Six weeks until The Meadows releases!
Today, I’m offering up a little taste of the novel, so I hope you enjoy!
“Come on. It’ll be fun.”
Hunter stared at his friend. “Compared to what?”
Jason made a scoffing sound. “Compared to sitting in the car all night.” He shook his head. “Damn, you’re such a wimp.”
Hunter peered through the windshield and up at the darkened building, its spires reaching toward the moon. Asphodel House. The closest thing to Dracula’s Castle in the Western hemisphere.
“I knew you weren’t going to be cool about this.” Jason shook his head. “Here I am—trying to have a little fun on a Friday night.” He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and patted them against his hand. A thin, white cylinder fell from the packaging into his palm. “Plans foiled by a baby.”
“I’m not a baby.” The answer was a reflex. It sounded pathetic. “I’m twelve.” That sounded even more pathetic.
Jason laughed. “Like I said…”
Hunter opened the car door and climbed out. He’d worked really hard for this. Jason was older than him by four years, and let’s face it—the guy was a bully. But Jason’s little sister Laura was thirteen … and the hottest thing Hunter had ever seen. He’d have done anything to get her attention. Even break into an old, abandoned house. “Where’s Laura?”
“She rode with a friend. She should be here by now.”
“Why not ride with you?”
Jason cast a sidelong glance at Hunter. “’Cuz she wanted to hang out with someone else tonight.” His voice crested with irritation.
As the cold air invaded his lungs, Hunter coughed. And then he saw her. She was standing on the porch, her blonde curls glistening like spun gold in the moonlight.
Jason got out too, his steps crunching in the gravel.
Hunter jumped at the sound of the slamming car door.
“You know, I hear the couple that lived here just ran … left everything behind,” Jason said, striding toward the front porch where his sister stood. His combat boots looked like concrete blocks.
As they got closer to the porch, Hunter glimpsed someone standing beside Laura. Hunter recognized the boy with the shock of red hair and a wide girth that made him look older than sixteen. “No,” Hunter groaned. “Not Zulu.” The boy’s real name was Zuzen Diatz, but everyone called him Zulu. Zulu was the same age as Jason and just as much of shmuck. Worse—because his arm was around Laura’s shoulders. “What’s he doing here?”
“He’s going out with my sister.”
“What?” Hunter’s voice broke into what sounded like a shriek. “Why? How can you let her date that jerk?”
“What?” Jason imitated his cracking voice and broke into peals of laughter. “You’re such a little turd, Massabrook. Seriously. The biggest goober I know.”
Hunter’s face burned.
On the front porch, the foursome exchanged awkward waves. Hunter couldn’t help but smile when he looked into Laura’s pale blue eyes illuminated over top of the silver-plated flashlight she held under her chin.
Zulu’s stare felt like the touch of an electric prod. “What’s he doing here?”
Jason shrugged. “Laura wanted him to come.”
Hunter looked at Laura.
So did Zulu. “You did? Why?”
She smiled that white-toothed, flawless smile. No braces. She didn’t need them. She was perfect. “I’m glad you came, Hunter.”
“Come on.” Jason waved them forward. He seemed eager to move. “Let’s get in there and do this thing. Laura and I gotta be home by midnight, before the folks get back from the party.”
The “thing” Jason spoke of was the very thing Hunter did not want to do—break in and see what goods had been left behind by the couple who’d abandoned the house a few months prior.
“I hear the woman was raped by a ghost,” said Zulu as they squatted in front of a side window.
Laura gasped. “That’s terrible, Zulu. Don’t say that.”
He laughed a little and shrugged. “Why not? I heard it’s the truth.”
“Shut up, moron,” Jason scolded. “I heard she was an alcoholic, out of her mind on the sauce. You gotta be pretty perverted to claim you had sex with a ghost.”
“It’s better than what happened to the people who lived here four years ago.”
“Yeah,” Zulu agreed. “All of them dead. Except one. Crystal. That girl was in my seventh-grade math class. After her family was killed, they sent her away somewhere.”
“All right, everyone shut up and stop talking shit. Focus.” Jason wielded his crowbar and shoved it under the window frame.
