Child of the Night, by April A. Luna

Child of the Night is the first book in The Sarah De Luz Files series, which will be released soon. The cover art design team is finalizing the book cover. Once completed, the cover will be reveled. An excerpt of the first chapter is listed below.

SMP Art

Child of the Night Excerpt:

Rebellion without truth is like spring in a bleak, arid desert. – Kahlil Gibran

Chapter 1

My name is Sarah De Luz, and I am a true child of the night. No. I’m not a vampire or a werewolf. I’m not a supernatural being. I’m different because I have xeroderma pigmentosum—XP for short. Now, don’t run and grab your dictionary or search the Internet. It’s just a fancy word for sun allergy, an extreme sun allergy.

Scanning my room, I take in the mundane surroundings. A large covered window spans the length of one of the plum-purple walls. It’s  seven steps from the side of my bed. I know this because I’ve counted them numerous times before. Seems a shame to cover up the beauty of the window’s architecture. But any exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet is forbidden. Even minute amounts can cause irreparable damage to my skin. So, the curtains stay closed during the daylight hours only to be opened under the cloak of darkness.

The red numbers glowing on the clock, on top of the bedside table, reads 11:15. Scooting my feet out from under the warm covers, I inch off the bed fully clothed. Wrapping my fingers around the golden-braided cord of the curtain, I draw them open, exposing the bay window. Moonlight bathes my room. The darkness provides a sense of comfort. It offers the promise of life and a touch of adventure. In the lurid depths of the night, extraordinary beauty blooms if one knows where to look.

Staci Mack, my three-year-old half-sister, moans a complaint between pursed pink lips and rolls over, hiding her delicate face under the lavender comforter on my full size bed. She’s afraid to sleep alone, especially in the dark, which is why she’s in my bed instead of hers most nights. I guess you can say she’s a child of the light.

Sliding the latch on the window generates a muffled click. The lock springs open. Tipping my head toward the open bedroom door, I listen for soft footsteps on the Spanish-tile floor. Silence fills the air. With ease, I scoot the window up just enough to slip through.

“Morph.” His name rolls off the tip of my tongue like a fleeting whisper in the night.

A large ocelli-and-tear-stained-marked head comes into view. Stretching his long elegant neck, he slithers onto the window sill. His golden-colored eyes reflect the moonlight. He chirps, in a hushed tone, as if sharing a secret message between friends.

“Come on, boy. We’re burning moonlight.”

Morph leaps out of the house with the grace of a stealthy cat, and I slide the window down. Standing at a total of thirty inches long, from chest to rump, and weighing almost forty pounds, he’s on the large side of the Savannah cat family.

The metal trash cans, several feet away, rattle. Morph inspects the contents of each one. A cornucopia of odors wafts in the air. Covering my nose does little to filter the putrid smell. My dad, Anthony De Luz, and his wife, June don’t approve of my nightly outings, but luckily, they’re heavy sleepers. It would take an earthquake to wake them in the dead of the night.

I grab the handlebars of my bike. They’re leaning against the house. Turning back toward the window, the covers on my bed move rhythmically with each breath Staci takes. She will sleep until dawn, never realizing I left.

The cool night air is still, void of any breeze, which is unusual for fall in Deadwater, Maine. But the streets are empty, as usual, this time of night. Not many people venture out into the dark, but there are a few exceptions like Mr. Jackson. He lives several houses down and has insomnia most nights. For an old guy, he’s pretty cool because he keeps my night excursions a secret. I think he knows my dad would flip-out if he knew I was out most nights, especially since I’m supposed to be tucked snug in bed.

The tell-tale sound of wood-on-wood resonates. He’s sitting in a wooden rocking chair, bundled up in the dark on his front porch. “Evening, Mr. Jackson.”

“It’s a cold one tonight,” Mr. Jackson yells out in a southern draw, his voice rough and raspy from emphysema. “Feels and smells like rain. I can feel it deep down in my bones. You be careful now, you hear?”

