Blood beast, p.3
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       Blood Beast, p.3

         Part #5 of The Demonata series by Darren Shan
 
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  “Yes . . .” Warily.

  “What I didn’t tell you was that your mother. . . well, the woman you thought of as your mom only met your dad after you were born. Meera . . .” He stops.

  I gape at him, head pounding, limbs trembling. My world starts to explode.

  Then I catch his grin.

  “You son of a jackal!” I roar, smacking his balding head. “That wasn’t funny.”

  “Oh, it so was,” he laughs, wiping away tears.

  Most of the time I get a kick out of Dervish’s warped sense of humor. But there are other times when it really gets to me.

  “Keep it up,” I growl. “Maybe I’ll tell Misery Mauch about you. I doubt if he’d see the funny side of a sick joke like that. Wouldn’t surprise me if he took me out of your custody and put me someplace where the people are halfway normal.”

  “If only.” Dervish sighs, then squints at me. “I don’t want to lay it on heavy, but I’ve got something to say and I want you to pay attention.”

  “What now?” I ask with a sulky sneer. “Ma and Pa Spleen are my grandparents? Misery Mauch is your long-lost brother?”

  “This house has been wrecked once already,” Dervish says. “I don’t want it destroyed again. Keep your freakish little friends under as much control as you can. A certain amount of wear and tear is unavoidable, I accept that, but they’ll only run wild if you let them. Lay down the law and they won’t cause too much damage. And for heaven’s sake, don’t let any of them into my study. Remember that it’s guarded by spells, so if anyone wanders in there uninvited. . . ”

  “What are you babbling about?” I snap. I hate when he starts on a spiel without making it clear what the subject is.

  Dervish frowns. “A bit slow today, aren’t you?”

  “What?” I roar impatiently.

  “I’m going away.” He raps my head with his knuckles. “You’ll have the house to yourself.” He raps it again. “It’s the weekend.”

  He goes to rap my head a third time. I catch his hand in midair, my face lighting up with a smile as I finally get it. At the exact same moment we exclaim, me excitedly, Dervish sarcastically —

  “Paaarteeeeeee!”

  “Strip poker,” Frank says earnestly. “It’s a must.”

  “Hey!” Loch barks. “My sister will be there.”

  “So we’ll wait till she sneaks off with Grubbs, then. . . ba-da-boom!”

  Everybody laughs, even Loch.

  “Have you told the girls yet?” Charlie asks.

  “No. I wanted to discuss it with you all first, get some ideas, like how many people to invite, if I should have a theme, if —”

  “Theme?” Loch snorts. “This isn’t a fancy dress party, fool!”

  “I wouldn’t invite too many,” Leon says, a worried look on his face. “I made that mistake once. Had just about the whole school at my place while my parents were away skiing. I did what I could to clean up the next day, but it was impossible.”

  “Yeah,” Frank nods. “This is your first party. You don’t want to blow it by taking on more than you can handle.”

  “Especially since there’s so much opportunity for the future,” Loch agrees. “That mansion could be highly valuable over the next few years. Loads of rooms — loads of bed-rooms — and an uncle who knows the score. . . .It’s a gold mine. But we’ve got to be careful. If we trash the house now, Dervish might never leave you alone again.”

  The discussion continues. Everyone — Loch, Frank, Charlie, Leon, and Robbie — chips in with their own ideas. Music, food, drink, the guest list. . . each is debated at great length. But the guest list is the one we keep coming back to, the topic that creates the most divisions.

  “Two girls to each guy,” Frank insists. “If not three.”

  “Nah,” Robbie grunts. “Equal numbers, or else they’ll gang up on us.”

  “What do you care?” Leon challenges him. “You only have eyes for Mary.”

  Robbie winks. “A lot can happen at a party.”

  Out of the blue, Charlie shouts, “Jelly beans. You’ve got to have jelly beans. Plates of them everywhere.”

  “You’re a bloody jelly bean!” Loch roars as we fall apart in tears of laughter.

