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Authors: Ursula Poznanski

Erebos

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EREBOS

URSULAPOZNANSKIEREBOS

TRANSLATED BYJUDITH

PATTINSON

This edition first published in 2012Copyright English language translation © Judith Pattinson 2012

The translation of this book was supported by theAustrian Federal Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture.

First published in Germany in 2010Copyright Title of the original German edition:Erebos © 2010 Loewe Verlag GmbH, Bindlach

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. TheAustralian Copyright Act1968 (theAct) allows a maximum of one chapter or ten per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.

Allen & Unwin83 Alexander StreetCrows Nest NSW 2065AustraliaPhone: (61 2) 8425 0100Fax: (61 2) 9906 2218Email: [email protected]Web:www.allenandunwin.com

A Cataloguing-in-Publication entry is availablefrom the National Library of Australiawww.trove.nla.gov.au

ISBN 978 1 74237 953 1

Cover design by Christian Keller & Bruno HerfstText design by Bruno HerfstSet in 10/14 pt Italian Old Style by Bruno Herfst

Printed and bound in Australia by Griffin Press

For Leon– U.P.

For S, T & J– J.P.

It always begins at night. At night I feed my plans on darkness. If there is one thing that I command in abundance, then it is darkness. Darkness is the ground that will nurture what I desire to grow.

I would always have chosen the night over the day and the basement over the garden, given the chance. It's only after sunset that the deformed creatures of my mind dare to venture from their bunkers to breathe icy air. They are waiting for me to lend their misshapen bodies a grotesque beauty of their own. A lure must be attractive so that the prey only becomes aware of the hook when it sits deep in the flesh. My prey. I almost want to embrace it, without knowing it. In a way I will do that. We will be one in spirit.

I have no need to seek out the darkness; it is always around me. I release it like my breath. Like the transpiration of my body. Nowadays people shun me; that is fine. They all creep around me, whispering, uneasy, fearful. They think it's the stench that keeps them at bay, but I know it's the darkness.

CONTENTS

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16

CHAPTER 17

CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER 19

CHAPTER 20

CHAPTER 21

CHAPTER 22

CHAPTER 23

CHAPTER 24

CHAPTER 25

CHAPTER 26

CHAPTER 27

CHAPTER 28

CHAPTER 29

CHAPTER 30

CHAPTER 31

CHAPTER 32

CHAPTER 33

CHAPTER 34

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

CHAPTER 1

Ten past three already, and still no sign of Colin. Nick pounded the basketball on the asphalt, dribbling first with his right hand, then his left, then his right again, making a short, singing drone with each ground contact. He tried to keep up the rhythm. Twenty more times – if Colin hadn't arrived by then, he'd go to training by himself.

Five, six. It wasn't like Colin not to show without an explanation. He knew perfectly well how quick their coach was to kick someone off the team. Colin's phone wasn't on either; it was a sure bet he'd forgotten to charge the battery. Ten, eleven. But forgetting about basketball too, and his mates and his team? Eighteen. Nineteen. Twenty. No Colin. Nick sighed and shoved the ball under his arm. Well, that was okay – he'd finally score the most points himself today.

Training was brutal, and after two hours Nick was soaked in sweat. He hobbled into the shower on aching legs, stood under the stream of hot water and closed his eyes. Colin still hadn't turned up, and Frank Bethune had gone mad as expected. The coach had taken all his anger out on Nick, as if it were his fault that Colin had been absent.

Nick washed his long hair (way too long, in Bethune's opinion), then tied it into a ponytail with a worn-out rubber band. He was the last to leave the gymnasium. It was already getting dark outside. On the way down the escalator to the Underground he got his phone out of his bag and hit the speed dial. After the second ring Colin's voicemail picked up, and Nick hung up without leaving a message.

Mum was lying on the couch, reading one of her hairdressing magazines and watching television.

‘There's only hotdogs tonight,' she said, almost before Nick had closed the door behind him. ‘I'm completely worn out. Can you get me an aspirin from the kitchen?'

Nick dumped his sports bag in the corner and tossed an Aspirin Plus C tablet in a glass of water. Hotdogs. Terrific. He was starving to death.

‘Isn't Dad home?'

‘No, he's going to be late. It's a colleague's birthday.'

Nick scanned the fridge on the off chance that there was something more desirable than frankfurts – maybe the leftovers from yesterday's pizza – but no luck.

