Excert- First Two Chapters of My New Novel
Of all the myriad magical gifts my mother was purported to possess and could have passed on to me, precognition was not one of them. Yet moments before a dead, rotting thing attacked us, I had been working at my family’s coffee shop, listening to my best friend drone on, and I had just thought to myself: Once, just once, I’d love for something exciting to happen in this town.
“Earth to Allie…you there?”
The snapping of fingers in my face brought me back to reality.
“Sorry,” I said. “I was daydreaming.”
“In the middle of my read? Wait, were you daydreaming about my future?” Hope said excitedly. She’s my best friend and the look in her almond-shaped eyes was way too hopeful for this early on a Saturday morning.
“What? No. I’m sorry, where were we?”
Hope motioned to the sludge at the bottom of her coffee cop. “You were about to tell me that someone tall, dark and handsome is about to waltz into my life, sweep me up into their arms and take me out of this little hole-in-the-wall town. Preferably in a white Lamborghini.”
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. “Like I’d let you be part of a Harlequin cliche.”
“Well,” she said, “what do you see? I mean, what’s the point in having a psychic for a best friend if you can’t tell me the good stuff before it happens to me?”
“I’m not a psychic, Hope. I’ve told you that.”
“Psychic. Witch. Whatever,” she said flippantly.
“Hope! What have I told you about saying things like that when we are in a public place?” I glanced up from behind the counter at the coffee shop to see if anyone noticed. Luckily, nobody had looked up from their laptop, and the fact that most of the patrons had earbuds in helped me to breathe easier as well.
Hope rolled her eyes dramatically at me. “No one pays attention to anything that happens in here. Besides, the tourists come in here for readings, so what’s the big deal?”
Trinity Cove was a tourist’s destination. Every summer what seemed like a million people came traipsing into our idyllic little town nestled in mountains of North Carolina. They come for the natural beauty of the region; lakes, hiking, quaint bed and breakfasts and access to some of the best furniture galleries in the country. But mostly they come to see the Singing Falls. An hour-plus, depending on the path you took, hike up some of the toughest trails in the region would take you to a secluded lagoon that was fed by a one-hundred-foot waterfall. The water poured down into the natural pool over jagged, protruding rock outcroppings that sheltered multiple caverns carved into a mountainside. Because the rock outcroppings that the water cascaded over were thin and their openings hollow, the sound of the water flowing down was haunting; the echoes created were of varying pitches and constantly changing due to climate and shifts in the topography they ran across.
It also made for treacherous footing along the sides of the fall. Every summer at least one person fell down the steep pitch, breaking legs, arms, and on a couple of occasions, necks.
Still, the undeniable scenic beauty called to people from all walks of life and they descended on the town in droves every year. Their money went a long way to keeping the town’s coffers filled, and all of the sleepy businesses in Trinity Cover catered to them during the tourist season. Restaurants advertised the freshest homemade delicacies, even though they were the same meals that could be purchased year round at a much steeper discount. Signs popped up in numerous yards advertising antiques for sale. Every home with an extra bedroom was suddenly a bed and breakfast. Every semi-athletic college dropout that still lived at home with his or her parents was suddenly a canoe guide promising to take you to a secret spot upriver that only the locals know about.
Yeah. That kind of small town.
And I have to admit, I was just as much to blame as everyone else in the town. My Aunt owned the 3 Coves Cafe and Bakery that sat on a prime spot in the center of the town square. I was one of those college dropouts that had decided to live at home while I found myself. I ran the café, and one of my side gigs for summer was to act as the town fortune teller. Instead of tea leaves I would read coffee sludge.
My best friend Hope had just arrived home from her first year of college and had been regaling me with tales of drunken frat parties, all-night jam sessions followed by ditching the class you just stayed up all night studying for. Oh, and the men. She was convinced that the state college she was attending was where she was going to meet Mr. Right and head off into the sunset with him.
Her badgering look snapped me out of my reverie and I gazed into the bottom of her ceramic cup.
“Nope,” I said. “There’s nobody in there. But hey, after one whole year away from home, what are you expecting?”
Hope bristled at my tone. It had come out a lot more terse than I intended.
“Well, at least I’m away from home and trying.”
Ouch. Touché and all that.
“I’m sorry.” Her tone instantly softened. “I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.” She reached across the counter and placed her hand on top of mine to give it a reassuring squeeze.
