Blood beast, p.2
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       Blood Beast, p.2

         Part #5 of The Demonata series by Darren Shan
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  “Not a lot. Maybe practicing some wrestling moves with Loch.”

  “Oh. I was thinking of coming over to watch some movies. . . if that’s OK. . . .”

  “Hell, you don’t have to ask.” I laugh uneasily. “You can drop in any time you want. It’s your house as much as mine.”

  “Coolio!” Bill-E’s smile resumes its normal shape. “You want to watch a movie with me?”

  “Maybe. But I might have to go over to Loch’s and practice. You know.”

  “Yeah,” Bill-E says quietly. “I know.”

  The bell rings and everyone files back to class. Hundreds of kids groaning, shouting, laughing. Bill-E heads off in his own direction. He doesn’t say goodbye. I watch him walk alone and lonely in the crowd and I feel twisted and vile, like something a maggot would crawl out of its way to avoid.

  Bill-E Spleen was my best friend before Loch Gossel hit the scene. When I moved here after my parents’ death and my trip to the nuthouse, he made me feel like I wasn’t all by myself in the world. He helped me establish a life again. Settled me in at school, kept me company during lunch when everybody else was wary of me. Fought by my side on the Slawter film set — and it wasn’t fire we had to contend with. Tried to help when my nightmares kicked back in hard not long afterwards, even though his own mind was in turmoil.

  How do I repay him? By abandoning him for the friendship of Loch, Reni, and our little group. Cutting him loose. Being a Judas.

  It’s wrong, but it’s the way things go. When an old friend doesn’t fit in with your new pals, you cut him loose. It’s the law of school. I’ve dumped other friends in the past, and several have done it to me. The difference here is that Bill-E’s my half brother. Even though he doesn’t know it.

  Chemistry. I usually find it interesting, but this afternoon I can’t concentrate. I keep thinking about Bill-E. I didn’t mean to give him the big brush-off. When I first met Loch, I had time for Bill-E. I’d only see Loch occasionally after school. I still hung out with Bill-E a lot.

  That gradually changed. Loch began inviting me around to his house and coming over to mine. Through Loch I became friends with Frank Martin, Charlie Rall, and Leon Penn. And through them I got to know Shannon Campbell and Mary Hayes — and, of course, Reni.

  Reni makes me forget about Bill-E for a few minutes. Daydreaming about her shoulder-length auburn hair, long eyelashes, light brown eyes, her curves. . . She’s not perfect by any means — big and sturdy like her brother, with a ski-slope of a nose — but everybody thinks she’s one of the hottest girls in our school.

  I shake my head to stop thinking about Reni and my thoughts drift back to Bill-E. All those new friends made demands. It was exciting to be accepted by them, included in their conversation, treated as an equal. It had been a long time since I was part of a crowd. I hadn’t realized how much that mattered to me, or how much I’d missed it.

  I wanted Bill-E to hang out with us but he just didn’t fit in. I’m not sure why. He’s younger than most of us — he started school a year early — but Leon isn’t a lot older than him. He’s small, but Frank’s no giant either. He uses corny words like “Coolio!” but Robbie’s favorite exclamation is the seriously uncool “Radical!” He has a lazy eye, but Charlie has buckteeth, Shannon has an ugly facial mole, I’m built like the Hulk. . . .We’re all a bit weird, one way or another.

  Bill-E is smart, funny, a much better talker than me. But he never found a niche at school. I didn’t realize it when I first started. Bill-E seemed like the most normal kid around. I knew he didn’t have a lot of friends, but I was sure he fit in better than I did.

  After a while I began to notice things. Like how Bill-E never went to anybody’s house after school. How people made jokes about him and aped him when he said things like “Coolio!” How he was bullied by boys like Loch Gossel.

  I’m not blind to how Loch treats Bill-E. He teases him all the time, like with the fake handshake and headlock today. It’s different from the way he treats Charlie. Nastier. He embarrasses Bill-E in front of others, makes him feel small and unwanted.

  I often thought of challenging Loch and the others who pick on Bill-E. If any of them hurt him, I’d have definitely taken them on. But teasing is harder to deal with. You can’t punch a guy for being sarcastic to somebody. . . can you?

  I’d have worsened the situation if I’d interfered, made Bill-E look like a weakling who couldn’t stand up for himself. Besides, it wasn’t so bad. His life wasn’t a walking misery. And he always had me to cheer him up.

