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Below you will find the prologue and first chapter of the first book of The Mara Chronicles Daughter of the Mara. Happy reading!

 

Prologue

I abhor many things about Dr. Bloom, head of psychiatry at Lakewood State Hospital, but one thing I do appreciate is how honest she is in her dislike of me. After spending five years as a prisoner the feeling of equality her hatred brings is oddly comforting and I drink it in, enjoying the normality of our mutual loathing. I can’t help it. The mere act of hating another person is one of the few normal things left in my life.

I stare with contempt at Dr. Bloom as she taps her pen in a steady rhythm against the yellow legal notepad resting in her lap. She flips her shoulder length brown hair back and gazes pointedly at me from over the sterling silver frames of her reading glasses. Her expression of distaste is almost a mirror image of mine.

“So sometimes you feel so angry it’s like a part of you disconnects?” she asks, incessantly tapping.

I roll my eyes and feel a distinct desire to shove the pen through her manicured hand. There is a hint of sarcasm in her voice. It’s ever so slight, but I hear it. She doesn’t believe me. Not terribly surprising, yet that fact still upsets me.

“It’s like I become someone else… like I go somewhere else,” I reply through clenched teeth.

“You feel as if another aspect of your personality comes to the forefront?” she asks rhetorically. “It is as if you suddenly become a very angry version of yourself?” She sits back in her chair, and the tapping ceases. Dr. Bloom is overly satisfied with her assessment even though I have yet to answer her questions. It doesn’t help that she is completely wrong.

“Not at all,” I respond. “I feel disconnected, like the real world floats away and something completely foreign takes over. Like I’m in another world.” These sessions always go in circles like this, with no end in sight and no hope of any actual help. Dr. Bloom is my third psychiatrist in the five years I’ve spent at Lakewood State Psychiatric Hospital and so far she has been no more help than the previous two. The first claimed I was incurable and gave up. The second declared that I was schizophrenic and dosed me with Zyprexa, which left me completely catatonic. Dr. Bloom, however, seems to be currently leaning toward dissociative identity disorder with a hint of sleep terror disorder thrown in for good measure. None have come close to explaining what causes the living nightmares that dominate my world and how they led to the horrific event five years ago that changed my life forever.

“So you feel as if another person is inhabiting your body, in someone else’s world?” she asks. I notice a slight smile has appeared on her face. She thinks she has done what no doctor has been able to do.

“Not really. I just feel like I have no control, over myself or the world around me. I’m still there but I am unable to act in any capacity. It’s almost like I’m asleep and I’m lashing out uselessly at a nightmare,” I respond, knowing that I am about to ruin her perfect little diagnosis. I almost wish she was right. I glance out the large window on the opposite wall, out into the cloudy, gray morning. The dark atmosphere is in stark contrast to the white and clinical office I sit in which is austere and modern, much like the rest of the hospital. The only upside of being in session is getting to look out the windows and see actual color in what is otherwise a monochromatic existence.

I hear the doctor chuckle and I turn a chilly gaze upon her, one eyebrow raised. I know I have on occasion found the events of the past five years somewhat entertaining, including my own degrading mental health, but such mirth in others is entirely unwelcome.

“Jayashree, you are certainly not asleep during your episodes,” the doctor says, her voice rising. “You attacked one of the nurses yesterday afternoon and you looked very much awake to me.” She shakes her head and looks back down at her notepad.

“But I wasn’t… I don’t know what happened.” I sit back in my chair and glance up at the doctor. She peers at me over her glasses once more, a soft smirk on her mouth. I know exactly what she is thinking. She thinks I am a liar, and every psychiatrist who came before her would likely agree. Clenching the plastic armrests of my chair, I lean forward, my mind racing for an explanation. I am compelled to provide it even though I know she will never believe it. They beat me down and try to tell me that I am wrong but something inside always feels the need to try to explain myself to them, to convince them of my truth.

“I was having a nightmare,” I say, barely audible.