“I always am .” Releasing the handle bars, I wave. “Besides, I have Sir Morph, my trusty bodyguard with me.”

“Ah . . . Sir Morph, I almost forgot about your gallant protector.” His body is wracked with bronchial spasms. “Enjoy the moonlight. But be weary of what may be spawning in the darkness, child.”

“Catch you on the way back.” I pedal past his manicured lawn.

My dad told me we moved to Nowheresville because it’s a small community. A nice place to start a new life. He thought it would be better for me, help me cope with my mom’s death. But honestly, I think it was more for him than me. So, we ended up in a small dead-end town because that’s what he said would be good for us. But it doesn’t matter where I am because the light will always confine me to the walls of my caged fortress.

I’ll never strolls the grounds of a college campus under the sun’s rays or tour a bustling city on a warm summer’s day. Tubing on the river or visiting a theme park during daylight hours will never be part of my life. But under the light of the moon, within the freedom of darkness, the essence of my soul thrives and flourishes. He doesn’t understand I can’t live in the light, but I wish he did.

I thirst for freedom from the walls that confine me because I know there’s a whole other world to be explored out there in the darkness. My condition frightens him, and I understand why. But it’s all I’ve ever known, so it seems normal to me. Why can’t he see that I need more out of life than four walls? I can’t live in a bubble forever, sheltered from the world, not when I know there’s more to life than what I’ve experienced.

Rounding the corner of Holston Avenue and Pier Drive, my brown cotton hoodie slides over my forehead. The only signs of life are a few bull bats flying around a handful of streetlights. Bowing my head, to avoid direct contact with the artificial lights, my feet keep pedaling at a steady pace. Morph glances over his shoulder, making sure I‘m still behind him. He picks up his pace because he knows we’re heading to Chase Pond, my one true refuge.

At the entrance of the pond, I haul my bike off the road and chain it to a metal rod that’s attached to the fence surrounding the city park. The gate is locked, which is odd, but it won’t stop us. Morph crawls under the cold steel bars and groans. I laugh. His lofty golden eyes ask the unspoken question, ‘What did I do?’

“Ah . . . Morph, you’re the best.”

He shifts his weight from paw-to-paw, waiting for me to climb over. On the other side, we walk down to the water’s edge. The rhythmic movement of the water lapping against the wooden legs of the dock makes a sloshing noise that whooshes in my ears. The clamor of the pond comes to life like a well-orchestrated movement of a symphony playing Mahler’s Fifth . Closing my eyes, I breathe in the sounds of the night. Why can’t all of life be this peaceful and free?

The intonation of a splash sputters to my left, and I open my eyes. Morph prowls along the bank chasing shadows in the dark. He treads into the shallow water at the edge. His meow and chirp is buoyant and carefree.

“Come on boy.” A crisp breeze cools my skin, chilling me to the bone. “It’s way too cold for a swim.”

Taking long strides, my sneakers crunch the brown grass under foot. Closing the distance between us, I scratch behind his alert ears. He rubs his head against my leg, nipping the outside of my hand

Cocking his head sideways, his ears tuck back. “Mirrp,” he chirps before trotting off, sniffing the night air.

After stripping off the outer layer of clothing I’m wearing, jogging pants and a zipper hoodie, goose bumps erupt over my goose pimpled flesh. My breath is visible when exhaling. It might be cold in my shorts and T-shirt now, but that won’t last long. Unlocking my phone, I scroll through the menu, finding my jogging tunes. Sliding the blue and red ear buds into place, I crank up the classical sounds of Telemann, Dvorak, and Beethoven and then tuck the device inside my sports bra. Picking up my discarded clothing, I drape them over the railing at the entrance of the dock and retie my shoes.

Telemann’s  Fantasia, in B flat major, croons in my ears. The carefree and lighthearted violin piece lifts my spirits. Morph’s head pops up over some tall weeds. Stepping onto the worn dirt path, I take off jogging the two mile trail. He runs up beside me, pacing my steps .

