Free to Fall

Free to Fall by Lauren Miller

Book: Free to Fall by Lauren Miller Read Free Book Online
Authors: Lauren Miller
trip over a headstone and face-plant on some dead guy’s grave.
    As I approached the meeting spot, I checked the time. The words NO SERVICE were blinking at the top of my screen. My breath hitched a little. What was I doing? It was an hour after curfew on my first day of classes and I was in the middle of a cemetery, again, responding to a cryptic, anonymous invitation. I looked up at the angel. The first time I saw him, I thought his hand was pointing at the exit, but now I saw that it was pointing at the sky. Why did he look so angry? Weren’t angels supposed to look . . . angelic?
    “Aurora Aviana Vaughn,” a voice said out of the darkness, and the hairs on the back of my neck prickled. It was unnatural, mechanical-sounding, but clearly male. Whoever had spoken was using a voice distortion app.
    I turned slowly, forcing myself to stay calm as I prepared to meet the owner of this voice. It had come from at least ten yards away, so I could still make a run for it. But the figure before me was completely shrouded in a hooded black robe. It hung over his face, hiding both it and the handheld he was using as a mic, and the fabric brushed the ground as he approached me. He stopped several feet from me and held out his arm. His hand was covered by a long velvet glove and held a blindfold made of the same fabric. He expected me to let him blindfold me? Was he nuts?
    “If you want to accept our invitation, you have to put this on,” he said, his voice buzzing just a little when he spoke. He took a step forward, and the white rubber tip of a sneaker peeked out beneath his robe. He saw it too, and shuffled a little to hide it, stumbling in the process and cursing under his breath. I swallowed a giggle, no longer afraid. This wasn’t the grim reaper. He was just a guy in a costume using a voice distortion app. This whole scenario was probably part of some club’s hazing ritual, just like I’d thought.
    “Okay,” I said simply, and turned around so he could tie it on. The velvet was soft on my skin and smelled like patchouli.
    “Open your mouth,” he instructed.
    “Why?” I asked, or started to, when I felt velvet brush my lips and tasted cherry on my tongue. He’d put something in my mouth. A thin square of plastic, it felt like, but as I tried to push it out with my teeth, it dissolved. “What was that?” I tried to ask, but couldn’t form the words. Within seconds, the world went black.
     
    My body tensed the moment I came to. I was sitting upright, as if I’d been awake the whole time, my butt on something hard. Stone steps, I soon realized, in a massive circular arena. It reminded me of the pictures of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus in my history textbook. How long had I been out? There was no arena of this size anywhere near campus that I knew of. I inhaled deeply, trying to get my bearings, and was surprised at how cold the air was in my chest. I felt something heavy on my head and reached for it. It was the hood of a velvet robe like the one my captor had worn. The fabric hung past my fingertips and pooled on the floor beneath me.
    Just then there was a flash of light below as a U-shaped ring of torches caught fire around the perimeter of the center stage, casting a flickering glow that barely reached the bottom row of steps. This place really was huge. I looked up at the sky, but there was no sky. Only darkness, like a void.
    I looked to my left and could now see several other figures, also in hooded robes, scattered among the steps. I looked to my right and saw five more. They were sitting, motionless, but their heads were moving, like mine, side to side and up and down, scanning the massive room. I jumped as a loud gong reverberated off the stone. It was impossible to tell where the sound had come from, but it filled the arena with its brassy clang. The gong sounded again, and I saw movement below. Figures emerged from the base of the arena onto the center stage. They were robed, but instead of hoods,

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