Read the First Chapter of Notorious Nix Free Online!
Nix refused to surrender the birthday hat.
Mother kept throwing her a side-eye glance and raised eyebrow, but Callie’s Tenth Birthday Extravaganza was only just getting into full swing. Callie liked the pink cardboard hat with its multicolored tassels and glittered edges. It wasn’t in great shape coming into their third evening of nonstop fun, but Callie was wearing the hat and Nix was wearing Callie, so the hat stayed.
Nix tugged on Mother’s sleeve as they approached the line for the carousel.
“I wanna ride the ponies,” Nix informed her in Callie’s sugary voice. She looked at the line of people, then back at Mother. Nix tilted her head expectantly. “Right now.” Mother pursed her lips, glanced at the line, then back at her daughter. “It is my birthday,” Nix said.
Mother sighed, nodded, and walked her to the front of the line.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” said a teenage boy in a red uniform, “but you’re gonna have to wait your turn, you can’t just—”
Mother handed the boy a hundred-dollar bill. He paused, but silently opened the gate. In some ways, money was more efficient than violence. Less messy, too, though not nearly as entertaining. Nix ran through, pushing a toddler out of the way and claiming the prettiest white horse for Callie.
Mother waved from the fence, her lips set in a flat red line. Even from this distance it looked like she’d applied her makeup with a shotgun this morning.
The air was thick with the scents of caramel popcorn and candy floss and sweaty bodies. Children swarmed the rides, shouting and laughing. The night air was warm against her bare arms, warmer still with all the bright, colorful lights and the tight crowds shuffling past. Nix shoved Callie’s feet into the stirrups as the music started.
The horse jerked and Nix held on tight so Callie wouldn’t slide off. Then it was just the two of them, sharing this moment, enjoying the easy companionship. The horses jumped and galloped and raced each other, never gaining but never falling behind.
The crowd blurred into streaks of light and color, lilting carnival music swirling around them. Callie’s heart raced with her horse. Nix let the elation flow through every cell of Callie’s body, leaning into the spin with a wide grin and open arms.
“I wanna stay here forever,” Callie whispered.
Nix’s smile faltered.
“What’s wrong?” Callie asked.
“Nothing, kid,” Nix lied. “Don’t worry about it.” She flexed Callie’s fingers, working out the stiffness. Though the weather was lovely and the lights almost too warm, Nix felt a chill. They’d had fun together. But Nix knew it couldn’t last forever. Callie would get along fine without Nix. She was a smart kid, and Mother knew her place—she’d be there to take care of Callie when Nix couldn’t be. She’d stolen them more than enough money to ensure Callie’s financial wellbeing for years to come. And hey, maybe Nix could stick around a while in Mother’s skin, at least until it started to rot and fall off. But that was just drawing things out. She still couldn’t stay for long, and Mother wasn’t exactly an ideal host. Nix had to go, and that was the way it had to be.
Nix glanced out at the crowd. Mother wasn’t by the fence anymore.
The carousel circled around once, twice, three times. She couldn’t pick Mother out of the swaths of humans.
The horses slowed, stopped. The playful music dwindled to a few lingering notes. Toddlers and their parents dismounted as older children ran to meet their minders at the gate, talking and smiling and jostling into each other.
Nix slid Callie off her white stallion, straightening her pretty pink dress and party hat.
Mother was nowhere to be seen.
Unease shot though Callie’s mind, churning the birthday cake in her stomach as the realization set in that she was lost and didn’t know where her mother was, didn’t know any of these strangers in this huge park, didn’t know how to get home. But at least she wasn’t alone, not when Nix was with her.
“It’s okay,” Nix said as she scanned the crowd, “I’ll find her.” Confusion held her still for a long moment as the carousel cleared of riders and the lanky teen waved her out the gate.
She wandered into the crowd. The merry-go-round started up again.
It was silly—embarrassing, really—that it caught Nix by surprise. Mother had run off. Of course she had. Couldn’t take your eyes off them for one goddamn minute without them making a break for it. Nix had thought she and Mother were well past this point in their relationship, maybe even closing in on Stockholm levels of obedience, but apparently Nix had been too optimistic. That had always been a flaw of hers.
“Where’d she go?” Callie asked, nervousness shaking her whisper and moistening her palms. “Do you see her?”
“Shh,” Nix soothed. “She’s just playing a game. Hide and seek.”
Callie’s anxiety eased. It wasn’t a lie. Mother was clearly hiding, and Nix would have to seek her out and punish her until she learned to behave again. Nix lifted Callie’s chin in a look of defiance, scanning left to right.
The lights from the carousel spun across the ground in front of them. To the left sat a long row of carnival games bustling with activity. In the distance, closer to the parking lot and the water, Nix could see the bright circle of light from the Ferris wheel. Mother couldn’t have gotten far.
Nix reached into the pocket of Callie’s dress, fingers sweeping over the car keys. Their trust didn’t extend that far. There was a bus stop nearby, though. That could be a problem.
Another kid pushed past her with a red balloon, and Nix almost lost her footing. She scowled. Cute as Callie was, she was too short to see past the crowd. Nix needed to get to higher ground. A piece of cotton candy squished under her foot, sticking to Callie’s shoe. Nix kicked at the trampled grass to get it off. Ahead was Fairy Tale Village, positioned on a slight hill, not too busy. Nix moved toward it as a long, long leg blocked her view.