It’s nice to let go and extend my stride. The tension and stress of the day slowly melt away with each slap of my shoes on the solid ground. My father doesn’t understand I can’t be his little girl forever. I need to stretch my wings and see where the winds of time will take me.

A light mist falls on the last leg of my run. The dock entrance comes into view. The pounding of my heart slows, and my body cools. Walking up to my discarded clothing, I pick up my pants and wiggle them on over my shoes. Without unzipping my hoodie, I slide it over my head. It warms my damp body. Freeing the buds from my ears, I retrieve my phone. My fingers scroll through the menu. Turning off the music playing, I slip it into the front pocket of my hoodie.

Sliding a small bottle of water out of my jacket, my cell phone falls to the ground with a thud. Morph scurries up and sniffs the device. The screen is unscathed. It’s a few minutes after midnight. My father won’t be up for another six hours. After slipping the phone back into my pocket, I twist the cap off of the plastic water container. The clear liquid is cool and quenches my thirst. Morph stands on his hind legs, pawing at my arms.

“Okay. Okay. I know you’re thirsty too.” Snickering, I tip the bottle until a small stream emerges. Morph laps the water mid-stream. With all the water surrounding us, I’ve never figured out why he has to drink mine. When he’s finished, I cap the bottle and step onto the dock. Morph runs down to the end of the free-flowing platform. His movements are silent and fluid.

The rubber soles of my shoes grip the coarse wood planks. Halfway down the dock, the hardwood groans under my weight. The wood giving way is predictable, another few steps and it will happen again. Deadwater is predictable. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Nothing ever happens in Deadwater, Maine—nothing of importance anyway. I should know, especially since I’ve lived here for a portion of my childhood and on into my teen years, which is pretty good for someone with my condition, so I’m told. I may be in a club shared by 1 out of 250,000 people, but I don’t dwell on the things I can’t change. So, I live as a child of the night, exploring all the world has to offer when everyone else is sleeping or should be asleep.

Morph watches from the end of the dock, chirping softly. I close the gap between us and sit down. My legs and feet dangle off the edge, several inches above the water. A warm nose sniffs my hoodie, searching every pocket and opening. His muzzle comes to rest on my right-hand pocket.

“Moouw!” He snorts and paws at the fabric.

“Okay, okay.”

Morph climbs onto my lap and sticks his head into my pocket. He’s all muscle, and a big baby. Yeah, a big baby who likes to nip and drool.

“Merwoooow.” Morph shifts his weight back and forth on his long hind legs

I pull a clear bag from my pocket. “Are these what you’re looking for, buddy?”

His body gyrates back and forth in anticipation. I empty the contents into the palm of my hand. He laps up the soft, chewy chunks of summer sausage with his rough pink tongue.

The frosty air bites at my warm, pale hand, which is now covered in sausage oils and cat saliva. When the treats are gone, Morph lies down next to me with his head on my lap. I scratch under his chin and rub his belly.

A  noise breaks the still of the night. I jump. Morph’s ears perk up. He voices a low, throaty growl. Three silhouette’s moving by the water’s edge, next to the dock entrance, catches my eye. A flash of light sparks in the darkness, followed by a loud boom. My heart races in my chest, and I swallow a lump in my throat. One of the three figures  standing falls to the ground.

Geez . . . was that a gun? My thoughts run wild, and my breath hitches in the back of my throat. I freeze in place.

Morph’s hutches raise and the hair on his back stands on end. “Grr.” He springs into action.

He slips through my trembling hands, sprinting off before I can grab him.

An icy grip grabs my right leg, just above the ankle, and jerks me downward. Screaming, I claw at the wood. My fingers find a small open slat between the planks to hold onto. The pounding rhythm of my racing heart beats in my chest and throbs in my ears. Pulling with all my might, I lift myself partially onto the edge, but my feet are still in the frigid water. Something is latched onto my ankle. Kicking with my left leg, I yank free of the tight grasp and roll onto my hands and knees.

