Dream Dark by Kami Garcia

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  The Story No One Ever Heard

  Small towns are known for lots of small things, but they’re known for some big things, too. Like stories that start out as small as the town itself, until folks grow them. You can’t grow tales any taller than we do here in Gatlin. Maybe it’s because we’re so close to Charleston, home to more haunted houses than unhaunted ones—each with a story more unbelievable than the next. Why should Gatlin be any different? And why did it take me almost seventeen years to figure that out?

  Some of the things that happened to me in the last year—true things—were so big and so impossible, they felt like lies. I discovered my girlfriend was a Supernatural, a Caster with a curse. Lena split her Seventeenth Moon and Claimed herself both Light and Dark. I found myself locked in a battle with supernatural creatures that could rival the ones in any comic book. It was just the icing on the cake that Macon Ravenwood, who had once been an Incubus himself, found his way back from the dead.

  That was all before July. When we got back to Gatlin after our terrifying trip to the Great Barrier, the stories—the truths that should have been lies—got even bigger.

  One thing did, anyway. My best friend, Link.

  Probably the biggest thing that happened this summer—aside from the heat that wouldn’t stop overheating and the creepy crawlers that wouldn’t stop creeping or crawling—was the introduction of a Linkubus to the unsuspecting world of Gatlin. It was worthy of the whole front page of The Stars and Stripes, the biggest story no one ever heard. Which is a good thing, I guess. Because if anyone had heard it, Mrs. Lincoln would have found herself with a lot of explaining to do. It wasn’t like the Baptists had an official religious stance on Immortals—aside from the heavenly kind—but the word Incubus had some less-than-stellar connotations. Let’s just say it wasn’t exactly something Link’s mom would’ve been anxious to share with the reverend when it was time to give her testimony in church.

  Linkubus wouldn’t have gone over much better.

  The way Link told it, the whole thing had dropped on his head out of nowhere, like the anvil that always fell on the coyote in those old Road Runner cartoons. When I tried to point out that getting bitten by a hybrid Incubus like John Breed should’ve been Link’s first clue about what was happening, he shrugged it off and said, “You weren’t there, dude. One minute I’m sittin’ in front a my mom’s biscuits ’n’ gravy, lookin’ at half a pig for my second breakfast and thinkin’ about my third. The next minute, everything changed.…”

  Okay, I wasn’t there. But the way he told it, it almost felt like I was. Still, I’m getting ahead of myself.

  This is the story of Gatlin’s first, and only, Linkubus. You won’t read about it in The Stars and Stripes, and you won’t hear it from anyone but me. Lena said I should write it down, so here goes. Someone ought to know, someday.

  It’s the truest tall tale in town.

  “Wesley Lincoln! You get that fork movin’ right now, young man! Don’t you tell me this poor pig gave its life in vain!”

  Link was sitting in front of a plate loaded down with bacon and his mother’s biscuits ’n’ gravy. There was nothing different about this breakfast, not from the perspective of the pig, anyway. Or Mrs. Lincoln. The table was covered with the same sad-looking biscuits, the same thick white gravy. And if Link was lucky, there was probably still a little something left in the bottom of the jar of Amma’s apricot freezer jam.

  There was only one problem.

  For the first time in his entire life, Link wasn’t hungry. But telling his mom that was like trying to explain that Baptists and Methodists aren’t all that different. You might be able to explain it, but not to the Baptists or the Methodists around here.

  “Yes, ma’am.” So he kept his head down, staring at the same breakfast he had eaten a hundred times before, maybe even a thousand.

  The one he’d always liked until this morning.

  “I still don’t see that fork movin’.” Though Mrs. Lincoln’s fork was operating at lightning speed. Her hands flashed back and forth over the biscuits like she was trying out for captain of the clean plate club.

  “I’m not that hungry, Mom. I think I caught a stomach bug or somethin’.” Link mustered up the most pathetic expression he could manage. It was the same one he gave his teachers when he didn’t finish his assignments. They’d seen it so many times that it had stopped working back around fifth grade.

