Friday, December 11, 2015

Happy Holidays! Read Chapter 1 of PURE

Happy Holidays!

I'll be posting a new short story titled A Harvest Tale soon. And you can read Chapter 1 of Book 1, Pure, right here...

I leaned my forehead against the dark window, welcoming the feel of the cool glass against my feverish skin.

I could feel the night calling to me, though I didn't exactly know what I meant by that. It had been happening more often lately—it was a strange tugging on my mind.

Something was pulling me out into the dark.

In an unguarded moment, GM had told me that my mother had had visions. The way the night called to me, I wondered if this feeling was the beginning of a vision.

I wished I could talk to my mother. I'd been wishing for that more and more often lately.

I turned away from the window, trying to shake off the feeling that tugged on my mind, and I picked up the framed photograph that always sat next to my bed. In the photo, a man with curly brown hair and a pale, blond woman smiled as they kneeled on either side of a laughing, fair-haired girl of five. The inscription on the back was hidden by the frame, but I knew well what it said. In GM's busy scrawl were the words Daniel, Katie, Nadya.

My father, me, my mother.

Though the memories were faint, I did remember those early days in Russia. I remembered the big apple tree and the roses that grew at our house. I remembered playing with my red-haired cousin, Odette.

I remembered, too, the day GM had taken the picture. Little had she known then that her son-in-law and her daughter would be dead soon afterward.

My father had died first in an accident in the mountains. My mother died just a few weeks later of a fever, and GM had moved us to the United States shortly after that. We'd been here for eleven years now, and my old life was beyond my reach for good.

I set the picture down.

The darkness continued to call to me, and I tried to force my mind back to reality—back to what was normal and safe and unrelated to the unknown out in the dark.

I thought of my friends—and school—but even as I did so, I felt a sudden, sharp tug on my mind, and I was seized by an irrational desire to run out into the night—and to keep running until I found the source of the summons.

I closed my eyes and willed the feeling away.

After a moment, the night calling began to subside. I concentrated harder, pushing it further away from me. In another few minutes, the feeling was gone entirely. Relief flooded through me.

I was free.

I stood for a moment, breathing hard and looking around at all the familiar objects in my room, as if to reassure myself. Then I climbed back into bed and turned out the light.

I was just drifting off to sleep when I was jolted wide-awake by the sound of a car tearing down our street. The car screeched to a halt somewhere below my window, and then turned sharply into our driveway.

I sat up. I heard the muffled slam of two car doors outside, and I heard GM, who usually kept late hours, hurrying toward the door.

I got out of bed and fumbled in the dark to find a robe. I was puzzled—who could possibly have come to see us in the middle of the night?

As I hurried out of my room, I heard a heavy pounding on the front door, followed by a woman's cry.

"Anna! Anna Rost! Annushka! Open the door!"

I froze in the hallway. Only GM's oldest friends called her Annushka—and there were precious few of those.

I heard GM quickly unbolt the door and open it.

"Galina!" GM shouted in shock. Her voice rose even higher. "Aleksandr? Is that you, Aleksandr? How tall you are! I scarcely would have recognized you."

I wished I could see who was at the door, but I knew that if I went downstairs, GM would just order me back to my room. She clearly recognized her visitors, and they were clearly people she had known back in Russia.

And GM never allowed me to get involved in anything that had to do with the past.

I crept to the top of the stairs but remained in the shadows—the better to hear without being seen.

"Annushka!" Galina cried. She had a heavy Russian accent—much heavier than GM's. "Annushka! I had scarcely allowed myself to believe that we'd actually found you! Oh, Annushka! After all these years!"

"Hush, Galina, hush," GM hissed. "You'll wake my granddaughter. Come in. Quickly, now."

I could hear the clack of a woman's footsteps in the hall, followed by a man's heavier tread. The door was closed and the bolt reset.

GM led her visitors down the hall to the kitchen.

I tiptoed down the stairs and sat on the bottom step. I wouldn't be able to see into the kitchen from my perch without leaning over the banister, but I knew from experience that I would be able to hear.

GM's voice floated down the hall to me. "Since you're here, Galina," she said, "you and Aleksandr may as well have a seat."

I heard chairs scraping on the kitchen floor.

"You're not entirely happy to see us, are you, Annushka?" Galina asked.

"I am happy to see you," GM said stiffly. "I am not happy about what it is that you bring with you."

"And what is that?" Galina asked sharply.

"Superstition," GM said wearily. "I have a feeling that this conversation is going to be difficult. However, we may as well try to be civilized. May I offer you both a cup of tea?"

"Yes, thank you," Galina said.

I heard water running as a kettle was filled.

A moment later, I heard GM sit down at the table. "I suppose you have a good reason for storming my house in the middle of the night?"

"Annushka, we need your help," Galina said urgently.

