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The Chosen (Chapter 2)

Bating him or doing something with his teeth. Tearing and sucking. Making noises like Pal did when he

ate his dog food.

For a moment Rashel was frozen. The whole world had changed and everything seemed like a dream.

Then she heard somebody screaming and her throat hurt and she knew it was her.

And then the tall man looked at her.

He lifted his head and looked. And she knew that his face alone was going to give her nightmares

forever.

Not that he was ugly. But he had hair as red as blood and eyes that shone gold, like an animal's. There

was a light in them that was like nothing she had ever seen.

She ran then. It was wrong to leave Timmy, but she was too scared to stay. She wasn't brave; she was a

baby, but she couldn't help it. She was still screaming as she turned around and darted through the flap in

the tent.

Almost darted through. Her head and shoulders got outside and she saw the red plastic tubes rising

above her-and then a hand clamped on the back of her Gymboree shirt. A big strong hand that stopped

her in midflight. Rashel was as helpless as a baby kitten against it.

But just as she was dragged back into the tent, she saw something. Her mother. Her mother was coming

around the corner of the climbing structure. She'd heard Rashel screaming.

Her mother's eyes were big and her mouth was open, and she was moving fast. She was coming to save

Rashel.

"Mommeeeeeeeee!" Rashel screamed, and then she was back inside the tent. The man threw her to one

side the way a kid at preschool would throw a piece of crumpled paper. Rashel landed hard and felt a

pain in her leg that normally would have made her cry. Now she hardly noticed it. She was staring at

Timmy, who was lying on the ground near her.

Timmy looked strange. His body was like a rag doll's-arms and legs flopped out. His skin was white.

His eyes were staring straight up at the top of the tent.

There were two big holes in his throat, with blood all around them.

Rashel whimpered. She was too frightened to scream anymore. But just then she saw white daylight, and

a figure in front of it. Mommy. Mommy was pulling the tent flap open. Mommy was inside, looking

around for Rashel.

That was when the worst thing happened. The worst and the strangest, the thing the police never

believed when Rashel told them later.

Rashel saw her mother's mouth open, saw her mother looking at her, about to say something. And then

she heard a voice-but it wasn't Mommy's voice.

And it wasn't an out-loud voice. It was inside her head.

Wait! There's nothing wrong here. But you need to stand very, very still.

Rashel looked at the tall man. His mouth wasn't moving, but the voice was his. Her mother was looking

at him, too, and her expression was changing, becoming relaxed and . . . stupid. Mommy was standing

very, very still.

Then the tall man hit Mommy once on the side of the neck and she fell over and her head flopped the

wrong way like a broken doll. Her dark hair was lying in the dirt.

Rashel saw that and then everything was even more like a dream. Her mother was dead. Timmy was

dead. And the man was looking at her.

You're not upset, came the voice in her head. You 're not frightened. You want to come right here.

Rashel could feel the pull of the voice. It was drawing her closer and closer. It was making her still and

not afraid, making her forget her mother. But then she saw the tall man's golden eyes and they were

hungry. And all of a sudden she remembered what he wanted to do to her.

Not me!

She jerked away from the voice and dove for the tent flap again.

This time she got all the way outside. And she threw herself straight at the gap in the climbing structure.

She was thinking in a different way than she had ever thought before. The Rashel that had watched

Mommy fall was locked away in a little room inside her, crying. It was a new Rashel who wiggled

desperately through the gap in the padded room, a smart Rashel who knew that there was no point in

crying because there was nobody who cared anymore. Mommy couldn't save her, so she had to save

herself.

She felt a hand grab her ankle, hard enough almost to crush her bones. It yanked, trying to drag her

back through the gap. Rashel kicked backward with all her strength and then twisted, and her sock came

off and she pulled her leg into the padded room.

Come back! You need to come back right now!

The voice was like a teacher's voice. It was hard not to listen. But Rashel was already scrambling into

the plastic tube in front of her. She went faster than she ever had before, hurting her knees, propelling

herself with her bare foot.

When she got to the first fish-bowl window, I though, she saw a face looking in at her.

It was the tall man. He was staring at her. He I banged on the plastic as she went by.

Fear cracked in Rashel like a belt. She scrambled I faster, and the knocks on the tube followed her.

He was underneath her now. Keeping up with I her. Rashel passed another window and looked down.

She could see his hair shining in the sunlight. She could see his pale face looking up at her. And his eyes.

Come down, came the voice and it wasn't stem anymore. It was sweet. Come down and we'll go get

some ice cream. What kind of ice cream do you like best? Rashel knew then that this was how he'd

gotten Timmy into the tent. She didn't even pause in her scrambling.

But she couldn't get away from him. He was traveling with her, just under her, waiting for her to come

out or get to a place where he could reach in and grab her.

Higher. I need to get higher, she thought.

