Chapter 1

I was starving. Bandit was, too, so I had to work all the faster. I just pictured her in my mind, too lean for her age, her cheeks still stubbornly plump because of her dimples, her short, silky cap of black hair, the bangs that hovered over her adorable eyebrows, her cherry-red lips, and her soft, delicate snow-white skin. I thought of that hungry look in her wide hazel eyes, so innocent and undeserving of this life. It was better than being a parasite, at least. I hoped she was all right—not taking pictures with that old camera, wandering around and taping the pictures into her photo album. She was so ambitious, determined to be a photographer. But her world was gone, and she couldn't be a photographer, no matter how great her skill was. All she could be now was a survivor.

I panted as I skidded to a stop in front of the glass door. I peered into the windows, taking in what I could see—which was only the empty house. You can tell when the parasites are in our houses—they're so fond of lights. Nightlights especially, but they only have them on when they're there. So stupid.

I eased the sliding glass door open and slipped inside, loading my bags with food. I unload the fridge, and after a decisive second, I grab a carton of milk. I hurry to the cupboard, and find a pack of Oreos—Bandit's favorite. We can eat them with the milk to celebrate her tenth birthday. I know that it's been a week since, but I wish that I had done something special to mark the day. I can make it up with milk and cookies tonight. I close the cupboards with a heavy bang, and my heart stutters. That was loud—too loud. I shoulder my heavy bags, and I'm about to charge through the front door when the light turns on.

I'm a rabbit caught in headlights—only when the little parasite girl screams can I move again. The bodies of her parents hurry downstairs and call the Seekers. I kick the front door down and run outside. I have no idea where to go—just away from Bandit. I don't want them to find her. I would rather die than put that kid in jeopardy.

As I streak through the forests, tripping over branches and roots in my hurry, I can hear footsteps and shouting. I should have left Maryland—I knew it! But I never did.

My heart cries out when I find myself in camp. The Seekers are at least five miles behind—I give myself five minutes. I'm not a fast runner, but I can take any one of these forest obstacles and steep mountains in seconds. I can't see Emily—she's probably off at the stream! I'm not going to shout for her, because then they'll look for her. She's tucked away in a safe space with her valuables, and no one will find her, I'm sure of it. By the time she comes back, my body will probably be gone. I climb up the tallest pine, and as the needles snap and I breathe in their scent, I can remember that's what Bandit's hair smells like. I'm at a moment of bliss; only the tree and me exist in this world now.

As the top sways, I lean forward, so only my legs are wrapped around the pine. I'll fall headfirst and die on impact, since I'm definitely higher up than twenty feet.

As I fall, all I can think about is the pleasant breeze blowing in my face…


I wander aimlessly through the dusty, flat desert, and my stomach growls to remind me how hungry I am. Like I need reminding.

I need to go to civilization—I think I'm in Tucson. I'm not sure—maybe just some other part of Arizona; I'm not sure. I pause and snap a picture of the surrounding wildlife. I'm unbearably hot; maybe it's just me, though. I hate being in the desert. I love the forests, but I've been forced to come here. I've been being tracked, all the way to Arizona, but I'm making a mental U-turn in my mind that will take me back to Maryland. If I live that long.

The thought of going straight into a desert is horrifying to me; I'm deathly afraid of getting lost and dying of dehydration. And if that doesn't happen, I'll die of skin cancer; my pale skin is not meant for the sun. I don't tan, I burn. And on the few occasions that I don't burn, I bleach. It's weird coming out of a day of sun to find that I'm whiter than before. I bet I make Snow White look black.

I wait for the picture to develop, and then I paste it in my photo album using sap from strange little ferns, growing here and there, almost completely deprived of water. The pictures in my album are in order, showing my life: There are pictures of my run-down little house. Next to that is my family, all caught off guard when I took the picture. I don't take pictures of anything prepared, or else it seems fake. After the normal pictures, there's one of my dad as he just came home from a long trip. When the flash caught his eyes, the photo came out as a blinding picture, just multiple reflections of bright, silvery eyes covering the top half of the picture. That was the day when I decided to run away—six years old, barely understanding what was going on. The following photographs are of Tyler and his older sister, blonde-haired and tan skinned, when they first found me and "adopted" me. Then there's a picture of Sophie, with her eyes like my father when I took a picture of her, just as she came through the trees. For the next two years it was just Tyler and I. On one page, a completely empty page, is Tyler, his neck at an awkward angle and his eyes full of sky.

For the next four years it's just been me.

I've been fine—besides the crippling loneliness. I feel cold and hard on the inside. I assess each situation perfectly, watching and waiting. Patience is the key to my answers—that, and I am a master of the poker face. It's easy, since I don't really have any time for drama. Just surviving. I keep my own strict rules that I find are essential to my lifestyle:

1. Don't enter 24-hours-a-day stores or buildings

2. Don't go into extremely populated buildings: hospitals, schools, work buildings, airports, so on and so forth.

3. NEVER enter cities.

4. Only steal food when necessary.

5. If you're not sure the house or building is empty, don't enter it.

6. If being chased, do not stop and rest. Run until you've lost whomever is chasing you, and then keep running.

7. Don't stop for anyone or anything keep moving, no matter what.

8. You can't trust anyone, human or not.

9. If captured, do anything to escape. No exceptions.

10. Never let them get you alive. Let the parasites enjoy dealing with a corpse.

I crouch, watching the truck. I strain my ears, listening to the parasites talk friendlily to each other, insisting politely on information they heard that didn't agree with each other.

