Home > Stealing Embers (Fallen Legacies #1)

Stealing Embers (Fallen Legacies #1)
Author: Julie Hall

Chapter One



A crash breaks the silence of the early morning. With a jolt, my eyes pop open and I’m on my feet, bag slung over my shoulder before I’m fully awake. My shoes slap the pavement beneath me as I sprint for the open end of the alley. Sparks of light flicker around the periphery of my vision.

Real or imaginary?

Casting a glance over my shoulder, I catch a garbage truck depositing a dumpster on the ground. The lid bangs against the metal side and echoes off the buildings lining the alley. The lights pulsate with each loud hit, then fade when the noise settles.

The shot of adrenaline coursing through my system leaves my heart racing, even as my mind dismisses any real threat of danger.

Slowing to a stop, I lean against the side of the building and press a hand to my chest, willing the beats to slow. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe, I chant while practicing deep breathing.

The air nips at my heated cheeks and cools the moisture already collecting around my hairline. Closing my eyes, I focus on the sensations that ground me in reality.

The stale smell of rotten food and garbage.

Rough brick beneath my fingertips.

The fuzzy build-up and bitter tang on my teeth from my short night’s sleep.

I am here, and I am awake—at least, I hope so. Opening my eyes with painstaking slowness, I silently pray the spectrum world won’t fill my view.

I let out a loud sigh of relief at the graffiti-spattered wall across the alley. The ground is littered with trash and random detritus: a shoe, a discarded bike tire, the carcass of a dead rat.

This may be the first time I’m excited to see a rat in any form. Rats don’t exist in the spectrum world, so the furry corpse is further confirmation I still exist in reality.

One. Two. Three. Four.

Counting my heartbeats is one way I calm myself down—a strategy for slowing the release of adrenaline into my system.

I live in fear of adrenaline rushes.

They are my main trigger to seeing the world I’ve been told doesn’t exist. I do whatever I can to avoid them—including isolating myself, which isn’t usually an issue since people are naturally uncomfortable around me. Over the years, I’ve honed my senses to be aware of the world around me, but I’m screwed during the few hours my body demands sleep.

If only sleeping with one eye open were possible.

I’ve had more instances of slipped reality in the past year than the last ten combined. One of the many negatives of homelessness is that you always live life a bit on edge. Still, that doesn’t outweigh the one big, fat positive that comes from living on the Denver streets: Becoming a runaway saved me from being locked up in a psychiatric hospital.

I’ll accept a wide variety of suffering to hold on to my freedom.

The first groans of an awakening city disrupt my thoughts. The beeping from the garbage truck that startled me awake stops when the driver shifts from reverse to drive and thunders on his way. Cars rumble by, their morning exhaust creating plumes of smoke in the air. Rusted metal security gates creak and clang when store owners roll them up to invite business for the day. Muffled shouts ring out from down the block and a dog’s sharp bark echoes from an apartment above.

I miss the darkness already.

Pushing off the cold wall behind me, I check my hat to make sure everything is safely tucked away.

My hair grows too fast and I haven’t so much as trimmed it in the last year. The strands are dirty and matted, the platinum blonde hue covered in several layers of grime. Hiding my hair has nothing to do with my insecurities and everything to do with downplaying my femininity. I don’t need to make myself any more of a target than I already am.

People see me as weak.

I’m not, but making it through the day without altercations is important if I don’t want to accidentally slip out of this reality.

My other option is to cut it short. It’s something I’ve considered more than once, but I’ve already given up so much. I can’t stomach losing something else. Instead, I’ll keep it hidden.

Satisfied my head is properly covered, I tug the beanie down over my ears and plod to the corner of the building. Keeping my body pressed against the brick wall, I peek at the rousing world outside the dingy alley.

The sun is only just beginning its daily ascent. The sky holds fast to the gray and blue screen of night, but the darkness will soon be chased away by the budding light.

The corners of my mouth turn down at the evidence of the growing day.

I prefer the night. Shadows are a comfort in a way the glaring daylight will never be.

Hunger fists inside my gut at the same time my stomach lets out a pathetic grumble, reminding me it has been too long since my last meal. I don’t need as much food or sleep as a normal person, but three days without a bite is stretching it a bit far, even for me.

Slinking into the alley, I consider my options.

I usually rely on a combination of dumpster diving, charity, and occasionally the odd job to feed myself. I can’t afford to go to a mission—they ask too many questions and filling my belly isn’t worth getting tagged as a runaway minor. Begging isn’t a viable option because loitering in a public spot is too much of a risk as well.

Shelter isn’t a problem . . . until winter. Things get dicey during Colorado’s arctic months. Last year, I had to break into more private properties than I cared to keep track of, just to escape the frigid temperatures.

When I turn eighteen, I’ll breathe easier. Becoming a legal adult means I can’t get thrown back into the system—or worse. My last foster family wanted to commit me to a psychiatric hospital. To escape that fate, I need to age out. I only have to endure this degrading existence for six more months.

Leaving the city in search of a more peaceful life is the dream. Settling somewhere in the mountains would be nice. Somewhere far enough from prying eyes so there are no witnesses to my strange episodes in the spectrum world. Even better if I can build a home right into the rocks to protect me from my living nightmares.

Until then, it’s safer to hide among the masses—in plain sight, but basically invisible.

Just six more months, I remind myself. The reassurance feels good, so I say it again—this time aloud.

Talking to myself has become an odd sort of comfort. People look through you when you’re homeless—something I’d counted on when I ran away from my last foster family. Becoming invisible was an essential part of my survival, but what I didn’t figure into my plans was exactly how dehumanizing that would feel. Chitchatting with myself reminds me that I’m still a person, albeit a strange one.

My gut twists, telling me that my most urgent need is sustenance so I can stay alert for a few more days.

I mentally run through my anemic list of possibilities. There’s a grocer on 6th Avenue that throws away their expired food once a week, but that won’t be for two more days. It’s early, I could stop by Denver Bread and see if they need help hauling in their morning delivery of flour in exchange for a few bucks or even food. Fresh bread is delicious and hard to come by these days. People don’t throw fresh loaves in the trash for vagrants like me to fish out.

There are a few downtown restaurants I could hit up. Newberry and Sassafras are close, but don’t open for several more hours. Anita’s opens early though. It’s been . . . hmmm . . . two weeks? That could work.

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