Coming out this Halloween!
(Rough draft sample chapters)
There was a sudden creak on the floorboards. A subtle shift of weight. The last rays of the setting sun cast the little store in waves of scattered darkness, flickering through the blinds on the windows, glittering off a pair of long, serrated fangs. A long shadow rose slowly out of the darkness, creeping its way towards the front counter.
For a moment, all was still. The world itself seemed to be holding its breath.
Then, with a blood-curdling cry, the vampire hurled itself out of the shadows…
…for the sixth time.
“Jimmy,” I looked up from my sketchbook, bored out of my mind, “how many times do I have to say it? The costumes are for paying customers only. Keep parading that thing around and I’m going to charge you for damages.”
There was a muffled laugh and a little boy pried off the sticky mask, grinning from ear to ear with a six-year-old smile. “You can’t charge me. I don’t have any money.”
I blew back my recently-acquired bangs with an exasperated sigh, setting down the sketches as I walked out from behind the counter. “Yeah…I kind of figured.”
Most days of the year, the shop where I worked after school functioned as a basic apothecary. Weaved nets of herbs and ominous looking spices hung from the ceiling, warding away all but a few loyal customers while filling the air with the pleasant scent of sage. It was quiet and sunny—a perfect place to work on my drawings while greedily collecting my minimum wage paycheck every Friday afternoon.
But every October, tragedy struck. Every October, the store put away its fragrant plants and stocked the shelves with bat wings and witches hats instead, transforming into Hallowood Heights’ only Halloween costume shop. This meant that instead of drawing, I spent the bulk of my time trying to stop Jimmy Alden and his band of miscreant friends from sticking the decorative fangs in their mouths.
“Now beat it,” I demanded, pushing the increasingly-annoying bangs out of my eyes as I shoved him towards the door, “I’m closing up.”
He dug in his heels, looking longingly at the fake eyeballs. “Just five more minutes?”
“Nope,” I said firmly, glancing out the windows. “Where’s your mother anyway? If this is her way of trying to get free baby-sitting, you tell Miranda Alden that ship has sailed. No amount of Subway gift cards is worth spending the evening with a monster like you.”
“I was a vampire!”
“Vampire, monster. Same thing.”
Jimmy grinned, displaying several holes where his teeth should have been. I remembered the day I turned thirteen, I went out and did what every other young woman in my town of nine hundred people did when they reached such a wise age. I put out little cards with my phone number (my parents’ phone number, really) at the local supermarket, and all the shops on Main Street, advertising my services as a paid guardian of children.
Jimmy Alden was my first charge. I should have known that something was wrong when I got the call within ten minutes of walking home from my ceremonial trek. All the other girls had already given up on the Aldens. After only a few months, I would too.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He gazed up at me innocently. “You said you liked cheese.”
I gave him a hard look.
“No one likes cheese that much. Now get out of here before I boil you alive.”
He giggled again, cocking his head curiously as he stared at my face. “Did you get a new haircut? You look different.”
My hand automatically lifted to shove the bangs out of my face. “Yeah…I saw this picture in a magazine. But you know how hair always looks different in a magazine than it actually does when you…” I trailed off suddenly, realizing I’d been duped. “Why on earth are we having this conversation? You’re not staying—get out of here.”
He pushed out his lower lip and pouted as an elderly woman pushed past him into the store. “Why? She gets to stay.”
“No she doesn’t,” I muttered, in a sudden hurry to go before any other customers could sneak in past the hour. Without another word, I pulled his hat down over his head, and shoved him towards the door. “Go—I see your mom across the street.”
He took off running, and I shook my head with a reluctant smile.
“Look both ways!”
Why did I even bother? In a town this small everything was so close we didn’t even need cars. Might as well go back to the horse and buggy system.
Forcing a polite smile, I flipped back my hair and turned to the old woman. She was perusing a display of crystal balls—picking each one up with a rather nostalgic look on her face.
“You know,” she croaked, “the last time I saw one of these was in a catacomb on Surrey Island. They say the crystal had been forged in a fiery cavern revealed only by the tide.” Her eyes flashed electric blue as she fixed them on my face. “Where did you get these?”
