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Excerpts from The Scary Girls

From the chapter 'Colors in full bloom'

We started with burning reds and oranges.

Forsythia nodded in my direction, telling me to start us out, and without thinking I slammed into a driving riff, harsh and decisive, beating at the senses and demanding attention. Classic reds, all fire and rage. Before I even finished a single time through the riff Jessamine joined in and the rhythm she put down dragged me off course, sending us down a different path. The sound of her drums was primal and urgent, twisting and pulling my reds and oranges around her, tying us together tightly as we set down the skeleton of the song.

A few measures passed slowly like hours and we were alone, staring at one another as the music poured out of us, taking us where it wanted. Then Foxglove and Forsythia jumped in, dropping right into place gracefully and the small pocket of color around us burst into full bloom, enveloping the stage and pushing out into the crowd. The colors had never been this bright before.

The crowd reacted instantly, shouts and cheers briefly rising behind the sound we were unleashing on them, but then they all settled into the very serious business of dancing.

We’d only been together a few weeks, but we were already a tighter band than most. We had been starting our practices with this kind of free improvisation and it just seemed right to do the same thing at our first gig. No plan, no direction, no thinking. Just one blast of noise and energy and we were off and running. Where it would take us was anybody’s guess. I certainly had no idea. All I knew was that it would go somewhere and all the fun was in the journey.

We cruised along, the music churning and aggressive, and I almost forgot there was a crowd watching us—it was just me, the girls, and the song. I often spent a lot of energy trying to ignore the crowd out of sheer stage fright, but it was as if they just went away; I couldn’t get my mind and eyes off the colors that swirled around us.

The rest of the band seemed to be feeling it as well—we were all off in our own world. Forsythia was the consummate lead singer—stage presence and charisma capturing the audience from the moment go, but even she was tuned into us and not the crowd. I shot a quick glance at Jessamine and she was staring back at me intently. I was unable to look away. Her eyes were lit with smoldering heat as she rampaged through the rhythm, both supporting and countering in the same fluid powerful motions. I had this intense urge to throw down my guitar, stalk over and take her right there. Through the fog of music and colors I felt a slight twinge of embarrassment. She raised an eyebrow questioningly and I think I saw a small quirk of a smile on her face. In the strange lighting of the stage it was hard to be sure. I’ll never figure that woman out.

Then she frowned slightly, looked past me and her eyes widened. Confused, I turned back to face the crowd just in time to take a beer bottle to the head. I never saw it coming—I was just suddenly on the floor, my guitar underneath me, jarring noise blasting me from my stack. Something wet ran into my eyes, blurring my vision. I dragged my shirt sleeve across my face, and when I looked, there was a smear of blood making the purple cloth darker. My sight cleared enough to see Jessamine standing over me—one foot on each side of me—in a defensive crouch. Her mouth was curled in a feral snarl and her fingers were stretched out like claws. Despite the throbbing pain in my head, I sat up and looked around.

For a moment, all I could do was stare in shock. A fight had broken out. No, not a fight—more like a battle. It was a chaotic melee with no real focus—no sides. Friend against friend, stranger against stranger.

From the chapter 'Dog or pony show?'

We settled into a companionable silence and I enjoyed the utter relaxation that had finally flowed through me. I wasn’t even paying attention to where we had been walking. Suddenly I felt a slight shiver down my spine, as if someone or something was watching me. I stopped and looked around but saw nothing.

"What's up?" Mitch had stopped a few feet ahead of me and turned to face me.

"I don't know," I said. "I just got the weirdest feeling. Like someone is watching us."

Mitch cocked his head and listened for a second.

"Wow, it's really quiet out here. I think I feel it, too."

We both took a moment to look into the shadows along the street and I realized that I had no idea where we were. I couldn’t remember how many times we’d turned, but the neighborhood had changed. The houses were set farther off the street, each one crouching in islands of darkness and trees. The streetlights were shorter and looked rustic—fluted and painted a dark green that looked more black in the night. Each one cast a cone of light, appearing almost textured in the darkness, that lit the ground.  We were standing underneath one, and I was suddenly reluctant to move out of the bright spotlight as if the light were safety, could somehow protect us from some unknown threat. It was a silly thought and I shrugged it off.