“No problem.” I smiled. “I kind of deserved that one.” I turn and placed her cup in the bin on the back table so it could be bussed into the kitchen and cleaned. Turning back, I smiled again. “But really, why are you in such a hurry to get hitched? You have your whole life ahead of you.” I flinched a little. I already knew the answer to that question, but I wanted to see if she would confirm my thoughts.
“It’s hard,” she said, eyes downcast. “My mom wants to see me in the wedding gown she made for me so bad. I want her to see that as well.” Hope’s eyes clouded up and I could see her clenched her jaw to stave off tears.
“Hey.” Now it was my turn to reach out and grab her hand. “The doctors don’t know everything. She beat breast cancer once before and she can beat it this time around as well.”
“Thanks for that,” Hope said. “I feel like an ass even saying that, considering your mom is…”
“No worries. My mom bailed on Gar and me years ago. He doesn’t really remember her. He was too young when she left.”
It was true. My brother Garland, or Gar as he preferred to be called, had long forgotten what our mother looked like. He could remember the stories she told us when he was small, but time had long since erased the mental imagery of her from his mind’s eye.
Unfortunately, my mental imagery was as strong as ever. If I closed my eyes I could still picture our mother’s face. Not just the green eyes and fire-red hair that I had inherited, but also the tiny curves around her full lips and the lines that danced around her eyes when she laughed. Our mother had been so happy when we knew her. But that was before the madness set in; before she began to whisper about demons and monsters that hid in the woods outside of the house we shared with Aunt Vivian and Aunt Lena.
At least, I had always hoped it was madness.
I came from a long line of witches. Not just any witches, but rock star witches if you believed what my mother had told us as children. According to her, she and my aunts stopped Armageddon from devouring our sleepy little town in the form of werewolves.
While Gar could remember the stories as only bedtime tales, I remembered them as something more: a cautionary tale of what had once nearly wiped out all of Trinity Cover, and could possibly happen again. To Gar, they were heroic and funny. But I was older; to me they were horrific and the cause of night terrors that occasionally would still wake me from fitful nights of sleep.
Our aunts had assured us that the stories our mother told us were just that: stories meant to entertain and frighten children who stayed up long past their bedtime.
While we may have been called witches at one time, my aunts assured us that moniker was one that was never merited. We might have small gifts, the occasional extra-sensory ability, or a way with certain potions and herbs that did little more than induce euphoria in townsfolk and allowed them to sleep better, but that was it. We didn’t fly around on broomsticks. We didn’t cast spells.
And we certainly weren’t responsible for the destruction of an entire breed of supernatural creatures referred to as werewolves.
The fact is, here in town my family had a certain reputation. We weren’t shunned, but we weren’t exactly asked over for Sunday dinners either. People here had a grudging respect for my aunts. They were polite to them, some were even friendly, but most stopped just short of crossing the street when they saw one of my aunts heading toward them on the same sidewalk.
They were a little suspicious when I told them I wanted to add fortune telling to the seasonal offerings at the coffee shop, but after they saw the bump in business, they allowed me my indulgences. I wasn’t a clairvoyant in the true sense of the word. My medium abilities were mostly the product of being able to read a person’s emotional state and combine it with the latest horoscope readings I found online. Add to that a few vague, generic missives from Google and voila…your very own fortune told.
Hope wasn’t a tourist however, and she wouldn’t fall for the mumbo-jumbo that I spewed to most of the giggling schoolgirls who passed through in the summer. No, she had been my best friend since grade school. She knew what I went through, she knew what the townies whispered about my family, and she knew when to call bullshit on me.
“C’mon, Allie,” she pleaded. “I know when you’re lying. You saw something. Spill it!”
The truth was I hadn’t seen anything, and that was why my gaze had lingered in the cup. Usually there was something; a small spark, or flash of something brief and tiny that revealed itself to me. I may or may not opt to tell the person, but there was almost always something there. That was especially true with the people I was close to. But this time, when I looked into the coffee grinds all I saw was…coffee. I felt numb and cut off from the tiny spark of my vision.
No. Not cut off. Blocked. I opened my mouth to tell Hope that I really didn’t see anything, but my words were cut off by the sudden wail of a siren followed by the revving of a car engine as a police cruiser tore down main street, lights and siren blaring. It was quickly followed by the similar sounds of an ambulance as it chased after the cruiser.
