I’ve started another book!! See the beginning below:
GOOD SINNERS (Underland Book 1)
Dispatcher: 911, what’s your emergency?
Caller: (static)….hello? Is anyone there?
Dispatcher: Can you hear me?
Caller: It’s (static) blood everywhere –
Dispatcher: Sir, I can’t hear you – where are you?
Caller: (static) woods –
Caller: Kellerman Forest (static) by the (static) old stone hut (static) Hurry. (static) she’s dying – oh god – Cora (call disconnected)
Text from Margeurite Reedman to Willa Bryson
Did u hear about Cora?
Text from Willa Bryson to Margeurite Reedman
Text from Margeurite Reedman to Willa Bryson
Karma’s a bitch
Patient Name: Cora Van Helton
Injury: Neck Laceration
Time of Death: 3:15AM
The nightmare began when she was still awake.
It was like falling into a dream with one foot still in waking. She was frozen, unable to escape the torrent of horrifying images before her eyes: images her waking half felt sure couldn’t be real. One dream turned to another, and she futilely grasped towards the fragments of each as they turned to dust before her.
The only concrete constant seemed to be fear. Fear, and pain.
As she fell deeper and deeper into the nightmare, she tried desperately to hang onto what was real. But she could no longer tell the difference.
The burning in her throat as she tried to suck in more air felt real. The horrible dizzy feeling in her head felt real. The flight of her heart into her stomach felt real.
But so did the sharp, icy claws that dragged her across a rough floor, scraping her fingertips as she struggled to grab onto something – anything – to steady herself. She thrashed and tried to draw breath, but breathing in felt like gulping cold water. She choked the air back up, coughing and sputtering. Unable to do anything else, she tried to scream; but all that came out was a hoarse, cackling whisper.
This is what dying feels like, she realized. There was some deep human part of her that knew, knew beyond doubt that her life was ending.
But was it only in the dream? You couldn’t die in a dream, could you? Or had that simply been a myth, a remnant of a dark children’s story or horror movie in which death in sleeping led to death in waking?
“I haven’t inflicted any abuse. But I could. Remember that, Cora.”
Cora jerked, looking for the voice. But her eyes would no longer open, or if they had, then they weren’t functioning properly. It was almost as if she’d entered a different dimension, where voice and color and memory and feeling blended together into a vortex that could not be perceived with any one of the senses.
“You’re just a delusional, stupid little girl that’s so bored she ruins everyone around her for sport, turning them into characters she can kill off when convenient.”
This voice was different. Around her floated emotions of love, lust, trust, and anger…but not the bitter hate that had accompanied the last voice.
I’m not, Cora tried to cry, but she couldn’t find her voice in the mess around her.
“She was right about you. You never cared at all. It’s over, Cora.”
“I’m not someone you want to cross.”
“You’re a horrible person. You’re the worst person I’ve ever met.”
“Please. Please help me. Maybe I can help you. If not….I’m going to lose my mind.”
“Rot in hell, Cora,”
She turned, or she thought she did, as the colors around her swirled and changed, finally forming blurry images in her mind. A classroom. A hallway. A dark office, a crystal glass of dark liquid in her hand. Brown hair over a freckled face and searching eyes. A letter in a locker.
“Stay with us, Cora,” a voice suddenly cut through the others, distracting her. This one felt tangible, like it flowed through ears as a sound, not a color or a feeling or anything else. Real – not memory. In real time. The first real thing to latch onto.
“You’re doing so good.”
Well, Cora wanted to correct. I’m doing so well. What am I doing well, anyways, she wanted to ask. Staying alive? It hardly seemed she was succeeding at that.
Cora didn’t normally like following directions, but this one felt important. She desperately tried to stay awake, only she wasn’t sure what that meant. She didn’t feel in control; it did not feel like there was an on and off switch she could just flip to alive or dead. Perhaps she could dismiss the colors, the images, the memories, rip herself into reality, while she was momentarily aware of which was which. But something drew her towards them. Something told her they were more important.
