AS PROMISED, here is another excerpt from
The Shelf 2: Cursed (the prologue this time). Enjoy!
3 months after THE ordeal….
It was amazing how different the world seemed when someone hadn’t seen it for a while. Things that she would have previously found exciting and engaging, she now found loud and over-the-top. Stylish clothes were either too restrictive and stifling, or too thin and revealing. Even her friends’ jokes (when she did see them) weren’t funny; they were sad and edged with double meanings.
“Leticia’s House of the Occult,” Bri Brewley read aloud as she stared up at the garish store in front of her. A man passing on the sidewalk gave her an irritated glare as if she took up too much of the pavement, before continuing to chat on his cell. Rolling her eyes at his retreating figure, Bri smirked.
“Bet I don’t need a fortune-teller to see that you’re a jerk.”
That might be true, but she did need the services of the fortune-teller inside this occultist shop. Normally, Bri would have cringed to even enter a place like this, but she was desperate. At this point, she would take any help she could get. Except for Korey’s.
It was his fault that she was in this mess to begin with.
It was just after three in the afternoon, and Bri still wore the drab outfit that she’d gone to school in: sweats, sneakers, long-sleeved t-shirt. Somehow, she felt as if the loose clothing helped form a barrier between her and the rest of the world, and most especially, from things not-of-the world.
A chill ran along her spine as she raised her hand to knock on the door, a dark slab of wood with intricate carvings cut into the center. ‘What am I doing here?’ she wondered. The strange shop was downright creepy. When she’d looked up fortune-tellers online, the website had only listed the downtown address. It hadn’t said anything about the place being creep central. Either side of the door had a long, narrow window, but one was completely boarded over. The other was filled with what looked to be a thick sheet of cobwebs, and Bri grimaced until she realized that it was actually a very heavy lace curtain.
Normally, at a time like this, her heart would be beating out of her chest with terror. “Well, that’s exactly the freakin’ problem now, isn’t it?” she muttered, before closing her fist and thumping resolutely on the door.
Bri leaned in to inspect the window closer. “With spiders crawling on it….ugh.” No wonder she’d mistaken the curtain for cobwebs. “All right, kiddo. You got one last chance to back out and get the heck out of here.” Her feet, for sure, were completely ready to jet and if she could just convince her brain to….
A memory of the demon’s red eyes washed over her. ‘I will release you if you bring me the blood of an immortal,’ the thing had said. Against her will, fear spread through her muscles, immobilizing her in front of the shop. She couldn’t leave now; she had to stay, go inside, and ask this fortune-teller to help release her from this terrible curse that she suddenly found herself in.
The curse of being a Descendant. Just like Korey. Just like Aeryal, who had been killed by the curse.
At the time, Bri didn’t have a clue that demons, immortals, or heck even ‘Descendants’ existed, so she’d refused to help the demon. It had taken the horrible experience of Rikgso, a demon with a hit list and huge, hideous claws, to reach into her chest and literally steal her heart, before she’d believed.
‘In case you decide to play games with me,’ Rikgso had intoned. In other words, he was holding something she needed in the worst way, to make sure that she brought him what he wanted. An immortal.
This time when she pounded on the door, there was more urgency in it. The sound echoed hollowly, as if there was nothing at all on the other side. Bri envisioned a dark, cavernous maw behind the door, one that would suck her, and the street behind her, inside.
“Immortal,” she whispered, still lost in the horror that had occurred three months back. It had only taken Rikgso to start attacking Bri too, for her to start believing in the curse that had killed her best friend. She and Korey working together had defeated Rikgso, at least they’d thought they had, to escape. Bri sighed, thinking about how complicated her life was.
Of course, she had NOT known that sexy seventeen-year old Korey Parsons was an immortal when they had kissed. Immortal as in… UNABLE TO DIE. The very same being that Rikgso-the-demon wanted. She’d just thought that he was a new guy at school, one that somehow saw through the fakeness of her other friends and liked her instead.
And now that she was in love with him (yes, she admitted it!), there was no way she would give his blood to Rikgso. There was no way of trusting what the malicious demon would do with it. Even if that meant she would die and he wouldn’t. And what really rankled her about the whole situation, was that it hadn’t been her destiny. Bri had inherited the curse from Aeryal. She sighed.
The door suddenly swung open. A huge gorilla of a man stood on the other side. His body filled the doorway, blocking the view of inside. Everything was red on him; the course hair that blanketed his face, his skin ruddy and stretched over bulging muscles, and even his eyes that were supposed to be white, were tinged red at the edges. Not his pupils though, they were dark and black like marbles.
When those red-ringed, black eyes focused on Bri, she knelt as if evil had just settled on her shoulders. She froze.
The man inclined his head, waiting. Bri’s lips moved, but nothing came out.
