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Chapter 3 NIGHTMARES

"Of course I have nightmares-who doesn't?"

I brushed Misery off with that line, but it followed me home from school like a stray dog. I live a couple of miles outside Carcery Vale, in a massive old house three floors high, filled with antiques and mystical knick-knacks. It was once the property of a tyrant called Lord Sheftree, a charming chap who enjoyed chopping up babies into little pieces and feeding them to his pet piranha. But these days it belongs to my uncle, Dervish Grady-as rich as Lord Sheftree, much more powerful, but without any of the nasty habits.

Dervish is munching a sandwich in the kitchen when I get home. "Good day at school?" he asks, handing me half of the sandwich.

"So-so," I reply, taking a bite. Chicken and bacon. Yum!

Dervish looks much the same as when I first met him. Thin, tall, bald on top, grey around the sides. A tight grey beard which he shaved off a year or so ago but has grown back. Piercing blue eyes. Dressed all in denim. The only real difference is his expression. His face is more lined than it used to be, and he has the look of a man still recovering from a haunting. Which he is.

"Bill-E said he might come over this weekend," I tell him.

Dervish nods and goes on munching. He knows things aren't the same between Bill-E and me but he's never said anything. I guess he doesn't think there's any point-nothing he says could fix the situation. It's best for adults to keep out of things like this. It's widely accepted that we can't solve their problems, so I'll never understand why so many of them think they can solve ours.

I tell Dervish about my session with Misery. He's only mildly interested. "Mauch is a nice guy," he says, "but not much up top. If he gets too inquisitive, let me know and I'll have a word."

"It'll be a cold day in hell when I can't handle the likes of Misery Mauch myself," I snort.

"Oh Grubbs, you're so manly!" Dervish gushes, fluttering his eyelids.

"Get stuffed!" I grunt.

We laugh and finish our sandwich.

"Of course I have nightmares-who doesn't?"

I can't get the damn line out of my head! All the way through homework, while watching TV, then listening to CDs and flicking through a wrestling magazine of Loch's.

Everyone has nightmares, sure, but I doubt if many have nightmares like mine. Delirious dreams of demons, wholesale slaughter, a universe of webs and comet-sized monsters. All based on firsthand experience.

I get to bed about 11:30, fairly normal for me, but sleep doesn't come easily. And when it does...

I'm in my bedroom at home-my first home. Blood seeps from the eyes of the football players in the posters on my walls, but that doesn't bother me. Gret walks in. She's been split in two down the back. Guts trail behind her. A demon with a dog's body but a crocodile's head is chewing on the entrails.

"Dad wants you," Gret says.

"Am I in trouble?" I ask.

"Not as much as me," she sighs.

Down the corridor to Mum and Dad's room. I've walked this a thousand times in my nightmares, always feeling the heat and fear. A few tears trickle down my cheeks as my hand rests on the doorknob, the way they always do. I know what I'm going to find inside-my parents, dead, and a wickedly smug Lord Loss. I don't want to open the door, but of course I do, and everything happens the way it did that night when my world first collapsed.

The scene shifts and I'm in the insane asylum. Arms bound, howling at the walls, seeing imaginary demons everywhere I look. Then one of the walls fades. It turns into a barrier of webs. Dervish picks his way through them. "I know demons are real," he says. "I can help you."

"Help me escape?" I sob.

"No." He holds up a mirror and I see that I've turned into a werewolf. "Help you die," he snarls and swings at my neck with an axe.

I kick the covers off and roll out of bed. I hit the floor hard and scramble a few metres across it, fleeing my axe-wielding uncle. Then my vision clears and I realise I'm awake. Groaning, I push myself to my feet and check my bedside clock. Nearly one in the morning. Looks like I won't be getting any decent sleep tonight either.

My T-shirt and boxers are soaked through with sweat. I change, pop to the bathroom, splash cold water over my face, then go on a wander of the mansion. I often stroll when I can't sleep, exploring the warren of corridors and rooms, safe here, knowing no harm can befall me. This house is protected by powerful spells.

Creeping through the old restored part of the mansion, feet cold from the stone floors, too lazy to go back and get my slippers. I find myself in the newer section, an eyesore which was tacked on to the original shell when it was uninhabitable. Dervish keeps talking about demolishing the extension but he hasn't got round to it yet.

I return to the ornate, overblown majesty of the older building and wind up in the hall of portraits, as I usually do on sleepless nights like this. Dozens of paintings and photographs, all of dead family members. Many are of young people, cut down long before their natural time-like my sister, Gret.

I study Gret's photo for ages, a lump in my throat, wishing for the millionth time that I could tell her how sorry I am that I wasn't there for her in her hour of need-her hour of lycanthropy.

It's the family curse. Lots of us turn into werewolves. It's been in the bloodline for more generations than anyone can remember. It strikes in adolescence. Loads of us hit twelve, thirteen... maybe even seventeen or eighteen... and change. Our bodies alter. We lose our minds. Become savage beasts who live to kill.

We're not werewolves like in the movies, who change when the moon is round then resume our normal forms. When the change hits, it's forever. The victim has a few months before the final fall, when he or she goes a bit nutso each full moon. But then the night of total change sweeps in and there's no way back after that. Except one. The way of Lord Loss and demons.

