SECRETS & DEMONS
Standing in Dr. Green’s office, I’m more scared than I’ve ever been in my life—and that’s saying something, given the monsters I’ve seen.
But Dr. Green is a kind of monster.
In the eight months since I arrived at the Ravenwood Mental Health Facility for Violent Offenders, Dr. Green has always been composed and controlled—her straight, white-blonde hair in a perfect asymmetrical cut, her makeup always smoothly applied, never a wrinkle on her power suits. She’s the ultimate elegant ice queen. Even the thin, pale line of a scar down one side of her face has always seemed somehow delicate and precious, rather than irregular.
But now, everything’s changed.
For a start, she’s almost unrecognizable—hair loose, clothes rumpled, eyes wild. She’s completely unravelled. Standing in the middle of her office, her sharp heels pressing carelessly into the scattered pieces of paper that used to be neatly stacked reports on her desk, she’s looking down at me like I’m an insect she’d like to crush.
Someone just arriving might think she’d been robbed, or maybe that a fight had broken out in her office. But it’s Dr. Green who’s been systematically destroying her own office in a demented rage.
And it’s all directed at me.
Needless to say, I’m shaking so hard I can barely stand.
Especially since I’m being held secure by two burly uniformed orderlies—Frankie and Marlon—who are standing on either side of me, both stiff with matching resentment. My hair is falling over my face in long scraggly brown strands, and all I want to do is push it back, but they’re holding me firmly in place. No mercy for me today.
“You might have helped your friends escape, Hazel, but you will never leave Ravenwood,” Dr. Green says, her voice low and vindictive. Her scar is a hard white against the angry red on her cheeks. “I’ll make sure of it.”
Cold seeps over my whole body, and I finally begin to understand the full ramifications of what I’ve done. I let out a strangled noise, despite my determination not to give her the satisfaction. What was I thinking? Why did I let them escape without me? I thought Dr. Green was vile before—now, she’s going to be pure evil.
Some kind of instinct—like a mouse who’s been trapped by a cat—makes me glance furtively around, looking for a way out. The main door behind me is guarded, and the only other door goes into Dr. Green’s secret lair where she hides all the notes from her illegal research. No safety for me there. The windows at the back of her large desk are locked down tight, and the guards would stop me as soon as I moved an inch.
But I still check. I can’t help myself. Even when I know there’s no way I’m getting out of here.
“Keep your eyes focused on me, Hazel. Listen closely,” says Dr. Green. This time she’s using her cool therapist’s voice. I can sense the effort it’s costing her to be so composed.
I try to do as she commands, but it’s difficult to look at her directly. It’s like she’s so sharp, it’ll hurt my eyes if I do.
I shift in place, trying desperately to figure out a way out of this. Except I can’t think properly. All I can concentrate on is the fact that Frankie and Marlon are holding on to my arms too tightly, and I can’t even complain about the bruises I’m going to have. I tricked them both when I helped my friends Poppy and Daphne escape, and they know Dr. Green will take the escape out on them as well as me.
“Marlon, you say she was out in the hallway?” she asks, for about the millionth time.
“Yes, Dr. Green. Looked real suspicious.” Marlon nods his head in his usual efficient way, as if he hasn’t already answered the same question a million times.
Usually both Frankie and Marlon aren’t that bad. They look burly and menacing, but I’ve helped them both at various times, using my ability to fix almost anything to make their lives easier. Frankie’s always looked after me, keeping me out of Dr. Green’s way if he can. He even smuggled me a box of chocolates from his mom when I fixed her iPod. Marlon took longer to respond to my brand of charm—it was only when I fixed the coffee machine in the staff room that he finally started to talk to me like a person and not a patient.
Now as I glance at them out of the corner of my eye, they’re both staring straight ahead, deep matching scowls on their faces. They’re pissed at me for my betrayal. After everything they did for me, I brought the wrath of Dr. Green down on them.