  Class ends. English next. I walk to it by myself, quiet, thoughtful.

  I feel ashamed. I should go up to Bill-E this afternoon. Invite him back to my place. Free the weekend up to hang out with him. Watch movies, eat popcorn, go searching for Lord Sheftree’s buried treasure. Like we used to.

  But I won’t. Instead I’ll just put up with the guilt, wait for it to pass, then let things go on as they have been. Lousy, yeah, but that’s the way it is. Misery Mauch wouldn’t understand if I tried to explain, but I’m sure anyone else in the school — or any school in the world — would.


  OF course I have nightmares — who doesn’t?”

  I brushed Misery off with that line, but it followed me home from school like a stray dog. I live a couple of miles outside Carcery Vale, in a massive old house, three floors high, filled with antiques and mystical knickknacks. It was once the property of a tyrant named Lord Sheftree, a charming guy who enjoyed chopping up babies into little pieces and feeding them to his pet piranha. But these days it belongs to my uncle, Dervish Grady — as rich as Lord Shef-tree, and much more powerful, but without any of the nasty habits.

  Dervish is munching on a sandwich in the kitchen when I get home. “Good day at school?” he asks, handing me half of the sandwich.

  “So-so,” I reply, taking a bite. Chicken and bacon. Yum!

  Dervish looks much the same as when I first met him. Thin, tall, bald on top, grey around the sides. A tight grey beard that he shaved off a year or so ago but has grown back.

  Piercing blue eyes. Dressed all in denim. The only real difference is his expression. His face is more lined than it used to be, and he has the look of a man still recovering from a haunting. Which he is.

  “Bill-E said he might come over this weekend,” I tell him.

  Dervish nods and goes on chewing. He knows things aren’t the same between Bill-E and me but he’s never said anything. I guess he doesn’t think there’s any point — nothing he says could fix the situation. It’s best for adults to keep out of things like this. It’s widely accepted that we can’t solve their problems, so I’ll never understand why so many of them think they can solve ours.

  I tell Dervish about my session with Misery. He’s only mildly interested. “Mauch is a nice guy,” he says, “but not too bright. If he gets too inquisitive, let me know and I’ll speak to him.”

  “It’ll be a cold day in hell when I can’t handle the likes of Misery Mauch myself,” I snort.

  “Oh, Grubbs, you’re so manly!” Dervish gushes, fluttering his eyelids.

  “Get stuffed!” I grunt.

  We laugh and finish the sandwich.

  “Of course I have nightmares — who doesn’t?”

  I can’t get the damn line out of my head! All the way through doing my homework, while watching TV, then listening to CDs and flicking through a wrestling magazine of Loch’s.

  Everyone has nightmares, sure, but I doubt if many people have nightmares like mine. Delirious dreams of demons, wholesale slaughter, a universe of webs and comet-sized monsters. All based on firsthand experience.

  I go to bed about 11:30, fairly normal for me, but sleep doesn’t come easily. And when it does. . .

  I’m in my bedroom at home — my first home. Blood seeps from the eyes of the soccer players in the posters on my walls, but that doesn’t bother me. Gret walks in. She’s been split in two down the back. Guts trail behind her. A demon with a dog’s b
ody and a crocodile’s head is chewing on her entrails.

  “Dad wants you,” Gret says.

  “Am I in trouble?” I ask.

  “Not as much as me.” She sighs.

  Down the hall to Mom and Dad’s room. I’ve walked this a thousand times in my nightmares, always feeling the heat and fear. A few tears trickle down my cheeks as my hand rests on the doorknob, the way they always do. I know what I’m going to find inside — my parents, dead, and a wickedly smug Lord Loss. I don’t want to open the door, but of course I do, and everything happens the way it did that night when my world first fell apart.

  The scene shifts and I’m in the insane asylum. Arms bound, howling at the walls, seeing imaginary demons everywhere I look. Then one of the walls fades away. It turns into a barrier of webs. Dervish picks his way through them. “I know demons are real,” he says. “I can help you.”

  “Help me escape?” I sob.

  “No.” He holds up a mirror, and I see that I’ve turned into a werewolf. “Help you die,” he snarls, and swings at my neck with an axe.

