Black Earth: End of the Innocence
Author - David N. Alderman
Publisher - David N. Alderman
Pages - 364
On the evening of his high school graduation, Nathan Pierce collapses on stage. Plagued with visions of a strange girl intent on killing herself, he wonders if his mental instability is a consequence of the deadly car accident he was in days earlier.
Heather Rhodes, wracked with guilt because of the fatal wreck, finds she is unable to forgive herself and begins to question her own beliefs. While the death of a newborn weighs on her heart, on her mind is the strange gift she was able to use to protect her and Nathan in the accident...a gift that Heather wonders may have just been a figment of her imagination.
Cynthia Ruin, aka The Pink Rabbit, decides that her high school graduation night should be used for partying, not walking down the football field. At a nightclub in Scottsdale, Cynthia finds more than she bargained for when a stranger from her past decides to exact his revenge on her for a prior rejection.
All three come to realize that their current problems are nothing compared to the stars that are falling from the sky. During the global crisis, the President of the United States makes it her personal mission to keep the country on the right track to becoming a world superpower, while a hostile entity known only as Absolute threatens her administration.
Meanwhile, word starts to spread that the falling stars may not be stars at all....
Her shimmering white hair flowed in waves behind her, as if the strands were banners that were moving with the rhythm of the dark wind. It was too much for one person to handle, immortal or human. The air felt dead around her, the chilly night whipping at her with intense prejudice, as if its single desire was for her to die, and die horribly at that. The feeling of hopelessness was now threatening to consume her whole being, and so she would allow it, if she could. But nothing would be able to consume her this night. Nothing seemed able to rescue her from this internal agony.
She peered over the edge of the skyscraper, taking in the busy city below. Vehicles of different shapes and sizes were milling around the grid of streets. They all looked like blurry, chunky dots in her tear-filled eyes. She wiped the liquid drops from the corners of her pupils as they transformed into crimson flower petals and were swept away with the wind to start the long trek down toward the hapless beings below. She cupped her fragile, trembling hands over her face and took a deep breath. The smell of roses filled her senses with a sudden beauty that made her heart smile slightly.
So, it has all come to this, she thought. This is the end. The end of this beautiful planet. The end of everyone’s life on it. Hopefully the end of my own life. She glanced down at her wrists, the red scars fresh in her skin, the incident mostly fresh in her mind. Trying to kill herself with the razors hadn’t worked. She rubbed her neck, which was still slightly sore from trying to hang herself. Even throwing herself in front of that semi hadn’t worked. She glanced down at her bare knee and scanned the bruise for a moment, not surprised that it was almost completely healed.
A violent gust of wind swept through, chilling the skin underneath her short, white dress. She wrapped her arms around herself, shaking her head. I can’t do this! “I can’t do it!” She sobbed, falling to her knees there on the roof of the tallest building in Phoenix as flower petals swept across the space in front of her with manic intensity.
Her mind flashed back to clips of her evil mother, Evanescence, or the Great Witch, as she had heard some call her. She was a breed of evil that the world, this world anyway, had never seen. She had given birth to Pearl, but that was where the connection to the two ended, at least in Pearl’s mind. Pearl had been born at the ripe age of eighteen. Nobody else on Earth had been born at such an age, and she quickly reminded herself that this was indeed Earth. This wasn’t Heaven and it wasn’t Hell…yet, anyway. It was about to be hell on Earth, and she didn’t want to be here for that. She didn’t want to see the slaughter, the fire and brimstone, the end of the world. The end of this world.
The visions she had in her mind of the ways those on Earth were going to perish were gruesome and morbid, and had prompted her to try and end her life, unsuccessfully. She didn’t know if she could be killed by another, but even if she could, she didn’t want to put that guilt on anyone else. Neither did she want to die by her mother’s own enchanted hands. She knew the witch would torture her, listen to her own daughter squeal with erratic horror just before ripping her tender heart out.
This is why Pearl had to do what she was setting out to do. She had to escape this horrible planet. She wanted to be with her father. She wanted to go home.
