CHAPTER  1



Let me set something straight. I know what you’re expecting but, full disclosure, I’m not going


to be the Good Guy in this story. You probably should know that before you get the wrong idea.


I’m no hero, or warrior, or Chosen One, or anything like that. No. I’m not that guy. I am


inherently and undeniably evil. If you stick around long enough, you’ll see.

        I’ll never forget that night. The way the scent of peach pie filled the air at the Georgia Peach


Diner where I worked. How the faulty wiring sometimes made the lights that hung over the


retro diner tables flicker. Or how the newcomer seemed to interrupt the familiar routine that


I knew as Darien, Georgia.

         Triston railed towards me, each step faster than the last. “Kalib, that’s him,” he said,


his mouth to my ear, and his hand clasped my shoulder. “That’s the man who’s been following


me.” Triston stammered. His red hair and pale face matched the red and white uniform


we were forced to wear at work. The man was sitting three booths back on the other side of the


diner. My section. 

        It was rare for someone new to come into town unnoticed. Even more rare for that person


to actually move here. In fact, I couldn’t recall the last time an outsider moved to Darien. It was


the sort of town people passed through but never stayed in—and never remembered.

        That’s what made this moment so different. The day had gone as smoothly and normally as


any day. The same faces having the same conversations. 

        Mr. and Mrs. Abernathy sat at a booth in the back corner by the window looking out, as


usual, and bickering about the weather.


        The Jones Family, on their weekly family outing, sat opposite the Abernathys. Mrs. Jones


almost disappeared behind her husband whose body, large even for a professional football


player, occupied half the booth. Kalia, their sixteen-year-old daughter, who attended every


grade with me, rambled on at a hundred miles an hour about cheerleading while her parents pretended


to listen. 

        And then there was the stranger, whom I now realized was watching me too. 

        “Quit staring, Kalib,” Triston said, shoving me with his elbow. “You’re gonna draw his


attention.”

        “Relax.” My eyes were glued to the stranger. “I’ve got to give the guy his pie.” I grabbed a


slice of pie from the counter and pushed past my friend.

        A pit formed in my stomach as I approached his table. What are you so afraid of, Kalib?


I swallowed. He’s just a guy.

        I took a deep breath. Triston always babbled on about conspiracy theories. Last week,


he’d convinced himself the government was tracking everyone by their smartphones. The week

before that was something about TV and autosuggestions brainwashing us to think what they


wanted us to think. This was just the latest theory in a long list of conspiracies. But if


I was honest, this time something didn’t seem right to me either. 

        Each step I took was heavier than the last as I crossed the diner, pie in hand. I felt the


weight of his glare on me as I walked. He tapped his brown oxfords under the table.

        Are you nervous? I asked myself. What do you have to be nervous about?

       “Your pie, sir,” I said, presenting the plate.

       The edges of the man’s lips curled. His smile looked forced and unnatural. “Thank you,

Kalib,” he said.

        My insides almost jumped right out of my skin. I looked down at my chest. I wasn’t


wearing a name tag.

        “H-how’d you know my name?”

        “You’re Mayor Donovan’s kid,” he said, prying the plate from my hands. His


almond-colored eyes focused on mine.

        I squinted, trying to understand him.


        Your accent is so thick. What is it, Irish?

        “I’ve seen you in pictures. You don’t move into a new town without doing your


research,” he said as he picked up his fork.

        “Oh—uh—yeah,” I muttered, ignoring the growing knot in my stomach. 

What the heck’s going on?


        “Kalib Donovan, right?” The stranger spoke as if he’d just remembered my name, but

even this sounded well-rehearsed. He cut into the pie with his fork, scraping the prongs across

the plate en route to his mouth. 

        “Andrews, actually,” I corrected. “I go by Kalib Andrews. My—”

        “Andrews is your other father’s name,” he interrupted. “You’re adopted.”


        I tried to swallow, but my mouth was dry. 

        “Like I said,” the man said, licking his fork, “research.”


        My stomach did a somersault. Research? 

Who are you? I mean, sure, a person would have to be blind not to know I didn’t look like the


other Donovans. Anyone with eyes could see I was adopted. It wasn’t just my appearance,


either. Aside from the contrast of my curly brown hair and mocha-colored skin with their


straight, blonde hair and pinkish complexion, I simply never felt like a Donovan. The Donovan


Family, all of them, were about politics and appearance. I, on the other hand, never fit that


mold.

        I learned young that I didn’t care for politicians, always talking in circles and never saying


what they meant. I preferred honesty. I could always tell when someone was hiding something. 

        What are you hiding?“Now, that’s an interesting necklace,” the stranger said, dabbing


the sides of his mouth with his napkin. “A silver triangle with a blue stone at the center. And


what are those inscriptions. They look celtic.”

        I reached for the pendant on my necklace, passing it between my fingers.

        “Oh, uh, I don’t know. It’s a family heirloom,” I stammered before clasping it in my

hand. “It’s the only thing I have from my biological father.”

        “Andrews, you mean?” he asked.

        Something inside me, a voice, said—Get out!

        “Yeah,” I whispered, so intimidated I could barely push the word out. 

        “Blue’s a good color on you.” The stranger considered me for a moment. “It matches the


color of your eyes.”

        “Well—I—should—be… getting back to work.”

        As I spoke, the man extended his hand.

        “It was a pleasure to meet you, Kalib,” he said.

        “Thank you. Uh, you too.”

         I reached out, and the moment my hand touched his, I felt something—as if a thousand


insects scuttled up my arm. Voices—whispering voices—filled my head. Thousands of them.


My legs turned to putty, and I lost balance. 

        Then, these whispers, they erupted into a singular scream. A woman’s scream, maybe a


child’s. NOOOOOOOOOO! Seared across my mind. A bright white light burst through my


head, blinding my senses, drowning out the noise. I closed my eyes, overwhelmed. I had no idea


where I was.

        Then I found myself back in the diner, staring up at the stranger who caught me from


tumbling to the ground. The light above the table flickered. There was no suggestion anyone else


had either seen or heard what I just experienced. 

        The bow in Kalia Joneses hair bounced up and down as she performed a cheer routine


for her parents at their table. They looked even more uninterested than before. 

        Mr. and Mrs. Abernathy, meanwhile, were in a heated discussion about hurricanes.

        For the briefest moment, as I steadied myself against the table, the stranger looked at me

with terror in his eyes. “You alright?”


        “Yeah, I was just feeling a little lightheaded.” I looked at my hand. It seemed perfectly


normal. I caught sight of Triston peeking at me over the vinyl seat of the table he was


pretending to bus. I tried not to make eye contact “You should sit down,” the stranger offered.


“Please.”

         “Actually, no. I—I have to go,” I muttered and ran into the back.

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