Monday, 19 June 2017

BLOG TOUR: Extract of Shattered Minds by Laura Lam

THREE (cont)

CARINA

The Zealscape, Green Star Lounge, Los Angeles,

California, Pacifica

When she opens her eyes, the body is gone. A benefit of dream worlds: no clean up. No fear of being discovered dumping the body. No fear of discovery at all.

Dealing with the orderly’s accusing eyes is the only judgement she faces, and one she never fears.

She holds onto her sense of self, staying calm and collected. Replete. The mind of the scientist is back. She wanders the imaginary halls of her childhood home, peeking through the doors: the old home gym, her mother’s bedroom, preserved just as it was the last time she left it and never returned. Her teenage room, with its holographic band posters and unmade bed, reeking of a desperate attempt at normalcy.

All too soon, that buzz returns. Her fingers twitch. That delicious expectation of following her victim and their moves: where they’ll be, how she’ll take them and make them hers. Her thoughts turn only to blood and flayed muscles. Of taking out organs and hefting them in her hands, arranging them just so.

Here in the Zealscape, she can lose herself in the hunt as much as she wants. Here, she hurts only herself, as more and more of her body wastes away, strapped in the Chair in the Zeal lounge. Her body warms, thrums with excitement. She whispers Zeal’s newest catchphrase to herself: ‘More real than reality.’

Carina enters another room. In the real Greenview House, it was a guest bedroom and study, but now it is her planning room. One wall is blank, and she can visualize and design her next victim. She decides to go back to her roots: a distorted echo of her first target. Carina builds the man from scratch. Early fifties, a beer gut, hair and beard of greying brown. Hard eyes, an unhappy slash of a mouth. Large hands that make blocky fists. He is different enough that the sight of his face doesn’t make her shudder. She feels awareness sharpening. She’s growing closer. Her fingers twitch.

After creating him, she sends him away. She spends a few minutes programming his background – his job, his friends, sketches of his wife and family. This criminal has a penchant for child porn. She can again pretend it’s vengeance, not pure, selfish pleasure. Most Zealots don’t have such control over their drug-fuelled dreams. Then again, most people don’t have PhDs in neuroprogramming.

She can’t wait any more. Her skin is hot with need.

Carina walks through a door on the far side of the room and steps into a hallway that transitions seamlessly into a street. She follows her prey at a distance, watching the greying head bob as he walks. Her jaw is clenched tight. She barely blinks. The other people on the street are only vaguely humanshaped, with blurred ovals for faces. Nightmares for anyone else, but for her, just stand-ins.
Carina grasps a Stunner she conjured in her pocket. Sometimes she’ll stretch out the hunt – stalk them for longer, make their lives more detailed, lose herself in the fantasy – but she can’t today. Her breath catches in her throat. Her eyes in the Chair, back in reality, dilate behind closed eyelids.

Almost time. Almost time to feel alive again, for a little while.

She’s just taken out the Stunner in a quivering hand when it happens.

The street disappears, along with her quarry. Just gone, as if someone has hit a switch. The whole room turns black. No, darker – that blackness of the space between stars. There have been glitches in the system before, but Carina knows, with a deep certainty, that this is something more.

She’s lost the sense that she has a body. Her mind seems to float in the darker-than-darkness. Then light explodes back into her world.

Numbers, sounds, flashes of brightness, the feel of fingernails against her skin, of bubbles on her tongue. All her senses fragment and blur. Between the overloads is a snapshot of cohesive thought.

I’m dying. This is what dying must feel like.

The noise and the chaos begins to crystallize. Five images, over and over: A bee, buzzing, its wings flapping frantically, its antennae twitching. A rose, in full bloom; brilliantly, impossibly red, a drop of dew on one petal. A thorn, from the rose, its point curved and wicked. A drop of blood, welling on a fingertip. And eyes, staring right at her, wide and fathomless. Heterochromic – one green, one blue.

They play, over and over and over again, telling a narrative she cannot hope to understand.

And then they stop, though she can still sense them, as though the images are flashing just out of sight.

The last image, the mismatched eyes, takes over her entire vision. It zooms out, until Carina sees the rest of the face, and then a body on a Chair in that lab she recognizes all too well. The last vision had been through the girl’s viewpoint, but Carina is sure this is her. She’s young – fifteen, sixteen at a push. She’s all doe-eyed innocence, spindly, coltish legs, her hair half an inch long. She reminds Carina a little too much of herself as a teenager. The girl is dead.

Part of her short hair has been shaved away. Dr Roz Elliot has opened up her skull, poked about in the contents, and sewn it back up, yet dead flesh does not knit. Her tanned skin is pale and chalky, legs akimbo.

‘What did you do, Roz?’ Carina asks the darkness.

The dead girl does not answer. Her eyes are open and staring. One blue, one green.

As if Carina blinks, the image is gone, and all is darker than black once again.

Carina awakens again into the grimy Zealot room, her mouth dry. An alarm again blares through the room.

There’s no attendant. Carina twists her real, hurting body on the Chair, the wires tugging at her skin.

The beeping doesn’t stop, pulsing with the throbbing of her temples. Far away, she hears frantic footsteps and concerned voices calling out to each other.

‘Where’s the fucking orderly?’ Carina yells. Her head still spins with the images.

The orderly who put her back in the dream enters the room. Stops, stares.

‘You’re not dead,’ he says.

‘Should I be?’

‘Everyone else is.’

SHATTERED MINDS by Laura Lam is published by Pan Macmillan, 15 June, £12.99 Hardback. Visit www.talesofyesterday.co.uk tomorrow to read the next instalment…



Laura Lam was raised near San Francisco, California, by two former Haight-Ashbury hippies. Both of them encouraged her to finger-paint to her heart's desire, colour outside the lines, and consider the library a second home. This led to an overabundance of daydreams. She relocated to Scotland to be with her husband, whom she met on the internet when he insulted her taste in books. She almost blocked him but is glad she didn't. At times she misses the sunshine.




No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...