Authors: Amy Cross
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Epic, #Coming of Age
by Amy Cross
Copyright Amy Cross
All Rights Reserved
Published by Dark Season Books
First edition: June 2013
This edition: August 2013
With thanks to Linda Hare
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment. If you enjoy it and wish to share it with others, please consider buying them their own copy. Feedback is always welcome. The author reserves all rights in respect of this work.
ALSO BY AMY CROSS
The Vampire's Grave
The Night Girl
Fantasy / Horror
Dark Season series 1
Dark Season series 2
Dark Season series 3
Lupine Howl series 1
Lupine Howl series 2
Lupine Howl series 3
Mass Extinction Event series 1
Table of Contents
4: Comes a War
Into the Library part 1
He runs through the night, not even stopping to pull the arrows from his back. All he knows is that he must get away. If he stops for a moment, if he even slows, he'll be picked off and destroyed. His only chance is to get to the gate and escape from the library, but his heavy armor is slowing him down and he knows that his pursuers will not stop until they've dragged him down to his death. He knows his cause is futile, even before he begins to stumble. He knows death has finally come for his soul.
Reaching an intersection, he turns right and makes for what he hopes will be the southern wall. In truth, however, he's hopelessly lost: after running all night, every aisle looks the same, and he knows that his fate is now a matter of pure luck. If he can find the wall, and then a gate, he might be able to escape; if not, he will surely die as soon as they catch up and begin their cruel harvest. All he -
Suddenly he feels them. He runs a little further, but the burning sensation is getting worse with every step. As his legs start to give way, he falls to the ground and lets out a gasp of pain. They're already inside his armor, burrowing through his skin as they consume him. He can feel them everywhere: in his heart; in his belly; in his head; in his eyes and mouth; even wriggling beneath his skin, multiplying new generation upon new generation every few seconds. He can also feel that one of them is much bigger than the others, and this is the one that has taken up residence in the center of his chest.
In his heart.
Leaning against the shelves and gasping as the pain spreads throughout his body, he realizes that his final moment has come. There is nowhere else to go. There are no gods left who might hear his prayers; there were gods in the Library once, but they have been turned inside out and replaced by cruel new masters. As he gives up the fight, he lets his head drop, and the visor slides shut over his face. For a few more minutes, he has to sit and wait for the sanctuary of death; suddenly, after what feels like an eternity, the pain simply stops, and everything falls silent.
His heart is dead. As his consciousness fades to nothing, the very last thing he hears is a distant rattle getting closer from up above, before the armor is ripped open and his remaining flesh is scooped out and dragged into the shadows.
Later, and somewhere else...
I don't think it's possible to sleep upside down. After all, I'm a girl, not a bat. But if this doesn't work, I'm screwed.
Hanging by my knees from the top of my bedroom door, I start to lose all hope. After all, I've tried every conceivable position: on my front; on my back; on my sides with my legs straight; on my sides with my legs bent up; sideways; on the floor; standing up in the corner of the room, with (and then without) a pillow propped behind my head; on the sofa downstairs; on the porch; in the bath; next to the bath; under the bath (it's one of those old, free-standing baths with good clearance); in the garden on the grass; in the garden on the garden path; in the garden in the flowerbed; in the greenhouse; in the shed; in the fireplace; on the kitchen counter; in the dog's bed; in the cat's bed; I've even tried sleeping on one of the bookshelves in my father's office. Nothing has worked. Nothing. Unless I fancy climbing out my bedroom window and trying to sleep on the roof, I have no more options left. Now it's 2am on Thursday morning and I'm hanging like a bat in my room, but it's no use. I can't sleep like this. My last option has failed.
Sighing, I unhook my knees from the top of the door and drop silently onto the mattress I thoughtfully left on the floor. It seems I'm doomed to be sleepless forever. Totally and irrevocably doomed.
Did I mention that I'm doomed?
It's been a week since we moved to this new house, and a month since my operation, and a million years since I first got sick. Everyone says I'm over the worst of it: I've had the operation, I'm fixed now, and I'm on the road to recovery. Recovery. Now there's a funny, nonsensical word. The doctors measure my recovery using numbers and charts; they point to my reduced CRP levels and they say I
be getting better. They seem so sure of themselves, but I don't feel like I'm getting better. I feel the same as ever, except for one thing. I can't bend over.
Still, you'd think I'd have managed to get some decent shut-eye, but nothing gives. It's as if some bored god has decided to make it his life's work to keep me awake forever. Granted, I've managed a few minutes here and there, and last Friday I actually managed to sleep for an uninterrupted forty-five minutes. I've never had this problem before; in our old house, I used to sleep like a rock. Frankly, if anything, I probably used to sleep
much: I could easily clear fourteen or fifteen hours if I wasn't disturbed, whereas these days I'm lucky if I can get more than ninety minutes. I can't decide if the problem is my back, or the new house, or the stress of taking a year out of college to recover from my surgery, or a big mixture of all those things. Or maybe it's this: maybe my inability to sleep has become a self-fulfilling prophecy; I can only sleep once I stop thinking about sleeping, but I can't stop thinking about sleeping, because I'm so tired! I'm trapped in this vicious circle, with no hope of ever escaping.
