Here’s the first chapter of Torn, the second book of the Deathwind Trilogy. If you’re signed up for my newsletter, you’ll also be getting this in your inbox.
My latest transformation has to announce its arrival at the absolute worst time.
During the first big Algebra test of the year.
I’m sitting in the back row—which I’ve chosen in case of an emergency just like this—when my phone buzzes in my pocket.
I drop the pencil and watch it roll across decimals and formulas. It falls to the floor. Gets lodged under Eliza Cunningham’s shoe. She puts her foot all the way down, engrossed in her own test, leaving it trapped with no escape.
My phone buzzes again, more urgent, more desperate, more scared.
I make sure Mr. Lance is looking down at his desk. He’s grading last period’s tests, leaving lots of red marks and devastation in his wake. It’s my chance.
I pull the phone out, praying it’s just a stray text or something.
I curse under my breath.
Those are the two scariest words my phone can shove in my face.
I check again. Mr. Lance makes a huge red mark on someone’s test.
Special Weather Statement. A line of thunderstorms are moving towards Williams Town. Possible torrential downpours and small hail. Stay indoors until these storms have passed. Storms will be near…
I curse again.
Tuck the phone back into my pocket.
I need to leave. Now.
The clock ticks away on the wall above some Wisconsin University poster that Mr. Lance has had there since the dawn of time. I glance out the window over some really tall kid’s messy haircut. The sky to the west is darkening, turning into the black-blue color I’ve come to dread and hate.
Growling fills my being. I shudder with it. It sweeps through my body, shaking my bones, threatening to burst out of my skin.
I’m up at Mr. Lance’s desk five seconds later.
“Bathroom,” I say, crossing my legs for dramatic effect.
“Allie, Allie,” he says, shaking his head. “We’re only two weeks in, and that’s the second time you’ve bailed out on class.” He smiles, but his eyes frown with disapproval. He’s right. Last time I took a pass, I didn’t come back.
“Look, I really, really have to go. It’s an emergency.” Oh, if only he knew that it’s not the bathroom kind.
Mr. Lance yanks a drawer open to the stack of hall passes. He fills one out and signs, stabbing the paper at the end of his signature. “Here. Just so you know, Allie, you don’t get to make up the time on this test. And if I don’t see you back in a few minutes, you’re going to serve detention after school tomorrow.”
Great. I’m hosed.
Allie, just get out of there. Take the detention.
Dorian’s voice rings in my head. I blink. I haven’t heard his voice in my head since July. Since–
Trust me, I think. I am.
A very faint rumble of thunder floats in through the open window. Mr. Lance hands me the pass.
“Thanks,” I say, and I’m out the door.
The halls are empty. Marge, the hall monitor, isn’t here to see me break into a total run. I skid to a stop in the bathroom and pull my phone out again.
If Tommy hasn’t gotten the same alert as me, he’s about to.
I text him our emergency phrase.
Send. And wait.
If he doesn’t get the message, I’m going to have to call Mom and have her take me out of town. She’s the last person I want to see my transformation. While I’m pretty sure that deep down, she knows what happens to me, it might put her over the edge to see it actually unfold.
A full minute drags out. Then, the phone buzzes. Tommy’s on guard like he promised.
Parking lot. Now.
I tuck the phone back in my pocket and break into a run again. I leave the bathroom behind. Leave Mr. Lance behind. Leave the test sitting on my desk that I’m definitely going to flunk.
The smell of rain wraps around me as soon as I open the double doors to the parking lot and come out under the Cardinals sign. Tommy’s coming out the doors of the Science wing, waving me over towards his car which he’s left parked close to the entrance of the school for events like this. His eyes are wide behind his glasses. Behind him, the sky’s darker now, lower…greener?
We’ve got to go before it gets here and I—
“Allie.” Tommy snatches his keys out of his pockets. He looks from me to the sky. “Wow, what a crappy time for this to happen.”
He unlocks the doors of his old Corolla and we climb in. He starts the motor and checks both ways for the truant cop that usually patrols the parking lots while school’s in session. He’s gone, thankfully. There’s not much point to patrolling so close to the end of the school day. The only movement is of some guy running towards his car by the football field.
“Clear,” I say, unable to hide the tension in my voice. If I transform right here at school–
We’re off. “Hold on, Allie. I hate this place, but not that much.”
“Tommy, thanks,” I say, giving him a peck on the cheek. “This is way better than having to call my mom and have her bail me out.”
“No problem. It got me out of Lit. Wow, I hate Mrs. Trollface. Um, I mean Mrs. Trollis.”
I laugh, even though I feel far from doing that. The line of storms loom closer. My body tingles. Yeah, I’m definitely facing a transformation with this storm. Out of the dozen or so other new Outbreakers that now inhabit Williams Town, I’m one of the ones the storm drew out of the lotto. Lucky me.
“State park?” Tommy asks.
He turns and we’re driving through downtown. It’s all repaired now except for a blue tarp that’s still on top of Robins Ice Cream Shoppe. I really don’t want to undo it all.
“Yeah,” I say. “State park. Away from the campsites.”
Tommy does a fake salute. “Sure thing.”
He’s shaking. We’re both trying to avoid talking about what’s about to happen. Tommy stares straight ahead at the road like he’s trying to vanish into the horizon. The engine whines higher and higher. He’s picking up as much speed as he can.
“Did you get in trouble?” I ask. “You know—for ducking class?”
“I’m sure I did. But it’s no big deal.”
“I’m sorry.” I really need to get my own car. My own license. I’m going to get Tommy in trouble every time a storm comes in during the school day.
“Allie, stop apologizing. I totally offered to do this for you.” He’s trying, but he can’t hide the fatigue in his voice. It makes my insides curl in a way that has nothing to do with the coming storm.
