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Demon Thief td-2

Darren Shan

  Demon Thief

  ( The Demonata - 2 )

  Darren Shan

  "A huge, jagged patchof light forms at the foot of my bed. Then a shape presses through. I'm too horrified to scream. It's a monster from my very worst nightmare - pale red skin; dark red eyes; no nose; and sharp, grey teeth. As it leans further forward I see a hole in the left side of its chest, and inside - dozens of tiny, hissing snakes. The monster frowns andstretches a hand towards me!"

  When Kernel Fleck's brother is stolen by demons, he must enter their universe in search of him. It is a place of magic, chaos and incredible danger. Kernel has three aims: learn to use magic, find his brother,and stay alive. But a heartless demon awaits him, and death has been foretold!

  Demon Thief

  Demonata - 02

  Darren Shan


  People think I’m crazy because I see lights. I’ve seen them all my life. Strange, multicoloured patches of light swirling through the air. The patches are different sizes, some as small as a coin, others as big as a cereal box. All sorts of shapes—octagons, triangles, decagons. Some have thirty or forty sides. I don’t know the name for a forty-sided shape. Quadradecagon?

  No circles. All of the patches have at least two straight edges. There are a few with curves or semi-circular bulges, but not many.

  Every colour imaginable. Some shine brightly, others glow dully. Occasionally a few of the lights pulse, but normally they just hang there, glowing.

  When I was younger I didn’t know the lights were strange. I thought everybody saw them. I described them to Mum and Dad, but they thought I was playing a game, seeking attention. It was only when I started school and spoke about the lights in class that it became an issue. My teacher, Miss Tyacke, saw that I wasn’t making up stories, that I really believed in the lights.

  Miss Tyacke called Mum in. Suggested they take me to somebody better qualified to understand what the lights signified. But Mum’s never had much time for psychiatrists. She thinks the brain can take care of itself. She asked me to stop mentioning the lights at school, but otherwise she wasn’t concerned.

  So I stopped talking about the lights, but the damage had already been done. Word spread among the children—Kernel Fleck is weird. He’s not like us. Stay away from him.

  I never made many friends after that.

  My name’s Cornelius, but I couldn’t say that when I was younger. The closest I could get was Kernel. Mum and Dad thought that was cute and started using it instead of my real name. It stuck and now that’s what everybody calls me.

  I think some parents shouldn’t be allowed to name their kids. There should be a committee to forbid names which will cause problems later. I mean, even without the lights, what chance did I have of fitting in with any normal crowd with a name like Kernel—or Cornelius—Fleck!

  We live in a city. Mum’s a university lecturer. Dad’s an artist who also does some freelance teaching. (He actually spends more time teaching than drawing, but whenever anyone asks, he says he’s an artist.) We live on the third floor of an old warehouse which has been converted into apartments. Huge rooms with very high ceilings. I sometimes feel like a Munchkin, or Jack in the giant’s castle.

  Dad’s very good with his hands. He makes brilliant model aeroplanes and hangs them from the wooden beams of my bedroom ceiling. When they start to clutter the place up, or if we just get the urge one lazy Sunday afternoon, the pair of us make bombs out of apples, conkers—whatever we can find that’s hard and round—and launch them at the planes. We fire away until we run out of ammo or all the planes are destroyed. Then Dad sets to work on new models and we do it all over again. At the moment the ceiling’s about a third full.

  I like it here. Our apartment is great; we’re close to lots of shops, a cool adventure playground, museums, cinemas galore. School’s OK too. I don’t make friends, but I like my teachers and the building—we have a first-rate lab, a projection room, a massive library. And I never get beaten up—I roar automatically when I’m fighting, which isn’t good news for bullies who don’t want to attract attention!

  But I’m not enjoying life. I’m lonely. I’ve always been a loner, but it didn’t bother me when I was younger. I liked being by myself. I read lots of books and comics, watched dozens of TV shows, invented imaginary friends to play with. I was happy.

