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By Deborah LeBlanc
Dorchester Publishing Copyright © 2007 Deborah LeBlanc
All right reserved.
Chapter One Haley Thurston knew there was no turning back, no matter how insistently her twin sister, Heather, tugged on her arm. Not only would they look like idiots if they left now, they'd be throwing away a life-altering opportunity. She wasn't going to let that happen. Not after the crappy year they'd just been through, and if the last three days were any indication, the future appeared doomed to an insurmountable shit pile. As far as she was concerned, telling a couple of lies and wading through a few roaches were small prices to pay for a detour.
The invitation from Karla Nichols came as a shock. The girl had approached Haley and Heather at noon while the two of them sat huddled over tacos and fruit salad in the school cafeteria. When Karla sat beside them, Haley became suspicious. What could one of the most popular girls in school possibly want with them? They were new to Laidlaw High, as well as to the state of Mississippi, and Karla appeared to be a landmark. She was seventeen, drove her own car, and always had a group of kids traipsing after her like hungry puppies. Haley still didn't fully understand how they'd managed to capture Karla's attention, but why didn't seem important now. She was just glad they had.
Hoping she appeared braver than she felt, Haley squared her shoulders as they maneuvered around a coffee table littered with crumpled beer cans and dirty dishes mottled with dried food and cigarette butts. A broken trail of small brown roaches scuttled across the coffee table, down its legs, then under the green-striped couch beside it. The mountain of rumpled clothes sitting on the couch appeared permanent, and she didn't even want to guess what the long, chunky brown things were that littered the matted carpet near the television. The place smelled of stale cigarette smoke, rotten oranges, and used maxi pads.
"This is way gross," Heather whispered as they followed Karla down a hallway that led to the back of the mobile home.
Haley scowled. "Shh!"
"In here," Karla said, taking a quick right.
The bedroom looked like the loading end of a trash truck. The floor was obliterated by clothes, crumpled paper, dirty socks, Pepsi cans, shoes, CD cases, and discarded pizza boxes. Lopsided posters of heavy-metal bands decorated the walls, along with magazine pictures of hunky men in Hanes underwear and movie stars in glittery ball gowns. The bed looked like it hadn't been washed, much less made, in years, and the drawers from the dresser beside it were pulled out, each empty and hanging aslant.
Karla walked over to the bed, stepping on whatever happened to be in her way en route, then plopped down on the squeaky mattress. She leaned over, stuck a hand under the bed, and pulled out a large shoebox. "Y'all gonna just hang out there or what?"
Still standing in the doorway, Haley glanced at her sister. Heather was biting the tip of her right thumb, a nervous habit she'd developed in kindergarten and had never outgrown. The trait looked cute on a five-year-old but stupid on a high school sophomore. Haley nudged her, and Heather released her thumb and took a tentative step forward.
Karla opened the shoebox, then aimed her chin at the space beside her on the mattress. "Sit there."
Eager to get started, Haley hurried over to sit beside her, paying little mind to the trash underfoot. Heather stalled at the foot of the bed, and for an instant Haley sensed the fear and doubt swirling through her sister. That was the thing about being a twin-when something good happened, they sometimes got a double dose of happy because both picked up on what the other felt. When things went wrong, however, that occasionally meant double the sadness or fear, which was tough to carry at times. Up until a moment ago, Haley had been dealing with some uncertainty, but she'd been too excited about the possibilities that lay ahead to be afraid. Now, picking up on Heather's vibes, it took all she had not to chicken out of the deal. She shot her sister a Chill, okay? look, then turned her attention to their host.
If someone judged by looks alone, Karla Nichols would be the last person anyone would suspect of being popular. She had long, stringy black hair, brown eyes accented with thick, black eyeliner, a fair share of zits, and a tattoo that looked like squiggle art on the top of her right arm. Haley didn't care what the girl looked like or what kind of house she lived in. What interested her most was Karla's tattoo. It was real, not the rub-on kind, and according to Karla it had been the catalyst for her popularity. Haley had to believe the girl was telling the truth because she'd never known anyone to look like that, live like this, and be popular.
After removing a pack of Marlboro Lights and a Bic lighter from the shoebox, Karla tapped out a cigarette and lit it. She scrunched her lips into a tight O, popped her jaw, and blew out a smoke ring. She held the pack out to them. "Smoke?"
Haley hesitated. She'd never smoked before and wondered which might be worse-looking lame for not taking a cigarette or trying one and possibly puking all over the floor.
"We don't smoke," Heather said, stepping closer to Haley. She had a steely look in her eyes that dared anyone to push the point.
Haley grabbed her sister's arm and pulled her down beside her on the bed.
Karla grinned, a lopsided effort that gave her face a pained expression. She tossed the lighter and pack of cigarettes back into the shoebox.
"Don't your parents care that you smoke?" Heather asked.
Haley groaned silently, wishing her sister back to uncertain and scared.
Karla snorted a stream of smoke through her nostrils. "You see any parental units around here?" She reached for an empty Pepsi can on the floor, righted it on the nightstand that stood near the bed, and tapped ashes into it.
"Parental units?" Heather asked, and Haley jabbed her lightly in the ribs with an elbow.
Pausing in midtap, Karla cocked her head towards her. "Parents. You know, mother, father, shit like that."
Heather frowned, and Haley, fearing her sister was about to ask another stupid question, jumped in. "Okay, so what do we have to do?"
Instead of answering, Karla leaned against the headboard and took a long drag off her cigarette. She closed her eyes when she inhaled, like smoking was the most pleasurable experience in the world. When she opened her eyes again, she studied them for a long moment, then sat up and took two quick puffs on her cigarette. She reached into the shoebox again, pulled out a small notebook and an ink pen, then placed the shoebox on the bed.
"How long's this going to take?" Haley asked.
Karla opened the notebook. "Why, you got a hot date?"
Haley felt her cheeks grow warm. "No, but I told my grandparents we'd be back around four-thirty."
"What else did you tell 'em?" Karla puffed on her cigarette again and squinted through the smoke.
"They didn't ask why you were going to be late?"
"Well, yeah. I told my grandmother we were trying out for the cheerleading squad."
"Tryouts on the third day of school?"
Haley shrugged. "She doesn't know any different."
"What else did you tell her?"
"How's she expecting you to get home?"
"I told her a friend would drop us off." Haley frowned and nervously fingered a button on her blouse. "You said you'd drive us home when we were done. You're still going to, right?"
"Yeah." Karla pointed to a pizza box on the floor near the bed. "Hey, see if there's anything worth eatin' in there, will ya?"
Heather leaned over and opened the pizza box. It contained a few crust ridges and two shriveled pieces of pepperoni. She showed the contents to Karla, who made a pfft sound, then motioned for her to close the box.
"So what's with the questions?" Haley asked.
Dropping her cigarette into the empty Pepsi can, Karla let out an exaggerated sigh. "Two reasons. One, like I told y'all on the way over here, you can't tell anybody about this. Remember?"
The twins nodded in unison.
"Last person I helped got radared by her parents, and the little bitch wound up ratting me out. I got into all kinds of shit. I don't need another hassle like that."
"We're not going to say anything," Haley assured her.
"Yeah, but what about your grandparents? They snoop around in your room? Dig through your shit?"
"No," Heather said. "Well, except for Meemaw. She comes in our room every once in a while to put clean laundry on the bed."
Haley cringed when she heard her sister refer to their paternal grandmother as meemaw. Although the term seemed to be common in Passon, Mississippi, she thought it sounded immature and stupid.
"I had a meemaw like that," Karla said, a heavy note in her voice. "She took real good care of me when I'd go visit her over in Meridian on summer breaks. She died three years ago, though. Heart attack."
"I'm sorry she died," Heather said. "We lost our dad four months ago. Leukemia."
"Where's your mama?"
"In a hospital back in Baton Rouge."
"Sick in the head," Haley said, flipping over a CD case on the floor with her right foot.
Heather leaned into her, frowning. "Stop. It's not her fault."
Haley waved a hand as though to brush away Heather's words. Living through the drama her sister referred to had been enough. She didn't need to regurgitate the details. For a year, she and Heather had been pushed into a corner while their father struggled with his disease. After he died, they were shipped off to a cousin's, then tossed over to their grandparents a month later when their mother attempted suicide because she couldn't deal with their father's death. And now, because their mother couldn't seem to get her head together, they were stuck in Mississippi until somebody said they weren't. Not that Haley hated her grandparents. Meemaw and Papaw were nice enough, but Passon, Mississippi, wasn't home. Neither was Laidlaw High.
Back in Zachary, Louisiana, she and Heather had attended a small Catholic school, where ninety-five percent of the kids had known one another since grade school, and the graduating classes usually maxed out at fifty. They'd been popular there. But Laidlaw was a different story. The school was huge, holding most of the teens from west Jackson plus some from small farm towns, like Passon, that rode on the hem of the city's skirt. At Laidlaw they were like two ants in an overcrowded mound. Nothing special and easily ignored.
Between losing her parents, her home, and being forced to attend a new school, Haley'd had more than enough. Life had become a runaway bulldozer, and she knew somebody had to grab the controls before the damn thing crashed and left no survivors. If Karla were right and Chaos magic allowed you to gain control, then Haley wanted in big time. She was tired of not having a say in her life.
More determined than ever, Haley turned to Karla. "You said there were two reasons for your questions. What's the second?"
Still holding the notebook, Karla doodled in the corner of a blank page. "When you make a sigil, you've gotta make sure you say what you want in the right way. Sometimes we think one way, but it comes out our mouth different. Just like when I asked you what you'd told your grandparents. You said nothing, but you really had told them something."
"But it wasn't anything important. Nothing that would've given away what we were doing."
"Doesn't matter. The point is you said one thing but meant another. You can't do that in Chaos. You've gotta pay attention to what you're saying. If you don't, you're either going to wind up with only part of what you wanted or the complete opposite. Chaos can be powerful shit. If you get sloppy with the details, it won't work, or even worse-it'll turn on you."
Heather's eyes grew wide. "Turn on you how?"
"Depends on what you're after. The smaller the wish, the smaller the payback if it's done wrong. Like if you wanted a new stereo, that's small. If you don't do your sigil right or don't take good care of it, the payback would probably be that you lose your old stereo, so you'd wind up with none. Get it?"
"It's all by degrees. The bigger the wish or intention, the more serious the payback. Like if you wanted somebody dead, you could wind up dead."
Heather gasped. "We don't want anyone to die!"
Karla rolled her eyes. "Whatever. I'm just telling you how the rules work."
"Is that what happened here?" Heather held out her hands, indicating their surroundings. "Payback?"
Karla frowned. "Huh?"
"I mean if Chaos is powerful like you said, you could be living in a mansion, right?"
"Well, why aren't you? Why are you living in this?"
Karla arched a brow. "You dissin' my house?"
Heather's cheeks turned bright pink. "No, I was just wondering. You said the magic could turn on you if it wasn't done right, and I thought-"
"You thought since I live in a dump, I'd screwed something up, right? Well you're wrong. A house and what's in it isn't important to me. For Chaos to work, you've gotta focus on something you really want. I'll be legal and outta here in a few months, so I'm sure as hell not gonna waste my energy or my sigil on this shit hole. All I care about right now is makin' friends and partying."
"Why don't you get Chaos to make you legal now so you don't have to wait to move out?" Heather asked.
"'Cause you can't use Chaos to mess with time, like making yourself older. It won't work." Karla glanced away for a moment, her expression wistful. "Been trying to work it so I can get emancipated, though. It's just taking longer than I figured."
"So why us, Karla?" Haley asked, surprised by her own question. It seemed to pop out of her mouth, having bypassed her brain.
"Why'd you decide to show us how this works? There's a ton of other kids at Laidlaw. Why'd you pick us?"
Karla eyed her for a moment, then shrugged. "Curious, I guess. I've never seen it done by twins before. I wanna see if you get a double kick. If one person can power up a sigil, I'm thinking twins should be able to make it even stronger. Should be a trip."
"So we're like an experiment?" Heather asked.
"How'd you know we'd do it?" Haley asked.
"I didn't. Watchin' y'all mope around school by yourselves all the time, though, I figured you might want the help. I remember what that shit's like, being the new kid. It ain't fun."
"Wait ..." Heather leaned toward her. "You mean you're not from here?"
"Nope. Originally from a hick town in Arkansas. Folks moved out here two years ago and dragged me along."
"But you're so popular," Haley said. "It's like all the kids have known you forever."
This time Karla's grin was wide and real. "I know. Best shit's ever happened to me."
Haley's heart thudded with anticipation. "Chaos made that happen?"
"I don't know exactly how, and I don't have to know." Karla lifted the right shirtsleeve of her blouse, fully exposing her tattoo. "All I have to do is make sure I keep my sigil fed, and it takes care of the rest."
Heather's brow furrowed. "How do you feed a tattoo?"
"The tattoo's not the sigil. It's only a symbol that represents what I want. It's like a focal point I carry around with me all the time. You can't see most sigils because they're energy, kinda like electricity. See what I'm sayin'?"
"But how do you feed what you can't see?" Haley asked.
"You release certain kinds of energy when you focus on your symbol. The bigger your intention, the more energy you have to feed your sigil."
More confused than ever, Haley began to worry she'd never grasp the concept fully enough to use it. "Okay ... so, like what do you feed yours?"
Haley sat up straighter, taken aback by the answer. "Huh?"
Karla nodded and raised her skirt just high enough for them to see the lower portion of the inside of her thighs. Both had thin red and pink crisscrossing slashes that ran almost to her knees.
Haley felt the blood drain from her face. "You're a cutter?"
Excerpted from Morbid Curiosity by Deborah LeBlanc Copyright © 2007 by Deborah LeBlanc. Excerpted by permission.
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