She wiped the blur from her eyes and peered off the edge of the building again. The end was so near. What better time to meet her creator? Before the whole planet became swallowed in darkness, she could go be with the one who had actually formed her, despite what her mother tried to make her believe.
She stepped up to the edge, the wind threatening to knock her off balance. She certainly didn’t want to tumble down the side of the building. That would be painful. She wanted a quick, easy way out. A way out of my responsibilities? Perhaps. But staying here was not an option at the moment. Not with what she knew was about to occur on this poor planet. This poor, defenseless planet. They don’t stand a chance.
She heard a loud bell ring in the distance. She listened for a moment, keeping her balance on the ledge, until she was able to count eight chimes in all. She then closed her eyes and tipped her body forward.
For a long moment, she felt herself caught in a gust of air, as if she was flying. The feeling was spectacular, but then the tremendous pull of gravity yanked at her dress, at her skin, at her very soul, and beckoned her toward the streets below. As she fell, she smiled at the thought of being in Heaven tonight.
Her face swept through some of the rose petals she had cried earlier as their floral scent added a beautiful irony to her coming death. The sounds of the streets grew louder and louder. Someone shouted something about her falling through the air. Then the noise ceased altogether…
Thursday, May 22, 2008 - 8:01 p.m.
Gilbert High School Graduation Ceremony
Nathan’s eyes opened. Massive pain coursed through the wound in his forehead. Noise crept into his senses, and he suddenly realized where he was. He scrambled to move his arms, legs, even his hands. People were pulling him up, standing him to his feet too quickly for his brain to catch up.
The blurriness left his eyes and the whole graduating class came into focus. Hundreds of seniors in their black and gold gowns were staring, gasping, standing in awe of his collapse. The teachers who were holding him up helped him to take a seat in one of the folding chairs on the stage reserved for the faculty themselves.
He bent his head down into his hands and tried to come back to reality. The girl…and the building ledge…and the darkness—it was all too real. As if he was there. As if he was the girl. Okay, that’s disturbing.
“It’s okay, folks. It looks like Nathan Pierce is going to be alright.”
He turned his head and saw Principal Carter at the podium. He was smiling at the audience with intense nervousness. He adjusted his blue tie. “We’ll have medical personnel take a look at Mr. Pierce to make sure he’s doing okay, and then we will continue with the names.”
One of the teachers, one Nathan didn’t recognize, walked over and handed him his rolled-up graduation certificate. “You dropped this.”
He took it from her, and that’s when he noticed his hand shaking uncontrollably. His eyes met those of the aging woman, and he found himself staring into her eyes for a moment—her calm, blue eyes. He wondered if he knew her from somewhere, somewhere other than school.
“Take heart, Nathan. You have been chosen for something great.”
Her gaze suddenly shifted behind him. He turned to follow it and spotted two paramedics approaching the stage. The female of the two moved in on Nathan as he turned back and saw that the teacher with the calm eyes was nowhere in sight. A cold stethoscope was slipped down his black gown and buttoned shirt, pressed cold to his chest. He shivered with the chill of the metal.
“My name is Janelle.” Then she motioned to the other paramedic who was opening up a large black case to the side of them. “This is my partner, Michael.”
Michael smiled and pulled a small flashlight from the case, shining it into Nathan’s eyes. “Looks a little glazed.”
The woman glared at Nathan while she listened to his heartbeat. “It’s important that you be honest with me, okay?”
“Have you taken any drugs today at all?”
He shook his head slowly. Drugs?
She continued glaring at him but spoke to her partner. “Elevated heart rate.”
He took his turn to glower at Nathan now. Nathan found he had to turn away from the both of them, as if he was actually guilty of something.
Janelle held onto his arm. “Are you experiencing any pain?”
“My head hurts.”
She reached up and pulled his forehead toward her as she gently moved his brown bangs out of the way and peeled back a black bandage, revealing a stitched gash that was still healing. “Where did this come from?”
