~1~


~Chapter One~


"It's alright if you can't remember. Our subconscious is spectacularly agile. Sometimes it knows when to take us away, as a kind of protection.

~Kathleen Glasgow~


The world is on fire.

It is so bright that opening my eyes is impossible. The scorching surface underneath me is burning my flesh, it feels like my skin might melt off my bones. My first instinct is to get away from the source of the pain as quickly as possible, but as soon as I try to move, I realize I can't.

I'm stuck.

Maybe this what death is truly like; maybe I've been doomed to an eternity of suffering.

I wonder if it is because I spent so much time interfering with the forces of nature, if my ancestors are so angered by my choices that they made sure I would have to pay the price. But, then I remember what Grams said when she refused to pass through me—you're not the only one who can make sacrifices…

I had been so preoccupied with making sure our plan went off without a hitch, that I hadn't really considered what she meant by that, and I'm wishing that I did. Then my current predicament might make some kind of sense.

It's too late to sort it all out now. I thought I knew pain; I experienced all the ways a supernatural being could perish. I've felt the agony of a knife raking across the delicate skin on my neck, endured the torture of a slow decapitation, as hands that never actually touched me gripped my skull and yanked and twisted with other-worldly strength. It made the process slow and excruciating. I've had my heart vicariously ripped out of my chest cavity and my bones crushed; my body drained of blood and burned with vervain.

But none of those horrors compared to this.

The temperature around me rises, which surprises me, as I assumed it couldn't get any hotter. And then my head starts to ache. It's more tolerable than the burning sensation, as it's a dull type of discomfort. I'd gladly take this if I have any say in the matter.

As soon as I form the thought, however, my headache becomes so sharp that I wonder if a demon is shoving an axe through my frontal lobe. My brain is seconds away from exploding, the pressure absolutely unbearable.

And then the back of my head smacks into something very hard at a very rapid speed. I open my mouth to scream, attempt to open my eyes so I can know what's going on, but I instantly regret it. The light had dimmed ever so slightly, but not nearly enough to avoid causing any kind of lasting damage. Something I'm beginning to think is the only thing I'll be able to have in this version of the hereafter.

But just as my agony is reaching a crescendo, I'm granted a reprieve.

The pain halts abruptly, dropping off and leaving me with a feeling a nothingness. It's a very strong anesthetic, numbing my entire body, desensitizing my nerve-endings, and then…

~~X~~

(Parts and date unknown…)

As the numbness wears off, I slowly allow myself to open a single eye. When I'm sure my retinas won't be assaulted with massive amounts of light, I relax and allow myself to get a better look around.

I don't recognize my surroundings.

Above me, is a ceiling fan with pretty petal-like fixtures attached to it. My hands grab at the fabric beneath me. It's extremely soft. Satiny, almost. I push my body up, legs kicking at the fluffy blankets that cover me.

The bed I'm lying in is huge—a California king-sized mattress that is so large that I have to crawl to the edge in order to stand up. The bed frame is so high up, that my feet don't touch the floor. Getting up is like hopping off a barstool.

I wander over to the other side of the room, stopping in front of a dresser with an ornate-looking mirror attached to it. I press my fingers against the glass—it's cool and smooth. When I pull my hand away, I see that I've left a smudged handprint in my wake.

I'm not sure what I was expecting to see when I looked at my reflection, but the action leaves me feeling strange. A pair of bright, green eyes stares back at me, warm caramel-toned skin that looks both glowing and flushed, dark hair cut in a chin-length bob.

The young woman in the mirror is familiar, and on a conscious level, I know that she is me, but who am I exactly?

I suddenly feel so off-kilter that I back away from the vanity and wind up half-falling, half-sitting on a chaise lounge that is situated at the foot of the bed. My whole body begins to tremble, and I close my eyes, taking a deep breath in, holding it for a moment.

When I release it, I open my eyes and contemplate my dilemma, starting with the most basic of my observations. Somehow, I'm not really surprised by my appearance—as soon as I saw my reflection, I knew that nothing had really changed. The scary part is my complete lack of memory of anything else.

I don't know my name, my birthday, my occupation, what happened in the past, what my present entails, or what hopes I have for the future. My brain has been wiped clean, it seems, leaving me with a blank slate and no idea where to go from here.

Okay, I think, let's start with the obvious—the bed and dresser tell me that I'm in a bedroom, but I don't know who it belongs to…

I look around until I spot something that might be helpful—a picture sitting on a cream-colored nightstand beside the bed.

