Alluring Darkness by Nelly Alikyan

Prologue

Vera kept her gaze facing forward and forced her eyes to remain dry. She would not cry over something so pathetic.

The job she'd just lost was quite pathetic, but more so than anything else was that she hadn't been able to hold a job down for over a year now. Losing her father had affected her more than she cared to admit.

On top of all that, Vera knew she didn’t want to do any of the jobs she continued to get. She wanted, more than anything, to begin a freelance baking business for herself. To be able to bake and bake and make money from it. Nothing sounded better. But nothing sounded more expensive either. And that brought the tears back to the forefront of Vera’s mind.

No, she wouldn’t cry.

She would hold herself up and do what she always did—look for another job.

Resolved with her decision, Vera was determined to make it home as soon as she could and begin the search for this new job. Plus, she was about a week away from getting kicked out of her apartment, so there was no choice but to make something work, it was all she had left.

Vera was walking down Main Street on the way back to her place when the tugging feeling deep in her core began. It was the same feeling she always felt around this part of town, but apparently no one else got the sensation. When Vera had asked others if they felt it too, they had looked at her odd. So no, they didn’t feel anything. Vera was alone in that too.

The tugging, which felt like a string was attached to the inside of her lower belly and was pulling upwards, began when she walked toward the end of Main Street. It had started not long after her father passed away, but it always seemed to ebb away, so Vera never put too much thought into it.

But the tugging wasn’t going away. It was getting stronger.

“Great,” Vera thought aloud as she placed her hand to her stomach as if it were merely a cramp. “Just what I needed today.”

She moved her gaze to the shop fronts as she continued walking and realized why the tugging hadn’t gone away, she'd never walked in this direction. Normally she took the alleyway between the cafe and the boutique to walk back to her place, but it seemed today, Vera had chosen to continue walking down Main Street.

The tugging feeling tightened and now was beginning to feel a bit more like a cramp, but she'd never felt a cramp like this before.

Trying to ignore it and hoping it would go away soon, Vera neared the next alleyway she knew would lead back to her place. She had a job to find and an apartment to keep.

Passing the eyewear store and coming closer to the corner leading to the alley she needed, Vera felt the tugging shoot straight through her and bent forward, no longer able to hold herself up. She grasped her knees and held tight as she tried to breathe the pain away.

She looked up to see herself mirrored in the dusty shop window. Her brown spiral curls were seated by her shoulders, just as they always were, the fronts held back by a clip. Though a couple of curls fell forward, Vera saw past the hair to the deep brown eyes staring back at her. Her face was scrunched, and Vera knew she did not want anyone to find her in this position. She wouldn’t be able to hide the humiliation.

Allowing her gaze to move a bit higher, Vera noticed she’d stopped in front of an old antique shop she'd never seen before.

Slowly picking herself back to a standing position, she glanced around and breathed a sigh of relief that no one had been around to see her. She looked back to the shop and felt the tugging in her core was now pulling her forward, as if begging to enter the store.

“So this is what the tugging is about,” Vera whispered to herself but didn’t know what to think about the whole thing.

Testing her walking, she found that her body was adjusting to the sensation in her core, so she stepped into the antique shop.

Impossibly, the tugging seemed to grow stronger, but the pain wasn’t there. Instead, it felt like a persistent child trying to pull their mom to the toy they wanted.

Vera strolled into the cluster of the store, finding stacks of old chests, toys, and rocking chairs. Blankets and clothes and mirrors. The store was piled so high and so tight that the walking paths were hardly big enough for one person.

As she followed the tugging, Vera scanned the piles, finding old storybooks, typewriters, and albums. She took in everything around her, but didn’t stop for any of it.

Given she wasn’t paying attention to the path before her, Vera didn’t notice until it was too late that she had bumped into a man. Holding out her arms to steady him, she noticed the man’s arms tightened around a storybook he held close to his chest as if he were afraid she would try to steal it from him.

Vera looked up to find an attractive man looking down at her, though fear laced his gaze as he pulled the book closer to his chest. He was bald with a light goatee and glasses. Dorky, but cute.

“I’m sorry,” Vera said softly. “I wasn’t paying attention.”

She ignored the persistent tugging as she watched him. He nodded quickly to her apology and walked past her to the counter. Vera furrowed her brows and again whispered to herself, “Odd. But then again, what part of any of this,” she pointed to her stomach, “isn’t odd?”

Turning again, she followed the sensation around the store. Passing a pile of books on an old chestnut dresser, Vera felt the tugging hit a crescendo. She braced herself on the dresser and looked down to her stomach. “Okay. I get it.”

The feeling eased ever so slightly. Enough for Vera to turn her attention to the pile of books, unsure if that’s what was so important.

She grabbed the book on the top of the pile and held it, feeling the tugging pull, as if saying this wasn’t it. She placed the book to the side and tried the next one. Again, this wasn’t it.

She tried book after book until her hands fell onto the second to last in the pile, and the tugging eased completely. That feeling was more odd than not, given Vera had gotten used to the tugging, and she now felt a soreness in her abs as if she’d been doing crunches the past half hour.

Ignoring that, Vera paid attention to the book in her hands. Somehow, this book had caused a tugging sensation to bring her to it.

It looked like an old Wiccan book the witches always had in movies. Bracing it on one arm, Vera flipped through it and glanced at the tons of spells and descriptions and drawings. It was a cool book, but Vera had no idea what this had to do with her.

Coming to the end, Vera was ready to close it when she noticed the edge of a picture. Holding the end of the book open, Vera paused short as paralysis took ahold of her body.

Taped to the end of this book was a picture of her mother and father standing in front of an old Victorian house, and in her mother’s arms was a baby Vera. It was the exact same picture she had framed in her room.

Vera lightly touched the picture, wondering about her mother and missing her father dearly.

Her mother had left her as a baby, and the part of Vera that should resent her for it couldn’t. Her father had never allowed that. He had always made sure her mother was loved in their household.

And her father, her best friend, had passed away over a year ago, and she still felt the pain every single day.

As her eyes began to water, Vera touched her tongue to the base of her mouth to stop the freefall and glanced to the other picture taped right beside her family one. It was another picture of her mother, but this time, she was holding a little girl on either knee. Girls that looked a bit like her mother, a bit like Vera herself.

Gasping, Vera brought the book closer to her face, but couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Sisters. She had sisters.

She let go of the breath she'd been holding and slammed the book shut. Holding it to her chest as tightly as the man before had been holding his storybook, Vera walked up to the counter and bought it.

She was now determined to get home, but for an entirely different purpose: she had sisters to find.