The Light Key Trilogy
By Tracy Clark, Karen Grove, Kate Fall
Entangled Publishing, LLC Copyright © 2014 Tracy Clark
All rights reserved.
I was kindling for the fire raging in my body. Whole one moment, but soon reduced to ash. And the world would forget I had ever existed when the wind scattered me to the stars.
It's possible that feeling like death made me morbidly poetic.
A hand touched my fevered brow, leaving behind a ghostly imprint, as if I'd been branded with ice. I floated in a haze of voices and images.
Sensations pricked at me from the world, but I had one foot out that door, frustrated that no one would let me go through it. My blood flowed searing and thick through my veins, and my mind took to conjuring relief, dreaming I floated on sheets of water beneath an icy moon, though my body burned under its cool gaze.
Every ounce of strength had been wrung out of me. Janelle found me on my hands and knees on the bedroom floor, trying to crawl to the toilet. She had to help me to the bathroom, even pull down my undies for me, which might have mortified me if I'd had the energy. Right then, I decided I could maybe love my stepmom.
"I think we should take her to the ER," I heard my father say before I threw up again. Another racking spasm of heaving and spitting, my body turning inside out.
"I'll go start the car," Janelle said. Her frantic vibe scared me more than my father's thinking I was sick enough to warrant a hospital visit. I heard the rattling of keys, the slam of the kitchen door to the garage. Disjointed, frantic whisperings faded in and out. Then it was really quiet for a long time. Or a minute.
In the ER, white walls and strange faces rushed by in a blur.
Foreign latex hands on my barbed skin.
"Her temperature is 106.2," the doctor said. "It's dangerously high. Because of the vomiting, I'm going to administer a rectal suppository so it will stay in her system long enough to start working on her fever."
"Great," I groaned.
My father smoothed my hair. "Sorry. I think it's necessary, sweetheart."
I nodded. They could stick that medicine in every orifice I had if it would make me better.
"We'll give her something for the nausea and an IV. She's likely very dehydrated."
I dry-heaved again to punctuate the doctor's comment, then I drifted off into a strange half sleep with no peace. My flimsy awareness was like a pesky mosquito I couldn't swat. My body ballooned and shrank, in my mind, to strange and disproportionate sizes. I was sure if I opened my eyes, my hands would be big, helium-filled, Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade versions of themselves while my head would be as small as a tennis ball.
Pain pricked the soft inside of my elbow. In my bleary daze, I could swear my father was drawing my blood into smooth little vials that clinked together when he dropped them into his breast pocket.
"Could this have anything to do with her mother?" Janelle whispered.
I fought to stay alert, needing to hear his answer.
He responded with silence. Janelle's voice lowered. "What if Cora's got it?"
My already erratic heartbeat stumbled.
Dad didn't answer her. He did that—left questions lying on the ground like dirty socks.
I fought against the oblivion blanketing me. I wanted to ask him why he was taking my blood. I wanted to ask what Janelle meant about my mother. I wanted to ask him so many things, but sleep dragged me under to where there were no answers.
* * *
Sometime later, a few pairs of hands lifted me off one bed and onto another much colder one. Freezing, actually. My back arched with the shock of it against my bare skin. Like lying on one of those gel ice packs Janelle insisted on putting in my lunch bag.
An unfamiliar voice answered, "I know, sweetie. It's a refrigerated bed. We need to keep your body temperature down, get the fever under control."
Every nerve in my body came alive, making my sensitive skin feel like an angry army of sharp new hairs were pushing to break through. My teeth chattered, and I tasted the sharp tang of blood from biting my tongue. "This—this is inhumane. C-can I have a blanket?"
"Sorry, Ms. Sandoval. The point is to cool you down, not warm you up. No blanket. You can have this sheet, though." She draped scratchy fabric across my legs, too insignificant to count as covering. My shivering started almost immediately, a deep shaking that rumbled from my chest outward.
Eventually, I slept, though fitfully due to a creepy light that appeared whenever I closed my eyes. It began as a far-off point but advanced—bit by bit—toward me. My stomach clenched with fear. The light moved deliberately, as if nothing on earth could stop it. As if it were time itself stalking me. A lucid shred of my mind knew this must be delirium from the fever, but it didn't make it any less scary.
I wished Dad were with me. He'd hold my hand and talk until I fell asleep to the soothing timbre of his voice in the Chilean accent everyone said he had but I couldn't hear. When he talked, I only heard ... my dad.
I was a child of accents I couldn't hear: Dad's Chilean one, inaudible because I was used to it, and my mother's Irish accent that had faded from my memory because she didn't bother to stick around.
All I inherited from my mother was my fair Irish complexion. My curvy figure was pure Chileno, as was my hair: deep brown, almost black, and wild as if it had been wound around thick tree branches every night.
