Lord loss, p.4
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       Lord Loss, p.4

         Part #1 of The Demonata series by Darren Shan
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  despite the best rousing efforts of my nurses. I'm fighting them. They don't believe my story, so they can't truly understand me, so they can't really help me. So I fight them. Out of fear and spite.

  Somewhere in the middle of the confusion, relatives arrive. The doctors want me to focus on the world outside this institute. They think the way to do that is to reintroduce me to my family, break down my sense of overwhelming isolation. I think the plan is for the visitors to fuss over me, so that I want to be with them, so I'll then play ball with the doctors when they start in with the questions.

  Aunt Kate's the first. She clutches me tight and weeps. Talks about Mom, Dad, and Gret nonstop, recalling all the good times that she can remember. Begs me to let the doctors help me, to talk with them, so I can get better and go home and live with her. I say nothing, just stare off into space and think about Dad hanging upside down. Aunt Kate leaves less than an hour later, still sobbing.

  More relatives drop in during the following days and weeks, rounded up by the doctors. Aunts, uncles, cousins — both sides of the family tree. Some are old acquaintances. Some I've never seen before. I don't respond to any of them. I can tell they're just like the doctors. They don't believe me.

  Lots of questions from my carers. Why don't I talk to my relatives? Do I like them? Are there others I prefer? Am I afraid of people? How would I feel about leaving here and staying with one of the well-wishers for a while?

  They're trying to ship me out. It's not that they're sick of me — just step three on my path to recovery. Since I won't rally to their calls in here, they hope that a taste of the real world will make me more receptive. (I haven't developed any great insights into the human way of thinking — I know all this because Leah and the other nurses tell me. They say it's good for me to know what they're thinking, what their plans are.)

  I do my best to give them what they want — I'd love if they could cure me — but it's difficult. The relatives remind me of what happened. They can't act naturally around me. They look at me with pitying — sometimes fearful — expressions. But I try. I listen. I respond.

  After much preparation and discussions, I spend a weekend with Uncle Mike and his family. Mike is Mom's younger brother. He has a pretty wife — Rosetta — and three children, two girls and a boy. Gret and I stayed with them a few times in the past, when Mom and Dad were away on vacation.

  They try hard to make me feel welcome. Conor — Mike's son — is ten years old. He shows me his toys and plays computer games with me. He's bright and friendly. Talks me through his comics collection and tells me I can pick out any three issues I like and keep them.

  The girls — Lisa and Laura — are seven and six. Gigglish. Not sure why I'm here or aware of what happened to me. But they're nice. They tell me about school and their friends. They want to know if I have a girlfriend.

  Saturday goes well. I feel Mike's optimism — he thinks this will work, that I'll return to my senses and pick up my life as normal. I try to believe salvation can come that simply, but inside I know I'm deluding myself.

  Sunday. A stroll in the park. Playing with Lisa and Laura on the swings. Pushing them high. Rosetta close by, keeping a watchful eye on me. Mike on the merry-go-round with Conor.

  “Want off!” Laura shouts. I stop her and she hops to the ground. “Look what I saw!” she yells gleefully, and rushes over to a bush at the side of the swings. I follow. She points to a dead bird — small, young, its body ripped apart, probably by a cat.

  “Cool!” Lisa gasps, coming up behind.

  “No, it's not,” Rosetta says, wandering over. “It's sad.”

  “Can we take it home and bury it?” Lisa asks.

  “I don't know,” Rosetta frowns. “It looks like it's been —”

  “Demons killed my parents and sister,” I interrupt calmly. The girls stare at me with round, wide eyes. “One of them ripped my Dad's head clean off. Blood was pouring out. Like from a faucet.”

  “Grubitsch, I don't think —” Rosetta says.

  “One of the demons had the body of a child,” I continue, unable to stop. “It had green skin and no eyes. Instead of hair, its head was covered with cockroaches.”

  “That's enough!” Rosetta snaps. “You're terrifying the girls. I won't —”

  “The cockroaches were alive. They were eating the demon's flesh. If I'd looked closely enough, I'm sure I'd have seen its brains.”