"Then why didn't you just call?" GM snapped. "Why fly all the way here from Russia? You did come from Russia, didn't you?"

"Yes, we did."

GM snorted. "Ridiculous. Again, I say, why didn't you just call?"

I figured that everyone in the kitchen was too absorbed in the conversation to notice me, so I risked a look over the banister. GM was sitting with her back to me, and I could see that she had pulled her long silver hair into a ponytail that flowed like silk down her back. She was resting her elbows on the kitchen table as she regarded her visitors.

Facing GM was a woman who was young enough to be her daughter. She was blond, and she wore a nondescript beige coat with brightly colored mittens. Next to her was a young man who seemed to be in his early twenties. He was wearing an olive-green military-style coat, and his hair was an odd shade of brown—sort of a cinnamon color. There was a strong family resemblance between the two of them, and I guessed that Galina and Aleksandr were mother and son.

Aleksandr must have felt my eyes on him, for he transferred his gaze from GM to me.

I felt a flash of panic as Aleksandr's eyes met mine, and for just an instant, a feeling of strangeness—something wildly foreign—washed over me. I quickly pulled my head back behind the banister.

I froze, waiting to hear if Aleksandr would tell GM that he had seen me.

But Aleksandr didn't say a word, and silence settled on the kitchen. I relaxed.

"Why didn't I just call you?" Galina said at last, breaking the silence. "I feared you would not listen. I feared you would hang up on me. Was I wrong about that?"

GM did not reply.

"I tried to keep in contact with you," Galina said mournfully. "You didn't answer any of my letters or phone calls."

"I didn't answer you," GM said, "because you wanted to involve my granddaughter in your nonsense. You wanted to make her believe that nightmares are real."

"I wanted to teach her," Galina replied angrily.

"So that's what this is all about, then?" GM snapped. "You, in your great wisdom, have decided that the time has come for you to drag my granddaughter into your world of darkness and ignorance?"

"I did not choose the time, Annushka," Galina said. "It was chosen for me. I feared something like this would happen, and if I'd been working with Ekaterina all the time, maybe we could have prevented this."

I was startled to hear Galina call me by my Russian name—no one ever did that—it was almost as if the name weren't even mine. To my family I had always been Katie—my English father had been responsible for that.

"I don't want to hear your nonsense, Galina," GM said curtly.

"Annushka, you have to listen!" Galina cried. "He's free! You know who I mean—"

"You will not speak that name in my house!" GM shouted.

Just then the kettle began to whistle, and I jumped.

I heard GM get up, and the whistling soon stopped. There were other noises as GM clattered around, getting the tea ready.

No one spoke.

"I am sorry," Galina said softly, after some time had passed.

I heard GM's chair scrape as she sat down again.

"I will not discuss this if it upsets you," Galina added.

"You don't believe in the supernatural, do you, Mrs. Rost?" Aleksandr asked.

GM snorted. "The mischievous spirits and the vampires? No, I do not. Those are just stories designed to scare people—tales about the supernatural are nothing more than a way to spread fear."

"They aren't all mischievous spirits," Aleksandr said lightly. "They say the Leshi, for example, is actually quite a good fellow. Though you make an excellent point about fear—there are darker things than vampires in Krov."

"You are too young to believe in such foolishness," GM said wearily. "Why can't any of you from the old village have a normal conversation? Look at me. I started over here. I lead a safe, comfortable life now. Can't you do the same?"

"I heard you are a graphic designer," Galina said.

"Yes, I am," GM replied.

"I don't even know what that is," Galina said, and there was a note of wistfulness in her voice.

"There's so much that you miss," GM replied quickly. "How are you doing, Galina? How are you really? Are you happy? You know that in my heart I miss you. And don't you want good things for your son? How about you, Aleksandr? How are you?"

"Still unmarried. Ask my mother," Aleksandr said in amusement.

"Shut your mouth, Aleksandr," Galina snapped, her tone unexpectedly sharp. "Don't be a fool."

"Galina, why don't the two of you move somewhere else?" GM asked.

"We can't leave—"

GM broke in hurriedly. "I don't mean leave Russia. I mean leave the village—leave tiny little Krov. Move to Moscow. Or another big city. Russia is such a beautiful country. You don't have to stay in that dark, tiny corner of it. Move some place where there is life—where there are new things."

"Though you will not admit it," Galina said, "you know why I can't leave."

Silence settled on the kitchen once again.

"Annushka, there are lights on at the Mstislav mansion," Galina said after a time, her voice low and edged with fear. "The house has been deserted for a long time. You know when that house was last occupied—it was eleven years ago."

"Perhaps his son has decided to take over the place," GM said evenly. "It would be nice for someone to sweep out the cobwebs. It was a grand old mansion, and it should be restored to its former beauty. The house itself certainly never did anything wrong."

