Excerpt

HBTM2CoverThe nightmare was real. Again.

I crawled up the steep, scary mountain, trying to keep breathing, trying to keep my eyes open, the rain pelting down against the ground and splashing wet mud against my terrified face. I could hear the thunder exploding with fury above me, the lights in the sky signifying an impending apocalypse.

Worst of all, my diaper was giving me serious irritation on my butt cheeks.

My name is Cameron Martin. It’s Wednesday, April nineteenth.

And I’m a one-year-old.

Last year an unimaginable curse took hold of my body, causing me to age an entire year of my life with each passing day. For the last three months of my senior year of high school, I aged from seventeen to eighty-five, turning back to normal magically, and thankfully, just in time to see my high school graduation. In March of last year, I thought I had all the time in the world. In June I realized how precious life can be, and from then on I made a promise to myself to not waste a single second.

To make matters more complicated, the girl I fell in love with during those tumultuous three months turned out to be the girl who inflicted the evil curse upon me in the first place. My girlfriend is a witch, and a vastly powerful one at that. I knew by the time I started dating her that she had otherworldly powers, but I didn’t find out until nearly a year later just what this girlfriend of mine was capable of. Her name’s Liesel. And she’s the best, worst thing that ever happened to me.

It’s been nearly a year since Liesel cured me in that dark, depressing hospital room, nearly a year since I saw my whole life flash before my eyes. There I was, seventeen years old on the inside, eighty-five and rotting on the outside, waiting to die. But something extraordinary happened to me that night. I didn’t die; I got better. And in June I was finally able to put that horrific episode behind me.

But now, here I am, in the pouring rain, crawling through mud, nearly naked, once again counting the seconds to my death. And unlike last time, when the tiniest bit of hope carried me through to my final moments, tonight, I have no hope. None. There’s nothing she can do for me. There’s nothing he can do for me. And there’s nothing that demonic sorceress above wants more than to see me erased from this planet forever.

I knew tonight was the night I was going to die. But still, I couldn’t give up.

You have to keep going, I told myself. There was a miracle before. Maybe there can be a miracle again. Come on, Cameron. Move your scrawny little ass.

“Move!” I shouted, although something more like “Mooo” came out of my infant mouth.

I tried to push through the mud faster, but I kept sliding. I tried to kick up with my feet, but that wasn’t helping either. I always wondered why memories from our first few years of life were typically suppressed by the time we hit puberty. I realized now it was because the helplessness we feel under the age of three is the most terrifying feeling in the whole world, more so than loss, more so than pain. The helplessness I’ve felt in the last few hours has been nothing short of debilitating. I feel thankful that my eighteen-year-old mind has stayed in tact these last two weeks, no matter how young I become, but I’m also not happy having these teenaged thoughts in a body reserved for someone whose main concern in life is to cry a lot and crap a lot.

Must keep going…

I was halfway up the mountain by now. It had been mere minutes since she had cast me down the mountain, mere minutes since she assumed I was to be a dead, rotting carcass. But one thing she didn’t know about me is that I fight until the very end. As long as my pudgy, thirty-inch-body kept moving, and as long as oxygen still found its way into my pink, spotless lungs, I knew I’d try my best to stay alive. Kill me now and I’ll stop. Let me keep breathing, and I’ll get to the top of this mountain if it’s the last thing I do.

I figured by the time I reached the peak of the mountain that the rain would start calming down. But it didn’t. The further I climbed, the worse it became; the heavy rain smashed against my head like a tidal wave from Hell. As much I didn’t love the snow in those freezing Reno winter months, I would’ve welcomed a five-minute blizzard recess from this calamitous downpour.

Thankfully, though, the incessant rain only meant one thing: I’m not the only one who’s still putting up a fight.

I puckered my lips and blinked a few times, noticing that my eyesight was going blurry. I could see flashing lights at the top of the mountain, bolts of lightning crashing down from the black, angry sky. I wanted to reach the top, but with every inch further I climbed, the further away the peak of the mountain seemed to get.

I stopped and turned around, glancing down below to see a flash flood overtaking the adjacent park and parking lot. A lone Volkswagon Beetle drifted down the nature-made river toward the crowded I-5 freeway. It was understandable, and understood, that nobody in Los Angeles would be taking a midnight hike tonight. But here I was, on my hands and knees, crawling up the world’s largest mud pile to see if my beloved was still alive.

If she goes, I go.

“Cameron!”

It was faint, but noticeable in the distance. I heard my name shouted again, this time more clearly. Most remarkable of all, it wasn’t Liesel.

It can’t be.

I crawled as fast as my puny arms and legs would let me, bypassing the wettest parts of the mud, which by now were slowly forming into a nearly unavoidable mudslide. I wanted to jump up to my feet and run faster than the speed of sound, just bolt with all my might until I reached the top to see once and for all the aftermath of what had been the longest, most unusual, most haunting two weeks of my life.

This from someone who spent three months last year aging into an eighty-five-year-old man.

“Cam!” he shouted. “I’m here! I’m here!”

“I can hear you!” I shouted back, but what came out of my mouth was “Ikearu!”

Ten seconds passed. Twenty. Thirty. I didn’t hear him. He stopped shouting. I wondered for a moment if all the screaming from the other side of the mountain had been a product of my child-like imagination.

I was almost at the top. I could feel the top. I reached my arms out and prepared myself for the final pull.

He finally said something again.

“Cameron!” he shouted. “Where are y—”

A flash of lightning crashed against the mountain just yards in front of me, and the land beneath me started to shake. My legs slipped out from under me, and I lost my grip.

The entire mountainside transformed into a gigantic, terrifying mudslide.

“Oh shit!” I shouted. That phrase came out normal.

I kicked my feet against the ground, clawed through the mud with my small, pathetic hands, and rolled myself up to the top of the mountain, just in time to see a massive, jaw-dropping mudslide crash down the mountain like an avalanche of destructive chocolate milk.

I took the deepest breath I could, laid back against the top of the mountain, and looked up to see a bolt of lightning headed right for me.

This night’s just gone from worse to a lot worse, I thought.

A few days ago I was eighteen years old. Currently, I’m one. And in a few minutes, I’ll be gone.

Throughout the month of April, I have been de-aging a whole year of my life with each passing day. Last year I had three months to tackle my embarrassing, inexplicable curse. This year, I’ve had less than three weeks. There just hasn’t been enough time.

Time’s all but run out.

“Liesel! I love you!”

I have no idea what escaped my mouth in those final, fleeting moments of my young adult life, but I hoped she could hear me. She had to hear me. After all, what more could I have hoped for in those final breaths than to know that Liesel, in all her glory, would go on, and feel my love… forever.

I exhaled one last time, closed my eyes, and focused my final thought on an image of happier times: Liesel on the mountain bike. She was so fast. So very fast.

In a brief, exhilarating moment, I was transferred back four months to a chilly Christmas Eve, when all was right in the world.

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