Thursday, December 29, 2011

**Excerpt from Chapter Two of INTO THE UNDERWORLD, the sequel to THE DEMON KING**

This is a very small piece of the book, but thus far is probably my favorite little scene because it really introduces a bit of Anna, one of my favorite new characters. :) ~RM


The little girl snickered and reached her hands up to straighten the blue bow that held her ponytail full of blond ringlet curls together, then looked back at Willow once more before grabbing Willow’s hand again.  “Now that you’re here, would you like to see my dollhouse?”

    “S-s-sure.”  Willow’s brown eyes bulged in their sockets.  The little girl’s face lit up with excitement as she led Willow down the hall several paces.  She stopped in front of a door that looked exactly like all the other doors and then twisted the knob until the door opened.

    Inside was a small bedroom.  The walls were dark, but the inside was happy.  There was a small bed with a small doll cradle at the end.  Inside the cradle was a small stack of porcelain dolls and a ribbon dangling over the side.  There was a bookshelf against one wall that housed several old volumes in leather bindings.  A window was there, but the sky was black outside and you couldn’t see anything out of it. 

    In the floor was a wooden dollhouse full of old wooden furniture and a few small dolls that were carved from wood and dressed in scraps of material.  The little girl was all to happy to flop down into the floor, spreading her tattered blue dress out around her legs, and motioned for Willow to join her.

    “This one is Melanie.”  The little girl told Willow as she held out one of the wooden dolls.  “She’s my favorite because my mother made her dress special.” 

    Willow nodded and sat down in the cold floor next to the little girl.  The wooden planks below her felt as though they’d been sitting against a freezer.  She could see her breath when she opened her mouth to speak.  “And where is your mother?”

    The little girl shrugged.  “I think she’s sleeping, but they won’t tell me here.”

    Willow nodded and accepted the doll.  She ran her fingers over it’s small details and then returned it to the little girl.  “What’s your name?”

    The little girl narrowed her brows and stared down into her lap and the dolls that she’d laid out in front of herself.  “I think it’s Anna, but they won’t tell me that, here, either.” 

    “What happened to you, Anna?”  Willow asked her, referencing the gash on the girl’s forehead.

    “What do you mean?”  Anna shrugged again.

    “Why are you here instead of with your family?”  Tact, Willow thought.  Tact would get her further than hasty stupidity. 

    “Oh.  Well, I don’t know much about this place except that there are certain doors that you really shouldn’t open and that you can’t really get out too easy.”

    “Oh.”  Willow sat back and felt slightly defeated. 

    “But, don’t worry.  I’ve been here for a while now and I can tell you all I know.”  Smiling ear to ear, Anna jumped up from the floor and darted across the wooden floor to her bookshelf.  “I’ve been here since, um, well, it was April I think.  At any rate, I have some old newspapers in here and we can make dolls!” 

    Willow smiled.  “Sure.”  What else was she going to do? 

    Seconds later, Anna had produced a small stack of old, tattered newspapers from her bookshelf and had plopped them into the floor between herself and Willow.  With a pair of scissors, Anna carefully cut out the shape of two feet and then worked her way around to an arm.  Then, she cast the materials aside and pushed a folded newspaper across the floor towards Willow and said, “It’s okay. Mother won’t mind at all.  She keeps the papers just for me.”

    With a deep sigh, Willow picked up the newspaper and the spare scissors and began to cut out the shape of a person when something in the old print caught her eye.  At the top of the page that she was cutting, a headline immediately snatched her attention from cutting the paper.  The date was January 1814, London.

    Something told Willow that Mother simply wasn’t coming…How long had this child been here?  Perhaps she really was stuck in purgatory.

    “Anna?”  Willow smiled as sweetly as she could, though she really wanted to get up and run out of the room.  If the walking corpse of a small child didn’t scare her enough, the walking corpse of a child that’s been dead over a hundred years certainly did!

    “Yes?”  The little girl peered at Willow over her freshly cut newspaper doll and blinked her yellowing blue eyes. 

    “What else is there to do here?”  Willow narrowed her eyes innocently and smiled again.

    “Not much,”  Anna started.  “There are others here, though, you know, but not all of them are as nice as I am.  Some of them are downright nasty.  You‘d think their mothers never taught them any manners at all!”

    “Ah.”  Willow nodded and licked her lips.  She had to get out of purgatory and this little girl might only be a small one, but she may know the way out without realizing that she knew it.