Was this for real?
I considered lying for a moment, before I picked one up and flipped it upside-down.
“Made in Taiwan.”
“It’s fake. Like you.”
I cocked a brow. “Excuse me.”
“You pretend to fit in with this world, but you stick out like a sore thumb.”
I wasn’t sure what she meant. “What?”
“They hid you well. I give them that. We didn’t know you existed until now. Better watch your step. You have many enemies.”
“I don’t have any enemies. There isn’t one mean bone in my body.”
“You do. And you will have more as of tomorrow. Your eighteenth birthday is like a beacon in the darkness. All that power and energy flowing through your veins. You’ll attract many, you know.”
I chuckled. “Who put you up to this? Beth?”
She studied me. “You don’t know, do you?”
“Know what? That you’re playing some kind of Halloween prank on me?”
“They thought by not telling you the truth that you’d be safe…but your naivety will be your downfall.”
Those blue eyes bore into me again, and I smiled sweetly.
“Actually ma’am, we were just closing up for the night. I’d be happy to ring you up if you’re ready, otherwise I can put one of these on hold for you.”
“No, that’s quite alright.” She gathered up her purse with a rather peculiar smile. “I’ve seen everything I need to.”
She was leaving and I was about to get my wish, but the woman stopped suddenly as she swept towards the door. Her head jerked sharply back towards me, as if someone had called her name, before her eyes landed on my throat. An instinctual shiver crept up my spine, but before I could even take a step away, she was right in front of me—moving impossibly fast for someone so old.
“That’s a lovely necklace.” Her eyes dilated hungrily as a set of withered fingers stroked the pendant I always wore around my neck. “Where did you get it?”
I shivered again and wrapped it protectively in my hand. “I don’t know…I’ve always had it,” I mumbled, wondering why she was standing so close. “Must have come from my parents.”
A high-pitched laugh rang out in the little store, vibrating the windows and chattering my teeth. “Yes. It must have. And it confirms exactly who you are.”
She was gone without another word. Leaving me blinking and frozen in her wake.
It wasn’t until the bell chimed above the door—announcing her departure— that I was able to snap myself out of it. A final shudder trembled through my arms, before I glanced at the clock, snatched up my sketchbook, and swept out the door myself—shaking back my stupid bangs as I headed off into the night.
Why was October so cold?
* * *
I called a few friends and none had confessed to pranking me. So I figured the lady was crazy. The lady must’ve seen the birthday poster the owner at the shop had put up for me wishing me a happy eighteenth birthday.
The smell of cheese ravioli hit me hard as I opened the front door to my house, making my mouth water as the steam warmed my chilly skin. I dropped my bags in a heap in the corner and made my way into the kitchen, pouring myself a glass of water as I settled into a chair.
“Hey, honey,” my mother looked up with a smile from where she was poking at little pastas on the stove, “how was work? All the Halloween crazies coming out to play yet?”
I lay down my head on the counter with a groan. “I don’t get it. It’s still three weeks away. Do they really need this much of a jump-start?”
She chuckled and poured in a jar of sauce. “It’s good for you—this kind of suffering. It builds character.” I groaned again and she grinned. “At the very least, it will give you great inspiration for your drawings.” She held up her hands so her fingers were framing an imaginary headline. “A Town Devolving. I can see it now…”
“That’s right,” I yawned and stretched out my arms in front of me. “I can draw Jimmy Alden jumping out at me dressed as a vampire sixteen hundred times.”
She laughed again, pulling the pot off the stove and flipping off the burner. “I can’t believe Miranda just lets him run around and—Sophia.” She stopped sharply, staring at me from across the room. “Look at me.”
For the second time that day—chills. I had been so caught up in all my self-righteous work angst, I had completely forgotten. “Oh, uh…actually, I’m not that hungry. I’ll just—”
A manicured finger caught me by the chin and tilted up my head. “Did you get bangs?!”
