Dust and Roses: Book Two of the Dust Trilogy

 

 

 

Dust
and Roses

 

(Book
Two of the Dust Trilogy)

 

V.B.
Marlowe

 

 

The
Dust Trilogy

A
Girl Called Dust

Dust
and Roses

Blood
and Dust

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This is a work of
fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the
author’s imagination or, if real, are used factiously.

 

Copyright © 2016 by V.B. Marlowe.
All rights reserved. No parts of this book may be copied or reproduced in any
matter whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief
quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. Printed in the United
States of America.

 

 

Cover design by: Rebecca
Frank Art

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dust
and Roses

(Book
Two of the Dust Trilogy)

 

V.B.
Marlowe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dust and Roses

(Book Two of the
Dust Trilogy)

V.B. Marlowe

Chapter
One

 

I would never tell anyone what I did last
night.

Once my family was fast asleep, I climbed
over my bedroom balcony and down the rose trellis. After making sure the coast
was clear, I darted down my street and toward the woods, staying in the shadows
so no one would see me.

I spent an hour in the woods, just
running. I didn’t get tired or winded. I sprinted through the trees, dodging
roots and limbs. It felt like freedom—like being able to stretch after being
trapped in a box for days.

Terrifying things happened in those woods.
People had been mutilated—killed by a Wendigo.

Death by Wendigo had to be one of the
worst ways to go: razor-sharp talons tearing through your skin and blade-like
teeth gnawing down to the bone. Wendigos had an unquenchable hunger for Human
flesh. Once a Wendigo got a taste of it, it would never stop killing. Ever.

Everyone had been warned to stay out of
the woods. The warnings weren’t necessary; people were too scared to go there
anyway. I wasn’t afraid, though. The carnivorous creature responsible for the
murders was dead. I could state that with certainty because I was the one who
killed it. The blood drained from its body while the soil absorbed it like a
sponge right before my eyes. I witnessed its last, painful breath. Now the woods
were safe again. Sometimes I pretended they were my woods, mine alone. Of
course other animals resided there, but when I was present, they stayed hidden
and out of my way. They knew exactly what I was. Animals were smarter than
people in some ways.

Every few moments the wind would pick up
and my hair would trail behind me like an ebony cape, making me feel like a
superhero. With my white-as-snow skin and flowing ivory nightgown, I must have
looked like a ghost.

If it were up to me, I would have stayed
in the woods for hours racing the darkness, playing tag with the wind, dodging
the moonlight, and feeling like a carefree child again. The woods could be my
home, like it was for so many other creatures. But I couldn’t stay. Eventually
the sun would rise and my mother would be shouting at me through my bedroom
door to turn off my alarm clock.

Honestly, I wasn’t a ghost or a superhero.
I was a beast pretending to be a girl.

***

 

 

Imani Hughes grimaced, poking her
hamburger patty with a straw. I couldn’t blame her. It resembled a coaster
rather than something edible. She furrowed her perfectly-arched eyebrows. 
“Does this burger look gray to you?”

“Yep. But they’re always that color.
You’ll get used to it.” I bit into my own burger. It didn’t taste as bad as it
looked. Even if it had, I would have devoured it anyway since I was starving. I
was always starving. No matter how much I ate, my stomach rumbled constantly
from emptiness. Despite my unquenchable appetite, I was practically skin and
bones. Looking at myself naked in a mirror, I could count every one of my ribs.

Imani put the bun back on her patty. “I
feel like this greasy burger is a forehead of pimples waiting to happen.”

That was the last thing she needed to
worry about. Imani was flawless—tall with tawny skin and jet-black braids that
reached her waist.

She had moved to Everson Woods from
Houston a few weeks before so she was still adjusting to the unappetizing lunch
menu. Sighing, she pushed her tray away. “I don’t know how you guys eat this
stuff. I give up. I’m bringing my own lunch from now on.”

“That’s probably a good idea,” I told her,
finishing my own burger and reaching for hers. Good thing she didn’t want it
because my stomach complained of hunger once again. “Anyway, I need a new best
friend. You interested?”

Imani ripped into a bag of barbeque potato
chips. “What? What about Fletcher?”

I wiped a dribble of hamburger juice from
my chin. “Fletcher will be dead by the time lunch is over.”