“I love you more than all the stars in the sky,” she heard, and this time the voice was her own, though she hadn’t felt herself say anything. A face materialized in front of her: a young boy’s face, sensitive and sweet, a tear rolling down his cheek that Cora wiped away. Ben.
But as she reached out to him, feeling her heart fill with love and fear, the two inseparable as they always were, he disappeared into wisps in the distance, and suddenly she was alone, and all the colors and voices were gone. It was just her, and the sounds of nature, and faraway cars, and were there….footsteps?
And now they were her own, and she wasn’t simply watching herself in a dream but now she was herself, running at top speed, her throat burning and her breaths coming fast, fear filling her like liquid poison, this time devoid of love.
She tripped and fell, stumbling back up again, running forward even as her palms burned and she felt blood on her leg.
She was being chased, she realized. But why? And what had scared her so much? Why was she in the dark, alone, at night, so far from her home in the city?
“I haven’t inflicted any abuse…”
The voices swirled again in her head, faces popping up and then blending into each other.
Her stepfather. Her friends, classmates. Her various exes.
She flashed back into the forest, and she’d fallen again, and she was screaming.
“Hold her down.” The voice ripped her back into reality, and for a split second she saw bright lights, unfamiliar faces, metal instruments, blue scrubs against red blood….
It was not just a dream. It was a memory.
Someone had hurt her. One of the faces…..
“Stay still,” a deeper voice said and suddenly she felt a weight on her chest that only made it harder to breathe. She writhed and squirmed under it, slowly becoming aware of something warm and wet on her neck but feeling little else other than the suffocating force on her lungs. The lights started to sparkle and the world around her went black, black…..
You’re dying, Cora, she told herself. One of the faces….
They hadn’t just hurt her. They had killed her.
It was funny, really, that she didn’t worry about death, about what would happen after.
Perhaps she didn’t think anything would happen. Perhaps she thought it wasn’t important.
How very wrong she was.
Instead she focused in on the one thing that felt within her control, the last thing she could do before she died: figuring out who had killed her.
Minutes, minutes to solve her own murder. To remember. To say something, to find her voice and speak, to tell her family, the police, the doctors, anyone. A name, a face, something.
Focus, Cora. Ben’s face floated again into her mind, and she latched onto it. Focus. For him.
The harsh voices were back.
“Do you really think it’s wise to threaten an alleged child abuser?”
“You don’t even care, do you? You’ll do anything as long as you benefit. Hurt anyone.”
Willa’s father, Willa herself, angry at the blackmail she’d inflicted on their family.
“Cora Fallman is fucking a teacher!”
Eric, Francis – exes who she’d left ruined….
“You walk around trying on men, on personalities, on drugs like new dresses at Bloomingdale’s, and then cast them away.”
Colton Harris. Mr. Harris. Her teacher.
“I know you took the key, Cora. You could’ve done it, you knew where it was. I’ve been protecting you, but my mom helped me see, it had to be you-“
Eric’s mother, who had always hated Cora, convinced she’d be the ruin of her son.
“You’re a slut, Cora. You’ll ruin him like you ruin everyone around you.”
Marguerite, who’d felt betrayed by her relationship with Eric, her childhood crush.
“Please, Cora. Please drop out. I’m begging you.”
“I know you’re not a bad person, Cora.”
Anya. Julie. Girls who had asked for her help only to be ignored, cast aside.
A sudden jolt and she could breathe again. Sucking in air, gasping, gulping, then finally, when she caught her breath enough, screaming at the new pain, at the confusion. Voices were all around her, instruments were being passed, and still that red was all around her, blending with the blue into swirling, sickening purple like a magic potion to put her to sleep…
Panicked, she tried to make out a face, or an object, or anything. Someone was sobbing loudly and she slowly became aware that it wasn’t her. Mother? She wondered. As her vision focused and her mind started to clear, another wave of pain knocked her focus back and she struggled to find herself again, to find her memories, the faces. She was running out of time.
Seconds. Seconds left to solve her own murder.
Her stepfather, Willa, Willa’s father, Margeurite, Mr. Harris, Eric, Eric’s mother, Francis, Anya, Julie…..