But that doesn’t mean I feel sorry for them. At least they get to go home to their families at night. I’m going to be trapped here, trying to survive whatever Dr. Green decides to throw at me. She has complete control over everything I do. And I mean everything.
What I eat.
Who I talk to.
Where I sleep.
When I sleep.
Ravenwood is where they send people who’ve been judged defective in some way, considered too dangerous to live on the outside. Once you’ve been sent to Ravenwood, there’s no going back. It becomes a giant black mark on your official records, a shameful blot that will allow them to make the same judgements against you, again and again, even if you manage to somehow get out.
Once you’re at Ravenwood, they prefer to lock you up and throw away the key. Of course, I only discovered all this once I was here.
“I know you were involved, Hazel,” continues Dr. Green. “Neither Poppy nor Daphne would be able to plan something like this.”
Another half-sob works its way up from my chest. She’s right. I planned the whole escape. I figured out how to open the door in the staff room when I fixed the coffee machine. I found a way to get us out of the communal TV room by creating a distraction. I gathered the information we needed so we could make the attempt on the perfect day. I was supposed to leave with Poppy and Daphne today, not be trapped here like a fucking mouse.
And it was Marlon who ruined the plan by taking a damn restroom break when he should have been somewhere else. It’s lucky he’s a whistler, or we would’ve all been caught. In that moment during the escape, as his heavy tread came closer and closer to the staff room, I knew the only way for Daphne and Poppy to get out of here was for me to distract him. It was either some of us, or none of us.
Right this minute, with Dr. Green breathing her metaphorical fire at me, I wish I hadn’t fallen on my sword so quickly. But in the moment, it seemed like the only decision I could make. Daphne was in much greater danger from Dr. Green than I was.
So here I am, facing Dr. Green and whatever she decides to throw at me. Trying not to regret my actions, and hoping against hope I’ll be able to find another hole in their security, the same way I found the first one.
“Tell me where they went, and I might be more lenient,” says Dr. Green, her voice soft, like she’s trying to pretend she’s not already planning how she’s going to make me pay for this.
I shake my head, but I can’t force any words past the thickness in my throat. I jerk my arm reflexively, trying to hide my tears. Marlon tightens his grip even more as if he thinks I’m trying to escape again. If only I could.
There’s no one to stop Dr. Green from punishing me however she likes. For her, it’s not about the escape of two supposedly dangerous prisoners. I’ve spent enough time with her over the last few months to know she doesn’t really care that Poppy and Daphne are out there in the world. She’s not worried about protecting innocent people from supposedly violent offenders, or even helping her vulnerable patients. What’s got her so furious is that it’s ruined her perfect record. We’ve hit her where it hurts—in her cherished reputation, her inflamed ego, her warped pride.
Despite everything, I don’t regret what happened. Poppy and Daphne are finally free of this woman’s control. Daphne was about to be transferred to Ward D, which is worse than a death sentence for an inmate at Ravenwood. It’s the place where Dr. Green tests her experimental drugs and illegal treatments. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.
Patients in Ward D end up in chronic pain, some with missing limbs or mysterious scars, others blind or deaf. There are horrible rashes, strange reactions, and many so far gone they can barely tell you their name, let alone string a sentence together. I’ve visited Ward D twice—both times to fix something—and I never want to go back there.
Because of me, Daphne’s no longer headed for Ward D. That thought sends a tiny sliver of happiness soaring in my stomach. I saved them. At least she’s free.
“Do you want to know something about me, Hazel?” Dr. Green is speaking conversationally. “I’m considered an expert witness in the justice system. Judges bring me in when they need help determining the mental state of a patient.”
I stare at her, unblinking. I already know this. It’s how she got me transferred here without even a whisper of a trial for murder.
“I’m friends with the judges, Hazel. And if I tell them to, they will let me keep you here for the rest of your life,” Dr. Green snarls, finally giving up pretending to be nice. “I’ll get you registered as criminally insane. After everything that went on at your survivalist community, it’ll be easy. I’ll tell the judge on your case that you’re so far inside your paranormal delusions, there’s no way back, and I’ll get you officially diagnosed with the most severe form of paranoid schizophrenia possible. You’ll never get out of here. Ever.” By the time she finishes speaking, her face is a putrid shade of red and the veins are sticking out on her neck like drainpipes.