“Generally, when people seek the advice of the lady Leticia, they have a reason.” He didn’t smile as he spoke, if anything he looked even more menacing, yet Bri caught a mocking undertone. So she buried her fear with a deep swallow and frowned.
Fighting to keep a tremble out of her voice, she began, “I need to see her. Um… Leticia? Is she in?”
One bushy red eyebrow lifted. “Leticia is always in. Whether you need to see her is debatable, and she will be the judge of that. You may come.” He took one step backward, freeing a mere foot of space in the hallway that had appeared behind him and indicated that Bri should enter. Though she had seriously doubts about whether she could actually fit in the tiny space he’d vacated, and she had no interest in crushed between gorilla and wall, she stepped into the shop.
Squeezing through the hall to pass the gorilla-man, Bri looked around. There was a faint thump as her escort shut the door behind her.
“Walk forward,” he instructed from behind her. “Leticia awaits.”
Unnerved by having the huge man behind her, Bri walked quickly down the hall. The sooner she spoke with this Leticia woman and got out of there, the better. ‘She should be able to help me,’ Bri reasoned to herself. ‘Cause really, I’m asking not for much, and I know exactly what I want. I won’t even waste her time.’
Bri was going to ask the fortune-teller exactly what she had needed to do to be free of Rikgso’s curse. Someone was going to defeat him at some point, she had to believe that, and Bri would prefer that it be in her lifetime, ie. while she was still alive. So why not ask someone who could see into the fortune how it needed to be done? That way, she could do it herself, without Korey’s help. It was a win-win situation for everyone: she would get her heart back, Rikgso wouldn’t kill any more people, Aeryal would be avenged, Korey would be free to enjoy life without her.
That last part hurt to think, but Bri swallowed away the twinges of pain. It was for the best. She definitely didn’t want to put him in Rikgso’s path again. For some reason, Korey was the only Descendant that the demon didn’t seem to be able to touch, except for the times when he was with Bri.
“Well, I can change that,” she mumbled under her breath.
Without warning, the hallway opened up into a tiny room, barely large enough to hold the plush chaise that was against the opposite wall. All the walls were covered by billowing fabrics, of various purples, blues, grays, all faded. Overhead, an enormous chandelier hung low enough that even the gorilla’s head would surely brush it when he walked by. What added shiver to the room was the severed goat head hanging from the wall.
A thin woman lounged on the chaise, eyes closed. Her body was draped in several colorful fabrics, with no particular order or shape to them. Bri couldn’t tell whether she was wearing a dress, some type of sarong, or just some sheets wrapped about her body. Limp, yellowed strands of hair hung loose from the knot at the top of her head, and though her makeup was definitely on the heavy and garish side, Bri realized that the woman could only be in her late twenties or so.
Her skin was fresh and unlined, and warm, not brown like Bri’s own sweet cinnamon tone, but lightly bronzed from the sun. Bri suspected that the fortune-teller spent more time outside than predicting the future, but who was she to judge? Long legs were tucked against the cushions of the chaise, and again Bri couldn’t help drawing a comparison with herself. It wasn’t that Bri wasn’t happy with her own five-foot-one frame, but if she could finally grow the extra two inches promised from daily stretching by her favorite fitness blog, she’d be a bit happier. A lot, actually. But as she always reasoned, her thick mass of jet-black curls more than made up for her small stature. Big hair worked well with her round face and nose, well at least, back when she used to care about her appearance, all of two months ago.
The fortune-teller’s eyes suddenly snapped open, though not all the way. Just enough so that Bri could see bright eyes looking at her. Half of her eyelids remained drawn down, and the sleepy appearance belied the alertness of the gaze.
Hooded eyes gave Bri a slow once-over. The thin lips twisted wryly. “Why have you come?” the occultist asked. But the shrewd look in her eyes didn’t change; it was a steady, leveling gaze that indicated that she already knew what Bri wanted.
Wetting her lips, Bri paused, nervous under the black-eyed gaze. Behind her, the bouncer’s heavy stare bore into her back. Mouth open, she tried to force the words up and out, into the air. But the fortune-teller’s words were soaking into her brain, jumbling her thoughts. Scrambling the very careful spiel that she had planned. ‘What is it that you really want to know?’ the black eyes seemed to implore of her. Bri’s lips parted and before she could stop herself, she blurted, “Why did Shanice kill herself?”
As the words left her, she cringed. It was the very first time since she’d left the doomed Senior Trip weekend that she had acknowledged the loss of her oldest friend. In fact, it was even the first time she’d allowed the question to exist for more than a fleeting second in her brain. Usually, any time Shanice entered her brain, Bri started a mental recitation of her favorite song lyrics. Over and over.
