Authors: Jo Schneider
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Copyright © 2014 by Jo Ann Schneider
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior permission of the publisher.
For information on subsidiary rights, please contact the publisher at [email protected] For information, please visit our website at www.jollyfishpress.com, or write us at
Jolly Fish Press,
PO Box 1773, Provo, UT 84603-1773.
For Mom, who took me to the creaky, stuffy bookmobile once a week in the summers to feed my story addiction.
This poor book went through more revisions than a girl’s hair before a first date with the hottest guy around. If not for a few key people, this novel would still be floating around on my computer, in the “I don’t want to talk about it” folder.
First off, I must acknowledge PD, my mean editor. Without her, my characters would be contradicting themselves every three pages. So you should thank her as well. And trust me, I don’t use the term “mean” lightly here.
There are a slew of writing buddies that deserve a shout-out, including: The Accidental Metaphores and the 3-Million Group. Jane and Taryn specifically smacked me around when I needed it.
Also, there are the dozen or so troopers who read revisions of
three or four times. You know who you are, guys. Call me, I still owe most of you dinner.
My family may or may not have had something to do with me becoming a writer. I think they secretly want me to become rich off my writing job so I can support all of them in their old age. I’m down with that. Love you guys!
Of course, a big thanks to the gang at Jolly Fish Press, who apparently found
appalling and interesting enough to keep reading. I’m so glad we can be friends! (We are friends, right?)
I suppose I should be grateful for my boring drive home from work, in which the idea for
leapt down from the heavens and implanted itself in my brain. Still not sure if that’s healthy, but there you go.
chose to dwell on the peeling corner of the flowered wallpaper instead of why she sat imprisoned in the psych ward. Yet another tear balled in the corner of her good eye. She rubbed her cheek on her shoulder, expanding the already dark, damp spot on her pink hospital gown. Closing her eye, Lys took a breath, allowing the drugs the doctors gave her to do their job and keep her numb. She preferred the feeling of floating on the ocean, gently bobbing over the waves, to facing the fear, pain, and horror of the last week.
It didn’t help.
Another tear came, and she tried to wipe it away, but the Velcro straps that bound her wrists to the bed stopped her. Red, raw rings circled her arms where the straps bit into her skin despite the padding around the edges, and each time she moved, she felt the unforgiving plastic dig in deeper, as if they meant to latch onto her bones. Out of spite, she jerked her arms around. The pulling didn’t help, but she did it anyway. She knew she should be grateful—restrained, she couldn’t hurt anyone else. But somehow that knowledge didn’t make being tied down like a caged animal any easier to bear.
The door to her mental ward opened with a squeak.
Lys turned her head to see her dad walk in. Wrinkles covered his usually immaculate suit, his tie hung loosely around his neck. His dark hair poked out as if he’d been running his hands through it. “How’s my little girl?” he asked, scratching the stubble on his chin.
She raised an eyebrow. “Little girl?”
“Well, I can’t call you old,” he said. “That would make me ancient.”
ancient,” Lys teased, more out of habit than actual humor. She didn’t feel much like laughing at the moment.
“The ingratitude,” he said, waggling a finger. Lys noticed that he left plenty of space between them.
She tried to ignore it. “Teenagers,” Lys said, shaking her head in sympathy. The grin on her dad’s face grew more natural, less forced. His eyes held sympathy and love. Two emotions Lys knew she didn’t deserve.
Her insides churned, and Lys averted her gaze—she didn’t mean to look at her father’s eyes, but she felt drawn to them like moths to a flame. Even though she knew it was a bad idea, even though she knew it would lead to the Need which would lead to her trying to rip someone else’s eyes out.
She didn’t want to think about that. “So, what’s a nice guy like you doing in a place like this?” she asked, focusing on the gold chain of his tie tack.
The top half of him leaned forward, as if to move, but his legs remained riveted in place. She saw his chest rise and fall with the intake of a breath before he walked over and pulled a tissue from the box on the bedside table. “I heard they have killer food here.” He sat down in a chair, and after another breath, he slowly reached out toward her face and dabbed her tears away. “Do you have any recommendations?”
Lys held perfectly still, afraid that she might frighten him away. He hadn’t been this close since she’d arrived. “Well, I’d have to say the green Jell-O. I just can’t help myself—you know what it does to me.” The words came out clunky.
This elicited a small snort. “And here I thought it might be the peanut butter bars.”
“They only give you those if you’re good.” The tight ball in her chest unraveled a tiny bit. Lys didn’t think that having to be physically restrained qualified her as being good, but having her dad sit next to her allowed a tiny ray of hope through her despair. Hope that couldn’t last. Would she ever get to leave this room again?