She moved instinctively, as if some sixth sense was telling her which way to turn each time she had a

choice. She went through angled tubes, straight tubes, tubes that weren't solid at all, but made of woven

canvas strips. And finally she got to a place where she couldn't go any higher.

It was a square room with a padded floor and netting sides. She was at the front of the climbing

structure; she could see mothers and fathers standing and sitting in little groups. She could feel the wind.

Below her, looking up, was the tall man.

Chocolate brownie? Mint chip? Bubble gum?

The voice was putting pictures in her mind. Tastes. Rashel looked around frantically.

There was so much noise-every kid in the climbing structure was yelling. Who would even notice her if

she shouted? They'd think she was joking around.

All you have to do is come down. You know you have to come down sometime.

Rashel looked into the pale face turned up to her. The eyes were like dark holes. Hungry. Patient.

Certain.

He knew he was going to get her.

He was going to win. She had no way to fight him.

And then something tore inside Rashel and she did the only thing a five-year-old could do against an

adult.

She shoved her hand between the rough cords that made the netting, scraping off skin. She pushed her

whole small arm through and she pointed down at the tall man.

And she screamed in a way she'd never screamed before. Piercing shrieks that cut through the happy

noise of the other kids. She screamed the way Ms. Bruce at preschool had taught her to do if any

stranger ever bothered her.

"Help meeee! Help meeee! That man tried to touch me I"

She kept screaming it, kept pointing. And she saw people look at her.

But they didn't do anything. They just stared. Lots of faces, looking up at her. Nobody moving.

In a way, it was even worse than anything that had happened before. They could hear her, but nobody

was going to help her.

And then she saw somebody moving. It was a big boy, not quite a grown-up man. He was wearing a

uniform like the one Rashel's father used to wear before he died. That meant he was a Marine.

He was going toward the tall man, and his face was dark and angry. And now, as if they had only

needed this example, other people were moving, too. Several men who looked like fathers. A woman

with a cellular phone.

The tall man turned and ran.

He ducked under the climbing structure, heading toward the back, toward the tent where Rashel's

mother was. He moved very fast, much faster than any of the people in the crowd.

But he sent words to Rashel's mind before he disappeared completely.

See you later.

When he was definitely gone, Rashel slumped against the netting, feeling the rough cord bite into her

cheek. People down below were calling to her;

kids just behind her were whispering. None of it really mattered.

She could cry now; it would be okay, but she didn't seem to have any tears.

The police were no good. There were two officers, a man and a woman. The woman believed Rashel a

little. But every time her eyes would start to believe, she'd shake her head and say, "But what was the

man really doing to Timmy? Baby-doll, sweetie, I know it's awful, but just try to remember."

The man didn't believe even a little. Rashel would have traded them both for the Marine back at the carnival.

All they'd found in the tent was her mother with a broken neck. No Timmy. Rashel wasn't sure but she

thought the man had probably taken him.

She didn't want to think about why.

Eventually the police drove her to her Aunt Corinne's, who was the only family she had left now. Aunt

Corinne was old and her bony hands hurt Rashel's arms when she clutched her and cried.

She put Rashel in a bedroom full of strange smells and tried to give her medicine to make her sleep. It

was like cough syrup, but it made her tongue numb. Rashel waited until Aunt Corinne was gone, then she

spat it into her hand and wiped her hand on the sheets, way down at the foot of the bed where the

blankets tucked in.

And then she put her arms around her hunched-up knees and sat staring into the darkness.

She was too little, too helpless. That was the problem. She wasn't going to be able to do anything

against him when he came back.

Because of course he was coming back.

She knew what the man was, even if the adults didn't believe her. He was a vampire, just like on TV. A

monster that drank blood. And he knew she knew.

That was why he'd promised to see her later.

At last, when Aunt Corinne's house was quiet, Rashel tiptoed to the closet and slid it open. She climbed

the shoe rack and squirmed and kicked until she was on the top shelf above the clothes. It was narrow,

but wide enough for her. That was one good thing about being little.

She had to use every advantage she had.

With her toe, she slid the closet door back shut. Then she piled sweaters and other folded things from

the shelf on top of herself, covering even her head. And finally she curled up on the hard bare wood and

shut her eyes.

Sometime in the night she smelled smoke. She got down from the shelf-falling more than climbing-and

saw flames in her bedroom.

She never knew exactly how she managed to run through them and get out of the house. The whole night

was like one long blurred nightmare.

Because Aunt Corinne didn't get out. When the fire trucks came with their sirens and their flashing lights,

it was already too late. And even though Rashel knew that he had set the fire-the vampire-the police

didn't believe her. They didn't understand why he had to kill her.

In the morning they took her to a foster home, which would be the first of many. The people there were

nice, but Rashel wouldn't let them hold her or comfort her.

She already knew what she had to do.

If she was going to survive, she had to make herself hard and strong. She couldn't care about anybody

else, or trust anybody, or rely on anybody. Nobody could protect her. Not even Mommy had been able

to do that.

She had to protect herself. She had to learn to fight.

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