Dread Locks #1by Neal Shusterman
Dread Locks is the first entry in the Dark Fusion series from master storyteller Neal Shusterman. He cleverly weaves together familiar parts of fairy tales and Greek mythology to tell the story of fourteen-year-old Parker Bear, rich and utterly bored with life—until a new girl arrives in town. Tara's eyes are always hidden behind designer sunglasses, and her hair, blond with glimmering spirals, seems almost alive. Parker watches, fascinated, as one by one Tara chooses high school students to befriend; he even helps her by making the necessary introductions. Over time, her “friends” develop strange quirks, such as drinking gallons of milk, eating dirt, and becoming lethargic. By the time Parker realizes what Tara is doing, he is too embroiled to stop her. In fact, she has endowed him with certain cravings of his own. . . .To say more would spoil the spooky fun of this wild thriller—let the twist speak for itself and leave you still as a statue.
Read an Excerpt
IF LOOKS cOuLD KILL…
“So…you’re not going out with her again?”
“No,” was all he said, and offered no explanation. But now I was curious. I remembered what she had done to my friends Dante and Freddy, picking them apart and putting them back together with her words.
“Why?” I asked. “What did she say to you?”
“She didn’t say anything. It was the way she looked at me.”
I shrugged. “So? She looks at everyone like that.”
But Ernest shook his head. “No…not the way she looked at me.” He glanced down at his tray for a moment, then back up at me. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
I looked down, too, because I didn’t want to meet those cold eyes. Instead I caught sight of his hand on the table. Just like the tone of his voice, and the look of his eyes, there was something strange about his hand, too. Not just his hand, but his skin in general. The awful flickering fluorescent lights in the cafeteria did have a tendency to paint everyone in morgue-tones, but even so, Ernest’s skin didn’t look right. Not so much pale, as gray. Like dolphin skin. Maybe he’s sick, I thought. Maybe it has nothing to do with Tata.
OTHER SPEAK BOOKS
An Imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
For Eric and Jan,
may your midnight buffet plate always be full
Dread Locks would not have been possible without the support and contributions of quite a few people:
Eric Elfman, whose crucial creative input helped to mold many key chapters; Jean Feiwel, for giving me the first shot with this story; Tonya Martin, for her insightful early editorial work; Easton Royce, for knowing when it’s time for a pseudonym to go away; Andrea Brown, for believing in the Dark Fusion series and bringing it to my market; my assistant, Janine Black, for her tireless efforts running interference and keeping me on task; my kids, who have become so good at critiquing stories, it’s scary.
And finally, Stephanie Owens Lurie, who has shepherded me from the very beginning of my career. I couldn’t hope for a better editor or friend.
I’ve been thinking about it a lot. It seems all I can do these days is think, playing the events over and over again in my mind until I’m numb. I see all the ways it could have turned out differently. How the nightmare could have been avoided, and the deaths—all the deaths—would never have happened.
You have to understand I never intended to be a part of Tara’s cruelty. I just couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t resist, and if you knew her, you wouldn’t be able to resist either. I have to believe that it wasn’t just my weakness, but a power dark and devious, as irresistible as gravity. I have to believe that, or I’ll lose my mind. I can’t lose that, you see—it’s the only thing I have left…
Table of Contents
MY LIFE as a STaTue
There was never anything wrong with my life. Perhaps that was the problem. That was the flaw—the crack into which Tara slid like rainwater into a sidewalk fracture, freezing and thawing again and again, widening the crack with each frost. The crack in my life was the fact that I had everything I wanted, or could ever want—and when you have it all, boredom grows like a fungus, coating everything you own and everything you feel.
“You’re just a spoiled brat,” my older brother, Garrett, would tell me. Him, with his Rolex watch and his designer clothes. Him, with a Lexus in the driveway for his sixteenth birthday. The sad thing is, he was right. By the time I was fourteen, I had a DVD collection that would rival the neighborhood video store. I had three bikes: mountain, racing, and trick And I knew that whether I wanted one or not, there would be a Lexus in the driveway for me one day, too.
No, there was nothing wrong with my life. But then again, everything was wrong.
On my fifteenth birthday, I came to realize that the expression spoiled rotten meant exactly that. We kids were the apples of our parents’ eyes, and I, for one, was rotting from the inside out.
