DANGEROUS DESIGNS

DANGEROUS DESIGNS
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LexiWills,United Kingdom,Professional
Published Date:31-07-2017
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CHAPTER ONE Some days just sucked. Then there was today – with a whole new level of bad. Storey Dalton, sixteen, was now boyfriendless. Jeff had moved away from Bankhead six months ago, but in her mind, they were still a couple – until his Facebook message this morning. Like what was she supposed to do with that? He had a new girlfriend and wanted her to be happy for him. She stomped a hapless weed in front of her. The girl's name was Pam. Who called their kid Pam? Sounded like her mother's cooking spray. The sun shone down so brightly its reflection off the creek blinded her. And of course she'd forgotten her sunglasses. Swearing, she headed to the shady side of the path through the woods where the poplars grew tall and straight. Halfway to school meant halfway to nowhere today. Jeff had been her best friend first, and then finally her boyfriend. But only for the last couple of months. They'd no sooner made that magical development in their relationship when she found out his family was moving. So what if they were apart? Wasn't true love supposed to survive everything? Even she couldn't hold back a snicker at that thought. True love my ass. The only truth here was that Jeff was no longer hers. She could spit she was so mad. She kicked at a rock in her way, then kicked it again when her first attempt failed to make it move. Just like her life. The town of Bankhead was dying. The mine had closed, and everyone cute or interesting had moved away. The place was a 1 DALE MAYER ghost town. There were less than a couple of hundred kids in school now. And that covered all twelve grades. Her prospects weren't looking too bright at finding a replacement boyfriend. Tall and slim to the point of being almost skinny, she wasn't exactly a raving beauty – all elbows and knees. Jeff had called her unique, an artist with an interesting perspective on life. She pulled her leg back and lashed out at a bigger rock – hard. Damn, that felt good. Grinning, she went a little wild and kicked the shit out of a good half dozen stones. Reveling in the solid slap against her foot and the hefty force she could apply, Storey struck out at life, her lack of friends, and most of all at her current boyfriendless state. The last kick did it. A pressure gauge in her chest released and she laughed as the weight slid off her shoulders. "He's found someone else, fine. So will I. So it may not be today or tomorrow, but I'll find someone too." As she passed another big rock she seriously thought about giving it a good whack, when a glint beside it caught her eye. A pencil. She grinned in delight. She loved pencils. Had a shoebox full in her bedroom. Picking it up, she brushed some loose dirt off. Unusually flat with a well-loved look to it, the bare nub of lead showing spoke to the artist in her. "Cool. We're a well-matched pair. Both tossed away by those we love." With a sense of kinship, she zipped it safely into the side pocket of her backpack and headed off to school. Three days later Storey had had it with Bankhead High School, her supposed friends, and especially her teachers. 2 DANGEROUS DESIGNS They weren't horrible. They were worse – at least today when any and all distractions were unacceptable. Couldn't they see she was busy? Her artwork demanded her attention. "Storey, please stay after school so we can talk, again," said Mr. Madison, the history teacher. A twitter rippled through the room. Storey ignored him, flicking a look of disgust to the room in general; she refocused on the design she had to get down. She called them doodles. Other people called them freaky. Not that she cared. She'd been drawing since she could hold a pencil. She wasn't about to stop now. She couldn't. In a small corner of her mind, she knew that wasn't normal. That same corner of her mind knew this drive, this insane need to draw above all else was seriously wrong. But it didn't matter. With a toss of her shoulder-length hair, she bent her head to deepen the inside edge of a curlicue. She heard the teacher's heavy, long suffering sigh. "All right, everyone. Read over the next chapter and do the first ten questions for practice. We'll go over the answers tomorrow. Class dismissed. Except for Storey." Damn. She glanced up quickly, caught the smirks of the kids walking by. She needed just a few more moments. The pencil warmed in her hand. She quickly readjusted her grip and sketched faster. The amused looks in her direction didn't deserve acknowledgement. The room emptied in a crush of movement and excited chatter until only silence filled the room – and the scratch of her pencil. Mr. Madison strode down the aisle of desks until he stood before her. His hands burrowed deep in his pockets as 3 DALE MAYER he rocked on his