The prequel novella to my Academy for the Wicked series, a reverse harem academy series, released on September 30 as part of the Alchemy Academy box set, so I figured it was time to share an excerpt!
In the nightmare, I was in the red room again. I called it the ‘red room’ because its walls were drenched in the color from top to bottom. A canvas of blood, some of it still dripping from the ceiling. In the middle of the blood-engulfed room stood a throne made entirely of human body parts: torsos, legs, arms, heads. It was so grotesque that the first time I’d had this nightmare, I’d promptly woken up and threw up all over my bedsheets. But now, after suffering from the same nightmare for years, I’d gotten used to that horrible sight of something so mismatched it shouldn’t even exist. I barely felt nauseated anymore during the nightmare, or afterward.
On the throne sat ‘the woman’. I didn’t know her name, and it probably didn’t matter either. She was a woman, but at the same time, she wasn’t. Her body appeared female, but her face was horrible: her mouth was gigantic, easily taking up half her face, and opened wide to show off sharp, shark-like teeth. She didn’t have a nose, and her eyes were two empty sockets gauging blood.
Like this blood-soaked room, she was a creature of nightmares, a being that shouldn’t exist. And the worst part about her, even more discomforting than her appearance, was her voice. Every word she uttered sounded like nails on a chalkboard.
“It’sssss coming,” she said, slurring the ‘s’. “You’re not ready for thsssss.”
“What’s coming?” I asked. Even though she scared me to death, I tried not to show it, tried to keep my cool. If I pretended not to be afraid, then I felt more in control. Besides, no matter how horrific the woman looked, she was just a figment of my imagination. Whatever she could do to me here in the red room, in the real world, she didn’t even exist.
“The invitaaaaation,” the woman said while a maggot crawled out of one of her empty eyesockets. Sometimes, I called her ‘the queen of maggots’ because of this—like Frankenstein’s monster, she was a maggot-infested corpse brought to life. Unlike the monster Mary Shelley invented, mine wasn’t created by a doctor toying with the boundaries of death, but by an overactive imagination.
“The invitation to what?” This was the first time the woman had mentioned something about an invitation, and it took me aback a little. For years, she hadn’t uttered a word, just started at me from atop her throne of limbs. Only in the last few months, had she started to speak, but she’d never made it beyond repeating that ‘it was coming’, whatever ‘it’ was. Maybe tonight, this nightmare would start to make sense after all.
“The invitation to your dessssstiny,” the qeen of maggots slurred. “But you’re not ready.” She shook her head, which somehow made her look even more frightening. “You’re not ready, and you’ll get hurt.” A dry, humorless laugh escaped from her throat.
In response, goosebumps erputed all over my arms. “What do you—”
I couldn’t even finish my sentence because the alarm blared, disrupting the nightmare.
Seconds later, I opened my eyes in the real world, where rooms made of blood and thrones of body parts did not exist, except perhaps in a serial killer’s fantasy. The walls of my room were blue, the only chair in my room was made of wood rather than flesh.
I sighed and rubbed the sleep from my eyes. Despite having gone to bed at nine, I felt as if I’d barely slept at all. That was usually the case whenever I had the nightmare, when I woke up, I felt absolutely drained.
The nightmare had followed me for years now. At first, I woke up at the sight of the red room alone. Then, as my senses grew accustomed to that sight, I saw the second monstrosity in the red room: the throne of flesh. A few more versions of the nightmare later, and I’d gotten used of that monstrosity and moved on to the next: the woman.
But she’d never said as much to me as she had tonight. An invitation was coming. An invitation to destiny, whatever that meant.
She had also warned me that I wasn’t ready. Maybe she was just playing games, taunting me… Or maybe she was telling the truth.
She could be, as my mother always tried to convince me, a part of my subconscious, a manifestation of my own doubts, insecurities and fears.
If Mom is right, is her message even real then, or just a figment of my imagination too?
I pondered the question while I got up and wobbled to my closet to grab some clothes. It wasn’t like I had much planned for today. Although it was my eighteenth birthday party, I didn’t have many plans; it was just a weekday and my friends and I had already decided to go out and celebrate over the weekend. My plans could be summed up in two bullet points: first, get through three shifts at my summer job in our local fast food bar, Joe’s Diner—which was, ironically, not owned by a guy named Joe—and secondly, eat pizza with Mom tonight when she came home from work while the two of us watching some romcoms together, our favorite genre.
So, what could ‘the invitation’ possibly be?
I pulled a shirt over my head in my favorite color, black, and put on a pair of ripped jeans, all the while contemplating if the nightmare message was real or not, and if it was real, what it could possibly mean. I glanced at the mirror and quickly pulled my messy, waist-length brown hair into a ponytail. There, at least I looked semi-presentable right now.