Michael nudged her arm. “He was the one in the paper. The one I told you about.”
Her gaze went soft and she replaced the bandage with nimble fingers. “Sorry.”
Nathan tried to smile, but it came off as more of a grimace. “It’s okay.”
They dumped their tools into the trauma bag and stood to their feet. “Take it easy, okay? Don’t do anything overactive tonight. Just enjoy your graduation, and then go home and rest. That cut is still a long way from healing.”
He nodded. “Yeah.”
They left him there. He looked out as the crowd began to seat themselves again, commotion stirring in the football field as everyone started chatting with each other. He could hear some of the students laughing in the midst and it made him feel embarrassed. How could he have passed out in front of the whole Gilbert High School senior class? Stupid.
“Now, now. The paramedics have cleared Nathan, so we will continue with the ceremony.”
The names were being called again. Nathan sat in his chair, burying his aching temples in his hands as his mind replayed his vision over and over again. Who was this strange girl who kept showing up in his thoughts when he passed out? What was her name? Where did she come from?
The pain in his head was agonizing, and he found himself wishing he would pass out again so he wouldn’t have to feel it. The hammering made it to where he could barely open his eyes to watch the next set of students approach the stage and grab their diplomas, some sneaking glances at the now infamous boy who had collapsed on stage the night of their high school graduation.
Pine Shadows Christian Summer Camp
Heather tried her hardest to worship and not think about the accident. She kept her eyes closed and didn’t bother with thoughts of those who were around her. She focused all of her concentration on God, on singing her heart out to him.
Your mercy stirs my heart to sing, a melody I was taught in creation’s womb…
Heather’s voice, though, only merged with the sounds she already had echoing through her head: the sound of crunching metal, of shattering glass, of chaotic destruction. These things were louder than the rest of the camp attendees who were singing the song.
Though the stars fall to the earth, and darkness plagues the land, Your love will remain…
The memory of the newborn being crushed in the metal jaws of that vehicle almost made her throat lurch. She took a deep breath and raised her hands above her head, determined to worship. She had gone the last couple days without letting the accident affect her on an uncontrollable level, but now the music was playing, fiddling with her very soul. She felt guilt coating her heart like a can of spilled motor oil. She wanted to worship her God so badly, but it was so difficult with this guilt, with this memory, with this burden.
The flowers of the field will sing Your praise, and all the world will dance for You…
The burns on her face started to feel warm. She knew it was the heat from the bonfire in front of her, but the idea of the fire alone was enough to send a shudder of fear through her body. She hated fire more than anything in the world, and being this close to one that the camp personnel had put together was a little too close for comfort. She continued to worship, continued to try focusing on the one thing that mattered, but it was pointless. Her mind and heart were outweighing her soul with grief and anxiety and fear.
Her eyes shot open and she found herself shoving past Kari Preen and Evelyn Sun on her way to the back of the crowd. As eyes turned on her in curiosity and general concern, she rushed toward the back of the circular clearing to the small gravel pathway.
The cool forest air hit her like a sack of campy potpourri, the scents of the pine trees and the bonfire sweeping across her. She started in a fast walk toward the forest area, hoping to find some privacy. The last thing she needed was one of the nosy adult counselors, or worse, Ryan, poking into business that wasn’t theirs.
The trees rustled their massive pine branches, knocking needles and cones to the forest floor. It was almost as if they were dancing to the music, worshiping God in their own uncanny way. She remembered a Bible verse from her childhood, something about the rocks singing out to God. She pulled a small flashlight from her pocket and shined it around her, finding a nice clearing near the edge of the first line of trees. She took a seat on a massive log and suddenly found herself struggling to hold back the tears.
She didn’t feel like she should be allowed to participate in the worship services, let alone hear the songs. She felt like a freak, one whom God himself didn’t want anything to do with.
She had done her fair share of crying over the last week and wanted to do it no more. She was tired, still having nightmares of the horrible car crash, of the newborn who was now dead. Why would God want to take someone out of this world so soon? Why would he allow something so heinous to happen to someone so small, defenseless and innocent? And why in the world would God allow Heather herself to have performed the act, to have steered their car into the other vehicle? To commit an act of murder?