“Just break the damn thing,” Zulu instructed. “Why the hell you gonna waste our time trying to pry it?”
“What if an alarm goes off?” Laura asked, her blue eyes wide, concerned.
Worse than that, Hunter imagined his parents’ expression as he was led up the sidewalk by police escort. His heart skittered at the thought.
But the window wasn’t secure, and when Jason cranked it a second time it burst open.
One by one they crawled inside.
The house was darker than dark. And so still Hunter could feel his skin cells regenerating.
“This is so bitchin’,” Jason crowed. “Look at this place.”
“Where are we?” Laura asked, shining her flashlight over the walls.
It looked like a living room. There was a couch against the far wall and a billiard table in the middle. The former inhabitants really had walked off and left all their stuff behind.
“Come on,” Jason directed, stalking bravely across the tile floor and into the entrance hall.
Laura shined her flashlight over their heads, and the light refracted off of the biggest chandelier Hunter had ever seen. Little prisms of color danced upon the walls.
“Wow! Look at that thing,” Laura gasped. “Can you believe the size of that?”
Hunter pretended to be interested, although his heart was hammering with wicked intensity against his chest. He felt a little sick. God, please don’t let me puke in front of them.
A sound from the next room echoed through the foyer. A voice? Or a whisper?
“What the hell was that?” Zulu asked.
Hunter’s fists clenched involuntarily. Now he just wanted to leave. Never mind about impressing cute girls or trying to hang out with older friends. He wanted to run. He wanted his home and his bed. And his mommy, if truth be told.
But Jason was unafraid, and his combat boots made muddy tracks on the tile as he strode confidently into the next room.
Hunter shirked behind, trailing the others and holding his breath—as though that would somehow help him. Candlelight cast flickering shadows upon the high walls of the room, and a dining table the size of Texas stretched the length of the floor. But it was the scene before them that stopped all four members from entering the room.
A swirling black mass circulated over the table’s surface, just above the naked body of the girl and the cloaked figures standing in a circle around her.
The girl’s face was covered by what looked like a Halloween party mask—a grotesque, with hollow eyes and a mouth that was too wide and red. Sores dotted her body—no, not sores—puncture wounds, and from them, the figures siphoned rivulets of blood into glass chalices, small vials. One cloaked man knelt on the table beside her and sucked at her arm like an overgrown leech while he gyrated and made obscene sounds.
Laura’s scream cut like a hot iron through the unnatural air.
The black mass shot up and disappeared into the ceiling.
Distracted from their task, the hooded humans turned, revealing faces covered in grotesque masks. Slowly, hissing and growling, they slinked forward with animal-like precision—some of them maneuvering their arms and legs inhumanly—like panthers as they prowled toward the group of kids.
Hunter first backed away as though avoiding an approaching tiger, but then fear twisted his body. And suddenly, he turned and ran, leading the trio who fell into stride behind him.
He grasped Laura’s hand and pulled her, his legs pumping through the entrance hall, the living room. He clambered back through the open window, kicking his legs to wriggle out onto the ground. Laura shrieked as her wrist caught on the window sill and her hand was wrenched from his.
He popped up again, grabbing at her outstretched arm and pulling her head and hands-first through the window.
Zulu dove through the opening, rolling and somersaulting on the ground.
But Jason did not emerge.
“Jason? Where’s Jason?” Laura screamed.
But there was no time to wait. Through the fogged and dusty panes of glass, Hunter could see the hooded figures. Chances were, they were coming around the sides of the house too.
He grabbed Laura’s hand, and they ran. Zulu puffed heavy, raspy breaths of air behind them.
But they ran.
They ran to Zulu’s old, beat-up Monza and piled in, peeling out of the driveway, leaving a wake of gravel behind them.
“What the hell was that?” Zulu panted. “Who were those people? What were they doing?”
“Jason’s still in there!” Laura screamed from the passenger seat.
Zulu shook his head. “Sorry, babe.” He met Hunter’s eyes in the rearview mirror.
“Nothing we can do for him now.”
As the car joggled and careened across an overgrown meadow and toward the interstate, Hunter couldn’t hold it anymore. He fell across the backseat and retched into the floorboard.
The Meadows is available for preorder on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iBooks, and more.