None of them had seemed capable of murder. But she was dead, and unless it was a random act, it had to have been one of them.
Something was around her mouth now, making both worlds – the purple and the hazy memories – go fuzzy.
She was going to lose consciousness. She was going to lose the ability to focus, to plot, to figure it all out as she always did. Her one power in a world of deceit and unfairness.
No, she tried to say. Not yet. She would take the pain, the confusion, over anesthesia. She didn’t know if she’d ever wake up once she gave in fully to sleep. Just a few more seconds, she begged.
But she no longer had any power here. She no longer even had a voice. And images of bloody footprints and frantic screams turned into nothingness.
Red pain and blue-clad doctors disappeared.
Even her brother’s face, begging her not to go, faded away.
And finally she was in darkness. And nothing was red anymore. Nothing was any color at all.
Cora Fallman died at 3:15AM on a Sunday morning under mysterious circumstances. Her mother cried. Nobody knew who’d inflicted the fatal blow, or even if it had been just one person. Plenty of people had their own suspicions, but remained silent, knowing their evidence could be self-incriminating.
Some people were just glad she was gone. Her reign of terror was finally over.
Others saw her as a victim. A bright girl gone too soon. They assumed it was some crazy murderer in the woods. A man – older, probably. Maybe a stalker. After all, she’d been very pretty. Almost doll-like. Fair skinned with cherry red lips and dark hair. Like Snow White, only with more expensive clothing.
The world moved on.
Cora Fallman died at 3:15AM on a Sunday morning under mysterious circumstances.
And then she woke up.
ONE CAN’T BELIEVE IMPOSSIBLE THINGS
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Perhaps “waking up” was not the right term for it.
Waking up denoted leaving the state of sleeping into a state of waking in which reality was intact. And that did not at all describe the situation Cora found herself in upon gaining consciousness.
She felt as if someone had cut her into a million little pieces, and then put her back together in a hurry. She was dizzy, disoriented, and though her eyes were open she could not focus on anything in front of her. Instead, disparate images, sounds, and feelings ran through her ears like a ribbon, as if there was nothing tangible in her head to block them. Her mother’s face, cold and stony. Blood against her neck. The feeling of soft lips on hers, the smell of alcohol on breath, the sound of pure hatred contained in a voice.
She tried to connect them, to place each to a specific memory, but there were simply too many of them. It felt like she was trying to match a box of a thousand unique buttons. Her life did not seem to exist on a timeline, but rather in a collage of all the horrible things that had ever happened to her.
Or was it the opposite – was it the most horrible things she had ever done?
Intermingled with the strange sounds, sights, and feelings were ones that didn’t feel as familiar. A hard surface below her head. Brown stairs on a white ceiling. Sound – a slight ringing in her ears. These did not feel quite like reality. But they felt like something stable to hold onto, unlike the visions that flashed through her mind. She focused on them, and ever so slowly, her senses seemed to fall somewhat back in line, into present time.
Cora blinked at the ceiling. It was not white after all. It was the kind of yellow cheap white paint gets when it’s been on too long. Cora automatically wrinkled her nose, surprising herself when she felt the movement of her face. Shakily, she tested her limits: she reached her fingers out, splaying them over the ground, feeling the crumbling rock beneath.
Cora slowly sat up, examining her body, pale in the dim light. Besides for indents on her arms from the rough floor, it was immaculate. She traced her knee with her finger, but she couldn’t even find the scar she’d had since being a child, forever marking what otherwise would’ve been a forgettable bike ride. It was almost as if she had been regenerated, good as new.
A hospital gown adorned her body – light blue, like her nails.
She was surrounding by four walls – one of which had mostly fallen away, revealing a starless sky. There was nothing in the room but a rocking chair, an old rug that reminded Cora of a nursing home, and a broken bookshelf. The floor beneath her was hard concrete, but there were holes in it, too, and dust and rubble lay all around, like there had been an explosion.
“Where the hell am I?” Cora breathed raspily, surprising herself with the sound of her own voice. She cleared her throat and tried again. “Hello?”