"They opened the old airfield two weeks ago and began fitting up a plane," Galina said. "That's what made us decide to come here."

GM was unimpressed. "So? It would be nice for everyone in the area to have a proper airfield. It might encourage good things."

"Annushka," Galina said urgently, "his house is lit up again. And it was his plane they were working on. You know the one I mean—he bought it when he first amassed his fortune."

"I saw his plane myself," Aleksandr interjected. "I believe he reached the U.S. ahead of us—it took us time to get our travel documents in order."

"Quiet, Aleksandr!" Galina snapped. "Annushka, please. It's him. He is free. And he will seek out—"

"Galina, I warned you not to bring this up." GM's tone was sharp.

"Annushka!" Galina cried.

"He's dead, Galina," GM said sternly. "Enough!"

"He's returned!"


"Annushka! How can you say that? He killed your daughter!"

A chair scraped back violently.

"Superstition killed my daughter!" GM shouted.

"Annushka! You must listen!" Galina wailed.

"Get out of my house!" GM cried.

I heard porcelain shattering against a wall, and two more chairs scraped back.

I got to my feet.

I watched in shock as Galina and Aleksandr ran down the hall to the front door. GM came running after them.

Galina fumbled with the locks, and then she and Aleksandr escaped out into the night. GM ran after them.

I quickly followed.

The cold night air cut through my thin nightclothes as I hurried down the concrete driveway in front of the house.

GM was standing in the middle of the driveway, breathing hard. Strands of silver had worked their way free of her ponytail and settled in scattered array around her head, glinting softly in the moonlight.

Galina and Aleksandr jumped into a car that sat just behind GM's own. The engine roared to life, and the car took off, tires screeching.

I watched the car's red taillights disappear into the night, and then I glanced over at GM—I had never seen her so angry.

"GM, what's going on?" I asked.

GM whirled around. She stared hard at me for a moment and then looked down at the silver cross she always wore. She wrapped her fingers around it and gripped it tightly.

"I'm sorry," GM said quietly. "I wanted to spare you all of that. I never should have let them in."

"Are you all right?" I asked. "Who were those people? Why did the woman—Galina?—why did she say a man killed my mother? I thought she died of a fever."

Anger blazed in GM's eyes. "Your mother did die of a fever. Galina doesn't know what she's talking about."

GM's expression softened as she continued to look at me. "Come back into the house, Katie. It's too cold out here."

GM put her arm around my shoulders and guided me back toward the gold rectangle of light that streamed out of the still-open door.

I stopped suddenly. I'd thought for just a moment that I had seen a tall figure standing in the shadows near the house. I blinked and looked again.

The figure was gone.

"Is something wrong?" GM asked, looking around as if she feared that Galina and Aleksandr had returned.

"No, it's nothing. I thought I saw something, but it's gone now."

GM steered me firmly into the house and locked the door behind us. Then she guided me into the kitchen. "How about a hot drink?"

I looked around the room. Three of the kitchen chairs were standing awkwardly askew. On the kitchen table were two of GM's blue-and-white china cups. One of the cups lay on its side, its contents spilled on the table—a brown puddle on the white surface. I could see shards of a third cup littering the floor, and a brown stain ran down the far wall.

"Did you throw a cup of tea at those people?" I asked.

GM simply made a derisive sound and waved her hand. Then she went over and kneeled down to examine the broken teacup. I knew that she was very fond of that tea set, and she wasn't the type to lose her temper easily.

"GM, what made you so angry?" I asked.

She ignored my question. "It occurs to me now that it was a bad idea to bring you in here. I'm sorry you had to see this."

She straightened up and calmly retied her ponytail. Then she put her hands on her hips and looked over at me.

"I think this will all keep till morning. Never mind about that drink now. We've had enough excitement tonight. It's up to bed for both of us."

"GM!" I cried as frustration welled up within me. "You're acting like nothing happened!"

GM gave me a puzzled, slightly wounded look, and I felt a wave of contrition wash over me—I wasn't used to shouting at her.

I went on more quietly. "Why won't you answer any of my questions?"

"I did answer one—about your mother," GM replied, averting her eyes.

I wasn't going to let her get away so easily. "No, you told me something I already knew—my mother died of a fever. You didn't tell me why anyone would believe she'd been murdered. That is what Galina was saying wasn't it? That a man from your old village had killed her? And why wouldn't you allow Galina to say his name?"

GM looked at me, and I could see a distant flicker of pain in her eyes.

She held out her hand. "If you will go upstairs with me, I will tell you a story. It will help to explain."

I hesitated. Too often, GM had distracted me when I had asked questions like these—she had diverted my attention from the past and sidestepped my questions without ever refusing to answer them outright. I feared she would talk around me again.

My questions would evaporate the way they always did.

"Please, Katie, come with me," GM said, her voice low and pleading. "You know the past is difficult for me."

I resigned myself and took GM's hand.