I scramble over to it, picking the wooden frame up to study it in greater detail. I look at myself first, I am smiling, and I don't appear to be much younger than my current self. The only difference I can see is the length of my hair, which is considerably longer in the photograph. I'm more interested in the two girls I'm sandwiched between—one of them has wavy blonde hair and blue eyes and the other has long, straight brunette-colored hair with chocolate brown eyes. All three of us are grinning from ear-to-ear, arms slung around each other's shoulders.

I desperately wrack my brain for any memory of them, but I come up with nothing. I'm beginning to get frustrated—I'm a baby deer standing on shaky legs, trying to get her bearings.

And failing miserably.

I'm just about to throw the picture at the wall when I stop myself, arm freezing in its place behind my ear. A strong urge to remove the photo from its encasement takes over me. I flip the frame over, pry the back off, and let it hit the wooden floor with an unimpressive smack.

On the back of the picture, I see three sets of words. When I scan each group of letters, I figure out that they aren't just random letters, but a list of names with directional words scribbled in parenthesis beside each one.

Caroline Forbes (left)
Bonnie Bennett (center)
Elena Gilbert (right)

Unfortunately, the new information doesn't dredge up any prior knowledge.

According to this, my name is Bonnie. The blonde girl is Caroline and the brown-haired girl is Elena. And that's if I trust the validity of something scribbled on the back of a picture I don't recall posing for. I'm inclined to believe the caption, though, because I don't have another reference to compare it with.

I fold the thick photopaper in half and go to stick it inside a pocket I do not have. I'm not dressed. And by that, I mean I'm completely naked. I'm not even wearing undergarments—that brings a new meaning to my baby deer analogy.

The dresser is empty, though. What good is a bureau without any clothes inside going to do me? I franticly search for anything wearable when I come across a top, a pair of jeans, and boots in a messy pile, partially obscured from its place sticking out from under the bed. At first, I thank my lucky stars that I won't have to walk around what is presumably someone's home for underwear.

When my fingers brush over the fabric of the tank top, I yank my arm back. For whatever reason, this shirt gives me weird vibes. But it's all I've got at the moment, so I push through the eerie feeling of dread and dress myself.

Each article of clothing smells strongly of an odd combination of things, like a dwindling fire, dirt, and a clean, woodsy scent that sends a jolt of something pleasant down my spine. I am taken aback by the sense of déjà vu I'm experiencing; struggling to figure out why I feel like I've worn this outfit before when I'm seeing it for the first time today.

I shake my head, put the photo in the back pocket of my pants and head for the door. I open it with caution, suddenly frightened because I have no way of knowing who or what I'll be faced with.

An empty hallway, for starters. I shut the door behind me, cautiously venturing over to the railing. I peer over it and get a complete view of what appears to be a family room. It's painted in warm tones—rust -colored walls and dark brown furniture with a small fireplace. Mounted on the wall across from the couch is a small television and beside that, a row of pictures ranging from paintings of orange flowers to photographs of random objects.

The silence is unsettling.

I feel like I'm being watched, though I haven't seen anything that might indicate the presence of another person. No random noises or movements. And nothing that points to anyone having been here earlier—the white carpeting isn't marred by stains or matted down after years of people walking on it.

It could've been installed moments before I got here for how pristine it is.

I tiptoe down the stairs, passing by a dining room with the same color scheme, and into the main room on the first floor. Off to the right is a tiny kitchen with shiny, black appliances and cherrywood cabinets. The countertops are spotless—devoid of what one would put atop them. No toaster or bowls, no drying rack or dishes, no spice rack or cookbooks. The pegs mounted on the wall are bare, not a single pot or pan in sight.

I open a drawer, and nothing is inside. I take a quick look inside a cupboard, which ends up being empty. The pantry doesn't have any food on its shelves. The fridge is on, but not for any purpose, as it is completely empty as well.

I'm getting a little frustrated—you'd have thought I'd have found something that might let me know where I am. Maybe the name of the homeowner—which must be either Caroline Forbes or Elena Gilbert based on the only personalized item I've found thus

The only other thing that might be of use to me is the only picture featuring human beings hanging beside a black-and-white image of a mason jar on a picnic table.

This still features an older woman with curly hair and a bright smile—and green eyes that look exactly like mine. I feel as though I should recognize her, but I don't. So, I decide to investigate it further.

I reach for the frame, expecting it to come right off the wall.

Only it doesn't.

I yank it harder, but it remains in its original spot—it doesn't move an inch. So, I pull it again, with enough force to open a jammed door.

