Blood beast, p.17
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       Blood Beast, p.17

         Part #5 of The Demonata series by Darren Shan
 
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  irrationally than me. I always assumed mature adults could control themselves better than children, regardless of the pressures. Juni’s proving me wrong with every bad call she makes. “Sorry I was so long,” Juni says, coming up beside me, smelling of soap. She looks rough but not desperate. Her eyes are no match for my wild pits of fear.

  “Juni, this is crazy, we should —” I begin, but she puts her fingers to my lips before I can continue. Shakes her head lightly.

  “Just go with it,” she whispers. “I know it’s wrong. I know what we should and would do if things were different. But they’re not. So let’s give ourselves over to craziness and see where it takes us.”

  Before I can think of a good argument, she glances at the departures board, then leads me to one of the sales desks. I stand behind her as she requests two one-way tickets. No money exchanges hands. Instead, a quick spell and the sales assistant is smiling, handing Juni a pair of tickets, telling her where to check in, wishing her a safe flight and pleasant trip.

  Getting in line for check-in. I don’t know where we’re going — I wasn’t paying attention at the sales counter. I think about asking Juni but don’t care enough to. What does it matter? We’re probably just going to hop straight onto another plane at the next airport anyway. And another after that. Throw the Lambs off our scent. Keep moving until we’re safe.

  We inch forward. Soon we’re at the front. Juni handles the practicalities. No passport? No worries! Not when you use a Juni Swan Confusing Spell™!

  Just over an hour’s wait once we breeze through security. We spend half of it shopping, replacing our ruined clothes and shoes. I suggest buying extra clothes to change into when these are dirty but Juni says we can restock at the next airport. It’ll give us something to do while we’re waiting for our connecting flight.

  The new clothes feel stiff. The shirt itches, the pants dig into my stomach, the shoes pinch. But I don’t complain. A bit of discomfort is small punishment for the crimes I committed last night.

  Sitting on the hard airport chairs. Juni works healing spells, mending the worst of the damage I caused while on the rampage. Her fingers are gentle on my flesh, her voice soft in my ear. Warmth as my cuts stitch themselves closed. Nice.

  We’re called to board and shuffle on with the rest of the passengers. A large plane. We’re twelve rows from the front, seats A and B. When nobody sits in 12C, Juni edges over just before takeoff, so we both have more room. She smiles at me as I stare out the window at the runway, glistening in the early dawn light. I catch her smile in the glass. Turn and smile back. She holds out her hand and I take it.

  “All alone now,” she says.

  “Yes.”

  “I’m terrified but strangely exhilarated.”

  “Me too.” I give a sickly grin, lying through my teeth. I’m not the least bit excited, only scared, confused, and disgusted with myself for running.

  The engines howl. We’re pressed back in our seats. Arrivederci, terra firma.

  Exhaustion kicks in before we reach cruising altitude. My eyelids flutter shut. My brain and body scream for sleep. I try denying myself the pleasure — I want to stay alert in case Juni needs me — but I’m fighting a losing battle.

  “It’s OK,” Juni says, touching my cheek. “You can sleep. I’ll watch over you.”

  “But what if you . . .” I mutter groggily.

  “I’ll be fine,” Juni says. “We both will. Nothing can hurt us now. Not here.”

  She’s right. We’re thousands of feet above the Earth and rising. The Lambs can’t touch us, not until we land. And with Juni’s cunning, I doubt they’ll catch us then either. No need for the unease I’m feeling. Better to give myself over to my body’s demands and. . . sleep. . . just for a few. . .

  Dreams of the cave. The girl’s face. Screaming at me. Trying to communicate, to warn me. Frustration in her expression as she realizes it isn’t working. I want to understand her, if only to calm her down. But the words make no sense, even in my dream.

  Then her face changes. The voice stays the same but it’s Juni’s face now. She leers at me. A look of vile hatred. It frightens me. I turn to run but Ma and Pa Spleen are there. “You stay away from our Billy,” Pa Spleen says, blood gushing from the hole where the right side of his face used to be. “We’ll come back and haunt you if you don’t,” Ma Spleen adds, trying to jam some of her guts back into her stomach.

  Whirling away from them. Stumbling for safety. I find Dervish sitting on a stalagmite, looking glum. “You’re a fool,” he says sadly. “I thought I taught you better. Running away never solved anything. Especially when you don’t know what you’re running into.”

  His face changes. He becomes a werewolf. Growls wickedly and leaps. I cringe away from him. Before he strikes, Juni appears and slides between us. She knocks Dervish flat. I rise, shaking, to thank her. But when she turns, there’s fire in her pink eyes. “Grubbs,” she says, and the word comes out garbled, ragged, as though the lips that formed it aren’t entirely human.

  The ground rumbles beneath my feet.

