Authors: Kelly Keaton
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people,
or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are
the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events
or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
An imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
First Simon Pulse hardcover edition February 2011
Copyright © 2011 by Kelly Keaton
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Darkness becomes her / by Kelly Keaton. — 1st Simon Pulse hardcover ed.
Summary: In post-apocalyptic New Orleans, now a sanctuary for
supernatural beings, a hardened teenager on the run searches for the
truth about her monstrous heritage and discovers a curse that could
ingnite the ancient war between gods and monsters.
ISBN 978-1-4424-0924-8 (hardcover)
[1. Supernatural—Fiction. 2. Monsters—Fiction. 3. Athena (Greek deity)—Fiction.
4. Blessing and cursing—Fiction. 5. New Orleans (La.)—Fiction.] I. Title.
ISBN 978-1-4424-0926-2 (eBook)
For Mary Keaton
You’d take my little hand and into the woods we’d go,
a place where you lifted the veil from my imagination
and introduced me to wondrous things:
where fairies lived, sprites danced,
and brownies hid from goblins.
The veil has never come down.
Wish you were here to see this.
NDER THE CAFETERIA TABLE, MY RIGHT KNEE BOUNCED LIKE A
jackhammer possessed. Adrenaline snaked through my limbs, urging me to bolt, to hightail it out of Rocquemore House and never look back.
If I didn’t get my act together and calm down, I’d start hyperventilating and embarrass the shit out of myself. Not a good thing, especially when I was sitting in an insane asylum with rooms to spare.
“Are you sure you want to do this, Miss Selkirk?”
“It’s Ari. And, yes, Dr. Giroux.” I gave the man seated across from me an encouraging nod. “I didn’t come all this way to give up now. I want to know.” What I wanted was to get this over
with and do something,
, with my hands, but instead I laid them flat on the tabletop. Very still. Very calm.
A reluctant breath blew through the doctor’s thin, sun-cracked lips as he fixed me with an
I’m sorry, sweetheart, you asked for it
look. He opened the file in his hand, clearing his throat. “I wasn’t working here at the time, but let’s see. …” He flipped through a few pages. “After your mother gave you up to social services, she spent the remainder of her life here at Rocquemore.” His fingers fidgeted with the file. “Self-admitted,” he went on. “Was here six months and eighteen days. Committed suicide on the eve of her twenty-first birthday.”
An inhale lodged in my throat.
I hadn’t expected
The news left my mind numb. It completely shredded the mental list of questions I’d practiced and prepared for.
Over the years, I’d thought of every possible reason why my mother had given me up. I even explored the idea that she might’ve passed away sometime during the last thirteen years. But suicide?
Yeah, dumbass, you didn’t think of that one.
A long string of curses flew through my mind, and I wanted to bang my forehead against the table—maybe it would help drive home the news.
I’d been given to the state of Louisiana just after my fourth birthday, and six months later, my mother was dead. All those years thinking of her, wondering what she looked like, what she
was doing, wondering if she thought of the little girl she left behind, when all this time she was six feet under and not
a goddamn thing.
My chest expanded with a scream I couldn’t voice. I stared hard at my hands, my short fingernails like shiny black beetles against the white composite surface of the table. I resisted the urge to curl them under and dig into the laminate, to feel the skin pull away from the nails, to feel something other than the grief squeezing and burning my chest.
“Okay,” I said, regrouping. “So, what exactly was wrong with her?” The question was like tar on my tongue and made my face hot. I removed my hands and placed them under the table on my thighs, rubbing my sweaty palms against my jeans.
He opened the file and pretended to scan the page. The guy seemed nervous as hell to tell me, and I couldn’t blame him. Who’d want to tell a teenage girl that her mom was so whacked-out that she’d killed herself ?
Pink dots bloomed on his cheeks. “Says here”—his throat worked with a hard swallow—“it was snakes … claimed snakes were trying to poke through her head, that she could feel them growing and moving under her scalp. On several occasions, she scratched her head bloody. Tried to dig them out with a butter
knife stolen from the cafeteria. Nothing the doctors did or gave her could convince her it was all in her mind.”