She had asked herself these questions many, many times already and only wanted to shut her mind off now. It was time to try and move on, but she didn’t feel like she could. Only she knew what had really happened. When her vehicle had hit the SUV with the mother and child on board, something had released from Heather, something definitely not of this world. A strange shield had gone up over her and Nathan and had protected them from the accident, had at least protected them from getting killed. He ended up with a wound to the head and she wound up with these airbag burns that covered a third of her face.
She touched part of the wound, feeling the irregularities in her skin that were scarring over. She held her hands out in front of her and stared at them for a long moment, wondering what powers they held. Was it magic? If not, then was it an alien power? There were no such things as aliens, right? If it wasn’t magic or an alien power, than what was it? Had it been her imagination? No! If it was her imagination, then she and Nathan, along with that crazy driving instructor, would all be dead right now.
The rest of the camp was ringing out in a more upbeat song now, one that she liked to consider one of her favorites. She listened to the chorus for a moment, trying her best to worship in her own little way, in her own little corner of the forest.
You, oh Lord, give me light to battle the shadows,
You, oh Lord, give me healing with the pain,
You, oh Lord, give me shelter in the storm,
Oh Lord, I live to give glory to your name!
She turned her hands over and stared some more. She had tried a couple times in secret to release the protective shield again, but had had no luck. She wondered if it had been a one-time gift from God to protect her and Nathan. Then why wouldn’t he allow her to protect the ones in the other car as well? The newborn deserved to live far more than any of them, in her opinion anyway. And that innocent mother…she didn’t deserve this horrible curse, did she?
Her heart sank at the thought that, despite the topic of the song, there was no shelter for her, there was no healing, and there was no light to help her fight the internal shadows she struggled with.
The singing stopped. She readjusted the chopsticks in her chignon and started walking back toward the camp, flashlight in hand. She made her way around a patch of poison oak, her thoughts wandering to Nathan. She missed him. Little did he know how she felt about him. It was something she was heavily regretting while she was this far from him.
Her foot snagged a rock and she fell toward the ground, but before she hit the dirt, a bright violet light appeared from her hands, stopping her freefall. She quickly pushed herself off of it and stood to her feet, stumbling back in surprise as it disappeared into a thin purple mist.
She stared down at her palms again. There was nothing unusual there. Was it her imagination? Was there something in the air causing her to hallucinate? No, she hadn’t hallucinated in the car accident. She knew that for a fact.
She took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly, making her way toward the camp again. She focused her gaze down toward her palms and tried to imagine the shield appearing before her, but nothing came from such a frivolous activity.
She reached the campground as a large crowd of teenagers piled out of the bonfire area. That was her queue that it was dinner time.
A young boy, Heather’s age with curly black hair and a chubby face, made his way toward her with a confused look. He was wearing a white shirt that said, “Allergic to stupid people.” Heather rolled her eyes.
“Hey, why did you leave in the middle of worship? You almost knocked Kari over on your way out.”
She shrugged. “I just had to get some fresh air, Ryan, that’s all.”
He eyed her suspiciously. “Something wrong?”
They started walking side by side toward the cafeteria. Ryan reached over and grasped Heather’s fingers in his. She yanked them away and then pulled her hands into the sleeves of her brown hoodie.
“I’m fine! Don’t worry about it. I just had to clear my mind of some things.”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s personal.”
He kicked a small pebble. It bounced along the road in front of them and hit a young girl in the ankle. She swung around, cast him a scowl, and then jogged ahead to catch up with her friends. “Why is everything personal with you?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I get the feeling that you just don’t trust me.”
“Ryan, I really don’t feel like talking about this right now, okay? Can I just have dinner in peace, please? I have a lot on my mind, especially with the car accident, and I don’t really feel like talking about it. Not just to you, but to anyone.”
He nodded. “The accident, huh? I forgot about that.”
