A Liar in Paradise – Prologue & Ch. 1

Prologue

The Liar

Tears seared her eyes. The tires of her Volkswagen Beetle dug into the pavement as she swerved around sharp curves on the mountain road. Hard rock music blared through her sound system, echoing the churning anguish of her soul.

As she released the steering wheel to swipe at her tears, the car hit a pothole and jerked to the right. The Beetle slammed against the guardrail, tearing through the metal with an earsplitting screech. The woman’s scream punctured the air as she plummeted toward the creek far below.

She did not survive.

Which really doesn’t matter, as this story isn’t about her—thank goodness. Though I must admit it would be thrilling to fall from such a height. That is, up until the part where one crashed into the water. That might not be enjoyable. Unless, of course, one is a masochist—which, I hope, one is not. Or was not, seeing as how one is dead now. You may think me callous; that’s your call.

Moving on.

Hi there, I’m Key. Pleasure. You’re probably asking, “What kind of name is Key?” Trust me, you’ll think it’s pretty normal by the end of my story, compared to a few others. My legal name is Jason Sterling, but I prefer Key. As do my friends.

I need you to know: I am a huge liar. Nearly everything I say is a lie. Though the fact I almost always lie could be a lie, and you’d never know. Especially since liars always lie, which means they lie about lying, but because it’s a lie that doesn’t really work, and you get all jumbled up trying to figure out exactly what I’m talking about—and why. Not to mention why you’re even attempting to understand the mind of a lying liar who doesn’t not lie about lying or not.

Now that we’ve covered that, I want to commend you. You haven’t stopped reading yet, and that means some twisted part of you gets amusement from reading what I have to think. I’m impressed you comprehend me; or at least, you’re making a good effort.

My mom once said my favorite pastime, aside from lying, was making long rants. I could be lying. Maybe she didn’t say that, but you can decide for yourself whether or not to disbelieve me. I don’t mind either way.

One more thing: Read on at your own peril.

Shall we begin?

1

To Touch a Furapintairow

Luck was against me, as usual. Freezing rain lashed down from the dreary sky, soaking me to the bone. Lightning flashed, followed by a blast of thunder. I’d like to say the sound didn’t make me jump, but it did. Everything was making me jump this particular Monday morning. It wasn’t because I was afraid of thunder (though I might be), or that the gloomy atmosphere painted shadows around every corner and beneath every sopping tree.

I’d dreamed of yellow eyes.

Unusual, you’ll agree. A cause for jumpiness? Not likely. But today felt different.

I never remembered my dreams. Ever. Occasionally I recalled fleeting images or vague sensations, but this time I retained the memory of intense yellow eyes and a spectacular feeling of dread.

The dread stuck like super glue.

A dog barked. I jumped again. Silently chastising myself for being stupid, I scowled and trudged on through the miserable rain, determined to focus on anything but the nerves playing hopscotch in my stomach or the dratted rain dripping from my lashes into my eyes.

Breakfast. Cold eggs. Burned toast. Dad, running late for work. Jana refusing to drive me to school, or she’d be late for University.

How is this better than rain?

I’d often suspected I was adopted. Doesn’t every child? But I figured my reasoning was legitimate. I was the only blond in my household. Every single head of hair, minus my own, was dark brown (except my white-furred American Eskimo pet affectionately dubbed Beastie). They all had brown eyes (doggy too). Mine were light gray. They were tall, while I stretched to all of five-foot-six (with shoes), though I was nearly eighteen years old.

I’d asked more than once if I was adopted. My parents laughed it off and assured me that my genes came from my grandmother on my father’s side. I asked for pictures. Sure enough, she was blond. Perhaps my melodramatic mind just demanded a more mysterious answer for my unique appearance. It wasn’t that I was unhappy; my family was amazing, and I couldn’t be prouder to be a member (though they would never know it). I just craved something different; something as “out there” as my fibs.

I shifted my backpack strap from one shoulder to the other. Textbooks were heavier than bricks, of that I was convinced.

Only a few more months. I was a high school senior, destined to graduate in May. Only two months away. Two months of the ultimate juvenile hall and then I would be free to consider four years of prison life known as college. It’s true, I had no ambition. I just wanted to get by like so many others my age.

“Hey, you!”

Squinting between my dripping bangs, I caught sight of a fellow student. A local jock named Chas. He waved at me—

Whoa. Was he seriously waving at me? I stopped trudging and waited as he started toward me. I glanced behind my shoulder to find the street empty. Must be his target after all.

Chas sprinted down the sidewalk, hoodie flapping behind him, short light-blond hair slick from the rain, name-brand tennis shoes slapping at tiny puddles. He slid to a graceful halt in front of me, trademark smirk plastered to his clear-complected face. Even the male population of my high school had to admit he was handsome. But, instead of following his every whim for his God-given gift, we despaired at our misfortune and loathed him for his physical perfections. In truth, he was as arrogant and condescending as a man could get—reason in itself to loathe him, even if his face had resembled a dog instead of a Greek god.