heels. "Storey," he snapped. "Put down that pencil and talk to me." Disgusted, Storey tossed the pencil down and slouched back so she could see him. Tall, almost droopy, his normally placid face had pulled in on itself as if a lemon had been shoved inside. Wrinkles furrowed his brow as he glowered down at her behind his seriously thick glasses. "You've been in my class for six weeks. You hand in all your assignments and you did well on your test. You're often distracted, but these last few days...I just don't get it. It's like you're off in your own little world." Frustration twisted his face tighter. Storey watched in fascination as the skin folds expanded then folded back up as he spoke again. "Why can't you pay attention?" This again. She shook her head. "I can't. That's why I draw." Irritation took over. "I've already told you that. I have trouble focusing." Closing her book with a snap, she stood up only then seeing she'd already picked the pencil up again and was doodling on her fingers. Weird. The pencil marks shouldn't show up on her skin. She glanced up at her teacher. "It's not just your class. It's all my classes." His shoulders slumped and some of the anger drained from his voice. "Have you spoken to a doctor about this?" "I've been on every kind of drug there is since first grade. Nothing has worked. Now I don't take anything. What's the point? I have two years to go, then it won't be a problem anymore." She bent down, grabbed her backpack and put away her sketchbook and homework. Straightening, she stood up and waited to see if he had anything to add. "You have a future. You're smart, a hard worker, at least in the short term, but don't you want to do more – be more?" His words haunted her long after she'd walked out of the building. 4 DANGEROUS DESIGNS "Of course, I want more, damn it. Who doesn't?" she said to the empty sidewalk. But who could think about the future when the present was such a mess? Sure, she had her mother, somewhat. She had no siblings, for which she was both sad and grateful at the same time. They would have been company, except then they'd be in her same situation, and she wouldn't wish that on anyone. Who'd want to be the kid of the poor single mom despised by the rest of the community? It's not that she thought there was anything wrong with her mother's choices, but being a practicing Wiccan and owning and running a small candle shop in a redneck town like this one, well...not fun. She kinda liked the emptiness of the skeleton community left at Bankhead. Except for the limited options in friends and boyfriends, of course. The traffic was calm, there were no lines at any of the stores, and nothing bad ever happened. Of course, nothing good ever happened, either. She picked up her pace and managed to cut her trip home by half. Her latest doodle had its claws into her. True, that was an odd way to describe this gnawing inside to draw, but it felt right. After finishing a picture, she usually experienced an incredible sense of satisfaction and release. That part felt good, the actual creation part – not so much. These last few days, there'd been no satisfaction. In fact, the process had been so much worse. Past driven. Tormented might be a better term. Her mother believed she'd outgrow her weird doodles and become a real artist eventually. A large rock went flying into the creek at her side as she contemplated that concept. How did you outgrow something that was a major part of yourself? It's not like she could outgrow a leg, or her hands. They were just as much an integral part of who she was as this compulsion to draw. An urge that had gotten much worse lately. A fact that was starting to make her seriously uneasy. 5 DALE MAYER Being an artist was fine with her, being obsessive about it – not so much. "Hey, Storey?" Storey spun around but continued to walk backwards. A tall man in black was walking up behind her. She frowned and reassessed her first impression. Not a man, a teen on the brink of adulthood. And one oddly familiar. Right. He was the new kid at school, a rare enough event that it caught even her attention. She'd caught a glimpse of him in the morning, navigating through the hallways. Tall and slim, dressed in black from top to toe, even his short hair matched, giving his white skin a bleached look in contrast. He'd make a perfect vampire. She couldn't help but smile. "Hi." For the life of her she couldn't remember his name. Her eyes locked on his square jaw, deep forehead and blazing blue eyes. His face would be hard to forget. A lopsided grin slipped out, fascinating her. "I'm Eric. You probably don't remember me. I just started at school today." He fell into step as she continued on her way. "This is your first day and you know my name." "I recognized a fellow artist in the first class we shared and..." His smile deepened. "Your name would be hard not to know after the number of times I heard a teacher call it out today." "Oh." Heat