“What the…” exclaimed Hope, bolting for the cafe front window.
Just as she reached it, the main door to the shop burst open and Gar came running in, his dark hair wet with sweat.
“Hey, sis!” he exclaimed, his words tripping over themselves. “Guess what? They found a body out by the falls!”
Great. The season was just getting started and we already had our first slip and fall. This wouldn’t be good for business.
“Ugh,” said Hope. “When will these tourists learn the rocks there are signposted ‘No Climbing’ for a reason?”
“Not this one!” said Gar, excited. “This one was an animal attack!”
Both Hope and I snapped to attention immediately.
“What?” I said.
“Yep,” Gar replied. “I heard that whoever it was had their throat ripped open and their chest torn apart.”
I swallowed the lump that made its way into my throat. I clutched at the pink stone jewel I wore around my neck, the one my mother had given me for luck on the night she disappeared. I was overtaken by a sense of dread like I had never felt before. I sank back against the counter, hardly able to register the patrons that were suddenly rushing from the shop and running in the direction of the wailing sirens.
I locked the shop door with a sigh after the last customer had exited. I could feel the slight buzz between my eyes that indicated a potential migraine was on the way. “Great,” I said to myself aloud. “Just what I don’t need.”
“What don’t you need?” Hope’s voice caused me to jump. I had forgotten she was still here and had just gone to the restroom.
“Migraine,” I answered.
“I’ll help you clean up. That way you can close sooner and get out of here.”
Before I could pretend to protest she had already walked around behind the counter, picked up a bus bin and started clearing the tables of the few saucers and coffee cups that the patrons had not left at the counter.
“Thanks, but that’s really not necessary. I’m sure you have some place to be.”
“Nope. We haven’t seen each other in months. We have so much to catch up on.” She stopped what she was doing and wheeled around to face me. “Unless you’re telling me to go because you know there is someplace I need to be! Am I destined to meet Him tonight?!”
I knew she was just yanking my chain, but I also knew that part of her was dead serious. Rather than answer I changed the subject.
“So why didn’t you go up to the trails and see what was going on with the rest of the town?”
“Once you’ve seen one mangled body you’ve seen them all,” she miffed.
I couldn’t help but laugh. “Honestly, the rumor mill must have been working overtime with this one. God knows how Gar heard it before the official reports. I mean, c’mon…an animal attack?”
“Well,” Hope said, turning to me, “you know what that really means, right?”
Hope rolled her eyes dramatically. “Please, I’ve watched enough Supernatural to know that animals never attack and kill people in real life. It’s always a cover-up for something really nefarious. Like vampires, werewolves or some other bloodthirsty creature.”
“Yeah, right,” I say. “This is Trinity Cove, not the Hellmouth.”
“Not if you believe the stories we grew up with as children. Don’t you ever wonder why all the parents in town would never let their kids play outside after the sun went down? And why we weren’t allowed to go outside at all during certain times of the month?”
“Probably because this was pre-internet days when pervs weren’t lurking online but rather were cruising around in white vans, snatching kids.”
Just then my phone rang and I couldn’t stifle a little moan as I looked at the caller ID. I picked up before it could go to voicemail.
“Hi, Aunt Viv,” I said, looking over at Hope. “Yes, I’m fine. I’m still at the cafe. Hope is here with me, helping me close. We’ll be heading out soon, and I’ll call you when I’m on my way home.” I paused, looking over at a smirking Hope. “Aunt Viv, it’s literally a five-minute walk home. I don’t need…yes, all right. I”ll see you soon.”
“Let me guess,” said Hope, “she’s freaked out by the animal attack.”
“‘Freaked’ isn’t the word. She’s sending someone to pick us up and drive us home.”
“I’m sure she got all the good dirt on what happened,” said Hope. “For someone that no one really talks to in this town, your aunts seem to know all the good gossip.”
It was true. My family kept to themselves, but still managed to be on top of everyone’s business. While I didn’t want to alarm Hope, if there was anything supernatural going on in the area, chances were my aunts had already sniffed it out. Maybe that was why they were so intent on my being escorted home. Had they made the same call with Gar? If anyone needed protecting it would be him. He was powerless. Men weren’t born with the power of witches. At least that’s what my mother had always said. They could acquire it in other, less pleasant ways, but she had declined to explain what exactly those ways were. Aunt Vivian always said it wasn’t true and not to listen to her. Men belonged to another pocket of the supernatural, she had said. They couldn’t cross over into the corners occupied by witches.