Somehow, everyone else knew to leave her alone as well. Aside from one time when her mother had tried to counsel her through the death, and had earned a blank stare along with a few verses of Pop music, Bri’s parents never brought it up. Nor did any of their mutual friends.
‘It wasn’t my fault,’ she thought, trying her best to project that plea at the judgmental eyes of Leticia. But she didn’t dare voice it, for good reason.
Simply because she wasn’t sure if it was or not.
Leticia’s smile grew from a cat-like grimace to a smug twist of the lips. “Shanice Warren. Eighteen years old. Your lifelong friend from kindergarten.”
A chill rolled over Bri to hear a virtual stranger recalling her dead friend so easily, but she masked it and remained silently.
Leticia gave a soft laugh. Through lowered lashes, she glanced over with a speculative stare. “Why didn’t you ask me instead about your friend Aeryal, and her passing? Three months ago. That is the time that you should have sought my help. This question that you ask today is garbage. You already know the answer to that.”
It was hard for her to keep a grip on her temper, when all of Bri wanted to rush forward and strike Leticia, but she did it. Flatly, she asked, “What are you talking about? I don’t know anything about Shanice’s death. That’s why I asked you instead.”
A loud sigh filled the air. Clearly, Leticia had gotten bored. The burly bouncer gave a short grunt and caught the fortune-teller’s eye. Leticia gave another sigh and raised one bony shoulder carelessly. “A sacrifice to your demon, was what your Shanice ended up as. But you knew that.”
Before Bri could object, the other woman cut her off sharply. “This bores me, and my time is short. Why have you really come?”
Mouth open, Bri shut it slowly. ‘What a total jerk,’ she fumed. ‘How hard is it for her to actually give me some answers that I ask for?’ Their eyes held, and Bri frowned, letting Leticia see that she was pissed. Because really, she was paying for the woman’s information. She should actually get it. “I need help,” she mumbled at last.
The occultist inclined her head slightly, lips tightening. “And you intend to find it here?” Her tone was slightly incredulous.
Gesturing with one arm, Bri asked, “Isn’t that what you do here, or something?” Okay, now she was beyond pissed.
Another slight incline. “Mm-hmm. Yet, I don’t help demon-spawn, so how can I help you further? Or rather, why should I?”
“Huh?” Bri couldn’t have been more surprised if the goat’s head had just spoken. ‘Demon-spawn?’ “I’m not-…I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.”
“Hhmm,” was all the gypsy replied, eyes slipping closed.
Bri waited, wondering if she should disrupt the woman’s obvious meditation, but getting a bit more anxious by the second. ‘I mean, it’s not like I have all day.’ Behind her, there was a clearly audible throat-clearing from the gorilla bouncer and Bri suddenly remembered something. Her eyes fell on the round bowl in the center of the room and she slowly eased forward to place a twenty-dollar bill inside. Something that managed to sound like a pleased grunt came from behind her.
Leticia’s hooded eyes stayed closed, but a faint whisper trailed from the gypsy’s lips. “Speak, child of demons.”
Money talked; there was no way around it, even in the psychic business. Bri knew enough to keep it short and to the point. “I’m not a child of a demon, but I did get attacked by one several months ago. It killed my best friend Aeryal and I was lucky not to get killed too, but then it took something from me….”
Here she paused, leery of the scorn which she knew was coming. Psychic or not, even Leticia would be a little skeptical without meeting the horrid demon. “It took my-,”
“..heart,” Leticia finished without opening her eyes.
Surprise halted Bri’s sentence. The gypsy knew? “Uh, yeah…but how did you-…well.” Bri snapped her mouth shut. Leticia was advertising psychic services, after all. “Yea,” she nodded, “well, the demon has my heart, for safekeeping, and I can’t get it back unless I do something impossible, basically murder, which I won’t do, so I need a way to get it back from him. Like now.”
A long breath whooshed out of her after she finished her long ramble. She studied the gypsy’s face to see if the pallid woman had been able to follow all of that. Leticia gave no indication that she had.
Nervous now, she took two more steps forward. “Please. Please help me.” Without warning, the panic seized her again and Bri almost doubled over under the sheer intensity of it. “I want to be normal and….,” she breathed in deeply, “..I don’t want to die, like Aeryal and Shanice.”
For one instant, Leticia seemed pitying. Those hooded eyes opened only slightly. Her voice came out so softly, Bri had to strain to hear it. “If you had only come to me before they claimed you. But now, it is too late.”
“Why is it too late?” Bri could worry what the rest of it meant later.
With a shrug, Leticia pursed her lips. “Because it is.”
“And what about my heart? Please tell me how to get it back.”
“Your heart is with a yearning soul…,” was the whispered answer. Then Leticia closed her eyes once more, spread her arms along the back of the chaise and let her head loll back, the perfect vision of repose. She was silent for so long that Bri considered the fact that the strange woman might have fallen asleep just like that.