We went up to my room.

GM switched on the light. The lamp by my bed had a faded shade with yellow sunbursts on it. I'd kept it for years, refusing a new one when GM had wanted to redecorate. My mother and I had painted the shade together one summer long ago.

GM smoothed back the quilt on my bed. "Let me tuck you in." She sounded sad and tired.

After I had settled under the covers, GM sat down beside me.

"I will tell you something I have never told you before, Katie. The night your mother died—"

GM's voice quavered, and she stopped.

She composed herself, and then went on.

"The night your mother died was the worst of all—for the fever, I mean. It had raged through her body, and she had reached a point at which she could no longer find comfort of any kind. She couldn't eat or drink; she couldn't sleep. She couldn't even close her eyes for more than a few moments to rest—she said closing them made the burning behind them worse. On that last night, she kept calling for your father, and of course, your poor father was already gone—dead in that terrible accident. She was crying out for him to protect you. Even in her delirium, she knew she wouldn't last long."

GM paused again. Her chin had begun to tremble.

She composed herself once more and went on in a low voice. "When I could make her understand who I was—when I could make her understand that I was her mother—she begged me to protect you. She said, 'Swear to me that you will always protect Katie.' She need hardly have asked for that—the desire to protect you had been in my heart since the day you were born. But I swore it to her then, and I swear it to you now. On my life, I will always protect you."

GM stared at me steadily as she said the words, and I felt tears stinging my eyes. Soon they began to fall.

"After I made my promise," GM said, "Nadya seemed to grow calmer. She asked to see you. I brought you in, and she kissed you on the forehead. You were sleeping and didn't wake. Then she sang her favorite piece of music—no words, just a hum. Do you remember it?"

I nodded. When I was a child, my mother had often sung the same melody to me. It was from a piece of music by Mussorgsky.

GM went on. "Not long after she finished singing, Nadya was gone. I swore to her that I would protect you, and I have. And I will. That's why I moved you out of the old village. That's why I moved you out of Russia right after your mother died. I had to get you as far away as I could from people like Galina. She is a good woman, but her thinking is trapped in the Dark Ages. She would warp your mind as she warped your mother's. She has nothing for you but superstition and shadows."

GM rose. "I love you, Katie. Believe me when I say there is nothing out there. There is nothing in the dark."

She pressed a kiss to my forehead, as she'd said my mother had once done, and then left the room, closing the door behind her. And I was left feeling less comforted, rather than more so.

I was grateful to hear a story about my mother, even though it was painful—I could feel her love reaching out to me across the years. But as I had feared, GM hadn't actually answered any of my questions—instead she'd left me with more.

Why had she said there was nothing in the dark?

What was she afraid of?

********End Chapter********

Wishing everyone a very happy holiday season! Stop by some time and say hi on Facebook: ☺️

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

We have a WINNER!

Congratulations to Sandy, who is the winner of the Pure Series Blitz Giveaway!

A HUGE thank-you to Sandy, and to everyone else who entered the giveaway :) And another HUGE thank-you to Tome Tender for hosting it! It was tons of fun, and I enjoyed reading everyone's comments and recipes <3

Friday, November 20, 2015

Fall Giveaway with Tome Tender

Enter to win a copy of all 3 books in the Pure series (so far)! The giveaway is being hosted by the amazing book blog, Tome Tender:

And while you're there, please feel free to leave a comment with your favorite fall recipe! The more delicious recipes, the better :)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Win a copy of my new book, Dangerous Creatures! And read Chapter 1 right here...

[1/10/16 -- We have two winners in the contest now! Congratulations to Robin and Fiona, who won all 3 books in the Pure series and an Amazon gift card :)]

Enter to win a free ebook copy of Dangerous Creatures, courtesy of the Winter Wonderland of Books Giveaway:

The giveaway includes books by lots of great authors, so simply scroll through to choose whichever book you wish :) The giveaway for Dangerous Creatures is fourth from the end. Books 1 and 2, Pure and Firebird, are also included in the prize with Dangerous you can win all three books at the same time!

And in the meantime, read Chapter 1 of Dangerous Creatures right here:

Chapter 1.


            The words were written on a sheet of paper that had been wrapped around a rock.

            I looked up and down the street in the gathering gloom. Not only was the street completely deserted, but the neighborhood itself was quiet and still as if no one had stirred in a long time.

            I'd been sitting in the living room, staring out the window, watching the sun sinking behind the houses across the street and waiting for William. I'd felt a strange softness in the air, and a sense of peace settled over me that I hadn't felt in a long time. I felt as if I had no need to be afraid.

            Though the stars had not yet come out, I'd seemed to see them before my eyes—both above me and below me. I'd felt myself sinking pleasantly into darkness.

            Then there had been a sudden, sharp crack at the window, and I'd hurried out to see what it was.