    “Who isn’t so nice?”  Willow asked her.  “Do you want me to have a word with them on your behalf?”

    The little girl’s face filled with horror.  “Oh, no, Miss.  You mustn’t do that!  He’ll be angry with me if you do.  He’ll know that you were with me and he wants to hurt you.  He’s had us all looking for you all week long, now.”

    Willow nodded and the color drained from her face.  “Who?”

    “Lord Zieren.”  The little girl sighed.  “He’s the one that’s in that room you were about to go into.  The door I told you not to knock on?  Well, that’s his room.  He’s in there with all the demons.”  Speaking matter-of-factly, the little girl sniffed, then returned her attention to the paper dolls again.  As she moved, the wet mass of body tissue and broken skull pieces swayed to one side and more blood poured from her forehead.

    “Do you know why he’s looking for me?  Why he’s here?”

    “We all know why he’s looking for you.  He wants you out of here so he can take you home with him, I think.”  This time, the little girl whispered.  “He’s got a drink for you, too.  I don’t know what it is, but he says he has something for you to drink and that you are the one person that exists that should die in order for him to claim his throne. Ya know, the dark throne…”

    “The dark throne?”  Willow clapped a hand to her chest and immediately thought of the last dream she had about the beast.  The beast, in this dream, had a double, or a twin.  They were arguing and Willow didn’t understand much of it, except that they were coming for her.  If she didn’t get out of purgatory soon, they would have her and depending on which one got a hold of her first, she may die or worse.  That much she completely understood.

    “Yes, Miss.  The dark throne.  I don’t know a lot about it, but it’s what Lord Zieren wants most in his life.”

    “Does he ever come in here?  I mean, does he ever come to check on you?”  Willow asked.
 
    “Sure.  Every now and then he does.  He probably already knows that you’re here, though.  He knows everything.” Anna shrugged, then looked up at Willow.  “He says that you’ll set us all free if you escape and that we can all go back to where we belong.  I can go back to my mother.”

    Willow stiffened.  “And how do I do this?  Do you know?” 

    The little girl shrugged again.  “I don’t know how you can escape, but I think I know of a man who might know the way for you.”

    Willow swallowed.  “Where is this man?  Who is he?”

    The little girl smiled.  “My younger brother, Maxwell. He’s in the next room, but I have no idea why he ended up here.  He should already be with mother.”

    Taking a deep breath, Willow hoped upon hope that Maxwell was at least a teenager.  Perhaps she would get lucky and Maxwell would actually be a young adult.  Anything but another child who just wanted to play with paper dolls and speak in circles.  It didn’t take Willow long to jump to her feet and smile down at Anna.  “You are most helpful, young lady, but if your brother can help me get out of here, so that you can be with your, er, mother, I should go and speak with him.”

    “I’ll take you over.”  The little girl smiled up at Willow and took her by the hand again. 

    Chills shot through Willow’s body when the little girl touched her, but she was comforted knowing that for whatever reason that this little girl had been stuck in purgatory for over a hundred years, she was about to be released if this Maxwell person could help her figure out how to get out of there.

    Anna walked slowly towards her door, still clinging to Willow’s hand, and as she walked, she straightened her dress.  “I want to look nice when I see Mother again.”  She grinned as she turned the doorknob and pulled it open again.

    Immediately, the low hum of the air conditioning unit (the one that Willow hadn’t seen in the entire three hours that she’d been there) struck Willow’s ears and she could hear faintly elsewhere a low chuckle. 

    “We always hear that,”  Anna said, “But, no one knows where it’s coming from or who is laughing.  Must be awfully funny, though, because it’s non-stop sometimes.”  Shrugging, Anna knocked on the door next to hers and stood back to wait.

    Willow sucked in a breath and readied herself for the arrival of yet another child when the door swung open and a rather striking young man filled up the frame.  His hair was blond-white and his pallor was near gray, but Willow could tell that he must have been something during his time as a living person.  His blond hair fell just over his eyebrows until he swept the locks out of his way.  His face was masculine and chiseled as though cut from stone.  His body was strong and his muscles were very visible through the thin cloth of his clothes. 

    Maxwell folded his two strong arms over his chest to greet his sister and Willow and then stood back.  “If you don’t stop it, I’m going to tell Mother,”  He started, staring down at Anna.  “And if you’re naughty, you won’t get any pudding after supper, Anna.”