The doctor scoots her chair forward suddenly, surprisingly regaining interest in my story. “Did you say a nightmare?” she asks, placing a hand under her chin.

I glance up at her questioning countenance and nod slowly, wondering if, perhaps just this once, she will believe me. Releasing two short breaths, I force myself back upright, and wait as the doctor scribbles something on her legal pad. It seems like hours before she recaps her pen and sets it and the pad aside.

“Jayashree, while I still think that the hallucinations are symptomatic of your schizophrenia, perhaps we should look into some sleep tests,” she says in that voice doctors use when they are trying their solid best to not get their patient’s hopes up. “There is something called hallucinatory sleep disorder that causes hallucinations while someone is in certain stages of sleep. While it usually includes a feeling of paralysis, the hallucinations combined with a feeling akin to sleep may make some tests for it worthwhile.” Dr. Bloom nods once, punctuating the diagnosis.

I breathe out the sigh of relief I had been holding. While tests were not the most exciting prospect, they seemed better than the last reaction I had received when describing my hallucinations as a nightmare. After that incident I had decided that my mental health was only a laughing matter when I was the one doing the laughing.

“I will start scheduling the tests and we can meet at the same time tomorrow and I’ll let you know what I’ve arranged.”

I nod as the doctor speaks, focusing on something that has caught my eye on the other side of the large bay windows of Dr. Bloom’s office. I stand and walk towards the windows. A young man in a long black coat with a purposeful gait is walking up the path toward the main doors of the hospital. Something about him strikes me as familiar but I know I haven’t seen him before. He must be a visitor because after five years at Lakewood I am overly familiar with all of the staff here.

However it is not just the unfamiliar young man’s presence that catches my attention but the fact that he is leaving a trail of something black and oily in his wake, staining the walk from the parking lot to the hospital. I squint trying to make out what it is, when something forms out of the blackness. Eyes, gray eyes, frightening yet familiar eyes, eyes I have only ever seen in my nightmares. I clench my fists, knowing that something bad is about to happen. There is no way that the man is actually leaving a trail behind him. Years of psychiatry have pounded that much into my head. The expectation of a forthcoming nightmare however is eclipsed by the overwhelming feeling of knowing that has suddenly filled me. There is something about the man and the eyes, something important, something I don’t quite understand. I know Dr. Bloom has started speaking again but as I ponder this feeling of knowing, of familiarity, I completely ignore her words.

“Jayashree, I am talking to you. If you could be so kind as to pay attention I would be much obliged,” I hear the doctor rattle out from behind me, obviously tired of repeating herself.

I turn round only to see the doctor is gone. In her place is a figure drenched in blood, black eyes peering out from under a curtain of greasy black hair that falls to almost to the floor. A bony hand reaches up from behind the curtain, gray sores along its exposed knuckles. I hear screaming and wonder if it is me. The creature shuffles toward me and the hand edges closer to my frozen form. I know I cannot let it touch me, never let it touch me. One of the sores oozes green puss, splattering onto the white carpet at my feet. I feel my right fist cock back before my mind realizes that my body has every intention of fighting back.

“Nurse,” the figure yells as my fist flies forward, passing unerringly through the curtain of jet hair and out the other side of the creatures head. The doors to my left burst open and more figures like the one before me appear. They have come to get me and they have their way. They grab me as I kick and bite but it is no good and the screaming goes on and on. I shut my eyes, but it does not help. They are taking me back and locking me away. The nightmares will have their way with me and there is nothing I can do about it. Not now, not ever, because my life is nothing but nightmares.

 

Chapter 1

The man slid through the front door of the hospital, unnoticed, unassuming. He slid past the information desk, one hand trailing along the counter as the woman behind it began to speak. No words escaped her mouth as she crumpled in her chair, fast asleep. As he heard the satisfying thump of the woman’s face meeting the desk, the man smiled and continued down the long hallway towards the row of guards and metal detectors. Head bowed, he reached into his pocket as if to grab some change that might be located there.

One of the guards approached. “Sir, I’m going to need you to present some identification, remove your coat, and place anything in your pockets on the table.”