There's one thing I know for certain, though: life would be easier if I didn't have this damn scar on my back. It's been six weeks since the operation, but sometimes - usually at night - the scar feels a little more tender than usual, and it itches like crazy. Dr. Martindale warned me that this might happen, but he insisted the sensation should eventually pass. How long, exactly, is 'eventually' supposed to take? I guess I can't complain too much; at least I can finally stand up straight. I spent three years suffering from worsening scoliosis, as my spine began to curve more and more, like an old, overgrown fingernail; now that I've got a metal rod screwed to the bone, I'm straight as a pole. In fact, I'm almost too straight, since I can't bend or slouch my back at all. I know things are better this way, but I wish I could sleep properly. Just one uninterrupted night... bliss...
Wandering over to my bedroom door, I lean out into the hallway and immediately hear my father's mocking snores. He never used to snore. Or maybe he did; I don't know, because I was never awake during the night, so I never knew whether
was snoring. Still, until I developed this insomnia, I never heard my father snore once; lately, though, he's started to sound like a foghorn. It's as if he's taken snoring up as a habit purely so that he can gloat over how easily he sleeps, and to remind me what I'm missing. My mother, meanwhile, has resorted to using earplugs, and now she seems able to sleep quite happily alongside him. I'm the only one out of the three of us who's having any problems at all. As I walk along the landing and head downstairs, I realize this might be a permanent thing: what if I never, ever get a good night's sleep again? What if I'm stuck like this for the rest of eternity, doomed to wander the moonlit house at night? It's official: I'm cursed.
Heading into my father's study, I kneel next to the box of books we recently received from my uncle Arthur: two weeks ago, Arthur was killed in a freak accident at the local university. A librarian of many years' good standing, Arthur was re-stacking some journals in the reference section when the sliding shelves malfunctioned, snapping shut and squashing poor Arthur. It was a pretty hideous mess, by all accounts, and apparently they had to throw away a number of very valuable old maps that had been completely soaked in Arthur's blood and guts. An official investigation concluded that there was no obvious cause for the accident; the shelves have apparently been checked a gazillion times, and the accident simply can't be replicated. Their final report listed the cause of death as an accident. The only thing that's certain about the whole thing is that Arthur is, indeed, dead. He didn't have many possessions, but he left my father a box of old books. At first, my father was very excited, but when he got the books valued he was told that although they're rare, they're worthless. Tonight, however, I feel like reading something, and Arthur's box of books is as good a place as any to start.
"A History of the Soldiers of Tea," I read aloud as I pick up the first book. Holding the spine with one hand, I use the other to absent-mindedly scratch at my scar; after a moment, I stop scratching, mindful of Dr. Martindale's warning about meddling with the healing process. Flicking through the book, I find that it's full of huge, sprawling paragraphs of very small text, interspersed with illustrations that seem to show the maneuvers of two armies. Setting the book aside, I pick up the next. "The King of May, June and Half of October?" I flick through the pages and find that it seems to be some kind of autobiography. The next book is titled 'The Lives of the Forbidders' and is equally dense and uninspiring. Finally, after sorting through a few more books, I come to a small paperback hidden at the bottom of the box. "Claire's Big Mistake," I say as I wipe some dust from the cover. Huh; a book all about me! After flicking through the pages and finding that it seems to be some kind of novel, I decide I might as well give it a go; I put all the other books away, and then traipse back through the dark house until finally I reach my bedroom.
'Claire's Big Mistake' turns out to be a pretty turgid read. It starts out as the story of some kind of gardener who wants to build a maze, but he can't get permission from the land-owner and... Well, to be honest, my attention kind of wanders after a few pages and - miracle of miracles - I find myself feeling a little tired. Determined not to get too excited too soon, I read on a little further, as the book starts relating the gardener's attempts to seduce the land-owner's wife. Pretty soon, I'm struggling to stay awake, but I'm determined to keep going; if I allow myself to fall asleep too soon, I'll probably wake up an hour or so later. Eventually I resort to holding my right eye open with my fingers, reading on and on as the interminable novel keeps going but shows no sign of getting to any kind of point. By the hundredth page, the gardener seems no closer to his goal. Frankly, I've never been so bored, but it works: I can keep going no longer, and my head droops.