Tommy merges onto the expressway, almost cutting off a semi truck. We’re leaving school behind, where Mr. Lance is looking at the clock right now and filling out my detention slip for tomorrow. He’s also marking down my test as a zero if he’s mad enough and if I’m lucky, twenty percent.
But that’s better than maiming or killing all my classmates.
Tommy gets in the fast lane and leans forward in his seat like he’s driving in the Indianapolis 500. “Man, Allie. What if someone else at that school’s still there because they don’t know they’re a new Outbreaker yet? I just thought of that.”
I had, too. Madeline turned sixteen people in my town on the fourth of July. Had she broken out of jail yet? If she had, she and the Deathwind might have claimed even more victims.
My throat’s so dry that my teeth hurt. “There might be a couple of people. Oh, crap, Tommy. Maybe we should go back and–”
“Too late.” He looks in the rearview mirror and clicks on his turn signal, swinging over into the right lane. A car zooms past us, doing at least ninety. Tommy punches the gas like he’s trying to catch up. We’ve got a few miles before we get up to the state park. “Madeline said that not everyone would transform during a storm if there’s too many Outbreakers around, didn’t she? Sixteen people’s too many. So maybe nothing will even happen back there.”
“I hope.” That’s all I can do. I look out the window. I’m going light. Turning to nothing but air inside. My head’s about to float away like a little kid’s lost balloon into the storm above. I grip the handle of the car door and squeeze, anchoring myself against what’s to come.
Yeah. I’ve got minutes left before I turn.
“Tommy? Hurry. Or Mrs. Trollis is going to be the least of your problems.”
“I am.” He cranks down his window and wind blasts in. “Roll yours down. In case you, you know.”
If he doesn’t hurry—
If we don’t get to the park in time—
“I mean it, Tommy. Lots faster!”
We pass the sign for the exit. We’ve been on the road for fifteen minutes. My being growls again, so loud this time that I’m sure Tommy can hear it. God. We’re not going to make it. I can’t hold it back. I’m going to—
Tommy swings the car off the freeway and up the exit ramp, missing the speeding guy’s hood by inches. He struggles to keep the car under control.
I slam into the door. “Now’s not the time to go off the road!”
“You told me to go faster,” he breathes. We stop at the blinking red. Beyond it is a few houses and past that, the safety of the forest. The car ahead of us turns in the direction that we need to go. “Great.” Tommy follows. “We don’t need company.”
“I know we don’t.” Thunder rolls. The sky’s an angry dark gray and the world’s in shadow. “Pass him.”
“That’s what I’m doing.” Tommy turns on his turn signal, checks behind him, and swings his car around the guy that’s practically drag racing with us. The entrance to the state park peeks out from behind a clump of pine trees. He clicks on his signal again and turns into the dirt drive. The trees block out the storm clouds above, making it even darker.
The roar erupts in my head again. I’m going to fly away.
I can’t wait any longer.
“Tommy…stop the car!”
I throw open the door.
And then, impact.
Tommy’s car lurches forward. I fall to the ground. He shouts my name. My vision snaps to white and I’m heavy and solid again. I scrape gravel and dirt. Tommy’s wheels lurch past me.
There’s another car with its nose in the Corolla’s rear end.
The same one we just passed. Then I see the guy inside.
It’s Coach Langer.
One of the victims that Madeline turned that night.
I push myself off the ground. Coach Langer opens his door and climbs out of this car. He knows what he is. It’s clear from his wide eyes. The way he looks at the storm and not at us. From the way he trembles as if the growing wind around us is shaking him at the core. He’s come to the state park for the same reason that I have.
Then he stares right at us.
“You two!” he shouts, backing away and holding up his hands. “Run away from me. We’ll deal with this later.”
Tommy’s out of his car. He glances at the sky, too, and at both of us standing there, staring at each other.
My being growls again.
“Tommy, go for the entrance,” I yell.
He runs. Blows past me and huffs up the drive towards the main road.
I’m running the opposite way. Coach Langer crashes through the trees, getting away. Underbrush crashes. I barrel through branches and leaves. They grab at me, trying to slow me down, trying to push me back to Tommy. I can still hear him running. Can still hear him trying to save his life.
Thunder cracks and rain pours down. The sky lights, making shadow hands that blur and wave.
I’m flying. I can’t feel my feet hitting the ground. I’m a gliding phantom in the dark forest.
I grit my teeth so hard that the pain makes me solid again. My feet pound the ground. The trees slap at me and hurt, but I keep going, focusing on the pain, feeling the cold of the rain that beats on my skin and blows into my eyes. Tommy’s gone. So is Coach Langer. They’re in the woods too, in their own hells.
I’m holding it back. For the first time ever, I’m holding it back.
The rain parts and a fallen tree blocks my way. And another. And another. There’s a path cleaved right through the forest like a house-sized bowling ball has smashed through for miles. The fallen trees’ leaves are wrinkled and wilted from weeks away from the dirt. Above it the storm drops lower, expecting me.
This is where my last transformation broke loose.
I’m dizzy. I fall to the mud and the leaves. Shrubs embrace me. I’m past feeling them. I’m past fighting. It’s time. I can’t fight anymore.
I leave the ground.
I’m wind. Storm. Drifting away. Getting sucked up towards the twisting maw of the clouds. The ground tilts and turns, falling farther away. The trees turn to shrubs. The—
Someone stands right where I fell, hand on the first tree’s snapped trunk. It’s a woman in dirty jeans and a gray sweater. She looks right up at me, hair snapping back in the wind.
The one who turned me into this.
But I’m past shouting anything. Past caring. The rain closes in, blocking her from view. I whip away, higher and higher, and enter another life.