    For a moment, Anna pouted, but then she quickly lit up again and defiantly stared up at her brother.  “She won’t punish me!  I’ve found our way out of here!”

    With that, Maxwell’s attention was drawn down to Willow.  “You’re not dead.”  He told her.

    “We’re not dead, either, Maxwell.  What sort of thing is that to say to a guest?”  Anna interrupted, then looked up at Willow.  “He’s a cranky sort and I apologize for his lack of manners, Miss Willow.”

    Willow stiffened and looked up at Maxwell.  “So, Maxwell…Your sister tells me that you know the way out of here.”

    He rolled his eyes.  “I have a theory.”

    “A theory?”  Willow raised an eyebrow.  Wonderful.  At this rate, Maxwell, Anna, and herself would not be meeting up with Mother anytime soon and that would mean that Lord Zieren, whoever that is, might end up getting his hands on the lot of them.  “Well?”

    Anna huffed and then ran to her brother’s side.  “Tell her! It’s a brilliant theory, Maxwell.  And besides, what choice have you got?”

    Maxwell’s deep blue eyes met with Willow’s with an apologetic sigh and then he nodded for her to enter his room.

    This room was different than his sister’s room.  It was an office with very nice mahogany furniture and the walls were lined with leather bound books.  In the center of the room sat a globe and as Maxwell past, he gave it a quick spin with the tip of his fingers.  “Sit.”  He told Willow as he gestured to the seat opposite the one behind his desk. 

    Willow did as instructed.  Then, he turned to his sister.  “Anna, you should go get that paper picked up in your room.  I know you’ve been making dolls again.  Get it up before you get in trouble for making such a mess.”

    Anna swiped a finger through the blood that was matted in her hair and then complied with her brother’s demands.  As she shut the door behind herself, Maxwell began to speak.

    “You do realize that you’re not dead and the rest of us are, right?”  He asked her.

    “Of course.  How could I not have realized that?”

    “Some don’t, you see.  Some people come in here and think that they’re alive.  Like Anna.  She believes that she’s still alive.  That’s what happens to children, most of the time, when they’re sent to purgatory.”

    “Why is she here?”  Willow sniffed back a tear.  It was a horrible thought.  Young, alone, and not a clue at all that she’s dead…

    “Souls come here because there either hasn’t been a ruling as to where they should go yet-and sometimes that takes a while-or because they have unfinished business that they simply cannot finish because everyone else that is involved is also dead.  That’s why Anna’s here.  She should still be on earth in our house, but there’s nothing left for her there.  So, she’ll remain here until further notice.”

    “Forever?” 

    Maxwell blinked his eyelids in a quick repetition for a moment, and then said, “Possibly.  We may both be here forever.”

    “How did she die?”  Willow turned her head to one side.

    “Obviously she was killed.”  Maxwell sighed, then shrugged. 

    Willow nodded.  “Yes, obviously.  But, what about you?” 

    “Smallpox.”   

    Nodding, Willow sighed.  “And your mother?  Did she survive the smallpox?”

    Maxwell nodded.  “As far as I know she did.”

    “So about this theory of yours-,”  Willow continued, “How should I try and get out of here and set you free?  And if I set you free, where would you go, then?”

    “I don’t know where we would go afterward, but anywhere has got to be better than here.”  Maxwell laughed and then folded his arms over his chest again.  “You’ve got to understand that we all want out.”

    “Can’t say that I blame you much.” 

    “The living don’t come to purgatory.”  He added.  “Ever.”

    “Then, how is it that I got here?”  

    “You must remember where you came in at.  Wherever you came in at is where we can leave from.  I can find Evelyn and Anna can find Mother again.  It’s that simple.”

    Willow took a deep breath and shook her head from side to side.  “No, that won’t work.  It can’t work.  There’s no way that you can make it back to Earth from the way I came in.  I barely made it myself.  I don’t even think that I could get you to wherever it is that I entered from.  This entire place looks exactly the same.  The doors don’t even have numbers on them!” 

    A snide smile curled over Maxwell’s lips.  “Well, if it’s a cakewalk you’re looking for, you should have gone to Heaven instead.”

    “Oh, yes.  I should have thought of that.”  Sarcastically, Willow sneered.  “Do you know anything that might actually be useful?”  

    “Yes, I do.  You’ve met Death, right?” 

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