crawled up her face. Her stride stretched out, making him increase his pace to keep up. "Sorry. Didn't mean to upset you." Surprised, she shot him a quick sideways glance. "You didn't. Everyone knows I spend most of my time caught up in my art. Getting yelled at is no big deal." The same grin flowed in her direction. She watched, captivated at how his face changed with his moods. Her 6 DANGEROUS DESIGNS fingers itched for pencil and paper. His voice was striking too, gravelly with a sense of humor lurking just beneath the surface. "What? Am I wearing my lunch on my face or something?" He swiped his chin self-consciously. Her eyes widened. "Sorry. I didn't mean to stare," she muttered and walked even faster. "Hey slow down, we're not racing anywhere. And you're tall, but I'm taller." Confused, she slowed down, sliding a sideways glance his way. "What does height have to do with it?" "That I can walk as fast as you, I just don't want to." Yeah, he was weird. "You don't have to walk with me at all." She couldn't help but point that out. Give him a chance to beg off and go his own way. It was kind of hard to believe he was still there in the first place. "I know. I want to." She snorted. "And why would you want to do that?" "Because I like your artwork. It's unique, dark." This time there was no holding back the look of disbelief. "And you like dark art?" "Yup. It's cool." They came to a corner. "This is where I turn off. I live just down there." In spite of herself, Storey looked in the direction he pointed. He lived close to the old mine. Not the most affluent area of town. Still, it wasn't loser city like where she lived. "See you tomorrow." He waved and walked away. Storey crossed the road, watching as his lanky frame disappeared in the distance. What was that all about? A horn blasted her. She jumped and spun around. Crap. She'd stopped in the middle of the intersection like a love- struck idiot. With an apologetic smile, she moved out of the 7 DALE MAYER way and finished the trip home in irate confusion. What the hell was going on with her these days? Once inside, she stormed up to her room. Flinging her backpack onto her bed, she pulled out her sketchbook and her new pencil and threw herself down on her purple coverlet to stare at her latest drawing. Cool. Dark. Unique. His words. There was nothing cool about it. Terrifying. Crazy. Disturbing. Any and all of those worked and so much more besides. She stuffed her newest pencil behind her ear and tried to see something that was good in the picture. Coiling, snake-like lines and lattice intertwined, showing an entrance of some kind, broken and abused, as if someone had pounded on it for a long time – and had given up. Tucking the pencil into her fingers, she started shading the broken slat on the top corner. It didn't look quite right, yet. But how could she know? She'd never seen this place before. Her subconscious spawned this stuff. Was she crazy? She felt like it most of the time. Lord knows, everyone else agreed. Except her mom. And Jeff had never appeared to notice. At least he'd never said anything about it to her. Since he'd moved, she'd buried herself deeper into her sketches to help deal with the pain of his leaving and the loneliness she'd been left with. Only in these last few days had she'd realized just how deep she'd gone. Her pencil shifted to shade the edges of the lattice on the right. Thickening it, darkening it, smoothing the top piece and dropping the bottom down lower. Time ceased to exist as she fine-lined and perfected the image. "Storey? Are you in there?" Storey reared back with a jerk, looking around to see her mother poke her head around the door. 8 DANGEROUS DESIGNS "Hi, honey." Her mom pushed the door back and walked in, her long, metallic-orange dress swirling around her legs, her brown hair bouncing off her hips. "What are you doing?" Draw. Storey. Draw. "Nothing," her standard response to her mom's standard question. "Oh, that's a nice picture." Storey raised an eyebrow. Nice? That's the last thing it was. Typical of her mom though. "No Mom, it's not nice. It's not anything." "Oh, honey. Don't be so hard on yourself. You'll work your way through all this. Soon you'll draw nice pictures." Come, finish it. Draw, Storey, draw. Storey closed her eyes and let her mother drone on. She would no matter what. Finally, she interrupted the flow by asking, "Did you want something?" Her mom stopped, her mouth open, and cleared her throat. "Oh, yes – dinner's ready." Opening her eyes again, Storey wrinkled up her face. "I'm not hungry." "That's not fair." Her mother's voice changed, cajoled. "You don't even know what's for dinner." "It doesn't matter." Storey rolled over to her belly and continued with her drawing. Her mother gave one of those heavy sighs she was so good at before withdrawing. Come play with me, Storey. Storey glared down at the artwork. "I'm here. I'm here. What do you want from me?" Draw. Just draw. Storey fell back under the creative spell. 