There was nothing but silence around her – the kind of silence that felt like sound itself, drowning out all the rest.
Cora rose gingerly, searching her mind for the last thing that had happened, but her memories still felt out of order. What day was it? Where had she been last? Who had she spoken to? Panic began to fill her, chills running up and down her back. What had happened? How had she ended up in a place that looked like freaking Syria?
“Ow,” Cora said softly as she took a step forward and felt a sharp pain in her foot. All at once the chills were gone, physical pain providing a ledge as she began to topple off the precipice of everything she thought she had known. Cora winced, lifting her foot to see the damage almost automatically, as if she was just that same little kid who had fallen off her bike. A broken shard of glass had punctured her skin, red spilling out against it.
She took a deep breath – like taking off a bandaid, she told herself- and pulled it out, pressing her hand against the wound to stem the flow of blood.
Her hand against her neck, blood gushing out. Life gushing out.
No, Cora gasped, suddenly finding herself on the floor, heavy breaths racking her body.
“What’s happening to me?” she gasped softly, suddenly noticing the pain in her foot was gone, and the blood flow had stopped. Had it coagulated already? She lifted her foot to examine the wound, forcing cracks of dried blood underneath her blue nails to discover nothing but smooth skin underneath.
Cora’s breath caught in her throat. Her hands scratched to a fist against the dark red on her foot, then wrapped around it, trying to remain grounded. But there was no ledge this time to hold onto. There was only glass.
She looked around, locating the bloody shard. She gripped it in her hands tightly, until it sliced into her flesh, then let it clatter to the ground. She waited for the pain to recede, then forced herself to look.
Behind the blood, there was no cut.
She stood and rushed to the opening in the wall, not even bothering to watch her step. She would heal – as insane as that thought even was.
She needed to see where she was. No more careful, slow observation.
Rip off the bandaid, right?
She caught herself on the edge of the crumbling wall, gazing out, eyes flitting left and right as her new world hit her like the chill of walking outside on a cold winter day.
Rubble lay out on the streets, broken street lamps lining a broken and cracked road, buildings crumbling out onto it like a child had utterly failed at coloring inside the lines. Ten, twelve, fifteen story buildings, teetering on their foundations, holes ripped throughout as if they were as fragile as the pairs of black nylons she wore to school. It almost looked like a giant had come through and turned the world to ruin, like a toddler stepping on a sandcastle.
Everything looked empty. Abandoned.
The sky, as she had seen from her position on the floor, was blank. Only it was not quite black – it was more of a dark gray. The color seemed to be all around her, too, as if the air itself was gray. Everything was dull and drab, like she was wearing the opposite of rose-colored glasses. It was dark, but she could still see, and not just because of the streetlights. It did not look like anything Cora had ever seen in real life. It looked like a Godzilla movie set come to life.
Suddenly she heard footsteps coming from below her, and whipped around to face the door. Someone was running. The footsteps grew louder – they were getting closer.
Towards the door. Towards her.
Cora took a tentative step back, almost falling out the side of the building. Should she run? She turned back and stared down. She was only three stories up.
You cannot scale this thing, Cora. You’ll die.
And then she heard it – an ear-shattering, inhuman roar that shook the whole building.
Before she could even react, the door burst open and a dirt-encrusted, wild-eyed girl who looked more like a feral cat flew in, slamming the door shut behind her as she flung her lanky body against it.
“Don’t just stare!” the girl screamed, jolting a frozen Cora. “Help me!”
Cora stared blankly at her. She had never in her life been spoken to this way. Especially not by a teenager who, by the looks of it, was homeless. “What?”
“DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH? Help-” she slammed on the door with her hands and then pointed to herself “-me!! Or -” She sliced her finger across her neck. “we die!”
Feeling like everything was happening in slow motion, Cora walked forward hesitantly, placing her hands lightly on the door. The girl gave her a look like she was the most idiotic person on the planet – a look Cora recognized well, though usually its place was on her own face.
“Okay, you clearly have a death wish, but I don’t, so for the love of all that is holy,” the girl said, shifting her eyes up in a way suggesting she didn’t find anything at all holy, “PUT YOUR BACK INTO IT, or I swear to god I’ll kill you before he does!”