What
?”

I looked toward the school parking lot.
“Fletcher hit Ranson in the head with an apple, so Fletcher is going to die.
Ranson chased him out to the parking lot. He might be dead already.”

Imani’s jaw dropped, revealing a mouth
full of chewed potato chips. “Wait. Why did Fletcher hit Ranson in the head with
an apple?”

I chuckled to myself, replaying the scene
in my head. “He wasn’t trying to. The apple had a bruise on it so Fletcher
threw it across the hallway, aiming at the trash can but Ranson’s huge
block-head got in the way. The apple bounced right off it.” Even though
Fletcher was in danger, the apple incident had actually made my day. No one
deserved to get hit in the head with spoiled fruit more than Ranson Duvall.

Imani blinked several times before putting
her chips down. “Do you think Fletcher’s okay? I mean, he’s a small guy and
Ranson is gigantic. I don’t see how this can end well for Fletch.”

If Imani knew Fletcher the way I did, she
wouldn’t have been worried at all. I’d seen him get whacked by a city bus, only
to be fine moments later, but Imani could never know that.

I swallowed another huge bite of burger.
“Don’t worry. Fletcher is super-fast. Ranson will never catch him.”

She bit into another chip, but she didn’t
seem too convinced.

I glanced at the time on my cell phone.
Fifteen minutes had passed since I’d last seen Fletcher and he should have made
his way to our table by then. Before I had been joking, but maybe something
really was wrong.

I shoved the last bit of burger into my
mouth. “I’ll be back. I’m just gonna check on him, but I’m sure everything’s
fine.” I only half believed the last part.

Imani slung her purse over her shoulder.
“I’m coming with.”

I knew she would say that and I didn’t
have time to convince her to stay put. Hiking my long dress up around my
thighs, I jogged toward the school, thinking about Fletcher. Whenever Ranson
punched him, a bruise would appear and then seconds later, it would be gone
along with any pain that had come with it. Mostly all it did was make Ranson
look stupid and weak, so he had taken to assaulting Fletcher when no one else
was around. Fletcher would be all right, but still, I didn’t want Ranson to
take things too far.

“Where are we going?” Imani asked, racing
to keep up with me.

“There’s a maintenance closet in the boy’s
locker room. Ranson likes to take his victims there so he can kick ass in
privacy.”

Imani groaned. “I’ll kick his ass if he
hurts Fletcher . . .”

Imani had never judged Fletcher and all
his weirdness like other people did. I was the only friend Fletcher had because
he was so profoundly strange. He was extremely blunt and blurted out whatever
thoughts popped into his head, mostly things normal people would never think
of. When we first met, I’d had to teach him a lot of social skills, almost like
a toddler, but he learned fast. When Imani met him, she just accepted him for
who he was. “Fletcher Whitelock, you are an anomaly,” was all she said. I was
relieved because Fletcher was a take-me-or-leave-me type of person. He would
never change for anyone, not even if he could.

The hallway of the main building was
fairly empty since most kids ate their lunches in the cafeteria or outside at
the picnic tables. We raced down the hallway to get to the gym.

 I pushed the door that led to the
locker room open and poked my head in. Thankfully, it seemed to be vacant. The
room smelled like a mixture of sweat, Axe Body Wash, and chlorine from the
pool. Shiny, silver lockers lined the walls. It looked exactly like the girl’s
locker room, but ours smelled better. Imani and I let the door fall closed quietly
behind us just in case someone was inside.

Ranson’s gruff voice came from somewhere
not far away. “I’ve been trying really, really hard not to kill your dumb ass,
but you keep testing me.”

“Hey!” Imani shouted.

The door of the maintenance room flung
open and Ranson stuck his head out. His blond hair was combed back and
plastered to his head like a helmet. He looked back and forth between the two
of us, frowning. “What the hell are you doing in here?”

“Let him go, Ranson,” I demanded in the
firmest voice I could muster, which wasn’t intimidating at all.

His lips curled into a cruel smile. “Are
you kidding me? You came to save him?” He turned his head back toward the
maintenance room. “Wow, man. You really are a bitch.”