  “What are you hyenas splitting your sides about now?” Reni asks, appearing on the scene without warning, Shannon by her side.

  “We’re —” Charlie starts.

  Loch elbows him and nods sharply at me — my party, my news.

  “Dervish is away this weekend,” I tell Reni, wishing my heart wouldn’t throb so loudly — I’m sure she can hear it.

  “I’m having a party.”

  “Great,” Reni smiles. “I hope we’re invited?”

  “Of course,” I say miles too quickly. Then, aiming for cool, “But don’t tell anyone. I want to keep it exclusive — just a select handful of my more discerning acquaintances.”

  “Nice,” Reni says, and strides away, sharing a giggle with Shannon.

  “‘More discerning acquaintances,’” Leon mimics as the others poke me in the ribs and make catcalls. “You’re full of it sometimes, Grady.”

  Word spreads quickly about the party. I’ve never been so popular, surrounded before and after classes, pumped for details, besieged with requests for an invite. I think the location of the party is as much of a draw as anything else. Everyone in the Vale knows about the spooky old mansion where I live, but most people have never been inside. At lunch I’m faced with a steady stream of party-hungry teens, all in search of a golden ticket. I feel like a king, hearing petitions, flanked by my royal advisers (Loch and Co.). I play it cool at Loch’s advice, saying numbers are limited, I can only invite a select few. I don’t say an absolute no to anyone, and promise to take all requests into consideration. So I’m a poseur. So sue me.

  Just before the bell rings for class, my last petitioner approaches. Bill-E. He’s smiling awkwardly, even more so than usual. “Hi, Grubbs.”

  “Hi.”

  “How’s tricks, Spleenio?” Loch says, putting out his hand. I groan as Bill-E falls for the trick again, makes to shake, and is humiliated when Loch whips his hand away. “Sucker!”

  I don’t wait for Bill-E or Loch to say anything else. “Have you heard about the party?” I ask quickly.

  “Yeah,” Bill-E says. “I know I was supposed to come over this weekend, but —”

  “You’re not going to back out, are you?” I cut him short. “C’mon, Bill-E, this is my first party. I need you there for moral support.”

  A rosy glow of happiness spreads outwards from the center of the chubby boy’s cheeks. “You want me to come?” he asks quietly, half suspecting a cruel joke.

  “Of course,” I say firmly. “In fact, if you don’t, the party’s off.”

  “Now hold on a minute . . .” Loch begins, startled.

  “I mean it,” I silence him, eyes on Bill-E, trying to put right at least some of the wrong things between us.

  “Well. . . I mean. . . I guess. . . OK.” Bill-E grins. “Sure. Why not?”

  “Great.” I raise a warning finger. “But don’t tell Ma and Pa Spleen it’s a party or they’ll never let you come.”

  “No sheet, Sherlock!” Bill-E laughs and heads off, much happier than I’ve seen him in a long while.

  Dervish is getting ready to leave. In his leather pants and jacket, pulling the straps out of his helmet. His motorcycle’s outside the front door, primed to go. “Is the party tonight or tomorrow?” he asks.

  “Tomorrow. Too awkward for people to come tonight.

  Plus it gives me time to go shopping in the Vale in the morning.”

  “You know I’ll be back early Sunday afternoon,” he reminds me.

  “I know.”

  “If I walk in and find pools of puke and mountains of trash. . . ”

  “You won’t,” I assure him. “There aren’t many coming, and a few are sleeping over, to help clean up in the morning. The only thing is, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do a
ll the laundry before you return.”

  “That’s fine,” Dervish says, then raises an eyebrow. “Those staying over are all boys, I presume?”

  “Of course.”

  “They’d better be. Because if I find out otherwise. . . ”

  “You won’t.”

  “Good.”

  The pair of massive front doors are already open. Dervish walks out, breathing in fresh spring air. “It’s supposed to be cold over the weekend,” he says. “Don’t leave the windows open or the house will be freezing.”