  I kick the covers off and roll out of bed. I hit the floor hard and scramble a few yards across it, fleeing my axe-wielding uncle. Then my vision clears and I realize that I’m awake. Groaning, I push myself to my feet and check my clock. Nearly one in the morning. Looks like I won’t be getting any decent sleep tonight either.

  My T-shirt and boxers are soaked through with sweat. I change, go into the bathroom, splash cold water over my face, then go to walk around the mansion. I often stroll when I can’t sleep, exploring the warren of hallways and rooms, safe here, knowing no harm can befall me. This house is protected by powerful spells.

  Creeping through the old, restored part of the mansion, feet cold from the stone floors, too lazy to go back and get my slippers. I find myself in the newer section, an eyesore that was tacked on to the original shell when it was uninhabitable. Dervish keeps talking about demolishing the extension, but he hasn’t gotten around to it yet.

  I return to the ornate, overblown majesty of the older building and wind up in the hall of portraits, as I usually do on sleepless nights like this. Dozens of paintings and photographs, all of dead family members. Many are of young people, cut down long before their natural time — like my sister, Gret.

  I study Gret’s photo for ages, a lump in my throat, wishing for the millionth time that I could tell her how sorry I am that I wasn’t there for her in her hour of need — her hour of lycanthropy.

  It’s the family curse. Lots of us turn into werewolves. It’s been in the bloodline for more generations than anyone can remember. It strikes in adolescence. Loads of us hit twelve, thirteen. . . maybe even seventeen or eighteen. . . and change. Our bodies alter. We lose our minds. Become savage beasts who live to kill.

  We’re not werewolves like in the movies, who change when the moon is round and then resume our normal forms. When the change hits, it’s forever. The victim has a few months before the final fall, when he or she goes a bit nutso each full moon. But then the night of total change sweeps in, and there’s no way back after that. Except one. The way of Lord Loss and demons.

  Dervish’s study. Playing chess against myself on the computer. The study’s an enormous room, even by the mansion’s grand standards. Unlike the other rooms in the old quarters, it’s carpeted, the walls covered with leather panels. There are two huge desks, several bookcases, a PC, laptop, typewriter. Swords, axes, and other weapons hang from the walls. Dervish removed them when he was prone to sleep-walking and attacking me in his sleep. He’s safe as a baby now, so the weapons are back. But he never replaced the five chess boards he once kept here, which is why I’m playing on the computer.

  Gret was infected with the family curse. In an attempt to save her, Mom and Dad locked horns with a demon master named Lord Loss. Yeah, this isn’t just a world of were-wolves — demons also prowl the shadowy corridors of the night. The Demonata, to give them their full title.

  Lord Loss is a horrible creature with lumpy pale red flesh and a snake-filled hole where his heart should be. He’s always bleeding from thousands of small cuts and cracks in his skin, and he floats around instead of walking. He thrives on pain. Haunts sad, tortured humans, feeding on their misery. Nothing appeals to him more than a person in severe agony — except maybe a cracking game of chess.

  My hand moves slowly on the mouse, directing black and white pieces on the screen. A powerful family magician discovered Lord Loss’s passion for chess many decades ago. He established a contest wherein two relatives of an affected child could challenge the demon master to a chess match. If Lord Loss was defeated, he’d restore the child’s natural form and lift the curse forever. But if he won. . .

  My parents lost. Under Lord Loss’s rules, both were killed, along with Gret. I would have died too, but I was able to call upon hidden magical powers and escape.

  Months later, under Dervish’s care, I learned the truth about what happened, and that Bill-E was my secret half brother. I also found out that Bill-E had fallen prey to the lycanthropic curse.

  Dervish and I faced Lord Loss. It was the bravest, most terrifying thing I’ve ever done or hope to do. I managed to outfox Lord Loss and turn his love of misery against him. He didn’t take it lightly. Swore revenge on all three of us.

  He almost extracted that revenge months later on the set of a movie called Slawter. A horror maestro was making a film about demons. Dervish, Bill-E, and I were lured into a trap. Lord Loss set an army of demons loose on the cast and crew. Hundreds of people died horribly, but we managed to escape.

  Bill-E was badly shaken by his encounter with demons. With Dervish’s help he recovered and is back to his old self, pretty much. But there’s a nervousness in his look these days — he’s always watching the shadows for flickers of demons.