            As I looked around now, a sensation stole over me that I had felt once before. I felt as if the silence around me was watchful—as if the very air were holding its breath, waiting to see what I would do.

            I shivered.

            I looked at the note again. Of course, it was likely just a prank. Tonight was a night that was known for pranks, so there was really no reason for me to read any great significance into the words. I probably hadn't even been targeted particularly. I imagined that someone had simply thrown the rock at the closest house and then run off.

            There was no need for me to be worried. Things had been quiet.

            But whoever had thrown the rock had disappeared quickly.

            I was just turning to go back into the house, when a familiar car turned onto my street. I quickly folded up the note and pushed it into the pocket of my jeans.

            The car slotted into place behind my grandmother's red sports car, and William got out. He was tall and lean and dark-haired, and any outside observer would have guessed him to be about eighteen or nineteen years old—but that guess would have been off by quite a bit.

            As William walked up to me, he gave me the crooked half-smile that I loved so much.

            "Were you waiting out here for me?"

            I smiled and tried to push my uneasiness away. "Of course I was."

            I glanced down the street. "You didn't happen to see anyone walking—or maybe running—through the neighborhood on your way over here, did you?"

            William glanced at me sharply. "No. Is something wrong?"

            "No," I said. "I just—no. Someone threw a rock at our window, and it startled me. That's all."

            I didn't see any point in mentioning the note—I was sure it was nothing. I told myself that it had to be nothing.

            William glanced toward the house. "Are you ready to go? Or should we stop in and say hello to your grandmother?"

            "We'd better tell her we're going," I said. "Otherwise, she'll think you've kidnapped me."

            "That's a joke, right?"

            "Sort of," I said.

            William looked at me closely. "Are you sure nothing's wrong? You look rattled."

            "No—nothing's wrong. It's just that—I left the front door open. I really should have closed it."

            I turned quickly and went into the house with William following me.

            GM met us in the hall—a tall, slim figure with folded arms. Her long silver hair was tied back in a braid, and the silver cross she always wore stood out starkly against her black sweater.

            "So, you're here now, are you?" she said shortly. GM somehow always seemed to grow more formidable whenever William was around.

            "Yes, Mrs. Rost." William, who could look quite formidable himself at times, often seemed to grow less so when confronted by GM.

            She sighed. "Well, I hope the two of you will have a good time at the carnival."

            "Thank you, Mrs. Rost," William said.

            "And don't be out too late. I'll be waiting for Katie's return."

            "Yes, Mrs. Rost."

            "Well, you may go now. And don't do anything I wouldn't do."

            "Yes, Mrs. Rost. Of course not."

            "GM, please," I said. "This is starting to feel like an interrogation."

            She waved a hand. "I already said you may go."

            "We'll see you later," I said, giving GM a kiss on the cheek. "And you don't need to worry. Nothing awful is going to happen. Really."

            GM gave me a skeptical look and then walked with us to the door. As we went out, she closed it firmly behind us.

            "Sorry about that," I said. "I always feel bad subjecting you to GM's—I don't even know what you'd call it. She just always seems to be in a bad mood whenever you're around."

            "It's all right. She isn't entirely to blame for her attitude toward me."

            "I know," I said. "I just wish things could be different."

            William gave me a wry smile. "I learned long ago that there was no point in dwelling on wishes."

            He turned toward his car.

            "William, wait," I said. "Do you mind if we walk instead of driving?"

            He looked surprised. "You want to walk? It'll be dark soon, and the way over there isn't exactly well lit."

            "I know," I said. "I just don't feel as if I can sit still right now. And you can see in the dark, can't you?"

            "Okay," William said. "If that's what you want, that's what we'll do."

            As we walked down the street, William kept glancing over at me, but he said nothing.

            Before long we had plunged into the neighboring woods on our way to Hywel's Plaza. In the winter months, the plaza was largely taken up by an outdoor skating rink. But in the warmer months, the plaza was used for public gatherings—concerts, farmers' markets, art fairs. Tonight, the plaza was hosting the Black Moon Carnival—which was actually a fundraiser for Elspeth's Grove High School. There would be food and games and music, and I'd heard a new statue was going to be dedicated. There would probably be quite a few people in costume, too. Black Moon Night—April 19—was also a local festival apart from the school fundraiser—it was like our own personal Halloween.

            As William and I walked through the trees, I was reminded unpleasantly of the day back in November when we had met two unexpected—and unwelcome—visitors in these very woods. Those visitors had come with a warning for me.

            Though I tried to suppress it, a shiver ran through me.

            William reached out to take my hand, and I was comforted by the warmth and strength of his grasp. But even though William was by my side, I was still uneasy, and I was deeply relieved when we finally spotted the lights of the carnival up ahead.

            We broke free of the trees.