“He?” Cora asked weakly, still feeling as if she had missed something.
The growl was back, only now it was more like nails on a chalkboard, penetrating deep into her ears, followed by a force against the door that almost pushed it open. Cora quickly threw her whole weight against the door, holding it closed, feeling like she was in some kind of horror movie.
“Go away!” the girl screamed. “I don’t want to hurt you!”
There was no response, predictably. Cora didn’t think whatever was behind that door was human. The girl reached back and grabbed a pistol hidden in the back of her jeans, stood away from the door, and shot through it three times without hesitation. Cora screamed and jumped away from the door, staring at the bullet holes inches from where her head had just been in shock.
The girl shot her a haughty look, an eyebrow raised, as if to say “really?” She then strode forward, opening the door.
To Cora’s horror, the newly dead body of a boy about her age slid into the room.
Cora stared at it. That wasn’t right. It hadn’t been a person. It had been an animal. Or, or….a…
Cora shook her head of such fantasies. There was no such thing as monsters.
There was no such thing as injuries that instantly healed, either.
There was no such thing as having your throat slit and then waking up.
Cora watched as the girl knelt down next to the boy.
“Okay, I lied,” she said, cupping his bloody cheek with her hand. “I totally wanted to hurt you.” She stood, wiping her bloody hand off on her filthy jeans and then extending it towards Cora. “Hi. I’m Lee.”
A handshake. The first familiar thing in this terrifying world.
Except it wasn’t quite right. The girl had to be no more than fifteen. She was still holding a gun with her other hand. A dead boy lay beside them, the girl’s victim, and the hand she held out was still smeared in his blood.
None of this was right at all. None of it was familiar. Even Cora herself felt unfamiliar. This was not her – an inactive participant, looking for an escape, allowing herself to be belittled at the whim of others. She was Cora Van Helton. And wherever she was, however real it all was, that still mattered.
And so, she drew herself up to her full height, ignored the hand in front of her, and glowered down at the filthy girl in front of her with her best stern look.
“What. The Hell. Is Going On.”
The girl – Lee – refused to be intimidated. She looked rather like she was watching a child play make believe. “Funny you should mention hell, as that pretty much sums it up.” Cora stared at her. “Either the fashions have seriously changed since I was alive, or you just got here,” she nodded to Cora’s garb. Cora self-consciously tried to pull the back of her gown together.
“Alive?” she echoed, searching for some confirmation of what was going on.
“Sorry, the welcome committee must’ve been busy,” Lee rolled her eyes. “You died!” she sang in a mockingly grand voice, wiggling jazz fingers. “Welcome to the land of the sinners!”
“That’s-I’m-Hell doesn’t exist,” Cora said, almost laughing, feeling like she was the victim of a cruel practical joke. She was not dead.
Yet a voice in the back of her mind protested, reminding her of the vision of blood gushing out her neck.
Not a vision. A memory.
Lee shrugged. “Yeah, denial’s fun while it lasts. My suggestion? Just accept it or you’ll end up dead-”
“But-if we’re already dead-”
“Death is relative,” she said significantly. “The version we are is the least bad. Trust me – you don’t want to die here. Too bad for our friend over here. ” Cora followed her eyes towards the boy. Lee bent down and grabbed his hand, forcing it to wave. “Bye bye, free will!” she said.
“What….what is he?” Cora asked in horror. Was it even worth talking to this homeless girl? She was clearly psychotic.
The girl – Lee – shrugged, dropping the hand as if it was a piece of trash. “The worst kind of monster. A boy.”
“I wouldn’t….I would never be in hell, even if it was real.” Cora rolled her eyes, trying to seem confident. “I….I’ve never done anything bad,” She insisted, ignoring the voice in her head that told her you couldn’t reason with crazy.
Crazy’s all I’ve got, she countered.
Lee raised her eyebrows, the universal expression for you’re full of shit.
I know you’re not a bad person, Cora.
The voice echoed in her head, twisting and turning into a memory. And not just a fragment this time.
