Authors: Jennifer Walkup
Published by Luminis Books
1950 East Greyhound Pass, #18, PMB 280,
Carmel, Indiana, 46033, U.S.A.
Copyright © Jennifer Walkup, 2013
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-935462-86-6
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-935462-85-9
eBook ISBN: 978-1-935462-87-3
Printed in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
First reader, first friend
Early praise for
“Deliciously creepy and hauntingly beautiful,
satisfied my urge for both thrills and romance, all in one exciting package. Just be warned: extreme fear of the dark—and barns—might occur as a result of reading.”
—Debra Driza, author of
“A supernatural murder mystery with a love interest rooted in the past and present … A fast-paced thriller best read with the lights on.”
“A beautifully written story of love and loss that weaves past and present into a haunting tale that will keep you guessing until the final pages.”
—Dawn Rae Miller, author of the
“Part mysterious ghost story and part thriller,
twists will keep you riveted. The intense connection between Lange and Vaughn is electric. A truly original debut.”
—Cindy Pon, author of
Fury of the Phoenix
More Young Adult fiction from Luminis Books:
Maybe I Will
by Laurie Gray
by Tracy Richardson
to listen to one more debate about decapitation versus stabbing, I may just throw up.
Yet here we are again.
“I’m putting my money on an axe murder downtown. Tons of blood,” Stace says, propping her feet on an empty cafeteria chair. “I’m talking in your face gore and guts.”
Leaning back, Vaughn drums the edge of the table. “The messier the scene, the more popular it is. Remember that year with the beheaded family? That was awesome.”
“Ew, guys, seriously?” I say. “While we’re eating?” Even though this kind of talk has been buzzing around Preston Academy all month, it still makes me squeamish.
Kelly grins at me. “Wait, let me give my theory real quick before Lange throws up.”
“You better make it quick,” I say. “Because if you guys keep it up, I may just have to murder one of you for real.”
Laughter bursts around the table as Kelly continues, “I’m betting on some type of serial killer situation.” She pushes her headband through her fire-red hair. “Something psychological, and still in motion. Like you have to figure out who’s next before you find the killer.”
“Totally against the rules. The deed has to be done by nine p.m.,” Ben says, expression serious. “And trust me,” he says to me. “By the time The Hunt rolls around, you’ll be completely into it.”
“I doubt that.” I nibble the edges of my sandwich. “Unless of course, you guys have managed to land me in the psych ward by then, which at this point is a definite possibility.”
Stace giggles. “Never say never, Lange.”
“Never,” I say in a mock serious voice.
I’ve only been at Preston Academy of Arts since September, but the one thing I learned quickly is that they take this Hunt thing very seriously. Halloween in general seems pretty important to everyone in Shady Springs, but especially this decades-old tradition of The Hunt, a staged murder in town the night before the holiday. The deed in question is some kind of faked-up murder scheme, usually brutal from what I hear, put on by the seniors for us underclassmen to solve. The winner receives bragging rights, a free day off and a parking spot in senior row for a week. I guess if you put enough creative people in one school, things are bound to get weird.
Vaughn leans across the table, widening his beautiful brown eyes. “You’re pretty anti-Halloween for someone who agreed to host a séance.”
I grin. Tonight’s the Friday the 13th séance at my house, my only contribution to the Halloween festivities. After listening to my friends and everyone else in school talk about The Hunt, and after seeing every store on Main Street decked out in Halloween decorations like a spooky haunted village, I’d had the perfect idea for a freak-out of my own. The fact that the 13th fell on a Friday this October was just icing on the cake.
“That’s totally different. I’m all for Halloween creepiness, as long as it’s not bloody. But this ax-murderer-decapitation-hunting-down-a-killer stuff is kind of sick, no?”
“Rookie,” Stace jokes, rolling her eyes.
“Be nice.” Ben wags a finger at her.
“Fine, fine. I’m a murder rookie. I’ll admit it.” I shrug. “Anyway, for tonight, come whenever you guys want. Kelly and I are setting up after school, right?”
Kelly bobs her head. “Yes! Wait till you see what I borrowed from the Costumes department.”
“Awesome. My mom’ll be in the house all night, but she knows the barn’s off limits.”
“You scared?” Vaughn raises an eyebrow.
“Nah. It’ll be fun.”
I was used to living in our huge, two-hundred year old farmhouse. It’s the perfect setting for a séance, not just because it’s old, but also because of the brutal murder that took place there years ago. And while nothing too creepy has happened in the four months we’ve lived there, I don’t doubt there could be spirits hanging around. I just hope if there are, they aren’t angry about the séance.
“Ha! You should see your face. You’re white as, well, a ghost.” Vaughn elbows Stace and motions to me. “Twenty bucks says Lange passes out before the séance is over.”
“Ha, ha. Very funny.”
Stace looks at me sideways. “So possibly contacting real ghosts is fine, but fake murders are scary?”
“Something like that.” I laugh.
We’re still debating the plausibility of ghosts when the bell rings. Ben and Kelly stand first, arm in arm on their way to toss their garbage. Ben, a concert pianist since he could walk, is the straightest-laced guy in the world. Today he’s wearing dark jeans and a white button down shirt, and these fancy brown dress shoes, like he works in an office. But that’s totally him. Kelly, who dresses like a gypsy most days, is the total opposite. You’d think they had nothing in common. I mean, Kelly has a nose ring. Ben has a side part. But they’re such good friends, I
thought they were a couple when I first met everyone early in the summer at the Brew Ha Ha coffee house.