"Must be my imagination, I guess," I said and we both started walking again. Now, however, the silence wasn't companionable—it had an edge of disquiet to it.

"Kinda freaky out here, huh?" Mitch spoke quietly.

I nodded. "Yeah." I heard a noise, a quiet clicking sound. I turned around and behind us, underneath the lamp we'd stopped at moments ago, stood a large dog, motionless and watching us—so still it could have been a statue.

"Mitch." I pointed at the animal. "Look at the size of that dog."

"Shit, it's huge." He stopped and looked back. The creature hadn't moved at all, but tension flowed through me. “That’s not a dog—that’s a pony.”

I laughed uneasily.

“Perhaps we should head home.”

“Yeah, I like that idea,” Mitch said. “Which way is home?”

“No idea.”

“How the hell did we get lost?” The worry was clear in his voice.

I just shook my head.

“Well, it’s behind us, so let’s just go forward. We’ll see something familiar eventually. We grew up in this damned city.”

The moment we moved, the dog moved as well. I kept looking back at it as I moved and walked right into Mitch, who had stopped suddenly.

"Uh, Trick," he said, fear in his voice. "There's another one."

I turned and saw another dog standing in a pool of light ahead of us. I glanced back and saw that the one behind us was advancing on us slowly.

"It's like they've walked us into a trap. Dogs aren't that smart are they?"

I shook my head. "I never heard of one that smart. Let's just keep walking, and see what they do. I'd rather try to walk past them than sit here and wait for them. Maybe it's just a coincidence."

I so didn't believe that. I don't think Mitch did either, but he nodded and moved slowly forward. I hoped we weren’t going to have to run. I’m fast, but there was no way I’d be able to outrun the animal.

The clicking sound of the dog's nails on the pavement grew closer. The second dog--the one that had appeared in front of us--paced our direction, in no hurry to close the distance.

“Okay. When I say run, we run." My heart was pounding and my breath was already coming shorter and faster.

I caught Mitch’s nod out of the corner of my eye.  The second dog was about 15 feet away now. Its eyes were reddish and its shoulders came up to my chest. Mitch was right--it was large enough to be a pony.

It growled, low in its chest and there was an answering growl behind us.

Instead of yelling “run” and taking off, I froze on the spot. Beside me Mitch came to a sudden halt as well. I tried to move but my body wouldn’t cooperate. I was frozen in place. I really wanted badly to look behind and see what the other dog was doing. I tried to speak but my throat had locked up. All I could do was stare at the animal in front of us while sheer terror coursed through me. It padded up to us slowly until he was an arm’s length away. Its fur was wiry and short, black as night with no shine to it. Its head was huge and blockish, with sharp fangs poking out from under its jowls. The menace coming off this animal was almost suffocating. As both dogs advanced on us, I caught a faint whiff of something—almost like rotten eggs, except hot at the same time.

The closest creature—it looked less and less like a real dog as it got closer—stared at me intently, red eyes glowing, and finally closed the gap between us. It took a big sniff of me. I knew I was dead. This thing, whatever it was, was going to tear me apart any second. Inside my head I was screaming irrationally, but no sound escaped into the night. It snuffed at me a few times and growled—a low, almost purring sound with the unmistakable edge of threat in it—before turning away from me to face Mitch. I was shaking now, and I realized I could move again. I gasped and took a step back only to hear a soft growl behind me again. I froze, and the adrenalin flowed through me again, making me unsteady on my feet.  I glanced at Mitch and he gave me the horse eye—orbs rolling in their sockets wildly. I collapsed to my knees, my body overloaded by adrenalin and fear.

Suddenly a voice broke through the night—feminine, young and clear as a bell.

“Bad dogs. You know better than this. This is my dream and you aren’t welcome here.”