The image coiled around my spine and sent a shiver straight to the back of my neck. I
Dr. Giroux closed the file, hurrying to offer whatever comfort he could. “It’s important to remember, back then a lot of folks went through post-traumatic stress. … You were too young to remember, but—”
“I remember some.” How could I forget? Fleeing with hundreds of thousands of people as two Category Four hurricanes, one after another, destroyed New Orleans and the entire southern half of the state. No one was prepared. And no one went back. Even now, thirteen years later, no one in their right mind ventured past The Rim.
Dr. Giroux gave me a sad smile. “Then I don’t need to tell you why your mother came here.”
“There were so many cases,” he went on sadly, eyes unfocused, and I wondered if he was even talking to me now. “Psychosis, fear of drowning, watching loved ones die. And the snakes, the snakes that were pushed out of the swamps and inland with the floodwaters … Your mother probably experienced some horrible real-life event that led to her delusion.”
Images of the hurricanes and their aftermath clicked through
my mind like a slide projector, images I hardly thought of anymore. I shot to my feet, needing air, needing to get the hell out of this creepy place surrounded by swamps, moss, and gnarly, weeping trees. I wanted to shake my body like a maniac, to throw off the images crawling all over my skin. But instead, I forced myself to remain still, drew in a deep breath, and then tugged the end of my black T-shirt down, clearing my throat. “Thank you, Dr. Giroux, for speaking with me so late. I should probably get going.”
I pivoted slowly and made for the door, not knowing where I was going or what I’d do next, only knowing that in order to leave I had to put one foot in front of the other.
“Don’t you want her things?” Dr. Giroux asked. My foot paused midstride. “Technically they’re yours now.” My stomach did a sickening wave as I turned. “I believe there’s a box in the storage room. I’ll go get it. Please”—he gestured to the bench— “it’ll just take a second.”
I slumped on the edge of the bench, rested my elbows on my knees, and turned in my toes, staring at the V between my feet until Dr. Giroux hurried back with a faded brown shoe box.
I expected it to be heavier and was surprised, and a little disappointed, by its lightness. “Thanks. Oh, one more thing … Was my mother buried around here?”
“No. She was buried in Greece.”
I did a double take. “Like small-town-in-America Greece, or … ?”
Dr. Giroux smiled, shoved his hands into his pockets, and rocked back on his heels. “Nope. The real thing. Some family came and claimed the body. Like I said, I wasn’t working here at the time, but perhaps you could track information through the coroner’s office; who signed for her, that sort of thing.”
That word was so alien, so unreal, that I wasn’t even sure I’d heard him right. Family. Hope stirred in the center of my chest, light and airy and ready to break into a Disney song complete with adorable bluebirds and singing squirrels.
No. It’s too soon for that. One thing at a time.
I glanced down at the box, putting a lid on the hope—I’d been let down too many times to give in to the feeling—wondering what other shocking news I’d uncover tonight.
“Take care, Miss Selkirk.”
I paused for a second, watching the doctor head for a group of patients sitting near the bay window, before leaving through the tall double doors. Every step out of the rundown mansion/mental hospital to the car parked out front took me further into the past. My mother’s horrible ordeal. My life as a ward of the state. Daughter of an unwed teenage mother who’d killed herself.
Fucking great. Just great.
The soles of my boots crunched across the gravel, echoing over the constant song of crickets and katydids, the occasional splash of water, and the call of bullfrogs. It might be winter to the rest of the country, but January in the deep South was still warm and humid. I gripped the box tighter, trying to see beyond the moss-draped live oaks and cypress trees and into the deepest, darkest shadows of the swampy lake. But a wall of blackness prevented me, a wall that—I blinked—seemed to waver.
But it was just tears rising to the surface.
I could barely breathe. I never expected this …
. I never expected to actually learn what had happened to her. After a quick swipe at the wet corners of my eyes, I set the box on the passenger seat of the car and then drove down the lonely winding road to Covington, Louisiana, and back to something resembling civilization.
Covington hovered on The Rim, the boundary between the land of the forsaken and the rest of the country; a border town with a Holiday Inn Express.
The box stayed on the hotel bed while I kicked off my boots, shrugged out of my old jeans, and jerked the tee over my head. I’d taken a shower that morning, but after my trip to the hospital, I needed to wash off the cloud of depression and the thick film of southern humidity that clung to my skin.