Dervish's study. Playing chess against myself on the computer. The study's an enormous room, even by the mansion's grand standards. Unlike the other rooms in the old quarters it's carpeted, the walls covered with leather panels. There are two huge desks, several bookcases, a PC, laptop, typewriter. Swords, axes and other weapons hang from the walls. Dervish removed them when he was prone to sleep-walking and attacking me in his sleep, but he's safe as a baby now so the weapons are back. But he never replaced the five chess boards he once kept here, which is why I'm playing on the computer.

Gret was infected with the family curse. In an attempt to save her, Mum and Dad locked horns with a demon master called Lord Loss. Yeah, this isn't just a world of werewolves-demons also prowl the shadowy corridors of the night. The Demonata, to give them their full title.

Lord Loss is a horrible creature with lumpy, pale red flesh and a snake-filled hole where his heart should be. He's always bleeding from thousands of small cuts and cracks in his skin, and floats around instead of walking. He thrives on pain. Haunts sad, tortured humans, feeding on their misery. Nothing appeals to him more than a person in severe agony-except maybe a cracking game of chess.

My hand moves slowly on the mouse, directing black and white pieces on the screen. A powerful family magician discovered Lord Loss's passion for chess many decades ago. He established a contest wherein two relatives of an affected child could challenge the demon master to a chess match. If Lord Loss was defeated, he'd restore the child's natural form and lift the curse forever. But if he won...

My parents lost. Under Lord Loss's rules, both were killed, along with Gret. I would have died too, but I was able to call upon hidden magical powers and escape.

Months later, under Dervish's care, I learnt the truth about what happened, and that Bill-E was my secret half-brother. I also found out that Bill-E had fallen prey to the lycanthropic curse.

Dervish and I faced Lord Loss. It was the bravest, most terrifying thing I've ever done or hope to do. I managed to out-fox Lord Loss and turn his love of misery against him. He didn't take it lightly. Swore revenge on all three of us.

He almost exacted that revenge months later on the set of a movie called Slawter. A horror maestro was making a film about demons. Dervish, Bill-E and I were lured into a trap. Lord Loss set an army of demons loose on the cast and crew. Hundreds of people died horribly, but we managed to escape.

Bill-E was badly shaken by his run-in with demons. With Dervish's help he recovered and is back to his old self, pretty much. But there's a nervousness in his look these days-he's always watching the shadows for flickers of demons.

And me? Apart from the nightmares and sleepless nights, have I got over it? Am I living the good life, getting on with things, making my way in the world? Well, yes, I'm trying. But there are a couple of flies in the ointment of my life, threatening to mess everything up.

First, it'll be a few more years before I know for sure whether or not I carry the lycanthropic gene. There's a strong possibility I could turn into a werewolf.

If I do start to turn, I'm damned. Lord Loss won't intervene. He hates us with an inhuman passion. Nothing in either universe would tempt him to offer me the chance of salvation. Dervish hasn't said as much but we both know the score-if I fall under the spell of the moon and my body changes, an axe to the neck will be the only cure.

As for the second fly... Well, in a way that's even worse than the first.

Back in my bathroom, I splash more water over my face. Letting myself drip-dry, I study the water flowing down the drain. It spirals out of the sink in an anticlockwise direction, under the control of gravity. I focus and stare hard at the water. An inner force grows at my prompting. The stream of water splutters, then starts to spiral downwards smoothly again-but in a clockwise direction.

I watch for a few seconds, then shake my head and break the spell. The flow of water returns to normal. I head back to bed, dejected and scared, to spend the rest of the night awake and miserable beneath the covers.

Magicians are rare. Only one or two are born every century, humans with the magical potential of demons, who can change the world with the flick of a wrist.

There are others called mages. They can perform magic when there's demonic energy in the air, but under everyday conditions they can only manage minor spells. Most mages are part of a group known as the Disciples-they fight demons and try to stop them crossing to our world.

As far as anyone knows, I'm neither a magician nor a mage. I have more magical ability than most people, and tapped into it when I faced Lord Loss and his familiars. But I'm not a true part of the world of magic.

That suits me fine. I don't want to become a demon-battling Disciple. I want to lead an ordinary life. The thought of brushing shoulders with Lord Loss or his kind again terrifies me. And as somebody who isn't naturally magical, there's no reason why I should get involved in any more demonic battles. I can sit on the sidelines with the rest of humanity, ignorant of the wars being fought between the forces of good and evil, free of the curse of magic and the responsibilities it brings.

At least that's what Dervish believes. That's how I'd like it to be.

But something changed in Slawter. I discovered a power within myself, and although I masked it from Dervish, it hasn't gone away. The magic is working its way out, keen to break free. It allows me to reverse the flow of water, lift great weights, move objects without touching them. I've awoken several times to find myself levitating above my bed.

I've fought the magic with desperate determination. And for the most part I've been successful. I hope that by focusing and fighting it every step of the way, I can work it out of my system and return to normal.

I'd like to talk with Dervish about it and seek his advice. But I'm afraid. Magic is his life. He's a Disciple first and foremost, dedicated to the task of keeping the world safe from demons. Dervish loves me, but I have no doubt that if he knew about my power he'd press me into learning more spells. He'd say the world needed me. He'd nag, lecture and plead. I'd resist, but my uncle can be extremely persuasive when he puts his mind to it. I'm certain he'd nudge me back into the world of magic... back into the world of demons.

So here I am. I want to be an average teenager whose only worries are puberty, acne, scoring with girls, impressing my friends and getting through school in one piece. But I'm forced to spend the better part of every day brooding about turning into a werewolf or becoming a whizz-kid wizard who has to fight evil, heartless demons.

"Of course I have nightmares..."

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