  “I have everything under control,” I tell him.

  “I doubt it.” He climbs onto his bike.

  “Say hi to Meera for me.”

  “Sure.”

  “Give her a kiss for me too.”

  “Funny guy.” Then, without a goodbye, he’s off, tearing down the driveway, already approaching the speed limit — and he’s only warming up. If everyone drove like my maniac of an uncle, the roads would be awash with blood.

  This isn’t the first time Dervish has left me alone in the house, but it’s the first time he’s left me in total control. Before, the understanding was always that I was simply holding the fort. No parties. This time he’s as good as said the house is mine for the next forty-odd hours, to do whatever I want with it.

  It feels strange. I find myself thinking of everything that could go wrong — broken windows, smashed vases, someone stumbling into Dervish’s study and turning into a frog. I half wish I could cancel. I’ve been to a couple of wild parties with Loch over the past few months and never worried about what we were doing, the mess we were making, what would happen to the kids who lived there when their parents returned. Now that the shoe’s on my foot, I realize what a risky undertaking it is. Maybe I should fake sick and call the whole thing off. The phone rings. Loch. It’s as if he sensed my wavering mood and intervened to sway me back into party mode. “Has Dervish gone?” he asks. “Yes.” “Good. I didn’t want to discuss it at school — too many ears — but what about booze? Yea or nay?” “That might be a bit much,” I mutter. “Things will probably be wild enough if everyone’s sober.” “Yeah, it’ll be wilder if everyone’s drunk,” Loch laughs, “but a lot more fun! I was thinking about all those bottles of wine in the cellar. . . ” “No way,” I snap. “Most are expensive. Very expensive.

  Nobody goes near the wine. That’s a golden rule. If anyone breaks it, I’ll kick you all out.”

  “Spoilsport,” Loch grumbles. “Well, what about beer? I could ask one of my older cousins to get us a crate or two.”

  “I’d rather you didn’t.”

  “You’re not wimping out, are you?” he asks suspiciously.

  “Well . . .” I start.

  “Good,” Loch says quickly. “Let’s forget about the booze then. If anybody brings some, great. If not, we’ll manage sober. Fair enough?”

  “Yeah,” I say unhappily. “I guess.”

  “Great. See you in the morning. Oh, and I’ll be bringing Reni, to help carry the bags. Is that OK?”

  “Sure,” I say, spirits lifting, instantly forgetting about my reservations. “That’ll be. . . fine. Yeah. Whatever.”

  A short laugh, then Loch hangs up, leaving me to get on with planning the party.

  Loch, Reni, and I make three runs to the village. Frank and Leon join us on the last run, when we realize we need more hands. It’s brilliant spending so much time with Reni, walking beside her in and out of Carcery Vale, discussing the party, bands, politics. . . whatever she feels like talking about.

  Loch offers to chip in some money for the drinks and food, but I tell him it’s OK. Dervish is rich — there’s a family fortune knocking around, which will one day be mine and Bill-E’s — and he never begrudges me anything. He left a wad of cash for me in his study and told me to use it well.

  Reni does a lot of the organizing. I spent a couple of hours last night drawing up a list of everything we might need, and was more than a little pleased with myself. She took one look at the list this morning, laughed, and tore it up. “Is Jesus coming?” she asked.

  “Uh. . . no,” I replied, astonished.

  “Then forget about the loaves and fishes miracle. What you had on that list wouldn’t last until nine o’clock. Now, grab me a fresh pad and pen — this needs a woman’s touch.”

  Much as I hate to admit it, she was right. Carrying the supplies back from Carcery Vale, it feels like we’ve bought way too much — we could feed the starving millions with all this. But by the time we’ve divided it out into plates and bowls and distributed them around the three main party rooms — two big living rooms and the kitchen — it doesn’t look like a whole lot.

  “Maybe we need to make another run,” Frank muses, opening a bag of chips.