It doesn't budge.

Placing my foot against the base of the wall for leverage, I put every ounce of strength I can muster into freeing the frame from the wall. A jolt runs up my arm.

I gasp, flying backward, crashing into the coffee table in the middle of the room.

I'm in shock. So frightened and bewildered that I remain on the floor for a good ten minutes, just staring at the photograph. It isn't damaged. The sensation felt so intense to me that I am surprised that the edges of the frame aren't charred.

Because you're going crazy… you're probably imagining all of this.

I pinch myself on the thigh. Hard. And I definitely feel the brief spurt of pain the action causes, so I am fairly certain I'm not dreaming. My palms are resting on my legs, which are shaking so much that I don't dare try to stand. I bring my knees to my chest, and I notice something that adds to the peculiarity of this whole situation.

The sleeve of my jacket is singed, which means I'm not hallucinating. I raise my hands and examine them, but I don't see any burns or blisters, don't feel any heat emanating from my flesh —it's almost like I've healed myself in the time it took me to figure out what happened to me.

But that's impossible.

Right?

Except I'm not really sure of the answer. Everything is so strange, so unfamiliar, so bewildering… and yet, I'm considering outlandish theories. Impossibilities aren't real. It's far more likely that I smacked my head on something.

That, or perhaps this is a freaky fever dream.

Only, I have a sinking suspicion that isn't why I woke up, sans memory, in a house that no one seems to be living in.

I finally collect myself, forcing my body upward, holding onto the table I flew into for support. Once I'm sure I can walk without toppling over, I make my way over to the front door, hand grasping the doorknob like it is the only thing keeping me from crumpling to the floor. Pulling it gently, I open the door inch by inch.

Slivers of daylight stream into the house. I see flashes of green and blue, soak in the warmth from the sun's rays. Then, I listen closely for any signs of life: birds chirping, bees buzzing, dogs barking, kids laughing—but it is dead silent.

So, I step onto the cement steps and look around.

The houses look (and feel) oddly familiar—like I've seen them hundreds of times before. I haven't, though, and I have no clue where I am. If I weren't so out of it, I might have had the wherewithal to turn around, lock the door, and climb back into bed.

That won't help matters, however, so I walk down the driveway, making note of the blue Prius parked on the street. Some other observances I want to put in my memory bank are the homes themselves—every single one has a porch of some kind, in addition to the uniform colonial architecture. Also, each yard is identical to the one beside it. Neat, freshly mowed grass and a rainbow of flowers lining the walkways.

My surroundings are perfect.

Uniform.

And while the neighborhood has minor deviations from the standard—for example, one front door is red, and another is white—the way everything almost matches kind of creeps me out.

I stop at the end of the driveway, glancing to the left, right, and behind both of my shoulders. No one is outside either, at least as far as I can tell. But I can hear birds chirping in the distance, which informs me that I'm not completely alone, not the only living being around.

Something tells me to turn left.

So, that's exactly what I do.

The sun is partially hidden behind a wispy cloud, its beams pushing through the vapor, shining down on me. It's such a nice day. I'm surprised that I haven't seen another person yet. I must have walked for at least twenty minutes and I still have no clue about where I am or how I ended up inside a labyrinth of wholesome houses—none of which seem to be occupied.

And yet, I have seen three cars parked on the street or in the driveway, depending on the vehicle's size, three bikes, one scooter, and a child-sized truck that has seen better days.

I'm just about to give up and backtrack when goosebumps form on my arms and legs. A weird biological response considering the fact that the sun is directly overhead and I'm wearing a coat. I so desperately want to blame the weather… if only I could convince myself that I'm just cold…

But I can't.

I'm suddenly shivering because of an ominous realization—I'm not alone. Someone or something is here with me. This knowledge, and the unwavering certainty that follows, sends a spike of terror throughout my entire body.

And they are getting closer.

I spin to the side, whipping my head in all directions. I don't see anyone… can't hear the sound of footfalls on the pavement… but the hairs on the back of my neck are standing up.

A firm hand grips my shoulder.

I nearly jump out of my skin upon the unexpected touch. Whirling back, I come face to face with the most attractive man I have ever laid eyes on. Which, I admit, doesn't mean much considering I can't remember meeting anyone.

At all.

Ever.

He pulls his hand away slowly, a smile tugging on the corners of his lips. I should probably do something. I don't know who this guy is or what he's capable of. This is the first time I'm seeing him; he could be a serial killer for all I know. In fact, my initial reaction screams danger.

