Unearthly u 1, p.1

Unearthly u-1, page 1

 part  #1 of  Unearthly Series

 

Unearthly u-1
 



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Unearthly u-1


  Unearthly

  ( Unearthly - 1 )

  Cynthia Hand

  In the beginning, there's a boy standing in the trees…

  Clara Gardner has recently learned that she's part angel. Having angel blood run through her veins not only makes her smarter, stronger, and faster than humans (a word, she realizes, that no longer applies to her), but it means she has a purpose, something she was put on this earth to do. Figuring out what that is, though, isn't easy. Her visions of a raging forest fire and an alluring stranger lead her to a new school in a new town. When she meets Christian, who turns out to be the boy of her dreams (literally), everything seems to fall into place—and out of place at the same time. Because there's another guy, Tucker, who appeals to Clara's less angelic side. As Clara tries to find her way in a world she no longer understands, she encounters unseen dangers and choices she never thought she'd have to make—between honesty and deceit, love and duty, good and evil. When the fire from her vision finally ignites, will Clara be ready to face her destiny?

  Unearthly is a moving tale of love and fate, and the struggle between following the rules and following your heart.

  Cynthia Hand

  Unearthly

  The Nephilim were on the earth in those days — and also afterward — when the angels went to the daughters of men and had children by them.

  They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

  Genesis 6:4

  Prologue

  In the beginning, there’s a boy standing in the trees. He’s around my age, in that space between child and man, maybe all of seventeen years old. I’m not sure how I know this. I can only see the back of his head, his dark hair curling damply against his neck. I feel the dry heat of the sun, so intense, drawing the life from everything.

  There’s a strange orange light filling the eastern sky. There’s the heavy smell of smoke. For a moment I’m filled with such a smothering grief that it’s hard to breathe.

  I don’t know why. I take a step toward the boy, open my mouth to call his name, only I don’t know it. The ground crunches under my feet. He hears me. He starts to turn.

  One more second and I will see his face.

  That’s when the vision leaves me. I blink, and it’s gone.

  Chapter 1

  On Purpose

  The first time, November 6 to be exact, I wake up at two a.m. with a tingling in my head like tiny fireflies dancing behind my eyes. I smell smoke. I get up and wander from room to room to make sure no part of the house is on fire. Everything’s fine, everybody sleeping, tranquil. It’s more of a campfire smoke, anyway, sharp and woodsy. I chalk it up to the usual weirdness that is my life. I try, but can’t get back to sleep. So I go downstairs. And I’m drinking a glass of water at the kitchen sink, when, with no other warning, I’m in the middle of the burning forest. It’s not like a dream. It’s like I’m physically there. I don’t stay long, maybe all of thirty seconds, and then I’m back in the kitchen, standing in a puddle of water because the glass has fallen from my hand.

  Right away I run to wake Mom. I sit at the foot of her bed and try not to hyperventilate as I go over every detail of the vision I can remember. It’s so little, really, just the fire, the boy.

  “Too much at once would be overwhelming,” she says. “That’s why it will come to you this way, in pieces.”

  “Is that how it was when you received your purpose?”

  “That’s how it is for most of us,” she says, neatly dodging my question.

  She won’t tell me about her purpose. It’s one of those off-limits topics. This bugs me, because we’re close, we’ve always been close, but there’s this big part of her that she refuses to share.

  “Tell me about the trees in your vision,” she says. “What did they look like?”

  “Pine, I think. Needles, not leaves.”

  She nods thoughtfully, like this is an important clue. But me, I’m not thinking about the trees. I’m thinking about the boy.

  “I wish I could have seen his face.”

  “You will.”

  “I wonder if I’m supposed to protect him.”

  I like the idea of being his rescuer. All angel-bloods have purposes of different types — some are messengers, some witnesses, some meant to comfort, some just doing things that cause other things to happen — but guardian has a nice ring to it. It feels particularly angelic.

  “I can’t believe you’re old enough to have your purpose,” Mom says with a sigh.

  “Makes me feel old.”

  “You are old.”

  She can’t argue with that, being that she’s over a hundred and all, even though she doesn’t look a day over forty. I, on the other hand, feel exactly like what I am: a clueless (if not exactly ordinary) sixteen-year-old who still has school in the morning.

  At the moment I don’t feel like there’s any angel blood in me. I look at my beautiful, vibrant mother, and I know that whatever her purpose was, she must have faced it with courage and humor and skill.

  “Do you think.,” I say after a minute, and it’s tough to get the question out because I don’t want her to think I’m a total coward. “Do you think it’s possible for me to be killed by fire?”

  “Clara.”

  “Seriously.”

  “Why would you say that?”

  “It’s just that when I was standing there behind him, I felt so sad. I don’t know why.”