The knock at the door distracted me from the espresso machine I was wiping down. “Sorry, we’re closed,” I said into the air.
It was dark outside and I could only make out the form of the person standing on the other side of the locked door. Another knock, this time more determined. Hope was closer to the door and peered out the window.
“It’s a cop,” she said. “He’s holding his badge up to the door.”
“Geez. Aunt Viv has taken getting us a ride to the extreme.”
Hope moved to answer the door, and just as it cracked open it hit me: the smell of earth and rotted flesh accompanied by a wave of dark magic that made my stomach reel.
“Hope no!” I shouted, but I knew it was already too late.
Before she could react, the thing standing outside had burst in. The force of the door swinging open threw Hope across the room and over two of the tables. She crashed to the floor, unconscious. The sight of my best friend being hurt like that filled me with a white hot rage. I reached deep inside myself and grabbed that rage. Calling it forward, it manifested itself in a ball of blue flame that I hurled at the creature even as it charged at me.
Even as the creature was struck in the chest by my power, my thoughts raced as I tried to identify just what was attacking us. It looked like a human, a large, solidly built male. But I knew that when it came to the supernatural, looks could be deceiving. Whatever it was, it was only wearing the skin of a man. Underneath it reeked of death and darkness.
I dove behind the counter, looking desperately for anything that I could use as a weapon. The fireball I threw probably surprised me more than it hurt my attacker. I’d never been able to manifest my magic like that before. I could levitate objects and charge other items with magic, but I’d never been able to create something like that out of thin air.
I was too afraid to risk a peek over the counter to see where the creature was or what it might be doing. But then I remembered Hope lying out there, helpless.
“Shit!” I was sitting with my back against the counter, and looking around, I saw the silver cake knife lying on the floor. Knowing my aunt, it was probably real silver. That was a plus for what I was about to do. Silver has certain innate properties that make it both ideal for absorbing the right kinds of magic and for being anathema to supernatural constructs. I had no idea what that blue fireball I threw was, but other than the initial contact it didn’t seem to have done much to the creature.
I crawled to the far end of the counter and chanced a quick peek. Whatever that thing was, it was lumbering to the opposite end of the counter, where the cash register sat. I winced as it grabbed one end of the counter and ripped up half the bar, throwing wood, glass, register and granite counters toward the ceiling as it shuffled around, looking for me.
“Okay, so you’re strong, but you don’t seem very smart.”
I crouched, circling around the front side of the counter, trying to sneak up behind it, cake knife at the ready. How did this thing even get into the cafe? My aunts’ wards were top notch. Anything giving off the kind of dark magic this bad boy was reeking of should have set them off, given me some kind of warning. That told me that maybe this thing wasn’t a supernatural creature, but something that probably has a contained burst of magic inside it as a power source. It smelled dead, so that meant someone probably animated a corpse and sent it after me. That’s big time mojo.
But I couldn’t focus on that right now. That thing was definitely strong enough to kill me and Hope, and that wasn’t happening on my watch.
I concentrate and focused my will on the knife I was carrying. As I approached the creature, the cake knife began to take on a blue tint, glowing with the magic I was forcing into it. Just as I reached the creature, I heard a small moan. Hope was starting to wake up and had begun to move around. The zombie immediately spun in her direction and realized I was standing right behind it. Faster than I would have expected a dead thing to move, it swept me up in its arms and immediately started to squeeze.
I screamed in pain and raised the knife over my head. Had to do this before it crushed my spine, and judging from the pressure it was expending, that would happen in a matter of seconds.
With a yell, I plunged the knife down and into the creature’s exposed neck. The silver, augmented by what little magic I have, was enough to pierce the flesh. But more importantly, it created an opening in the skin, a vent to release the magic that was powering this monster. What I did was akin to cutting the gas line on a car, only on a far more dramatic scale.
The zombie dropped me and staggering backward as black steam hissed from his torn flesh. The magic that animated him was evaporating, and with it, so went the monster’s corporeal form. It fell to its knees before falling face forward onto the ground. The scent of rotted flesh breaking down for a second time was beyond nauseating. I retched as the smell hit me and instinctively buried my face in my elbow to ward off the fetid stench.