Suddenly I look up. For a moment, I thought I heard something, but the room seems to be completely quiet. At first, I assume I was asleep for only a couple of seconds, but when I glance at the clock I see that it's almost 5am. I just slept for the best part of three hours, which is a new record for this house. 'Claire's Big Mistake' is still resting on my lap, but I can't handle the thought of reading another sentence. Feeling kind of sleepy still, I place the book on the bedside table and roll onto my side. For the first time in ages, I'm actually feeling pretty tired, and I'm hopeful that I might be able to make it until 8am. If that happens, I'll have struck a small but important victory in the battle against my own insomnia. Taking a series of deep breaths in an attempt to slow my body to a crawl, I start to close my eyes.
There it is again! I look up, but still there's nothing in the room. Glancing about, I start to feel pretty stupid. I'm finally on the verge of sleep, and now my mind is playing tricks on me. Damn it, I just have to focus. Staring at the book on the bedside table, I pause to once again calm my mind, and slowly my eyes start to close -
And then I see it.
There's a hand. A small hand, the size of a bird's hand if birds had hands. But definitely a hand.
Moving very, very slowly, this hand is reaching up from under the bed, making its way inch by inch toward the book. At first, I assume I must be imagining things; after all, the room is fairly dark and it's easy to be fooled by shadows. Nevertheless, as I keep staring at it, the hand - and it really, truly, definitely
a hand, albeit rather small and with a greenish tint - continues to creep closer to the book. Eventually the fingers brush against the spine, and slowly the hand starts sliding the book toward the edge of the bedside table, accompanied by some kind of muttering sound from below.
Wide awake now, with my heart pounding in my chest, I pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming. With the pinch having no effect other than pain, I carefully roll to the other side of the bed and lean down to take a look underneath. To my shock, I see that there's a small figure crouching on the other side of the bed, reaching up to take the book. It's pretty dark in here, but he looks to be little more than a round blob with arms and legs, wearing some kind of metal helmet from which two large, bulbous eyes protrude. As I stare, his pupils slowly turn to look at me and we stare at each other for a few seconds.
"Don't mind me," he says suddenly, his voice sounding surprisingly high-pitched. "You're dreaming."
I continue to stare at him.
"I'll be off," he continues, finally pulling the book down and stuffing it into a small bag at his side. "It was nice meeting you. Remember: this was all a dream!" He turns and drags the bag across the floor, before turning back to me and waving one of his little hands in the air, like a magician trying to fool an innocent member of his audience. "All a dream!" he coos again, and with that he hurries out of the room.
After a few seconds of incredulity, I get off the bed and follow him out into the hallway. The light out here is a little better, and now I can see that this 'man' is not a man at all: he's only a couple of feet tall, with a round body and thin, spindly arms and legs; he seems to be wearing some kind of dented bronze helmet, which opens at the front to reveal his two large eyes and a wide mouth. I watch as he drags the bag toward the top of the stairs, and it's pretty clear that he's struggling with the weight. Finally, he turns back to me and frowns.
"I told you," he hisses, "you're asleep! Now go back to bed!" With that, he starts lugging the bag down the stairs, one step at a time.
After pinching my arm again, just to be certain that I'm not dreaming, I walk to the top of the stairs and watch as he continues to make his way to the hallway below. As my father continues to snore in the distance, I slowly creep downstairs and watch the strange little figure drag his bag into the office. After a couple of seconds, he pops his head back out into the hallway and stares up at me.
"Go to sleep!" he hisses, before ducking back out of sight.
I open my mouth to reply, but no words come out. I simply can't work out what I'm supposed to say in a situation like this. Walking slowly to the office door, I peer inside and see that the little creature is taking the books from Arthur's box and placing them one-by-one into his bag. After a moment, he glances up at me and sighs.
"What do you want?" he asks, keeping his voice low. "You're dreaming. None of this is real!"
I reach over and flick the light switch. The overhead light flickers on, and finally I can get a good look at the creature. Apart from the obvious things that I noticed earlier - his small size; his round shape; the metal helmet protecting most of his head - the most striking aspect is that he appears to be naked. Not only can I see the yellowy-gray skin that covers his entire body, but I can even see - dangling between his legs - a very small worm of skin that I can only assume is his penis.
"My eyes are up here," he says, clearing his throat.
"Sorry," I mutter.
"Now go back to bed. You're dreaming this. I'm not real."
I shake my head. "I'm not dreaming."
"Yes you are," he says firmly. "You're fast asleep. Now go back to bed where you belong."
"I'm not dreaming," I insist. "I know when I'm dreaming. When I'm dreaming, my teeth are falling out or I'm walking naked through the middle of town. That's the kind of thing I dream about. Besides -" I pinch my arm again. "See? I'm really not dreaming."
"Yes," he replies, narrowing his eyes a little. "You really are."
"No," I say. "I'm really not."