My vision blurs as I watch her lose it in front of me. I try to tell myself that she’s just ranting. That it won’t really be like that. Someone from Elk Creek will come find me here. Baz will get me out if no one else will. Surely somewhere in my distant future, there’s the possibility of me being outside of Ravenwood and away from Dr. Green?
The problem is, I believe her every word. She’s the kind of person who knows how to get what she wants. Eight months ago, she convinced a judge I was too mentally unstable to stand trial for the murder of my parents, and she had me sent here, under her care. I wasn’t allowed to prove I didn’t do it, and no one ever believed me when I said I would never hurt my mom and dad.
If she doesn’t want me to ever leave Ravenwood, that’s it.
I’m done. This is going to be my life.
I try not to let it break me apart.
“I’ll make sure you never see the light of day again,” she vows, almost as if she can tell what I’m thinking.
I feel a sizzle of energy, and it’s like her vow has released something into the air around us. She’s going to make sure I suffer for this; I know it down to my very bones. I slump down even further and try to keep my tremors to a minimum. I chose this. I decided to stay so the others could escape. I’m not going to let her see me cry.
“Say something, girl,” she screeches at me, her spittle landing on the floor at my feet. The veins in her neck now look like they’re about to pop out of her skin.
“I… I didn’t…,” I croak out, stuttering to a stop when I see the wildness in her eyes. I’ve never seen her this unhinged, not in all our sessions, in all the times I’ve made her angry over the last few months.
“Don’t lie to me!” She picks a vase up off the sideboard and aims it like she’s going to throw it at my face. I can’t even duck out of the way with Frankie and Marlon holding me tight between them. I flinch as she launches the vase, but it misses me—and Frankie and Marlon—and smashes against the wall behind us. “You’re never going to leave this place, you hear me?”
I nod jerkily.
“You’re the key to my research, Hazel. You always have been. You’re the one who’s going to help me find the missing pieces. I was going to go slowly, to test things on the others before I got to you. But not anymore. Now I’m going to put you at the top of the list. You’re being moved to Ward D effective immediately.”
I hear Frankie’s soft intake of breath over the buzzing noise that’s filling my brain. I’m part of her research? She was going to take it slowly? Ward D?
My stomach is so tight with fear that the pain is radiating out over my whole body, but I need to know more. “What research? Why me?” I say, my words raw and cracking in the middle.
“You’re unique, Hazel,” says Dr. Green with an unpleasant smile. “Not like the rest of them. Your visions make you special.”
“If I’m so special, why send me to Ward D to die?” The words fall out of my mouth without asking permission from my brain. I’m completely vulnerable to her whims and it terrifies me.
“Don’t worry, I won’t let you die. At least not right away,” says Dr. Green with vindictive relish, the whites of her eyes clearly visible. “I’m going to keep you alive long enough to finish my research and prove my theories. Long enough for me to find a way to make up for my sister’s death.” Dr. Green’s expression is so unhinged, I don’t think she’s even aware of what she just said.
“Your sister?” I repeat aloud. I’ve never heard her mention a sister before. I’d assumed she didn’t have a family, that maybe she lived in a small hut on the Ravenwood grounds with a cauldron and a black cat.
But she’s done talking. “Take her away,” she snarls with a flick of her wrist, and Frankie and Marlon drag me out the door and toward my doom.
5 YEARS LATER….
Leaning forward, I peer around the edge of the enormous pile of rusted scrap metal, hoping my prey has taken the bait. My heart is pounding and I’m breathing too loudly in the still night air. Dim light from the moon is filtering through the clouds, and salty air from the nearby San Francisco Bay is making my nose twitch. I push my glasses up to the bridge of my nose, squinting in an attempt to see better.