She sighed. Of course you forgot about that, she thought, you forget about everything unless it pertains to you. “It’s just not something I’m ready to talk about yet.”
“I understand. You probably feel self-conscious about your burns, huh?”
“You know. The burns on your face.”
“Yes, I know about the burns on my face. What do you mean I’m self-conscious about them?”
“Well, I mean if I had burns that bad on my face, I would feel a little embarrassed around people too. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. I mean, I respect you for not wanting to bandage them up. They’re kinda like battle wounds, know what I mean?”
Heather shook her head, marching ahead of him.
“What? What did I say?”
Devil’s Hideout Nightclub
The music swept around her like a colorful mist, moving her body with its rhythm, pushing her across the dance floor of the small nightclub.
She danced her way to the bar, where she slapped her purse down and took a seat on one of the tall stools. What a night! She pulled out her cell phone and scanned her text messages. Most were from friends who were walking the graduation stage at school tonight. They were jealous, of course, of her ability to party while they dressed in black gowns that made them look like television judges and sat in the sweltering Arizona heat, waiting for their names to be called. One text even called her a loser. That was Crystal, though, and she was an idiot anyway.
Cynthia, or Sin, as she was known around school, erased or replied to the messages, stating simply that she was having more fun than they were and they were just jealous of her awesomeness. A couple of the messages were for favors, but she wasn’t in the mood for that tonight, not yet anyway. She decided to leave those texts alone and reply to them later, at her own leisure. She stuck the phone back in her purse and turned to the bartender, a middle-aged man dressed in a white shirt and black vest.
“Can I get a Screwdriver please?”
His blue eyes met hers. “ID?”
She fished in her purse and took out the fake ID she had purchased a few nights earlier. He snatched it from her and scanned it for a full minute. Then he glared at her. She straightened out her shoulders and hoped that the black mini-skirt and fancy hairstyle would buy her a few years. She knew she wasn’t thin like those girls who end up on the cover of Maxim and could probably lose a few pounds. But she carried herself in a very alluring and confident manner and knew the attitude washed off on others she came into contact with. Normally she wouldn’t wear so much makeup, like the red lipstick (usually she opted for black or purple), but she wanted to look older tonight, not gothic like she did around school.
He handed the ID back to her. “Don’t think so.”
She took the card and feigned ignorance. “What are you talking about?”
“There’s no way you’re twenty-one.” He leaned against the bar and drove those striking blue eyes into hers. “It would definitely be in your best interest to leave this place in the next five minutes before I have to involve my manager.”
On a different night she would let the issue slide, but this night was different. This was her graduation night, and if she was skipping the grad ceremony to party, she sure as hell wasn’t going to let this guy dampen her spirits.
She threw the ID at him. It hit him in the face and fell to the countertop. “You’re going to serve me a Screwdriver or I’m going to have you fired.”
He stared into her eyes for a moment and she found she had to look away; his gaze was so incredibly intense. He finally took her ID and disappeared into the nightclub. She could only assume he was going to find his manager, and when he did, the real trouble would start.
She turned back toward the crowd and had a sudden urge to get back to dancing, but she wanted to get just a little bit of alcohol into her system first, to lighten up. She had been cooped up in the classroom for twelve years; tonight was a celebration of her newfound freedom and the beginning of her real life.
She turned around. Another bartender, a skinny female with blonde hair and large breasts, approached her with a drink on her tray. “One of the gentlemen in the back of the club wanted you to have this.”
Sin smiled. “What is it?” She grabbed the highball glass.
“A Twisted Screw,” the bartender replied as she hustled back behind the counter to make some more orders.
Sin smiled. It was free and the bartender hadn’t even bothered to card her. She took a quick look around the club, trying to see who had been thoughtful enough to give her this gift. Nobody stood out in her vision. She decided she better do away with it as soon as possible before that prude bartender came back to ruin her fun.
She closed her eyes and drank it down, letting the liquid coat her throat and enter her stomach with a cool, fruity taste. She finished it off as fast as she could and then slammed the glass down on the counter of the bar.