I felt the color pooling in my cheeks as I avoided her eyes. It wasn’t just that I’d taken it upon myself to get a haircut all on my own. It turned out to be a rather stupid hair cut as well…
“So?” I foolishly decided to challenge her. “I can style myself all on my own, thanks. I’m turning eighteen tomorrow, after all. By all legal standards, I’m an adult at midnight.”
She raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips like she was trying not to smile. “And this is your first act of adulthood. This…hair?”
My shoulders wilted as a rather crestfallen look came over my face.
“Can we call it the last mistake of childhood instead?”
Another bout of laughter rang out as she pulled me into her arms. Her fingers fluffed back through my locks in a practiced sort of way, and when we finally pulled back, there was a twinkle in her eye.
“Tell you what—let’s eat this pasta before it gets cold. And after dinner, you’ll let your mom fix this one up for you. A last motherly intervention—for old time’s sake.”
A reluctant grin lifted the corners of my lips.
“I suppose that would be alright.”
She rolled her eyes and carried the pasta to the table. “Don’t be in such a hurry to grow up, Soph. Trust me…bad haircuts will be the least of your problems.”
I settled myself down in a chair and dished myself out a steaming plate. “What’s that supposed to mean? I’ll be old enough to get my own place.”
“Yeah,” she laughed humorlessly, “you’ll be able to move out. And pay bills. And make mortgage payments. And student loans. And all kinds of other fun things that come from entering the world of adulthood.”
I grinned again. “Well thanks, mother dearest, it sounds like a dream.”
“If you’re really lucky, you’ll end up with some smart-ass kid who will make you seriously think twice about the merits of birth control—”
“Okay, you’ve made your point.”
“Happy early birthday.”
* * *
Despite my mother’s caustic warning, I went to bed excited that night. So excited, I could hardly get to sleep. Eighteen. Eighteen-years-old.
I could vote. I’d be legal. Fair game. A woman on the prowl.
A silly grin stretched across my face as I lay back and gazed up at the ceiling. ‘Woman on the prowl.’ Sure. In our town of less than a thousand people—all of whom, I knew their first, middle, and last names. Not a lot of prowling to be done.
I don’t know when I finally started drifting off. I don’t know when fatigue overcame excitement and sleep began to take me. All I remember is the dream.
It was a dream I could never forget.
I blinked around in confusion, wondering how exactly I’d gotten outside. I could feel the chilled wind against my bare shoulders—the early morning dew at my feet. It was beautiful out here. A lovely little meadow, untouched by the outside world. There were flower mixed in with the long grass, and the sky above me was tinted with just the faintest traces of pink as the sun came up over the horizon.
Then I heard the scream.
The perfect image in front of me shattered into a million pieces, as I slowly rotated around. Untouched by the outside world? Not hardly. It looked like the outside world was using the beautiful meadow to have some kind of a party.
My eyes swept over the blunt torches with confusion. Why weren’t they using flashlights? And their clothes—those didn’t look like regular jackets. They looked more like something we would sell in our shop. Like some kind of mid-century cloaks. And what was that they were all gathered around. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear it was an—
“Please!” the girl screamed again. “Please—don’t hurt me.”
A horrified chill swept up my spine. It was then that I realized what kind of ‘party’ this was. It wasn’t a celebration at all.
It was a sacrifice.
The girl was tied to a slab of stone in the middle of the grass—straining against her ropes until her wrists bled with the effort. Tears of pure terror were rolling down her cheeks, and she was gazing up at the people around her like I did—like she didn’t understand who they were, what was going on, or how she had even gotten there.
The people themselves couldn’t have been less concerned. They ignored her, chanting in a language I didn’t understand, as they formed a silent ring around the stone alter. The tallest one, a man standing in the middle, pulled something out of his pocket and raised it high in the air. The blade flashed silver in the waning moonlight.
The girl screamed again as she realized what was about to happen. This time, I screamed too. I tried racing towards her, but my feet wouldn’t move. Even though I’d started yelling with all my might, no one even looked my way. Not the girl. Not the people who were about to kill her.
There was a flash of silver, then all the screaming stopped. The smooth stones trickled down a river of crimson onto the tall grass, and the ring of people bowed their heads.
