With the release of Tainted drawing near, I wanted to share with you chapter one to go along with the prologue I had shared a few weeks ago. If you haven’t read the prologue yet, you can do so here!
FRIGID DARKNESS COATS my skin in ice, but it doesn’t cool the fire running through my veins. I’m trapped in a world of nightmares, hanging on to my sanity for dear life. I’m disoriented, unsure of which way is up. No matter how hard I kick my legs, I don’t get anywhere. I’m terrified.
My heartbeat resonates in my eardrums. The comforting thump-thump, thump-thump keeps me from giving up. My soul isn’t lost…yet.
“You don’t belong here, Cami.” A soft voice echoes in my mind.
“Who said that?” I must be going crazy. There is no one here.
“I did.” The voice comes from nowhere and everywhere, corking the hopelessness leaking from my soul.
Hazy light shimmers in the distance. Like a shipwreck survivor glimpsing a lighthouse on a faraway shore, it’s miles beyond my reach. The light is my last salvation from this barren, black void.
“Please, get me out of here.” My voice quivers with desperation. I’d do anything to escape this nightmare.
“I can only help you if you let me in.” The voice echoes louder, closer. It’s the voice of a boy, not deep enough to be a man. It’s a beautiful sound, like a symphony of reassuring emotions creating a heartwarming melody.
“How can I let you in if I can’t get out?” I ask.
“It’s simple. Open your soul.”
I jolt upright, startled. My room is lit in the soft glow emanating from my bedside lamp. I can’t believe I fell asleep an hour before sunrise. I haven’t done that in over a year. Alana decided I was old enough to have my own room if I could handle staying awake all night, prepared for any and all demon invasions. She’d freak if she found out I’d been taking a catnap.
I shake the lingering nightmare from my mind. I have enough to worry about, let alone stupid, cryptic dreams. The stench of manure and burning rubber stings my nose, and my heart jumps. I reach for the glass of holy water I have sitting on my bedside table. I can only think of one thing that smells that disgusting—a lower level demon in its true body.
I lean over the side of my bed to peer under it for signs of my childhood monsters, but there’s only a baseball bat. My closet door is wide open, displaying the few shirts and jeans I have. My leather jacket drapes over the back of a folding chair stationed in front of a television tray I use as a desk. My curtains are pulled open, giving me a full view of the walkway outside of my window.
And then I see it.
Beady eyes gawk at me through the glass. The demon looks like a metallic porcupine with sharp, silver spikes protruding from crusty skin. Its body glitters in the soft light emanating from my room. Triangular ears fold against its head and a thin flap of skin sags from its neck, twitching and moving like an antenna. It sits on its haunches like a mangy dog, pressing its flat black nose to the windowpane.
I suppress the scream burning in my throat. The last thing I need is to rile it up and have it smash through my window. I have just one cup of holy water left, and I need to save it for more threatening demons. This one seems content just taunting me.
I scoot to the edge of my bed and give the demon my best death glare. As long as I don’t submit to my fear, I won’t look like easy prey. This kind of demon won’t pick a fight if it knows it’ll lose. It makes choices based on animal instinct rather than intelligence. There’s not much I can do until sunrise except hold my ground.
“You got a lot of nerve being here,” I say. The demon may look like a mutated animal, but I know it can understand me.
The demon’s eyelids close and flash open in response.
I tilt the glass of holy water to my lips and drink a small amount. It’s not that I’m thirsty, but what I’m hoping is that it will protect me in case the demon decides watching me isn’t enough. Blessed water is like acid to demons. A glass of it will distract them long enough to give me time to get a running start. In this case, it will give Alana enough time to come and kill it since she’s only a door away.
“Fine. If you’re going to play this game, then I’m going to give you three choices. You can wait here while I scream for Alana, and then she can kill you. You can wait until the sun comes up and traps you for the entire day, and then Alana can kill you. Or, you can leave now and bother someone else, and never come back here, or Alana will kill you.” I can’t believe I’m negotiating with a demon. People lose their souls dealing with demons, but I’m not leaving room for error. Whatever it decides, I’ll survive until sunrise.
The demon lifts its hand and drags its spiked fingers across the glass, creating a horrible squeaking sound. I cringe, opening my mouth to yell for help, stopping short when it stands up on two legs and walks backwards in slow-motion rewind.
It disappears around the corner of the apartment, and I sigh in relief. It chose option three, sensing I wasn’t joking. I guess the demon was smarter than I thought. It’s hard to tell what a lower level demon’s capabilities are, and I’m really glad one of them wasn’t speech. I still have nightmares from the last demonic animal that could speak. My creep-o-meter almost blew up.