The bartender with the blue eyes was making his way back toward her with a suited man in his wake. She stood up from the stool and lost herself on the dark dance floor, realizing this may be her only chance to have fun in this place tonight.
She closed her eyes and let the music take her where she wanted to go. She wanted to get away from Gilbert, away from Arizona. She was glad to be done with school and glad to be done with having to live with her mother. That woman was a pest if Sin ever knew one.
Her eyes suddenly grew heavy, and her body was doing moves she didn’t even know she knew. She felt the soft vibrations of the music pulse across her skin, pulling the hairs from her arms, tugging at the very bottom of her skirt. She felt good, she felt high. The drink must have been a bit more alcoholic than she thought because her body was starting to relax so much that she felt like she was floating. Awesome!
She tried to open her eyelids, but they wouldn’t budge more than a slit. It was through this slit that she noticed a tall, dark silhouette invading her space. She felt his cold hands touch her stomach and realized they felt good against her warm body. She let him close in on her, pushing his body against hers with the rhythm of the music.
She felt free, as if she was flying, as if she was soaring through the clouds in the night sky. She suddenly felt an incredible urge to rip her clothes off, right there in the club. But that would mean she would have to stop dancing, and she didn’t want to do that.
The figure ran his hands up and down the sides of her body, and she felt a static tingling across her skin, especially, suddenly, between her legs, and realized she was beyond horny now. She must be super drunk, she thought, but she could only remember, barely remember, having one drink, that Twisted Screw…how ironic is that?
The music became louder and the rhythm started to slow down, or was that her breathing? She felt her body relax, her muscles loosen and slip almost completely out of her control. The man was pulling her now, pulling her toward the edge of the dance floor? She tried opening her eyes, but they wouldn’t budge at all. Her eyelids felt like pieces of heavy, rain-soaked cloth. Her legs started to buckle, and she felt the stranger pulling her up, swinging her arm around his neck to support her. Why couldn’t she even stand? Wasn’t she floating through the clouds?
The buzzing she was feeling moments ago only intensified, like an electrical current running through her legs, her thighs, her pelvis—she wanted to get laid at this very moment, but somehow she couldn’t perform the simple act of opening her eyes. She would open her legs, but she wasn’t lying down yet, right?
The music was starting to fade, and she used all of her strength to open her heavy eyes, just enough to catch a glimpse of red tapestry blur across her vision. She wasn’t on the dance floor anymore, she knew this much. She caught another glimpse of the blurry stranger. Something in her memory suddenly triggered an alarm, but she couldn’t tell why. Her brain wasn’t cooperating. She found herself falling into a black hole of sorts. She felt something soft behind her and realized she was lying down. Finally, time to get that tingling taken care of.
She spread her legs as something hard began to stir underneath her skirt, something more than the electric buzzing. She welcomed it at first, would beg for it if she could speak. The buzzing had been slow and steady, but this motion was turning into something rough, a little too rough. It was like a jackhammer being thrust through the center of her legs, and she didn’t like that at all. She tried to reach down to grab whatever was doing it and felt a sudden pressure pin her arms down above her head.
She tried to struggle but found that she couldn’t even move. That movement in her crotch was unwelcome now. She wanted the buzzing back, wanted to be able to open her eyes. She felt her mind slurring with images of the dance floor, images of the bartender with the bright blue eyes. She tried to speak, but her tongue only allowed her a moan. She felt the hammering between her legs getting harder and rougher. She wanted to cry, but she couldn’t bring out enough strength to do it.
Suddenly, she heard loud shouting that rang in her ears like a basket of firecrackers going off. She wanted the music back, the sweet music. The rough jabbing stopped abruptly, and the intense pressure on her arms lifted. She dropped them down to her legs and fumbled around to pull her skirt down. She heard something being knocked around. The shouts were muffled, like the Peanuts characters from her childhood. She felt the black hole coming back to suck her in and felt everything inside of her die.