you notice Quinn’s lateness to class this morning? Old Mrs. Glacier sure gave her the ice over. Brrr.” Marcus hugged himself and shivered.
Aaron rifled through his locker looking for his Economics book. Hey, Quinn, are you okay? Let me know if you need anything. I’m a great listener. Too girlie.
“Quinn Perfect is never late for class,” Marcus said.
Hey Quinn, you rock my world. Sounds like Marcus, not me. Be yourself. She’s a girl like any other girl. You talk to girls all the time.
“She’s looking a little stressed these days. First the cheerleading controversy, now she’s la
te. Seems she’s human after all. Dude, are you listening to me?” Marcus thumped him on the ear.
Aaron flinched, still sore from the piercing. “Yeah, I heard you.” He slammed his locker.
“Hey, man, I didn’t mean anything by it. It’s just unusual for Quinn Perfect to be late, that’s all. You know I’d never dis your girl.”
“She’s not my girl. And nobody’s perfect. And don’t let her hear you call her that. I know for a fact she hates it.”
“Yeah, right. Not perfect? Look at her, man! The hair, the butt, the legs leading right up into that short little cheerleading skirt.” Marcus grinned. “Don’t tell me you don’t think about the short little cheerleading skirt.”
“The skirt’s an added perk. And her smile.”
“Yeah, her face ain’t bad either.”
“And smart.” Aaron wondered how many steps stood between them.
“Too perfect, if you ask me,” said Marcus.
“Well, I didn’t.” 
“I know you’ve been drooling over that one since you moved here, but now we’re seniors, man. You can have any girl you want. Have you seen the fresh meat walking the halls? Let’s line up for the all you can eat buffet.”
“I’m full, thanks.” Aaron breathed deep, ready to take the plunge. He’d do it this time. Talk to her, ask her out.
“Why waste another day on Quinn when there are so may hotties running around? Jenna’s crushin’ on you. She’s hotness personified, and you two have a lot in common, music, the band, and those raging teenage hormones.”
“Jenna’s just a friend.”
Fifteen steps at the most. He thought.
“What about Marie? Oh, oh, Marie, now there’s a fine one.  She’d give you a little something.” Marcus cleared his throat and put on his best Marie impression. “Oh, Aaron, he’s so mysterious and good looking. She called you man candy. Can you believe it? You’re not as sweet as me, of course. I mean, I’m like Godiva chocolates, and you, well, you’re more like a Goober.”
Ten long strides, twenty short ones.
“How come you never ask any of them out? I know a few who are a sure thing,” Marcus said.
“Sure, Mr. Virgin. All talk and no action.” Aaron punched Marcus on the shoulder.
“Hey, not so loud. You might ruin my bad-boy image.” Marcus looked around to see if anyone had heard, then winked at Aaron. “Dude, you’re a chick magnet and you choose to be single. What’s wrong with you?”
“I don’t have time for a girlfriend.”
“Yeah, unless it’s Quinn. Besides, who said anything about a girlfriend, I’m talking about seven minutes in heaven, man, not commitment.”
“I have other things to think about. Like family, grades, college.” Aaron looked at his watch. Come on feet, move.
“Jeff’s breakup with Quinn? I know you heard all about it. The whole school’s a buzz with the four-one-one. After four years he dumps her for that bloodsucker Kerstin. Even I wouldn’t hook up with her. Hey! Wait! Is that why your shirt’s tucked in?” Marcus sniffed Aaron’s neck. “Dude, how much cologne did you put on?” 
“Shut up,” Aaron said.
“Well, if you really want her, now’s your chance. Quinn is sure to need a little comforting. If you know what I mean.” Marcus puckered up and made kissing noises.
“I was planning my big move when your big mouth interrupted me.” Aaron slumped against the locker. “Anyway, it’s too late now.” Aaron gestured down the hall where Quinn had been joined by a group of friends.
“You gonna let them stop you?” Marcus asked. “You say Quinn’s not perfect, but you act like she’s the only girl in the world. Grow some and get your butt over there.”
“I don’t even know what to say to her. Everything I think of sucks.”
“Alright, as the ladies man of Westland High, I’ll coach you.”
“Right, Cyrano, let’s hear it.”
“Walk up to her, put your arm around her shoulder, smile and say,” Marcus paused for dramatic effect. “Quinn, you rock my world.”
Aaron laughed.
“What’s so funny?” Marcus checked the fly of his baggy jeans to make sure the barn door was shut. “What? The girls go crazy for that line.”
“Seriously, you can’t tell me that line actually works. I bet you’ve never even used it.”   
“Oh, that hurts.” Marcus grabbed his chest in mock pain. “I bagged a set if mega fine twins last week with that line.”
“You’re mistaking your fantasies for reality.”
Marcus shrugged. “So I’ve never used that line before, but trust me. It’s foolproof.”
“Prove it. Teresa Moon’s with Quinn. I dare you to lay that foolproof line on her right now. Fool.”
“No problem man, just watch the master at work. She’ll be mine in no time.” Marcus slicked back his brown hair and flashed his best smile at Aaron. “Well, let’s go. I’m not going alone.”
Fourteen steps.
Aaron regretted the dare now. He would have to talk to her.
Ten.
He couldn’t just stand there like a dummy at a sideshow.
Nine.
Sure, he’d talked to her before.
Eight.
But things were different now. She and Jeff weren’t together anymore.
Seven.
And that meant he might have a chance.