I watch the sky lighten as dawn approaches. My eyes are heavy from my short nap and the demonic stare down.
“Finally,” I say out loud to myself as warm sunlight pours into my room. Even though it’s been three years since I was introduced to the Veiled Realm, the world of demons, I’m still adjusting to the side effects it has on my life.
Being an ordinary human, instead of a kickass demon hunter like Alana, has left me trapped in Purgatory. I can never live like a normal human, and I can never live safely in the Veiled Realm. It’s too dangerous, too foreign. The Veiled Realm is the ridiculous side of life no average human would ever believe in. The exceptions are people like me—those who have become involved with the dark side by accident.
Loud banging outside my door interrupts my thoughts. I step into the narrow hallway of our tiny apartment, maneuvering around stacked boxes that will never be unpacked. Not if we have to move every couple of months. This is the third time we’ve moved this year, and it’s not even halfway over. It’s the only way to avoid demons. If we’re not on the run, they’ll come after us until I’m either dead or tainted by evil. Or worse—they could leave me without a soul.
Alana perches on the kitchen counter, sifting through the top shelf of the junk cabinet. Her shoulder length blond hair hangs in a ponytail, the front half clinging against her cheeks. She swivels sideways and glances over her shoulder.
“Fantastic morning, isn’t it?” she asks. “Another peaceful, uneventful night.” Alana’s fuchsia pajamas look as fresh and unwrinkled as they did last night, and I don’t know why she bothers wearing them. The woman doesn’t sleep at night, only in the morning, and even then she has insomnia most of the time.
“For you, maybe. I spent a good thirty minutes convincing a demon that you’d kill it if it didn’t stop staring at me through the window.” I wince, expecting Alana to start screaming.
She turns on the balls of her feet and jumps from the counter. She looks me up and down, checking for signs of injury.
“You know better than that, Cami,” she says. “If you would’ve told me, I could’ve killed it. This is bad. It might go after an innocent person or come back here.”
“It was only a lower level demon. Not something the average person couldn’t fight off,” I say, despite my better judgment.
“That kind of thinking will get you killed. I’ve spent too long keeping you safe to let that happen. You have to tell me these things.”
“Fine, whatever,” I say. Alana is persuasive when it comes to doing the right thing to protect myself from demons. The promise of injury, death, and the loss of my soul always seems to do the job. It’s still effective, even though I’m now seventeen and no longer the naïve fourteen year old girl she rescued.
I watch Alana pull an empty water jug out of the refrigerator and shake it. Small droplets of water pelt the sides, creating a soft drumming sound. She tosses it into the trash before looking up at me.
She sighs. “Where’s the rest of the holy water?”
“I drank it,” I say.
“What? Oh, never mind. Go get dressed. We have to get more supplies.”
The California afternoon sun beats down, warming my skin. I use my hand to shade my eyes, not caring about the possibility of getting sunburned. Alana once told me demons are repelled by sunburns because they can feel the sun’s rays emitting from your skin. I’m just not brave enough to test the theory.
“You’re quiet.” Alana shifts on her feet as we wait for the bus to arrive. It’s a nervous habit of hers. She can never be still for longer than a minute.
“I know. I’m just thinking.”
“Thinking’s good. What about?”
“You’ll just get upset.”
“I’m thinking about the Veiled Realm. How much I still don’t understand,” I say. “If you would tell me the truth, we wouldn’t have to keep having this same stupid conversation.”
“You know I can’t.” Alana sighs, staring at me from under her light blond lashes. “It would make you a target to more than demons. I want us to live normal lives—at least as normal as we can.”
“Hold on. More than demons?”
“Crap. Forget I said anything. Now.”
I narrow my eyes. Alana can’t back out of this. It’s not often that she slips up and says too much. My curiosity is overwhelming. I have to know what other creatures are out there. How will I ever protect myself if I don’t know what to look for? There could be brain-eating zombies for all I know. I don’t know how to kill something that is already dead.
“No. Tell me. The boogeyman doesn’t scare me.”
“He should,” Alana mutters.
My mouth falls open.
“I was being sarcastic. There’s no such thing as the boogeyman…I think.”
I blink, smoothing the frown off my face. I shouldn’t be surprised. If there are demons, why wouldn’t there be other beings like witches and warlocks, even fairies? It’s comforting to think the Veiled Realm isn’t inhabited only by evil.
