With the coming publication of the final volume of the Sojourners Cycle, The Sojourner, on September 30, we’re revisiting how it all began with an excerpt from the first book in the series, The Forgotten:
Meredith drags me along as she runs, pulling my arm so violently I fear my shoulder might fly from its socket. Behind us I hear a cry in a strange accent, a word I think I know, though I cannot place it. I whisper it to myself as I try to keep up to Meredith and she glares at me furiously, yanking even harder on my arm. The sounds of pursuit grow nearer as we duck around a corner and into a broad alley, weaving around trash dumpsters. One of the pursuers—the man with the goggles, I am certain—utters a command that I cannot make out, and somehow I know they are splitting up to cut off our avenues of escape.
I begin to say something, but Meredith silences me with a glance. Directly in our path are two cooks in stained white jackets outside taking a smoke break, and Meredith heads for them with me in tow. They glance up in surprise at our rapid approach, their astonishment soon replaced by fear as they see the man behind us in pursuit. Their conversation silenced, they watch us, open-mouthed and frozen in place, as Meredith blows past them, carrying me with her. She throws open the door leading into the kitchen, with such violence it almost rebounds off the wall to hit us, and we plunge within before either cook has time to recover and do anything.
Inside we are met by a shout of anger from another cook and a stunned shriek from the waitress we bowl over as we dodge through the galleys. By the time I notice the scalding heat from the ovens hitting my face, we are already out of kitchen, emerging to find ourselves near a bar. A couple, with their arms slung over each other as they lean against the counter, glances up at our sudden entrance. Again I note the long delay before the surprise registers on their faces. Is time moving slower for me, each instant fuller than the last?
I have no time to think about that, for Meredith doesn’t pause, flying around the bar, shoving aside anyone who comes near our path, and it is all I can do to keep up with her. The staff is slow to react as well, only moving in our direction when we reach the entrance to the place. By then shouts and cries have begun to arise again from the kitchen and a low murmur of consternation erupts, cut silent by the door swinging shut behind me as we return to the street.
Here Meredith pauses for a second to get her bearings, glancing left and right. My face feels hot and my pulse echoes loudly in my temple. I cannot seem to get enough air into my lungs.
We both see him at the same moment, the dark robe and the flash of scarlet at the shoulder, coming toward us from down the street. Meredith doesn’t hesitate, grabbing me by the arm again and leaping into the midst of the traffic passing by in front of us. Instinctively I resist, but she proves surprisingly strong for someone so slight, and easily overpowers me. Once we were in the middle of the street I surrender to her will, trusting she knows what she is doing.
We dart across the rest of the lanes of traffic, the whoosh of air from a passing bus the only blow either of us sustain, and head through the first door we find. The place is a magazine shop, called News of the Day, and we sprint down the narrow aisles teeming with glossy covers. The proprietor does not even look up from where he sits behind the register, his focus entirely on the book he is reading. When we reach the back of the store, near the pornography section, Meredith shoves open the door leading into the back and the man finally realizes something is amiss. He stands up, calling after us as we go, “Excuse me.”
Meredith ignores him, slamming the door shut and, after noticing the deadbolt, locking it behind us. She leads me through the dingy back of the store, out into another alley that strangely backs onto another street. There are no storefronts on this avenue, only some parking spaces and, on the far side, an apartment building on one corner, with the rest of the block filled by a park and a lawn bowling club. She heads for the apartment building, angling across the empty street as she goes, moving with ease even as I begin to labor, my lungs burning and sweat streaking my face.
At the door to the apartment building she produces what looks like an uncut key, flat and rectangular, with no grooves carved into it. In spite of its unfinished look it slides easily into the lock, opening the door. Before we enter the building we both, by instinct, look behind to see if anyone is behind us. The street is empty, except for a lone car that passes slowly by, heading in the direction opposite ours. Meredith does not give it more than a glance, before pulling me inside and starting toward the stairs.
“I think we lost them,” I venture tentatively.
“No,” is her blunt reply, not even bothering to turn to look at me, or slowing her pace whatsoever. I follow behind, my every breath now sounding like a smoker’s dying gasp.
At the door to the third floor Meredith stops and turns to me, holding a finger to her lips. While I try valiantly to quiet my breathing, she leads the way forward, going from door to door, holding her head against each one to listen for a moment before moving on. Five apartments in, she finds one to her liking and, slipping the flat key from her pocket, unlocks the door, leading me within. Inside is a spacious apartment, made less so by the two leather couches and a massive flat-screen television in the main room awkwardly filling the space.
