Dark Angel Chapter 1
Gillian Lennox didn’t mean to die that day.
She was mad, though. Mad because she had missed her ride home from school, and because she was cold, and because it was two weeks before Christmas and she was very, very lonely.
She walked by the side of the empty road, which was about as winding and hilly as every other country road in southwestern Pennsylvania, and viciously kicked offending clumps of snow out of her way.
It was a rotten day. The sky was dull and the snow looked tired. And Amy Nowick, who should have been waiting after Gillian cleaned up her studio art project, had already driven away—with her new boyfriend.
Sure, it must have been an honest mistake. And she wasn’t jealous of Amy, she wasn’t, even though one week ago they had both been sixteen and never been kissed.
Gillian just wanted to get home.
That was when she heard the crying.
She stopped, looked around. It sounded like a baby—or maybe a cat. It seemed to be coming from the woods.
Her first thought was, Paula Belizer. But that was ridiculous. The little girl who’d disappeared somewhere at the end of this road had been gone for over a year now.
The crying came again. It was thin and far away—as if it were coming from the depths of the woods. This time it sounded more human.
“Hello? Hey, is somebody in there?”
There was no answer. Gillian stared into the dense stand of oak and hickory, trying to see between the gnarled bare trees. It looked uninviting. Scary.
Then she looked up and down the road. Nobody. Hardly surprising—not many cars passed by here.
I am not going in there alone, Gillian thought. She was exactly the opposite of the “Oh, it’s such a nice day; let’s go tromping through the woods” type. Not to mention exactly the opposite of the brave type.
But who else was there? And what else was there to do?
Somebody was in trouble.
She slipped her left arm through her backpack strap, settling it on the center of her back and leaving her hands free. Then she cautiously began to climb the snow-covered ridge that fell away on the other side to the woods.
“Hello?” She felt stupid shouting and not getting any answer. “Hi! Hello!”
Only the crying sound, faint but continuous, somewhere in front of her.
Gillian began to flounder down the ridge. She didn’t weigh much, but the crust on the snow was very thin and every step took her ankle deep.
Great, and I’m wearing sneakers. She could feel cold seeping into her feet.
The snow wasn’t so deep once she got into the woods. It was white and unbroken beneath the trees—and it gave her an eerie sense of isolation. As if she were in the wilderness.
And it was so quiet. The farther Gillian went in, the deeper the silence became. She had to stop and not breathe to hear the crying.
Bear left, she told herself. Keep walking. There’s nothing to be scared of !
But she couldn’t make herself yell again.
There is something weird about this place. . . .
Deeper and deeper into the woods. The road was far behind her now. She crossed fox tracks and bird scratches in the snow—no sign of anything human.
But the crying was right ahead now, and louder. She could hear it clearly.
Okay, up this big ridge. Yes, you can do it. Up, up. Never mind if your feet are cold.
As she struggled over the uneven ground, she tried to think comforting thoughts.
Maybe I can write an article about it for the Viking News and everyone will admire me. . . . Wait. Is it cool or uncool to rescue somebody? Is saving people too nice to be cool?
It was an important question, since Gillian currently had only two ambitions: 1) David Blackburn, and, 2) to be invited to the parties the popular kids were invited to. And both of these depended, in a large part, on being cool.
If she were only popular, if she only felt good about herself, then everything else would follow. It would be so much easier to be a really wonderful person and do something for the world and make something important of her life if she just felt loved and accepted. If she weren’t shy and short and immature-looking . . .
She reached the top of the ridge and grabbed at a branch to keep her balance. Then, still hanging on, she let out her breath and looked around.
Nothing to see. Quiet woods leading down to a creek just below.
And nothing to hear, either. The crying had stopped.
Oh, don’t do this to me!
Frustration warmed Gillian up and chased away her fear. She yelled, “Hey—hey, are you still out there? Can you hear me? I’m coming to help you!”
Silence. And then, very faintly, a sound.
Oh, my God, Gillian thought. The creek.
The kid was in the creek, hanging on to something, getting weaker and weaker. . . .
Gillian was scrambling down the other side of the ridge, slithering, the wet snow adhering to her like lumpy frosting.
Heart pounding, out of breath, she stood on the bank of the creek. Below her, at the edge, she could see fragile ice ledges reaching out like petals over the rushing water. Spray had frozen like diamond drops on overhanging grasses.
But nothing living. Gillian frantically scanned the surface of the dark water.
“Are you there?” she shouted. “Can you hear me?”
Nothing. Rocks in the water. Branches caught against the rocks. The sound of the rushing creek.
“Where are you?”
She couldn’t hear the crying anymore. The water was too loud.
Maybe the kid had gone under.
Gillian leaned out, looking for a wet head, a shape beneath the surface. She leaned out farther.
And then—a mistake. Some subtle change of balance. Ice under her feet. Her arms were windmilling, but she couldn’t get her balance back. . . .
She was flying. Nothing solid anywhere. Too surprised to be frightened.
She hit the water with an icy shock.