Figured since I've been talking about this book for so long now, I'd offer up the first three chapters as I polish them up before sending them to the editor. This is chapter one, but be warned, this is what it looks like BEFORE my editor reads it! :)
The frigid concrete froze Kaylee right through her jeans. Not yet cold enough for snow, but with Halloween and the Harvest Dance just a week away, autumn was brisk with the promise of winter. She couldn't see her breath yet and her thick Hurley hoodie kept her warm enough. Hands tucked into the kangaroo pockets, she ignored the open math book and the spiral notebook balanced on her knees. Beyond Spalding Park's merry-go-round and past the monkey bars, the brand spanking new skate park glittered under a dying fall sun.
With longing, she imagined grinding the rail down the middle of the pyramid and wondered how much air her semi-new Zero deck could grab on the half pipe, especially now that she'd replaced her old trucks. Aside from street skating, the only chance to expand her tricktionary was in Appleton at the indoor skate park. An hour and a half away, they only went three or four times a year when they visited Aunt Milli, her father's sister. She sighed heavily.
She had two problems. The first and least troubling: the promise to herself and her mom to finish the math assignment due in the morning. She glanced at her book, then at the dripping white skull down the bottom of her black skateboard. Why did it have to be math? Why not English or Science? Her worst subject, math totally sucked. Why couldn't they download the data to her head, like in the movies?
A whoop echoed off the field house behind her and she looked up in time to see Jimmy the Giant land hard off one end of the curved rail.
Problem number two.
Twice she had watched Jimmy and his minions chase off would-be skaters. A pair of boys had ridden up mongo-style (pushing with their front foot instead of their back) which probably meant they wouldn't escape the park without major physical damage. They were run off on a wave of wedgie threats and worse. The second time, the kid had been about ten or so. All Jimmy and his crew did was stop talking, cross their arms and glare at the boy. He took off down the sidewalk, showing skill on his board.
Kaylee ran a hand along the length of curly brown hair dangling from her ponytail, smoothing the stubborn locks that gave her perpetual bed head. Three boys didn't make it past them. And I'm a girl. She heaved another breath. Six math questions left to go, and all of them the absolute worst kind; word problems. They might as well have been written in some weird spy code. Facing the guys was less torture than trying to decipher algebra.
She closed the books, stuffed both in her backpack and zipped it closed. Standing, she shouldered the pack and studied the skaters across the park. Would they leave soon? Could she just wait them out and skate her fill of the ramps and flybox once they were gone?
The darkening sky and a glance at her watch said otherwise. Only an hour left before dinner. A school night, they ate by six-thirty so they could spend quality time together. Which usually meant some goofy game like charades or Operation—a game she had outgrown four years ago at the age of ten.
No time to wait for the park to empty. Gathering all her courage, she popped up her skateboard, skipped down the last three steps and dropped the board. She glided easily around the merry-go-round and avoided woodchips that had escaped the jungle gym. As she got close enough to hear them, and for them to notice her, she slowed to a stop.
Jimmy laughed. "Dude, you're gonna make hamburger outta your face you try that."
"You try it, then," Danny, his seventh-grade sidekick said. "Bet you can't."
"What'd I tell you about that?" Jimmy slapped him on the back of his head. "You still owe me ten bucks from the last time. I don't bet with welshers, douche bag."
Ernie, almost as tall, but twice as big around as Jimmy spotted her. "Hey, Jimmy—looks like you've got a groupie."
They all spun on her, including Frank at the top of the half pipe, legs dangling as he drank from a can of pop. Baseball cap turned backward, dog tags hanging from a chain around his neck, he spat sideways and glared at her.
Eight inches taller, Jimmy had to crane his head to look down at her. "What do you want?"
She cleared her throat and dropped her bag on the ground. "Are you guys almost done?"
Jimmy jerked his head to triple-X Ernie and a shaggy blonde, hard-knuckled boy named Will. They nodded and pushed off--Will ollied onto the wavy rail and Ernie dove down the half pipe. "What does it look like?"
"I'm just asking." Kaylee winced inwardly. Not good to come off defensive with these guys. Like blood for sharks, sensing weakness, they'd swarm in for the kill. She raised her chin and in a more forceful tone asked, "How much longer you gonna be?"
