As I work on my novel, I decided to start sharing it here. I don’t know how far it will go or what the reception will be, but one thing I love is hearing from people who enjoy my work. The only way for that to happen is to actually start placing it here, so here it is!
Within is a supernatural suspense novel that follows the story of Luna Carlisle and her best friend Hook. Luna is hunting a demon. Hook is one. Together, they’ll have to put aside their feelings and fears to stop the series of murders tearing apart their hometown before they both become the next killers.
“Beware of no man more than of yourself; we carry our worst enemies within us.” – Charles Spurgeon
Seven Years Ago
Cold hands shake me from sleep. I jerk upwards, gasping, but the force of the intruder’s grip pins me to the spot. My heart hammers in my chest, so loud that his voice warbles in my ears.
“Wake up, Luna, wake up!”
He knows my name.
I force my eyes to focus on the face above mine. Relief rushes from my lungs, and I catch just enough breath to whisper his name.
“Wake up, please wake up,” he whispers. He’s stopped shaking me, but his palms still grip my shoulders. His chewed-off nails cut through the thin fabric of my t-shirt. He’s staring at me with a wild, unfocused gaze. The green in his eyes stands out like beacons in the pale, moonlit darkness of my room.
“Luna,” he says, “you have to get up.”
I clear my throat, but my words still tremble when I speak. I can feel fear rolling off of him, so strong that it has its own shadow, a second body looming over me.
“Hook, what’s wrong?” I feebly pull at his wrists. “What happened?”
He blinks and suddenly recoils as if he’s been slapped. He’s panting like he’s just sprinted a marathon and looks the part too, with strands of brown hair plastered to his forehead and cheeks sheening with sweat. His flared nostrils are runny, and he brushes his face with a shaky jerk of his arm.
“You have to come with me. Something’s wrong.”
I sit up and throw off my blanket. An unusually cold rush of air hits my exposed legs, and I draw my knees to my chest. That’s when I notice the open window behind him. The same one I distinctly recall my father making sure was locked from the inside before I went to sleep, just as he has every night for as long as I can remember.
“How did you open that?” I ask.
“Luna! Now!” he shouts. I jump, and we both freeze. I can feel his eyes follow mine to the bedroom door. I pray he didn’t wake my parents. He’s careful to keep his voice quiet as he rushes out his next words.
“It’s Mabel. Something’s wrong. Something’s happened to her.”
Mabel. The name immediately brings forth the image of the frail, angel-haired girl Hook introduced to me at the start of summer. She’s an outcast at school. A mute. Usually when kids are different people bully them, but no one even notices Mabel. She’s invisible to everyone except Hook. The schoolyard ghost has become his shadow.
Whenever she is with us, whether we’re riding bikes or eating ice cream during a sweltering afternoon on my porch, she sticks as close to him as possible and doesn’t say a word. The only person I’ve ever seen her speak to is him, but even then I’ve never heard her voice. Whenever she wants to say something, which isn’t very often, she leans close to him and whispers in his ear.
“What happened?” I ask.
He tugs a quivering hand through his hair. “You have to come with me. She’s locked in her house, and I think…” He swallows hard. “You just have to come with me.” His eyes flit to mine and light flashes across their glassy surface. “Please.”
I scoot off the end of the bed and head for my closet to get my sneakers, but he grabs my elbow and yanks me toward the window. I give a whispered protest. “I need shoes!”
Then I notice that he has none on either, or a shirt for that matter. All he has on are a pair of tattered jean shorts he cut up himself, with wild, thick fringe of threads that brush against his scabby knees.
He thrusts me toward the open window, and I slowly crawl onto the sill, with one leg dangling precariously outwards. It isn’t a steep drop since our house is only one story, but I want to make sure I have both feet on the grass before I ease my way out. I’ve maneuvered my right leg halfway up when there’s a sudden rush of air behind me. Hook’s voice, wet and hot, hisses in my ear. “Hurry up!” Hands shove my back hard, and I tumble forward.
The leg that was half raised tears across old wood. I land hard on my shoulder, and a jolt of pain shoots through my arm. I roll onto my knees, and can only manage a pained gasp as I slide one hand between my legs.
The gash on my inner thigh is nearly the length of my palm. My fingertips slip inside the wound and sting against the raw, searing flesh. When I raise the hand to my face, it’s gloved in blood; dark as oil and shimmering in the summer moonlight.
I look over my shoulder for Hook; to yell at him or ask for help, I’m not yet sure. Probably both. The start of his name is on my lips when someone hauls me up from the front and takes hold of my wrist. He doesn’t even look at me, just starts to run.
Although we’re the same age, he went through a growth spurt over the summer and is a solid five inches taller than me. I measured it against the tree in my backyard. My legs have to work hard to keep up with his longer strides. My pulse throbs in the burning cut, and blood flows rapidly over my calf and to my ankle.