My awareness drifted below the waves and bobbed back up to the surface now and then, especially when people came into the room. It was like my body registered their presence before my brain did. I wrestled one eye open and saw the outline of a tall, gangling man standing in the doorway. The glaring lights of the corridor behind him were so bright, the man himself was shadow. He stood absolutely still, watching me. I wondered if there had been a shift change with the nurses and, if so, why wasn't he, you know, nursing me instead of standing there, staring?
Chills assaulted me again, a rolling tremor that made my skin hurt and my chest ache. "Please ...," I mumbled, though I didn't know what I was asking for.
The man glided into the room, bringing the bright, white light with him so that the hall behind him darkened as he walked toward me. With every step he took, my heart picked up speed, churning to life like an accelerating train. An icy wind blew through me, taking my breath with it.
He stopped just out of arm's reach and continued to stare at me with dark eyes. They had a crazy look to them, the kind of eyes you see in pictures of serial killers, deranged and remote. This man didn't belong here. I knew he didn't. What do you want? my brain screamed. I opened my mouth but couldn't form words, could barely keep my eyes open. I struggled for air.
The light reached into me. I was being pulled out of my body. Evaporating. I crossed my arms over my chest, trying to hold me in. The man took a step back. A flicker of frustration passed over his face. He backed out of my room, his light retreating with him. From the doorway, he gave me one final look, a chilling smirk.
"A mighty flame follows a tiny spark."
* * *
"What time is it?" I asked in a scratchy voice when the nurse came in for the umpteenth time to check my temperature.
"Almost morning. The doctor will come see you in a while."
I swallowed past the burning in my throat. "Is my dad here?"
"I think he's the gentleman sacked out on our waiting-room couch. Devoted guy, your father."
I half smiled. "He is." After my mother's disappearing act when I was five, it seemed like he tried to love me twice as much so I wouldn't feel the sting. It still stung. What he didn't realize was that twice as much love was like wearing twice as many seat belts. His love was starting to feel like a five-point harness.
"Knock, knock." My father stood in the doorway. His pants were a wrinkled mess, as was his shirt. His tie was gone, and one sleeve was rolled up to his elbow; the other flopped around his wrist. It was alarming to see his meticulousness so spoiled. He ran his fingers through his salty black hair and walked to my bedside, nodding politely to the nurse as she left. "How're you feeling?"
"Tired. I swear they checked my temperature every hour last night. As if anyone could sleep on this icebox anyway." I fixated on the slow drip of IV fluid streaming into my arm. "And you were here, right? You took blood samples from me." My eyes flickered up to meet his. "Why?"
"I did," he admitted, grudgingly. Were all scientists trained to be vague in case they couldn't prove their hypotheses?
"But you study outer space, not inner."
He smiled, wry and sparing. "They're not as different as you think, kiddo." He ran his hand over my forehead, a temperature check concealed in a gesture of affection. "I wanted to run some tests of my own. You've been very sick, honey."
His answer gave as much satisfaction as chewing on air. "Tests of your own?" I pressed. "And why did Janelle ask if my sickness had anything to do with my mom?"
"Janelle was worried, grasping. This has nothing to do with Grace." He sighed as if her name was heavy coming off his tongue. "There have been some mysterious deaths, not anything the general public needs to know about yet, but I'm on a team that's working to find out what might be the cause. Keep that between us, okay? I took your blood as a precaution." He shrugged like, can you blame me? I'm your father. "Your hospital tests aren't back yet. They still don't know what's wrong with you. There was one point when they weren't sure—" Dad's voice cut out before continuing. "Losing you, Cora— I'm not sure I could've dealt with it. Not you."
We stared into each other's eyes, saying all the words we never said aloud about loss, about fear for the other's safety. About love. It was an old, silent conversation we'd shared at different times over the years. Though lately, our real conversations had become a little more combative since I realized we were on opposite sides in a war of independence.
Dad broke the silence, his eyes glassy. "Thank heavens you're a fighter."
Strange that Dad would call me a fighter. Me? The quiet, introspective book lover. No one had ever called me a fighter before. I barely remembered the last twelve hours. I had been in another place, floating in and out of consciousness.
What part of me did the fighting?
Dad bent over and placed a gentle kiss on my head. As he straightened, a fuzz of light formed around his head, undulating like heat waves on pavement, as though he were going to slowly rise up into the ceiling.
I recalled the strange man from last night. A chill passed over me. I didn't exactly have a handle on the past few hours, but I remembered being scared down to my soul. Did I have what people called a near-death experience? If so, there was anything but love and peace in the white light.
I reached for my dad. "My eyes are funny."