Excerpts from Waking Dreams: The Torment of Colin Pierce

From the beginning of the first chapter 'Crash'...

Colin stood at the tail end of the cabin next to the tiny bathroom closets decorated with vacancy lights and stern warnings from various government agencies that no smoking related activities would be tolerated. The interior of the McDonnell-Douglas MD-80 stretched out before him, a long cylindrical tunnel, baggage compartments snugged into the graceful curve of the top of the cabin, and chairs in tight rows all the way to the front like soldiers in formation. The cabin was cool and clean, and smelled of the oppressive freshness of canned air. And it was quiet and still. Too quiet and still. There was no uncomfortable feeling of pressure, no sense of motion, and no throbbing noise of the engines. Nothing to interrupt the absolute silences that filled the empty space.

Colin had no idea how he’d gotten there.

The airplane was completely empty of passengers or flight crew. He decided to take a seat but as he raised his foot to step forward, people appeared in the seats, the wave of their sudden materialization rippling away from him toward the front of the plane. At the same time the muted roar of the engines bloomed into a white wall of noise and his head was surrounded by the thick pressure of high altitude, almost painful in its suddenness.

The flowing wave of passengers appearing in their seats gave it away; he was dreaming. That realization eased the tension that had grown in the pit of his stomach. He wondered if he had a seat and began to search, walking slowly up the aisle, occasionally putting his hands on the backs of seats to keep his balance when the plane shuddered and shimmied slightly with the motion of flight. When he was about halfway to the curtain that separated first class from the rest of the passengers, he saw a single empty seat on the aisle of the right side, and a woman and child sat in the other two seats. It was the only open seat he saw so it must be his. As he got closer he recognized the back of the woman’s head.

Slowing down he peeked around at the front of her face. Yes, he was right—it was Marianne. Another clue that he was dreaming—she wasn’t supposed to be on this airplane either. Not yet. They were both supposed to be at home sleeping in their own bed.

The dream was so realistic that he might not have recognized it for a dream. Everything felt so natural and complete, with no blurry edges hiding the parts of the dream that didn’t matter. Even the sudden appearance of the passengers, the noise and the cabin pressure hadn’t bothered him. But even though he knew this wasn’t real, he still felt nervous and scared for his girls. He never liked when they travelled without him—he was always afraid something would happen to them. That would just ruin him.

Colin sat down beside her and studied her, unable to look away. As always he was captured by her beauty—the soft brown flow of her hair pulled back in a tight, practical pony tail, revealing the graceful curve of her neck. She must have felt the weight of his stare because she glanced over at him. Her hazel eyes were sharp and intelligent with a promise of warmth and laughter. She arched an eyebrow at him in surprise.

“Colin,” she said. “What are you doing here?” He had no good answer for that.

“I think I’m dreaming, Mari,” he said. “Are you dreaming, too?”

“No,” she said and leaned in for a quick kiss. As always the soft touch of her lips warmed him. “We’re going to visit my parents. You know that.” She gave him an admonishing smile that quickly gave way to a small frown that knit her brow. “Why are you sleeping in the middle of the day? You’re not sick are you?” Her strange acceptance of his presence only reinforced his conviction that he was asleep and dreaming.

That was Mari through and through—ever grounded and strong. Add in her intelligence and snarky sense of humor and Colin had found her irresistible from the moment they first met. Her strength was an inspiration to him. Nothing daunted Marianne. Any trouble or difficulties that arose she faced squarely and efficiently. She referred to the unplanned surprises that life offered up as opportunities. Colin liked to tease her about that. If one of the kids spilled something, he'd smile and ask if this was another opportunity. She usually laughed along with him and then told him deadpan that it was going to be an opportunity to kick his butt if he didn't watch his step.

“I thought you were leaving Friday, Mari?”

“It is Friday, Col. Are you okay?”

“Sure, sure.” He forced a smile but inside apprehension roiled in his gut. That was how dreams worked, wasn’t it? Knowing it was a dream didn’t stop the flood of emotion brought on by the situation he found himself in.

