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Sample Chapters
  The sky above the lake was darkening fast. Black clouds, heavy with foreboding, hung low over the three hooded figures chanting around a stone altar on the island below. Not a sound emanated from the shadows of vine-covered trees ringing the secret ceremony; not a breath of air stirred the long robes of the solemn group. In the eerily oppressive atmosphere, one of the figures moved to light a candle against the encroaching gloom.
   The chanting intensified and a sense of expectation filled the air as a purple mist slowly began rising from the ground behind the altar, followed by a nauseating order that caused two of the participants to flinch despite their fervor. The third figure looked on eagerly at a huge, worm-like creature thrusting its pallid body up through the steamy earth. Within seconds, it towered over the group, writhing back and forth, transfixing the acolytes with terror, until the head priest stepped forward. Only then did the creature bow its head and open a cavernous mouth lined with jagged teeth to reveal a shiny metal band resting on its colorless tongue. The priest took the object offered him. Relieved of its duty, the unholy monster swiftly retreated back whence it had come.
   The acolytes, regaining their composure, gathered round respectfully to marvel at the band lying in the palm of their leader’s hand. They admired how skillfully strands of unidentifiable metals had been woven together to form a beautiful circlet topped with a cleverly-engineered, spring-lock compartment. But it was the alluring force of hypnotic energy pulsing out of the object that made them gasp with longing.
    Although the temptation to slip it over his wrist was strong, a jolt of pain in his temples quickly reminded the priest the band was intended for another. With a twinge of envy, he turned from his companions and beckoned to something waiting on the fringes of the clearing. At his command, a toad, the size of a basketball, hopped forward.
     “Take it to the one Our Master has chosen for this task.”
   Without hesitation, the deformed amphibian turned, hopped through the underbrush to the lake, and jumped in. It struck out westward, headed for the opening of the river, and swam upstream toward the town of Riverhaven. The sky turned brighter as its distance from the island increased. Reaching the town, the toad left the water and zeroed in on its destination. It hadn’t gotten far when nearby squeals of laughter from children at the local nursery school diverted the courier from its task. Dedication giving way to desire, the toad diverted its course for a brief visit to the playground. It was drooling at the tasty-looking young things when whap! everything went black, and the toad found itself trapped under a cardboard box, the jubilant word—”Gotcha!”— ringing in its ears.


    Why she had been awakened Jackie didn’t know, but the blue sapphire necklace around her throat was insistent. It vibrated urgently and glowed bright white.
    “What is it, Zimone?” she asked groggily, hugging the young creature that had hastily risen from a place on the floor to join her. Before she received an answer, Jackie felt the house lurch and her bed pitch from side to side. Terrified, she gripped her mattress with one hand and Zimone with the other to keep the two of them from falling off. Within seconds it was over.
    Earthquake! thought Jackie, cowering as she waited for the next tremor. But we don’t have earthquakes here in Riverhaven.
    The Dark One, Zimone responded telepathically.
    Jackie’s necklace returned to normal. She shivered, wide-awake now.
    “Mom, Dad!” she cried, dashing to her parents’ room, only to stop cold  at the doorway when she found them both sound asleep. How could they have slept through that?
    “Mom, Dad?” she said more softly. Her mother frowned, while her father groaned and flung an arm restlessly over the edge of the bed. Neither of them opened their eyes. Jackie resisted the urge to awaken them, much as she longed for the reassurance and comfort of their arms.
    If they didn’t feel it, she communicated to Zimone, who had followed her, they’ll only be angry with me for disturbing their sleep. The Dark One is making sure they don’t believe a thing I say these days.
    Despondent, Jackie returned to her room and got back into bed. Zimone jumped up and curled into a ball at her feet.
    This is a bad sign, Zimone, a really bad sign.
    The two of them sighed in unison, before her companion closed her eyes while Jackie struggled to find sleep. Memories of recent events kept flooding back, haunting her:
“Zlardok, Zlardok, Zlardok...”
    The atmosphere was charged with an ominous sense of anticipation as the last echoes of the crowd’s spine-chilling chant died out, and they stood quivering expectantly, waiting for the evening’s gruesome entertainment to commence. Jackie felt the five-pointed star she was tied to begin moving from its position over the stage towards the matching glass table, which floated over the foul-smelling pit. The star slowly shifted. She felt herself lying horizontally; the star slotted into the table. Above her head to the left, she saw her blue-skinned friend gazing sorrowfully down at her, tears in his eyes. He was hanging bound and gagged as she was. Jackie tried to force a smile, but was immediately distracted by the five crimson-hooded figures approaching her. Sunken, bloodshot eyes gleamed in their shadowed, skeletal faces as they moved ever closer, brandishing short laser beam wands. She shuddered to think what they meant to do with them. A sixth member of this grisly crew came forward to remove her gag, so that all could revel in the sounds of her dying agony. There was no escape.
    Jackie squeezed her eyes shut as the first wand was lowered. Tossing and turning to free herself, she suddenly felt as if someone was stroking her face with a hot, furry, eel.
    Jackie’s eyes popped open. The face of an anxious Zimone came slowly into focus; the bright blue tongue, covered in pink fur, lolling out of her mouth as she drooled onto Jackie’s chest. When the girl finally roused from the stupor she had fallen into, the small, blue-scaled creature gave her face one last lick, and resumed her position at Jackie’s feet.
    “Oh, Zimone, I felt like I was back in Scarlendor, in the hands of the Bleeders. This time they actually started to sacrifice me to the Dark One in front of that crowd of depraved Zenoussians. Zendover had to watch, knowing his turn would be next. Omnicio said that the Dark One couldn’t invade my dreams as long as I’m wearing the necklace. He didn’t warn me how vivid my own memories could be.
    Jackie sat up to stroke the young Whithera’s head, and her thoughts turned back once again to the events leading up to today. It hardly seemed possible that until a few short weeks ago she had been living a normal enough, even boring, life. Sure, her parents had been distant of late and constantly bickering. Jackie had attributed their behavior to overwork and believed, in time, they would become a loving family again. And although it felt lonely not having any friends after living in Riverhaven for almost a year, she had continued to hope that friendships with other kids would develop eventually. Even Riverhaven’s noticeable decline—it was barely recognizable as the picturesque community her family had made their home—had not daunted Jackie’s natural optimism that the condition of her town would somehow improve.
    In one afternoon, a series of unexpected incidents changed her world forever. It was after the discovery of the 3-headed toad in the playground of the local nursery school. Jackie remembered the vague feeling she had had at the time that something weird was going on in Riverhaven. Still, she could never have imagined the way her life was about to be turned on its head.
© T. D. Reid