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Erick Meredith Drake had been dreading his family vacation for weeks, but he wasn’t expecting to become trapped in his own imagination by a dark and ancient entity intent on stealing his body and his creativity.

Wait, let me back up a second.

GRAND THEFT IMAGINATION is a YA Fantasy novel about a 16-year-old boy who visits a lake resort with his family and his best friend. There, he’s terrorized by nightmares in which a mysterious presence - the aforementioned entity - comes to murder him, always saying the same thing: “I want what is in your brain.”

Why? Because Erick isn’t like other teenagers, at least not in one specific way: he has a vast and unparalleled imagination - overactive, according to his parents - and that’s what the mysterious entity wants from him. You see, in this world, creativity is fuel for magic, and the entity (Dagon) had his creativity taken from him long ago.

That's the reason he hijacks Erick’s body. But Erick doesn't die as he’s expected to; instead, he wakes up in the wilderness of his own imagination to find…a fully-realized fantasy world filled to the brim with his most incredible - and most horrible - creations.

Soon, Erick finds himself on the run from monsters, demons, and a roving band of cannibalistic circus clowns. Along the way, he teams up with a talking pit bull - who’s far more important to the story than he seems at first blush - and a superhero team of his own conception, all while growing faster, stronger, and more powerful, thanks to his latent connection to his imagination.

Meanwhile, Dagon is walking around in the real world, wearing Erick’s face, dating the girl he has a crush on, and just generally messing with his life. What happens when Erick’s best friend and brother notice that there’s something terribly wrong with him? What happens when they decide to investigate?

im*ag*ine [i-maj-in] verb, -ined, -in*ing.
—verb (used with object)
1. to form a mental image (of something not actually present to the senses).
2. to think, believe, or fancy.
3. to assume; suppose.
4. to conjecture; guess.

Archaic. to plan, scheme, or plot.

Erick Drake awoke atop a bloody, blistered island made of meat, one that was covered in sores and veins and lathered in puss. Somehow, Erick knew it was puss, even though it looked more akin to mustard mixed with mayonnaise. He decided against a taste test.

The meat was floating in the air, floating in a red-tinged darkness all around it - and that was all there was, at least as far as the eye could see. The red was so dark it was barely visible, but it was definitely there, at the edges.

Erick scrambled to his feet and wiped his blood-stained hands off onto his newly-purchased skinny jeans. Purchased specifically for the vacation. That’s where he was before this, right? He was on vacation with his family. So how did he end up here, on a floating piece of meat, in the middle of a darkly-veiled crimson void? Where was here anyway?

A voice, out from the darkness, out from the nothing, whispered with absolute resonance: “Eriiiick.”

Erick jerked backward a few steps, leaving moist, fleshy footprints in his wake. He worked up the courage to call out, “Who’s there?” Then he slowly stepped out to the meat-ledge and looked down into the nothingness below. “Hello?” The words had nothing to echo against. They just came out sort of muffled, and then they disappeared.

Erick Draaake.”

The mysterious voice, on the other hand, sounded like thunder and hiss intermixed. It sounded terrible, if also somewhat soothing. It sounded like literally nothing Erick had ever heard before.

“No,” Erick said, hesitantly. “…That’s my name. I asked you yours.”

“Yoursss…” the voice said. “Want yourssss…”

Suddenly, an enormous severed hand, gray in flesh and just as veiny as the meat, emerged from the darkness, floating, floating, reaching, reaching. It was about fifty yards away from Erick and coming toward him. A rather sizable eyeball, nasty and bloodshot, opened at the center of the palm. Orange iris. A sliver of a pupil. Blink, blink. Followed by a hundred smaller eyeballs all over the palm. Blinkblinkblinkblinkblink. Most of the eyeballs had styes and crusties in them, as if the severed hand had been asleep for quite some time.

“I want what you haaaave, Erick Drake,” the hand whispered. Or at least, Erick assumed it was the hand. “I want what is in your brain.”

“Are you asking or telling?” Erick said. He also wondered what, specifically, the hand wanted from his brain. Was there a particular brain cell it had its eyes on? Maybe an entire hemisphere? Perhaps the cerebral cortex? It was easy for Erick to be so nonchalant about a floating severed hand announcing its desire for the contents of his brain, because he was fairly certain that he was dreaming.

I want what is in your brain,” the hand repeated, more forcefully this time.

Erick thought about it for a moment. “I don’t like your tone, hand.”

“Give me,” the hand said, louder, “what is in your BRAIN.”

