So as stated in the summary, this is Jared's point of view of the novel. Surprisingly, so far, Jared's headspace has been incredibly easy to get into. I still don't really like my own writing, but for some reason I'm excited about this story. Tell me what you think!
I walk toward the house, placing my heels down first, then rolling my weight forward silently. There are no lights. Just in case, I grip the handle of my father's hunting knife as I creep up to the quaint little house. Sweat drips down my back, and I long for a breeze to awaken the still night and cool me down.
Quiet as an Indian—as I fancied myself as a boy—I mount the steps to the patio door. They've left the glass arcadia door slid open. How careless. It's ironic how they aren't scared of each other like we were, but they are the scariest things we can imagine.
Standing in the open doorway, I scan the darkened house for any—any sign of…
Someone is moving across the floor toward me.
For a split second, I stand frozen on the patio, my shadow stretching out on the tiles toward the girl—for it is a girl, a teenager, an innocent-looking thing who would be my downfall. The parasite that looks like a young woman sees me and squeaks in terror, whirling away from me, like she's been caught too.
Ha. No, it is I who will be caught if I don't deal with this monster.
I whip the knife out, run forward, and grab this fragile creature who will be the death of me. "One sound and you die."
It surprises me by speaking, not breathlessly with fear, but in a low, angry hiss. "Do it. Just do it. I don't want to be a filthy parasite!"
"Clever," I whisper. It's pretending to be human, trapped by a parasite. By me. I'm the parasite. "Must be a Seeker. And that means a trap. How did they know?" I wrap my hand around its throat. Its body is so small. Choking it seems wrong. But I know what I'm doing is right. Justice.
"Where are the rest of them?" I want to kill it. So much. More, nonsensically, than I wanted to kill the centipedes who caused the death of my family and left me alone. But I can't kill it yet. I have to figure out its trick.
"It's just me," it gasps, its voice raspy. I'm hurting it.
Suddenly, it rams its elbow into my stomach, trying to get free. I'm not letting it go. It's lying to me. There's no way only one of them would come after me.
It kicks me. I'm thrown off balance for a second, and it tries to run. I tighten my grip again, holding it to me. "Feisty for a peace-loving body snatcher, aren't you?" When it comes to life and death, I suppose, the parasites are just as self-preserving as we were.
It claws at me some more, its long nails scratching my hand. I squeeze its neck harder. "I will kill you, you worthless body thief. I'm not bluffing." My fingers overlap around its little neck, the tips meeting in the back, right where the disgusting little scar is. I will leave it a new scar, in front.
"Do it, then!"
Why does it tell me to kill it? This trick doesn't make any sense. My fingers are right where the scar would be, and yet I don't feel anything…
I gasp. My fingers release its throat, both hands now feeling for the scar that should be there, that would be there, if, if…
"Impossible," I whisper. Suddenly her actions and words make sense. I reach in my pocket for a light. With my other hand, I spin her around and shine the flashlight in her eyes. Left, then right.
There's no reflection.
"I can't believe it." Something I haven't felt in a long time is growing in me. Hope. I'm not the only one. "You're still human."
I feel a rush of affection for this girl, this human girl in front of me. Without thinking, I pull her face closer to mine and I kiss her on the mouth.
Her lips are so soft.
I never saw her face clearly in the dim flickers of my flashlight. I don't care. She is human. That is enough to make her beautiful.
She moves her leg suddenly, and then I feel astonishing pain in one of the few sensitive parts of me. I gasp, unable to breathe. As I react to the pain, she dodges out of my arms, past me and out the open patio door.
Just when I want her to stay, she runs. Now I'm the threat.
"Wait," I choke, still winded. I can't even walk yet.
She pelts outside, and I hear little thumps as something falls out of her pockets. Some kind of provision, probably. Everything she did makes sense now. She came into this dark house, raiding the fridge, keeping completely quiet. When I found her, she thought I was coming after her. She's in the same boat I am. I can't let her leave.
Somehow I regain my balance, and I'm staggering after her. She is so fast. If not for the bulky bag in her hand, I'm sure she would be far away and invisible by now.
I yell after her, not caring now about attracting attention. "I'm not one of them!" I'm not, and neither is she. Some reckless part of me doesn't care if I am caught now. At least I'm not alone. "Listen to me! Look, I'll prove it! Just stop and look at me!"
She's off the gravel driveway now, running away into the desert. Desperation fuels me. I sprint. "I didn't think there was anyone left! Please, I need to talk to you!"
It dawns on me, then, that she might not be running because she thinks I'm a parasite. Perhaps I scared her off with my wild, animal reaction. "I'm sorry I kissed you! That was stupid! I've just been alone so long!"
Finally, I'm close enough to hear her speak. "Shut up!"
I won't. I can't abandon another of my kind.
I leap for her, make a flying tackle like I used to in football. She falls under me more easily than the opponents I remember. "Wait—a—minute," I pant, in between raspy, painful breaths. I haven't run that fast in a long time.
She squirms under me, no doubt uncomfortable. Her breath comes out in a growl. Still fighting. A minute ago, when I thought she was an alien, her feistiness infuriated me. Now it makes me like her even more.
"Look, look, look!" I have to reassure her. My neck won't exactly help, but my eyes will. I turn on the flashlight again and shine it in my own eyes. "See? See? I'm just like you!" Will she stay now? She has to stay.
"Let me see your neck."
She still isn't convinced. I don't blame her; no doubt I'd do the same thing if I were her. But I can't help her there. "Well…that won't exactly help anything. Aren't the eyes enough? You know I'm not one of them." Please believe me. Please understand I don't mean you any harm.