Just as Bri opened her mouth to speak, Leticia spoke once more. “The two halves want to be one again. Remember…..”
“Two halves?” ‘What?’ “What do you mean?”
But the other woman remained silent, and the gorilla bouncer gave a grunt. Bri glared at him, and then turned back to the fortune-teller. “Please Leticia, tell me what you mean. Two halves of what? Who has my heart? How can I get it back?”
“I cannot help you. Now, get out,” was all Leticia said.
“But you have to-,”
The occultist repeated herself slowly and clearly. “Get. Out.”
Knowing that she sounded desperate, Bri took two more steps toward the fortune-teller, only to find her way blocked by the gorilla bouncer. Two meaty hands gripped her shoulders, spun her around, and with a healthy shove, started her moving back down the long dark corridor.
Bri fumed as she walked. ‘Twenty dollars. I paid freakin’ twenty dollars, and I still don’t know how to get my heart back from the demon. I don’t even know how long I can live like this, whether I’m even human anymore. It’s not like I can go to a doctor. They’ll lock me away in a lab somewhere for testing.’ She sighed.
Anger burned inside as she walked toward the black-shrouded door, the enormous bouncer right at her heels. She turned to peer at his solemn face. “Listen, she didn’t even give me chance in there. I needed to tell her-,”
“We know,” he said, startling her into silence. It was only the second time he had spoken for the entire time that she’d been there.
And her voice cut off as the silent bouncer blew a handful of grit right into her eyes, blinding her. Whatever it was clogged her nose with a thick, cloying, sulfurish odor and she gasped. Which was mistake, since instantly, she began choking on what went down her throat.
The heavy voice continued even as Bri coughed. “This will help you see what we see.”
Shaking her head, Bri gagged and tried to glare at the bouncer, but stopped as she caught sight of her inner arm. The outlines of the four brands still decorated the slick, damaged skin there, but now they were angry, raised welts. “No,” she murmured in disbelief, “it can’t be.” The actual demon brands, with the magic they contained, couldn’t be back; Korey had cut them off, taking a chunk of her arm with it. It was another reason her dancing career was gone. After the incident months ago, Bri had been left so battered and scarred, it was a miracle that she was even able to function.
This time, when the panic arose, she didn’t try to force it away. The brands had been how the demon had used Gerald to control her. Because of them, she almost died.
To prove she wasn’t hallucinating, she reached out one finger and gingerly prodded the raised skin. A blast of pain shot through her arm and radiated through her entire body. Her eyes closed as the ground rushed up at her, only seconds before she hit it with a thud.
When she came to, the memory of Leticia’s cryptic warnings flooded her brain. Automatically, she tried to move and winced at the ache that began in her shoulder.
That was why she HATED fainting.
Cautiously, she opened one eye, fully expecting to see the grim face of the gorilla-jerk who’d almost blinded her. But she saw nothing. Panic rose until she realized that she was staring at dull, gray concrete. The sidewalk. Of course. She’d passed out just after leaving Leticia’s shop. Giving an experimental sniff, Bri expected to inhale the heavy reek of sulfur again. Instead, the sweet aroma of cherries filled her nostrils.
A fleeting memory passed through her brain, and left her with a connection that wasn’t possible. Rolling over, she frowned as her eyes confirmed what her brain had already accepted. The girl sat cross-legged on the ground in front of her. Bri’s mind jerked, and then settled as she accepted the strangeness of it. ‘Cause really, stranger things have happened, especially recently. Why should I be surprised to see my best friend sitting here next to me? No reason at all.’ Bri had to admit that being dead was really agreeing with her best friend. She looked ten times better than she had seven months ago.
The first thing out of Aeryal Swan’s mouth was, “Those don’t look good.” Her friend’s brown eyes were trained on Bri’s forearm, on the brands.
Shaking her head, Bri sat up. “Yeah, they sure don’t feel good,” she muttered.
“And….you actually look ten times worse than those things on your arm. What are they anyway?”
Now frowning, Bri continued getting to her feet. “Thanks for the encouragement, Aeryal. Somehow, you always know what to say.” At Aeryal’s big grin, Bri continued, “I’m being sarcastic, in case you didn’t realize that.”
“Oh, I realized it,” Aeryal smirked, “I’m just choosing to ignore it. Besides, you’re not changing the subject that easily. Like I asked, what are those things on your arm?”
As shrewd as ever, her best friend hadn’t changed a bit in death. For some reason, Bri found it oddly comforting, despite the fact that she was talking to a ghost in the middle of the afternoon on a downtown sidewalk.
--2nd Excerpt from The Shelf 2: Cursed. Keep posted!--