Heartweed: Chapter 6

This is the beta version of my novel. If you are a new reader – welcome. You can read from the start here.

New sections are released every Tuesday and Friday. Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading.

Chapter 6

She knew he was gone again before she even opened her eyes.
Artie slid out of bed, already dressed in jeans and a ragged T shirt. She pulled on her laced trainers, stamping down their backs to force her feet in, and grabbed a hooded sweatshirt.
Alex’s door stood open. The wind chimes hung on the door handle, designed to jangle and wake someone, were still and silent. Artie hesitated. Should she wake up her parents? And get more aggro from Alex? The scrape of the back door opening decided her.
Artie pattered down the stairs and darted through the kitchen. How had he got so far ahead of her? The back door had been locked. Everyones keys well hidden. The gate had been bolted – now it was flung open.
Alex strode across the common. It was the most purposeful Artie had seen him in his sleepwalking state. She hared across the silent grass after him, gaining on him but never seeming to reach him. Every time she blinked he seemed to have widened the gap again.
When she reached the road she was panting. The trees opposite had stretched out their shadows and swallowed Alex up. A stitch nipped at Artie’s side. She swallowed a breath and plunged into the darkness after her brother.
There were no voices to guide her this time. No voices were needed. Alex stood a few feet ahead, swaying like a sapling in a storm. He dipped and danced to music that only he could hear.
From between one shadow and the next he came: the fox-faced man. The man who definitely wasn’t human. Artie stopped breathing and shrank back behind the thick trunk of an oak. The man’s hair was unbound tonight. It rippled behind him like woven moonlight. His eyes were soft and lips parted.
One elegant hand extended towards Alex, as if asking for the pleasure of a dance. Alex swayed towards him. Artie watched as her brother lifted his own hand and laid it in the pale palm. The darkness around the edges of Alex and the creature began to ripple and blur.
She darted out and grabbed Alex’s other hand and tugged it. The fox-faced man’s lips snapped off his teeth, pulling his face into a snarl. His pupils contracted into auger points.
Darkness poured in on them all: heavy and liquid. The weight of it crushed the breath from Artie. She squeezed her eyes closed and was trapped in a medley of sensations. Crushing depths. Buffeting winds. An amoral sentience sliding and swarming all over her. It was looking for a way in.
She clung to Alex’s hand like a lifeline. The only thing keeping her from drowning. Then she felt a different touch – another hand, wire strong with sharp nails. The fox-faced man. He pried her fingers from Alex’s hands with vicious carelessness. She knew he would tear her hand away a piece of flesh at a time if it was easier than a finger at a time.
Artie opened her eyes into the nothingness. She opened her mouth to scream stop and the living, liquid darkness surged down her throat. The last finger was wrenched away. The currents of darkness tore at her and she whirled away. She could not see, hear or feel anything but he swirling shadows. Alex was gone.
Terror poured into Artie. She flailed her arms against the shadows, but there was no purchase, no resistance. Alone. Adrift.
Her knees hit the ground and she gasped. Light danced behind her eyelids. Artie retched and the force of it pushed her forwards onto her palms in the damp earth. She heaved and heaved and brought nothing up. It was like her body was trying to force out the darkness that had crawled into her throat.
With eyes full of hot, acid tears, Artie collapsed panting on the ground.

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