A dangerous gleam entered Jimmy's brown gaze. Beneath long-layered dark hair, his tanned skin creased at the corners of his up-tilted eyes, giving him the look of a laughing wolf, all happy malice. "For the rest of your life."
"Yeah." Danny snickered in unison with Frank. "For the rest of your life."
She wanted to roll her eyes, but her father had taught her this was a physical manifestation of a desire for confrontation. In shrink-speak, that meant they would think she wanted to pick a fight. Instead, she wedged a teasing smile on her uncooperative mouth. "Why? You afraid a girl could out-skate you?"
Jimmy broke out in great big fake guffaws, the others immediately joined in and erased all her hard work to smile. "Girls ain't got the guts. Go home before you break a nail."
Oh, he just wanted to make her mad now. Everyone at Marsden knew she was the most athletic girl in the whole school. As a fullback on the soccer team and captain of the swim team, she didn't have any nails to break. Go take a flying leap, Jimmy. "If I beat Danny, then I get to skate here."
Danny paled. The least experienced, every sick stunt he attempted turned into a wipe out. Half the time he couldn't skate because of a brace or a cast. "Beat Ernie first. I won't waste my time on a girl."
Jimmy rolled his eyes. Latent hostility anyone? "Dude, she can't beat me, she can't beat you, she can't beat Ernie, not even Willy-Nilly over there. She's a girl!"
"Hey!" Will shouted. Though he didn't try stupid stunts like Danny, he spent more time on his bike than a board and paid for the lack of practice, often wobbling-out during a trick. "Shut up about the nilly thing, already."
"Dude," Jimmy tossed back, "stop bein' a bobble-head and I will."
Danny said, "Doesn't matter. He'd out-skate a girl any day.
"I got a better idea," Ernie skated to them. "She's gotta go through an initiation."
Kaylee frowned, wary now. Even if she went through any initiation they might dream up, it was no guarantee that they would let her skate in the end. "No. I want a challenge."
Jimmy jerked his thumb at his chest. "We make the rules. We're doing the initiation thing." He pointed a finger at her. "You wanna skate here, you do what we say."
She screwed up, should have got him to think a skate-off was his idea. Cracking her neck, she unclenched her teeth and asked, "What do you want me to do?"
Ernie grinned. "You ever hear of the Larson House?"
Oh, God, she had. "Yeah, it's supposed to be haunted, right?"
Frank belched loudly and crushed his can. "Haunted to the extreme, dude!"
"By an axe murderer who chopped his whole family into little pieces and buried them in the cellar." Danny chimed in. "You go in there after dark, you come out with white hair and they ship you off to the loony bin up at Chester."
Frank called, "Her dad works up there. Probably got a bed all picked out for her."
That's it. Kaylee scowled at him. "Yeah, and I remember your brother Paul spent some time up there. Does psycho run in the family?"
Frank hopped down, throwing the can sideways, letting it clunk along the concrete. "You say something about my bro? You gotta beef with me?"
Oh, crap. She stood her ground, but barely. "What's your problem?"
Jimmy stepped between them. "Chill, bro, what're you gonna do? Beat up a chick?" He turned to Kaylee. "Up to you. You gonna go through the initiation? You gotta go after dark and it has to be tonight. You got the guts?"
She looked at her watch. Not enough time before she had to be home. That meant sneaking out and while she'd done it once or twice to hang out with her best friend Davey next door, she never went far or stayed out long. "Fine. I'll do it. Meet you back here at nine'o'clock."
Before they could argue, she shouldered her backpack once again and sped away on her board, cursing herself. This was so stupid. If she got busted, if her dad found out she took off to meet a bunch of boys that late at night, she'd have to go through another talk about the dangers of puberty. He would chalk it up to some yucky sexual blossoming no matter how much she protested that Jimmy the Giant and his goons were the grossest, bottom-of-the-barrel boys and no girl in her right mind would do anything so disgusting with them.
She shivered just thinking about it.
* * *
Kaylee banged through the front door and dropped her gear in the hall. "Mom! I'm home."
"We're in here, honey," her mother called from the back of the house.
