These are a few of the secrets kept from me until my sixteenth year:
That planets had spun and turned themselves out of their orbits to aid in my conception. That magma from the heart of the earth had speared through choking rock channels, stealing carbon and diamonds for me, jetting high to fall and die upon the surface of the world in a celebration of lava and flame.
That the moon had slowed for my birth, and the sun had blinked, and the stars had created a celestial new chorus from my name.
When I was a child, everyone believed that I was an ordinary human girl. Even I believed it, which shows you how little I knew.
I looked almost like a regular girl, though. Maybe one who was paler than normal, a little thinner, a touch more swift to react to sudden sounds or bright lights.
My eyes are gray. Not the gray of a sullen sky or sea but the unlikely lavender-gray of a nimbus surrounding a winter moon, colors both opaque and translucent at once.
My hair seems brown. It’s such a light brown that it’s almost the color of nothing, but that’s a trick, one I can’t control. Depending upon the hour of the day and the aspect of the clouds, my hair shines any color from fawn to pale pink to gold.
In the month of February, in the year 1909, I had been found wandering aimlessly along the streets of one of the most massive cities ever built by man: London. I was starving, alone, and ten years of age.
I’d been noticed first by a team of pickpockets—but there was nothing on me to steal, not a farthing or even a modest silver chain—then by a pair of prostitutes, who only eyed me up and down. Finally a tinker showed me some mercy, guiding me toward a constable before melting off down an alleyway.
I could not speak. I had no words to describe my situation, only my stare, which most of the grown men at the station avoided within seconds. I think they found it far less uncomfortable to study the barren walls of the station house or gaze out the grimy windows.
They gave me a blanket, an eel pie from a vendor, and a mug of gin. I claimed a spot on the floor behind the main desk and fell asleep.
Eleven hours later, since no one in the parish of St. Giles had come forward to claim me, I was handed over to the local orphanage, a miserable well of scrubbed faces and forsaken souls.
St. Giles was a knot of blighted streets and crumbling buildings. The relentless odor of gin and beer mingled with the constant stench of rotting garbage, and the unwelcome offspring there were as common as dirt. As the fifth anonymous child abandoned to the Blisshaven Foundling Home so far that year, I was assigned the name Eleanore, surname Jones. Gradually—no one even noticed when or how—Eleanore evolved into Lora, which became the name I answered to.
Speech returned in stages. Little words first, popping past my lips. Pie. Blood. Comet.
Then bigger ones. Steamship. Regina. Aria, gemstone, field gun, museum.
To the astonishment of the proprietors of Blisshaven, I shaped every word with the sort of precise, lilting intonation that indicated I might have just stepped foot from the king’s court—or so I overheard them mutter. I couldn’t explain it; I couldn’t prevent it. That was simply how I spoke. And for all my elegant words, I never once told anyone where I’d come from or mentioned any second of my life before the day the tinker had found me.
I didn’t remember. I really didn’t.
Yet there were some things that did come back to me, a few basic things. Arithmetic, reading, writing—someone from the misty veil of my past had taught me that much. I would chase the discarded sheets of the dailies that blew into the courtyard of the orphanage, clutching each page close to my face, devouring the printed words as eagerly as if they were that delicious hot pie and cold gin I’d once consumed on the floor of the constables’ station.
Like all the orphans crowding the Home, I felt certain that I did not belong where I was. That someone, somewhere, was surely searching for me, because I was special.
Unlike all the rest of the orphans, I was right.
I began to hear things.
Elusive noises, pretty sounds no one else seemed to perceive. As I grew older, they blossomed into full melodies. Snippets of song followed me about, trailing my every step. Even when I cupped my hands hard over my ears, I couldn’t stop the notes from seeping around my fingers, tickling the inside of my head.
That would drive anyone barmy, wouldn’t it?
At the age of twelve, I realized the songs were coming from the high stone wall surrounding the Home. From the metal rings and keys of the matrons who walked the halls with their nightsticks. From the pale, blazing diamond fixed in the stickpin the Home’s director, Mr. H. W. Forrester, wore in his necktie every single day.
From even the distant stars.
They weren’t the worst of it, though. The worst was the voice. The one that seemed centered not inside my head but instead just exactly inside my heart.
It was cunning and fiendish, whispering the maddest things: That it was natural that gemstones would sing to me. That it was good to hate the Home, with its dull walls and dull boiled turnips and dull spiteful girls who openly scorned me, who tripped me in the hallways and dipped my plaits into ink pots during our few hours of schooling.
The heart-voice would say things like, Smite them. Tear them apart. I won’t let you alone until you are who you are.
And I wanted to. I was trapped and friendless, and if I’d had the slightest notion of how to smite anything, I bloody well might have.
I grew up considered by one and all to be peculiar at best, aloof at least, and most likely destined for the streets the day I turned seventeen, since even the factories had standards for hiring.
None of them knew that each black night, long after they themselves had curled into their dreams, I would steal from my bed to perch upon the sill of the window close by, my no-color hair a slippery curtain against my back. I would press my palms flat against the glass and gaze down at the cobblestone courtyard below, four long stories below, and puzzle over the fiend in my heart.
Every night, the fiend would whisper, Open the window. Jump.
So finally I did.
Excerpted from The Sweetest Dark by Shana Abe. Copyright © 2013 by Shana Abe. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.