Lord loss, p.1
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       Lord Loss, p.1

         Part #1 of The Demonata series by Darren Shan  
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  For:

  Bas — my demon lover

  OBEs (Order of the Bloody Entrails) to:

  Caroline “pie chart” Paul

  D.O.M.I.N.I.C. Kingston

  Nicola “schumacher” Blacoe

  Editorial Evilness:

  Stellasaurus Paskins

  Agents of Chaos:

  the Christopher Little crew

  LORD LOSS

  Lord Loss sows all the sorrows of the world

  Lord Loss seeds the grief-starched trees

  In the center of the web, lowly Lord Loss bows his head

  Mangled hands, naked eyes

  Fanged snakes his soul line

  Curled inside like textured sin

  Bloody, curdled sheets for skin

  In the center of the web, vile Lord Loss torments the dead

  Over strands of red, Lord Loss crawls

  Dispensing pain, despising all

  Shuns friends, nurtures foes

  Ravages hope, breeds woe

  Drinks moons, devours suns

  Twirls his thumbs till the reaper comes

  In the center of the web, lush Lord Loss is all that's left

  RAT GUTS

  DOUBLE history on a Wednesday afternoon — total nightmare! A few minutes ago, I would have said I couldn't imagine anything worse. But when there's a knock at the door, and it opens, and I spot my Mom outside, I realize — life can always get worse.

  When a parent turns up at school, unexpected, it means one of two things. Either somebody close to you has been seriously injured or has died, or you're in trouble.

  My immediate reaction: Please don't let anybody be dead! I think of Dad, Gret, uncles, aunts, cousins. It could be any of them. Alive and kicking this morning. Now stiff and cold, tongue sticking out, a slab of dead meat just waiting to be buried. I remember Grandma's funeral. The open coffin. Her shining flesh, having to kiss her forehead, the pain, the tears. Please don't let anyone be dead! Please. Please. Please. Ple —

  Then I see Mom's face, white with rage, and I know she's here to punish, not comfort.

  I groan, roll my eyes, and mutter under my breath, “Bring on the corpses!”

  The principal's office. Me, Mom, and Mr. Donnellan. Mom's ranting and raving about cigarettes. I've been seen smoking behind the bike shed (the oldest cliche in the book). She wants to know if the head's aware of this, of what the pupils in his school are getting up to.

  I feel a bit sorry for Mr. Donnellan. He has to sit there, looking like a schoolboy himself, shuffling his feet and saying he didn't know this was going on and he'll launch an investigation and put a quick end to it. Liar! Of course he knew. Every school has a smoking area. That's life. Teachers don't approve, but they turn a blind eye most of the time. Certain kids smoke — fact. Safer to have them smoking at school than sneaking off the grounds during breaks and at lunch.

  Mom knows that too. She must! She was young once, like she's always reminding me. Kids were no different in Mom's time. If she stopped for a minute and thought back, she'd see what an embarrassment she's being. I wouldn't mind her harassing me at home, but you don't march into school and start laying down the law in the principal's office. She's out of order — big time.

  But it's not like I can tell her, is it? I can't pipe up with, “Hey! Mother! You're disgracing us both, so shut yer trap!”

  I smirk at the thought, and of course that's when Mom pauses for the briefest of moments and catches me. “What are you grinning at?” she roars, and then she's off again — I'm smoking myself into an early grave, the school's responsible, what sort of a freak show is Mr. Donnellan running, la-di-la-di-la-di-bloody-la!

  BAWring.

  Her rant at school's nothing compared to the one I get at home. Screaming at the top of her lungs, blue bloody murder. She's going to send me off to boarding school — no, military school! See how I like that, having to get up at dawn each morning and do a hundred push-ups before breakfast. How does that sound?

  “Is breakfast bacon and eggs or some cereally, yogurty crap?” is my response, and I know the second it's out of my mouth that it's the wrong thing to say. This isn't the time for the famed Grubbs Grady brand of cutting-edge humor.

  Cue the enraged Mom fireworks. Who do I think I am? Do I know how much they spend on me? What if I get kicked out of school? Then the clincher, the one Moms all over the world love pulling out of the hat — “Just wait till your father gets home!”

  Dad's not as freaked out as Mom, but he's not happy. He tells me how disappointed he is. They've warned me so many times about the dangers of smoking, how it destroys people's lungs and gives them cancer.

  “Smoking's dumb,” he says. We're in the kitchen (I haven't been out of it since Mom dragged me home from school early, except to go to the toilet). “It's disgusting, antisocial, and lethal. Why do it, Grubbs? I thought you had more sense.”

  I shrug wordlessly. What's there to say? They're being unfair. Of course smoking's dumb. Of course it gives you cancer. Of course I shouldn't be doing it. But my friends smoke. It's cool. You get to hang out with cool people at lunch and talk about cool things. But only if you smoke. You can't be in if you're out. And they know that. Yet here they stand, acting all Gestapo, asking me to account for my actions.