She thumped begrudgingly away from the television in the living room and past the snack counter in the kitchen to the back office where, just as she thought, both her parents waited with those smiles on their faces. The sort of smiles that were meant to make her think everything was okay and they didn't actually plan on forcing her to endure a serious discussion. How she hated those smiles. Oh, they loved her all right, they loved her to death sometimes.
"What'd I do now?" She slumped in the chair beside her father's desk and looked up at her mother, perched near the worn out rolodex. Neat and trim, Diane Hensler wore a baby blue sweater that matched her eyes, a color Kaylee wished she had inherited instead of the pale hazel hue from her grandma. She had gotten her mother's curly hair, but her mom wore hers almost like a boy and Kaylee would have endured endless ribbing, being so active in sports, if she attempted a style that short.
"Darling," Max Hensler said, sitting forward, his glasses perched on the end of his nose. "As you know, you had another bad dream last night, but did you know that makes the fourth one in a week?"
"We're worried about you, sweetie." Her mother settled gracefully in the chair beside Kaylee and took her hand. "We think there might be an underlying problem you're uncomfortable sharing with us. Perhaps something you would rather talk about with just one of us?"
Don't roll your eyes…don't roll your eyes… "God, Mom, no. I truly don't remember the dreams. When you wake me up, I don't even know why you're waking me up."
"Hmmm…." Max took his glasses off and stuck one arm in his mouth, leaning back in the chair.
"Dad, c'mon, I'm not one of your patients, okay?"
"No," he said, "you aren't. But you are my daughter. If I was a medical doctor and you got sick, wouldn't I be just as interested in using my knowledge to relieve your suffering?"
"But I'm not suffering!" Kaylee stood up. She hated the way they looked at her, made her feel all weirded out inside. "Can't we just be normal? Why does everything I do have to have some sort of freaky label attached to it? Last time you thought I was all anti-social because I refused to hang out with Charlotte Dambrea."
Diane said, "That's not fair, honey. How were we supposed to know that girl was a pathological liar?"
"Now, we don't know that for sure," Max said. "We can't diagnose without direct interaction."
"I know," she smiled softly at her husband, "but it's a good descriptor." She turned back to Kaylee. "We're your parents. It's our job to worry."
"Duh! But that doesn't mean you've got to get all paranoid about it."
"Paranoia is a very severe accusation; it implies your mother and I are irrational, delusional. I'm not sure you understand the full concept of what you've just stated."
Don't roll your eyes… Don't roll your eyes…
That tiny voice her father liked to call Reason yammered at her to stifle her wildly emotional reaction, to calm down. If she didn't, they'd keep harping about what amounted to nothing…are you sure? Are you sure it's nothing? "Okay, I'm sorry for using that word. But seriously, I know you're concerned, and if I had any idea what I was dreaming about, I'd tell you. I promise."
They fell silent, exchanging a glance that Kaylee couldn't read. Then her mother stood and smiled. "All right, honey. We'll hold you to that promise."
"Good." Her father stood and held out his hand. "I expect a shake on that."
Kaylee shook his hand firmly, as he'd taught her. She really didn't have a problem telling him what the dreams were about—once she recalled what they were. Running, always running, a looming darkness, unstoppable, incredibly huge, a thunder cloud presence, reaching… reaching…So vague, barely enough to articulate, the sensation nonetheless left her a bit breathless. Acutely aware that both her parents were staring at her, she worked up a grin and asked, "What's for dinner?"
* * *
"You done it now, Kaylee," Davey said, sitting at his window where she could see him across the expanse between their houses. "Why'd you mess with Jimmy the Giant anyway? Are you trying to get killed?"
"He's not killing anyone, the coward." Her sneakers, propped on her desk, tapped in rhythm with the pulsing, neon kaleidoscope screen saver on her computer. "Jerk. If he had any guts he would have gone for the skate-off."
"Aren't you scared? I mean it is the Larson house. You know what happened there, right?" He sniffled then sneezed.
"Bless you," she said absently, thinking as she listened to him blow his nose. "Y'know, my dad says that people during the Salem witch trials were caught up in this mass hysteria thing. It's where gossip sort of becomes a fact and everyone believes in it. In this case, they thought evil was coming into their village or whatever. I think the Larson house is like that. It's just a case of mass hysteria. People heard the gossip so long they just started thinking it was true."