            As I looked out over the carnival, my mood was lightened by just how bright and cheerful everything was. Strings of lights crisscrossed the entire plaza, creating what looked like a canopy of stars. Under the canopy, a small maze of booths crowded up against a larger-than-life straw figure of a witch, a colorful carousel, and a stage. A large object sat by the stage under an enormous canvas tarp, and I figured that that was the new statue, ready for its unveiling. I could see a crowd of people milling around—some of them in masks and costumes—and music and laughter floated up to me.

            I felt myself relax even further—this was just an ordinary Sunday night in a small town. I very genuinely had nothing to worry about.

            "What's with all the witches?" William asked.

            "Our town founder, Elspeth Quick, was unfairly accused of witchcraft up in New England," I said. "According to the story, she fled south, and guided by a thin, silver thread of moonlight on an otherwise dark night, she found her way to what is now the Old Grove. There she was able to wait out her pursuers in safety—the mysterious thread of moonlight being a sign of her goodness and purity. And even though Elspeth was innocent of witchcraft, Black Moon Night has come to be associated with witches in particular and the supernatural in general."

            "It's a little like Walpurgis Night," William said.

            "Walpurgis Night?"

            "That's when the souls of the dead are released to wander the earth for one night. And it's also associated with witches—it's the night before May Day."

            "It's a little early for that," I said. "Besides, don't the dead wander the earth on Halloween?"

            "I always thought of Halloween more as a night to honor the departed," William replied. "Walpurgis Night is more like the night when the departed get to break free and revel a little themselves."

            "I guess this does look a bit like that," I said.

            As William and I walked into the maze of the carnival, I heard a splash, and I turned to look. One of the booths was actually a dunk tank, and the hapless man on the stool had just been dropped into the water by a good shot.

            William gave my hand a gentle squeeze. "What do you want to do first?"

            "Let's just walk around," I said. "Maybe something fun will jump out at us."

            The aisles between the booths were narrow, and with the crowd of people the flow of traffic was slow. As we passed a booth that sold candy apples, William and I crossed paths with a brown-skinned girl with curly black hair, and a tall, pale boy with brown hair that was falling in his eyes—my best friend, Charisse, and her boyfriend, Branden. The two of them were headed the opposite way, and though Charisse saw me and smiled, and Branden nodded at me, neither of them made any effort to stop and talk—nor did they acknowledge William.

            Charisse turned her face resolutely forward, and Branden took his cue from her. The crowd eased, and they both moved on without saying a word.

            I looked up at William. "They don't mean anything by it."

            William appeared unruffled. "I know. They aren't to be blamed for the way they react any more than your grandmother is. They can't really help it."

            I was glad that William understood, but at the same time, I wished he didn't have to. I wished we could be like any of the normal couples that had come to the carnival tonight. I wished we actually were what we appeared to be—two ordinary high school students out having a good time.

            We continued on through the carnival, and I spotted Irina Neverov, who was out with her new boyfriend, Terrance. Terrance was new in more ways than one—he had just transferred to our school, and he was already a standout on the track team—even though it was the tail end of the season. There were rumors that he was a shoo-in for a starting position on the football team in the fall, too. He'd just arrived, and he was already a star.

            Irina and Terrance didn't stop to talk to us, but that wasn't so unusual. Irina and I had been friends once long ago. But the passing years and her love for Simon Krstic—who had also had a crush on me—had driven a wedge between us. There was nothing between Simon and me, and Irina herself had clearly moved on, but even so some constraint still remained between us.

            Irina's friends Bryony and Annamaria tagged along behind them. Bryony gave me a long look and seemed to be on the verge of speaking to me, but ultimately, she, too, decided not to stop to talk.

            William and I continued on our way, and we were just passing through an area that was full of game booths, when I heard someone call out my name.

            "Katie! Katie Wickliff! Katie, over here!"

            I turned to see the familiar blond figure of Simon Krstic—he was manning one of the games. He smiled when he realized that I'd noticed him, and he waved me toward his booth.

            I glanced up at William. "Do you want to go over?"

            "Why not? At least someone wants to talk to us."

            Simon broke into a grin as we reached his booth.

            "Hey, Katie."

            He gave William a brief nod.

            I looked around the booth. There were several rows of multicolored balloons affixed to the far wall, and there was a row of stuffed animals and other trinkets sitting on a shelf above the balloons. Simon appeared to be running one of those games in which the player threw a dart at a balloon to win a prize.

            "So how about it, Katie?" Simon asked. "Would you like to give it a try? It's for a good cause."

            "What are the rules exactly?"

            "You get three darts for a dollar. If you break a balloon, you get a prize."

            "That doesn't sound too hard," I said. "Set me up."

            But three dollars later, I still hadn't been able to successfully make contact with any of the balloons.

            William seemed amused. "Would you like me to try?"

            "Katie doesn't need your help," Simon said, his tone unexpectedly sharp. "She's doing just fine on her own."