He looked beyond Marianne and saw Emma in the window seat. She was wearing a little flowered sundress with a T-shirt underneath it. She stared out the window while kicking her feet slightly, the merry click-clack of her flip flops smacking her heels barely carrying over the noise of the airplane.

She was their younger daughter. He’d always wanted children, and had dreamed of having boys that he could roughhouse with, play catch, go to all their sporting events. But instead of sons, he got daughters.

Emma was vivacious, strong-willed, and playful—a little sprite moving through their lives breaking things, testing them and most of all showing them all how to live life to its fullest. She was a smaller, younger version of Marianne.

As if she felt his eyes on her, she looked over, saw him and her eyes lit up.

“Daddy! I’m flying on an airplane.”

“I know, sweetie.” This time his smile was warm—not forced at all. “Do you like it?”

“Yes, it’s really cool.” She leaned toward him and stage whispered. “But Buddy is very scared.” She held up her little stuffed animal unicorn.

“Why is he scared?”

“Oh, he’s scared of lots of things,” she answered. “He is scared of aliens and monsters. I tried to tell him there’re no monsters or aliens on the plane, but he is scared anyway. Knowing doesn’t always help.”

“Well, maybe if you just hug him he’ll feel better.”

“That’s what I’m doing.”

“Is it working?”

“Oh, so far, so good.” She favored Colin with a quick smile and then turned to stare out the window. Colin glanced across the aisle, past an older man and found Sidney in the window seat, staring out the window. He could only see the back of her head, but his heart warmed as he watched.

She was her father’s daughter—a chip off the old block, Marianne liked to say, usually with a wry smile and a shake of the head. Sidney, at eleven years of age was tall and willowy, with dark brown hair and fair skin. Her eyes were steel gray, which lent her expression an intensity that was belied by the dazzling smile she fixed on Colin all the time.

She was quiet and thoughtful—always wrapped up in her mind. Her fantastic imagination ran at full speed. When she’d been a couple of years younger, she’d had the tendency to embellish stories, turning the most trivial of events into sweeping epic tales full of dragons, fairies and princesses. Colin and Marianne used to amuse themselves trying to identify the exact moment in the story where fact gave way to fiction. It wasn’t easy. She might start out talking about a spelling test at school and end up talking about a beautiful heroine defeating an evil dragon and rescuing the handsome yet helpless prince, but the transition was not as clear as one might think. Where some parents might stifle that imagination and try to drag her back to reality, Colin and Marianne encouraged her to grow and explore the wild creativity of her mind. They both considered it the greatest of gifts.

Sidney, and later Emma, had showed Colin he didn’t need sons after all. At 33 years of age he was married to a wonderful woman, had two intelligent and precocious daughters, and was experiencing the first successes of his chosen profession. He’d always wanted to be an author and in the last few years had been able to quit his job and devote himself to his writing full time. Two books published and another in the works. Life was on track.

It was like a dream, and a small part of him wondered how long that could last.

Finally he looked back at Marianne.

“Well, this is a good dream, at any rate,” Colin said and felt rather than saw her smile. Stranger than finding himself in the airplane was that she so readily accepted his assertion that he was dreaming. It made no sense at all. She was so practical and logical that she tended not to buy into more fantastic ideas. To her, monsters, vampires and ghosts were just fun bits of fiction. The idea that they just might be real struck her as completely ridiculous. If he really thought about those things, Colin would also have to admit it was unlikely they existed, but at a gut level he was much readier to accept the strange and bizarre.

The plane interrupted his thoughts with a sudden lurch and shudder before settling down again. His heart popped up into his throat and then back down leaving him breathless. Marianne squeezed his hand once. He glanced at her and she gave him a little smile. He’d never really liked flying. Intellectually he knew that the odds of a crash were so remote that it shouldn’t even worry him. But fear wasn’t a rational emotion, of course.

He looked beyond Marianne and saw Emma looking back with wide eyes, and then a smile to match.