“Wait up, guys!” Stace calls, slinging her patchwork backpack over her shoulder. Ben and Kelly pause, lost in conversation and waiting. When Stace leans over to kiss Vaughn’s cheek, I sigh into my ham and cheese.
“Bye, you.” Stace says to him before turning to me. “See ya, Lange.”
“Later.” I half wave.
It would be much easier to crush on Vaughn if Stace didn’t seem so happy around him. It’s practically the only time she smiles. Her blond ponytail swings as she turns the corner with one last wave.
When she’s gone, Vaughn slides down the table to sit across from me. We have Creative Hour right after lunch, so we’re here for another period. He shrugs into his denim jacket, covering his Zeppelin shirt, which is a bit ratty, even for him.
He looks at me through lashes that all the mascara in the world will never give me. “So, what’s happening Languish?”
I roll my eyes at the name abuse. My name, Lange, is weird enough, thanks to my photographer mom’s obsession with the famous photographer Dorothea Lange. But I’ve never really minded. It’s different, like me, and gives a label to what I like to think of as non-conformity, but has probably always just been my not fitting in.
But Vaughn is in a constant state of trying to butcher it into something funny.
I smirk. “Like I haven’t heard that one. I thought you were supposed to be creative?”
He throws a balled up napkin at me, missing by a mile.
“Ah, an athlete too, I see.”
“Smartass.” He tucks his light brown hair behind his ears, a gesture that always makes me think of things I shouldn’t, like kissing, and how my fingers would feel all tangled in his hair.
Hiding my face, I rummage through my bag, in search of my favorite number six charcoal pencil, until my cheeks no longer feel warm. Finally, I open my sketchpad, sighing at the blank page. “I have this huge project for Motion Drawing and no idea where to start.”
“That sucks,” he says, drumming on the table again. “I’ve totally lost all inspiration lately too.”
Vaughn, a musical prodigy who’s given me chills with his renditions on the piano and can pretty much rock anything on his guitar, also writes incredible music. But lately, I’ve overheard him grumbling to Stace about Advanced Song Writing. Losing his poetry, he’s been saying. His lyrics are amazing, so I doubt he’s lost it, but whatever. Anxiety like this takes place all the time here. Unlike my last school in New Jersey, or even the really snooty one freshman year up in Boston, students at Preston are serious about their art. I close my sketchbook, watching from the corner of my eye as he pulls a Twinkie from his bag. I mock gag.
“What?” He asks, eating half of it with one bite.
“You do know what’s in those things, right?” I doodle on the cover of the sketchbook, lines and shapes that eventually resemble a tree. A winter oak, leafless and cold.
“Oh stop it. You know I’m addicted. And they help me think. What are you, a food snob, now? You drink all those lattes like they’re going out of style.”
“That’s totally different. Twinkies are like cockroaches. Atomic bombs, the apocalypse, whatever, Twinkies will still be here, never breaking down for all eternity. It’s fake food, you do know that?” I wrinkle my nose.
He stuffs the rest of it into his mouth and gives me a smirk. “It’s delicious.” White cream drips from his bottom lip.
“Ew, gross!” Laughing, I grab the leftover stack of napkins and toss them toward him.
“So did you mean what you said before?” He licks his fingers.
I shade the oak’s trunk with my charcoal pencil. “Which was…?”
“About the dead hanging around, ghosts and stuff? You believe in it?”
“I never said I did or I didn’t.” I think about the cool flashes I sometimes get, when I walk across the empty farmland behind our house. Involuntarily, I shiver. “Who wants to think about spirits lurking around us anyway?”
Vaughn looks at the table, his constant drumming providing a backbeat to our conversation. It’s kind of falsely soothing, like one of those white noise machines. “Well, I don’t think about it all the time or anything, and not ghosts exactly … but I do think about what happens. After we die, I mean.”
“Well that’s morbid.” I add a few lonely leaves around the base of the tree. I ignore the thrumming in my chest and wish we could change the subject.
“Even so,” he says. “Don’t you ever wonder?”
“I guess, but I try to focus on the now. To make life and art count for something while I can. You know?” I’m drawing an abandoned swing from the branch when I notice the absence of Vaughn’s drumming.
He stares at me like I’ve spoken another language.
“What?” I duck my head.
“What you just said … ” He has a thoughtful look on his face, like he’s thinking about something totally distant, his eyes burning with emotion I can only wish was for me. “It’s deep. Real.” He continues to stare, bobbing his head slightly. “It’s powerful, really.” His eyes widen and he chews on his lower lip.
“Uh, oh. I think I know that look.”
He nods. “Yep. You may have just sparked a bit of inspiration. Finally!” He moves fast, lit with sudden energy, rummaging in his bag for a pen and his beat up red notebook.
Writing like a madman, his pen scratches wildly across the page, pinning his notebook to the table with his left fist. He looks adorable when he’s in songwriting mode. Eyebrows drawn together over milk chocolate eyes, hair hanging in waves against sharp cheekbones. And that bottom lip, always caught by his top teeth.