My phone beeped, and a text message from my best friend Cassie popped up. Happy Birthday, D.! You feeling old yet?? I already booked a spot for you in the nursing home. Hahaha, kidding! LOVE YOU SO MUCH. I’ll drop by at Joe’s around 3pm. Xoxo
I chuckled at Cassie’s joke—she was a year older than me, so in an ideal world, she’d be holding a spot for me in the nursing home months before I ever got there. Still, I was glad she’d be dropping by at work; Joe’s Diner was always quiet between 2 and 4pm.
I grabbed my leather jacket and shrugged it on. After glancing at my mirror image one last time, I rushed out of my bedroo, slamming the door shut behind me. Taking two stairs at a time, I raced downstairs into the kitchen, and nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw my mom standing in the kitchen. Wasn’t she supposed to be at work?
She stood with her back toward me, and she didn’t move when I came in. Had she decided to take a day off as a surprise for me? Was she feeling ill?
I frowned, distinctly remembering she told me yesterday how sorry she was that she had to work, but that she’d make it up to me with pizza.
“Mom?” My voice came out as a squeak. “Is everything okay?”
She flinched at hearing my voice, but she didn’t turn around.
I inched closer toward her, growing worried. Something about this, about her being here, about the jerky way she moved, didn’t feel right at all. Shivers ran down my spine. “Mom?” I tried again.
She straightened her shoulders, but she still didn’t turn toward me.
I was only a few feet away from her now, but all my senses screamed at me not to move closer, to just stay away. What the hell was going on?
“Mom, you’re scaring me.” I reached out for her, my hand almost touching her shoulder—
And then she spun around, lightning fast.
For a second, I feared I was back in the nightmare. Mom didn’t look like herself at all. Her eyes weren’t their normal brown color; the irises had all but disappeared, and white orbs gazed at me. Her face was ashen-pale, her lips almost blue.
I was too scared to scream.
Mom’s nails dug into the skin of my upper arms, and with formidable strength, she pulled me closer until my face was inches away from hers. Those eyes….
“You, Devina Ashworth,” Mom said in a high-pitched, screeching sound that didn’t sound like her own voice at all, “are hereby invited to the Academy for the Wicked. Your test will begin at 4pm sharp today. Don’t be late.”
My mouth dropped to the floor, and I could barely progress what the Mom-that-wasn’t-my-Mom was saying. Academy for the Wicked? What the hell was that? And why was I invited to it?
The invitation. The woman from the nightmare.
But what worried me the most was what was happening to Mom. Had someone or something taken control of her? Was she hallucinating? Had she been drugged?
And the most worrying question of all: was this person even my Mom?
Replica-Mom blinked slowly, and when she opened her eyes again, the white orbs had turned back into her regular, brown eyes.
“Devina?” Mom touched her head and wobbled a little.
I grabbed her arms to support her.
“Why am I… Why are you up?”
“Come on, sit down.” I was shaking too, but I tried to focus on Mom. Despite her eyes having returned to their normal state, she was still as pale as a ghost.
She sat down without protesting. “I don’t feel very well. Am I ill?” She put a hand on her forehead, feeling her temperature. “What time is it?”
“It’s seven am. That’s why I’m awake, I have to be at Joe’s in half an hour.” I kept holding on to her, rubbing her arms. I was afraid that if I let her go, even for just a moment, she would turn back into the horrible doppelganger I’d seen seconds ago.
“Seven?” Mom frowned. “But I’m supposed to be at work…”
“It’s okay. I’ll call Frank, don’t worry about it.” Frank was my Mom’s boss at the hairdresser’s she worked at and unlike Alfred, the owner of Joe’s Diner, he was actually an upstanding guy who had the best interests of his employees in mind.
“I don’t remember… Dev, I don’t even remember waking up.” Mom looked so fragile, so small in that moment, that I couldn’t help but wrap my arms around her, despite the lingering fear that she would turn back into whatever it was that had seemed to… possess… her seconds ago.
“It’s okay, Mom.” I hugged her and rubbed her back. “It’s okay.”
But was it? The nightmare woman’s message had turned out to be true; I had received an invitation that I probably wasn’t ready for at all, and delivered in a way that had scared me half to death.
If I didn’t know better, I would guess I was still dreaming, and that I hadn’t managed to wake up from the nightmare yet.
Besides, what the hell was the Academy of the Wicked, and why was I, of all people, invited to it?
And more importantly, what the hell had just possessed my mother?
Alchemy Academy Box Set
Practicing alchemy and creating magic is not an easy task. And certainly, not one that should be taken lightly.
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Alchemy Academy fills that need. Providing a place for the young minds who hold such powers. They may have been given the gift of manifesting magic of all kinds, but it is up to the staff at the academy to show them how to properly harness and fine-tune their skills.
Though they may teach the ways of good magic, there are sometimes a select few who practice the dark arts.
The good are wonderful students. But the bad ones… they can be truly evil.
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