Welcome to another stop for the second annual YASpooktacular, hosted by Frenzy of Noise and Wicked Awesome Books.
This year, there are three stories written by some of your favorite authors that will be posted throughout the week. Each story is a choose your adventure, where you get to decide what path to send the character down. Sometimes you live, sometimes you die, and sometimes you fall into a pit of no return.
There are also some TRICKS or TREATS scattered throughout the story, where you can enter to win prizes and get bonus points toward the prize packs. The prize pack for Story 1 will be up tomorrow! On Halloween day, the grand prize pack will be posted. You can click the banner above to see a full list of the YASpooktacular prize packs!
Then a gleam sharpened his silver eyes. “Open the cages?” he paused. “Yesss, I’ll open them. On one condition.”
Laura felt her stomach roll, a sixth sense and too many horror movies telling her what was next.
“Fulfill the bargain,” he said, “Stay here with me. Willingly. Become my partner. And I’ll open the cages.”
The way he said it, drawing out that word – partner – as if filled with delicious meaning, made her skin crawl and her brain scream NO FREAKING WAY! But she bit her tongue, her eyes dragged back to the rows and rows of captives.
He followed her gaze, his voice syrupy, cajoling. “All of them for you. It’s quite a deal.” A slow gurgle as he exhaled her name, “Laura.”
She shivered at the intimate quality of it.
“How many do you suppose are here?”he continued. “Fifty? A hundred?” A low, wet chuckle. “I’m afraid even I’ve lost count of my collection.” He slithered over to the nearest cage, a shape huddled in the corner. “You could save them all.”
The collector reached a slimy arm through the bars, the shape whimpering, recoiling. “Come, my dear,” he said. “Show Laura your pretty face.” The girl inside pushed further back, uselessly trying to escape the webbed hand that stroked her bare leg. “I command it,” he said, his voice suddenly hard and threatening.
Slowly, the girl inside lifted her head, staring beseechingly out. Her hair was matted, her skin pasty with untold time in this dark place.
Except Laura knew exactly how long she’d been there.
“Oh my God,” she gasped. “Jamie?” Laura took a tentative step closer, reaching for her sister.
“Recognize her, do you?” The collector murmured. “I thought you might.”
It had been almost two years, but her mom never stopped waiting and hoping. Laura couldn’t count how many nights she’d come down for water and found her mom sitting by the front windows, staring out into the dark.
The girl didn’t speak, only stared with dull eyes. “You could bring her home, Laura,” the collector was saying. “You could bring them all home. Just give me the poker.”
Laura forced her eyes down the endless line of cages, thoughts surfacing slowly in her overworked mind.
Brian got away, killed his sister.
I found a weapon, got the upper hand.
I can do it again.
She could feel the weight of the fireplace poker, comforting in her right hand.
But first things first. Free them. Send Jamie home. Then beat the crap out of him. It. Whatever.
Laura turned to the collector, trying to keep her face impassive. Trying not to scream at the way his eyes glittered when she said, “Deal.” She held out the poker.
In a flash, his webbed hand swiped the poker away and Laura felt a stab of fear. She was unarmed. And the cages still locked. She willed her voice to be firm and strong. “Unlock the cages,” she commanded. “Now.”
“Right now?” he said. “You want me to let them all out now?”
“Yes, now,” Laura said, trying to sound impatient instead of how she felt: scared to death. “What part didn’t you understand?”
“Very well, my dear,” he said, sliding toward the wall to open a panel she hadn’t noticed in the dimness. There was an unsettling satisfaction in his voice, “As you wish.” A dark, knobby flipper-finger, pressed a single button. There was that grinding again, the scream of metal on stone as a hundred rusted doors swung open.
Laura felt weak with relief. She’d been sure she’d screwed that up, losing the poker too soon, but he’d either not noticed or just meant his promise. Or been so eager to have his “partner”, her mind whispered.
She pushed that aside, turning back to Jamie, hardly able to believe this day had come. An end to the agonizing uncertainty that was little by little draining the life from her mom. In a minute she’d be able to hug her big sister. If only they could go home together.
In time. You’ll find a way out of this. Just free Jamie first.
Laura watched as Jamie uncurled, slowly tentatively stretching out limbs that seemed not to have moved in weeks, months.
Adrenaline rushed through her as all through the narrow hallway, arms and legs, then people - women, men, children – emerged gingerly. I did this!
She glanced back at Jamie, then froze.
Something was wrong.
Her sister’s lips seemed to be…disintegrating. Her snub nose – the one Laura had always envied - was too sharp and her brown eyes, dull and flat a moment ago, had taken on an eerie sheen. Glinting. Silver.
Frantically Laura looked down the endless tunnel of captives, all of them changing - limbs shriveling, hair falling out, skin turning an odd jaundiced color.
She stared, mute and horrified.
“You seem…unwell. Laura.” The voice was just behind her shoulder, the low, wetness making her want to shriek.
“What’s happening?” she gasped. “What’s wrong with them?”
“Tsk, tsk. I see someone’s been sleeping through biology.” There was a squishy-squelching noise as he stepped around, standing beside her. “Evolution, my dear.” He waved toward the creatures stumbling between cages. Some of them limbless now, flopping on the floor. “They’ve been down here weeks, months, even years. How long do you think they could live here as they were?”
“Here?” she echoed dumbly. She was…where? In a cave. But something was odd about it, she realized. Something thick and oppressive about the air. Breathing had been difficult. Different. And the ceiling was…moving. Knobby branches rippling overhead. Flickers of something shiny. Orange. Red. Yellow. White. Passing shapes. Goldfish above her. Which meant…
“They’ve adapted,” said the collector, cold and soulless. “Changed. They aren’t like they were.”
Before her, the thing-that-used-to-be-Jamie flapped pathetically, its arms now shrunken to nubs. Laura stared in horror.
“If you’d given me time to re-condition them, they might have fared better, but you demanded now,” he said, regretfully. “How could I refuse my new partner’s first request?”
“And speaking of which,” he continued. “You weren’t much to look at when that boy brought you to me. But now…” She felt his slimy touch, caressing her shoulder, turning her away from the cages, toward a picture. Of something horrid with bulging silver eyes and slippery orange skin, absurdly wearing a yellow coat. Just like hers.
Laura brought a hand to her mouth, trying to stifle a scream. Only it wasn’t a hand. Not anymore.
“I know,” the squishy voice whispered, his breath dank and clammy in her ear. “It’s breathtaking how beautiful you’ve become. The companion I’ve always dreamed of.”
Of course, Laura could start over and make some new decisions by going back to Pure Imagination. (http://pureimaginationblog.com)
Jen Nadol grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania, hometown of Taylor Swift, John Updike and A.S. King. In high school, Jen liked to dye her hair, shop at thrift stores and listen to a lot of Depeche Mode, The Cure, and Erasure. She now lives north of NYC in an old farmhouse with her husband and three young sons. She still love thrift stores, listens to just about anything from Mozart to My Chemical Romance, and has way too many favorite books to name. Jen is the author of two books: The Mark and The Vision. Her third book, The Touch comes out in 2012.
You can find Jen on Twitter, on her blog, on Goodreads and you can order her books here.
For my treat I will be giving away a hardcover of Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake. Click Here to enter!
Also make sure you stop by Tangled Up in Words tomorrow to enter for the Story 1 prize pack!