The man did nothing, simply stood there, glaring at the guard, one hand in his pocket.

“Sir,” the guard asked slowly, concern tinged with the slightest hint of fear creeping into his voice. He took one step toward the man before his eyes rolled up into his head and he collapsed to the floor. The other guards watched him collapse and slowly started edging away from the man and the fallen guard.

The man arched an eyebrow at the rapidly retreating guards and moved to remove his hand from his pocket. The guards watched his movement with trepidation before they also collapsed in a heap, their skulls making a dull thump against the tile floor.

The man smiled and slid through the metal detector. He ignored the shrill beeping and continued on his way down the long hall on the other side. He progressed slowly, ignoring each door he passed on either side of the ward. As he made his way through the ward the man was confronted by several nurses and orderlies, all who dropped to the floor, fast asleep when they glanced in his direction.

It was until he reached the end of the ward and was confronted by one last nurse that the man spoke. The short woman in her mid-fifties turned toward him, grasping a clipboard in one hand. As she watched him approach, her eyes narrowed and she spoke. “Sir, this is a locked ward. I’m not sure how you got in here but you need to leave right now or I will call security,” she said forcefully.

The man laughed softly, almost to himself. “Trust me,” he paused briefly and glanced down at her name badge, “Emma, I am very aware that I am not supposed to be here.” He looked beyond her, at the only door past the nurses’ station. “Is that Jayashree Atkinson’s room?”

Shock was apparent on Emma’s face. “Yes, but…”she started, not even bothering to lie.

“That’s all,” the man interrupted. He glided toward her, placing one hand on the side of her head and unclipping her name badge from her scrubs with the other. As his palm made contact with her head, she slid to the floor behind the nurses’ station, fast asleep.

“Pleasant dreams,” the man muttered and shot a sly smile at Emma before waving the badge in front of the cell’s locking mechanism and strolling unhindered into Jayashree’s cell.

 

Harvey Mardrom waved Emma’s badge in front of the locking mechanism, waited until the light turned green, and then hurried through the door. It shut behind him with a soft click. He barely heard it as his gaze focused on the gray lump huddled in the middle of the floor, at the person he had come here for.

Equal amounts of pity and anger filled Harvey as he looked at Jayashree’s limp form. She lay in the middle of the floor, rocking slowly back and forth, her arms and legs wrapped in restraints. As he watched her, her body spasmed, sending a cascade of long raven hair onto the dirty white tile of the floor. A small groan emanated from her as her body continued to shake.

Harvey took a step toward her. “Jayashree,” he said softly, waiting a moment for a response. None came. He moved closer to her, nudging her restrained body with his right foot. For a moment, he thought his efforts had been useless, that she was completely catatonic, but then she rolled toward him. An angular face mired with exhaustion peered up at him from beneath the curtain of black hair. Large, heavily lashed eyes, one gray, one green bored into his. Her lips were so dry they were almost white, except for the dried blood which had gathered in each corner of her mouth.

Leaning forward, Harvey went to brush Jayashree’s hair out of her face, but was sent reeling back when she tried to bite his hand. He stood clear of her as she slowly sat up, her face now fully visible. They both froze for a moment, studying each other. Harvey spoke first, his voice kind yet gruff with disuse. “It’s okay, Ms. Atkinson. My name is Harvey and I’m not here to hurt you. I was a friend of your father.” He paused for a moment, hoping some semblance of meaning would break through. Harvey had known of Jayashree’s mental situation before mounting this escape plan, but now looking at the pathetic creature in front of him he was starting to feel more and more unsure about having come here at all.

Harvey was beginning to think that maybe she wouldn’t respond at all when she spoke. “My father never mentioned you,” she said simply. When he had first entered, her gaze had been unfocused, hazy, like someone who had taken too many pills; now it was clear and sharp, even analytical. It was a look he had seen in her father’s eyes many times.

“I was one of his students, hardly worth mentioning I imagine.”