  Mom’s arms come around me, pull me close so I can hear the strong, steady beating of her heart.

  “Maybe the reason I’m so sad is that I’m going to die,” I whisper.

  Her arms tighten.

  “It’s rare,” she says quietly.

  “But it does happen.”

  “We’ll figure it out together.” She hugs me closer and smoothes the hair away from my face the way she used to when I had nightmares as a kid.

  “Right now you should rest.”

  I’ve never felt more awake in my life, but I stretch out on her bed and let her pull the covers over us. She puts her arm around me. She’s warm, radiating heat like she’s been standing in sunshine, even in the middle of the night. I inhale her smell: rosewater and vanilla, an old lady’s perfume. It always makes me feel safe.

  When I close my eyes, I can still see the boy. Standing there waiting. For me. Which seems more important than the sadness or the possibility of dying some gruesome fiery death. He’s waiting for me.

  * * *

  I wake to the sound of rain and a soft gray light seeping through the blinds. I find Mom standing at the kitchen stove scraping scrambled eggs into a serving bowl, already dressed and ready for work like any other day, her long, auburn hair still wet from the shower. She’s humming to herself. She seems happy.

  “Morning,” I announce.

  She turns, puts down the spatula, and crosses the linoleum to give me a quick hug.

  Her smile is proud, like that time I won the district spelling bee in third grade: proud, but like she never expected anything less.

  “How are you doing this morning? Hanging in there?”

  “Yeah, I’m fine.”

  “What’s going on?” my brother, Jeffrey, says from the doorway.

  We turn to look at him. He’s leaning against the doorjamb, still rumpled with sleep and smelly and grumpy as usual. He’s never been what you might call a morning person. He stares at us. A flicker of fear crosses his face, like he’s bracing for horrible news, like someone we know has died.

  “Your sister has received her purpose.” Mom smiles again, but it’s less jubilant than before. A cautious smile.

  He looks me up and down like he’ll be able to find evidence of the divine somewhere on my body. “You had a vision?”

  “Yeah. About a forest fire.” I shu
t my eyes and see it all again: the hillside crowded with pine trees, the orange sky, the smoke rolling past. “And a boy.”

  “How do you know it wasn’t just a dream?”

  “Because I wasn’t asleep.”

  “So what does it mean?” he asks. All this angel-related information is new to him.

  He’s still in that time when the supernatural stuff can be exciting and cool. I envy him that.

  “I don’t know,” I tell him. “That’s what I’ve got to find out.”

  * * *

  I have the vision again two days later. I’m in the middle of jogging laps around the outside edge of the Mountain View High School gymnasium, and suddenly it hits me, just like that. The world as I know it — California, Mountain View, the gym — promptly vanishes. I’m in the forest. I can actually taste the fire. This time I see the flames cresting the ridge.

  And then I almost crash into a cheerleader.

  “Watch it, dorkina!” she says.

  I stagger to one side to let her pass. Breathing hard, I lean against the folded-up bleachers and try to get the vision back. But it’s like trying to return to a dream after you’re fully awake. It’s gone.

  Crap. No one’s ever called me a dorkina before. Derivative of dork. Not good.

  “No stopping,” calls Mrs. Schwartz, the PE teacher. “We want to get an accurate record of how fast you can run a mile. That means you, Clara.”

  She must have been a drill sergeant in another life.

  “If you don’t make it in less than ten minutes you’ll have to run it again next week,”

  she hollers.

  I start running. I try to focus on the task at hand as I swoop around the next corner, keeping my pace quick to make up some of the time I’ve lost. But my mind wanders back to the vision. The shapes of the trees. The forest floor under my feet strewn with rocks and pine needles. The boy standing there with his back to me as he watches the fire approach. My suddenly so-very-rapidly-beating heart.

  “Last lap, Clara,” says Mrs. Schwartz.

  I speed up.

  Why is he there? I wonder, not closing my eyes but still seeing his image like it’s burned onto my retinas. Will he be surprised to see me? My mind races with questions, but underneath them all there is only one: Who is he?

  At that point I blow past Mrs. Schwartz, sprinting hard.

  “Good, Clara!” she calls. And then, a minute later, “That can’t be right.”

  Slowing to a walk, I circle back to find out my time.

  “Did I get it under ten minutes?”

  “I clocked you at five forty-eight.” She sounds truly shocked. She looks at me like she’s having visions too, of me on the track team.

  Whoops. I wasn’t paying attention, wasn’t holding back. I’m going to catch some major flack if Mom finds out.

  I shrug.

  “The watch must have been messed up,” I explain, trying for laid-back, hoping she’ll buy it even though it means I’ll have to run the stupid thing again next week.

  “Yes,” she says, nodding distractedly. “I must have started it wrong.”

