Vendetta Nation Online - Sara Furlong-Burr

Prologue

Death. Before the age of seventeen, it had been nothing but a word to me; before The Man in Black, its meaning hadn’t ingrained itself into my being. But since that bitter December day, over a decade ago, it has been in the forefront of my mind. I’d experienced its devastating touch with the deaths of my father, mother and brother; and since, with the deaths of my former partner and best friend. Now, I was experiencing it for myself, firsthand.

I lay on the sidewalk where Ian had left me, bleeding. A few feet away, I could hear the sound of glass breaking. What was he doing? As much as I wanted to find out, I had no strength to move, only to lie there and hope that I still had enough blood left in my body to keep my heart beating. Perhaps it was a good thing I couldn’t move. With soldiers patrolling the streets in full force, the last thing we needed was to draw attention to ourselves, but I suppose that was the least of my concerns right now.

Seconds later, I felt my body being lifted gently off the ground as pressure was placed on the gunshot wound that had torn a hole in my chest. With what little strength I could muster, I opened my eyes in slits—the furthest they would open. Ian was holding me in his arms while he packed gauze and other bandaging over the wound, taping it securely in place with materials he’d stolen from the drug store that now appeared in my field of vision. Glass littered the ground outside the store’s empty window frame.

I shivered uncontrollably, unsure of whether it was due to the cold April rain, falling in endless sheets from the night sky, or whether it was from the sheer loss of blood from the gunshot wound. Either way, I was slipping away, and fast. It was my fault I was dying, really. If only I’d been more careful.

“Stay with me,” Ian pleaded as he stood up and ran down the street with my limp body teetering on the brink of life and death in his arms. “Don’t close your eyes. Stay awake. We’re almost there. Just a little further and we’ll be at the car, and then we’ll be back at The Epicenter where the doctors…they’ll…they’ll treat you, and you’ll be fine. You’ll see. You’ll be fine.”

I wasn’t going to be fine. I began to lose consciousness, my head falling from Ian’s shoulder. If this was death, it seemed surprisingly peaceful.

When the bullet had first pierced my flesh, it was as if someone had punched me, and I hadn’t immediately grasped the gravity of the situation. Curiously, the throbbing pain hadn’t presented itself until after I looked down and realized just what had happened. It had been brief, the pain, and had soon been replaced by a strange, soothing numbness. But now, as death slowly drew nearer, I felt as though my body were floating in air. I had no cares, no worries left in the world other than the pressing thought that this must be what it had been like for my family those many years ago.

*****

In my passage from my earthly life into pseudo consciousness, a field appeared around me. A field filled with grass as tall as my waist, adorned with the occasional yellow, orange or purple flower. In the middle of this field stood a solitary tree with leaves of white that glittered in the sun shining down from the ethereal sky. Something drew me to that tree; someone wanted me to join them there. And as I ran through the field to heed its call, my feet seemingly left the ground, giving me the sensation of flying through the air. The wind carried me like a wayward leaf, lightly caressing my skin and making the pale yellow dress I wore billow in the breeze like rays of sunlight. Halfway through the field, I drifted back to the ground again. As soon as my feet hit the soil, I ran toward the beckoning tree. But even as I was running, stretching my legs as far as they would allow with each bound, it still felt as though I were gliding through the air.

The closer I came to the tree, the more of its trunk was revealed through the depths of the tall grass, and I saw the reason for my summoning. Walking around its massive circumference was a sight I’d only been able to