Ace of Blood

Alice has found a new kind of wonderland.
Jamie Cunning is just an ordinary girl. Sort of. Bearing the scars of a thousand painful memories, old an new, she found a strange set of friends in the abandoned and untended headstones of a nearby cemetery. But this girl who prefers the company of the dead to that of the living finds a shocking new life thrust upon her when she is shoved into a world of danger and death. The worst of all: it lurks just around the corner. The paperboy. The school bully. The neighbor. They may all be a part of it. Watch out, because Ace is always watching, and you never know how the cards will fall.


4. Wilting

 Jamie spent longer than she should have at Ravensgate, wandering for hours until she was sure the boy had left. When she finally found her way back to the area he had occupied, it was with careful, silent steps and furtive glances. No reason for him to know she was still there, after all.
 When the tomb came into view, as desolate and empty as it usually was, she almost turned back – back to the gate, to the home she’d never been accepted in, to the life she wished she could leave – but something urged her on. Curiosity, she knew. Jamie couldn’t help but want to know exactly who was buried there and, assuming the boy to be a relative, who he was.
 Creeping closer, she squinted through the descending darkness of twilight to read the name on the gravestone. Burns, she thought. A fairly unusual name.
 She was turning to go, already turning over in her mind any possible way to access the internet from her house, when she saw the little flower she’d left there. It clearly mangled, the damage visible even from this distance. The petals were shredded and bruised, the step snapped. The way it laid beside the path, she was sure the boy had gone out of his way to destroy it. And to make sure she would see it, when she returned.
 “Pig,” she whispered, unable to stem the rising tide of hatred within her. Then she stepped back, her fingers moving unconsciously to the scars on her wrists. The last time she had hated anyone this fiercely, it had been that woman. But the boy hadn’t done nearly as much to hurt her. He had barely touched her, and the shallow scrapes on her palms and leg would heal within days, leaving no trace of his existence. Still, she couldn’t help but hate him. Jamie hated the way he looked down on her, the way he took time and care hurting things weak and small and helpless. Most of all, she hated the way curiosity and eager anticipation swirled through her.
 It was the lights snapping on with the arrival of full dusk that awakened her, finally, from her thoughts. They were dim, the small patches of visibility few and far between, throwing puddles of murky yellow onto the footpath, but they were enough. They told her she had been here for far, far too long.
 Without stopping to think, Jamie ran back out the gate, racing up the hill and onto the small trail behind the house there. It was a horse path, dirty and disused, taken over by the coyotes and snakes that thrived on the side of the mountain. Had she taken a moment or even a second to catch her breath, to reconsider her path, she would have backed out, afraid of the animals and the occasional rider on the little dirt trail. But she was oh so very late, and her uncle would have gotten home at least an hour ago.
 Praying he hadn’t bothered to check her room, Jamie sprinted through the scrubby bushes, wincing but not slowing when the sharp twigs scratched and dug at her legs and hands. By the time she made it back home, she was panting, winded from the exertion and covered in dust.
 The bright lights of the big house never looked so uninviting.
 Unfortunately, the large shadow my uncle threw across the dining room window always did.
 Jamie didn’t know why she still came back here. It wasn’t as if her uncle truly cared about her. Nor was it like she loved him. It was more an unspoken truce between them: she would keep her head down and he would pretend she wasn’t there. But when she actually wasn’t there, he seemed to finally remember her.
 She knew it was not all his fault. She couldn’t hate her uncle, even if he was crass and negligent and sometimes downright abusive. It was her fault, after all, that her mother had cracked the way she did, and saddling him with his crazy sister’s child hadn’t exactly made his life easy. Still, Jamie avoided the house as much as possible, usually leaving early in the morning and coming home just before her uncle.
 But today she had broken one of the few rules her guardian had bothered to set. She had missed dinner.
 Jamie had only done so once before, and his explosion – and her ensuing punishment – had been bad enough to scare her into punctuality. She knew she could have handled the abuse, the pain and loneliness and fear, could have somehow found a way to love her uncle, if not for his eyes. They were just like her mother’s, somehow distant and broken and hateful all at once. Every time her uncle looked at her, Jamie felt like she was five again, standing with her mother by the front door, watching the woman’s heart break a little more each day when it never opened.
 In her memories, blurry and faded as they were, she clung to her mother’s skirt, watching that beautiful face crumble, watching her mother’s eyes grow darker and harder and crueler. Watching the pain destroy every soft part of the woman, so that instead of clinging to comforting, soft elegance, Jamie stood beside a pillar of ice, cold and cracking and impossible to touch.
 Her mother had passed that on to her brother, it seemed, when Jamie went to live with him a few years later. The scars on her wrists had been pink then, breaking open anew when the pain drove Jamie to tear at them. Physical pain, she had learned early on, was so much easier to bear than emotional torment. The sharp sting and slow burn as blood streamed from newly reopened wounds distracted her, at least for a time.
 Her uncle had hated the habit, had punished her for hurting herself. She’d been given to him because he was her only family left, but the man had been estranged from his sister for years and hadn’t been happy about having her fatherless daughter.
 He wasn’t happy now about it either.
 Jamie wilted as she passed through the front door, shrinking under his gaze. “Sorry, I lost track of time,” she offered lamely, knowing that no excuse would be enough.
 “Go to your room. We will discuss this tomorrow, after school.” Jamie sighed in relief at the mild irritation in his voice, the absolute clarity of his words. He hadn’t been drinking, at least not tonight.
 Her relief lasted for about twenty seconds, long enough for her to bolt down the hall and into her small bedroom, before his words fully settled into her mind. School tomorrow. Jamie knew that most kids would be excited or nervous for their first day of high school, but she simply felt numb to it. Resigned.
 At least, she reasoned, it gives me an excuse to be out of the house all day.

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