“Jason, isn’t it?” he asked, not short of breath despite his sprint. Stupid jock.

I stuffed my hands deep into my pants pockets and hunched against the bitter rain and biting wind. “Yeah.”

“Seems a shame to rain this late in the spring,” he commented, glancing at the sky. He took a deep breath.

I shuffled my feet, annoyed that my socks were getting increasingly damper thanks to the stupid chick magnet.

Chas lowered his gaze from the overhead gloom, his bright green eyes catching my gray with sudden intensity.

“Let’s walk,” he said. Turning toward school, he sauntered through the wet. I followed, not thrilled at the prospect of running into his groupies. Shoulders slouched, I tried to stay a pace behind him, but Chas slowed to match my shorter strides.

“What are your plans after you graduate?” he asked, running a hand across his wet brow, removing strands of pale hair from his eyes.

I shrugged. “Not sure, really.” Was I seriously having this conversation? Maybe my alarm hadn’t rung and I was still fast asleep, stuck in a nightmare. Politeness kicked in and I forced a convincing smile. “You?”

“I’m leaving,” Chas said, his tone strained.

“Where to?”

“Far away. I’ll probably never come back.”

“Hate it that bad, huh?” I asked.

“No.” Chas shook his head, droplets of water trailing down his face. “I just won’t have any reason to return.”

What about your family, moron? I thought, but this I kept to myself.

Frowning, I wondered if there was more depth to Chas than I’d assumed. It was risky to entertain such thoughts; start believing in people and you end up disappointed. Still, Chas had everything in the world a high schooler craves: popularity, looks, and smarts. What did he have to gain in the wide world yonder?

“Will you go to school?”

Chas shrugged; a surprising gesture, as he always seemed so sure of himself. “I don’t need to.”

Still an arrogant cuss, deep or not. “Oh? Plan to charm your way through life?” A tingling started in my head and poured down my limbs. What am I saying?

A crooked smile stole across Chas’s face. “Something like that.”

Again, silence. It wouldn’t have been so bad, except he seemed to think I needed to fill the gap, and I somehow felt obligated. Not this time. I sealed my lips.

“Do you ever feel like you don’t belong here,” Chas asked as we reached the end of the block, rounding the corner to view the school in the distance. The brick structure rose dark and ominous against the gloomy backdrop of the sky.

“Doesn’t everyone, sometimes?” I slipped one hand from my pocket to wipe a droplet from my nose.

“I wonder,” he murmured, gazing at the school. I studied his face several inches above my own. Somehow he seemed mature as he pondered the mysteries of the universe (or something). I knew better than to think he was usually so reflective, but it was intriguing to watch his single ‘ah-ha’ moment in action. Finally he released a weary sigh and turned to face me. “Well, Jason. I can’t say it hasn’t been interesting.”

“Huh?” I asked, blinking as water trickled into my eyes.

A glint appeared in Chas’s eyes and I stepped back. A grin spread across his face, making me take another. Instinct I hadn’t known I possessed screamed for me to run. Unfortunately my legs were frozen to the sidewalk.

“Bye-bye, Jase. See you around.”

Chas’s arms shot out, lightning fast. He shoved me, hard. I flailed my arms to counter my fall, hands groping for purchase. It might’ve been enough to keep my balance, had the sidewalk not been slick.

Time slowed. Water fell toward me from the dark sky. One hand groped at the louring clouds; it almost didn’t feel attached to my arm anymore. My breath appeared as a wisp.

Distant sounds of feet scraping against pavement. Laughter. Golden light.

The last thing I saw were frightening yellow eyes in a familiar face.

Water filled my ears, swallowing me. My head slammed against the pavement and stars collided with my eyes, bursting like thousands of fireworks in a grand finale. The last sensation I experienced was a strange tangy, sweet scent as it filled my nostrils.

Hammers pounded against my brain.

Wind rushed above me; pleasant, warm, sweet-smelling. Moaning, I tried to open my eyes. Nothing. I wasn’t sure my eyes were still in my head.

It’s okay. Don’t panic. Breathe. I tried to pry my eyes open again, but they were still glued shut.

I raised my hand to my face, feeling for my eyelids. Found them. Rubbed. My fingers dripped with water. Gingerly, I sat up. Water rushed from my ears and I shivered, despite the warm breeze. Pressing my palms to my face, I rubbed hard. Inhaled, and peeled my eyes open.

Red sunlight slapped my eyeballs and I squeezed my eyes shut again. Gritting my teeth, I babied one eye at a time and finally (through rapid blinking) saw the world around me.

It was not what I expected.

