Stung Bethany Wiggins

Chapter 1

I don’t remember going to sleep. All I remember is waking up here—a place as familiar as my own face.

At least, it should be.

But there’s a problem. The once-green carpet is gray. The classical-music posters lining the walls are bleached, their brittle corners curling where the tacks are missing. My first-place ribbons are pale blue instead of royal. My sundresses are drained of color. And my bed. I sit on the edge of a bare, sun-bleached mattress, a mattress covered with dirt and twigs and mouse droppings.

I turn my head and the room swims, faded posters wavering and swirling against grimy walls. My head fills with fuzz, and I try to remember when my room got so filthy, since I vacuum and dust it once a week. And why is the mattress bare, when I change the sheets every Saturday? And where did my pillows go?

My stomach growls, and I push on the concave space beneath my ribs, against the shirt sweat-plastered to my skin, and try to remember the last time I ate.

Easing off the bed, I stand on rubbery legs. The carpet crunches beneath my feet, and I look down. I am wearing shoes. I have been sleeping in shoes—old-lady white nurse shoes. Shoes that I have never seen before. That I have no memory of pulling onto my feet and tying. And I am standing in a sea of broken glass. It glitters against the filthy, faded carpet, and I can’t remember what broke.

A breeze stirs the stifling air, cooling my sweaty face, and the gauzy curtains that hide my bedroom window lift like tattered ghosts. Jagged remnants of glass cling to the window frame, and a certainty creeps into my brain, seeps into my bones. Something is wrong—really wrong. I need to find my mom. On legs barely able to hold my weight, I stumble across the room and to the doorway.

Sunlight streams through the bedroom windows on the west side of the house, lighting the dust in the hallway. I peer into my brother’s room and gasp. His dinosaur models are broken to bits and strewn across the faded carpet, along with the Star Wars action figures he’s collected since he was four years old. I leave his doorway and walk to the next door, to my older sister’s room. College textbooks are on the floor, their pages torn and scattered over the filthy carpet. The bed is gone and the mirror above the bureau is shattered.

Dazed, I walk through sunlight and dust, down the hall, trailing my fingers along the paint-peeling wall to Mom’s room.

Her room is just like the other rooms. Faded. Filthy. Broken windows. Bare mattress. And a word I don’t want to think about but force myself to admit.

Abandoned.

No one lives here. No one has lived here for a long while. But I remember Dad tucking me in a few nights ago—into a clean bed with crisp sheets and a pink comforter. In a room with a brand-new London Symphony Orchestra poster tacked to the wall. I remember Mom checking to see that I dusted the top of my dresser. I remember Lissa leaving before sunrise for school. And Jonah’s Star Wars music blaring through the house.

But somehow I am alone now, in a house where my family hasn’t been in a really long time.

I run to the bathroom and slam the door behind me, hoping that a splash of icy water will clear my head and wake me to a different reality. A normal reality. I turn on the water and back away from the sink. It has dead bugs