Lord loss, p.11
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       Lord Loss, p.11
 

         Part #1 of The Demonata series by Darren Shan
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  werewolf with puke.”

  “That's one I never saw in the movies!” I laugh.

  Bill-E has to leave in the afternoon, to check in with Ma and Pa Spleen and Pretend he's been to school. “I'll have a quick meal, do some homework, then tell Grandma I'm coming here for the night — I'll say it's part of a nature project, that I'm doing an essay on the habits of nocturnal creatures.”

  “Not so far from the truth,” I grimace.

  In my room. Alone. A knock on the door — Dervish. “Where's Bill-E?”

  “He had to go home.”

  “That's a shame — I was going to cook pancakes. I have a sudden craving for them.”

  I start to tell Dervish that Bill-E's returning to stay the night. Before I can, he says, “I have to head out later.”

  “Oh?”

  “I'm meeting Meera. We're going to see some old friends. I could be gone all night. You'll be OK by yourself?”

  I nod wordlessly.

  “I'll give you a shout before I go,” he promises.

  On the phone to Ma Spleen, asking for Bill-E. “He just got home from school,” she says frostily. “He's eating.”

  “It's important.”

  “Everything seems to be important today,” she grumbles, but calls him to the phone.

  “When you return, enter by the back door and try not to let Dervish see you,” I tell him.

  “Why?” he asks.

  “He just told me he's going out for the night. He thinks I'm going to be here by myself.”

  “So?”

  “Let's quit with the seen-it-all, done-it-all act,” I snap. “If Dervish is what we think, there could be trouble tonight — real trouble. If he doesn't know you're in the house, he won't expect to find you if he gets free later. That might work in our favor in case of an attack.”

  “There won't be an attack,” Bill-E insists.

  “Maybe — but come in by the back anyway, OK?”

  A moment's pause. Then, in a subdued tone, Bill-E mutters, “OK.”

  Bill-E sneaks in without Dervish spotting him. Hides in my room. We keep the door shut and our voices low when we speak — which isn't often. I keep a firm hold on the axe I've been lugging about for the past few nights. Bill-E still doesn't believe we're in any danger, but he has a short sword lying on the bed close by, which I fetched for him from downstairs.

  He's in a terrible state, white and shivering. He's been sick three times in the space of the last couple of hours. I see now that it isn't nerves — he really is ill.

  “You should be home in bed,” I whisper as he wraps blankets around himself and gulps down a glass of warm milk.

  “I feel like death,” he groans, eyes watering.

  “Do you want to leave?”

  He shakes his head firmly. “Not until morning. I'm going to see this through with you, to prove that Dervish isn't a killer.”

  “But what if —”

  He stops me with a quick cutting motion. “He's coming!” he hisses, and tumbles off the bed, dragging his blankets and empty glass with him, lying flat on the floor, holding his breath.

  I sit up in bed and open a comic, which I pretend to read.

  Moments later, Dervish knocks and enters. “Coming for dinner?”

  “No thanks — not very hungry tonight.”

  He sniffs the air, nose crinkling. “It smells of sick in here.”

  “Yeah.” I laugh sheepishly. “I threw up earlier. Think it was something I ate.”

  “You should have told me.” He walks over and lays the back of his hand against my forehead. If he bends forward just an inch more, he'll spot the prone Bill-E Spleen …

  “No fever,” Dervish says, stepping back.

  “Of course not. Like I said — something I ate.”

  “I hope that's all it is.” He looks troubled. Checks his watch, then glances out the window. “If you get sick again later, I won't be here to drive you to the doctor. Maybe I should take you into the Vale for the night.”

  “That's OK,” I say quickly. “I'm fine.”

  “You're sure?”

  I cross my heart and smile blithely. “Never felt better.”

  “Hmm …” He doesn't look happy, but takes me at my word. “Want me to bring you up anything from the kitchen?”

  “No, thanks — I'll wander down later and grab something light.”

  “See you tomorrow then.”

  “Tomorrow.” I smile, and hold the smile in place until he exits.

  “Phew!” I gasp when the coast is clear. “You can get up now.”

  Bill-E rises from behind the bed like a ghost, grinning sickly. Then his face blanches, and he clutches his stomach and rushes for the toilet.

  I raise my eyes to the heavens and sigh. Of all the nights he could have picked to be sick, why this one!

  Night. The moon rising. A roar from the corridor — “I'm off!”

  “'Bye!” I shout in reply. A quick shared glance with Bill-E, then we both rush to the room behind this one — with a view of the rear yard — and press up against the circle of stained glass, watching to see what Dervish does.

  “Bet he heads straight down the cellar,” Bill-E says confidently.

  “I hope so,” I sigh.