I sat in the middle of a meadow. Tall trees surrounded the clearing and a red sun snaked between them as it set behind distant mountain peaks. Wild flowers bobbed in the breeze, while tall wild grass danced around the small buds. The sky was devoid of clouds and the grass was dry, yet I sat in the middle of a massive puddle.

How in the world—?

—Chas.

I sat in the puddle for a long time, trying to devise a logical explanation for my predicament.

Either I was dreaming or I was insane.

Go with option one. It’s the lesser of two evils.

I climbed to my feet, wobbled, head swimming, then reached up to investigate the boulder-sized lump on the back of my head. Pain bloomed like an atom bomb and spread through my brain. I held my breath until the throbbing passed, then exhaled as slowly as I could.

Another breath. Now release.

I repeated the exercise a few times, then turned my attention back to my make-believe meadow. Happily chirping birds swooped around, gathering who-knew-what before dark came, then flew back to the trees. Three small butterflies danced around the wild flowers, swirling, flipping, gliding.

What the freak kind of dream was this?

The trees hooked my attention. While the trunks resembled a pine’s in height and branch layout, instead of evergreen needles, maple leaves adorned the branches. I looked up and down the largest tree, trying to wrap my head around this particular insanity.

At the base of that odd tree, I spotted them: two small creatures that couldn’t be real.

They were covered in thick blood-red fur, giving the appearance that they were foot-high balls of fluff. A jagged tail protruded from the fur, and a smaller ball of fluff hung on its tip. The only other visible feature was the two huge (and I mean huge) pink eyes that watched me unblinkingly.

I couldn’t help myself—either my curiosity took over, or their pink eyes were alluring. I crept to the furry things and knelt in front of them.

They didn’t stir. I reached toward one. As my hand touched its downy-soft fur, pain lanced through my fingers. I pulled back and found a stream of blood running down my right hand. I jerked my head up and gasped.

The furry thing grinned, displaying two rows of sharp, pointy, blood-covered teeth. The other creature reflected the same glee, its teeth pearly-white.

I scrambled to my feet and backed away, pressing my injured hand against my red jacket. The furry things scared me, but not nearly so much as the fact that my hand was throbbing.

Dreams weren’t supposed to hurt.

“It’s too late to run,” a soft voice said from behind me.

I spun, heart pounding, head banging, fingers pulsing, and came face to face with a woman.

She was beautiful. Her frame was slight, though she was tall—taller than me. A shimmering silver shawl wrapped around her slender shoulders, covering her brown apparel. Strips of gray cloth wrapped around her wrists and feet. I stared as I spotted long sharp nails adorning the tip of each slender finger, and even her toes.

“You are peculiar,” she said, voice still soft, as though she spoke to herself.

Pulled from her deadly nails, I looked up into her face. She was pale. By pale, I don’t mean she had a light complexion; by pale, I mean her skin was white, like she’d never stepped foot out into the sunlight in her life (although she obviously had or she wouldn’t be standing in front of me while the sun was still up). Apart from sickly fair skin, she had an angular, sharp face, framed by glossy black hair that reached just below her shoulder. And—I gawked—protruding from her hair were two long pointed ears, like something from a fantasy game.

“Can you understand me?” she asked.

I opened my mouth to speak, but the words hung on my tongue. My vision swam.

She tilted her head, arching a slender eyebrow. “To touch a furapintairow is to incur its wrath. Are you not aware of the consequences?” She stepped forward, reaching out a clawed hand.

I flinched back. Why am I afraid? Shame burned my cheeks.

“It’s all right,” the woman said. “I will help you.”

Stepping back again, my foot found water. I glanced down as the liquid seeped into my already-sopping shoe. I was back at the puddle. Maybe if I jumped I could get back home.

The wild thought seized my limbs. I stepped backward into the puddle and jumped.

Pain exploded in my head and numbness spread up from my bloodied fingertips. I gasped, stumbling.

How the woman moved fast enough to catch me as I fell, I couldn’t say. She was strong; that, or I’m just really light. Probably both. As I glanced up into her pale face, she smiled, flashing her pearly-whites. My blood froze.

Her teeth were pointed too.

“Relax, stranger,” she said, easing me to the ground. “Did you come from the puddle?”

My mind floated above my body, but I tried to nod. It didn’t work. “Y-yeah,” I croaked.

“You do speak. English, too.”

What else would I speak? Chinese? Inky blackness spread from the corners of my vision, oozing inward. I clawed at consciousness, but my brain and my fingers all protested.

“Rest now,” the woman said. “Sleep, Vendaeva.”

Why am I fighting this? The pain dissipated like a cloud. My muscles relaxed, tension leaving my body. It was easy to let it go; to forget the freakishness. Everything is fine. I’m safe.

This is what death feels like,” another voice whispered, this one a dark, lulling note that filled my blood with ice chunks. Snuffing out the last of my consciousness. I didn’t try to struggle.

A Liar in Paradise – Prologue & Ch. 1

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