            "I know Katie doesn't need my help," William replied mildly. "I didn't mean anything by it."

            "Of course you didn't," I said. "And I'm not offended. Thanks, Simon, for letting me play. I think this game just isn't for me." I glanced up at William. "Maybe we should move on to the next game."

            I began to walk away.

            "You know, I think I'd like to give it a try."

            I turned back. William was staring fixedly at something on the prize shelf.

            "Katie said she's not interested in the game anymore, pal," Simon said. "So why don't you just move along?"

            "If you want the truth," William said, "it's not for Katie. It's for me."

            Simon smirked. "I get it. You're into stuffed animals. I bet you have a whole collection of them at home."

            "Something like that. Can I get my darts now?"

            "Anything you want, pal."

            Simon placed three darts on the counter, and William threw each one in quick succession, breaking three balloons.

            "Oh, very impressive," Simon said, clapping slowly. "So what do you want? It's the pink bunny holding the big red heart, isn't it? I bet you had your eye on that the whole time."

            "Actually," William said, "I'd like that green stone on that long chain."

            Simon raised his eyebrows. "So you're into jewelry? I should have guessed."

            He reached over the shelf and pulled a necklace off a nail.

            "I'd like to say you have good taste," Simon said, holding the chain up, "but this has to be one of the ugliest things I've ever seen. I suppose you've got just the outfit to wear it with."

            "Thanks," William said shortly as he accepted the necklace.

            "Would you like to try again?" Simon asked. "We've got a lovely pair of blue plastic earrings here. I'm sure they'd bring out the color in your eyes."

            "Simon, stop," I said. "That's enough."

            He shrugged. "I'm just trying to give the man what he wants."

            "Let's go, William," I said.

            William was turning the necklace over in his fingers abstractedly, and he didn't even look up when I pulled him away from Simon's booth.

            A few stalls away, there was a gap just big enough for the two of us to fit into, and I guided William out of the walkway into it.

            "So what's going on?" I asked. "Why did you want that necklace so much?"

            William handed his prize to me. "Do you know what this is? By that I mean, do you know what this is made out of?"

            I looked the necklace over. The stone was thick and green and slightly cloudy in color. It was suspended from a black metal chain, and it was set into an intricately worked piece of the same black metal.

            "I don't know what this is," I replied. "But I'm afraid I have to agree with Simon—this necklace isn't especially attractive. The stone looks like it's seen better days."

            "That unattractive stone is actually an emerald," William said.

            "An emerald?" I said. "I thought they were—shinier—than this."

            "They are if they're taken care of properly. And one this size would be worth quite a lot. The chain and the setting are both silver—they're just tarnished. This is an antique piece of jewelry that's been moldering somewhere for quite a long time."

            "But you aren't interested in this as an antique, are you?" I handed the necklace back to William. "There's another reason this necklace attracted your attention."

            "Yes, there's another reason," William said, turning the stone over in his fingers again. "I can't understand what this is doing here."

            "So what's so special about it?"

            William looked up at me. "Are you sure nothing was troubling you earlier? Did anything strange happen to you today? Anything at all?"

            I thought about the note, but I still hesitated to mention it.

            "Why are you worried?" I asked. "Is the necklace something dangerous?"

            William looked back down at the necklace and didn't reply.

            Just then, I heard a brass band strike up, and William turned to look.

            "Sounds like they're getting ready to dedicate the statue," he said. "Do you want to go over and watch?"

            "William," I said, "what about the necklace?"

            He shook his head. "To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what this is, but I think I've seen something like it before. There's no cause for alarm yet."

            "Yet?" I said.

            William gave me a reassuring smile. "I misspoke. There's no cause for alarm at all. This necklace is just a—curiosity."


            "Katie, please. I really don't know anything yet." He put the necklace in the pocket of his shirt and held out his hand. "Let's go see that statue."

            I wasn't really satisfied with William's answer, but I could tell that he wasn't going to say any more about it at the moment. I decided to let it drop for the time being. With a sense of resignation, I took his hand, and we began to walk.

            As I did so, something made me look around, and I caught sight of a familiar face in the crowd—someone I'd never expected to see in this part of the world. It was a silver-haired man—and he was moving quickly through the crowd. He seemed to be headed right toward me.

            I blinked and looked again. The man was gone.

            William turned and followed my gaze.

            "What is it? What's wrong?"

            Suddenly, someone careened into me, and I was knocked to the ground.

            I looked up to see a skinny young man with long black hair struggling with William.

            "I'm so sorry," the man said. There was a noticeable sneer in his voice. "It's entirely my fault."

            The man wrenched himself out of William's grasp, and he came away holding the emerald necklace in his hand.

            The man glanced at the necklace and then looked up at William in surprise.

            Just then, a police officer, burly and paternal, pushed through the crowd and grabbed the young man by the collar.