  “Maybe you need to stop snacking before anyone arrives,” Reni retorts, grabbing the bag from him. “No,” she says, casting a professional eye around. “This will do. Any more would be a waste.” She checks her watch. “I’m going home to get ready. And you boys . . .” She wrinkles her nose and pulls a face. “Ever heard of showers?”

  She leaves. I look around at Loch, Frank, and Leon. They stare back. Then we all raise an arm and sniff.

  Party Animal

  THE party’s not set to start until seven, but the first guests begin arriving right after six. I’m nervous and twitchy, worrying about where their coats should go, if there’s enough food and drink, if anyone’s smuggled in anything they shouldn’t have. But as more arrive and the laughter and buzz of voices increase, I begin to relax as I realize people are having fun.

  Not everyone who comes was on the invitation list, but there’s nothing I can do about that. If I turned them away, I’d ruin the atmosphere. A few gate-crashers have to be expected at any party.

  Loch and Frank help (Leon can’t make it until nine), opening the front doors and greeting newcomers while I’m showing others around the mansion. It’s cool to be a guide to so many fascinated guests. I love leading them through the halls, pointing out weapons on the walls, explaining the house’s bloody history, showing them the hall of portraits and the faces of the dead.

  “How come there are so many young people?” Mary asks, studying the paintings and photos.

  “We’re an adventurous bunch,” I lie. “We don’t sit around quietly, waiting to grow old. We embrace life and danger, and so a lot of us die young.”

  “They leave good-looking corpses though,” Reni says, and giggles sweetly when I blush.

  Bill-E arrives at a quarter to eight. I’m coming down the stairs when he enters, admitted by Loch.

  “Hey, Bill-E, great to see you, glad you could come,” Loch enthuses, offering his hand, which Bill-E predictably — and, I must admit, amusingly — tries to shake. “Sucker!”

  But even Loch’s teasing can’t spoil the mood. Bill-E breezes past him, feathers only mildly ruffled, and makes for the nearest pile of food. Ten minutes of solid scarfing later, he’s by my side, marching after me as I lead the latest group on a tour. Halfway through, he’s taken over — he knows much more about the house and its legends than I do and is better at telling the stories. I don’t mind. It’s nice to see him come out of his shell. I wish he was like this all the time.

  As the night ticks on I start to feel strange. Nauseous, dizzy, the rooms and people around me appearing weirdly out of focus. My breath is heavy in my ears and my stomach and chest ache if I move quickly. It’s not alcohol — nobody brought booze — but maybe somebody spiked the soft drinks with a spoon of a nasty powder or a pill.

  “Are you OK?” Reni asks, spotting me staggering towards the kitchen.

  “A bit. . . weird . . .” I gasp, having to sit on the floor a couple of yards shy of the kitchen door.

  Reni squats beside me. “You don’t look good,” she says, and feels my forehead. “You haven’t been drinking, have you?” I shake my head. “Drugs?” Her voice is hard.

  “Not. . . that I know. . . about,” I wheeze. “I was going. . .
to the kitchen. . . to check. Think somebody. . . might have spiked. . . the drinks.”

  “They’d better not,” Reni growls, surging to her feet. “I’ll have them arrested if they did! You wait here.” She storms off to investigate. Five or ten minutes later — hard to keep track of time, my head’s throbbing so much — she returns, calmer. “Everyone else is fine. I don’t think the drinks have been spiked.”

  “Maybe I’m just sick,” I mutter.

  “That’s what it looks like,” she says, then grabs my arms and hauls me to my feet. “Let’s get you outside. Fresh air will do you a world of good.”

  She steers me through the kitchen and out the back door, then props me against the wall and stands watch beside me as I take deep breaths and try to focus. After a few minutes my head clears a little and my stomach settles.

  “Better?” Reni asks, tilting my chin up, examining my eyes.

  “Good as new,” I smile.

  Reni leans towards me, a serious look in her eyes. I tense. Will this be our first kiss? I hope I don’t mess up. How do they do it in the
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