I was looking forward to my birthday—I mean, who doesn’t. That was when I cared what I would get. That was when I cared, period. I came running down the stairs that morning, like it was Christmas. My parents were already up. In my family, presents never waited; they were there upon waking. Our family has a problem with what they call delayed gratification. We want what we want when we want it, and we always want it now. So birthday presents never waited until afternoon, or even until after breakfast.
The gift was hard to miss. It was this huge box almost four feet tall and wrapped with a giant red ribbon, sitting smack in the middle of the living room.
“Mine, mine, mine!” yelled my little sister, Katrina. Everything was hers, hers, hers. She was eight, but got attention by acting like she was four.
“Katrina, it’s Parker’s birthday, not yours,” Mom said patiently.
“It’s bigger than my present was,” Katrina complained, “and don’t tell me that size doesn’t matter, because you got mad at Dad that time your anniversary diamond was too small.”
Dad chuckled uncomfortably. Mom sighed.
“Maybe you’ll get something as big for your next birthday,” Dad offered.
“Christmas,” demanded Katrina. “Christmas is sooner.”
Garrett, whose bed hair looked like something out of a bad science-fiction movie, threw up his hands like my birthday was an imposition on his life. “Can we just get on with this already?”
I looked at the box on the table, trying to take it slow, relishing the mystery. I had no idea what it was. I had dropped hints that I wanted a motocross bike, but this box wasn’t the right shape.
“Go on, open it,” said Dad.
I tugged the end of the huge ribbon like a rip cord, and the bow pulled open. As it did, the sides of the box, which weren’t actually attached, fell away to reveal a metallic shape inside. It took a moment to realize what it was.
It was me.
“Well, what do you think?” asked Mom.
What did I think? I wasn’t quite thinking yet—I was still trying to take it in. It was a three-foot bronze sculpture of me holding a basketball, ready to shoot. The thing looked like the top of a giant trophy—like the MVP trophy I had gotten on my basketball team the year before, but with my face.
“It’s something, isn’t it!” Dad said proudly.
“I don’t play basketball anymore,” I reminded them.
Dad threw me an irritated glare. “You did when we commissioned the artist to sculpt it.”
“This year we thought we’d get you something that would last,” Mom said. “Something you could pass on to your children.”
I had no idea why my future children would want a sculpture of me shooting hoops. What do you say to a present like that?
“Cool,” I said.
My parents seemed satisfied with my response.
“Enough of this garbage,” said Garrett. “Go out on the driveway—my present to you is there.”
“It’s a motocross bike,” said Katrina, thrilled by her own power to ruin the surprise.
As it was Saturday, I filled the motocross bike with gas, spent the whole day riding until I got bored with it, then took it on tour to all of my friends, until I got bored with that, too.
That night was the first time I truly began to understand how I was rotting from the inside. After dark, I sat in the backyard staring at that bronze sculpture. My parents had already placed it on a pedestal, with lights shining at it from two different angles, and I thought how strange it all was. I had everything that I needed, everything that I wanted, and on top of all that, I now had a statue to honor me. This was as good as it gets. Which meant the only direction from here would be down.
I don’t expect you to understand. Boo hoo, the rich kid’s feeling sorry for himself. But it’s not like that. I mean, we’re all striving for something, right? There’s always something we’re working toward. You take that lousy summer job because it gives you the money to actually do something with your friends other than hang out. You dress cool to be in with the popular kids. You bust your butt so that your grades get you to the top of your class. You play basketball dreaming of victory and the MVP trophy.
But what happens when you’ve got all those things already? What is there to strive for? What do you hope for?
It was as I stared at my own bronze face, feeling that boredom fungus growing all around me, that I heard the first moving van pull up the long driveway of the house next door.
THIrTeen MOVInG Vans
The place next door had been deserted for as long as I can remember and is the largest house in the neighborhood, if one could actually call it a house. Our place is not quite a mansion, but it comes close. Six bedrooms, a four-car garage, a “bonus room” large enough for both a pool table and a Ping-Pong table, and a yard with a tennis court and pool. The place next door, though, hidden behind ancient sycamore trees, at the end of a gated driveway, was like its own universe. It stood three stories tall, with a winding staircase you could see through the bare front windows. From the outside it looked kind of like the White House, but it was painted canary yellow, which was peeling to reveal the aging wood beneath. The place was so rundown because no one had lived there since before I was born.
