The Beast Within
by Nina Soden Genre: Interactive Urban Fantasy
Austin discovered, at the young age of ten, that fairies aren’t exactly what the fairytales made them out to be and that blood tastes a lot like honey. Now, as an adult, he struggles to balance his public life with the one he’s so desperate to keep hidden. After a deadly camping trip and an unexpected connection, Austin tries to change his ways. Will he be able to keep his secret or will his world come undone? In this exciting interactive adventure, the body count is up to you. Are you ready?
A loud crack of thunder startled the driver as he quickly swerved into the hospital parking lot. His truck, an old, rusted late-1980s black Ford F150, pulled a thick fog of exhaust fumes behind it. The heavy rainfall made it impossible to see, yet he still hid behind his ballcap and dark black sunglasses, fearful of potential onlookers and traffic cameras.
It was just past 2:00 in the morning when he pulled up to the Emergency Room entrance. He stopped, considered what would happen if anyone saw him getting out of the truck, then quickly hit the gas and drove past the door. He parked behind the cover of a large blue dumpster that sat overflowing, ready for the early morning pickup.
He got out of the truck and quickly made his way to the passenger side door. As he pulled the door open, he deftly caught her falling body. She was limp—unconscious—and covered in blood.
“Not sure why you’re bringing her here, they can’t help her,” the memory of his father’s voice spoke in his head.
“Shut up,” he said, hissing the words over his shoulder to no one. “They can save her.”
“Then what? She knows who you are. What do you think will happen when she wakes up?” his father asked.
“She doesn’t know,” he snapped, hoping he was right.
After days of struggling with the decision of what to do with her, he decided he couldn’t kill her. Not like the others. He fed on her, that much he had been willing to do. That much he had to do, but he had gone too far—caused damage he wasn’t entirely sure could be fixed. “They can save her,” he said again, trying to convince himself or maybe just pushing back the growing feeling of guilt and regret. He had to believe they could fix her—make her whole again. He had made a mistake, a terrible mistake, but his father was right, she had known who he was and could have easily turned him in. Although he wasn’t prepared to risk his own life to save hers, he still wasn’t willing to kill her.
He didn’t want to let her die.
Not without at least trying to save her first.
He did what he had to do. He wiped her memory clean just like he had learned to do. Yet he still took extra precautions; drug induced alterations to her prefrontal cortex. It’s amazing what you can learn online—the amount of invaluable information and resources is astounding.
He lifted her easily out of the truck and carried her comatose body around the back side of the dumpster. He laid her down on the cold cement slab, pulling her shirt down over the pale skin of her exposed stomach. A thin gold necklace dangled from her neck and he thought about taking it but decided against it—it was hers and he wanted her to keep it. He hid her there, surrounded by trash, knowing she wouldn’t be found until the early morning hours.
She was different from the others. He didn’t want her to die. He knew her. She knew him, or had known him. He loved her, as much as a monster could love a mortal. But she knew too much and he had to protect himself, even if it meant letting her go. It was the first rule he had learned; never get too close, always be willing to walk away, and when it comes down to you or them, always protect yourself.
A single leg, barefoot and bloody, he left purposefully exposed to the sidewalk that passed in front of the dumpster. He was sure someone would find her in the morning after the sun came up, but by then he would be long gone.
He turned away and headed back to his truck.
“You’re just going to leave her there in the rain? I thought you wanted to save her. She’ll freeze to death before they find her.”
“She’ll be fine,” he said. He looked back at her leg, already starting to turn blue, and wondered if he was wrong. “She’ll be fine,” he said again, then climbed in his truck and sped out of the parking lot and down the road.
By 7:00, the sun was already high in the sky. The parking lot was beginning to fill up with hospital employees and patients trying to beat the early morning rush. The woman’s body still lay motionless in its garbage-scented nest behind the dumpster, as people hurried past without so much as a glance in her direction.
“Mommy,” a young girl said, as she pulled on the sleeve of her mother’s jacket. “Mommy, why is that woman sleeping in the trash?” she asked, curious. She couldn’t have been older than ten-years old. She had curly blonde shoulder-length hair that bounced as she walked.
“I don’t know, sweetie,” her mother said, rushing toward the door, not bothering to look back.
“She’s probably homeless, sweetheart,” her mother quickly said, knowing that if she didn’t give her daughter an answer, she would begin the morning with a game of fifty questions. “Now come on, we have to hurry. We’re already running late.” She was wearing a black pencil skirt and a flowing white blouse. Her golden blonde hair, curly like her daughter’s, was pulled into a loose bun at the back of her head and her heels clicked against the concrete like tiny explosions. She didn’t give her daughter’s question a second thought—at least, not until her daughter’s small hand slipped away.
The little girl, named Stella, let go of her mother’s sleeve and turned back to stare at the woman’s foot lying delicately on the pavement. Her bright blue eyes turned gray as she stared down at the woman’s body. She took a single step forward. “Are you okay?” she asked, but before she could reach down to tap her leg and wake the sleeping woman from her slumber, she heard her mother screaming just behind her.