  Rosetta storms off, Lisa and Laura in tow. Laura's crying.

  I gaze sadly at the dead bird. Nightmares gather around me. Imagined demonic chuckles. The last thing I see in the real world — Mike marching towards me, torn between concern and fury.

  The institute. Days — weeks? months? — later. Lots of questions.

  “Why did you say that to the girls?”

  “Do you want to hurt other people?”

  “Are you angry? Sad? Scared?”

  “Would you like to visit somebody else?”

  I don't answer, or else I grunt in response. They don't understand. They can't. I didn't want to scare Lisa or Laura, or upset Mike and Rosetta. The words came out by themselves. The doctors can't help. If I had an ordinary illness, I'm sure they could fix me. But I've seen demons rip my world to pieces. Nobody believes that, so nobody knows what I'm going through. I'm alone. I always will be. That's my life now. That's just the way it is.

  The relatives stop coming. The doctors stop trying. They say they're giving me time to recover, but I think they just don't know how to handle me. Long periods by myself, walking, reading, thinking. Tired most of the time. Headaches. Imaginary demons everywhere I look. Hard to keep food down. Growing thin. Sickly.

  The nurses try to rally my spirits. Days out — a circus, amusement park, cinemas — and parties in my cell. No good. Their efforts are wasted on me. I draw into myself more and more. Hardly ever speak. Avoid eye contact. Fingers twitch and head twists with fear at the slightest alien sound.

  Getting worse. Going downhill.

  There's talk of new pills.

  A visitor. It's been a long time since the last. I thought they'd given up.

  It's Uncle Dervish. Dad's younger brother. I don't know much about him. A man of mystery. He visited us a few times when I was smaller. Mom never liked him. I recall her and Dad arguing about him once. “We're not taking the kids there!” she snapped. “I don't trust him.”

  Leah admits Uncle Dervish. Asks if he'd like anything to drink or eat. “No, thanks.” Would I like anything? I shake my head. Leah leaves.

  Dervish Grady is a thin, lanky man. Bald on top, grey hair at the sides, a tight grey beard. Pale blue eyes. I remember his eyes from when I was a kid. I thought they looked like my toy soldier's eyes. I asked him if he was in the army. He laughed.

  He's dressed completely in denim — jeans, shirt, jacket. He looks ridiculous — Gret used to say denim looks dumb on anyone over the age of thirty. She was right.

  Dervish sits in the visitor's chair and studies me with cool, serious eyes. He's immediately different from all who've come before. Whereas the other relatives were quick to start a false, cheerful conversation, or cry, or say how sorry they were, Dervish just sits and stares. That interests me, so I stare back, more alert than I've been in weeks.

  “Hello,” I say after a full minute of silence.

  Dervish nods in reply.

  I try thinking of a follow-up line. Nothing comes to mind.

  Dervish looks slowly around the room. Stands, walks to the window, gazes out at the rear yard of the institute, then swings back to the door, which Leah left ajar. He pokes his head out, looks left and right. Closes the door. Returns to the chair and sits. Unbuttons the top of his denim jacket. Slides out three sheets of paper. Holds them facedown.

  I sit upright, intrigued but suspicious. Is this some new ploy of the doctors? Have they fed Dervish a fresh set of lines and actions, in an attempt to spark my revival?

  “I hope this isn't a Rorschach test.” I grin weakly. “I've had enough
inkblots to last me a —”

  Dervish turns a sheet over and I stop dead. It's a black-and-white drawing of a large dog with a crocodile's head and human hands.

  “Vein,” Dervish says. He has a soft, lyrical voice.

  I tremble and say nothing in reply.

  He turns over the second sheet. Color this time. A child with green skin. Mouths in its palms. Fire in its eyes. Lice for hair.

  “Artery,” Dervish says.

  “You got the hair wrong,” I mumble. “It should be cockroaches.”

  “Lice, cockroaches, leeches — it changes,” he says, and lays the two sheets down on the floor. He turns over the third. This one's color too. A thin man, lumpy red skin, large red eyes, mangled hands, no feet, a snake-filled hole where his heart should be.

