Race the Darkness (Fatal Dreams Book 1)(4)

By: Abbie Roads


“I’m dying.” She tried to warn Gran, but the words came out quieter than a breath. Her gaze roamed the room—their prison for the past eight years. It was just big enough to contain her and Gran and an overflowing waste bucket, but now it felt too small, too fragile to contain Isleen. Soon she would transcend this space, and no matter what Queen did, she wouldn’t be able to tether Isleen here.

Gran slept, face tucked into the corner. Safety was an illusion—beating after beating had proven that fact—but still, they always gravitated to the corners. Gran’s once-supple flesh sagged from her bones. Her spine protruded sharply in a pathetic row of spikes.

“…tobesaved. Not die.…protectordiedtoo?” Gran spoke in a smear of barely distinguishable words. She’d been a sleep-talker for as long as Isleen could remember—even before they’d been abducted.

She used to wake Gran from her dreams, but had long since decided it was a mercy to let her stay inside them for as long as they hosted her. Maybe in her dreams, Gran still possessed her wits and all her faculties, and lived somewhere beautiful where nothing bad ever happened.

Footsteps pounded down the hall and stopped outside the door. The sound of the key in the lock scraped across Isleen’s heart. Was today going to be a feeding day, a beating day, or a bleeding day? It didn’t really matter. It was too late for food; a beating would finish her off; and she had no more blood to give. But there was Gran—

The door rasped open. Queen. Always Queen and only Queen ever entered their prison. If ever a name didn’t fit a person, it was hers. Nothing about her was royal or regal. She was no whimsical fairy-tale ruler; she was a twenty-first-century reality. A simple-minded, delusional woman who took pleasure in domination and torture. Under a different set of circumstances, Queen would have been passing her days in a psychiatric hospital, medicated to the point of drooling.

Isleen could smell Queen’s stench. Cigarette smoke so stale and foul and thick that Isleen could taste the bite of it in her mouth, feel the burn of it in her eyes. The pungency of flesh that hadn’t been washed in years snuffed out the oxygen in the air.

Queen kicked her in the thigh. “The Dragon has not yet died.”

A small gasp, not of pain, but of being startled escaped Isleen’s throat. For as long as they’d been held captive, Queen had referred to her as the Dragon.

Queen cleared her throat. Mucus snapped and rattled. She hawked up a wad of nasty and spit it on the floor. “King decreed that if the Dragon shall linger—”

“You will suffer for everything you’ve done.” Gran crawled out of the corner on all fours. “Her protector is on his way.”

Queen’s hunched shoulders straightened. “I am your queen. Bow before me.” It was all a part of Queen’s delusional mind—she was a queen and they were her subjects and the objects of her torture. Especially Isleen.

Gran didn’t bow, didn’t move, didn’t understand.

“You will be punished.” Queen opened and closed a giant pair of scissors. Shkk. Shkk. Shkk.

Dread burned a hole through Isleen’s shrunken stomach. “It’s not her fault. She doesn’t understand.” She tried to move, but her body was too weak, her limbs too emaciated.

“Your Majesty, I am sorry. I have committed the gravest of errors.” Gran executed a bow of supplication, arms spread out, forehead to the floor. “Please accept my humble apology and know that I will never again speak in such a manner to one as powerful as you.” Before Gran had lost her mind, she’d been fluent in kiss-up-to-the-fake-queen language.

Gran must be having a rare moment of clarity.

“Very well. I grant you a pardon. Know this—though I am a merciful queen, I will not tolerate such treasonous behavior again.” She pointed a fat, stubby finger at Gran. “You have been warned.”

Gran kept her pose. Good decision.

Queen turned her grotesque gaze to Isleen. She went through the same disgusting process of clearing her throat and then spoke as if she were making a proclamation. “King has decreed that on the sixth day, if the Dragon shall linger, I am to thrust my sword into its side.”

Thrust my sword into its side. Isleen understood Queen’s words; she just didn’t fear them. No matter what Queen did to her now, it would be nothing—absolutely nothing—compared to the agony of living. A calmness nestled into her bones, curled up in her guts.

Gran lifted her face from the floor and challenged Queen’s authority by looking directly at her. “You don’t have the power to kill her.” Insanity warped Gran’s tone.