"But what if it is true? I mean, what if they could think something like that into reality? You remember that movie we watched New Year's Eve? The one where that kid just had to think about something and then it would happen?"
"Yeah, but this isn't a movie, Davey. It's just a house. An old, ugly house and no one really knows if anyone was even killed there or not. It could be just something the previous owner thought up to keep kids out of his yard. It is behind the school, a short cut right to our neighborhood." One that they didn't take any more since Davey got his wheelchair.
"Yeah, that could be true." He turned to his computer and she heard the clacking of the keys as he typed.
"What're you looking up?"
"While you're out, I'll check the online archives of the newspaper and the library database for any facts we can dig up about the house."
"Why?" She sat, dropping her elbows on the table and glancing at the clock. Ten minutes to go before she left to meet them. "I'll be back before you find out anything and even if something bad happened there, it's not happening now so it won't make any difference."
"Well, just an FYI, Kaylee, but I'm not the type that likes to wonder about stuff. If the whole town thinks something bad happened there, I don't want to guess, I want to know. It's just like I keep saying about parents and teachers, always dishing out the same old garbage without stopping to think for one minute if it's actually true. Like you can catch a virus just because you don't wear a hat or zip your coat! How ridiculous is that? A virus doesn't care if you're hot or cold."
She didn't want him to go off on one of his rants again and quickly cut him off. "I know, I get it. Tell me what you find out when I get back, just for kicks. I'll tell you how stupid the whole thing was. I've gotta go now. Are the office lights still on?"
He paused at the computer and pushed his wheelchair to the farthest edge of the window to check the side of her house. "Yeah, you're good to go."
"Thanks. See ya in a bit." She disconnected and stuck the cordless back on its recharging cradle. Plucking her jean jacket off the hook on the back of her door, she crept into the hallway. The light and sound behind her parent's door told Kaylee her mother was safely tucked in bed, enjoying her evening shows. Her father wouldn't come out of the office until much later, maybe even as late as midnight.
Quietly, she slid her arms inside her coat and snuck down the stairs, hugging the wall to avoid the louder center of each tread. She crossed the tiled foyer, pulling her ponytail free of her jacket. Board in hand, she held her breath, listened. No noise, no one knew she wasn't in her room. As silent as possible, she opened the front door, backed out, and carefully closed it behind her.
Her heartbeat slowed its frantic pace as she took off down the street, tic-tacking the nose of the board back and forth to gain speed. The night air was chillier than that afternoon, but she didn't mind, in fact, the thrill of being out in the night, where anything could happen, excited her. The wind blew across her face as she took Delaney street's steep hill down toward the skate park.
Lights illuminated the deserted streets. Off in the distance a dog barked and an engine revved a few blocks over, but otherwise, the only sound came from the spinning Speed Demon wheels. She couldn't help herself, the conditions were too perfect and the trucks and wheels too good not to trick. Bending, she popped up the board, spun it around with her front foot, and stomped it back down. It slammed hard, slammed wonderfully and she straightened, grinning alone and wild on the street.
All too soon the skate park emerged at the end of the street and she slowed, searching the shadows for Jimmy and his gang.
I'm out of my freaking mind.
Better to get this done and over with so tomorrow after school she could use the park. That is, if she didn't caught sneaking back in and get grounded for the rest of her life.
Jimmy skated forward, as tall as a grown man. Will and Danny flanked him. Apparently, Frank of the dog tags and psycho brother, and Ernie of the oh-so-great-initiation idea couldn't be bothered to show up. She stopped four feet from the boys.
Jimmy said, "I didn't think you'd show up, it being past your bedtime and all."
"Must be past Ernie and Frank's bedtime. Or were they too scared to show up?"
Danny snorted, "Ain't no one scared of you, dork."
"Not of her, you moron," Will said, his blonde shaggy curls glinting in the streetlight around the collar of his green army jacket. "Of the haunted house."
Jimmy scowled at Will, but before he spoke, Kaylee said, "Let's go."
She turned, hiding her smile and led them down the four blocks to the wooded lot behind the school. Eager to show the boys she wasn't a poser chick trying to be cool, she pushed hard.