I could hear Hope coming to, dragging herself up to a sitting position. In the distance I could make out the sound of sirens getting closer. As much as I hated to do it, I needed to get rid of the body.
I looked at the decomposing mess before me and muttered a quick incendiary incantation that melted it to so much slag, and then caused even that molten goo to evaporate. By the time Hope was looking around and clearing her head, I had moved to her side, trying to comfort her.
“What the…?” she mumbled.
“Hey, take it easy. Help’s on the way.”
“What the hell was that?” she said, rubbing the back of her head.
“Some coked-out druggie. Barged in, messed up the place, looking to take what little cash I had on hand, then ran back out. He’s gone now.” Not a lie. Not exactly, at least.
“Jesus, Allie. Are you okay? Did he…?”
“No, no. I’m fine. I think all my screaming scared him off.”
I returned one of the knocked-over chairs to its upright position and slowly helped Hope to her feet before gingerly seating her. A knock at the door got my attention and I turned just in time to see a police officer stepping through the ruined opening.
“Ma’am, we had a report of a disturbance here,” the officer said, looking around. I saw one hand hovering near his holster, which made me more nervous than being attacked by a zombie for some reason. Plus, his reliance on his gun told me he was not a supe. Still, I keyed up some magic and had it at the ready just in case.
“It’s okay now. Some guy just burst in here, knocked all my shit over trying to break into the cash register, then ran back out,” I said, trying to defuse the situation.
I watched as the policeman turned his head to the side and said something into a communication piece attached to the shoulder strap of his bulletproof vest.
He then stepped over to Hope and examined her head.
“Don’t move, ma’am. An ambulance is on the way to take a look at you,” he said.
“I don’t need that,” Hope replied. “It’s just a bump. I feel stupid just sitting here like this. But can you make sure my friend is okay?”
I looked at the police officer and read his badge. Hunter.
“I’m fine, Officer Hunter,” I said. “Thank you for getting here so quickly. I think it was the sound of your sirens approaching that scared him off.”
“Did you get a good look at him?” Officer Hunter said.
“No…it all happened so fast. He was big, dressed in some type of large jacket and a cap I think…” Careful here, I tell myself. Don’t back yourself into a corner.
“Oh my God!” said Hope. “I just remembered. He had a badge that he flashed at me when I looked out the door!”
“What?” said Officer Hunter. “Are you sure?”
“Well, it all happened so fast,” I interjected.
“Yes, but that’s why I started to open the door to begin with,” said Hope. “Remember, we thought it was someone your aunt had sent to pick us up. I started to open the door…and then…then it gets fuzzy. But I know for a fact he had a badge.”
Officer Hunter was busy scribbling in a pocket notebook he had pulled out of his vest.
Before he could ask more questions, the ambulance pulled up to the street in front of the cafe.
“Oh, good,” I said, looking at Hope. “You really should have them check you over, as hard as you must have hit your head when he knocked you over.”
“Yeah,” she replied, rubbing the back of her skull. “As long as they don’t try to cut my hair or anything. I’m not having my summer do messed with.”
Officer Hunter smiled as the paramedics walked in with bags and stepped back to give them access to Hope. I watched as he strolled around the cafe looking at things, examining the broken counter and making more notes in his little book. Definitely not good.
“We’re just going to take her in for a couple hours of observation,” said one of the paramedics to Officer Hunter. “She seems fine, but you never know.”
The fact that this particular medic was about six-two and solid muscle was probably the reason that Hope wasn’t putting up a fight. If anything, she was gazing at the first responder dreamily and rubbing her head even more.
For once I was happy to see her man lust rear its ugly head. Maybe it would keep her from focusing too much on the details of what had just happened here.
“I’ll call your parents,” I said. “I’ll have them meet you at the hospital.”
I watched as the medics loaded her into the back of the ambulance before turning to the officer as he exited my busted-up coffee shop and bakery. I really wanted to follow my best friend and make sure she really was okay, but I had a more pressing conversation to have with my aunts.
“So,” said the officer, “I think I have enough for now, but I may have some follow-up questions.”
Of course you will, I think.
“And I really don’t think you should be walking home if that was what you were planning,” he added.
“How’d you know?”
“Your friend said your aunt was sending someone to pick you up. No need. I’ll drop you off.”
I opened my mouth to argue, but the look he gave me silenced all objections.
“Fine. Just let me lock up and grab my purse.” This was going to be a long night.