Everything comes into focus, and I let out a huff of breath.
My device, a smallish metal box with a hole in the top a couple inches wide, is sitting by itself in the middle of the dirt path about thirty feet in front of me. On both sides of the path, enormous piles of rusted metal loom at least twenty feet high and create strange, unnatural shadows in the moonlight. I push down my shudder. This place gives me the creepy-crawlies. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have to be, that’s for damn sure.
I try to ignore all the reasons I want to run home, where I could be drinking a hot cup of tea and eating chocolate chip cookies on my sofa, instead of crouching here against metal that’s only just warm from the remembered heat of the sun. I’m doing this for a reason, and I’m determined to focus on it.
I peer at my device again. It’s my own design, based on my research—and my personal experience. It’s vibrating softly, emitting a high-pitched sound only certain creatures can hear.
Dogs for example.
Glowing supernatural monsters for another.
It should be like a siren’s call to them. At least that’s what I was going for when I created it. But instead of doing its job, my device is completely still.
Something tickles my nose, and I brush away the tendrils of long hair that have escaped the black woolen hat I tucked them into earlier. I’m wearing black jeans, a black long-sleeved T-shirt, and black boots in an attempt to blend into my surroundings, but I’m not exactly what you’d call a professional. I much prefer to be the one who hangs out in the background—doing the research, fixing things, inventing the cool devices. Like Q in those Bond movies that Beanie and Walter—my co-workers at Larry’s Pawn Shop—always rave about.
But I have no one I’d trust to do the more dangerous aspects of my mission, so I have no choice but to play Bond as well as Q in this scenario.
I’ve discovered it’s not exactly glamorous doing a stake out. I’ve been stuck for hours in the same position between a beat-up bulldozer and a stack of metal that has everything ranging from window frames and building scraps, to appliances and old car parts. I’m determined to keep myself as small and inconspicuous as possible to hide myself from not only my intended victims, but also the guard who’s roaming the yard. As a result, my legs have painful pins and needles because of the cramped position I’ve been crouched in for so long.
I rub my legs through my jeans to get rid of the prickling sensation, but it doesn’t work. If something doesn’t appear soon, I’m never going to be able to walk again.
Except I can’t quite give up just yet.
Out of habit, I glance down at my watt-o-meter, one of my recent inventions. It’s too big for my slim wrist and looks like I borrowed a man’s watch, but it’s actually a device that traces concentrated energy. It lights up at the energy emitted by power plants... and also the terrifying supernatural monsters that have followed me through my life.
I haven’t come across any of the creatures I’ve been hunting since I started wearing it, but I did test the watt-o-meter out on a massive hydroelectric power station. It lit up like a Christmas tree, just like it was supposed to.
What it doesn’t do is act like a normal watch, so I’m always getting pointed looks from people who ask me the time and I tell them I don’t know.
Right now the watt-o-meter is dark and silent.
My disappointment is like a physical presence, darkening my mood even further. I was so sure I’d find something here. So sure in fact, that this is the fourth time I’ve staked out the Redwood City Scrap Metal Recycling Yard. It’s eerie and ominous, and I’m more jittery than a teetotaler at a biker bar. But I can’t leave. Not yet.
The metal recycling yard has all the hallmarks described in the old, waterlogged, Stanford University research papers my mentor, Professor Hasselblatt, secretly saved from the university’s massive shredding machine. Some of the documents even had official CIA letterhead on them. They must be real. There have to be monsters here.
Apparently they discovered the creatures are attracted to large deposits of metal, even better if it’s warm—for example, like recycled metal that’s been sitting in the sun all day. My theory is that it’s something to do with the vibrations of the atoms in metal when it’s heated. But since I haven’t been able to catch one, I have no way to prove it.
Aside from metal, certain high-pitched frequencies are the only other thing that attracts them, according to the same research papers. Hence the metal box and the high-pitched vibrations mixed with the scary scrap-metal yard at midnight.