  And me? Apart from the nightmares and sleepless nights, have I gotten over it? Am I living the good life, getting on with things, making my way in the world? Well, yes, I’m trying. But there are a couple of flies in the ointment of my life, threatening to mess everything up.

  First, it’ll be a few more years before I know for sure whether or not I carry the lycanthropic gene. There’s a strong possibility I could turn into a werewolf.

  If I do start to turn, I’m damned. Lord Loss won’t intervene. He hates us with an inhuman passion. Nothing in either universe would tempt him to offer me the chance of salvation. Dervish hasn’t said as much but we both know the score — if I fall under the spell of the moon and my body changes, an axe to the neck will be the only cure.

  As for the second fly . . . well, in a way that’s even worse than the first.

  Back in my bathroom, I splash more water over my face. Letting myself drip-dry, I study the water flowing down the drain. It spirals out of the sink in a counterclockwise direction, under the control of gravity. I focus and stare hard at the water. An inner force grows at my will. The stream of water sputters, then starts to spiral downwards smoothly again — but in a clockwise direction.

  I watch for a few seconds, then shake my head and break the spell. The flow of water returns to normal. I head back to bed, dejected and scared, to spend the rest of the night awake and miserable beneath the covers.

  Magicians are rare. Only one or two are born every century, humans with the magical potential of demons, who can change the world with the flick of a wrist.

  There are others called mages. They can perform magic when there’s demonic energy in the air, but under everyday conditions they can only manage minor spells. Most mages are part of a group known as the Disciples — they fight demons and try to stop them from crossing over to our world.

  As far as anyone knows, I’m neither a magician nor a mage. I have more magical ability than most people, and tapped into it when I faced Lord Loss and his familiars. But I’m not a true part of the world of magic.

  That suits me just fine. I don’t want to become a demon-battling Disciple. I want to lead an ordinary life. The thought of br
ushing shoulders with Lord Loss or his kind again terrifies me. And as somebody who isn’t naturally magical, there’s no reason why I should get involved in any more demonic battles. I can sit on the sidelines with the rest of humanity, ignorant of the wars being fought between the forces of good and evil, free of the curse of magic and the responsibilities it brings.

  At least that’s what Dervish believes. That’s how I’d like it to be.

  But something changed in Slawter. I discovered a power within myself, and although I hid it from Dervish, it hasn’t gone away. These past few months, I’ve found myself doing things I shouldn’t be able to. The magic is working its way out, eager to break free. It allows me to reverse the flow of water, lift great weights, move objects without touching them. I’ve awoken several times to find myself levitating above my bed.

  I’ve fought the magic with desperate determination. And for the most part I’ve been successful. I hope that by focusing and fighting it every step of the way, I can work it out of my system and return to normal.

  I’d like to talk with Dervish about it and seek his advice. But I’m afraid. Magic is his life. He’s a Disciple first and foremost, dedicated to the task of keeping the world safe from demons. Dervish loves me but I have no doubt that, if he knew about my power, he’d press me into learning more spells. He’d say the world needed me. He’d nag, lecture, and plead. I’d resist, but my uncle can be extremely persuasive when he puts his mind to it. I’m certain he’d nudge me back into the world of magic. . . back into the world of demons.

  So here I am. I want to be an average teenager whose only worries are puberty, acne, scoring with girls, impressing my friends, and getting through school in one piece. But I’m forced to spend the better part of every day brooding about turning into a werewolf or becoming a whiz kid wizard who has to fight evil, heartless demons.

  “Of course I have nightmares. . . .”


  DERVISH has to go away for a couple of days. “Meera’s heading off for distant pastures, might not be back in our neck of the woods for several months, wants to say goodbye in style.”

  “‘In style’?” I smirk. Meera Flame is one of Dervish’s closest friends. Definitely his sexiest. She’s hotter than a hot dog that’s been cooked extra-hot! “Are you and Meera finally going to get it on?”

  “Don’t be ridiculous,” Dervish snorts. “We’re just friends. You know that.”

  “That’s what you always tell me . . .” I tease.

  “Well,” Dervish huffs, “it’s true. I’ve never made a pass at her and I don’t intend to start now.”

  “Why not?” I ask, genuinely interested.

  Dervish pulls a saintly expression. “Grubbs,” he says softly. “Remember when I told you that your dad was Bill-E’s Dad too?”

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