  That changed recently. I don’t know why, but I don’t like being alone now. I feel sad when I see groups of friends having a good time. I want to be one of them. I want friends who’ll tell me jokes and laugh at mine, who I can discuss television shows and music with, who’ll pick me to be on their team. I try getting to know people, but the harder I try, the more they avoid me. I sometimes hover at the edge of a group, ignored, and pretend I’m part of it. But if I speak, it backfires. They glare at me suspiciously, move away or tell me to get lost. “Go watch some lights, freak!”

  The loneliness got really bad this last month. Nothing interests me any more. The hours drag, especially at home or when I have free time at school. I can’t distract myself. My mind wanders. I keep thinking about friends and how I don’t have any, that I’m alone and might always be. I’ve talked with Mum and Dad about it, but it’s hard to make them understand how miserable I am. They say things will change when I’m older, but I don’t believe them. I’ll still be weird, whatever age I am. Why should people like me more then than now?

  I try so hard to fit in. I watch the popular shows and listen to the bands I hear others raving about. I read all the hot comics and books. Wear trendy clothes when I’m not at school. Swear and use all the cool catchphrases.

  It doesn’t matter. Nothing works. Nobody likes me. I’m wasting my time. This past week, I’ve got to thinking that I’m wasting my entire life. I’ve had dark, horrible thoughts, where I can only see one way out, one way of stopping the pain and loneliness. I know it’s wrong to think that way—life can never be that bad—but it’s hard not to. I cry when I’m alone—once or twice I’ve even cried in class. I’m eating too much food, putting on weight. I’ve stopped washing and my skin’s got greasy. I don’t care. I want to look like the freak I feel I am.

  Late at night. In bed. I’m playing with the patches of light, trying not to think about the loneliness. I’ve always been able to play with the lights. I remember being three or four years old, the lights all around me, reaching out and moving them, trying to fit them together like jigsaw pieces. Normally, the lights remain at a distance of several feet, but I can call them closer when I want to play with them.

  The patches aren’t solid. They’re like floating scraps of plastic. If I look at a patch from the side, it’s almost invisible. I can put my fingers through them, like ordinary pools of light. But, despite that, when I want to move a patch, I can. If I focus on a light, it glides towards me, stopping when I tell it. Reaching out, I push at one of the edges with my fingers. I don’t actually touch it, but as my fingers get closer, the light moves in whatever direction I’m pushing. When I stop, the light stops.

  I figured out very early on that I could put patches together to make patterns. I’ve been doing it ever since, at night, or during lunch at school when I have nobody to play with. Lately, I’ve been playing with them more than ever. Sometimes, the lights are the only way I have to escape the miserable loneliness.

  I like making weird shapes, like Picasso paintings. I saw a programme on him at school a couple of years ago and felt an immediate connection. I think Picasso saw lights too, only he didn’t tell anyone. People wouldn’t have thought he was a great artist if he said he saw lights—they’d have said he was a nutcase, like me.

  The shapes I make are nowhere near as fabulous as Pablo Picasso’s paintings. I’m no artist. I just try to create
interesting designs. They’re rough, but I like them. They never last. The shapes hold for as long as I’m studying them, but once I lose interest, or fall asleep, they come undone and the pieces drift apart, returning to their original positions in the air around me.

  The one I’m making tonight is particularly jumbled. I’m finding it hard to concentrate. Joining the pieces randomly, with no real purpose. It’s a mess. I can’t stop thinking about not having any friends. Feeling wretched. Wishing I had at least one true friend, someone who’d care about me and play with me, so I wasn’t completely alone.

  As I’m thinking about that, a few of the patches pulse. No big deal. Lights have pulsed before. Usually, I ignore them. But tonight, sad and desperate to divert my train of thought, I summon a couple, study them with a frown, then put them together and call for the rest of the flashing patches. As I add those pieces to the first two, more lights pulse, some slowly, some quickly.