A third of the way down the dock, two men are standing. One of them raises an odd-looking handgun. Morph leaps several feet into the air. A cracking sound rings in my ears. Morph yelps and falls into the water.

“Morph.” I spring to my feet.

“I’m sorry about your pet, Sarah, but I promise, he’ll be okay,” says a dark figure in the night.

“How do you know my name?” A tremor washes over my body.

“We’ve been watching you.”

“You didn’t have to hurt him.” I fight back the tears threatening to spill over the threshold of my eyes.

“He’s only stunned. My associate will extract him.”

“You mean like how he tried to pull me into the water?”

“No. What are you talking about?” The man takes a few steps forward. His eyes widen, and he shouts, “Look out.” He fires two rounds that slice through the night.

The bullets whiz past my head and shoulder. A solid object slams into me. The force knocks me off the dock and into the icy water below. My scream is silenced by the rush of cold water filling my mouth and nose. Clawing at the water, I break the surface for a frigid breath of air. My chattering teeth start a chain reaction, shaking my body from head to toe.

“Sarah,” the man yells.

Dog-paddling, I cough and sputter. Water laps up and over my nose, making it hard to breathe. I listen attentively for any sound or movement because I know, I’m not alone in the water. Whatever knocked me off the platform is still here, somewhere. Turning around, I spot the man on the dock.

“Swim to me.” He’s kneeling at the water’s edge.

“Why? So you can shoot me, too?”

“It’s not what you think. You’re not safe in the water.”

“Well, I’m sure as hell not safe on the dock. I saw you shoot—”

Arms wrap around my upper body, immobilizing my movements, and I’m pulled underwater before I can finish speaking. Thrashing my body side to side, I struggle to break free. But the iron grip intensifies.

My body shakes and quivers. The image of the moon overhead moves further out of reach the deeper I’m pulled into the depths of unknown darkness. Turning around, I come face to face with my captor. Two green glowing orbs peer back at me, inches from my face. My screams of terror bellow under the waves of the water. They sound muffled.

‘Do not be afraid.’ The words softly echo in my head.

‘What?’ Every hair on my body stands on end.

‘Sleep, Sarah. Close your eyes and sleep.’

‘No.’ I scream the word in the recesses of my mind. Twisting and rocking back and forth, I finally free a hand. Raking my nails across my captor’s face, he releases me.

‘Please. You do not understand.’

My lungs ache, screaming for air. Breaking the surface, I suck in a ragged breath of air. Dog paddling, with stiff and trembling limbs, I swim toward the bank. The being grips my left leg at mid-thigh, and I’m yanked back down below the surface of the water. Arms encase my waist, drawing me into a firm embrace.

‘No, please.’ My thoughts reel, and I’m once again face to  face with the glowing orbs.

‘Relax. Close your eyes, Sarah. Close your eyes and sleep.’

Humanlike features come into focus. His lips aren’t moving, and we’re under water. So, how the hell can I hear what he’s saying?

‘Telepathy.’

‘Wait. You can hear my thoughts?’ My heart pounds, keeping a steady cadence.

‘Yes. Just as you can hear mine. Now sleep.’

Long spindly fingers touch my eyes, lowering my lids. I jerk and twist in his arms, but he only tightens his hold. My body’s numb and my mind clouds over.

‘Am I dying?’

‘No. But you must sleep.’

Darkness invades my thoughts, and my consciousness slips away. The orbs of his glowing green eyes are burned into memory. Drifting off, only one thought lingers, ‘Is this what it feels like to die?

April A. Luna may be found at the following websites:
Twitter – @AprilALunaWrite – www.twitter.com/AprilALunaWrite
Facebook Writer’s page: www.facebook.com/AuthorAprilALuna
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