Erick shouted, “Fuck yourself, you big fat ugly hand!”

The hand instantly roared and screeched on every plane of existence, reverberating through every molecule in Erick’s 15-year-old body. It spun around backwards - its digits flailing like octopus tentacles - and there, on the severed end, instead of a stump, was a massive mouth with a multitude of tongues slobbering over rows upon rows of crooked, rotten teeth. This is what had been speaking to him. This is what had been saying things like “I want” and “what is in your brain.” The hand hurtled toward Erick, screaming and howling in agony and anger, as it prepared to bite his head clean off; Erick was sure of it.

He threw up his arms and braced for impact.

#

And then, Erick was awake in the back of his parents’ minivan, his face pressed uncomfortably against the plaster cast on his right wrist. He immediately reached over and turned on the cellphone sitting in the cupholder next to him. It was just after 7am.

Erick’s best friend, Bill Sanford, was asleep on his left, sort of curled up onto his side as music buzzed loudly from the earbuds in his ears. Presumedly, he was listening to his sleepytime playlist, which Erick knew to be several hours in length and on a loop.

Snoring mere inches in front of Bill was Brandon, Erick’s oversized older brother, his seat reclined so far back that he was practically in Bill’s lap. Erick’s sister, Jenny, was also asleep, half-reclined, in the seat in front of him, and yet Bill’s legroom far surpassed that of his own. This was due to their significant height difference. Erick, like his brother and father before him, was rather tall. Bill, on the other hand, was rather not.

“You okay back there, bud?”

Erick looked up to see his bespectacled father staring back at him in the rearview mirror, driving. His mother was in the passenger seat next to him, her head resting against the window.

“I’m fine,” Erick whispered, “just had a weird dream.” Weird was an understatement. “How much further?”

“Actually, we’re almost there.”

Over the protestations of Erick and his siblings, Mr. and Mrs. Drake had decided to drive overnight from their hometown - Mars Hill, Iowa - to their lakeside destination in Minnesota. Lake Vanir was about as far north as you could get without being in Canada; an eleven-hour trip even under the best conditions. To pass the time, Erick had drawn a pseudo-fantastic depiction of himself and his family as D&D characters in his sketchbook, all decked out with stats and special abilities. The last thing he remembered seeing before dozing off was highway and cornstalks for miles around. Now, they were driving down a winding road with pine tree horizons on either side.

Within minutes, they pulled into a mostly vacant lot and parked near the forest entrance. Just as soon as the engine was turned off, Erick’s mom roused, looked around, then departed the vehicle, where she stretched her arms and made a yawning noise like a fog horn. Mr. Drake soon joined her, and they kissed and hugged and sort of wobbled back and forth together on their tippy-toes. From what little Erick could hear of their conversation, it seemed the plan was for his dad to go on ahead and check in, and for the rest of them to follow straightaway.

“Oh, man,” Bill said. “I slept like a baby.” Erick turned to see his friend pulling out his earbuds. “I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever slept that well in a car before.”

Unlike the entirety of the Drake family, Bill Sanford was a morning person.

“Congratulations,” Erick said, and then he punched his friend playfully in the shoulder with the brunt of his cast.

There came a knock on the window behind him. Erick turned to see his mother glaring at him, her index finger pointed at his forehead. “I saw that, mister. Knock it off. Leave William alone.” The ‘or else’ was implicit.

She continued glaring at Erick as she walked around toward the driver’s side of the van.

“And she says I have anger issues.”

“Well, in fairness,” Bill said, “I’ve never seen her headbutt anybody.”

Erick bulged his eyes out of his face. “Uhh, ix-nay on the eddbutt-hay. She doesn’t exactly know about that one.”

Mrs. Drake opened the driver’s side door and poked her head in. “All right, fun’s over everybody. Let’s get the van unpacked.” For a moment, there was silence, and then Brandon let rip one of those back-of-the-throat, almost choking kind of snores. She quickly honked the horn and yelled, “Brandon—early bird, worm, etc. Wake up!

As Brandon, Jenny, and Bill climbed out of the van, Erick grabbed his cellphone and stuffed it into the front-left pocket of his newly-purchased skinny jeans.

Newly-purchased. Specifically for the vacation.

The denim fabric of his jean pocket felt slightly damp and stiff, so he pulled the phone back out and used the flashlight to illuminate his pants. There were red stains there in the form of fingerprints. His fingerprints. Just like in the dream.

He pressed his fingertips into the stain then brought them to his nose for a whiff. They smelled, unmistakably, of blood.

Copyright BAM 2011