  * * *

  That night when Mom gets home she finds me slouched on the couch watching reruns of I Love Lucy.

  “That bad, huh?”

  “It’s my fallback when I can’t find Touched by an Angel,” I reply sarcastically.

  She pulls a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chubby Hubby out of a paper sack. Like she read my mind.

  “You’re a goddess,” I say.

  “Not quite.”

  She holds up a book: Trees of North America, A Guide to Field Identification.

  “Maybe my tree’s not in North America.”

  “Let’s just start with this.”

  We take the book to the kitchen table and bend over it together, searching for the exact type of pine tree from my vision. To someone on the outside we’d look like nothing more than a mother helping her daughter with her homework, not a pair of part-angels researching a mission from heaven.

  “That’s it,” I say at last, pointing to a picture in the book and then rocking back in my chair, feeling pretty pleased with myself. “The lodgepole pine.”

  “Twisted yellowish needles found in pairs,” Mom reads from the book. “Brown, egg-shaped cone?”

  “I didn’t get a close look at the pinecones, Mom. It’s just the right shape, with the branches starting partway up the trunk like that, and it feels right,” I answer around a spoonful of ice cream.

  “Okay.” She consults the book again. “It looks like the lodgepole pine is found exclusively in the Rocky Mountains and the northwestern coast of the U.S. and Canada. The Native Americans liked to use the trunks for the main supports in their wigwams. Hence the name lodgepole. And,” she continues, “it says here that the cones require extreme heat — like, say, from a forest fire — to open and release their seeds.”

  “This is so educational,” I quip. Still, the idea of a tree that only grows in burned places sends a quiver of excitement through me. Even the tree has a kind of predestined meaning.

  “Good. So we know roughly where this will happen,” says Mom. “Now all we have to do is narrow it down.”

  “And then what?” I examine the picture of the pine tree, suddenly imagining the branches in flames.

  “Then we’ll move.”

  “Move? As in leave California?”

  “Yes,” she says. Apparently she’s serious.

  “But—” I sputter. “What about school? What about my friends? What about your job?”

  “You’ll go to a new school, I imagine, and make new friends. I’ll get a new job, or find a way to do my job from home.”

  “What about Jeffrey?”

  She gives a little laugh and pats my hand like it’s a silly question. “Jeffrey will come, too.”

  “Oh yeah, he’ll love that,” I say, thinking about Jeffrey with his army of friends and his never-ending parade of baseball games, wrestling matches, football practices, and everything else. We have lives, Jeffrey and I. For the first time it occurs to me that I’m in for so much more than I’ve anticipated. My purpose is going to change everything.

  Mom closes the book about trees and meets my eyes solemnly across the kitchen table.

  “This is the big stuff, Clara,” she says. “This vision, this purpose — it’s why you’re here.”

  “I know. I just didn’t think we’d have to move.”

  I look out the window into the yard I’ve grown up playing in, my old swing set that Mom has never gotten around to taking down, the row of rosebushes against the back fence that have been there for as long as I can remember. Behind the fence I can barely make out the hazy outline of the distant mountains that have always been the edges of my world. I can hear the Caltrain rumble as it crosses Shoreline Boulevard, and, if I concentrate hard enough, the faint music from Great America two miles away. It seems impossible that we would ever leave this place.

  A corner of Mom’s mouth quirks up into a sympathetic smile.

  “You thought you could just fly in somewhere for the weekend, complete your purpose, and fly back?”

  “Yeah, maybe.” I glance away sheepishly. “When are you going to tell Jeffrey?”

  “I think that should wait until we know where we’re going.”

  “Can I be there when you tell him? I’ll bring popcorn.”

  “Jeffrey’s turn will come,” she says, a muted sadness coming up in her eyes, that look she gets when she thinks we’re growing up too fast. “When he receives his purpose you’ll have to deal with that too.”

  “And then we’ll move again?”

  “We’ll go where his purpose leads us.”

  “That’s crazy,” I say, shaking my head. “This all seems crazy. You know that, right?”

  “Mysterious ways, Clara.” She grabs my spoon and digs a big chunk of Chubby Hubby out of the carton. She grins, shifting back into mischievous, playful Mom right before my eyes. “Mysterious ways.”

&nbs
p; * * *

  Over the next couple weeks the vision repeats every two or three days. I’ll be minding my own business and then bang — I’m in a service announcement for Smokey the Bear. I come to expect it at odd times, on the ride to school, in the shower, eating lunch. Other times I get the sensation without the vision itself. I feel the heat. I smell smoke.

  My friends notice. They stick me with an unfortunate new nickname: Cadet, as in Space Cadet. I guess it could be worse. And my teachers notice. But I get the work done, so they don’t give me too much grief when I spend the class period scribbling away in my journal on what can’t possibly be class notes.

 
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