“What are we doing here?” I say, as I watch her go from room to room, confirming the apartment is empty.
“Quiet,” Meredith says when she is finished her search. “We don’t have much time. Take this.”
She hands me what I initially think is an overlarge square button. It is cold to the touch and has a weight out of proportion to its size. It is dark and violet, and like the man’s goggles, seems to repel light. There are no markings on it, no sign of what purpose it might have. Seeing the perplexed look on my face, Meredith sighs in exasperation and takes the button from me and presses it to the hollow of my neck. To my surprise it sticks to my skin, the cold from it spreading across my throat.
“Not a word,” Meredith says, pointing at me. “Not a damn word. Don’t move. Don’t even breathe.”
I do as she says, though I cannot begin to understand why. A few minutes later it becomes all too clear. Down the hall come the voices, those foreign, yet familiar, accents, moving nearer. Soon I can hear their heavy footsteps on the hallway carpet, coming to a halt right before the door to the apartment we have taken refuge in. I take a step back, away from the door and them, not even realizing I have done so. Meredith, her expression colored with fury, clamps her hands on my shoulders and holds me still.
I can almost sense the men pausing on the other side of the door, the moment stretching on and seeming to slow until time went absolutely still. No one seems to breathe as we all wait for something to break the impasse. One of the pursuers whispers something and I feel Meredith slump a bit in defeat, the air going from her chest in a sigh. The doorknob jiggles and someone fumbles with the lock, while Meredith presses her fingers even more insistently into my arms. The air burns in my lungs and I am afraid to even blink.
A small grunt of triumph is followed by the door swinging open, and the man with the goggles steps into the apartment. He barely glances at the kitchen, moving immediately to the living room where Meredith and I stand. One of the Black Robes follows him partway down the hall, the other staying to keep watch on the corridor. The Seeker, for there seems no doubt who this is, studies the room with a careful disdain. My every instinct cries out for me to find somewhere to hide, but Meredith holds me even tighter, while remaining absolutely still herself.
Though it is impossible, my mind cannot even begin to comprehend it, neither the Seeker nor the Black Robe see us as we stand before them in plain sight. It looks to me as though both of them are staring right at us, yet they notice nothing. How is such a feat achieved? It is the button, I know, but how it can render us invisible I cannot imagine. All I know for certain is that the cold from its heavy substance is spreading from my throat up my cheeks and down to my chest, becoming more painful by the moment.
The Seeker appears to be as confused as I am. He mutters something to himself as he glances around, looking for all the world like someone who has misplaced his keys. Though I do not catch what he says I am certain he is speaking English, which surprises me for some reason. It does not seem possible that someone so strange and alien looking would have English as his native tongue. But there is much about the world that does not seem possible at this very moment.
Each time he casts his gaze about the room he returns to stare directly at me, as though he somehow knows that we are there in spite of what his eyes tell him. As I watch him I realize that he is not staring at the two of us, but at the place I was standing before my inadvertent step. He studies that space for what seems minutes, not moving at all.
The spreading cold from the button makes me want to shiver, and it soon becomes an irresistible sensation that takes all my will not to give in to. I take half-breaths through my nose, terrified that even that slight stirring of the air will attract the Seeker’s attention. His eyes are even more fearsome to look at up close, for they are not quite like the aviator goggles I have in my head, but more like an insect’s eyes viewed up close with a thousand tiny hexagons linking together to form those opaque and impenetrable circles. From a distance they looked constructed, a clumsy addition made to human flesh, but now I am certain they are organic, and a part of him, cell placed upon cell forming this monstrous whole.
The Black Robe in the hallway shifts his weight and the Seeker glances toward him and nods, as though acknowledging the search has come to an end. He turns back to where Meredith I stand and whispers something, his voice pitched so that only someone very near him, as we were, can hear it. The hairs stand on the back of my neck at the phrase, whether from the tone of his voice or some innate understanding of what the words mean. But, try as I might, I cannot recall the words. Meredith, I notice with some curiosity, stiffens at them, as though fighting the urge to reply in kind.
The Seeker’s words seem to hang in the air like a threat, until he shakes his head and turns away from where we stand, heading out of the apartment. The Black Robes follow behind, one of them shutting the door. As the sound of their footsteps down the hall disappears, both of us exhale at the same moment, Meredith’s breath warm on my ear. I can feel her hands trembling on my arms and neither of us dares to move for a long while.
The Sojourners Cycle: