Read an Excerpt
A Denazen Novella
By Jus Accardo, Liz Pelletier, Erica M. Chapman
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Jus Accardo
All rights reserved.
My name is Brandt Cross, and I once ate a caterpillar on a dare ...
Not once in life did my view of death include waking up on a sidewalk in too-tight jeans—commando, if the itchy, chafed feeling was any indication—staring into the lifeless eyes of the dirt bag that killed me.
"Can you move?" a gruff voice asked. A pair of hands slid under my shoulders and hefted upward. The world danced in blurry circles as the crowd gathering around us and sped in and out of focus like a scene from The Blair Witch Project. If the scenery didn't stop doing its best impression of a Tilt-A-Whirl, there was a better than average chance I'd puke.
"I—I think so. I pushed the words past still-numb lips and across my tongue. Talking felt weird. It sounded weird, too. Then again, it took some time to get used to using someone else's vocal chords.
Two police officers stood above me. The one closest extended a hand to brush some debris from my shoulder while the other stood over my former, rather—Sheltie's—lifeless body, wearing an odd expression. He was either confused or had to take a major dump.
When I was a kid, I imagined death was a lot like Saturday morning cartoons. Fluffy clouds and harps. People zooming around with super-charged wings on their backs. Then, as I got older, my idea of death changed. I was a good guy, so I'd have to be heaven-bound. And heaven meant daily brews with Tony Hawk, Sunday brunch with the family, and all the peanut butter cookies I could eat presented on platters offered by large-breasted Hooters' girls.
Not even close. My version of death wasn't nearly that fluffy.
I stretched in an attempt to rid myself of a wicked charley horse. "What happened?"
"We were hoping you could tell us. What's your name?"
I took a deep breath and instinctively reached into my pocket for my skate wheel, but froze when my fingers scraped up nothing but lint. For a second I freaked, thinking I'd lost the small chunk of plastic. Tightness in my chest stole the air from my lungs. A ridiculous reaction considering it was just a stupid piece of worn plastic and metal, but still ... That wheel was like home. The only real piece of the old me I had left.
After a few seconds of irrational panic, I remembered I'd safely tucked it away in the alley before this all started. Placed behind the dumpster less than ten feet away for safekeeping. It was the one thing I wasn't willing to let go of. A piece of me—the real me—that helped keep things grounded.
"Douglass Cain," I responded after a moment of hesitation. The name, like the words, felt unnatural rolling around in my mouth. Like a piece of clothing that didn't fit—which made sense since it technically wasn't my name.
Well, it hadn't been until I appropriated its body.
My name is Brandt Cross and I'm a Soul Jumper ...
"Did this boy attack you, Mr. Cain?" one of the officers asked. He had a small, close clipped moustache. The kind my father used to refer to as the Porn Star Patch.
"Check this out," the other officer said, waving a small slip of paper. He'd found my note. "My name is Sheltie Fields and I can't live with the guilt anymore. I killed a dude. A guy named Brandt Cross. I needed the money and they paid me to do it. I'm sorry ..."
The officer stepped over to his partner and took the paper. Skimming it, he said, "Cross. It doesn't sound familiar. Old case?"
"Doesn't ring a bell. I'll call it in and see what I can dig up. Sounds like it could be a good one, though." He disappeared into his patrol car, note in hand, and left his partner to deal with me.
I'd written the suicide note for two reasons. First, because let's face it, getting arrested for my own murder would really suck a big one and hamper moving forward with Ginger's plan—whatever that might be—and second, it would give my parents some small sense of closure. It wasn't much, but it was something, and that made it a little easier to close my eyes at night.
The officer pulled out a small black notepad and flicked the tip on his ballpoint pen. "I need to get some information, and a statement, but then you're free to go for now."
I nodded and proceeded to tell him about the poor, crazy bastard that jumped from the shadows of the alleyway, then offed himself right in front of me by jamming a small knife into the hollow of his own throat.
I didn't know what was more traumatic.
Reliving the suicide that had enabled me to take possession of Douglass Cain's body through Cain's eyes, or remembering it—complete with sensation overload—through my own memories.
My name is Brandt Cross, and sometimes I hate being a Six ...
* * *
The officer gave me a ride home. Not the room I'd been renting at the local roach motel as Sheltie for the last few months, but Cain's home. Zendean Industries.
Zendean. Yeah ... those Denazen posers? Real frigging original.
Known in the area as a pharmaceutical company, Zendean was big into giving back to the community. They had a boarding house next to their plant where they rented rooms to underprivileged students. Underprivileged students being the Sixes—people with an anomaly in their sixth chromosome that granted each a unique ability—that worked for them.
Back in July, my life had been normal. I went to school, hung out with my cousin, Dez, and was on my way to following in my father's footsteps as an investigative reporter. Then Denazen happened. They used people like me—Sixes—as weapons, and unlike the front they liked to present here at Zendean, they were all about hurting, not helping. They were bastards, and I was here to help put an end to all that.
The main building was huge. Twice as tall as the building my father worked at, and nearly as long as the mall back home. I stood on the sidewalk for several minutes, the icy night air biting at my exposed skin, and simply stared.
An outer brick shell with a large sign at the base of the parking lot said Zendean Industries in bright blue. Underneath it, in smaller, slightly darker letters, were the words cares for community business. We'd had that in Parkview, too. Local businesses that donated time and money to community affairs. In Denazen's case, the money was probably siphoned into a fund dedicated to world domination. That's just how those dickheads rolled.
The whole scene looked innocent enough—but it wasn't. Inside that plant, a collection of Denazen bastards were training a host of new Sixes to use for their own selfish purposes. Zendean, one of the many offshoots of Denazen, was dedicated to gathering as many special mice for their twisted Six-Rat Race.
I resisted the urge to flip off the building and made my way around to the back. The boarding house sat behind the plant, a quaint three-story brick building with a stone path and fall flowers—those little red and yellow ones my mother loved—lining the walk on either side. The weather had been mild so far, so they were only now just starting to die off. I pushed aside the bubbling feeling of homesickness and slipped inside the building.
Everything was still hazy, leftover memories and images from Sheltie's life twisted with mine, and the new ones from Cain's, but I managed to find my room, getting lost only once. Luckily, since Douglass was still fairly new here, making a wrong turn didn't attract any unwanted attention.
I pushed through the door and kicked it closed with the heel of my shoe, cringing when the sound echoed through my brain like shattering glass. Without turning to flip the lock, I fell face first onto the bed and closed my eyes. My head pounded and every muscle ached like I'd just spent the entire day boarding down at Memorial Park. I felt like an elephant that had been crammed into an egg shell.
The same thing happened last time—the first time—I jumped. When Sheltie Fields killed my original body. The Brandt body. Sheltie worked for my Uncle Marshal, who had me offed because I was poking my nose in the wrong places—a skill I'd proudly picked up from my journalist father.
My father. I missed him—and my mother. Unlike most teenagers that go through that I hate my parents stage, we'd always been close. Dad, next to my cousin Dez, was my best friend. Being forced to walk away from them was one of the hardest things I'd ever had to do. I knew it was a bad idea, but twice a month I called the house just to listen to the sound of their voices. Sometimes I got the machine. That was nice. I could call back over and over and listen to the message—the same one that had been on the voicemail for years. The three of us singing my mother's favorite Beatles' song. I knew eventually they'd change it, but for now, it eased the pang of homesickness—at least, a little.
Just like before, I couldn't figure out where Cain began, and Sheltie ended. Add me to all that, and the fact that I had access to the abilities of each Six I took over, and you had a major bucket of overcooked brain soup. The only thing that helped—besides the skate wheel, which was still stuck in the frigging alley—was constant affirmations from my old life.
My original life.
My name is Brandt Cross, and I love peanut butter ...
I needed to rest and let my brain sort itself out. It was a little easier this time around. I knew what to expect—sort of. Every jump would probably be a little different from the one before—not that I intended to make a habit out of swapping bodies. The whole process was traumatic. It felt like being ripped apart and stitched back together in the wrong order with a rusty fishing hook and a handful of dirty string. All I could do was ride it out and wait for things to level off. There wasn't much a guy could do to get over killing himself. They just didn't make support groups for shit like that.
I shifted on the bed trying—and failing—to get comfortable. Cain's blanket smelled like stale beer and cigarettes, and the mattress was lumpy. With a deep breath, I dug around for something to hold on to. Since the skate wheel was so painfully absent, I focused on the one emotion I knew without a shadow of a doubt belonged to me.
Guilt. No matter how you spun it, and despite the noble reasons behind what I'd done, I'd killed someone. Maybe I hadn't killed Cain with my own two hands, but I knew what the end result would be when I jammed the knife into Sheltie's throat. I'd evicted Douglass Cain from his body and sent him ... away. For good.
Being a Soul Jumper meant that when I died, my essence—my life force—jumped to the nearest person. A cat with nine lives, squared to infinity. It was a shame I couldn't go public with my ability. Girls found immortality hot, right? Slap on a pair of fangs and add some glitter and I could probably hook up with my choice of rabid Twilight fangirls.
I pulled the pillow over my head and did my best not to gag. It smelled like camel ass and old cheese, but thankfully muffled the obscenely loud ticking clock on the wall and blotted out the annoying red light from the alarm on the nightstand. Everything was amped in this stage of the jump. Noises were louder, colors were brighter, and smells were ten times more potent. It was like motion sickness and the super flu rolled into one.
I let my eyes flutter closed and tried to focus on something good. The time my parents took Dez and me to Disney World. Or the day I'd taken first place in the local Board Wars competition. It took some effort, but eventually my body relaxed and I started to drift into peaceful oblivion.
My instructions were to dream-walk Ginger, the head of the Six Underground, as soon as I was set up in Cain's body. There was a reason she sent me to infiltrate Zendean—I just didn't know what that reason was. All she'd said was that it would help Dez, my cousin.
I'd slipped into Dez's dream a few times after the Sanctuary Hotel burned down. I kept myself hidden, simply observing, because what I saw scared the hell out of me. Every time was the same. Dez facing off against a guy we used to go to school with—Fin. He was Supremacy in the midst of the decline and completely unhinged. The dream would change, and it would be Dez in Fin's place. Crazed and out of control. She was terrified of becoming that thing. Of losing her mind like the others. After that, I didn't ask questions. It was that memory, playing over and over again inside my head, that allowed me to take Douglass Cain's life.
My name is Brandt Cross, and there's nothing I wouldn't do for my family ...
Dez was my cousin and my best friend. She'd been my partner in crime since we were both in diapers, and was the one and only reason I'd agreed to do this—whatever it turned out to be. One of the kids from my uncle's Supremacy project, Dez was among a handful of unluckys given a drug before they were born in an attempt to magnify their abilities. A failed attempt. What Denazen hadn't counted on was the nasty side effect that crested as the subjects neared eighteen. Insanity, then death. Dez's time was running short.
The rumor was that Denazen found a cure for the Supremacy side effect, and that they'd already used it on someone successfully. Kiernan—who apparently was also my cousin. Well, half-cousin, anyway. Until I could slip into dream land and confirm it with Ginger, I could only guess that she'd found out the remaining cure—there wasn't much left according to my uncle—was being stored here, at Zendean. By having me jump into Cain, we would have a man on the inside to snatch it up, not to mention an ability that could definitely come in handy in the war against Denazen.
A deep breath, and I began counting back from one hundred. I found that when I was stressed, and wanted to sleep, that usually did the trick. It was working, too ...
Then someone had to go and bang on my door.
I opened my eyes, hoping it was all a bad dream, but it wasn't. A few more blows to the door, followed by an angry voice yelling, "Loser. Open the fuck up."
Something about the voice made my fingers clench and my jaw tighten. It was two-thirty in the morning. Who the hell knocked on someone's door, screaming like an idiot, at two-thirty in the morning?
More pounding. Each blow echoed inside my head like a gong and made the entire world quake. All the asshole had to do was turn the knob since I hadn't bothered to lock the door when I came in. If he banged one more time, I was getting up and cramming my boot down his throat sideways.
The voice came again, this time angrier. "Feltch saw you come in. Open up."
A watery face danced on the edge of my mind. Henson ... Hendrick ... Henley! The guy's name was Henley—and he wasn't going away. I forced myself off the bed, careful not to topple forward when the room tipped drastically to the left. I took two steps and tripped over something—I couldn't see what—nearly face-planting, and managed to drag myself off the floor in time for the yelling to start again.
"You've got five seconds," the voice on the other side of the door spat. "Then I'm knocking it down and busting you up."
I stumbled the rest of the way and ripped open the door, wanting nothing more than to bash this guy's face in. It wasn't immediately clear who Henley was, but I did know he and Cain were not buds.
Bright light spilled into the room, making my eyes water. When my vision cleared, I saw a tall guy maybe a year or so older than me with broad shoulders and an angry scowl. "What the fuck is your problem?"
Light gray eyes glared at me from under a mop of longish, dark brown hair. He was taller than Cain—me—by several inches, and had a stubby goatee. "They want you in the rec room. Now."
"What for?" I growled. Each word I spoke was like a saw blade to the brain and I had to brace myself against either side of the doorway to keep from keeling forward. Every sound sent a world-quaking vibration through my body, and if this moron wasn't careful, I was going to puke on him.
Henley flashed a satisfied smile and crossed his arms as he leaned back against the doorframe. Confidant and casual. This wasn't the type of guy who intimidated easily. "I told you yesterday. I speak, you jump. No questions."
Excerpted from Faceless by Jus Accardo, Liz Pelletier, Erica M. Chapman. Copyright © 2013 Jus Accardo. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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