It’s not just the possibility of seeing one of the monsters again that has me so jittery. Or even the fact that it could tear me limb from limb, just like my parents. No, my nerves are mostly strung out tight at the possibility of being caught by the wandering security guard.
There are big “No Trespassing” signs up on all the fences, with barbed wire at the top and bottom. Tiny security cameras sit in all the main areas, and the guard checks around the piles of metal at least once or twice a night. They clearly take their security seriously. Which means they’ll take it seriously if they find me here. And I’m definitely more scared at the thought of the guard calling the cops than I am of the monsters I’m hunting.
It hasn’t happened so far, but the guard seems jumpier than usual tonight, and he’s come by a couple times already. I only just managed to get myself out of his way the last time.
Like I said, not a professional.
The idea of being locked up again sets off the shiver I was suppressing, and for a moment the old panic paralyzes me. My nightmares of Ravenwood still haunt me, and the constant dread of being sent back is like a coat I can’t ever take off. I absently rub the scar on the side of my wrist. When she was feeling particularly vindictive, Dr. Green liked to put me to sleep, and I’d wake up with new wounds on my body. She’d never answer my questions about what they were for or why she was cutting me open.
When I escaped, I made myself a promise—that I would never put myself in her power again. Or anyone else’s for that matter.
Except there’s one thing more important to me than never going back to Ravenwood: my determination to find and destroy the monsters that killed my parents and my childhood best friend. I have to make up for what happened to them, and this is the only way I know how.
So I sit here and wait. I push away the fear, and I do things that scare me, because otherwise, what does my life mean? What else can a mentally unstable orphan—who’s on the run from the authorities for a murder she didn’t commit—achieve?
Sometimes I can’t hold back the doubts. Like, what if the research is fake? What if it’s just the result of fanciful thinking? The professor rescued the papers from the recycling bin, after all. None of the information has been verified, and I haven’t seen any of the glowing creatures in the places they said to look. Who cares if it had official seals on it? Maybe there was a good reason it was in the trash.
Even worse, maybe Dr. Green was right. Maybe it was all just a hallucination.
Maybe I really did kill my parents.
My breathing gets faster and louder, and for a moment everything spins around me. Could that be true? That I really did it? Just like she said? My thoughts are a jumbled mess of emotions, each vying for supremacy. Anger. Hurt. Loss. Fear. Confusion. The darkness presses in on me, and I scrunch my eyes shut, trying to push back the rising tide of panic.
I refuse to believe I did it.
I would never have done it.
The monsters are real, and I’m going to prove it. They’re not just hallucinations of a sick mind. I’m going to capture one, and then figure out what makes them tick.
So I can destroy them.
I take a deep breath, and then another, forcing myself to calm down, to push away the insidious thoughts trying to pull me back into the darkness. I don’t have time for this. I can’t lose my focus right now, not in the middle of the scrap metal yard. I refuse.
My heart rate slows and I open my eyes. The world has stopped spinning. A relieved breath escapes my lips. I can do this. I won’t let my old nightmares rule me.
In an attempt to distract myself, I grab the zipper of my canvas backpack, easing it slowly down so it makes as little noise as possible. I pull out my half-eaten pack of Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups—I ate the first one an hour ago—and put the familiar chocolate and peanut buttery goodness in my mouth. It’s just the hit of energy I need right now. It’s hard to believe that before I moved to Stanford, they weren’t a part of my life. My breathing calms to normal, and I’m able to think clearly again.
I move again—extremely slowly—to peer around the tower of metal and see if I’ve caught anything, or if the guard has come back.
Nothing but shadows and moonlight. Again. I was so sure this was the place.
Standing up, I shake out my legs, holding one hand against the bulldozer for balance. Nearby, something rustles and I freeze. The dark shadow of a rat runs across the alleyway, and I let out my breath.
The pain has increased with the extra circulation now that I’m standing up, and I hop about, rubbing my legs and trying not to swear.
The last thing I need is the guard turning up because he heard a noise.