‘What do you think about that business with Sam Lawrence?' Mum called from the living room. ‘Can you believe it?'

Sam Lawrence? The name sounded familiar, but he couldn't put a face to it. When he was exhausted like today, his mother's coded messages really got on his nerves. He gave her the aspirin and thought about popping a tablet himself.

‘Were you there when they came to get him? Vera Dillinger told me the story today while I was doing her tips. She works in the same company as Sam's mother.'

‘Help me out here. Does Sam Lawrence go to my school?'

Mum eyed him with disapproval. ‘Of course he does. He's only two years behind you. Now he's been suspended from school. Didn't you hear about the whole drama?'

No, Nick hadn't, but his mother was happy to fill him in with all the details.

‘They found weapons in his locker! Weapons! Apparently there was a gun and two flick knives. Where does a fifteen-year-old get a gun from, can you tell me that?'

‘No,' said Nick truthfully. He hadn't heard a thing about the drama, as his mother called it. He thought about massacres at American schools and gave an involuntary shiver. Were there really such sick people at his school? His fingers itched to ring Colin. He might know more about it. But Colin wasn't answering, the lazy sod. Just as well, maybe, because Mum was probably exaggerating again. This Sam Lawrence had probably only had a water pistol and a pocketknife on him.

‘It's terrible, all the things that can go wrong as children grow up,' his mother said, and gave him that look that meantmy precious bunny, my little one, my baby, you wouldn't do such a thing, would you?

It was this expression that always made Nick think perhaps he should move in with his brother.

‘Were you sick yesterday? You should have heard Bethune swearing!'

‘No. I'm fine.' Colin's red-rimmed eyes were fixed on the wall of the school corridor next to Nick's head.

‘Are you sure? You look awful.'

‘Positive. I didn't get much sleep last night.' Colin glanced briefly at Nick's face before he went back to staring doggedly at the wall. Nick stifled a snort. Since when had lack of sleep mattered to Colin? ‘Were you out somewhere?'

Colin shook his head and his dreadlocks swung back and forth.

‘Fine. But if it's your dad again, and he's —'

‘It's not my dad, okay?' Colin pushed past Nick and walked into the classroom, but he didn't sit down at his desk. Instead he strolled over to Dan and Alex, who were standing by the window, absorbed in conversation.

Dan and Alex? Nick blinked in disbelief. The two of them were so uncool that Colin always called them ‘the Girl Guides'.

Girl Guide number one, Dan, was distinctly on the short side, and you got the impression he was trying to make up for it with his exceptionally fat behind, which he loved to scratch. Guide number two, Alex, had a face that changed from couch-potato white to stop-sign red in record time every time someone spoke to him. Every time.

Was Colin intending to go for the role of Girl Guide number three?

‘I don't get it,' Nick muttered.

‘Talking to yourself?' Jamie had come up behind him, slapped him on the back and sent his tatty bag skidding right across the classroom. He grinned at Nick, revealing a set of the crookedest teeth to be found in the school.

‘Talking to yourself is a bad sign. One of the first symptoms of schizophrenia. Are you hearing voices as well?'

‘Rubbish!' Nick gave Jamie a friendly shove. ‘It's just that Colin's getting friendly with the Guides.'

He glanced over again, and did a double take. Hang on. That wasn't getting friendly – that was grovelling. Colin's face wore a pleading expression that was completely new. Instinctively Nick moved a couple of steps closer.

‘I don't see what the problem is if you give me a few tips,' he heard his friend say.

‘I can't do that. Stop making a fuss – you know that perfectly well,' said Dan and crossed his arms over his flabby belly. He had egg yolk stuck on his school tie.

‘Hey, come on, it's no big deal. And I'm not going to dob you in.' While Alex was looking at Dan uncertainly, it was clear from Dan's face how much he was enjoying the situation.

‘Forget it. You're always so full of it – you'll have to figure your way out of this yourself.'

‘At least —'

‘No. Just shut your trap, Colin!'

Any second now. Any second Colin would take Dan by the shoulder and send him flying across the aisle. Any second.

But Colin lowered his head and gazed at the tips of his shoes. Something was fishy. Nick strolled over to the window and joined the threesome.

‘So, what's going on with you guys?'

‘Did you want something?' Dan asked belligerently.

Nick looked back and forth from him to the other two. ‘Not from you,' he replied. ‘Only from Colin.'

‘Are you blind? He's busy right now.'

Now Nick was stunned. Just who did this guy think he was?

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