"Falling Upwards informed me that the truck was to be parked next to the building."

"Glittering Ice told me to have the truck parked across from the building."

"Hmm. Well, I suppose we could. I surely don't want to go against any information that you value…"

"And neither do I. Why don't we park the truck in the lot halfway to the building? It seems to be the most convenient and safest way."

"That's a perfect idea! Thank you!"

"My pleasure!" And they shake hands. I spy the truck, the side labeled with labels that don't make sense to me. I've always had a hard time reading, never having time to clearly learn it. As they parked the truck and began unloading, I crept closer, keeping to the shadows. I waited for a parasite to turn his back to me, and stole two cases from the truck. I ran across the asphalt, my feet falling quietly on the ground as I quickly lifted them up to drop them lightly again. I swore under my breath when I heard people shouting after me. I dropped one of the cases, losing the weight and adding on speed. The hunt would start up once again.

I stopped, breathing hard, ending my long run in a small cave. I drop the heavy box at my feet and proceed to rip it open, my stomach growling hungrily. My eyes rest on packets of trail mix—I tear the top of one packet off with my teeth and start to shovel it into my mouth. To my delight, it has M&Ms in it. By the time I'm finished with four packets, my mouth and throat is terribly dry and I'm in need of water. I shove all the packs I can into my tattered backpack, which is mondo sized, and I start to jog.

I find myself cold as I climb out of the ditch. I can't run back to the unloading dock, oh no—way too stupid of an idea to consider—but I can run into the plain desert. My heart beats faster in my chest and I swallow hard. When it comes to fight or flight, I've never been good at deciding. When I see them come up in a jeep, my mind thinks like a rabbit and I run. When I twist my head, I can see the jeep approach closer with its dust cloud—and is that a moving truck? —I shake the thought out of my mind, lower my head and run even faster, my muscles aching and screaming at me.

. Just when I think they're going to turn me into a pancake, they pull up ahead of me, and hop out of their jeep. Not too far behind is the moving truck. I grit my teeth. What's in store this time? Guns, maybe? Tranquilizer darts? Chloroformed rags? Who knows? I've been chased with all three before.

"Hey!" A tall, sun-browned young woman shouts to me, waving her arms over her head. I stare blankly at her, narrowing my eyes. I'm not blind. She smiles as she approaches, and I shift my weight to the back some. I can see a small pink scar on her neck—but when the sun catches in her eyes, there is no silvery glow. It doesn't matter. I don't trust her. I don't trust anyone—not humans, not parasites. They're equally threatening in their own ways. I take a few steps back before the rest get out, smiling as they walk towards me. A tall, tan man with blonde streaked hair walks up next to the woman, and a man with black hair and fair skin walks up, with an even younger woman next to him, probably in her late teens or early twenties. She looks like an angel, her golden hair floating around her head. The sun catches in everyone's eyes, and there's no silvery reflection. Except with the angelic girl. I felt like I could see the parasite enveloping her—of course, she has to be nice or else she wouldn't be with humans. I realize that. But I'm not about to trust these people—I refuse to go near them. I turn on my heel and run, as fast as I can until—BAM! In the face and out of nowhere! I run into a tall man, who looks frighteningly similar to the black-haired man from the jeep. He grabs me by wrists and twists my arms behind my back. I scream and struggle, crying out as my arms are twisted even farther as I struggle.

The others shout at the man angrily, and I'm released. When the man with blonde-streaked hair tries to touch me, I kick him in the groin and begin to run again. Someone laughs, but I'm quickly tackled and gagged, my wrists tied firmly to my hands.

"Jesus, that kid is determined…"

"Why did you tie her up? She didn't do anything. That was completely unnecessary."

"Why should I untie her, Wanda? So she can deck Mel next?"

"I have to agree with Ian. If we untie her, who knows what she'll do. Sorry, kid."

"You're safer with us."

"This is for the best."

"You'll like you're new home."

"Life is so much better in a community, trust me…"

Also: I am writing this little side note on February 20th, 2013. I have almost one THOUSAND views-over 200 views for this chapter and the next one. Yet I only have 4 reviews. WHAT THE FUCK, GUYS?! FOUR FUCKING REVIEWS?! DOES MY WRITING SUCK SO MUCH THAT IT ISN'T EVEN ACKNOWLEDGED?! I have no input from anyone, and I have no idea or inspiration for chapter 7! Seriously, I need some input here! NOT FUCKING ACCEPTABLE, GUYS! D:

I know I sound like an irritating author who is desperately begging for reviews, but yah, I'm kinda desperate right now. I'm not proud of it either.

But ya know I love you guys :)

Not to be creepy or anything...