“One down…” the man muttered with a smile. “One to go…”
I jerked awake with a start. My mom and dad were hovering over me—wearing the kind of ridiculous party hats I sold at the store. Their faces were frozen in identical, goofy smiles, and the second I opened my eyes, two ear-splitting kazoos whipped out in celebration.
“You’re eighteen now!” my dad said.
My face paled as the scene I’d witnesses faded quickly before my eyes. But while it might have faded, it was in no way forgotten. I could still smell the wet grass. I could still hear the girl’s pleading scream—
“Well,” my mother threw an arm around my shoulder, jolting me even further out of my midnight reverie and pulling me back to the present, “now that you’re officially awake, I guess it’s time to ask the obvious question: how do you feel, kiddo?”
My fingers trembled as I stared from one to the other, trying to keep up.
“S-sorry,” I stammered, “about what?”
My dad laughed and settled on the other side of me. “About the death of childhood!”
A shudder ran through my body, as my mother burst out laughing. “About officially being a grownup! Is the world of adulthood as scary as I made it sound last night?”
I took another second to catch my breath, before forcing my face into a casual smile. “I’ll have to keep you posted. So far, so good.”
The two of them got to their feet—still chuckling at their cleverness at my first birthday surprise ‘heart-attack-by-kazoos.’
“I had a bad dream, more like a nightmare,” I said. “I saw this woman sacrificed. And it felt so real, like I was witnessing it.”
“Honey, it was just a dream,” my dad said. “You’re working at a Halloween shop. And isn’t there a bloody display with a lady being sacrificed?”
“Working there all day and seeing that would trigger a dream like that. And didn’t you watch a horror movie last night with your mom?”
I nodded. “I know. You’re right. It was just weird, that’s all. I never have nightmares like that.”
They gave me some more words of encouragement, and then in a flash, they were out the door and down the stairs.
I pondered. I felt like I was actually there. It wasn’t like a normal dream. I tried to make sense of it. But my dad was right. I bet the Halloween season was getting to me.
“Out of bed, sleepy-head!” my dad called up the stairs. “I bet you’re stalling! Scared to eat my pancakes?”
I smiled. My dad had a lot of talents, but cooking was not one of them. Nonetheless, every year he made (and burned) me a huge stack of pancakes for my birthday breakfast. It was a disgusting tradition, but one that I relished even so.
“I’m coming, I’m coming!”
I threw my legs over the side of the bed and pulled myself to my feet—catching my reflection in the mirror on the way to my dresser. It was something that happened every morning, but this time, I couldn’t help but pause.
I didn’t look any different. I didn’t look any older.
I turned my face this way and that, examining it for even the most minute change.
Nope—everything looked pretty much exactly the same. Minus the awesome hair-intervention my mom had given me the night before.
I smirked as the lovely chestnut bangs swung gracefully back and forth, framing my pale skin and making my wide brown eyes seem even bigger than before.
“Just like in the magazine…”
Suddenly the light in my room flickered.
That’s weird. Maybe a power surge.
I headed downstairs and sat down as my dad loaded my plate with crispy pancakes.
“I tried. I really did,” he said. “I only make these once a year on your birthday.”
I laughed. “Lucky me.”
My mother poured me a glass or orange juice. Just as I went to thank her, the glass exploded and orange juice flew. I screamed and jumped up.
“What happened?” my dad asked as he ran over.
“It just exploded!” I said.
“Are you sure?”
“I saw it. It just exploded. That was really strange.”
My mother came over and cleaned it up. “Don’t worry about it.”
I felt my hands start to shake. “Something feels different.”
“You’re another year older,” my mom said.
“No, it feels like something else. But I have no idea how to explain it. I feel different. I feel on edge. I sense danger.”
“It’s that nightmare you had,” my dad said.
“Yeah, that has to be it. It really shook me up.”
“Don’t dwell on bad dreams. Just try to enjoy your birthday.”
I smiled and took a calming breath. “You’re right. I think I will.”
“We’ll rent a movie. And I’m not letting you or your mom rent another horror flick.”
One terrible thing for kids who were born in October was that, odds are, you had to go to school on your birthday. I was no exception.