9 DALE MAYER CHAPTER TWO During school the next day, Storey struggled against exhaustion. She'd slept badly, having awakened over a dozen times. Her eyelids drooped. The teacher spoke, startling her awake. She straightened, blinking several times, her gaze instinctively dropping to her backpack on the floor and the sketchbook tucked inside. With a slight shudder, she returned her attention to the blackboard and the lesson of the day. She could survive this class. It shouldn't be that hard. She dropped her head backwards and groaned. The next two years stretched before her in dismal eternity. "What are you drawing?" Surprised, she twisted around to find Eric grinning at her from the seat behind hers. "You're awake, I see." She flushed and faced the front of the class. He wouldn't stop. "I asked what you're drawing?" "I'm not drawing anything," she muttered. "Then what's that?" He nudged her right shoulder and pointed to the open page of the red binder in front of her. Straightening in shock, she realized every inch of space on the paper crawled with pencil lines. She'd deliberately kept her sketchbook stuffed deep inside her backpack and still she'd found a way to keep at it – by filling up her notebook. Ice settled in her belly. Did this drive...this need to draw have such a strong hold on her that she couldn't not draw? That she did it when not realizing? Even on her skin, like on her fingers yesterday when 10 DANGEROUS DESIGNS there'd been no paper near? Was she that obsessed? If so, how had it happened? When? Had there been a specific point of no return? "I like it. What is it?" She had no idea. Storey studied the familiar looking scribbles. The markings had the same style, yet in no way resembled the full page drawing she'd done last night. Or did they? Frowning, she realized this picture could represent an enlargement of one corner of that other picture, incorporating her geography class notes into the design. She slammed her book shut. "Hey? Why'd you do that?" The teacher ended class at that moment. Storey jumped to her feet, snagging her backpack in one hand and notebook in the other before racing out of the room. "Wait up" Eric's voice became lost in the crowd. Good. She hadn't planned on listening to it anyway. This was an easy job? A simple job, Paxton had said to him and his father. "Go find the girl. Become friends with her, and if she has the stylus – retrieve it. Preferably, without her knowing. You're close to her age, so it should be easy to gain her confidence. The important thing is to bring the stylus home. Before the girl causes irreparable harm through her ignorance." Eric Jordan had jumped at the opportunity, not giving his father, the Councilman, a chance to argue. Not that he would have. Eric had studied all he could, become the best Ranger he could be. Even more, he'd become an expert on the 11 DALE MAYER alternate dimension. Yet in all that time, he'd never been allowed to cross the veil that separated the two worlds. This was a great first assignment. How hard could it be? Harder than he'd thought. Storey was turning out to be an interesting female. He'd been watching her for a couple of days now. He got along well with girls. They considered him friendly, caring, comfortable to talk to. What wasn't there to like? But if that were all true, why was this one so prickly? Then again, she was an otherworlder. That could account for the difference. And he suspected she did have the lost instrument, making his mentor Paxton's guess correct. If her drawings were anything to go by, the stylus had started bonding already. Not good. The tool had been lost when a scientist had fallen ill on a rare research trip across the veil that divided the two dimensions. Soulbound items were special in his world. Important, coveted, and passed from one person to another only through death. They were also incredibly powerful. Not something to be left in the hands of a sixteen-year-old otherworld girl. He watched as Storey bolted from the classroom as if demons were chasing her. Had that been fear tightening her fine-boned features as she'd studied at her artwork? Why? She'd created it. Or had she? Storey ran straight home. She burst through the front door and came to a skittering stop. Her mother's Wiccan friends were meeting in the living room. Great. On the other hand, their presence gave her an excuse to hide away in her 12 DANGEROUS DESIGNS room and sort through these odd drawings. See if there was a connection in them. A message. And that was just stupid. "Storey. How nice to see you home early." Her mother, decked out in her ceremonial robes and her face covered in heavy paint, walked over. "Why don't you join us, sweetie?" She motioned toward her friends, all in full Wiccan gear. "We're going over the weekend's events." It was all Storey could do not to wince. Giving the others a quick smile, she brushed past