A vibration hums across my wrist and I flick my arm, trying to calm the pins and needles that have transferred up my body.
It’s not pins and needles. My watt-o-meter is going off.
Either a power station just moved into the metal recycling plant or some kind of paranormal creature has arrived. I peer around the haphazard corner of metal again. A large, pale-blue, glowing form is hovering over my device. It’s shaped almost like a person with arms and legs and a head, but the glowing haze is undefined at the edges and has a bright-white center that makes my eyes water.
A freaking paranormal monster.
And just like that, my breath gets stuck in my lungs, my eyes go dry, and my heart pounds so hard I’m sure the creature can hear it. I’m also frozen so still I could be mistaken for a statue.
I’ve only seen three paranormal monsters in the years since I escaped from Ravenwood, and two of them were from a distance. The third time was when I met Professor Hasselblatt, and he saved my life.
Each time it’s the same. I always freeze as the memories flood my brain. It’s like suddenly I’m back there, staring at the monster that tore apart my parents. I can see the cloudy night sky, and smell the fresh blood in the air. A triumphant roar fills my ears as the creature turns toward me.
And right now, that’s what’s happening again. I’m lost in the memory, unable to escape. I’ve spent years wondering what I could have done differently, how I could have saved my parents from their painful deaths.
The agony of that moment is like having sandpaper rubbed over my whole body, and I struggle with the desire to scream into the still night air. I know it’s a useless defence mechanism. A scream won’t save me from the monster in front of me.
The only thing that breaks me out of my waking nightmare is the thought of letting yet another paranormal monster slip through my fingertips. I have a goal, a mission to accomplish. My parents’ death to avenge. I’ve created a device especially for this purpose, and I’ve just spent hours hiding next to sun-warmed recycled metal. I can’t space out now.
I have to do this.
And to succeed, I have to act fast. Taking a deep breath, I force myself to calm down. This is my chance. I refuse to mess it up.
I step out into the alley, directly in front of the glowing supernatural creature. But instead of looking like a strong and capable adversary, my still-recovering-from-pins-and-needles foot trips on a stray piece of pipe. I flop forward, letting out an awkward squawk of surprise and landing heavily on my hands and knees. My glasses tumble off my nose and onto the ground in front of me.
Not. A. Professional. Dammit.
The world becomes a blur of shadows with a menacing blue glow coming from somewhere in front of me. Panicking, I frantically feel around in the darkness until my hand touches the solid frames again. Breathing quickly, I shove them on my face and scramble to my feet. Grit and dust now cover the lens, and when I swipe at it, I get a smudgy fingerprint as well. I can barely see through the glass.
But it’s better than not being able to see anything at all.
The supernatural monster is staring at me, its black eyes like deep, dark orbs in a face that’s becoming more solid and human-shaped even as I watch. It’s losing some of its hazy blue glow and its more substantial form is a light blue-white skin color, sort of like it’s trying to trick me into thinking it’s human.
Except the rest of its appearance is completely off.
Its lips are bared in a snarl that shows off a row of small but viciously pointed teeth—no, not teeth, metal screws that are attached inside its mouth.
Instead of clothes it’s got metal car parts, copper wire, nuts and bolts, sprockets, and screwdrivers attached across its entire body, some of them half absorbed into its skin. Part of a steering wheel is sticking out one side, and I think I see a rearview mirror coming out of its shoulder. Its knees and elbows stick out at awkward angles, like a kid who hasn’t quite grown into his body, and it towers over my—admittedly short—five-foot-two-inches by almost two feet.
It should look weird and gangly, maybe a little bit funny, but instead it’s terrifying. My already thundering heart is now in overdrive, and I can’t breathe through my frozen lungs.
Now that it’s changed into a more solid form, the creature is standing near the box, only a few yards away. But it’s not approaching my invention, even though the high frequency sound must be calling to it.
Its fathomless black eyes are focused on my face.
It’s realized it has something better to play with.
Secrets & Demons: Demon Hunter in Hiding Series, Book 1
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