Fletcher wasn’t a coward. He wasn’t
supposed to get angry so he couldn’t let Ranson get under his skin. Fletcher’s
anger could result in Ranson being ripped to shreds—literally. No matter what
Ranson did to him, Fletcher simply swallowed it. If he didn’t, well, I didn’t
want to think about what would happen.

I had to control my emotions too or else
something might be set into motion that I couldn’t stop. Ranson had no idea
that he was playing a dangerous game. I stepped toward him. “Ranson, please—”

He dragged Fletcher from the maintenance
room by the collar of his shirt. Fletcher’s chestnut hair looked like a bird’s
nest. He already had a blue-black mark under his eye, a purple bruise on his
cheek, and a swollen bottom lip. That was bad. What was I going to tell Imani
when Fletcher’s bruises suddenly disappeared?

Fletcher struggled to stand on his feet.
“This locker room is for boys. You guys should go. Coach Walker will be pissed.
Last week one of the Ambers came in—”

“Dude, shut up!” Ranson shoved Fletcher
away. He bounced off a locker and fell forward moaning. A strange warmth
traveled through my body, inch by inch, like my blood had suddenly turned into
lava. Although it felt good, I wanted the feeling to go away, but I didn’t know
how to stop it. Every muscle in my body stiffened and my throat tightened.
Imani moved forward, but I grabbed her wrist, pulling her back. Something was
happening and she didn’t need to be in the middle of it.

Ranson squared his shoulders, looking very
proud of himself as he watched Fletcher crawl away from him. He looked like a
bear fighting a defenseless squirrel who had no desire to fight back. I’d never
hated him more than I did at that moment. Ranson kicked the bottom of
Fletcher’s sneaker. “You’ve proven this locker room is for bitches, too. They
can stay.”

Crack.
A locker door
swung open, whacking Ranson square in the face, sending him backwards onto the
cement floor. “Aw, shit!” he wailed, covering his face with his hands.

Taking advantage of the moment, Imani and I
grabbed Fletcher and pulled him into the hallway just as the bell rang, ending
lunch period.

As the hallway filled with students, the
three of us stood together, breathing heavily. The warmth I’d felt before was
gone and my muscles relaxed. I watched Fletcher, waiting for his bruises to
disappear. I touched his face, but he jumped back. He didn’t want me feeling
sorry for him.

Imani picked a piece of lint from
Fletcher’s hair. “You shouldn’t let him do that to you. It’s okay to fight
back. Even if you might lose.”

Fletcher shrugged. “It’s not a big deal. I
shouldn’t have hit him in the head with an apple. Anyway, I didn’t get to eat.
Have change for the vending machine?”

Imani and I both fished for some coins and
handed them to him. Fletcher took the money and smiled as if he hadn’t gotten
his ass kicked moments before. “Thanks guys! I’ll see you after school.”

I didn’t know how he did it. He’d already
erased it. In Fletcher’s mind, the whole incident between him and Ranson had
never happened.

 

 

After school, Imani and I stood by the
trophy case waiting for Fletcher. In PE, everyone had been talking about how
Ranson had left school with a broken nose. No one had any information on he’d
earned that injury.

Imani unwrapped a grape-flavored Tootsie
Roll Pop and stuck it in her mouth. “That was crazy, huh? Talk about karma. How
that locker door just popped open and smacked him in the face?”

I nodded. “Crazy. Funny. Hilarious.
Strangely enough, locker malfunctions happen all the time at this school,” I
lied. “I guess Ranson just happened to be standing in the wrong place at the
wrong time—or the right place at the right time, depending on how you look at
it.”

The two of us giggled for a moment and
then Imani’s expression turned serious. “Lacey bumped into me this morning, or
should I say rammed into me. She knocked my books out of my hand. Then she
tried to look all big-eyed and innocent like she hadn’t done it on purpose. I’m
gonna drag that girl before the year’s over.”

Imani was one of the most laid-back people
I’d ever met, but Lacey Chapman could make Mother Theresa resort to violence. I
found it best to keep my distance. She’d always given me a hard time, but over
the past weeks she had left me alone. Imani wasn’t so fortunate.

The first day Imani showed up at Everson
High, all eyes were on her. Lacey wanted to sink her claws into her immediately
and for good reason. Imani was stunning. Even her name had people talking.
“E-mah-nee. It’s Swahili for faith,” she announced and everyone thought that
was so cool, Lacey included.

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