  “The doctors put you up to this,” I moan, averting my eyes. “I told them about the demons. They must have got artists to draw them. Why are you —”

  “You didn't tell them his name,” Dervish cuts me short. He taps the picture. “You said the other two were familiars, and this one was their master — but you never mentioned his name. Do you know it?”

  I think back to those few minutes of insanity in my parents' bedroom. The demon lord didn't say much. Never told me who he was. I open my mouth to answer negatively …

  … then slowly let it close. No — he did reveal his identity. I can't remember when, exactly, but somewhere among the madness there was mention of it. I cast my thoughts back. Zone in on the moment. It was when he asked if I knew why this was happening, if my parents had ever told me the story of —

  “Lord Loss,” Dervish says, a split second before I blurt it out.

  I stare at him … uncertain … terrified … yet somehow excited.

  “I know the demons were real,” Dervish murmurs, picking up the pictures and placing them back inside his jacket, doing up his buttons. He stands. “If you want to come live with me, you can. But you'll have to sort out the mess you're in first. The doctors say you won't respond to their questions. They say they know how to help you, but that you won't let them.”

  “They don't believe me!” I cry. “How can they cure me when they think I'm lying about the demons?”

  “The world's a confusing place,” Dervish says. “I'm sure your parents told you to always tell the truth, and most of the time that's good advice. But sometimes you have to lie.” He comes over and bends, so his face is in mine. “These people want to help you, Grubitsch. And I believe they can. But you're going to have to help them. You'll have to lie, pretend demons don't exist, tell them what they want to hear. You have to give a little to get a little. Once you remove that barrier, they can go to work on fixing your brain, on helping you deal with the grief. Then, when they've done all they can, you can come to me — if that's what you want — and I'll help you with the rest. I can explain about demons. And tell you why your parents and sister died.”

  He leaves.

  Stunned silence. Long days and nights of heavy thinking. Repeating the name of the thin red demon. Lord Loss, Lord Loss, Lord Loss, Lord …

  Torn between hope and fear. Could Dervish be in league with the demons? Mom saying, “I don't trust him.” I'm safe here. Leaving might be an invitation to danger and further sorrow. I won't improve in this place, holding true to my story, defying the doctors and nurses — but I can't be harmed either. Out in the real world, I might have to face demons again. Simpler to stay here and hide.

  One morning I wake from a nightmare. In it, I was at a party, wearing a mask. When I took the mask off, I realized I'd been wearing Gret's face.

  Sitting up in bed. Shaking. Crying. I stare out the window at the world beyond.

  I decide.

  Exercising. Eating sensibly. Putting on weight. Talking directly with my doctors and nurses, answering their questions, letting them into my head, “baring my soul.” I allow them to help me. I work with them. Lie when I have to. Say I saw humans in the room that night. Police come and take my statement. An artist captures my new, realistic, invented impressions of the murderers. My doctors beam proudly and pat my back.

  Weeks pass. With help and lots of hard work, I get better. Dervish was right. Now that I'm working with them, they are able to help me, even if we're progressing on the basis of a lie — that demons aren't real. I weep a lot and learn a lot — how to face my grief, how to confront my fear and control it — and let them guide me out of the darkness, slowly, painfully, but surely.

  In one afternoon session with a therapist, when I judge the time to be right, I make a request. Lots of discussions afterwards. Long debates. Staff meetings. Phone calls. Humming and hawing. Finally they agree. There's a big build-up. Lots of in-depth therapy sessions and heart-to-hearts. Tests galore, to make sure I'm ready, to reassure themselves that they're doing the right thing. They have doubts. They voice them. We talk them through. They decide in my favor.

  The last day. Handshakes and emergency contact numbers from the doctors in case anything goes wrong. Kisses and hugs from my favorite nurses. A card from Leah. Facing the door, a bag on my shoulder with all I have left in the world. Scared sick but determined to see it through.

  I leave the institute on the back of a motorbike. Driving — my rescuer, my lifeline, my hope — Uncle Dervish.

  “Hold on tight,” he says. “Speed limits were made to be broken.”