“Watch your step, watch your step,” a giant sang down at her, his face concealed by a grinning mask. His long, striped legs walked right over her.
“Step right up, test your luck,” a woman’s husky voice rang out over the crowd. “Four for the price of three, kids play free!”
“Free ice cream cone with every purchase! Hey kid,” the man in the cotton candy booth shouted to her, laughing raucously, “tell your folks—it’s a deal ya can’t beat!”
Nix edged away. She pushed through streams of grownups and baby carriages, beginning to regret all the company she’d been enjoying only moments earlier. A stroller ran over Callie’s foot. Nix jerked backward, startled, then pushed the stroller over in a fit of rage and ran the other way. Voices chorused behind her, loud and swirling and angry. She elbowed through the crowds, emerging in front of the gently sloping hill behind Fairy Tale Village. It wasn’t far, but even short walks took longer with small legs.
Nix huffed, smoothing down the loose strands of Callie’s blond hair, and started up the hill. The path was dark and empty here, probably for maintenance and staff. Dirt dusted Callie’s white-patent shoes. No light illuminated their way, but Nix didn’t mind and Callie had never been afraid of the dark anyway.
The sounds of the crowd grew muffled as Nix put space between them, curving past a crop of trees and deeper into the dark woods of Fairy Tale Village. The loud hoot of an owl echoed above them and Callie startled at the proximity of the noise. Ahead, flashing lights beckoned.
A crunching noise seeped out from the trees. Nix stilled, looking into the woods, Callie’s eyes still adjusting to the darkness. The owl called again. Callie shivered.
“Little princess,” a low voice slithered out of the darkness. “Don’t be afraid, I have something to show you. Something special.”
A shape emerged from the woods, tall and wide, much bigger than Callie.
Nix stood her ground in spite of Callie’s instincts telling her to run far away and into the safety of her mother’s arms. The creature slithered out of the trees, its bulk cracking branches as it moved. Its feet were disproportionately long, its nose a bulbous red in the moonlight. It grinned, teeth brown and crooked, panting as it moved, chest heaving, every labored intake of breath followed by the scent of stale cigarettes and rot.
The creature moved closer, close enough that Nix could see its face clearly, painted white and red with thick black eyebrows. One of her least favorite creatures of all: a clown.
It leered at her. “You wanna see a special trick, little princess?”
Callie shivered again but was silent.
He snickered, pulling at the Velcro holding his clown pants up. “Put your hand in here,” he whispered encouragingly, moving closer, closer, closer. He blocked out the moon. Nix gripped the car keys in the pocket of Callie’s dress until she felt the dull edges bite into her skin. His eyes shone, glazed and bright, blue irises surrounded by jaundiced white and rimmed in pink flesh that was untouched by the thick white putty lining the rest of his features. The putty sank deep into the wrinkles of his forehead. She could see the pale pink skin of his waist as he tugged the fabric down.
A flood of unease stirred in Callie’s stomach and it left a curdled, vinegary taste of fear in the back of her throat. Nix didn’t like it when it was Callie feeling afraid. In the right skin, fear tasted like fine wine, aged and intoxicating. This was all wrong. Nix licked her lips. No, she didn’t care for it at all. She swallowed it down and gently whisked Callie off to the safety of her own mind, trapping her out of her physical perceptions and letting her fall into the soft embrace of her dreams.
Callie’s fear dissipated, replaced with Nix’s own disgust and simmering rage. Mother’s little game had been an irritation, but Fuckles the Clown here was steadily pushing Nix’s patience to a breaking point. Nix glared at the clown, disdain dominating Callie’s expression, twisting her upper lip like a hook was caught in it. His white makeup melted gray down his temples with sweat.
Despite his weight, it took her less than a second to calculate the location of his most vulnerable artery and the force she’d need to sever it.
Nix slid the longest key into his upper thigh so smoothly, so quickly, that the clown didn’t even react at first. In less-skilled hands, the sliver of metal may have been useless. But this wasn’t Nix’s first carnival. She jerked the key free of his flesh with a strength greater than any Callie alone could possess.
Callie’s fingers were suddenly doused in wet warmth as blood began to pour out of the clown like a thick river of strawberry punch. A rush of endorphins followed swiftly for Nix, leaving her head light and airy as a smile tugged at her lips.
He stared into Callie’s eyes, his mouth gaping and rounded with surprise.
Nix stared back at him.
The clown groaned, collapsing onto his knees with his pants halfway down his ass. Nix stepped out of the way as he fell forward, careful not to sully Callie’s dress. She leaned down and wiped the blood off on the clown’s frilly collar, pocketing Mother’s keys. He moaned and panted, twitching, fingers grabbing desperately at the earth as though it could save him.
Nix sneered. There was no salvation here.
When she straightened, everything was brighter. The trees were clear and the clown bleeding out at her feet seemed to emit a surreal glow. It was like the sun was coming out from behind the clouds even though it was night. Nix squinted. Those lovely endorphins were her first explanation, but the light grew stronger and stronger. Something was wrong.
The bright light engulfed everything around her until it was all she could see.
And then she was falling.
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Release Date: July 1, 2016
Horror writer, author of NIX Series, spinner of tales, weaver of webs, twisted mind.
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