After choking down as much charred batter as I could stand, I slung my book bag over my shoulder and headed off to school, feeling a little sick. Another birthday morning tradition.
My best friend Beth greeted me the second I set foot on campus. Even if I hadn’t been looking for her, I would have seen her all the same. She was the only person at the school who insisted upon still wearing slutty summer clothing despite the autumn chill. She was also standing beneath possibly the largest gathering of balloons I had ever seen.
“Happy Birthday!” she shrieked when she saw me. She ran over, the balloons bobbing in a swarm above her head.
I beamed. “Thank you! You’re the sweetest!”
Suddenly, a few of the balloons popped and I jumped back.
“Oh no,” she said. “It’s the thought that counts, right?”
“Only a few popped.”
“That’s weird. It’s not even windy or anything.”
“Weird is my middle name today.”
“You eat all the pancakes?” she asked. You feeling sick yet?”
I laughed. “Yes, and yes. Although I have to say, I’m surprised you didn’t notice—”
“Oh my GOSH—look at your hair!”
There it was.
“I know, right?” I tossed it over my shoulder with a seductive smirk. “What do you think? Very officially-the-age-of-consent?”
She cracked up, having made the same revelation herself not two months earlier.
“Absolutely! For all the good it will do you around here.”
The two of us giggled and linked arms, heading up the wide sloping steps as the balloons clumped stubbornly above us. The rest of the students waved cheerfully and parted to make a path, probably not wanting to get caught next to us when we tried to squeeze inside the doors.
“But seriously,” Beth babbled on, “maybe we should make some kind of road trip into the city this weekend. There’s supposed to be this awesome new club opening, and if Caleb’s older brother will finally come through with those fake IDs, then we can probably—”
My head spun around as something hard smacked into my shoulder. A whiff of citrus and sandalwood washed over me, as I tilted up my chin and squinted into the sun.
The hottest guy I had ever seen gazed back at me.
This couldn’t be real. I couldn’t be seeing this right. No way did someone actually look like this in real life. Let alone, someone in Hallowood Heights.
The body. The face. Those eyes.
The faint dimples that appeared as his smile curved up into a smirk.
It was the smirk that brought me back down to earth, snapping my attention back to the present as Beth chattered on obliviously by my side, completely missing the life-shattering moment that was happening right next to her.
With an instinct ingrained by years of watching female-empowering television, I jutted up my chin and have him a sarcastic once-over. “Watch where you’re going.” I then shot him a huge smile.
The dimples grew even more pronounced as his eyes twinkled.
The next second he was gone, leaving me in a little cloud of that delicious scent. I sucked in a deep breath of it as I tried to gather my wits. Well aware that the only evidence of me actually having met this Adonis was blowing away in the wind. He didn’t go to this school. I wondered who he was.
“—and that’s when I told him that the only way we were going to be caught dead in that thing, was if we were living somewhere they didn’t sell PopTarts to begin with.”
There was a beat, then I turned slowly back to Beth.
She flipped back her head impatiently. “Caleb. Fake ID’s. Breakfast pastries. Keep up.”
“Right,” I shook my head quickly, scanning back over my head for the guy, “sorry. But I got distracted by the cute guy who bumped into me.”
“He’s gone. He had to be about twenty or so.”
“You have got to let me know when you spot a hottie!”
“I will. I promise. It just happened so fast.”
That handsome face was etched into my mind. I desperately wanted to know who the stranger was.
After school, I went to work at the Halloween shop.
“That’ll be seventeen-fifty.”
I slipped the boxes of fake teeth into a bag, protecting them with a layer of decorative orange and black tissue paper. I hadn’t asked why the town banker required what amounted to three pounds of fake molars, and he hadn’t told me. I could only hope it wasn’t some kind of ‘demolish the entire town to steal our money leaving nothing behind but sabotaged dental records’ kind of thing. Then again, my mother always said I had a wild imagination.