  His mother’s eyes narrowed, her fork hovering above her plate. “The only bug you’ve ever had was a bad case a head lice from playin’ with Jimmy Weeks, after I told you he wasn’t our kinda people.” It was true. Link never got sick, and his mom knew that better than anyone. “If this is your way a tellin’ me that you don’t care for my biscuits ’n’ gravy, then cook your own breakfast from now on. You hear me, Wesley?”

  “Yes, ma’am.” Link scooped up a bite with his good arm—the one that wasn’t in a sling—but he couldn’t bring himself to eat it. He stared at the white gravy. It looked harmless enough. But it smelled like a heart-stopping mix of old aluminum, dirt, rancid butter, and, worst of all, his mom’s fingernails. He’d rather eat Jimmy Weeks’ lice.

  “Martha, leave the boy alone. Maybe he really is under the weather,” Link’s dad said between bites. Big mistake.

  Mrs. Lincoln dropped her fork on the edge of her china plate with a clatter.

  “Excuse me? Did you say somethin’, Clayton? Because I thought I heard you underminin’ my authority while you’re sittin’ there eatin’ the breakfast I cooked for you.”

  Link’s dad swallowed hard. “I was just sayin’—”

  “I think it would be best if you didn’t say anything at all,” she snapped.

  Mr. Lincoln knew when he wasn’t going to win a battle. He’d given up and started waving the white flag at his wife as soon as their son was born.

  “Not a word,” Mrs. Lincoln repeated.

  “I expect I can do that.” Mr. Lincoln sighed at his fork.

  Link’s mom picked out the crispiest pieces of bacon from the serving platter and turned her attention back to Link, who had been pushing the food around on his plate while she wasn’t looking. “Now that you mention it, you’ve been actin’ peculiar ever since you came home last night.”

  “No, ma’am. I didn’t.”

  “Didn’t what?”

  “Mention it.”

  “Don’t you sass me. I was the one who said spending time with questionable folks only gets you a big fat question mark next to your own name.”

  “Yes, ma’am.” Link stared down at the pile of white slush. His mom was no Amma in the kitchen. Amma would no more sit down to a plate of Mrs. Lincoln’s biscuits ’n’ gravy than she would bring home store-bought biscuits.

  “Aren’t I always sayin’ that, dear?” She turned to Link’s dad, but she didn’t give him a second to respond. “I’m here to tell you, there’s no question mark by my good name. The Lincolns have kept the family name spit shine around these parts for generations.”

  Link looked up in time to see gravy dribbling down his mother’s chin. His stomach lurched. He shoved his chair back from the table, then sprinted out of the room and up the stairs.

  “Wesley Lincoln!” she called after him.

  “Mom, I think I’m gonna be—”

  The sound of dry heaving floated down the stairs. Link’s parents looked at each other. “That boy probably caught some kinda nasty virus,” Mrs. Lincoln said. “I’m gonna call over to Doc Asher’s and see if he can squeeze Wesley in today.”

  Mr. Lincoln put down his fork, hesitating. But I guess all the browbeating had taken its toll, and he couldn’t resist. “Maybe it was s
omethin’ he ate.”

  The look his wife shot him was so charged, it could’ve knocked a whole flock of pigeons off a telephone wire. Without saying a word, she grabbed every dish she could off the table and carried them over to the sink. It was all Mr. Lincoln could do to hold on to his half-eaten biscuit.

  “I’ll tell you one thing. People in this house should start listenin’ to me. If Mary Beth Sutton had listened when I told her that husband a hers was as crazy as a wolf starvin’ in a henhouse, she wouldn’t be in the fix she is now. Sissy Honeycutt told me that she heard from Loretta Snow that Mary Beth told her he took their son Waylon’s pickup and drove it all the way to Memphis. And they’d just gone and put new tires on it.”

  Link’s mom kept talking as fast as she could. She had to. Otherwise, she would have to think about the fact that either something was wrong with her only son or something was wrong with her only biscuits ’n’ gravy recipe.