Will matched her pace, Jimmy and Danny slowing as they tried to out-ollie each other before they had gotten enough speed. Her face cold, eyes watering a bit from the wind, she glanced at Will and caught him looking at her with a strange, curious wariness.
She did the same trick she had earlier, pop-shoving the board around and down with a bang, landing perfectly. Will copied her with ease. Pretty good for him. He shrugged and smiled.
"Cute trick, for a chick," Jimmy said as he sped past, smacking into her back so hard she almost dove nose first off her board.
"Yeah," Danny said, following his master, "for a chick!"
Will surprised her by hanging with her instead of his buddies, and even stranger, he looked upset that Jimmy hit her so hard. It still stung.
Then they the woods and had to carry their boards through the barely-there uphill trail toward the house. She hugged the board close as she followed behind Danny, Jimmy in front of him and Will behind her. The crunch of leaves and rustle of night animals enveloped their little group. The darkness, alleviated only by dappled moon glow, made Kaylee acutely aware of every tiny sound; the swish of Danny's pants, the jingle of chain from Will's wallet to his belt loop, their labored breaths.
Jimmy paused, his eyes flashing in the light and she wondered again what she had been thinking. Alone, in the dark, in the woods with three guys she only knew by their reputation for bullying younger kids and being royal pains whenever they wanted to be. Yep, I'm totally out of my mind. Who's the psycho now?
They reached where the front yard should have been. The moon lit a patch of weeds and an overgrown tree with the remains of an old swing, one of the ropes rotted through and the splintered board dangling oddly from the one still intact.
The front porch sagged sadly in the middle, the pillars on each side of the stairs bearing the weight of the roof and looking utterly exhausted by the task. No lights shown in any of the broken windows and bricks littered the shingles where the chimney had begun to fall.
"Well, there it is," Will said in a hushed tone, as if it would be disrespectful to speak louder. He held out a small flashlight, offering it to her without a word.
She took it, surprised by his thoughtfulness. "Thanks."
"Okay," Jimmy said. "The deal is, you have to bring us something back from the attic and then you can do a skate-off."
"What?" Kaylee turned on him. "That wasn't the deal. You said I do this, and then I get to use the skate park just like you do."
"You wanted the skate-off, remember?" Jimmy shrugged. "You chicken? Think we'll beat you?"
"No," Kaylee said. "That's not the point."
"It is now."
Oh, he's such a jerk!
Danny asked, "How will we know she got it from the attic?"
"That's what I told Will to bring the flashlight for," Jimmy said. "She can shine it out the window at us so we know she got up there."
Disappointed, Kaylee glanced at Will. She didn't like him or anything, but it had been nice thinking he liked her enough to treat her decently.
"What ya waitin' for?" Danny said, nudging her forward. "We don't got all night."
Kaylee paused, remembering what Jimmy had said earlier. "I'm holding you to this Jimmy Walker. You back out, you'll be a no-good welsher."
He stiffened, his eyes squinting up again. "I ain't no welsher."
"You remember that," she said, walking backward, "when I bring back your creepy little souvenir."
She spun then, and stalked the few feet to the front door, clutching Will's flashlight tightly in her fist, wishing she had enough courage to bash Jimmy over the head with it. Her foot landed on the first, rotted step and it bowed under her weight, creaking in a way that sent a chill up her spine. She stopped abruptly, suddenly overcome with cold… freezing even. Her breath escaped her mouth in heated, misty clouds.
Her heart immediately went into overtime, pounding loud and hard in her head. A sense of something very large, looming in the dark beyond the front door took her breath away. Something watched her, something incalculably huge and…knowing.
Mass hysteria…mass hysteria…mass hysteria…
Kaylee calmed herself by degrees. She didn't believe in ghosts, didn't believe in anything paranormal. Everything had an explanation. Worked up over nothing, she told herself the only mice and cobwebs lay beyond the door. Nothing but a rotting old house. Nothing she couldn't handle.
Mass hysteria, mice, cobwebs… Mass hysteria, mice, cobwebs…nothing I can't handle.
She leaned the skateboard against the doorframe and stepped inside.
* * *
More coming soon!! ;)