“This sucks,” she whispered.
He nodded. “Yeah, it does.”
Why was this happening to her? She’d been living her life—shopping, hanging out with her friends, going to high school
—and then she’d . . . what? Gone crazy? Psychotic? Berserk? Reason told her she was crazy, but if she was crazy, could she trust reason?
“Honey.” He put his hand on her forehead, his fingers trembling slightly. “Honey, look at me.” His voice was serious. “Please, Lys, we need to talk.”
Lys shifted her gaze to the wall where she caught a glimpse of her long, dark hair and pale face in the mirror. She glared at herself. “I’m tired of talking.”
“I know.” Her dad hesitated. “But things have changed. There’s a man in the other room. He says he might be able to help you.”
“Another doctor?” Lys asked. She’d had about as much as she could take from them.
“No,” he said. “They still don’t know what’s going on.” Pain laced his voice. “But this man says he knows what happened to you.”
“How can he?” Lys whispered. Fear gripped her heart, and Lys didn’t know if she’d ever be herself again. If she could ever look at her mom without remembering the euphoria that filled Lys when she attacked her.
“I don’t know.” Her dad sat forward in the chair, rubbing his hands together. He paused before letting out a deep sigh. “But you know what I say about gentlemen callers.”
The words jerked her out of the stifling despair and back into herself. “Dad.” Lys managed an eye roll. “Seriously? Have you seen the doctors in this place?”
He held up a finger. “Never turn one down just because you don’t like his shoes.”
She couldn’t help herself—a smile creased her lips. She almost felt normal. “Does he really have bad shoes? Because you know how I feel about that and missing teeth.”
Her dad shrugged. “His teeth looked intact. Not sure about the shoes; your mother buys mine.”
The mere mention of her mother caused her heart to drop into her stomach. The image of her mom, clutching her bloody face and screaming would never fade. Ever. At least her mother would keep her eye.
Her dad pressed on. “His name is Jeremiah Mason. He says you emailed him a few weeks ago, and came by to see if he could talk to you.”
Lys frowned. “I emailed him?” She shook her head, trying to clear away the cobwebs. When had she emailed a man she didn’t know?
“Something about a research project based on addiction?”
Furrowing her brow, Lys tried to think. She couldn’t remember emailing anyone. But huge chunks of this past week were mired in dark fog. She shook her head. “I don’t remember.”
“He says he can help.”
Could he help her, or was he just another person to tell her sad tale to? Lys didn’t want to hope. Hope bred nice thoughts, which led to her wondering if she might have a normal life again. Would she ever be able to meet her father’s eyes, or anyone’s for that matter, without having the Need to rip them out rise up in her like a storm?
He went on. “I’ve called everyone I know, trying to see if they can tell me what happened to you.” Their eyes met—Lys’s gaze drawn to his. “Mr. Mason called the house yesterday, and he says he can help. He is the
person who has said he can help.”
Lys had to look away. She found herself struggling against her bonds. Her fingers flexed, itching to reach up and encircle his eye and take it for her own. They came out easy, once you got behind the . . . No! Not her dad. She would
hurt him. She managed to swivel her head toward the camera in the corner. Was this Mr. Mason observing her from the other room? Watching her? The thought made Lys struggle harder. How dare he look at her! She should be the one to see everything. She should be looking, not him.
The thought was absurd, and Lys knew it. That didn’t stop her from thinking it—
it. She gritted her teeth and took a breath, once again imagining the ocean.
Lys’s dad waited until she stopped struggling. “You don’t have to talk to him.”
“Dad,” Lys said, swallowing hard. “Everyone thinks I’m crazy. And I’m starting to believe them. I don’t want to hear it from anyone else.”
“Oh, honey.” Her dad reached out to put his arms around her.
“No!” Lys cried. She recoiled from the advance like a magnet pushing off another magnet. He couldn’t be that close, even if she longed for him to be. Sitting in this room for days had given her too much time to think. If he got closer, Lys knew she would try for his eyes. Her dad stopped. “Don’t, please,” she said.
He sat back, reaching out to hold her twitching hand, his fingers rubbing hers. “Mr. Mason specifically said that he thinks there is another explanation—something the doctors don’t know about.”
“Like what?” Lys asked, her mind going through the possibilities they’d already presented:
schizophrenia, a psychotic disorder, acute anxiety, post-traumatic stress something, or other . . .
“I don’t know. He said he wanted to speak with you before he would tell me.”
Lys pulled on her restraints again. How could she go on like this? Strapped down to a hospital bed, never knowing when she would be consumed by the Need. This was no life; she was dead already. If this Mr. Mason could help her, if he could do anything at all that would make life go back to normal, she would speak to him. She had to.