her mom. "No time. I have homework." She raced up the stairs and into her room, slamming the door behind her. No wonder everyone thought she was odd. Look at her mother. She'd been shunned and taunted when younger. Now most of the other kids just crossed the road to avoid her. Then there were the whispers and sidelong looks. Odd how her relationship with Jeff had brought acceptance. Until he'd left. Life had been normal until her father had walked out a decade ago, leaving her homemaker mom struggling to make a living. Her mother had been 'finding herself' ever since. The store and a new religion had been her answer. As much as Storey hated what it had done to her life, she understood that the candle shop had put food on the table all these years. The Wiccan part, not so much. Her mother held some rank on the Council and, of course, she dressed the part, even danced outside on full moons. Storey did not want to know if the group did it naked. Some things were just too much information. She pulled her sketchbook out of her backpack, then grabbed her red binder from class. She plunked down on her bed and flipped through the pages in both books. And stopped. Yes. 13 DALE MAYER Leaning close, she studied the images. The newer one was an enlargement of the lower right hand corner of the bigger drawing, where she'd run out of paper. Odd how ancient the doorway in her pictures looked. She rarely drew anything medieval or historical looking and had no idea why she would have now. What did it mean? Tracing the picture with her fingertips, she tried to understand why it was so important to sketch such detail. Her fingers moved slower and slower in a repetitive and oddly mesmerizing motion. She lost herself in the movement, feeling soothed and comforted by the knowledge that, if nothing else, she'd created this. A tapping on the window drew her attention. The sun had gone behind a cloud. Even as she watched, rain pelted the glass, giving everything an oddly distorted look. Kind of matched her life right now. With a sigh she refocused on the large sketch. She stopped. Then frowned. Had the picture changed? Shifted? Bending her head, she studied it closer, then shook her head. No. It was the same. At least she thought so. Anything else was so not possible. As she went to close her books, she paused again. There. A new line. She studied the picture. She hadn't drawn it – or had she? Stupid, that's what this was. If she hadn't, who had? She had to have put it there. Tilting her head to look at it from another angle, she realized the line still wasn't quite right. She snatched up her pencil and thickened the left side of it, widening it on the bottom. There, that was much better. It felt right. Silly maybe, but the change made her happy. She switched to staring at the weird enlarged picture she'd made in class today. With the geography notes underneath, it was irritating to look at. Within minutes, she had redrawn the picture into her sketchbook properly. Now 14 DANGEROUS DESIGNS that she could see it more clearly, she realized it was an actual door of some kind. Not just a vague entranceway. Now it had defined edges. Without a latch or knob, yet the right size and shape. She laughed at her imagination. So there was a door. Now wouldn't it be great if that meant she could just open the door and walk right through? The last thing she did was add a flat, metal looking door handle to the right side. Snick. Storey glanced at her bedroom door. "Mom, is that you?" Her door was closed and stayed that way. More unnerved by her reaction than at the noise, Storey hopped up and checked to see if someone stood outside her room. The hallway was empty. Laminate floors and red and gold painted walls stared back at her, remnants of the previous owners. Closing her door on the horrible colors, Storey surveyed her own lemon and lavender room. So much easier on her eyes. The rain continued to hit the window, filling the room with a steady pounding. With everything as it should be, she sat back down on the bed and picked up her drawing. And caught her breath. She'd put the handle in as a joke. It was no joke now. The freaking door was open. She peered closer. At least she thought it was open. The edge of the door was now a thick black line hinting at a darkness on the other side. She dropped the book on her bed and bolted to the far side of the room. She chewed her nails, not taking her eyes off her picture. The open door stared back at her. An open door she hadn't drawn. She knew that. Still, she couldn't stop a quick glance at the pencil in her hand. Just in case. There was no way. Really? How could those couple of lines give off such an ominous vibe? With so much power? Chills rippled across her shoulders. 