“Hook,” I gasp, already winded, “let go. I’m hurt.”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, but I need you. Just come on.” He’s no longer panting, or out even out of breath. It must be the adrenaline we learned about in health class last year.
The streets are silent and empty with cars all neatly lined along the curb and parked in driveways. Pools of orange light spill from the streetlamps, and it’s when we pass beneath one that I can see his face clearly. His eyes are wide enough to fall right out of his skull.
Fear jams my throat and pounds hard and heavy in my chest. Nothing scares Hook. He says what’s on his mind without worrying what people will think. Even the popular kids at school, who have always loved to tease and pick on me for some reason, don’t faze him. In fact, he once punched Daniel Morrison square in the nose after he deliberately threw a kickball at my head during recess in 5th grade and knocked me flat in the dirt.
For Hook to look as petrified as he does, something horrible really has happened. My mind scrambles through possibilities. Did Mabel run away? Did someone hurt her? Is she…
Each frantic beat of my heart seems to take more oxygen from my lungs. My feet sting from slapping against the pavement. A sharp, stabbing pain begins in my side.
I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I want to get the words out, hoping that if I do, he’ll at least stop long enough to let me get catch a single breath. When I part my lips, nothing but the dry July air rushes over my sandpaper tongue. I’m going to faint. His grip around my wrist tightens as if he knows and is urging me to continue just a…little…bit…longer.
We’ve already reached the older houses in the neighborhood. Not the pretty, recently restored ones, either. These are the homes that have been in families for decades and probably haven’t seen a renovation since the day they were built. Mabel lives in a tiny, faded mint green house with a broken tire swing in the front yard.
I expect us to head up the front porch, but Hook drags me around back and stops in front of a window with a small hole in the screen. The lamp next to the rickety screen door is shattered. I can make out the outline of houses on either side, but they are just as black. The only source of light comes from the distant sliver of a crescent moon peering over the trees behind us.
I glance around for a place to sit, but Hook grabs hold of me again. His gaze is fixed on the house, but slowly, he turns his face to me. The words crawl from his mouth. “Do you feel that?”
What I feel is the pain that’s radiating from the gash on my thigh. I’m actually grateful he’s holding me, because I’m beginning to feel lightheaded and need to take some of the pressure off my leg. I lean into his grasp, knees bent forward so I’m on the balls of my feet. His grip doesn’t falter.
“Well?” he snaps in a knife-sharp tone that makes me jump. “Do you?”
“Feel what?” I whisper back. My heart is lodged in my throat; each thump rattles through my entire body.
He doesn’t answer, just stares at me intently. His head turns slightly to one side, expectant. I feel sick, but I can’t tell whether I’m about to puke or pass out. I force myself to focus on him, on his eyes, wide as saucers and infinitely green. They’re boring into mine like he sees something deep within them. Something he’s contemplating whether or not he should dive down to retrieve.
That’s when I feel it.
My attention shifts like a record that’s had the needle torn off mid-track. The entire world jolts, and everything closes in on this tiny, broken house. The overgrown grass claws against my ankles, as if the blades are caving in on themselves, shrinking from whatever evil has washed over this place.
Hook’s gaze blazes as he watches me. The skin on my face smolders. I couldn’t hear anything except the sound of my ragged breaths, but now there’s something else. Something rumbles beyond the black window beside us. Beneath it, a low, quiet whimpering.
A woman crying.
“Who is that?” I ask.
He drops my arms and turns toward the window. I stumble forward and land on my knees. My head swims, but I dig my nails into the earth to keep myself present. When I look up, Hook has the screen door wide open, as well as the one behind it. The space beyond is pitch black, but I manage to get to my feet and follow him.
We stand side-by-side in the kitchen. The moonlight that creeps after us outlines the bulky shapes of cabinets, some with their doors flung open, cluttered counters, and the tall form of a fridge that emits a low, tired wheeze. Hook takes hold of my arm and guides me with slow, steady steps. The foot of my injured leg is slick with blood, and I slip in the doorway. He swears under his breath and loops his arm around my waist.
He hoists me up and waits until I’m able to take another step. There is a small living room directly in front of us, but we turn right instead and gaze down the black tunnel of a hallway. At the end, beneath the last door on the left, a splinter of light juts out. Several bangs, like fists against brick, cut through the air.
I swallow hard and instinctively turn to Hook. He’s scared, but he’ll know what to do. Hook always knows what to do.
“What now?” I ask.
A bloodcurdling scream rips through the house, and someone flings themselves against the door at the end of the hall. We both jump, and in a matter of seconds, Hook has torn open the frail sliding door of a closet and shoved me inside. I stumble over piles of lopsided shoes and other junk, landing with my hands flat against the wall and the top of my head grazing the bottom of a shelf. The sharp odor of bleach and lingering dust burns my nose.
