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Chapter 1 DAMN THE SANDMAN


PART ONE - LOCH

Chapter 1 DAMN THE SANDMAN

My hands are red with blood. I'm running through a forest. Naked, but I don't care. I'm an animal, not a human. Animals don't need clothes.

Blood on my tongue too. Must have fed recently. Can't remember if it was a wild creature or a person. Not bothered much either way. Still hungry-that's all that matters. Need to find something new to chew. And soon.

I leap a fallen log. As I land, my bare feet hit twigs. They snap and I sink into a pool of mud. I collapse, howling. The twigs bite into me. I catch a glimpse of fiery red eyes peering up out of the mud. They aren't twigs-they're teeth! I lash out with my feet, screaming wordlessly...

...and mud and bits of bark fly everywhere. I stare at the mess suspiciously, my heart rate returning to normal. I was wrong. I haven't fallen victim to a monstrous baby with mouths in the palms of its hands and balls of fire where its eyes should be. It's just a muddy hole, covered with the remains of branches and leaves.

Scowling, I rise and wipe my feet clean on clumps of nearby grass. As I'm using my nails to pick off some splinters, a voice calls, "Grubbs..."

The name doesn't register immediately. Then I remember-that's my name. Or it used to be, once upon a time. I glance up warily, sniffing the air, but all I can smell is blood.

"Grubitsch..." the voice murmurs and I growl angrily. I hate my real name. Grubbs isn't great, but it's better than Grubitsch. Nobody ever called me that except Mum and my sister Gret.

"You can't find me," the voice teases.

I roar into the darkness of the forest, then lurch at the bushes where I think the voice is coming from. I tear through them but there's nothing on the other side.

"Wrong," the voice laughs, coming from a spot behind me.

I whirl and squint, but I can't see anyone.

"Over here," the voice whispers. This time it's coming from my right.

Still squinting, I edge closer, towards the source of the voice. This feels wrong, like it's a trap. But I can't back away from it. I'm drawn on by curiosity, but also something else. It's a girl's voice and I think I know whose it is.

Movement to my left, just as I'm about to round a tree. Eight long, pale arms wave in the light of the moon. Dozens of tiny snakes hiss and slither. I cry out with fear and slam into the tree, shielding my eyes from the horror. Seconds pass but nothing attacks. Lowering my arms, I realise the arms were just branches of a couple of neighbouring trees. The snakes were vines, blowing in the wind.

I feel sick but I force a weak chuckle, then slide around the tree in search of the person who called to me.

I'm at the edge of a pond. I frown at it. I know this forest and there should be no pond here. But there it lies regardless, the full moon reflected in its still surface. I'm thirsty. The blood has dried on my tongue, leaving a nasty copper-like taste. I crouch to drink from the pond, going down on all fours and lowering my head to the water like a wolf.

I see my face in the mirror-like water before I drink. Blood everywhere, caked into my flesh and hair. My eyes widen and fill with fear. Not because of the blood, but because I can see the shadow of somebody behind me.

I start to turn, but it's too late. The girl pushes my head down hard and I go under. Water fills my mouth and I gag. I try to fight but the girl is strong. She holds me down and my lungs fill. The coppery taste is still there and I realise, as I blink with horrified fascination, that the pond is actually a pool of blood.

As my body goes limp, the girl pulls me up by my hair and laughs shrilly as I draw a hasty, terrified breath. "You always were a useless coward, Grubitsch," she sneers.

"Gret?" I moan, staring up at the mocking smile of my sister. "I thought you were dead."

"No," she croaks, eyes narrowing and snout lengthening. "You are."

I weep as her face transforms into that of a mutant wolf. I want to run or hit her, but I can only sit and stare. Then, as the transformation ends, she opens her mouth wide and howls. Her head shoots forward. Her fangs fasten around my throat. She bites.

I wake choking. I want to scream but in my imagination Gret's teeth are locked around my throat. I lash out at my dead sister, still half in the dream world. When my arm fails to connect, I rub at my eyes and my bedroom swims back into sight around me.

Groaning softly, I sit up and dangle my legs over the edge of the bed. Covering my face with my hands, I recall the worst parts of the dream, then shiver and get up to go to the toilet. No point trying to sleep again tonight. I know from past experience that the nightmares will be even worse if I do.

I pause in the doorway of the bathroom, suddenly certain that demons are lurking in the shadows. If I turn on the light, they'll attack. I know it's ridiculous, a ripple from the nightmare, but despite that my finger trembles in the air by the switch, refusing to press.

"The hell with it," I finally sigh, stepping forward. Letting my fear have its way on this night, as on so many others, I go about my business in the dark.

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