He squeezed my hand. "You're tired. As soon as the doctor is done with us, I'll make sure they let you sleep for a good chunk, okay? I'll go find her now."
I nodded and blinked, but still the distortion around my dad persisted. Even as he walked to the door to look for the doctor, the hazy light followed him, seemed part of him. He was mountain and he was mist. I closed my eyes. I was just tired.
* * *
Janelle made a drive-by visit, a Tasmanian devil with control issues and impeccable nails, dropping off folders of schoolwork, neatly grouped by color and stacked by due date. She had already arranged a makeup date for my missed math test. She exhausted me, but I appreciated her efforts. I was happy when Dad had finally remarried five years ago. He deserved to have a life, and I had hoped it'd take his focus off me so I could have one, too. That hadn't exactly panned out.
Just when I began to sink back into my pillows, the door swung open again, and I couldn't have been more surprised by who entered. Of course, I knew of Finn Doyle. The whole school knew of the intriguing new student from Ireland. Despite the fact that he was from the place of my birth, and that I'd cultivated a robust obsession with Ireland since my dad moved us to the States when I was little, I'd never tried to get to know him.
Finn Doyle had unfortunate taste in friends.
He was one of them. The banal, popular crowd I found so irritating. I nicknamed them the VIPs. (Vapid. Irritating. Populars.)
I gaped at Finn in his striped volunteer apron as he neared my bed, while trying to ignore the cloud of colors surrounding him. It wasn't unpleasant, though. Kind of like the sun was setting over his shoulders.
"A guy candy striper?"
"That's surprisingly discriminatory. The family friend I'm staying with, who since birth has been male, works here as a lab tech. And I do believe your doctor is a woman. I'm willing to bet the world's ready to accept a guy candy striper," Finn said in his thick Irish accent. He followed through with a wide, teasing smile.
There was something so focused about him as he spoke to me, it was unsettling. I scowled, getting on my own nerves for allowing Finn Doyle to make me self-conscious. I did my best to avoid the VIPs at all times. They were like soul sandpaper. Some of my humanity rubbed off with each interaction.
It didn't matter that Finn had been in the States as a foreign-exchange student for only a couple months. They'd snatched him up and adopted him the minute he landed. Gorgeous guy from Ireland with impossibly adorable accent equaled immediate in with the VIPs.
"I'll have you know a guy can deliver flowers as well as a girl can," Finn continued. "Perhaps better." He gave a slight bow and whipped a bouquet of daisies from behind his back. My dad always gave me daisies. "More flourish and technique."
An insufferably amused smile curled the corners of his full lips. I noted a dimple on his left cheek and added it to the list of his irksome qualities. I looked away from him, out the window, anywhere else.
"I've seen you around school before," he said thoughtfully. "You seem different somehow, up close."
Did he have to point it out? "I've been sick." I was sure he heard the word "moron" at the end of my sentence, even if I didn't say it.
"Right. Well, I imagine being in the hospital would make anyone cross. Or is this your normal disposition?" he asked, setting the flowers on the bedside table and arranging a few stems to his liking.
I glanced sideways at him. "Yes."
Finn leaned in and adjusted my pillow. He was so close I could see the faintest hint of a tattoo reaching up from his chest to his neck. I had an intense, irrational desire to know what the tattoo was, and it was all I could do to fight the forceful urge to pull his T-shirt collar down for a better look.
Finn smiled a pirate's smile, rogue and full of mischief. His gaze flitted from my hand back to my eyes, and I realized I had grabbed Finn's T-shirt and still had it wound tightly in my fist.
Startled and flushing, I released him. The impulse had been powerful, overwhelming, but how could it make me act without any awareness or control? It was disturbing. I drew the sheet up to my chin, wishing I could sink into myself and disappear like a TV fading to black.
Clearly, the fever had fried a few brain cells, but still I recognized his tattoo—three interconnected spirals spreading like the traces of fingertips over the left side of Finn's chest, teasing up to his collarbone.
I'd seen the triple spiral before. It was a symbol carved into the megalithic stones of Newgrange, one of the world's oldest prehistoric sites atop a grassy hill in Ireland—older even than Stonehenge or the Great Pyramids. Though the symbol of the three spirals had been hijacked by Celts, Wiccans, and even Christianity over time, no one had a clue as to the original meaning of the carving. I had a picture of it in my Ireland scrapbook.
I longed to ask him about it, to feed my hunger for all things Irish, but I couldn't hoist myself over the wall of pride I'd already erected. Not to mention swimming through the moat of embarrassment after grabbing his shirt like an idiot. "Sorry," I murmured. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Scintillate by Tracy Clark, Karen Grove, Kate Fall. Copyright © 2014 Tracy Clark. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.