  I sit up, working with more speed. This new flashing shape is curious. I’ve never put pulsing patches together before. As I add to the cluster, more lights pulse. I quickly slot them into place, working as if on autopilot. I have no control over myself. I keep watching for a pattern to emerge, but there isn’t one. Just a mass of different pulsing colours. Still, it’s worked its magic. I’m focused on the cluster of lights now, dark thoughts and fears temporarily forgotten.

  The lights build and build. This is a massive structure, much larger than any I’ve previously created. I’m sweating and my arms are aching. I want to stop and rest, but I can’t. I’m obsessed with the pulsing lights. This must be what addiction is like.

  Then, without warning, the patches that I’ve stuck together stop pulsing and all glow a light blue colour. I fall back, gasping, as if I’d got an electric shock. I’ve never seen this happen. It scares me. A huge blue, jagged patch of light at the foot of my bed. It’s like a window. Large enough for a person to fit through.

  My first thought is to flee, call for Mum and Dad, get out as quick as I can. But part of me holds firm. An inner voice whispers in my ear, telling me to stay. This is your window to a life of wonders, it says. But be careful, it adds, as I move closer to the light. Windows open both ways.

  As it says that, a shape presses through, out of the panel of light. A face. I’m too horrified to scream. It’s a monster from my very worst nightmare. Pale red skin. A pair of dark red eyes. No nose. A small mouth. Sharp, grey teeth. As it leans further forward into my bedroom, I see more of it and the horror intensifies. It doesn’t have a heart! There’s a hole in the left side of its chest, but where the heart should be are dozens of tiny, hissing snakes.

  The monster frowns and stretches a hand towards me. I can see more than two arms—at least four or five. I want to pull away. Dive beneath my bed. Scream for help. But the voice that spoke to me a few seconds ago won’t let me. It whispers quickly, words I can’t follow. And I find myself standing firm, taking a step towards the panel of light and its emerging monster. I raise my right hand and watch the fingers curl into a fist. I can feel a strange tingling sensation, like pins and needles.

  The monster stops. Its eyes narrow. It looks round my bedroom uncertainly. Then slowly, smoothly, it withdraws, pulling back into the panel of light, vanishing gradually until only its red eyes remain, staring out at me from within the surrounding blueness, twin circles of an unspoken evil. Then they’re gone too and I’m alone again, just me and the light.

  I should be wailing for help, running for my life, cowering on the floor. But instead my fingers relax and my fist unclenches. I’m facing the panel of blue light, staring at it like a zombie transfixed by a fresh human brain, distantly processing information. Normally, the patches of light are transparent, but I can’t see through this one. If I look round it, there’s my bedroom wall, a chest of drawers, toys and socks scattered across the floor. But when I look directly at the light, all I see is blue.

  The voice says something crazy to me. I know it’s madness as soon as it speaks. I want to argue, roar at it, tell it to get stuffed. But, as scared and confused as I am, I can’t disobey. I find my legs tensing. I know, with sick certainty, what’s going to happen next. I open my mouth to scream, to try and stop it, but before I can, a force makes me step forward—after the monster, into the light.


  Next thing I know, I’m on the floor of my bedroom, my baby brother Art cradled to my chest. Mum and Dad are shouting at me, crying, poking and clutching me. Dad gently takes Art from my arms. Mum crouches beside me and hugs me hard, weeping over my bald skull. She’s moaning, calling my name over and over, asking where I’ve been, what happened, if I’m all right. Dad’s staring at me like I’ve got two heads, only looking away to check on Art, his expression one of total bewilderment.

  There’s no panel of blue light. No monster. And no memory of what happened when I stepped through after the snake-hearted creature.

  I learn that I’ve been missing for several days. Mum and Dad thought I’d been kidnapped, or wandered out and got lost. The police have been searching for me. They put my photo in newspapers and questioned all the people who knew me. Mum and Dad were frantic. Mum keeps weeping, saying she thought I was dead, that she’d lost another of her babies. I don’t like the way she refers to me as a baby, but this isn’t the time to correct her!