  It would be hard for her to decide which was worse.


  The Birds, the Bees & Mötley Crüe

  Up in Link’s room, everything was all wrong.

  I mean, it always looked wrong because his mom hadn’t let him change anything in it since third grade. She said the wallpaper had at least ten good years left in it, and every good Baptist knew that vanity was the Devil’s business, anyway. The Star Wars border around his ceiling was still there, Darth Vader peeling around the edges, right above the cross with Noah’s ark and the animals marching over it. His basketball trophies, going all the way back to elementary school, were lined up above his Field Day ribbons.

  And in case there was any doubt, a church camp poster read: GOD WANTS YOU!

  Only Link had changed YOU to YOUTUBE in pencil, light enough that his mom couldn’t see it if she wasn’t wearing her good reading glasses, the ones she saved for the packages wrapped in brown paper that Marian sent from the library. Link liked to hide the glasses because he said it made his life a whole lot easier if his mom could only see half of what he did. Since I had delivered some of those packages with Liv, and knew that Mrs. Lincoln was reading romance novels, I hoped she never found her glasses. And this from a woman who made us turn off the television if the animals got too frisky on the Discovery Channel.

  Link’s CDs were in a box under his bed, next to his comic book collection and some back issues of Hot Rod magazine. But tonight even his favorite comic, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, and his favorite CD, The Best of Heavy Metal Power Ballads, couldn’t distract the most distractible guy in town.

  All he could think about was his mom’s gravy and how it had smelled like roadkill on a plate. It was time to pull out the big guns. The one girl who could keep his mind off anything—except her.

  Ridley. His candy-striped pink and blond bad girl with a heart of gold. Or, at least, gold plate. Not that Link would want it any other way. In his eyes—and in hers—she was perfect.

  He thought about Lena’s Claiming, which he had started thinking of as Hell Night. It had felt like someone tore a hole right through him when Ridley disappeared and he thought she was dead. And then like someone had duct-taped it closed again when he saw her alive just a few minutes later. She’d jumped into his arms and hugged him like she was a regular girl—for about two minutes. Those were an awesome two minutes, the best two minutes of his life.

  But standing in front of the bathroom mirror now, Link knew something was different. He just couldn’t nail down exactly what. His spiky blond hair was still spiked, his lopsided grin still lopsided, his blue eyes still blue. But they looked darker somehow. Maybe his mom had switched lightbulbs again, to save energy, or the whales, or whatever her friends at the Daughters of the American Revolution decided they were going to save this week. Usually his soul.

  The longer Link stared in the mirror looking for all the things that were wrong with him, the more he noticed the things that were different. Maybe even right. It seemed impossible, but from what he could see in the mirror, the baby face the girls teased him about was almost gone, replaced by the kind of jaw that could take a serious punch. He felt like his skin had been stretched over someone else’s face—a guy who was older, better looking, and bigger. Because he was definitely bigger.

  He tried to stand up straight, but he’d been slouching for so long that his body almost couldn’t remember how. He’d grown at least an inch in about two hours. Was that even possible? Link wasn’t sure, but he knew that when he tried to fall asleep last night, he had felt his bones cracking and groaning, like they were literally stretching under his skin. And his skin tingled, his nerve endings more sensitive than when he’d skinned his knees break-dancing on the blacktop. Then there was his arm—the pain that seemed to disappear overnight.

  Link was looking good today, roadkill, puke, and all. The extra height was worth a little bone stretching, or whatever was happening. Especially since he wasn’t just getting taller. He felt like he was getting stronger, too. He glanced at the door, then flexed his biceps in the mirror. Yeah, he had some hard-core guns.

  “Don’t make me fire these puppies,” he said to his image in the mirror.

  It was sort of like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. He felt like himself. He still rocked out to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. He still couldn’t stop thinking about Ridley and becoming a famous drummer. But the body he was in didn’t feel like his body. It felt borrowed—or stolen. Crazy as that sounded.