            "All right, son," the police officer said. "I've had my eye on you since you got here."

            The officer's eyes shifted to the necklace in the young man's hand.

            "Is that yours, son?"

            The man simply giggled.

            William helped me to my feet.

            "Are you all right?"

            "Yes, I'm fine," I said. "I'm just a little startled."

            The police officer wrested the necklace from the young man's grasp and held it out to William.

            "Is this yours?"

            William took the necklace. "Yes, thanks."

            "How about it, son?" the officer said to the young man. "How did that necklace end up in your hand? You were running through the crowd at a pretty good clip. Was it an accident?"

            The man leered. "Come now, officer. I think we both know the answer to that."

            The police officer grew stern. "Do you want to come with me to the station?"

            The man smirked. "You know, I really think I would like to do that."

            If the officer was surprised by the young man's answer, he didn't show it. "In that case, I would appreciate it if you would follow me to my car."

            "Of course, officer." The man turned and waved to William and me with a malicious smile. "Goodbye, kids."

            The officer escorted the young man away, and the two were soon swallowed up by the crowd.

            "What do you think that was all about?" I asked.

            "No idea." William glanced at me. "Do you want to stay? Or would you like to go home?"

            I thought fleetingly of the man I thought I'd seen in the crowd—there was no sign of him now. Perhaps I'd been wrong about what I'd seen—maybe my nerves were just playing tricks on me.

            "It's okay," I said. "I don't want to go home yet. It's still early—the festivities have barely started. We should at least get to see the dedication of the new statue."

            William smiled. "Let's go, then."

            We continued on toward the stage and joined the crowd that was gathering to watch the unveiling of the statue.

            Just as we reached the back of the crowd, the band stopped playing and a spotlight switched on. The mayor of Elspeth's Grove, Patrick Robbins, a bearded, robust man with a perpetual smile, stepped up on stage and walked up to a microphone on a stand. The big mass of the canvas-covered statue loomed behind the mayor, broad and imposing in the artificial light.

            The mayor acknowledged the crowd's polite applause and then launched into a lengthy speech detailing the trials and tribulations of Elspeth Quick on her journey to our town. He wrapped up the speech by explaining that the statue represented our town's own journey from Elspeth's original flight to the safe, happy place it now was—a place where children could grow and thrive without fear.

            The mayor beamed out over the crowd. "The statue has been named Bridging the Years. May it remind us always of what is best and brightest in the human heart and spirit! Maestro, if you please!"

            The mayor lifted his hand, and the brass band seated behind him struck up a lively tune. He then moved toward the statue, taking the microphone with him, and the spotlight lit up the large canvas mass.

            The mayor smiled at the audience and then pulled on a rope. The canvas that covered the statue fell away, revealing the large stone figure of a woman. She was standing on a square pedestal with a beatific expression on her gray face. The woman was clearly intended to be Elspeth Quick, and her arms were spread out as if in a gesture of welcome. There was a large stone pool surrounding the figure of Elspeth, and standing in the pool on either side of her was a boy and a girl. The two of them were caught in mid-stride, their hands outstretched as if they were about to take Elspeth's.

            The mayor shouted cheerfully over the music of the brass band.

            "Let's have the fountain now!"

            He raised his hand, and jets of water arched gracefully into the air from the rim of the pool.

            A murmur ran through the audience, and there seemed to be some sort of disturbance at the front of the crowd.

            "Shut the water off!" a woman shouted. "There's someone in the pool!"

            The murmurs in the crowd grew louder, and there were more demands for the water to be shut off.

            Two people rushed forward. Then there were others.

            "There's a man in the fountain!" shouted a gruff voice.

            "No, it's a boy!"

            "He's dead!" someone screamed hysterically. "He's dead!"

            The brass band stopped abruptly, and the mayor's amplified voice rose above the crowd.

            "Ladies and gentlemen, please remain calm! There's no cause for alarm. I'm sure this is just a harmless Black Moon Night prank."

            From where I stood, I could see a limp figure being pulled from the fountain. As it was lifted out, there were screams.

            "Ladies and gentlemen, please! As I said, it's just a prank!"

            "It's no prank!" cried a voice. "It's true! He's dead!"

            The entire crowd surged forward then, and William and I were suddenly pushed along with everyone else. Soon I could see the dark shape of a body lying in front of the fountain. There was a thick silver rod protruding from the chest of a teenaged boy—the body was most definitely real, and it was most definitely dead.

            The face was turned toward me, and it was a horrifying sight—the eyes were wide and staring, and there was a dark smear of blood in the corner of its mouth. Adding to the horror was a strange, mottled-gray pattern like a spider web that ran all over the body's face and neck and hands.

            But the most horrifying thing of all was that I recognized the face.

            His name was David Hutchins. And he had gone to school with me.