“Oh my God, don’t touch her, Stella” the mother said, startled by the bruises and blood covering the pale woman. She grabbed her daughter by the arm and quickly pulled her down the walkway toward the door.
“Mommy, wait,” the little girl called as she struggled to free herself from her mother’s grasp. “We have to help her.”
“We will, we will,” her mother said, trying to console her daughter, as she scooped the little girl into her arms and burst into the warmth of the Emergency Room waiting area. “There’s a woman,” she said, trying not to panic. “Behind the dumpster….” She had begun to hyperventilate and a nurse, carrying a clipboard and a brown paper lunch bag, quickly came to assist her.
“Just breathe,” the nurse said, leading her to a seat close to the door. They sat down and the nurse, wearing scrubs that were a size to small knelt down in front of the woman and her daughter. The little girl came face to face with her exposed cleavage and started giggling. Oblivious, the nurse handed the woman the small paper bag. “Put this over your mouth and take slow deep breaths. My name is Mia. Do you think you can tell me your name?”
Stella’s mother slapped the bag to the floor, pointed to the door, and pushed the nurse away. “I’m not the one who needs your help. She’s out there. You have to go help her.” The guard sitting at the door quickly stood up, ready to assist nurse Mia if the woman became more violent. There were tears streaming down her face as her daughter watched in silence, not sure why her mother was so upset about the sleeping woman. Thankfully, she was still too young to understand. She hadn’t seen or heard the terrifying news reports of murders happening all across town over the past several months. As a child, she lived in blissful ignorance, a state in which her mother hoped to keep her.
“Help who?” Mia asked, looking back toward the door.
Just then, Stella saw a man run through the door with the same fearful look on his face. He was shouting, “I need a doctor. Please, there’s a woman lying on the ground behind the dumpster. She’s…hurt…I think she’s hurt,” he said, silently praying she wasn’t actually dead, not sure how else to describe what he had just seen.
Mia jumped up from where she had been helping Stella’s mother. “Use this, try to breathe normally,” she said, as she handed the woman the brown paper bag for the second time. This time, she took it. Then Mia quickly followed the man back out the door. “Page Doctor Bennett!” she shouted at the guard. As the door closed behind her, the little girl heard her call out to the man, “Show me.” Seconds later, two doctors pushing a gurney ran through the doors leading outside, and headed in the direction of the dumpster.
It wasn’t long before the little girl watched them all run back in. The younger of the two doctors was pushing the gurney. He held a large balloon-like contraption over the sleeping woman’s face as he pumped air into her lungs. Nurse Mia had her hands firmly over the woman’s throat as if holding something in, the little girl thought to herself, wondering what it could have been.
The laceration across the woman’s throat had clotted and the bleeding had stopped at some point during the night. However, when the doctors jostled her body, lifting her onto the gurney, they accidentally reopened the wound. Fresh blood flowed freely down her neck and soaked into the blanket they had laid across her body.
Doctor Bennett, the older of the two doctors, was a tall African-American man with short dark hair that was graying at his temples. He held onto the side of the gurney, guiding it through the door as he swiftly and thoroughly examined the unconscious woman. He lifted each of her arms first, one at a time, and then moved to her legs. He worked calmly among the chaos happening around him.
“Move out of the way!” the guard shouted at the looky-loos who had already begun gathering in the hospital lobby, as they ran in. He quickly rushed across the waiting room and pressed his badge against the panel on the wall next to the large set of double doors. The lock clicked as it released and the doors began to slowly open, unveiling the exam rooms hidden behind them and granting the doctors access. Stella watched with a child’s curiosity as the doors seemed to crawl open at an unusually slow pace. She wondered if maybe time had actually slowed down.
“Where will they take her, Mommy?” she asked, turning back to the woman on the gurney.
“Don’t look, baby,” the little girl’s mother answered, as they pushed the sleeping woman quickly past them. The little girl noticed the blood for the first time. An arm hung off the side of the gurney and blood dripped steadily to the floor at their feet.
“She’s bleeding, Mommy.”
“Don’t look baby. Don’t look.”
“But Mommy, what do you think happened to her?” the little girl asked, ever inquisitive. “Why is she bleeding? Was she in an accident, Mommy?”
Her mother just shook her head “I don’t know, Stella,” she said more firmly this time. Then she grabbed her daughter and pulled her into her lap.
Stella struggled free of her mother when she noticed a thin silver bracelet with a tiny heart charm sitting in a pool of blood on the floor. “Mommy,” she said, reaching for the bracelet, “that woman, she dropped this.”
As soon as she grabbed the bloody bracelet, her body went rigid, her eyes glossed over, and she fell silent.
“Stella? Stella, baby, what’s wrong?” her mother asked, pulling her back into her lap and holding her tight. “Baby what is that? Don’t touch that.” She grabbed the bloody bracelet out of her daughter’s hand and dropped it to the floor. Stella’s body went limp in her arms and her mother started to cry.
