Authors: Heather L. Reid
PRETTY DARK NOTHING
Heather L. Reid
PRETTY DARK NOTHING is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright ©2013 by Heather L. Reid
Pretty Dark Nothing
All rights reserved. Published in the United States of America by Month9Books, LLC. Month9Books is a registered trademark, and its related logo is a registered trademark of Month9Books, LLC.
Summary: As demons are invading her dreams and whispering of her death, Quinn, and amnesiac Aaron, must find a way to banish the darkness back to the underworld for good. That is, unless the demons kill them first.
ISBN 978-0-9853278-1-1 (tr. pbk) ISBN 978-0-9853278-0-4 (e-Book)
1. children’s. 2. fiction. 3. fantasy. 4. Pretty Dark Nothing. 5. Heather L. Reid. 6. young adult. 7. paranormal. 8. romance.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
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Edited by Courtney Koschel
Cover Design by Mette Breth Designs
Cover Copyright ©2013 by Month9Books
Ebook Formatting by Studio 22 Productions
In loving memory of those who believed in my dream before I even knew how to dream it. For Delia Gibson, Frank and Celia Leinbach, and for Jessie Easley. You may be gone from this world, but your spirits live on within me. I would not be who I am without you.
PRETTY DARK NOTHING
Heather L. Reid
Quinn hadn’t slept a full night in twenty-three days. She couldn’t. Not with them waiting on the dream side.
Shadows lingered in the corners—unhindered by the burning lights—waiting for her to grow careless. She yawned, eyes welling up in an attempt to wash away the boulders that lived beneath the lids. Pressing the headphones against her ears, she upped the volume as high as it would go and let Metal Mania Six shriek her awake. On the offbeat, she banged her head against the antique headboard, a quick pinch of pain to ensure she hadn’t nodded off. She checked the clock on the bedside table for the thousandth time, willing it to race through the remaining minutes until morning. Six-thirty. Half an hour until sunrise
She wasn’t sure she could last that long. Maybe she should rest her eyes, but not long enough to fall sleep. Metal Mania Six wailed a warning as her eyes flickered and shut. The rocking slowed, and then stopped. Quinn slumped to one side.
A creeping cold inched its way across her exposed skin, dotting her flesh with goose bumps. Something dark and sinister pushed against the dead weight of her sleeping body from the other side of the headboard. The wood shuddered and groaned as something evil reached out, searching for the portal that would open with a deep sleep. Quinn’s breath quickened with the thought of what was coming, but it was too late. She was helpless, already suspended in a state of torpor between waking and dreaming and no energy left to fight.
It only took a second for the veil between reality and nightmare to rip. Tendrils of fog splintered through the headboard and coiled around her neck. She screamed, the music screamed. The noose pulled tight, digging into her windpipe, cutting her cry short. She clawed at her throat as the tendrils snaked across her neck and mouth. Whips of fog were everywhere at once, twining around her body, binding her inch-by-inch with living rope. She kicked and flailed, but the fog entombed her.
Dragging Quinn through the splintered void, the fog suspended her in its web across the black abyss of the tunnel below, until, one by one, the tendrils unravelled and dissipated into the walls, leaving gravity to pull her into a long, terrifying free fall. She twisted and tumbled as she fell, hoping this time would be different, that her fingers would find something to stop the descent. But they grasped only air, and the ground rushed to meet her.
Within seconds, she hit the cold, hard earth, knocking the wind out of her. She gasped. The familiar smell of damp and decay warned of where the darkness had taken her.
She stumbled to her feet. Enormous trees stood sentry around a small clearing, their gnarled and twisted trunks mirroring the feeling inside her stomach. Broken patterns of moonlight illuminated a narrow trail across the clearing. Dry leaves littered the forest floor; their brittle veins crunched under her black leather boots as she inched toward the path.
She tried to stay quiet, but her breath came in sharp spasms. Heart hammering against her chest, she glanced over her shoulder, searching for them. They were always there. Perspiration trickled down the small of her back, and she shivered as heavy fog weaved through the maze of trees, devouring the trunks until it blocked the way out. Panic moved from her stomach to feet as she backed into a sturdy oak, its rough bark catching at a strand of long hair.
The dark ring of fog surrounded her, moonlight eerily absorbed by its gray green mist. Something cold and damp brushed her leg. It felt like a human hand, a dead human hand, the moistness of its earthen grave still clung to its rotting flesh. Bile rose in her throat, and she swallowed hard to keep from vomiting. She shuddered as the corporal mist found her palm, inched its way between fingers, and seized both of her wrists, binding them together. Jerking away from the smoke’s grasp only succeeded in it tightening the grip of living rope until pain danced across every nerve.
Before she could blink, two new wraith vines shot from the darkness, grabbing her legs and slamming her to the forest floor. She clawed at the ground as the tendrils dragged her into the fog. Dirt lodged under her fingernails. The earthy decay, disturbed from its winter slumber, filled her nostrils.
“We’re coming for you, Quinn,” the fog hissed.
Earth to earth
. The image of her parents throwing a handful of dirt over her coffin as it was lowered into the ground came unbidden to her mind. Tears slid from her eyes. She didn’t want to die.
More tendrils slithered toward her, swirling and changing into dozens of dark shadow masses. They crowded around, their bodies blacker than the surrounding night.
“You can’t get away. He doesn’t protect you anymore.” The dark shadows reached for her. “There’s no escape, Quinn. Earth to earth. Everyone dies. Some sooner than others.”