The note in her locker. Anya.
I know you’re not a bad person, Cora, Anya had written. I know that you’re unhappy. Like me. I see it on your face. I think maybe we could understand each other.
Please. Please help me. Maybe I can help you.
If not….I’m going to lose my mind.
Not your fault, Cora thought, chasing the memory away with her usual narrative. After all, she had never bullied Anya. It wasn’t Cora’s fault, so therefore it was not her responsibility.
Lee was still eyeing her doubtfully. “Yeah, I don’t really have time to play judge and jury for your life, or sit down and figure out how you ended up here. Actually,” she said, looking at an imaginary watch. “I’m already late.”
“Late for what?”
“Everything!” Lee said, walking past Cora towards the door. “There’s so much to do, you know, people to torture, a girlfriend to find so I can get the hell out of….well, hell – hah! Didn’t even do that on purpose.” She laughed. Cora did not. Lee shot her a look, disappointed. “Alice would’ve thought it was funny.” She shrugged, turning to leave.
“Wait,” Cora said, grabbing her arm. Lee looked down at it, then up at Cora, seeming impressed Cora even had the gall to do so. Cora tightened her grip, wanting to show this girl she was not afraid of her.
“I demand to know exactly what is going on,” she said, raising her head high.
“Dude,” Lee said, ripping her arm from Cora’s grip and shooting her an annoyed look.
“Look, you’re new here. Which means you don’t have any use to me. So – goodbye. Have a nice afterlife.” And with that, she walked past Cora to the door, disappearing from sight.
Cora stood, a strange feeling filling her. That had never happened before.
She had always had leverage, something to offer. She’d always been able to make a deal. She’d always been able to bend people to her will.
But it was like this girl didn’t even care that she was Cora Van Helton….
We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
Right. She had no reputation, wherever she was. No one cared how rich her stepfather was. And as she knew nothing of what was going on, she couldn’t even offer information.
She was, for lack of a better word, a loser in Hell.
You’re not in Hell. You can’t be, she fought against herself.
She was just in a land that looked a lot like Hell. With boys that fought like monsters and girls that tortured people.
If it looks like a duck, and talks like a duck…
Cora had heavy disdain for the art of self-deception. Why willfully ignore that which you knew was true? How could you possibly fight back if you didn’t know the facts?
How can you fight back if your throat’s been slit?
But still, all she had to go off of was what Lee had said and a handful of shaky memories. She needed more evidence than that. She needed to gather intel. The first step in any new situation. Cora closed her eyes, realizing what she had to do.
She had never seen a dead body before. Not even her father’s – her mother had not allowed them to see him after they’d pulled the plug.
Cora felt stupid for her trepidation. She took a deep breath, trying to comfort herself.
It’s just a thing. An empty husk. Being afraid of it would be as juvenile as fearing a doll, or a place, or a film.
The only things in the world to really fear are people. Dead people don’t count.
Once people were dead, they could’nt hurt you anymore. There were no ghosts; no spirits; no demons. As a little girl, she’d often been kept up by nightmares of such things, comforted only by her father’s assurances that they were not real. But she was not a child anymore. And her father was dead, just like the boy in front of her.
Death was a fact, not an illusion or a semicolon or anything else. Nothing, not false hope or intense grief or consuming self-delusion could change it. She knew that from experience.
Death was just death. It was just over.
At least in the world Cora knew.
Suddenly she realized, staring at the boy with bullet wounds in his torso, his eyes still open, his chest still and unmoving, that none of these solaces applied anymore.
Because Cora could remember dying. And yet here she was.
What was it the girl had said?
Death is relative. The version we are is the least bad.
Before she could even think to run, to leave, to go far away, the boy’s hand whipped up and grabbed Cora’s neck with superhuman strength. His eyes turned black like squid ink spreading throughout a blue and white sea; his hands turned rough and scaly; his nails extended into claws that dug into the back of Cora’s neck; his lips stretched into a too-wide smile of jagged shards of glass, releasing a scream more terrible than anything Cora had heard before.
Death was not finite. It was relative.
And some form of it was coming for her.