- Christine Almstrom
Blood Moon Eclipse 2.0
As promised, the new and improved first chapter! The novel has endured 17 full revisions and finally feels complete. Special thanks to Allison Pottern Hoch at The Writer's Loft for reading and critiquing. Your feedback was invaluable.
CHAPTER 1 – birthday
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
My birthday is cursed. My mother knew it. She was smart to get out while she could. Sorry, I’m rushing the details. It’s a habit of mine like reading the last page of a book first or tugging the stray piece of hair behind my right ear when I’m nervous or lost in thought.
So why do I think my birthday is cursed?
A proven and irrefutable track record of disaster.
My first birthday, I’m told, ended when the candle on my cake fell, lighting a rug on fire at my first foster house. The second was pretty much the same but with a new house and a new set of fosters.
My third birthday came with a fiery car accident. I survived. My newly adoptive parents weren’t so lucky. See a connection here? Cursed.
The shrill bell announces the end of homeroom and I dive into the wave of students racing for first period before I can dwell anymore on my dismal day. I’m slamming my locker shut, ready for another blissful chapter in the misery that is my life, when something slams into me.
“What the?!” I growl, spinning with a cocked right fist.
The perfect smile and killer-body that greets me temporarily short-circuits my natural urge to hit-first-and-ask-questions-later but he’s no innocent. Not by a long shot.
“Ben Eaton,” I groan. Should’ve known I couldn’t avoid him forever.
“Hey, Red,” he drawls. “You really gonna hit me?” I consider it briefly but lower my hand. “Got a surprise for you.”
“And I’ve got one for you,” I reply in a mocking voice. “Name’s ‘Acacia’ not ‘Red.’”
I hate it when he calls me ‘Red.’ He knows I hate it.
I sling my backpack over my shoulder and step around him as the second bell rings. “And I don’t like surprises.”
“Sorry to hear that,” he says, trailing me. Several cheerleaders are blatantly staring. “I have something for you.”
I keep walking, ignoring him and the stares.
“For your birthday,” he says like that explains why the most popular boy in school has suddenly decided to start talking to me. In public. Instead of only in his car. In the dark. Where his girlfriend can’t see.
“I don’t celebrate my birthday. Neither does anyone else.”
“Fine,” he says darting in front of me. “If you change your mind.” He slides a piece of paper into my chemistry book and slips into the crowd. “Happy Birthday, Red!”
I yank the hood of my sweatshirt over my hair and stalk to my chair at the back of the room. I hate that name. I hate liars. And I hate my birthday.
While the teacher checks attendance, I pull the note from my book.
Meet me in the gym in ten if you want your present.
I shove the paper in my pocket and try to focus on science. Four minutes pass. Why would Ben Eaton get me a present? Two more minutes. We haven’t spoken in weeks. Six minutes.
Focus! I order my wayward thoughts. Ms. Frederick is covering the basics about today’s experiment: lithium chloride, bleaching powder, salt.
Why does he want to see me now? Borax. Copper Sulfate. Eye protection. How does he know it’s my birthday? Barium chloride. Lead nitrate. Doesn’t matter. I’m not going near him again. Burn me once. Isn’t that how that saying goes? Potassium chloride. Whoa!
My brain runs through the list of Ms. Frederick’s ingredients and I realize where this is going: fire! My throat is suddenly dry as kindling. I look around the room. Excited murmurs fill the air but I’m breaking out in a cold sweat.
“No way, Ms. Fred!” exclaims one student.
“I saw this on Breaking Bad!” yells another.
“Isn’t this dangerous?” asks the girl in front of me, nervously. She should be nervous. It’s my birthday.
Ms. Frederick assures us the setting will be controlled. All precautions observed. Use of a fire box. Safe viewing distance. Blah. Blah. Blah. The pounding of my heart drowns out the rest.
I can’t be here. Not today. Not with…my curse.
“Miss Lewtrah?” Every head turns. “Are you feeling all right?”
“No, Ms. Fred,” I murmur weakly.
“Nurse!” she commands, pointing to the door. “Get the notes online.” I nod and grab my things.
Free of the classroom, my heart resumes its normal rate but I can’t go back. If I’m going to play with fire, at least it’ll be the kind I can control.
The gym is empty when I push through the doors. I’m about to leave when I see movement at the other end by the boys’ locker room door.
“You came,” Ben smiles.
“It was the safer option,” I mutter. “So, what’s the deal?”
“No deal. Just wanted to hang,” he laughs. “You’ve been avoiding me.”
“Uh, maybe because you have a girlfriend,” I remind him. “Or did you forget. Again?”
“We could be friends,” he grins wickedly.
Ben Eaton isn’t the kind of boy that needs more friends. He’s the kind that should come with a warning label.
“I don’t need friends.”
“What do you need?” he asks, suddenly too close.
I need to leave. His lips are inches from mine and I remember how kissing them felt but that was another time.
“You’re trouble,” I say, turning to leave. “And I’ve had enough.”
“Here’s the thing,” he chuckles, grabbing my wrist. I try to pull away but he tightens his grip. “I don’t think you have.”
Something’s wrong. Under me is cold, hard. My body is heavy. Can’t move. Bad smells. Unwashed socks, sweaty gym bags, and something worse. Burnt hair? Head throbs. Chest burns. Hard to breathe. What happened? fingers tingle. Confusion. With a shaky hand, I reach for my foggy head but bump my mouth. Ow! My tongue darts to my lower lip.
I sit up slowly, clutching a low bench beside me for support. Rows of metal lockers surround the room like soldiers at attention. Broken images flash in my head: science class, fire experiment, gym, locker room, Ben, birthday, pain, burning, pain, screaming, darkness.
I touch my swollen lower lip gently. I can taste him. Feel his tongue trying to invade my mouth. His hands grabbing my face. The smell of his skin. Come on, Red. Just a little kiss? Ignoring the pain, I wipe a hand across my mouth and stumble to a sink to check the damage.
My nose is smeared with blood, my hair a tangled mess. Ben, stop! I don’t want to hurt you…I quickly comb through it with my fingers. My face is too pale but then it’s always that way. I burn too easily to have any real color. Turning my cheek toward the mirror, I touch the already darkening bruise and wince.
What’s the problem, Red? I thought you liked me.
I turn on the water to drown his voice. My mascara is smudged not in a sultry, smoky-eye look but like the-quarterback-cornered-me-and-tried-to-force-his-tongue-down-my-throat-kind-of-way.
You wanna play rough, do you, Red?
I clutch the sides of the sink exhaling slowly, trying to quiet the anger but the sight of my fingers against the pale porcelain floods me with a new emotion: fear. The sound of Ben’s screams rushes back to my ears.
“No…” I whisper, staring at my blackened hands. It can’t be. Not again.
I pump the soap onto my palms, frantically rubbing. No. No. No. The water pours out scalding hot. I reach for more soap, scrub harder but it’s no use. My hands are covered with the evidence and I can’t pass it off as an accident this time. I sink to the floor and wrap my arms around my knees.
I burned him.
I burned Ben Eaton with my hands. The entire school will know about me. About what I did.
I can’t go back. There’s something wrong with me.
My birthday is cursed. No…I’m the curse.