“No!” She jolted awake. Three empty cans of Red Bull glimmered beside the bed. Golden-pink light oozed across the butter-yellow walls, painting the room in the warmth of sunrise. Quinn’s MP3 player had shut off during her nap. Her alarm clock screamed, and she fumbled for the off switch. Seven-twenty. She had slept right through it.
Past mornings she would’ve slammed the snooze, but not now. Not after weeks of spending the last hours of nightfall huddled under the covers like a child. The last thing she wanted was to go back to sleep.
Eighteen months ago she started dreaming of dark entities reaching for her from the shadows—the day her father walked out the door never to return. At first she thought they were her unconscious dealing with her loss. They seemed like normal nightmares, the dreams blurred with the light of morning—just dreams. Now they’d turned sinister, their vividness bled into reality, bringing her dread even in the daylight hours, and she had no idea how to stop them.
Pulling out the earbuds, the silence of an empty house washed over her. In response, she flicked her MP3 player to her favorite morning radio station and popped it into the dock. “XTRM extreme music. All your favorite hits, all the time. And now, here’s Skipping Zombies’ new hit,
Quinn slipped one foot from under the covers and let it hover just above the dark space between the mattress and the floor. She chewed her bottom lip and willed herself to dip a toe into the shadow, slowly extending her leg until it met the ground. She waited. Nothing grabbed it from the recess of the bed to drag her through the dark cracks. The floor creaked as she placed her full weight onto the solid wood boards. She kept her back to the lighted window and eyes to the softly shadowed side of the room.
She turned the radio up another notch, letting the music drown out her fears, and unfolded her other leg from the tangle of covers until sunlight spilled across her bare feet, the light charging her with courage.
Quinn’s Westland High cheerleading uniform hung on the back of the closet door, fresh from the cleaners. The shiny plastic film a mocking reminder that she remained benched, forced to watch from the sidelines while Kerstin stalked the vacant captain’s position like she stalked Quinn’s boyfriend, Jeff.
Not caring if it wrinkled, she shoved the uniform into the back of her closet and grabbed a gray, long-sleeved v-neck tee from a hanger. She dressed in her favorite dark skinny jeans and paired it with a deep-purple scarf. A melancholy outfit to match her mood.
She headed for the bay window that overlooked the garden, clicked the latch on the middle pane, and pushed it up. The chilled October air smelled of fresh cut grass, and she closed her eyes as the morning sun spilled in and kissed her face.
When a passing cloud blotted the sun, Quinn shivered and whirled around, scanning the room for dark visitors. A gust of wind caught at the curtains, and she reached behind, feeling for the top of the pane, fumbling it shut. The room went still. Too still. A shadow the size of a small child crouched in the corner between the bed and the nightstand. Its edges quivered in the nonexistent breeze. Turning its smoky head, it looked at her with ink filled eyes. Quinn inched back until her hip hit the lip of the windowsill. As the light re-emerged, it burned through the black being, leaving no evidence it ever existed. She blinked twice. Shadows and nothing more. Her tired eyes playing tricks.
A pair of black boots peeked at her from under the bed. She inched forward, kicking the boots into the light, and bent to pick them up. A dead leaf clung to one of the soles. She pulled it free and brought it to her nose. It smelled musty and damp, fresh from an autumn walk in the woods.
Earth to earth
. Hands shaking, she dropped the leaf, snatched one of her boots, and hammered its heel onto the golden frond until it disintegrated into brown dust.
“Leave. Me. Alone.” She snarled each word with every strike.
Her cell vibrated, dancing off the nightstand and onto the floor, startling her. Three deep breaths calmed her jitters. Grabbing the phone, she sat on her knees and checked the new text message that flashed on the screen.
HAD 2 GO 2 WORK EARLY AGAIN. MORE PROBS WITH THE BUILD DESIGN. THERE’S $ ON THE COUNTER FOR PIZZA 2NITE. DON’T W8^. I’LL BE L8. LUV U. HAVE A GR8 DAY @ SCHOOL. X :-)
Mom’s texts reeked of text speak lists posted on parents’ websites, like how2comunic8withyourteen.com. Quinn brought up the touch screen keypad.
THANKS, MOM. SEE YOU TOMORROW.
DON’T WORK TOO HARD. LOVE YOU.
She shoved the phone in her pocket, got up, and dusted herself off. Time to stop jumping at shadows and get her ass in gear, or she would be late for school, and she hated being late. Peering around the corner, she took a deep breath and stepped into the pool of amber light illuminating the hallway. The dark hole of the bathroom doorway lay ten feet to the right. She pressed her back against the wall and eased down the corridor until her shoulder butted the doorframe. The light switch was just inside the inky room. Hugging the corner, she reached for the switch and jerked her hand back to safety as the light flickered and brightened.
Chin high, she pushed her unease to one side and stepped into the room. Quinn spoke to her reflection in her favorite fake, posh-English accent. “Alive is the new undead, darling. You’ll never make it through the day looking like a character from a horror movie.” She giggled, watching the empty space behind her reflection to make sure she remained alone. “God, no wonder you’ve been benched. You sound deranged and look pale as a vampire. And let’s face it, vampires are soooo last year. Let’s try to look legit with some help from a little wave of my magic wand.” Quinn twirled the concealer pencil in the air before dabbing it on her dark circles. She added a little blush, some mascara, and pink lip-gloss, and then smacked her lips. “Better.”