“I’ll talk to him,” she whispered. “Good,” he said. “But if he makes you uncomfortable at all, give me a nod. I’ll be in the observation room.”
“We’re going to get through this.” He gave her hand one last, steady squeeze.
Lys watched her dad retreat through door, leaving her alone in her prison. For the hundredth time, she glanced around the small room. It looked more like an apartment than a mental ward, no doubt in an attempt to make the chained-down patients feel “at home.”
Unfortunately her room at home didn’t contain paintings of puppies, cheap linoleum floors, badly hung wallpaper, or harsh, fluorescent lighting. Nor did it smell like thinly disguised ammonia. She really missed her own bed.
While she mused, Mr. Mason came through the door. Tall and thin, he wore an expensive suit, much like the kind her dad usually bought. He strode toward her with confidence in his steps. This man looked a little older than her dad, maybe fifty or so. Lys tried to keep her gaze down, but it wouldn’t obey. Her eye met his—they were an aquamarine color that reminded Lys of turquoise. The white skin in the crow’s feet around his eyes provided a stark contrast against his tan face. The smell of pine came with him. Maybe they’d just cleaned the hallway.
“Lysandra?” he asked, smiling. “I’m Jeremiah Mason.” He sat down in the chair next to the bed.
She struggled to pull her eye away from his face as he studied her. He didn’t have a notebook like most of the doctors had, and he didn’t look at her like a complicated puzzle to be solved. No, he wore a different expression on his face. Curiosity. And he didn’t hesitate to meet her eye. Surely they’d warned him not to.
Ripping her gaze away, she spoke. “Everybody calls me Lys, like bliss,” she said.
He nodded. “Lys, I run a facility that may be able to help you. I’m going to need to ask you a few unusual questions.”
“No one else is listening, I’ve asked them to turn off the sound in the observation room, and I won’t tell anyone what you tell me.” He leaned forward, talking slowly. “But if you’re not honest with me, I won’t be able to help you. Can you do that for me?” His low voice grated on Lys’s nerves.
“Sure,” Lys muttered. She kept her gaze on her knees. She didn’t like being talked to like she was ten. Her parents never talked to her like that, even when she was ten. Maybe this guy would be worse than the doctors.
“Good.” He put his elbows on his knees and clasped his hands together. “Have you ever had an out of body experience?”
Lys blinked. “No.” What kind of facility did this guy run?
“What about hallucinations or demonstrating more-than-
average feats of strength?”
Mason nodded, and an “I don’t believe you” tone came out in his words. “Do you use drugs or alcohol excessively?”
“No.” She wanted to mention that she didn’t dress up in costume and run around her neighborhood either, but he didn’t give her the chance.
“You need to be honest with me, Lys. Your parents told me that addiction runs in your family.” She felt Mr. Mason’s eyes boring into her skull.
“No,” Lys snapped. She’d endured too many stories about her Aunt Dell’s fall into addiction and subsequent death to get heavily involved with either drugs or alcohol.
“Is there anything that you haven’t told your parents about what happened? Anything at all?”
“No!” Lys yelled this time. Angry, she turned to look at him. Mr. Mason smiled. His eyes were that strange aquamarine color, and simply having them look at her made Lys feel the Need.
Reason shut down, and her whole body started to tremble—full of explosive energy that would only be released if she did one thing. Her hands struggled against their bonds, and in her mind, she begged him to come closer. It would only take a moment. She could do it with her teeth.
He watched her, not flinching away as she lunged for him, her face just inches shy of her target.
Rage boiled up inside, and she took in a great gulp of air so she could scream, but the scream didn’t come. Instead she choked down the pine scent from the hall. It caught in her throat and broke the spell. She coughed and gagged, the feeling that she might vomit,1 interrupting the Need.
She took another breath and sat back, trying not to throw up.
“Tell me about this unnatural appetite that drove you to attack your mother.”
Appetite? Lys clutched at the sheets on her bed, balling them up in her fists. She didn’t answer. How did he know?
“When did it begin?” Mr. Mason asked.
The words spilled out before she could stop them—like he pulled them out of her. “Not until I ripped the eyes out of a frog in science class.”
The scene would forever be burned into her conscious like a brand on a cow. She could still taste the formaldehyde fumes that came off the frog. The flickering light in the corner above the
desk, the squeak of Billy’s sneakers on the linoleum floors—it was all still in her mind’s eye.
One second the frog was lying there, cut open, and the next Lys could have sworn it was staring up at her, watching her. For some reason this infuriated her. Lys had never felt anger like that before. She’d never wanted to hurt something so badly.