Jayashree showed no interest in this. Harvey knew that he was her first visitor in the five years she had been locked up here and yet even his company did not interest her. That was not good. If he was going to get her out of here before people started waking up he would have to either spark her interest or remove her by force. Either way, he would have to do it quickly. This was his one shot. If he gave the hospital any more time there would be no hope of regaining access to Jayashree.

He turned back to Jayashree. Her gaze was focused on the far corner of the room as if she was in complete ignorance of his presence. She carefully shrugged out of the restraints she was wearing, still not looking at him. It was a practiced movement, he noticed. Harvey sighed and sat on the floor next to her, hoping to regain her attention. Jay glanced back at him, with a look of annoyance on her face. “So what do you want?” she asked curtly.

Stalling was doing neither of them any good; Harvey should have known she would appreciate directness as her father would have. “Before your father died, he asked me to look after you if anything happened to him. I’m here to break you out of this place.”

Harsh laughter erupted from Jayashree, an abrupt sound in the silence of the room. “Are you now?” she asked softly, looking away. “You don’t seem to understand that this is where I belong.”

She given up hope and that was very, very bad. Not caring if she tried to bite him again, he reached out and grabbed her face, turning her chin towards him. He leaned forward until they were nose to nose. “Jayashree, listen to me. Do you want to stay here tied up like some animal for the rest of your life? Trying one useless treatment after another? Do you want to die like your father did, with people thinking you’re insane? I can help you, Jayashree, if you’ll let me.”

She had closed her eyes during his verbal attack and now they popped back open. “How can you help me when a whole hospital full of people haven’t been able to?” she asked, her voice tinged with anger. “What could you possibly know that they don’t?”

“I knew your father…”

“I knew my father too. I’m not sure how that is going to help either of us,” she spat. She tried to turn away, but Harvey increased his grip on her chin, holding her firm.

“I know what you are, Jayashree. That’s how I can help.” Harvey was growing desperate. He had hoped he would be able to get them out of here without telling her the truth. It would be too much to tell before the guards and the nurses started to wake up.

“I’m a girl with severe mental problems, nothing more,” she scoffed, pulling away. She leaned her head forward, hair falling into her face. “I’m a danger to myself and others. This is where I belong.”

“No, it’s not,” Harvey replied quickly. “You’re not crazy, you’re just…different.”

“Different? Is that what they’re calling it now?” she asked. One corner of her mouth turned up slightly, almost passing for a smile.

Harvey shook his head. “Jayashree, you’re not crazy. You’re a mara.”

Her green eye peered up at him through tangled raven hair. “A what?”

He had finally caught her interest; he could hear it in her voice. He kneeled beside her once more, his gaze never leaving that emerald eye. “You are a creature of nightmares. The visions, the fits, the madness that these people have tried to treat: it is what you are. What other people call insanity is as natural to you and I as breathing.” He stopped then, forcing himself not to ramble. There was so much he needed to tell her and not enough time to do so.

Jayashree sat up, crossing her legs in front of her. Her hair fell back and Harvey was rewarded with another clear look of her face. She looked so much like her father, and her mother. “A mara?” she asked quietly, more to herself than to him.

“Yes, and I would explain more but we need to get out of here before its too late,” Harvey replied, trying to not sound exasperated.

He had expected a fight, he had expected complete disbelief. Jay did not provide what he had expected. She simply nodded once, as if she had decided something. “Sadly, that is the first logical thing I’ve heard in a long while. I don’t want to think about what that says about me.” A wry expression crossed her face. “Or about you, for that matter. We may both be completely nuts, but I have a feeling that being crazy outside is a huge step above being crazy in here.” She paused briefly, glancing around her cell, before fixing her unnerving gaze on him once more. She looked scared but relieved. It may not have been total belief or agreement but it was enough.

“All right then, we are in agreement,” Harvey said, pleading silently that she wasn’t about to change her mind. “Better out there than in here.”

Jayashree nodded once more. “Now, how do we get out?”