Only, that doesn't matter because I don't think I have the ability to move. Forget about running away—I'm trapped under this stranger's icy blue gaze. My shoulder tingles even though he let go of me, his touch stays with me, and I'm idlily contemplating if the sensation will ever dissipate.

"Hello," he says, turning on the charm.

I squint, trying to make sense of why I feel like I know this guy, why my intuition says he is bad news, but another part of me knows that he isn't a threat to me.

"Who are you?" I ask, voice level. I cross my arms over my chest, hoping that I am exuding control, that I'm not afraid.

He smirks, as if I should just know his name already. "Damon. And who are you?"

His cocky attitude irritates me.

"Bonnie."

Maybe it's the way he lights an angry fire in my belly with his arrogance. Or maybe it's because I feel the need to show this Damon that I'm not disoriented, confused, and scared—except for, you know, the fact that I am actually all of those things. Either way, the manner in which he's gazing down at me, spurs the change in the way I carry myself.

I tip my chin upward, just a fraction of an inch, in a silent challenge. Go on, try me, it says, I dare you.

Damon returns my look in full, not bothered by my attempt to assert dominance in the slightest. He leans in—closely—so that the tips of our noses touch, hand reaching up to tuck a lock of short, dark hair behind my ear. Electricity runs through my entire body. The sensation so intense, that I swear I see a lamppost flicker in the distance.

Reflexively, I jerk my face away. But he doesn't move, hand frozen in mid-air, eyes wide in shock. And then… nothing. It's like he flipped a switch in his brain, one that disables knee-jerk reactions. The arrogance reappears, smirk more pronounced than it was moments ago.

The wind picks up, rustling the leaves and grass. It isn't a forceful gust, though it is strong enough to blow my hair across my face.

"It's nice to meet you, Bonnie," he lilts, and I can tell he thinks he has complete control over the conversation.

Well, he's in for a rude awakening. "Thank you—I'll let you know if I can say the same about you later."

"Looking forward to it." Damon replies smoothly, not missing a beat.

I thrust my hand out, arm stiff, fingers close together. He shakes it firmly. And this time, when a jolt travels up my arm, we both pretend as though we didn't feel it.

I can't figure out how to word the questions I want to ask. They all sound weird and convoluted. How did you get here? Why do I feel like I know you? Have you seen anyone else around here? Maybe I can fish for information without giving away the fact that I'm utterly confused, that I couldn't remember my name until I saw it written down, that I truly have no clue as to where I am.

"You'd think more people would be outside—it's so nice."

He snorts derisively. "Really? That's how you're going to play this?"

"Play what?" I snap defensively, tapping the heel of my boot against the pavement.

"Your pathetic attempt to get information from me. Small talk about the weather? That's the most unoriginal ploy I've heard in my entire life. And trust me, I've heard a lot of them."

Something tells me that his statement isn't hyperbolic. "Okay, then. Tell me what's going on."

"You're the only other person I've come across."

"Yeah, out here, maybe. Have you thought about knocking on someone's door?"

"I would, but I forgot to put on my Girl Scout uniform this morning," he snips.

I saunter past him without saying another word, marching up to the house closest to where I was standing. It's the same as every other building I've encountered so far. When I reach the front door, I see a knocker—it looks like something I might expect to find on a castle.

Pushing it into the door forcefully, I pause and step back so whoever opens it has room to join me on the porch if necessary. Except, nothing happens for several long moments, and I begin to feel uneasy about my plan.

Something is wrong.

Horribly, horribly wrong.

And I have no logical explanation for how I know this, I just do. That's probably what frightens me the most. Sure, waking up in a bed with no memories of anything ever sent me into a panic. But sensing things—the déjà vu—it's just too much.

Not to mention, my only company is Damon—who, by all accounts, is the biggest douchebag in wherever this is. I guess that actually makes him the only douchebag, but I'm sure if anyone tried to take that title from him, they wouldn't succeed.

And I've only known him for an hour!

That doesn't sit right with me, however, because while it appears that way on the surface, it certainly doesn't feel that way.

"How's the friendly neighbor schtick going?"

A shiver runs down my spine when his breath tickles my ear. He's so close, so incredibly close, and I'm not sure what to think about the way my heartbeat picks up.

"No one's home," I say quietly. "They must have more than one car." I point to the orange minivan parked on the curb.

"Or no one lives here at all," Damon supplies, reaching out to grab the doorknob.

My hand shoots forward, fingers wrapping tightly around his wrist. "Breaking and entering is illegal, Damon!"