My friends and I went there once in a while to look into the dust-covered windows.
“The place is haunted,” my best friend, Danté, once told me. His real name is Don Taylor, which became Don Tay and finally Danté, because he decided that spelling was so much cooler.
“People say every empty old house is haunted,” I answered.
“Ralphy Sherman says the guy who lived there hacked off his own head, then went around headless, hacking off the heads of his whole family.”
“Ralphy Sherman also says he was JFK in a previous life. You gonna believe that?”
Haunted or not, the place had always had a heavy padlock on the driveway gate. Now either someone had finally bought it, or the original owners were finally moving in after all those years.
I watched from my bedroom window that night, trying to get a glimpse through the trees to see what was going on. Even my parents were curious—I could hear them in their bedroom muttering nightmare neighbor stories to each other and hoping we wouldn’t have one of our own. I counted thirteen huge moving vans pulling into the long driveway before I fell asleep.
The next morning—Sunday—while everyone else slept late, I went out to explore.
I rode my new motorbike past the rusty front gate of the mansion a few times. The chain and padlock were gone, but the gate was still closed. It wasn’t exactly an invitation to visit, but I’m not one to wait for invitations. I hid my bike in the bushes and climbed through a gap in the fence farther up the road so I’d be less obvious.
When I got to the house, I could see that the vans were all gone. The only sign that the movers had been there were dusty footprints on the porch. I dared to peer inside. The place was still a wreck, but now it was filled with luxurious furniture. Old stuff—the kind they put in fake rooms in museums, then block off with red velvet ropes. Bubble-wrapped artwork leaned against the peeling walls everywhere, and boxes were stacked like building blocks halfway to the vaulted ceiling. Whoever had moved in was probably asleep after such a long night of moving. I sneaked around to the back and peered in to find more of the same in the kitchen and dining room. I didn’t dare try the back doorknob, because I didn’t want to be tempted to go in.
Cutting through the trees, I climbed back out to the road the way I had come, took my bike on a nice long ride, then went home.
When I got back, Dad was awake, and he was crankier than his usual pre-coffee crank. “What were you doing in my office?” Dad asked me, as if I was guilty of some federal offense.
“I wasn’t in your office,” I told him. “I was out riding.”
“Then one of you is lying.”
He led me into his home office, a room that seemed entirely carved out of dark cherrywood, even the floor and desk. Garrett and Katrina were already there, annoyed at this ongoing investigation. Dad pointed to his leather desk chair.
“Someone’s been sitting in my chair!” he said.
Garrett rubbed his eyes to get the sleep out of them. “What’s the big deal?”
“In case you’ve forgotten, this is not just a chair, it’s an ergonomical skeletal support system.” He pointed to four electric buttons that worked like the controls on car seats. “The settings are all off. It took me weeks to get them just right.”
“Maybe you did it yourself,” I suggested.
“Oh please,” he said, disgusted, as if he’d never be capable of such an act.
“What’s a herbo-comical skeleton,” Katrina asked, with worry in her voice. “Is there one in the house? Does it have to stay here?”
“Don’t worry about it,” I told her. “It doesn’t come out until dark”
Katrina bit her lip, and Dad forced me to explain that there was no skeleton; all it meant was that the chair was specially designed for Dad’s back problems.
“Actually, all it really means,” Garrett said, “is that they overcharged Dad for the chair.”
After an uncomfortable silence, I asked, “Can we go now?”
Dad looked at us suspiciously, then waved his hand. “Just don’t touch my chair again.”
As it turned out, unauthorized chair use was not the only crime of the day. At the breakfast table, Mom handed Katrina her box of cereal. Mom had given up on trying to get Katrina to drink milk—which she hated—and even had given up on making Katrina eat out of a bowl. The best she could do was get Katrina to wash her hands before sitting at the table, where she would shove those grubby little fingers into the cereal box.
“Hey,” she said, when she dipped her hand into the box. “Someone’s been eating my cereal!”
I shoveled in spoonfuls of my own Wheaties. “I don’t think anyone else in this house can stomach Sugar-Frosted Pizza Puffs,” I said. “Your cereal’s safe.”
“It wasn’t even open yesterday, and now half of it’s gone!” She dug her hand deep into the box, spilling the awful tomato-colored puffs all over the table. “The prize! Someone took the prize!”
“Honey,” said Mom, “maybe they just forgot to put one in.”