  I snap awake but the rumbling continues. I sit bolt up-right in my seat, not sure if I’m still in the dream, heart racing as it does when I have an especially bad nightmare. I look for Juni but she’s not there. The rumbling again. My seat is trembling as if it’s about to snap loose from the floor. My insides clench. I feel like something terrible’s about to happen. We’re in trouble. Where’s Juni? I have to find her, save her, get her away from. . .

  Nervous laughter. “I’m glad I’m not flying on a full stomach,” someone jokes.

  “I doubt if anyone will have a full stomach if this keeps up,” somebody else replies.

  I chuckle and relax. It’s only turbulence. We hit another blast of rocky air — bump! Groans throughout the cabin. People buckle up their seat belts and sit down if they were standing. Another blast and the whole plane shakes roughly, as if a giant has caught it by the tail and is trying to shake the passengers out. Even the flight attendants make for their seats. That’s worrying — it’s always a horrible feeling on a plane when you see the professionals acting like there’s trouble in store. But it’s a normal, human type of worry. No big deal after what I’ve come through.

  I sit back, smiling as kids cry and adults curse. Nervous fliers don’t get any sympathy from me. They’ll be fine when we pass through this patch of turbulence. Laughing and grinning when we set down. Telling their family and friends about the rough flight, an amusing story in retrospect, fear forgotten by the time they get home. You’re never as safe as when you’re in the air. Everybody knows that, even if they temporarily forget at moments like this. I bet not one person on this plane will hesitate to fly again, regardless of how much rattling and shaking —

  The door to the cockpit blows off its hinges and slams into the people in the first row of seats. Screams of shock and pain. Passengers farther back crane their necks to see what’s happening. Some take their belts off and stand, despite the turbulence. Panic is setting in but not taking over. Not yet.

  I snap my belt open and slide across to the aisle seat. Where’s Juni? Probably in one of the bathrooms. I have to find her immediately. Something bad is happening. I need to get to her so we can face it together.

  I’m halfway to my feet when I freeze. I can see into the cockpit from here. Pillars of smoke fill the cabin. My first thought — fire! That would be terrifying enough. But it’s not normal smoke. There are strands running from floor to ceiling, left to right, all sorts of crazy angles. Smoke doesn’t form in strands. In fact, now that I focus and my brain catches up with what my gut knew the instant I saw it, I realize the pillars inside the cockpit aren’t smoke at all.

  They’re webs.

  Something small shoots out of the cockpit and attaches itself to the face of a man in the second row. It’s the shape of a very young boy, but with too large a head and pale green skin. His scalp crawls with living lice — or it might be cock-roaches, hard to tell from here
— instead of hair. Fire in the bare sockets where his eyes should be. Mouths in the palms of his hands.

  “Artery!” I gasp, taking a few automatic steps towards the hell child, numb with shock.

  People are really screaming now. Those close to the front can see the demon, his teeth, the fire in his eye sockets. Artery rips the man’s face off. Blood gushes. Chaos erupts. All the passengers around that row leap to their feet at the same moment and pile into the aisle, getting in one another’s way, fighting to race clear of the monstrous baby.

  Another demon emerges from the cockpit. This one crawls across the ceiling and drops onto a woman’s head. It looks like a giant scorpion but has a face that’s almost human. It’s bigger than the woman’s head. Her neck breaks under the weight. The demon hisses, then strikes the person next to it — a man — with the stinger in its tail. The stinger hits the man’s eyes and gouges them out. The demon turns and spits spawnlike eggs into the vacant, bloody sockets. As the man pushes to his feet and screams, some twisted breed of demonic insects hatch from the eggs. They quickly set to work on the flesh around his eyes, spreading like wildfire. Moments later there’s not much left of his face and the demon is striking again, this time at a child.

  Two more demons spill out of the cockpit, the general shape of humans but covered with boils, gaping sores, and pus. They roar mutely, arms flapping, horrible beasts. They seem to be threatening even more bloodshed and terror than Artery and the other demon — but then they fall to the floor, moaning and thrashing. And I realize they’re not demons at all. They’re the pilot and one of his crew.

  Something leaps over the stricken humans and those milling around the aisle. It lands on top of the seats of the fourth or fifth row. It looks like a rabbit, except with a huge, ugly bulge on its back, and claws that are much bigger than they should be. (“All the better to slice you up with, my dear,” a detached part of me giggles hysterically.) The people in the row stare at it, more bewildered than scared. Then it opens its mouth and sprays liquid over them. They fall back gasping and sputtering. Then choked screams as the liquid eats into their flesh, bubbling and boiling, transforming them into mockeries of the human form, just like the pilot and his mate.

  I’m standing in the same spot, frozen with fear. Not just fear of what’s happened but what I know will happen next. Thinking numbly — how? The Demonata shouldn’t be able to cross between universes like this. And how did they know I’d be here?