  I can’t remember what happened. Up to the moment I took that step forward into the blue light—total recall. After that—nothing.

  Mum and Dad don’t believe me. They think I’m lying or in shock. They ply me with hot chocolate in our kitchen and quiz me ruthlessly, sometimes gently, sometimes harshly, neither of them in complete control of themselves. They pass Art back and forth, asking me questions about how he ended up with me. I guess he must have gone missing too, after I did.

  “Can I hold Art?” I ask, during a brief lull in the questioning.

  Mum passes him to me, watching us suspiciously, perhaps afraid we’ll go missing again. I had a younger sister once—Annabella. She died when she was a baby. I can’t remember much about her—I was only four. But I’ll never forget Mum and Dad’s tears, the misery, the loss I sensed in the air around me. I wasn’t much more than a baby myself, but I knew something terrible had happened, and I could see how upset Mum and Dad were. I guess they never really got over that. It’s only natural that they’re more upset and worried now than most parents would be.

  I bounce Art up and down on my knee, cooing to him, telling him everything’s OK. “You’re my little brother. I’ll look after you. It’s fine.” He doesn’t take much notice. He looks more sleepy than afraid. Too young to catch the bad vibes.

  Mum and Dad stare at each other wordlessly then leave us alone for a while, going out into the corridor to discuss the situation. They don’t shut the door behind them, and call out to me whenever I stop talking to Art, making sure we’re still here.

  They let me go to bed at one in the morning. Their faces are strained and red. Mum tucks me in and lets Art sleep beside me. She rubs his face tenderly as she pulls the blanket up around him. Starts to cry again. Dad tugs her away, kisses me, then takes Mum back to their bedroom, leaving me and Art to sleep.

  I wake in the middle of the night. Mum and Dad are arguing. I don’t know what about. Mum’s saying, “Let’s give it a few days. Watch. Wait. If nobody says anything, or looks for him…”

  Dad shouts, “You’re crazy! We can’t! It’s wrong! What if the police…?”

  I drift back to sleep.

  Morning. More questions. Mum sits Art on her lap and feeds him, smiling and laughing wildly every time he gurgles at her. It’s a good job I’m not jealous of my little brother as she hardly notices I’m here.

  Dad’s upset. He keeps glaring at Mum and Art. Throws more questions at me. Tries to help me unlock my memories. Asks me to take him through the night I vanished, step by step. I tell him I was in my bedroom, I was playing and that’s all I remember. I don’t mention the lights or the monster. The inner
voice that spoke to me that night tells me not to. Says I’d only get into more trouble if I told the truth.

  “Did you go to bed?” Dad asks.


  “Did someone come into the room?”


  “Was there somebody at the window?”

  A pause while I think back. “No.”

  “What about… Art? Can you remember where… how you got him?”


  He curses and tugs at his hair with both hands. Looks at Mum and Art again. Mum stares back at him sternly, holding Art against her like a shield. I don’t know what her look means, but I’m glad she’s not looking at me that way—her eyes are scary!

  Dad phones the police and they come round. He sits with me while they ask lots of questions. Mum stays in their bedroom with Art. Dad said there was no need to talk about Art with the police. It would only complicate things. Since Art’s too young to tell them anything, they want to focus on what happened to me.

  I tell the police the same things I told Mum and Dad. The police are nice. They talk softly, make jokes, tell me stories about other kids who were lost or kidnapped. They want to know if I remember anything, even the smallest detail, but my mind is a complete blank. I keep apologising for not being able to tell them anything more, but they don’t lose patience. They’re much calmer than Mum and Dad.

  I don’t go back to school. Mum and Dad keep me in. Won’t even let me go out to the park. Things feel strange and awkward. It’s like when Annabella died. Lots of crying, sorrow and uncertainty. But it’s different. There’s fear too. Mum’s especially edgy. Hardly lets go of Art. Snaps at Dad a lot of the time. I often find her shaking and crying when she doesn’t think I’ll notice.