“Mom, it’s a company. They would never forget an important thing like that. They could lose their license or something.”
Katrina grumbled about her missing cereal prize for the rest of breakfast, making the meal even more unpleasant than usual.
While Dad fine-tuned the adjustments on his chair, and Katrina nagged Mom for a new box of cereal, I went up to my room to plan my day. Mom would want us to go to church, but if Garrett and I did some tag-team stalling, we’d be too late to go. I could head down to the mall, meet up with Danté, maybe catch a movie or something. Same old thing every week. I was about to sit at my desk when I happened to catch sight of something in the room, and what I saw made me freak. You know that feeling you get when your leg falls asleep? Well, I suddenly had that feeling in my spine. Like termites were chewing through the marrow in my backbone. I tore out of the room and downstairs, finding Dad just finishing up his chair adjustments. He must have caught the look on my face.
“What’s up, Parker?”
“Dad…someone’s sleeping in my bed.”
THe Someone SLeePInG In MY BeD
You might think such a thing as someone sleeping in your bed wouldn’t be the cause of a major freaking—but if you think that, then it’s never happened to you. The fact was, everyone in my house was accounted for. My brother, my sister, my parents. It couldn’t be our cat, Nasdaq—he was much smaller than the lump in my bed. That meant whoever was in that bed was an intruder.
Dad and I went up—Dad carrying the trusty tire iron that he kept in the house in case of a break-in. “I think it’s a bum, or something,” I told him. “Some crazy bum who climbed in through a window. He could be dangerous.”
We slowly entered my room, and Dad stiffened. Maybe he had thought it was my imagination, but now he knew it was not. A hand stuck out from beneath my covers. We approached the figure in the bed. What if he had a knife—or worse, a gun? My heart drummed against my chest like a low-dribbled basketball. I reached out, clasped the quilt in my hand, and pulled the covers from the intruder’s face.
The intruder was a girl.
She slept soundly, the morning sun shining through the blinds onto her face. Even sleeping, I could tell she was pretty. No, not so much pretty as exotic. Her face was so unique it defined its own beauty.
Dad lowered his tire iron. “You know her?”
I shook my head. She seemed about my age, but I didn’t recognize her from school. Her hair was the most interesting thing about her. Her head was covered with long, looping curls—bright golden twists of hair tumbling in all directions on my pillow. They were almost like dreadlocks, but very different in the way they glowed, catching the light in glimmering spirals that made each blond curl seem almost alive. I had never seen anything like it.
I reached out and poked her shoulder. She stirred slightly. I prodded her again. “Hey, wake up.”
She rolled over, away from us, and pulled up something that had been hidden under the covers. I gasped, thinking it was a weapon—but it was just a pair of sunglasses. She slipped them on, then turned back to us.
“Good morning!” she said, stretching like a cat. I immediately caught the English accent in her voice.
“Do you mind telling me what you’re doing in my son’s bed?”
“I can handle this, Dad.” I looked sternly at her reflective glasses. “Do you mind telling me what you’re doing in my bed?”
She laughed. “Well, all the other beds in your house weren’t as comfortable as yours.”
That just made Dad stammer, then state the obvious: “This isn’t your house!”
“How long have you been here?” I asked her.
She grinned at me. “Since you went over to my house to peek in the windows.”
Now it was my turn to stammer. I’m sure I also turned red. Dad looked from me, to her, and back to me again.
“I…I was just checking out the new neighbors,” I told Dad, then turned back to the girl. “So you moved in next door?”
She held out her hand for me to shake. “My name’s Tara. Tara Herpecheveux.”
I almost laughed. “That’s a mouthful.”
Hmm, I thought. English accent, French name. She was already more interesting than anyone else I knew “I’m Parker.” I shook her hand, all the while thinking how weird it was to be introducing myself to some girl in my bed while my father stood next to me with a tire iron.
“Parker Merritt Baer,” she said.
I was genuinely surprised. “You know me?”
“I saw your name on the trophies.” She pointed to my trophy shelf across the room. For some reason I was glad she had taken the time to notice them before taking a nap.
“This is a strange way to introduce yourself, Miss Herpecheveux,” my father said.
“But memorable,” she answered. “Bet you’ll never forget meeting me!”
Meet the Author
Neal Shusterman is an award-winning author and screenwriter. He lives in Southern California with his four children.
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