  While I’m searching desperately for answers and the cabin around me fills with bodies and screams, a new demon glides out of the cockpit. This one is worse than all the others put together. Tall and thin. Pale red skin covered in smears of blood that oozes from a system of cracks in his flesh. Eight arms with mangled hands — like something a young child might draw — and strips of flesh where his lower legs end. Bald. Dark red eyes with even darker pupils. No nose. A hole where his heart should be, filled with dozens of small, hissing, constantly slithering snakes.

  A year after Slawter, making good on his vow to track me down and wreak revenge, timing it perfectly for maximum impact and shock, Lord Loss has found me.

  “Children,” the demon master says, his voice exactly as I remember it, slow and miserable, like he’s experienced all the pains of the world. Although he doesn’t speak loudly, the word echoes through the plane, right back to the last row of seats. Everyone stops rushing, struggling, fighting, and screaming. All eyes fix on the terrible spectacle hanging in the air just outside the door of the cockpit.

  Lord Loss smiles weakly at us as though we’d come to a funeral, only to discover we’re the ones due to be buried. “Such a tragic way to die,” he murmurs. “Above the clouds. Cut off from the Earth from which you sprang. Most of you without your loved ones. Although isn’t it worse if they are with you? The pain of dying alone versus the torment of seeing one you love die too.” He sighs. “Such a tragedy.”

  He drifts forward. People slide back into their seats, clearing the aisle, almost hypnotized by the sight of the demon floating towards them. He stops at the third row. There’s a young woman in the aisle seat, no more than five or six years older than me. He reaches out with one of his eight clammy hands and strokes her cheek, then gently clasps her jaw.

  “If it is any comfort, in this time of great sorrow, I promise your suffering will be short,” Lord Loss says, smiling at the young woman. I can see tears in her eyes. His fingers squeeze together tightly. He rips the lower half of her face away and tosses it to Artery, who catches it with the mouths in his hands, snapping it in two and devouring it, yapping like a dog being thrown a tasty tidbit. “But it will be painful,” Lord Loss adds with morbid relish.

  A child tries to scream. Its father puts a hand over its mouth and cuts the cry short. Everyone’s staring at the demon master, transfixed. This is the calm before the storm. Within seconds this cabin will be a place of riotous abandon. But nobody wants to be the first to break the spell. Maybe they — we — think that if we stay this way, motionless, barely breathing, the nightmare will pass. The demons won’t go wild. We won’t all be slaughtered and bled dry by these creatures of evil.

  Then — movement behind Lord Loss. Somebody steps forward and looks down the cabin, leaning sideways to see past the demon master. My stomach tightens another notch but I find my voice at last.

  “Juni!” I shout. “Get away from him! Quick! Before he —”

  “Why, Master Grubitsch,” Lord Loss cuts in, unable to mask his delight. “You? Here? What a delightful coincidence.”

  Juni slips around the floating demon. Lord Loss takes no notice of her. He only has eyes for me, leering, puffing up his chest, snakes hissing wilder than ever. For a moment I think Juni’s cast another masking spell, that he can’t see her. Hope flares within me, just the faintest flicker. Then dies just as quickly when she says, “I summoned him, Grubbs.”

  A chill that is colder than ice. “You. . . ?” I gasp. “Why?”

  “He’s the only one who can cure you,” Juni says. “Remember what I said to Dervish? I told him the challenge should be made again. I said you’d be fools not to try.”

  “What have you done?” I shriek. “We can’t bargain with Lord Loss. He won’t help us. He’ll kill me. He’ll kill you. He’ll kill us all!”

  “Do you know something?” Juni mutters, frowning and nodding slightly, as if the thought just occurred to her. “I think you’re right. With one exception.”

  There’s a man holding a child on Juni’s left. Juni reaches across and tries to take the child from the man’s arms. He doesn’t let go. She tugs but he holds firm. She shrugs, leans in close, and kisses him. I gape at her, bewildered. But confusion quickly turns to terror when I see the man’s skin turn grey, then peel away, revealing the blood vessels and bones beneath. He shakes madly but still doesn’t let go of the child, who has started to cry.

  Juni kisses him relentlessly until there’s a sharp snapping sound. She brings her mouth up and his face is attached to hers, head severed at the neck, the remains of his lips snagged between her teeth.

  She turns her head aside and spits. Sends the man’s head flying to the floor.

  Panic erupts. People go crazy and surge down the aisle. The demons snicker and rip into the humans around them with renewed relish. Carnage flowers.

  I stand my ground, frozen, more horrified than ever, staring at Juni. She leers at me and wipes her lips clean. Then Lord Loss drifts up beside her. He wraps four arms around the albino and picks her up off the floor. She smiles at him and pecks his cheek, licking a drop of blood clear of the corner of his mouth. Points to me. Grins like a tiger and says, “He’s all yours now — master.”

  TO BE CONTINUED . . .

  The bonus chapter for Book 6 could not be printed at this time, as everyone who has read it has met a savage and bloody end, and we don’t want to expose any further victims to such a fate.

  Proceed at your own risk should you choose to read the next gory installment in the DEMONA
TA series, coming April 2008. . . .

 
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