“That was a big bump!”

From the end of the chapter "Beastly"...

“Go, Penny, keep running.”

“No, Colin, don’t stop.” She yelled back at him but it was too late.

“Go!” he shouted and spun quickly to face the beast and his heart leapt into his throat. Now that he wasn’t running and he could see it, he wished he’d not stopped. Its stench brought dread and its sound, fear, but it was the sight of it that burned despair through him. His emotions churned and mixed into a miasma of hopeless terror.

It was roughly ten feet tall, black as night and smelled foul. The odor seemed to move ahead of the beast, spreading like some great vulgar wave. It was just as bad as Penny had said, leaving a pasty feeling in his nose and mouth and making his stomach turn. The stink of sewage, rot, bile and sulfur swam around him, but there was something else beyond those odors: evil. There wasn’t any other way to describe it.

As it drew closer the rumbling, growling sound became more feral. Out of control. A rasping cough followed by a deep roar that was filled with rage, hatred and hunger.

The beast seemed to be cloaked in inky blackness, making it hard to see any real details. It leached light and color from around it, and the darkness pulsed obscenely. It swirled and churned, revealing parts of the beast—but Colin couldn’t understand what he was seeing. Whereas the last time he’d seen it, it had run on six long, powerful legs, it now had only four: two arms and two legs. It had hooves at the ends of its arms, and used them to propel itself down the road at a frightening clip. Finally as it neared him, the darkness peeled back, revealing a gaping mouth filled with rows of sharp triangular teeth and a long, forked tongue. The monster slavered and drooled as it reared back up on two legs and covered the last yards running like a man. One of its front hooves changed, sliding and melting into a huge clawed hand. As it rode Colin down, it drew the hand back and slapped Colin away, claws tearing long scratches across his arm and chest.

As Colin flew off the road into the dry, harsh grasses that lined it, the beast’s hand changed back into a hoof and it fell back into a four—hoofed gallop, a huge burst of speed sending it surging after Penny. Colin slid to a halt, with his face pressed into the grass. His entire left side was a molten river of pain. Blood ran in a pulsing flow and his mangled arm hung uselessly at his side. He managed to push himself to his knees and turned tiredly to see if Penny had gotten away.

He looked just in time to see the beast leap in the air, all four of its hooves melting into great clawed hands, and come down squarely on Penny’s back driving her to the ground. Its momentum carried it past her and it skidded to a halt. Spinning on a dime it gathered itself to leap on her where she was trying to push herself to her feet.

“Wake up, Colin,” she screamed. “Wake up!” Then she was gone.

Panting and bleeding on his knees, he had no idea how to wake himself up. He doubted pinching himself would really do the trick given how much pain he was already in. He glanced down at his torn and bleeding arm and had an idea. Before he could think twice, he jammed his fingers into the huge tear on his arm.

The pain was excruciating and he woke up screaming in his bed, his arm covered in blood, already soaking into his bed. As the pain grew increasingly intense, his mind finally gave out and he slipped into blackness.

This time there were no dreams.

From the end of the chapter "Desert"...

“I thank you both for the journey, Sidney and Penelope.” Ahanu’s voice took on a formal timbre. “May you find what you seek.” With that he turned and bolted away from the tree. Immediately the three dinosaurs burst into motion. Sidney could tell that in a matter of seconds they’d pull him to the ground. In her mind she screamed over and over, but her body was frozen. She knew she should look away but she couldn’t pull her eyes away from the terrifying sight of Ahanu giving his life for them.

And then, out of nowhere, her father appeared between Ahanu and the raptors. They skidded to a halt and hissed, completely unnerved by his sudden appearance. They lowered their heads and stalked around him, Ahanu forgotten.

Sidney’s jaw dropped in shock. Relief and elation at seeing him alive and well filled her in a rush—and that was followed by devastating fear as the dinosaurs closed in on him. Dad blinked twice as he took in his surroundings.

“Well, shit. She couldn’t have put me in the tree?”