But the banker wasn’t the only weirdo skulking about town. I blamed it on the damn holiday. The closer we got, the more all the crazies I never saw any other time of the year came out to play. Just on the way in here, I could have sworn I walked past a grown man sporting a pair of fangs. Although to be fair, the weirdest person in that encounter was probably me. Instead of being curious, my first instinct was a bizarre burst of territorial rage.
Where the hell did he get fangs like that? I knew for a fact they hadn’t come from my shop…
The clock on the wall must have broken down in sheer boredom, because I swear, time had never crawled by so slowly. There was a steady group of customers, so I was never really alone, but still—not exactly what a girl wants to be doing on her birthday.
By the time seven o’clock rolled around, I was out the door and across the street before anyone could stop me.
A frigid wind swooped down on me the second I pulled open the door, sending it (and me) flying back on the hinges. I caught it just before it banged against the brick wall, and forced it shut—digging in my boots to anchor it in place while I struggled to lock it.
The sound of soft laughter drifted across the darkened street, and I whipped my head around to see who had witnessed my humiliation. Turns out, it was the last person in the world I would have wanted to see.
It was that guy again, the one I’d run into at school. The one who was so beautiful, I finally understood what people meant when they said someone ‘took their breath away.’
My face turned a million shades of scarlet, and I ducked it quickly down to finish locking up. When I glanced back up through my lashes, he was still standing there—but he was no longer looking at me. His eyes were fixed on something just over my shoulder, something that had wiped the smile clean off his face.
A little shiver ran up my skin as I stared in fascination. Never before had I seen someone look so beautiful and so angry, all at the same time. But angry didn’t really begin to cover it. I realized, with a start, that I had never seen someone look downright scary. Dangerous.
Not like this guy did.
I peeked over my shoulder to see what had him so riled up, but there was nothing there. Only the old lady who had accosted my poor necklace in the store the previous day. A little frown creased my forehead as I glanced back across the street, but the guy was already walking away. He was texting someone on his phone, fingers flying over the keys, not a care in the world.
I headed off in the opposite direction, taking a shortcut down an alley as I played it back in my head. Just goes to show, even the pretty ones have a flaw, I thought sagely. Then I mentally complimented myself. See? This adulthood business was making me wiser already.
“You know, my dear…”
I whirled around with a shriek to see the old woman standing directly behind me. She’d moved so quietly, I hadn’t even heard her walk up. And although I wasn’t sure if she realized it yet herself, she was standing at such an angle that I couldn’t move past her. In fact, as she took a step forward, I backed myself into a wall.
“…that really is a lovely necklace.”
And that…is that moment that my entire world turned upside-down.
I watched in horror as the woman transformed before my very eyes. Her teeth elongated into horrific fangs. Her blue eyes darkened to the color of blood. Bones snapped as her wrinkled body stretched and hardened into something that looked like walking shadow. There was a sound as soft as a whisper as her floral print dress and handbag fell in a forgotten pile on the wet street.
“Just a taste,” she murmured, her voice sounded like it was coming up through the ground. “One drink, and then I’ll send you to hell with the rest of your clan.”
Her knotted hands reached towards me, sharpening into claws as they traced the base of my throat. My heart raced. It all happened so fast. It was like the woman had supernatural speed. I didn’t even have time to turn and run. I could feel sharp fangs across my skin. Panic flooded through me and I wondered if this was my final moment.
At that very moment, a silver blade shot through the center of her chest. Her eyes widened in surprise, just like mine, before she fell without a word to the ground—convulsing and shivering up until there was nothing left but an old dress and a weathered hand bag.
In her place, stood the hot guy I’d seen before. The bloody knife still in his hands. A manic smile lighting his handsome face. His chest rose and fell with quick, shallow breaths—but he didn’t seem at all afraid. In fact, he seemed almost…excited.
“Are you okay?” he asked, looking me up and down.
I blinked. Then blinked again. Then a shaky hand came up to push my quivering hair back out of my eyes. “Sorry…” my voice sounded much higher than usual. “What was that thing?”
“I’m afraid you’ll know soon enough.”
“I need to know now!”
He pulled what looked like a bag of powder out of his jacket pocket.
“Don’t worry, darlin. You’re not going to remember any of this anyway.”