  DERVISH drives like a madman, a hundred miles an hour. Howling wind. Blurred countryside. No chance to talk or study the scenery. I spend the journey with my face pressed between my uncle's shoulder blades, clinging on for dear life.

  Finally, coming to a small village, he slows. I peek and catch the name on a sign as we exit — Carcery Vale.

  “Carkerry Vale,” I murmur.

  “It's pronounced Car-sherry,” Dervish grunts.

  “This is where you live,” I note, recalling the address from cards I wrote and sent with Mom and Gret. (Mom didn't like Uncle Dervish but she always sent him a Christmas and birthday card.)

  “Actually, I live about two miles beyond,” Dervish says, carefully overtaking a tractor and waving to the driver. “It's pretty lonely out where I am, but there are lots of kids in the village. You can walk in any time you like.”

  “Do they know about me?” I ask.

  “Only that you're an orphan and you're coming to live with me.”

  A winding road. Lots of potholes that Dervish swerves expertly to avoid. The sides of the road are lined with trees. They grow close together, blocking out all but the thinnest slivers of sunlight. Dark and cold. I press closer to Dervish, hugging warmth from him.

  “The trees don't stretch back very far,” he says. “You can skirt around them when you're going to the village.”

  “I'm not afraid,” I mutter.

  “Of course you are,” he chuckles, then looks back quickly. “But you have my word — you've no need to be.”

  Chez Dervish. Three storeys. Three floors. Built from rough white blocks, almost as big as those I've seen in photos of the pyramids. Shaped like an L. The bit sticking out at the end is made from ordinary red bricks and doesn't look like the rest of the house. Lots of timber decorations around the top and down the sides. A slate roof with three enormous chimneys. The roof on the brick section is flat and the chimney's tiny in comparison with the others. The windows on the lower floor run from the ground to the ceiling. The windows on the upper floors are smaller, round, and feature stained-glass designs. On the brick section they're very ordinary.

  “It's not much,” Dervish says wryly, “but it's home.”

  “This place must have cost a fortune!” I gasp, standing close to the motorbike, staring at the house, almost afraid to venture any nearer.

  “Not really,” Dervish says. “It was a wreck when I bought it. No roof or windows, the interior destroyed by exposure to the elements. The lower floor was used by a local farmer to house pigs. I lived in the brick extension for years whil
e I restored the main building. I keep meaning to tear the extension down — I don't use it anymore, and it takes away from the the main structure — but I never seem to get around to it.”

  Dervish removes his helmet, helps me out of mine, then walks me around the outside of the house. He explains about the original architect and how much work he had to do to make the house habitable again, but I don't listen very closely. I'm too busy assessing the mansion and the surrounding terrain — lots of open fields, sheep and cattle in some of them, a small forest to the west that runs all the way to Carcery Vale, no neighboring houses that I can see.

  “Do you live here alone?” I ask as we return to the front of the house.

  “Pretty much,” Dervish says. “One farmer owns most of this land, and he's opposed to over-development. He's old. I guess his children will sell plots off when he dies. But for the last twenty years I've had all the peace and seclusion a man could wish for.”

  “Doesn't it get lonely?” I ask.

  “No,” Dervish says. “I'm fairly solitary by nature. When I'm in need of company, it's only a short stroll to the village. And I travel a lot — I have many friends around the globe.”

  We stop at the giant front doors, a pair of them, like the entrance to a castle. No doorbell — just two chunky gargoyle-shaped knockers, which I eye apprehensively.

  Dervish doesn't open the doors. He's studying me quietly.

  “Have you lost the key?” I ask.

  “We don't have to enter,” he says. “I think you'll grow to love this place after a while, but it's a lot to take in at the start. If you'd prefer, you could stay in the brick extension — it's an eyesore, but cozy inside. Or we can drive to the Vale and you can spend a few nights in a B&B until you get your bearings.”

  It's tempting. If the house is even half as spooky on the inside as it looks from out here, it's going to be hard to adapt to. But if I don't move in now, I'm sure the house will grow far creepier in my imagination than it can ever be in real life.

  “Come on.” I grin weakly, lifting one of the gargoyle knockers and rapping loudly. “We look like a pair of idiots, standing out here. Let's go in.”

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