Harvey laughed softly. “We go through the front door, of course.” He stood up and offered her a hand. She grasped his pale hand with her slightly darker one and pulled herself to her feet, the restraints falling to the floor. Keeping his grasp on her hand, he led her to the door and out into the hallway.

Jayashree glanced around almost in terror. “How did you get in here? Where’s the nurse?” she whispered. Harvey looked down at her wide, mismatched eyes and smiled.

“Over there,” he answered gesturing towards where Emma lay slumped behind the nurses’ station. Her eyelids were fluttering as if she was in a fitful sleep. “She’ll dream until we are gone. Dreams like yours.” An evil smirk curled his lips as he looked back at Jayashree.

One corner of Jayashree’s mouth turned up in what he imagined was her first smile in many years. “Yes,” was all she said, but he could hear satisfaction in that one word. She grasped his arm with both hands and began tugging him away from Emma, toward the front entrance. She was ready to be free of this place and he was ready to show her all the outside had to offer her.

 

Emma’s eyelids fluttered open and she found herself sprawled on the floor behind the nurses’ station. Her eyes burned and her head ached as she rolled onto her side and tried to move into a sitting position. What had happened to her? All she could remember was that man grabbing her badge and then…nothing. Had he drugged her somehow, or did he manage to knock her out without her even realizing it?

Shaking her head, Emma braced her hands against the floor and rose slowly to her feet. Every muscle in her body burned as she strained to stand. As she slowly rose, Emma noticed a clump of her graying brown hair lying on the floor. Had the man pulled it out, Emma wondered as she squinted at it. She didn’t remember him grabbing at anything except her badge.

Her badge. Emma looked down and saw with relief that her badge was still clipped to her scrubs, sitting lightly against her chest. She nodded slightly to herself and reached up to run a hand through her hair as she exhaled in relief. There was nothing wrong. Everything was okay. Everything was as it should be.

Emma lowered her hand from her head and let out a small yelp. Her hand was full of hair, full of her hair. She reached up with her other hand to touch her head and that hand too came back full of her graying brown hair. She felt a tightening in her chest as her breath began to wheeze out of her nose. Emma began to run her hands up and down her arms, the hair falling to the floor, her breath becoming more and more labored. What was happening? What had that man done to her?

She glanced down at her hands then and noticed red exposed flesh where her thumb nail should have been. Emma bit her lip to keep from crying out and slowly moved her exposed thumb towards her face. Her nail was definitely gone and as a small stream of blood started to ooze from the nail bed, Emma felt a wave of nausea sweep over her. She started to hyperventilate as she watched the rest of the nails on her right hand shrivel and fall off in a combination of terror and morbid fascination.

As the nails on her left hand began to follow suit, Emma wrenched her gaze away from her hands and looked around the hallway frantically for someone to help her. She was in a hospital full of people, someone should be close.

Emma began to shuffle down the hallway, hair and fingernails falling in her wake. However, she didn’t get far. She had only made it a few feet when she noticed the bugs that covered the floor just ahead of her and that they were slowly slithering her way. As the white maggots crawled towards her feet, Emma forgot all about her search for help and ran back to the nurses’ station. She wanted to run farther but there was nowhere else to go; she was at the end of the hallway. Emma grabbed the edge of the nurses’ station, not paying attention to the streaks of blood she left behind, and crawled onto the top of it as the maggots drew ever closer, devouring the hair and nails she had left behind on the floor.

Emma wasn’t a screamer, never had been. Things didn’t frighten her easily and she had always been tough. She had to be tough to work in a place like Lakewood, and she wasn’t about to lose her composure over some bugs. She closed her eyes and took a steadying breath. She tried to clear her otherwise practical mind of these new horrors. After a moment, her panic began to subside. She would open her eyes and order would be restored. Her breathing slowed, and she heard a slight plink. Emma opened her eyes and looked down. A bloody tooth lay on the tiled floor. The writhing mass of maggots, larger and more frantic now, swarmed greedily at it. And Emma, for the first time in her stoic, ordered life, at last began to scream.