  “How long has he been smoking? That's what I want to know!” Mom's started referring to me in the third person since Dad arrived. I'm beneath direct mention.

  “Yes,” Dad says. “How long, Grubbs?”

  “I dunno.”

  “Weeks? Months? Longer?”

  “A few months maybe. But only a couple a day.”

  “If he says a couple, he means at least five or six,” Mom snorts.

  “No, I don't!” I shout. “I mean a couple!”

  “Don't raise your voice to me!” Mom roars back.

  “Easy,” Dad begins, but Mom goes on as if he isn't there.

  “Do you think it's clever? Filling your lungs with rubbish, killing yourself? We didn't bring you up to watch you give yourself cancer! We don't need this, certainly not at this time, not when —”

  “Enough!” Dad shouts, and we both jump. Dad almost never shouts. He usually gets very quiet when he's angry. Now his face is red and he's glaring — but at both of us, not just me.

  Mom coughs, as if she's ashamed of herself. She sits, brushes her hair back off her face, and looks at me with wounded eyes. I hate when she pulls a face like this. It's impossible to look at her straight or argue.

  “I want you to stop, Grubbs,” Dad says, back in control now. “We're not going to punish you —” Mom starts to object, but Dad silences her with a curt wave of his hand “— but I want your word that you'll stop. I know it won't be easy. I know your friends will give you a hard time. But this is important. Some things matter more than looking cool. Will you promise, Grubbs?” He pauses. “Of course, that's if you're able to quit …”

  “Of course I'm able,” I mutter. “I'm not addicted or anything.”

  “Then will you? For your sake — not ours?”

  I shrug, trying to act like it's no big thing, like I was planning to stop anyway. “Sure, if you're going to make that much of a fuss about it.” I yawn.

  Dad smiles. Mom smiles. I smile.

  Then Gret walks in the back door and she's smiling too — but it's an evil, big-sister-superior smile. “Have we sorted all our little problems out yet?” she asks, voice high and fake-innocent.

  And I know instantly — Gret told on me to Mom. She found out that I was smoking and she told. The pig!

  As she swishes past, beaming like an angel, I burn fiery holes in the back of her head with my eyes, and a single word echoes through my head like the sound of ungodly thunder …

  Revenge!

  I love garbage dumps. You can find all sorts of disgusting stuff there. The perfect place to go browsing if you want to get even with your annoying traitor of a sister. I climb over mounds of garbage and root through black bags and soggy cardboard boxes. I'm not sure exactly what I'm going to use, or in what fashion, so I wait for inspiration to strike. Then, in a small plastic bag, I find six dead rats, necks broken, just starting to rot. Excellent.

  Look out, Gret — here I come!

  Eating breakfast at the kitchen table. Radio turned down low. Listening to the noises upstairs. Trying not to chuckle. Waiting for the outburst.

  Gret's in her shower. She showers at least twice a day, before she goes to school and when she gets back. Sometimes she has one before going to bed too. I don't know why anybody would bother to keep themselves so clean. I figure it's a form of madness.

  Because she's so obsessed with showering, Mom and Dad gave her the en suite bedroom. They figured I wouldn't mind. And I don't. In fact, it's perfect. I wouldn't have been able to pull my trick if Gret didn't have her own shower, with its very own towel rack.

  The shower goes off. Splatters, then drips, then silence. I tense with excitement. I know Gret's routines inside out. She always pulls her towel down off its rack after she's showered, not before. I can't hear her footsteps, but I imagine her taking the three or four steps to the towel rack. Reaching up. Pulling it down. Aaaaaaaaannnddd …

  On cue — screams galore. A shocked single scream to start. Then a volley of them, one running into another. I push my bowl of soggy cornflakes aside and prepare myself for the biggest laugh of the year.

  Mom and Dad are by the sink, discussing the day ahead. They go stiff when they hear the screams, then dash towards the stairs, which I can see from where I'm sitting.

  Gret appears before they reach the stairs. Crashes out of her room, screaming, slapping bloody shreds from her arms, tearing them from her hair. She's covered in red. Towel clutched with one hand over her front — even terrified out of her wits, there's no way she's going to come down naked!

  “What's wrong?” Mom shouts. “What's happening?”

  “Blood!” Gret screams. “I'm covered in blood! I pulled the towel down. I …”

  She stops. She's spotted me laughing. I'm doubled over. It's the funniest thing I've ever seen.

  Mom turns and looks at me. Dad does too. They're speechless.

  Gret picks a sticky pink chunk out of her hair, slowly this time, and studies it. “What did you put on my towel?” she asks quietly.

  “Rat guts!” I howl, pounding the table, crying with laughter. “I got … rats at the dump … chopped them up … and …” I almost get sick, I'm laughing so much.

  Mom stares at me. Dad stares at me. Gret stares at me.

  Then —

  “You lousy son of a —!”

  I don't catch the rest of the insult — Gret flies down the stairs ahead of it. She drops her towel on the way. I don't have time to react to that before she's on me, slapping and scratching at my face.