I look over my shoulder and peer out into the darkness. I don’t know how, but I swear I can still see his eyes. He lifts a shaky finger to his lips. “Don’t make a sound, Luna,” he whispers, though it sounds more like a plea than a command.
The rush of blood in my ears is almost deafening. I bite down hard on my lower lip. His eyes flicker to the end of the hall for a second, then back to me. “When Mabel is gone, you have to get help. You have to go outside and find someone, okay?”
I manage a weak nod, and he slides the door shut. Through the slits of wood panels, I watch him linger just long enough to say, “I’ll come back for you.”
Then he’s gone. There is a loud bang as he kicks open the door with the light trapped behind it.
I lean against the wall, the faintness returning with a vengeance. I shift onto my good leg and try to steady myself. One hand finds its way to the gash, and I press my fingers hard against the wet, sticky skin to try and keep the blood inside, even though it doesn’t even feel as if there’s much left to lose.
Minutes pass. The dizziness warps my senses, and time fades into nothing. My mind is unable to worry about anything other than staying conscious. My breathing is so heavy and loud in my ears that for a while, I don’t realize how quiet the house has fallen.
I straighten up and lean toward the door, my nose against the wood. I peer through a slit into the dimly lit corridor. I can’t see anything other than the faint shadow the light casts upon the wall. When I look down, I find the exact diagonal line on the hardwood floor where it stops. A perfect slice.
My leg throbs. Nausea twists my stomach, and I force down the hot bile that rises in my throat. Beads of cold sweat run down my forehead. I clamp my free hand over my mouth and choke down the vomit in my throat.
Delicate, gentle sounds begin somewhere off to the right. Whispers across the floor, as if the feet are too shy to touch the ground. I only know one person who walked like that. A dandelion girl who always looked as if she were on the verge of disappearing in a puff of smoke.
I press my back as flat as I can against the wall, hand still over my mouth, and take in shallow, shaky breaths through my nose. Do you feel that? Hook’s voice rushes through my mind. The realization of the entire situation, of the “that” he was talking about, swells in a wave tall enough to wipe out the entire universe.
The footsteps grow closer. A long, slender shadow appears in the light on the wall. Raggedy, ghastly breaths startle the silence. Arms and legs locked, I turn my head just enough to see who is beyond the door.
But this is no longer the invisible girl. A monster has taken over and leeched the life from her pale skin and left inhumanly white. The mouth that used to move so subtly as it whispered in Hook’s ear hangs unhinged. A dark, thick substance spills over her lips and onto her chest, her arms, all covered in blood that can’t be her own.
She stands there, nothing but the flimsy door between us, takes a deep breath that draws a river of blood from somewhere inside her. It’s all I can feel. On my legs. On my hands. Nothing but blood. She’s covered in it. It’s going to flood the house; it’s drowning me. I can’t breathe.
A low growl rumbles from deep within her chest. Her head turns painfully slowly, and it’s as if years pass between the time it takes for her eyes to meet mine.
I blink only once, and in that brief half-second of total darkness, I expect to open my eyes and find the same light blue ones I’d come to know staring at me through the door. But the darkness does not cease. Mabel’s fragile eyes have vanished, devoured by whatever monster is inside her. Only black remains.
The hand over my mouth slips and falls against my good leg. The sound of my palm as it hits my skin catches her attention, and she lunges toward the door. Just as a scream reaches my throat, another shadow hurdles forward and sends Mabel crashing to the ground. There are the sounds of a struggle; of bodies shuffling against one another and the sharp snap of teeth. For a moment, complete silence. Then Hook’s voice, raised over clobbering footsteps and moving toward the kitchen:
“Luna, go! Now!”
All my senses flood back to me. I suck in a deep breath mixed with a panicked, mangled cry. I fling the closet door open and stumble back into the dark house. I slip on a pool of blood that isn’t my own and crash onto the floor, chin first.
Sobs rack my body. Blood has begun to fill my own mouth, and my tongue feels like it’s been torn in half. The wound on my leg sears with a violent burst of pain that threatens to overtake me, but I grit my teeth and fight against it. My pulse tears at the veins in my neck, but I do not stop. I crawl across the floor, fingers splayed across the wet wood.
I continue this way through the kitchen and over the threshold of the back door. The screen door is now gone altogether, lying haphazardly a few feet away. I claw my way forward, tearing up fistfuls of grass in my wake. When I reach the sidewalk, I try to haul myself up by gripping the pole of a streetlamp. I make it to my knees.
With my cheek pressed against the cool metal, my eyes scan the street of rundown houses. A few have their porch lights on, but most are off. Black and empty, just like Mabel’s eyes.
The wave of terror rises again, but this time I am too weak and scared to fight it.
Get out. Get help. Hook needs me to get help.
Mabel’s twisted face flashes across my vision.
I scream so loud the world explodes.