  Link splashed some water on his face with one hand. He was going to give Power Ballads another shot. He grabbed his iPod and flopped down onto his bed. When his back hit the mattress, he heard the sharp crack of wood splintering underneath him—and half his bed crashed to the floor. His heart sped up, but he cranked Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” listening to the words he’d heard a hundred times before, hoping they would drown out his mom’s voice hollering from downstairs.

  The pee was warm and yellow and, well, it was pee. A few hours later, Link was staring into the specimen container as if it could explain everything. He was pretty sure it couldn’t, but at least he hoped it would get his mom off his back. She was convinced his sudden physical changes were the result of steroids. Link shook his head. “Kinda like Mountain Dew in the mornin’, after you let it sit by your bed all night long.”

  Since he didn’t know what to make of his new physique any more than the rest of the stuff that was happening to him, Link gave up and screwed the lid on the container. He wrote his name on the sticker right where the nurse, Wanda Beezer, told him to. He still hadn’t seen Doc Asher, but Link knew why he was there. His mom had made that clear, and it had nothing to do with the sling on his arm.

  There was no way in H-E-double-hockey sticks you could ditch out on his mom’s cooking and puke two minutes later without ending up in the doctor’s office. Not unless you had a doctor’s note excusing you from eating in the first place.

  If only she hadn’t served the white gravy. Anything but that. Maybe he could’ve choked down pancakes. He shuddered at the thought, and the smell. Maybe not.

  What was wrong with him?

  He’d been trying to convince his mom he was fine, but he hadn’t been able to convince himself.

  Maybe she was right. Not about the drugs, but maybe about the Devil. He didn’t know what was going on in his head—or his body—but none of it was normal. Not that the things going on in Link’s head were all that normal to begin with.

  Still, this was abnormally abnormal.

  “Are you takin’ drugs, Wesley?” his mom had demanded after she charged into his room right before lunch. “Gettin’ yourself all hopped up on the marijuana?” The way she said it, you’d think she was proposing to someone. Marriage-you-wanna?

  Link didn’t wanna. He didn’t want anything.

  “No, ma’am. You want to go through my drawers again?” That would make twice in one day, but it was worth it to get her off his back. “No dirty magazines. No Harry Potter movies. I promise.” She hadn’t thought his resp
onse was funny. He was just hoping she wouldn’t find his Iron Maiden CDs. That would be worse than marijuana.

  She had her hands on her hips, which was never a good sign. “All I know is you’re not eatin’, but you’re bigger than Bobby Watkins. So if it’s not the marijuana, you must be takin’ steroids like those football players they’re always talkin’ about on TV.”

  Link had let his head fall against the wall in defeat. “Mom, I’m not an NFL football player, and I’m not takin’ steroids.”

  Her eyes had narrowed. “We’ll see.”

  Now she was about to.

  Someone was pounding on the restroom door. “Wesley Lincoln, are you all right in there? Do you need help?”

  “Give me a minute, Mom. It’s not like I can press a button.”

  “Don’t you sass me, Wesley.” She was hammering on the door again, and he knew he was going to have to go back out and face her. Five minutes alone in a bathroom was more freedom than he could expect this day.

  One breakfast left on the plate and some gagging. You would’ve thought he’d shot a guy.

  Link pulled the door open. His mom was standing there, between Doc Asher and Wanda Beezer, all looking impatient. Jeez, wasn’t anyone else ever sick in this town?

  “Come on, son. Your mother thinks we should have a little talk. And I’ll take a look at that arm a yours.” Doc Asher patted Link’s shoulder.

  Wanda coughed and held out her gloved hand. “I’m waitin’.”

  Link handed her the warm yellow cup.

  Doc Asher looked at Link from the other side of his desk. “You see, son, sometimes when a boy and a girl—a man and a woman—truly love each other—”

  “Are you kidding me, Doc? I think I’ve got that talk covered.” Not that anyone had ever bothered to have it with him, but he’d learned all the facts of life the way God intended, by spying on the girls’ locker room next to the unheated swimming pool at church camp.

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