  “What's wrong, Gretelda?” I giggle, fending her off, calling her by the name she hates. She normally calls me Grubitsch in response, but she's too mad to think of it now.

  “Scum!” she shrieks. Then she lunges at me sharply, grabs my jaw, jerks my mouth open, and tries her hardest to stuff a handful of rat guts down my throat.

  I stop laughing instantly — a mouthful of rotten rat guts wasn't part of the grand über-joke. “Get off!” I roar, lashing out wildly. Mom and Dad suddenly recover and shout at exactly the same time.

  “Stop that!”

  “Don't hit your sister!”

  “She's a lunatic,” I gasp, pushing myself away from the steaming Gret, falling off my chair.

  “He's an animal,” Gret sobs, picking more chunks of guts from her hair, wiping rat blood from her face. I realize she's crying — serious waterworks — and her face is as red as her long, straight hair. Not red from the blood — red from anger, shame and … fear?

  Mom picks up the dropped towel, takes it to Gret, wraps it around her. Dad's just behind them, face as dark as death. Gret picks more strands and loops of rat guts from her hair, then howls with anguish.

  “They're all over me!” she yells, then throws some of the guts at me. “You stinky little monster!”

  “You're the one who's stinky!” I cackle. Gret dives for my throat.

  “No more!” Dad doesn't raise his voice but his tone stops us dead.

  Mom's staring at me with open disgust. Dad's shooting daggers. I sense that I'm the only one who sees the funny side of this.

  “It was just a joke,” I mutter defensively before the accusations fly.

  “I hate you,” Gret hisses, then bursts into fresh tears and flees dramatically.

  “Cal,” Mom says to Dad, freezing me with an ice-cold glare. “Take Grubitsch in hand. I'm going up to try and comfort Gretelda.” Mom always calls us by our given names. She's the one who picked them, and is the only person in the world who doesn't see how shudderingly awful they are.

  Mom heads upstairs. Dad sighs, walks to the counter, tears off several sheets of kitchen paper, and mops up some of the guts and streaks of blood from the floor. After a couple of silent minutes of this, as I lie uncertainly by my upturned chair, he turns his steely gaze on me. Lots of sharp lines around his mouth and eyes — the sign that he's really angry, even angrier than he was about me smoking.

  “You shouldn't have done that,” he says.

  “It was funny,” I mutter.

  “No,” he barks. “It wasn't.”

  “She deserved it!” I cry. “She's done worse to me! She told Mom about me smoking — I know it was her. And remember the time she melted my lead soldiers? And cut up my comics? And —”

  “There are some things you should never do,” Dad interrupts softly. “This was wrong. You invaded your sister's privacy, humiliated her, terrified her senseless. And the timing! You …” He pauses and ends with a fairly weak “… upset her greatly.” He checks his watch. “Get ready for school. We'll discuss your punishment later.”

  I trudge upstairs miserably, unable to see what all the aggro is about. It was a great joke. I laughed for hours when I thought of it. And all that hard work — chopping the rats up, mixing in some water to keep them fresh and make them gooey, getting up early, sneaking into her bathroom while she was asleep, carefully putting the guts in place — wasted.

  I pass Gret's bedroom and hear her crying pitifully. Mom's whispering softly to her. My stomach gets hard, the way it does when I know I've done something bad. I ignore it. “I don't care what they say,” I grumble, kicking open the door to my room and tearing off my pajamas. “It was a brilliant joke.”

  Purgatory. Confined to my room after school for a month. A whole bloody MONTH! No TV, no computer, no comics, no books — except schoolbooks. Dad leaves my chess set in the room too — no fear my chess-crazy parents would take that away from me! Chess is almost a religion in this house. Gret and I were reared on it. While other toddlers were being taught how to put jigsaws together, we were busy learning the ridiculous rules of chess.

  I can come downstairs for meals, and bathroom visits are allowed, but otherwise I'm a prisoner. I can't even go out on the weekends.

  In solitude, I call Gret every name under the moon the first night. Mom and Dad bear the brunt of my curses the next. After that I'm too miserable to blame anyone, so I sulk in moody silence and play chess against myself to pass the time.

  They don't talk to me at meals. The three of them act like I'm not there. Gret doesn't even glance at me spitefully and sneer, the way she usually does when I'm getting the doghouse treatment.

  But what have I done that's so bad? OK, it was a crude joke and I knew I'd get into trouble — but their reactions are waaaaaaay over the top. If I'd done something to embarrass Gret in public, fair enough, I'd take what was coming. But this was a private joke, just between us. They shouldn't be making such a song and dance about it.

  Dad's words echo back to me — “And the timing!” I think about them a lot. And Mom's, when she was going on about smoking, just before Dad cut her short — “We don't need this, certainly not at this time, not when —”

  What did they mean? What were they talking about? What does the timing have to do with anything?

  Something stinks here — and it's not just rat guts.

 
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