The doctors, Nurse Mia, and the sleeping woman all disappeared behind the large doors as Doctor Bennett barked orders. “We need to stop the bleeding from her throat and hook up two IVs. Pump fluids, start oxygen, get a full panel screening, insert a urinary catheter and prep her for a CT scan.”
“Yes doctor,” Mia answered.
“We need to clean up her wrist and get it stitched up and splinted right away. Do an EEG and order a lumbar puncture,” he continued. “And get a plastics’ consult down here right away. The lacerations on her throat are our first priority once the bleeding is under control and her vitals are stable.”
“Who would you like assigned to the case?” she asked.
Doctor Bennett only had to glance down at the poor girl’s mutilated throat for a second before answering. “Hill. Get Hill.”
“You want me to call in Dean Hill?” Mia asked, hesitantly.
Bennett turned, eyes narrowing as he watched Mia’s reaction. “Is there any reason I shouldn’t call Hill in?”
Doctor Hill was young. He liked to drink, a lot, but he was painstakingly meticulous when he worked. If anyone would be able to repair the damage that had been done to their patient, it was him, and Mia knew it. Although the woman’s wound was so savage, she wasn’t sure even Dr. Hill was that good.
“No, no reason,” she answered. The last time she had seen Dr. Hill, he was passed out drunk at the bar down the road. Mia smiled and nodded to Doctor Bennett. “I’ll go find his number,” she said, then left the room and headed to the nurses’ station.
Nina has always been creative, be it art, theatre, film – anything but singing – you don’t want to hear that! She earned her bachelor’s degree in Theatre and Military Science from Eastern Michigan University where she spent most of her time either on stage, rappelling down buildings, or working one of three jobs. After college she moved to Los Angeles, like so many other actors, in pursuit of her dreams. Nina started writing short stories in 2008. Since then, her dreams have gotten bigger and she likes to think her storytelling ability has gotten better. She has done everything from secretarial work to business development to being the Director of a private preschool. She has fired a M16 machine gun, jumped out of a C130 aircraft, and given birth – TWICE - but she always returns to her art.
She has two completed series available; The Blood Angel Series (Awaken, Beginnings, Revenge, and Pursuit) and the SECTOR C Series (The Chosen, The Hunted, and The Bridge). Her latest novel, an interactive urban fantasy novel, The Beast Within, is a standalone story with eleven (11) possible endings and twenty-six (26) opportunities for the reader to try and change the story. The Beast Within is currently available for pre-order on Amazon and will be available for purchase on March 1, 2021.
Though she’ll forever be a Michigan girl at heart, she now lives in the south with her husband and two beautiful children. If she’s not working on her latest story, you can find her lounging with a good book, playing with her kids, or indulging in her unhealthy addiction to Starbucks coffee.
I’ve been working on The Beast Within, off and on, for just over 2 years. The first draft was written in one month, during NaNoWriMo 2018. I always take a few months off after completing a draft, and when I picked it back up, I realized the lead character, Austin, wasn’t done telling me his story.
Yes, I’m crazy… my characters talk to me. It’s a little like hearing voices, but not the kind that put you in the mental hospital. Trust me, its more common among authors than you might think.
When I started re-writes, I realized the new storyline contradicted the old one. However, neither the original story nor the new plotlines were wrong. I found myself conflicted with what was supposed to happen and where the story was supposed to go. It was in that moment that I realized the complexity of Austin’s life. I ended up writing a few different versions of the story and wanted to tell them all. Finding the method for doing that proved a little more difficult.
As a kid, I loved the choose your own adventure books. The fact that, as a reader, you could affect the outcome of the story was fascinating to me. If you haven’t read any… GO DO IT! They are just as fun as an adult as they are as a child. The problem is, there aren’t a lot of adult books with this same style. When I realized Austin’s story had multiple paths, I was excited about the possibility of creating an interactive novel, like those I had read as a child. (Side note – The Beast Within is NOT a children’s book. ADULT ONLY CONTENT). Although, I wasn’t prepared for how hard that process would be.
Like I said, it took me just over two years from concept to publication to complete the novel, even with the first draft being completed in just one month. The majority of the work was spent in editing and formatting. Formatting the novel to ensure all of the timelines were weaved perfectly together was harder than I had expected. Editing was also a struggle as it takes a lot longer to edit a novel like this because editors need to be able to keep track of what storyline they are in, what has happened in the present timeline, and what happened in previously read timelines.
I have been asked a few times if I plan to continue to write interactive novels, and the answer is simple… No. The process was interesting and I loved seeing all the different sides to my character. However, it was way more time consuming than any of the other books I’ve written and I found that the majority of my time was spent on formatting instead of the creative side of writing. I have to many stories to tell to spend two years on each novel.
Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t be happier with the final product. All of the feedback I have received from my beta readers and my editors has been positive. I can’t wait to hear what my readers think and to find out if the adventure is as good for them as it was for me.
Follow the tourHEREfor special content and a giveaway!