Long before regaining consciousness, Laura’s mind made a home in the darkness. It encompassed everything – waseverything. When sensations finally started to intrude, they were nearly impossible to comprehend or fully grasp. They seemed somehow unimportant.
“I told you to bring me a beautiful one!” someone yelled. A stranger. The voice sounded distant, muffled – as if its owner were standing behind a pane of glass.
“I did! Your…whatever they are…they dragged her through the pond! She’s dirty! I mean, she didn’t look like that on land!”
The air was thick. It felt wet when she breathed it in.Something cold and ephemeral seemed intent on caressing her, sliding under her skin. It took a small eternity for her to realize that it was water.
Another eternity later, with a crackle of fear, she realized that the second voice had been Brian’s.
Laura’s eyes fluttered open. It was dark. Once her brain assembled the idea of darkness as something that could befought, stopped being so strangely blithe about it, everything seemed to come into immediate, panicky focus. The descent into the water, the cold determination in Brian’s eyes – something was wrong. Very wrong.
She pushed herself up, her fingertips slipping over the floor. Aside from the water, the ground itself was slimy – as if she were lying on a bed of moss, or sitting in the middle of a puddle of mud. Laura tried to gain her feet, but failed, falling again with a splash. Her heartbeat sounded sharp, hard, like a fist rapping on a wooden table.
“You’d better be telling the truth, boy.” The first voice had a slightly lispy quality to it, although the anger it held, the harshness, the masculinity – it wasn’t laughable in the slightest.
“I am!” Brian said. Laura lurched to her feet and found that she was situated near a sheer stone wall. Reaching out to lay her hand on it, she listened. “Now give me Amanda! You said you’d give her back!”
“Perhaps I’ve decided to keep her, after all. I think you’ve brought me a rather poor substitute. Your mate is beautiful.Stupid as a clam and far too eager to scream, but beautiful.”
“My…what?! No, she’s my girlfriend!”
“Boy, do you think that I am at all concerned with your pathetic human vocabulary?”
Amanda? Like Amanda Myer? That girl from Rita Falls that’d disappeared a few weeks ago? Laura forced herself to breathe, to look around, confusion making her desperate to find something concrete to pin her thoughts on. She appeared to be in a stone room of some sort – a cave, she supposed she should call it, but it was more than a hole in a wall. The dim, flickering light that pooled in the doorway some yards off wasn’t enough to illuminate the entire space, but by it she could make out otherworldly, cathedral-like carvings along the walls, recessed stairs in the moist floor, and an enormous unlit fireplace. Arranged upon its heavy stone mantle were stacks of water-stained books.
Slowly, Laura tiptoed toward the light.
“I did my part!” Brian argued, fear intruding into his voice. “I paid my debt!”
A shadow shot across the doorway. An arm, a hand – the limb muscular, the hand…webbed. Clawed. She heard flesh connect with flesh, Brian crying out.
“The death of my sister is not a debt to be paid,” the first person hissed. Pain mingled with his anger, his voice becoming richer, more powerful. “You speak as if you broke one of my belongings and seek to replace it. She was my sister! I should kill you where you stand!”
“I…I didn’t mean…”
“Take her.” A grinding sound took over, so loud that Laura had to cup her hands over her ears. Her hair was slick with mud. “Go.”
“Brian! Oh my God, Brian!” A girl. More screamingfollowed, a rush of footsteps, bitter curses.
And then, someone stood in the doorway.
If Laura tries to hide, go to Paperbackdolls(www.paperbackdolls.com)
Lia Habel was born in Jamestown, NY, and has lived there the majority of her life. Her first book, Dearly, Departed, is a sweeping tale of zombie-living romance set in a cyber-Victorian/steampunk future. WhenDearly, Departed sold, Lia was swimming in debt incurred from her studies and years of un- and underemployment, with only a few dollars to her name.Miss Habel enjoys attending anachronistic andsteampunk events, watching zombie movies (she has watched over a hundred of them), commissioning ball gowns, and collecting Victorian and Edwardian books. She is incredibly grateful for the opportunities she has recently been given.
You can find Lia on Twitter, on her blog, on goodreads and you can order her books here.