The scent of fuel and dirt drifts through the air, trapped in a breeze. The bus rumbles as it pulls to the curb; the brakes squeak when it comes to a stop. Alana drops coins into the dispenser, and I stomp on behind her. She strategically sits by the middle door, and I claim the seat across the aisle from her. I’m not getting trapped by the window if something happens.
I gaze at a boy close to my age, boredom masking his face. His complexion is smooth with no signs of acne. His deep set, chocolate brown eyes stare at the ceiling.
I imagine he’s one of the creatures Alana refuses to admit is real. I picture wings sprouting from his back, swooping out like an eagle’s, wrapping me in feathery softness. I can almost feel the light breeze from his imaginary wings ruffling my hair.
The boy arches an eyebrow. My cheeks flush, and I roll my eyes, brushing off my embarrassment. He presses his lips together and turns away.
“Not worth it. Some people can sense when something isn’t right. And you, Cami, dance with the dark side,” Alana says.
“Not by choice,” I say.
“It should. It’s not my fault demons actively seek us out.”
“Or is it…”
I shift in my seat and stare at the blurry world flying by. If Alana would buy a car, we wouldn’t be stuck on this stinky bus for over an hour. Where she would find the money, I have no idea.
Alana taps my shoulder; our stop is next. I stand up and grip the back of the seat, jerking when the bus comes to a halt. I shuffle off after her and notice the boy exits the front of the bus.
Alana strides forward, forcing me to keep a fast pace. Her boots are soundless compared to the constant thud-thud-thud of mine. She moves as gracefully as a ballet dancer, her back straight and her bare shoulders showing off her athletic muscles.
A breeze gusts from behind, and I stumble. I jerk my neck to look behind me. The boy from the bus lurks ten feet away. At close range, I notice every aspect of him. He’s tall and built like a swimmer. His muscles are firm, well-defined, but not overbearing. They’re subtle against his slim figure. His chocolate brown eyes shine with mischief and his lips narrow in a cocky grin. His thick black hair lies in loose waves, framing his face, curling around his smooth jawline. A golden halo surrounds him in beautiful, shimmering light. I rub my eyes, clearing away the haze of the sun.
“Cami, get behind me.”
I step back. My eyes never waver from the boy. Alana’s low voice creates a storm of fluttering moths in my stomach. I haven’t seen her act like this during the day since our first day together. I peer over her shoulder, flattening my body against hers.
The boy crosses his arms over his chest and frowns. His boyish face creases in irritation. He curls his lips in an awkward smile, showing a small dimple on his cheek. His posture is relaxed, nonthreatening. He shakes his black curls out of his eyes, and I’m taken aback.
“You’re always so on edge, Alana. Lighten up a bit. I’m not here for a fight,” the boy says. His soft voice perks up with amusement. It sounds really familiar, almost like the voice from my nightmare.
“Then why are you here, Dylan? Are you trying to put my charge at risk?” Alana says.
“You know him?” I say.
Dylan shifts, crossing and uncrossing his arms before placing them on his hips. Confusion lines his eyes. I inch away from Alana and step next to her. I stiffen my shoulders and look him dead in the eyes.
“Poor, poor girl,” Dylan says, shaking his head. “You haven’t told her anything have you, Alana?”
I give Alana a sidelong glance. “No, she hasn’t.”
“For your protection!” Alana exclaims, her soft voice going shrill. “Cami, please believe me. This is for the best.”
“You can’t keep her in the dark forever. She will discover the truth about our world.” Dylan swings his eyes to me. “And when you do, I can help you…if you’re not obliterated first.”
My hands tremble. I clench them into fists, trying to quiet the rolling fear in my mind. Alana always intones that a little fear keeps you alive, too much will be your demise. At the moment, it’s going to be the death of me. The grim reaper will be knocking on my door if I don’t get myself under control.
“I’ll keep you in mind,” I say. “If you have nothing else to say to me, then leave. Nightfall is only a couple hours away and we need to get supplies.”
Dylan purses his lips in thought, shrugging his shoulders. He probably didn’t expect me to speak for Alana. I may be under her care, but she treats me like her equal most of the time.
“Well, if you don’t want to talk, at least let me escort you.” Dylan says. “It would be a shame for something to happen because I’ve kept you from your errands.”
Alana narrows her eyes. “Fine, but if you even breathe a word about the Veiled Realm, you’re going to wish you never got off the bus.”
Thanks so much for reading! I hope you look forward to reading Tainted on June 30, 2016!