15 DALE MAYER Inviting her? Warning her? Freaking her out – hell yeah Storey knew she wasn't that good an artist. Could she be having blackouts? Momentary relief bloomed at the idea. Then she reached up and touched her temple. She didn't suffer from headaches. She hadn't been injured. As far as she knew, she was healthy. How could the picture have changed without her or someone else changing it? And why? She studied the lines of the door. Flat, thick lined, almost needing something from her. Waiting for her to do something. But what? It's not like she could walk through the thing. And even if she could, it's not like she would. Who knew what lay on the other side? A half chuckle escaped. Right. Now she was losing it. Storey grimaced as she shoved the drawing deep inside her bag, then closed and tied up the outside straps as a deterrent. Determined, she grabbed her English reading assignment and focused on finishing her homework. When she couldn't keep her eyes open any longer, she dropped the book to the floor beside her, clicked off the light and fell into a deep sleep – a sleep full of weird dreams and strange voices calling to her. Storey, come and get me. Storey come. We need you, Storey. Disturbed, she bolted upright, gasping for breath. She stared wildly around the room. Who said that? No one. She was alone – and clearly losing it. Her heart banged in her chest. A film of sweat covered her skin. She took several deep breaths and tried to calm down. Talk about nightmares. She shuddered and lay back down. It took several minutes to get her breathing under control and when she did, she started to get pissed. 16 DANGEROUS DESIGNS "What the hell do you want with me?" she snapped in the direction of her backpack and the drawing safely secured inside. "Crap. This is too freaky, even for me." "Storey, is that you, honey?" Her mother knocked on the door and pushed it open, the light from the hallway lighting the few silver strands in her otherwise brown hair. "Can't you sleep?" "Sorry if I woke you." Storey sat up, brushing her own jet black hair back off her face. "Just a bad dream." "That's because you didn't have any dinner. I checked up on you after the meeting finished. You'd fallen asleep." Her mother's fingers twisted around a dangling lock of hair as she stepped into the room. She bit her lip. "Storey, you have to eat. You're already skinny enough." Bone rack is what a jock had called her last month. Looking down, Storey realized they could be right. Her hip bones stuck out to match her big elbows. And her body had developed to the point where she barely missed the skinny scarecrow look. Too bad. She might have been able to make that work. "I'm eating, Mom. They had pizza in class today, so I didn't need my lunch. Ate that on the way home." That was a lie. Still, she had more important things to worry about than food. Relief washed over her mom's pretty face. "Oh, I'm so glad to hear that. Sometimes I worry about you." Sometimes? Didn't she mean all the time? Was that normal for moms? Then again, there was a world of difference between normal and her mother. "What time is it?" Storey looked out the window. Blackness stared back. "It's just a little after midnight. Please get into your pajamas. You don't want to be sleeping in those jeans." She backed up to the open door. "If you're all right, I'll say good 17 DALE MAYER night. It is witching hour, after all." With a carefree grin, her mom closed the door. Witching hour. Right. Only in her house. Sighing at her mother's antics, Storey collapsed down on her covers and fell into a light, troubled sleep. "Storey." She sighed. "What now, Mom?" No answer. She sat up and glanced at the closed door. Weird. She could've sworn she'd heard someone calling her. Lying down again, she pulled her blankets over top, not bothering to get changed into her nightclothes. "Storey." She bolted upright. That's it. Who the hell was playing games with her? "Storey." Throwing back the blankets, Storey knelt on her bed. "Who said that?" she hissed into the early morning air. Not trusting the gloomy light, she flicked her bedside lamp on, quickly scanning the room. Empty. "I am so losing it. This is nuts." Her gaze landed on the backpack on her floor. Her eyes widened. Oh no. "No, no. Hell, no." She shook her head, slowly at first then more wildly. "This can't be happening. It's a picture. Nothing more. Nothing less. I created you. I can destroy you." That's exactly what she was going to do. She dragged the backpack onto her bed and opened it. The knot defied her first and second attempts, before she managed to pull the laces apart and yank out her sketchpad. "I don't know what's going on here, but enough is enough." She flipped to the last page she'd been working on and grabbed it at the top left and pulled. It wouldn't tear off. She tightened her grip and tried again. It refused to budge. Scared 18 DANGEROUS DESIGNS now, she threw it on the floor and in a fit of defiance, she jumped on it. And fell through the picture, through the floor even. She went right through the doorway in her picture. 19

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