"Well, if the door's unlocked, it's technically only entering," he escapes my grasp with ease.

"That doesn't make it any less illegal!"

Damon looks from left to right. "I don't see anyone that's going to stop me."

"I am!" I declare firmly.

This makes him laugh—a genuine laugh, as if I've told him a joke. He pats my head in between guffaws. "You're five-feet of judgmental disapproval—you aren't strong enough to stop me."

To illustrate his point, he tries to open the door and has very little luck with it. The only thing he's done is confirm that breaking will once again be part of the equation. I smirk triumphantly. But he isn't done… in a movement so quick I would have missed it if I blinked, he turns the knob and it cracks, and the lock is now useless, pieces of the doorframe splintering.

I keep my composure, though on the inside I'm stunned. He might have a very nice physique (at least, from what I can tell) although, I would've never guessed he'd be capable of doing that much damage with such a subtle action. The leather jacket kind of makes it hard to be sure, but he's no bodybuilder.

Definitely not strong enough to break a door with sheer strength.

"Show-off," I grumble, rolling my eyes as I survey what little I can see of the inside.

"I prefer sexy—I've never met a woman who wasn't impressed by my… dexterity."

How do you remember meeting people? I don't dare vocalize my inquiry, though. Instead, in the most sardonic tone I can manage, I say, "you're looking at her."

"Am I?"

I really shouldn't be taunting someone who could easily snap my neck. It's not very smart. But I don't think I can stop myself. Every time he makes a comment in that condescending tone of his, I just have to put him in his place.

I'm about to reply, but his back is already facing me.

Damon kicks aside a pile of rubble falling from the broken entryway and tosses a smug look over his shoulder. "Do you want answers, Bon Bon?"

That will not become a thing. Who comes up with nicknames for s stranger?

"That's not my name; don't call me that. I barely know you! Why do you think you can give me a pet name?" Before I realize what I'm doing, my feet have already carried me inside.

"It just feels right," he says with another casual shrug.

I open my mouth to respond, but my voice catches in my throat. The temperature outside had been cool and crisp. Not in here. Whoever live(ed) here must have not cared to fix the air conditioner before leaving.

It feels like winter—if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say it's about thirty degrees Fahrenheit. It's so cold I can see my breath. Hastily, I zip my jacket up, wrap my arms around my torso, and tuck my hands in my armpits.

"This isn't good…" I warn Damon, who is somehow unaffected by his surroundings.

"No," he agrees, looking around the foyer. "But, in my experience, that means we're in the right place.

Well, fuck. That makes no sense—this whole reconnaissance mission is crazy. I should just go back to the other place, at least I had a warm bed there.

But I still continue to venture deeper into the house.

The floorboards creak under the weight of our feet. It also smells musty, like no one has aired the house out in years. It's also dark, not so dark that I can't see a thing, but not light enough for me to make out what the silhouettes around us are.

It's probably best if I keep my eyes trained on Damon. He's not struggling to navigate through this disturbing funhouse.

When he stops suddenly, I don't catch it in time. I run right into his back, earning a face full of leather and an irritated groan.

"Watch where you're going!"

"I would—if I could see anything in the first place!"

Anger thrums in the air, and I feed off of it. I'm so frustrated that I ball my hands into fists, clenching them so tightly that my fingers ache. And then I'm caught off guard—startled by the faint light dancing on the walls.

I turn my head slowly, looking for the source of the flickering lamplight. I find it immediately—and it's not a lamp, but a candle sitting on a circular table. The flame burns wildly, large, and warm.

So warm…

I'm transfixed by it. Mesmerized. This little fire makes me feel good, but I don't understand why. I just want to get closer to it… maybe then I won't freeze to death in this hellhole…

I'm almost there… so close I can feel the anticipation burning in my fingertips.

But something pulls me back.

Damon, with his stupidly weird strength, pushing my hand away from the flame.

"Are you crazy?" he exclaims.

"I—"

I'm actually grateful that he cuts me off because I don't know what to say.

"Forget it—" he commands. "Look." He gestures to a postcard stuck underneath the candleholder.

Damon gingerly takes the candle in his hand. "What does it say?"

I pick it up, inspecting the photograph closely. Of course, I don't see any mailing information on the front, but I'm too stuck on the picture itself to care. I know exactly where we are now.

Because the house featured on the postcard is somewhere I've been. The house I woke up in. The one I wanted to go back to, with the orange interior and the Prius sitting out front.

Below the photo is a sentence that gives me more context.

Welcome to Mystic Falls—we've been awaiting your arrival…