  Moments later Dervish emerges and walks to the sheet of corrugated iron close to the sheds. He carefully removes it, unlocks the chains, and casts them aside. Bill-E's smiling knowingly — but the smile fades when Dervish drags the sheet of corrugated iron back over the doors, turns, and heads off in the direction of the forest.

  “What do we do now?” I ask quietly.

  “He might just be going to …” Bill-E starts, but hasn't the heart to finish.

  “Two choices,” I growl. “We let him go — or we follow.”

  “You want to go into the forest after him?” Bill-E asks uncertainly. “If he transforms out there and the beast spots us …”

  “At least we know what to expect, and we're prepared,” I grunt, hefting my axe. “Nobody else knows what he is. If we let him go and he kills …”

  Bill-E rolls his eyes, but says sullenly, “We'll follow.”

  Hurrying from the room. In the hall downstairs, Bill-E stops to grab a sword, longer and sharper than the one I gave him earlier. While he's at it, he plucks a couple of knives, sticks one in his belt, hands the other to me. “Double security,” he says.

  “I like your thinking.” I grin shakily.

  Then we're gone — frightened, courageous, crazy — tracking a werewolf.

  AROOOOO!

  SLIPPING away from the house. Creeping around the sheds. Entering the forest. Moving cautiously, Bill-E leading the way. A bright night. Very few clouds to block out the worryingly full moon. But dark under cover of the trees. Countless spots where a creature could lie in ambush.

  “Which way did he go?” I whisper as Bill-E pauses and stoops.

  “That way,” Bill-E replies a few seconds later, pointing left.

  “How do you know?”

  “Footprints,” he says, tapping the ground.

  “Who made you Hia-bloody-watha?” I scrunch up my eyes but can't see any prints. “Are you sure?” I ask, wondering if he's deliberately leading me astray.

  “Positive,” Bill-E says, then stands and stares at me, troubled. “If he sticks to this course, he's heading for the Vale.”

  I stare back silently. Then we both turn without a word and resume the chase — faster, with more urgency.

  Running. Ducking low-hanging branches. Leaping bushes.

  Bill-E comes to a sudden halt. I run into him. Stifle a cry.

  “I see him,” Bill-E says softly. “He's stopped.”

  I peer ahead into the darkness — can't see anything. “Where?”

  “Over there.” Bill-E points, then crouches. I squat beside him. “We're on the edge of the forest. Carcery Vale's only a minute's jog from here.”

  “You think he's going to attack someone in the village?” I ask.

  Bill-E
tilts his head uncertainly. “I can't believe it. But I don't see any other reason why he would come here. Maybe —”

  He spins away abruptly, covering his mouth with his hands. Lurches through the bushes. Twigs snap. Leaves rustle. He collapses to the ground and throws up over a pile of twigs.

  My gaze snaps from Bill-E to the trees ahead. Clutching the handle of my axe so tightly it hurts. Waiting for Dervish to hear the commotion and come investigate.

  Half a minute passes. A minute. No movement ahead.

  Bill-E shuffles up beside me. Rests in the shadow of a thick bush. Breathing heavily. Chin specked with vomit. “I can't go on,” he groans. His voice cracks as he speaks. His whole body's trembling.

  “How bad are you really?” I ask, searching for him in the shadows, only able to make out the dark outline of his face.

  “Lousy.” He chuckles drily. “I should have listened to you earlier — gone home to bed. I need a doctor.”

  “Your house isn't far from here,” I note. “I could take you there.”

  “What about Dervish?”

  “Is he still where you said he was?” I ask.

  Bill-E parts the bush above him, half-kneels, and stares dead ahead. Silence for a few seconds. Then — “Still there.”

  “I'll take you home,” I decide, “then circle back.”

  “But you can't track him like I can,” Bill-E demurs. “You need me.”

  “I'll get by,” I override him. “The way you are now, you're a liability. It's only pure luck that he didn't hear you a few minutes ago. You're useless like this.”

  “Grubbs Grady,” Bill-E giggles hoarsely. “Tells it like it is.”

  “Come on,” I mutter, offering him a hand up. “The quicker we go, the sooner I can pick him up again.”

  Bill-E hesitates, then grabs my sleeve and staggers to his feet. “Sorry about this,” he mumbles, bent over, hiding his face, ashamed.

  “Don't be stupid,” I smile, wrapping an arm around him. “I couldn't have tracked him this far without you. Now — let's go.”

  Bill-E's house lies almost straight ahead, but Dervish is blocking the direct route. So we skirt around him and stumble farther through the forest, until we find a spot downhill where he hopefully won't be able to see us.

  “Walk or run?” I ask.

  Bill-E doesn't answer immediately — his breath is ragged and he's trembling. Then he sighs and says, “Walk. More noise … if we run.”

  Holding Bill-E tight — I think he'd collapse if I let go — I start ahead, into the moonlit clearing.