"Why won't you show me your neck?"
I might as well tell her. Better she hear it from me, now, straight. "Because I have a scar there."
As she tries to escape me again, I hold her down. I'm not being cruel. I just don't ever want to be alone. "It's self-inflicted. I think I did a pretty good job, even though it hurt." I remember the pain. But I think losing perhaps the only other human alive would hurt worse. "I don't have all that pretty hair to cover my neck. The scar helps me blend in." Everything I say is true, yet it's overcompensation. I'm almost babbling now. I'm desperate for her to believe me.
She twists under me again. "Get off me."
I do. Once I'm up and she stays lying on the ground, I offer my hand to her. She's probably more fragile than she acts. "Please don't run away. And…erm, I'd rather you didn't kick me again either."
She stares at me. I must seem so strange to her, like a wild man. A freak. She speaks again, her voice now softer. More unsure. "Who are you?"
"My name is Jared Howe." I grin as I say my name for the first time since I've been alone. I've almost forgotten it. "I haven't spoken to another human being in more than two years, so I'm sure I must seem…a little crazy to you." Crazy, desperate. Starved for love.
It's not that. That's not why I kissed her. Although she seems like a nice girl. Of course, she is human, and that's enough, but I can see her now. She's pretty. She's obviously a survivor.
I've kissed her, I've almost killed her, I've chased her down and tackled her, but I don't know who she is. "Please forgive that and tell me your name anyway."
She continues to stare at me. In wonder? Fear? Never mind. She answers. "Melanie."
"Melanie." I roll the name in my mouth. Savor it. "I can't tell you how delighted I am to meet you." I bend down toward her, my hand still extended.
Very slowly she reaches up and grasps my hand. I pull her effortlessly to her feet and don't let go of her once she's standing. I don't think I can.
"What now?" she asks, still cautious. Edgy.
"Well, we can't stay here long. Will you come back with me to the house? I left my bag. You beat me to the fridge."
She shakes her head, and I realize how much I've scared her. She can hardly move. "Will you wait for me here, then? I'll be very quick. Let me get us some more food." Judging by the size of her bag, she took about a week's worth of food, but I know I can carry far more.
"Us?" She seems confused by this.
I smile again. I can't stop smiling. This girl has given me more happiness in five minutes than I've had in the two years since I lost my family. "Do you really think I'm going to let you disappear? I'll follow you even if you tell me not to."
She hesitates still. "I…I don't have time. I have so far to go and…Jamie is waiting."
"You're not alone." I had assumed she was. If she already has someone with her, looking out for her, then she doesn't need me. Never mind that I need her. I'm not…jealous exactly, but I do feel a sense of disappointment.
"My brother. He's just nine, and he's so frightened when I'm away."
Oh. Her brother. Her kid brother. Not someone who looks out for her, but someone whom she looks after. I can't imagine looking after a nine-year-old in this world, someone who can barely sit still for an hour, someone who doesn't know how to be quiet or careful. I can barely take care of myself.
Her motherly concern for this boy is very apparent in her voice. "It will take me half the night to get back to him. He won't know if I've been caught. He's so hungry." Right on cue, I hear her stomach gurgle faintly. I realize how hungry she must be, how long she and the boy, Jamie, have gone without food.
"Will it help if I give you a ride?"
"A ride?" she inquires.
Now I know what to do. How to keep her with me. "I'll make you a deal. You wait here while I gather more food, and I'll take you anywhere you want to go in my jeep. It's faster than running. Even faster than you running." I still haven't entirely caught my breath from chasing her.
"You have a car?"
"Of course. Do you think I walked out here?" Her forehead wrinkles as she mulls it over.
I'll take that as a yes.
"We'll be back to your brother in no time. Don't move from this spot, okay?" I couldn't stand being alone anymore. If she left…I don't know what I'd do.
She nods. My heart soars. She wants to stay. She—Melanie—wants to stay with me. I can feel the smile growing on my face again. "And eat something, please. I don't want your stomach to give us away."
Before I leave her, I want to do something. Again. Not in a moment of thoughtless passion, but in one of reassurance. "Please don't kick me."
I bend my head toward her, holding her face softly. As our lips touch again, she reacts very differently. Her breathing hitches in her throat, and her hands reach up to touch my face.
I've never felt this before.
Her hands wander to my neck, clasp together in the back. I don't have time to remember why she shouldn't before she screams. I know what she felt: a rigid line of healed tissue on the base of my neck. An imitation of what I would have if I was a parasite.
But it's scared her. Melanie. This last human girl. My own miracle.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" I unwind her arms from around my neck, pull her close to me. "I'm sorry."
As enamored as I am with this fellow human survivor, I realize how young she is. Delicate and anxious and petrified. I have to be careful.
As I hold her, as her breathing slows to normal and she allows me to return to the house, I promise myself that I will never let Melanie go. She is my miracle, my living hope.
I was startled awake. Jamie was shaking me, whispering my name. "Your turn for watch."
I rose from my slumped position against the tree. I ruffled Jamie's shaggy hair absentmindedly, switching places with him.
My dream—my memory—always started out as my worst nightmare: I'd been caught, spotted by a body snatcher, and I would have to commit murder to save myself. Then my nightmare turned into bliss: I'd found hope again. Melanie. Jamie.
Now I was awake, and my worst nightmare had taken a different shape.
Melanie was gone.
She had been caught. Turned into one of them. A parasite.
She'd gone into enemy territory, trying to do something noble. Trying to find more of us. I waited for her, helpless, outside the city. I waited a whole week. Seven days, and she didn't come back.
I promised myself I'd never lose her. Never let her go.
But I did.