  Stomach like a coiled spring as we leave the cover of the forest. I face forward, not wanting to trip over anything, but my eyes keep sneaking left, scouring the trees for signs of my uncle.

  “Can you see him?” I hiss out of the side of my mouth.

  Bill-E only groans in reply and doesn't look round.

  Getting close to the houses on the outskirts of Carcery Vale. Dark backyards. Lights in kitchen and bedroom windows. A woman cycles towards us, parallel to the forest. She waves. I start to wave back. Then she turns right and I realize she was only signaling.

  Coming up to the houses. There's a road behind them, where most of the residents park. We take the road and close in on the Spleen residence. I start to think about what Ma Spleen is going to say, and what will happen when she phones Dervish to complain about the condition he let her grandson walk home in. Perhaps I should take Bill-E directly to a doctor. It's late, but I'm sure —

  Bill-E gasps painfully and collapses. He dry retches and paws at the pavement, whining like a wounded animal.

  “What's wrong?” I cry, dropping beside him. I reach to examine his face, but he brushes my hands away and snarls. “Bill-E? What is it? Do you want me to —”

  “Grubbs — step away.”

  A harsh voice, straight ahead of me. Slowly, trembling, I stand and stare.

  Dervish!

  My uncle's standing between us and the rear garden gate of Bill-E's home. No way past. He's illuminated by moon-light. A long hypodermic syringe in his right hand. Eyes ablaze with anger. “Meera,” he says, gaze flicking to a spot behind me. I glance back. A moment's pause, then Meera steps out from behind a van. My head spins. I remember an earlier mad thought — What if they're both werewolves?

  Dervish starts walking towards me.

  “Stop!” I moan, warning him off with my axe.

  “Step away, Grubbs,” he says again, not slowing. “You don't know what's happening.” Then, to Meera, “Be careful. Block his escape, but don't get too close.”

  “I know what you are,” I sob, tears of fear springing to my eyes. “If you come any closer …”

  “Don't interfere,” Dervish snaps. “I don't want to hurt you, but if you don't step aside, I'll —”

  He comes within range. I swing at him with my axe. Tears impair my aim — I swing high. Dervish curses and ducks. I take another blind swing. He shimmies closer as I'm swinging, dodges the blade, chops at my axe arm with his free left hand.

  My arm goes numb from the elbow down. The axe drops to the ground. I dart after it. Dervish grabs the back of my collar and yanks me aside. I crash into a car. He's upon me before I have time to recover. Wraps his left arm around my throat. Exerts pressure.

  “Dervish!” Meera gasps.

  “It's OK,” he pants. Then, to me, as I struggle for my life, “Easy! We're on the same side.”

  “Let go!” I wheeze. “I know what you are! Let —”

  Low growling. Animalistic. Wolfen.

  But not from Dervish.

  From ahead of us.

  Dervish releases me. I stand rooted to the spot. Eyes wide. Staring at the beast as it rises to its feet and snarls. A contorted face. Yellow eyes. Sharp cheekbones. Dark shadows. Open mouth full of bared teeth.

  It raises a hand — dark skin, long nails, fingers curled into claws.

  And I realize, about a million years late, that a monster has breached the barriers of Carcery Vale tonight — but it's not Dervish.

  The werewolf's Bill-E Spleen!

  FAMILY TIES

  “BILL-E?” I moan. He glares at me, naked hate filling his abnormal yellow eyes. “Bill-E … it's me … Grubbs.”

  “He doesn't recognize you,” Dervish says, stepping to the left. Bill-E's eyes snap to the adult and he crouches defensively. Behind him, Meera takes an automatic step backwards. “No!” Dervish barks. “Don't move! You'll attract —”

  Too late. Bill-E's head swivels. He spots Meera. Leaps.

  Meera gets out the start of a scream. Then the beast is upon her, hissing as he hauls her to the ground. They land hard, Meera underneath. She tries to throw the animal off. He grabs her hand and bites hard into the flesh. She starts to curse, but is cut short by the creature's fist — it crushes into the side of her face. Meera chokes, stunned. The beast grabs both sides of her head and smashes her skull down hard on the pavement. The fight goes out of her. Teeth glinting in the moonlight, fastening around Meera's throat. The monster's about to rip her head off and all I can do is stand here and gawk like an idiot.

  But Dervish isn't so helpless. He moves as fast as Bill-E, and gets there a split-second before he bites. Grabbing Bill-E's ear, he tugs hard. The creature's head jerks clear of Meera's throat. He whines and lashes out. Dervish ducks the blow. Shoves the animal down hard, headfirst. Pins it with his right knee, digging it hard into the boy-beast's back. Brings up his right hand and jabs the tip of the syringe into the side of Bill-E's neck. Pushes on the plunger. The liquid in the barrel disappears into Bill-E's veins.

 
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