My first effort at Self-Publishing. This 36,000 Word novella is available only on Amazon in Kindle Format
As children Jade McCarthy and Allison Sarro entered a creepy old house on a dare. Something was in the house and they barely escaped unscathed.At the same time, children were going missing in the community and the police were left clueless.
Years later, and a lot of water under the bridge, they bump into one another and are surprised when the sparks of chemistry fly between them. Shortly thereafter, children start going missing once again. As an FBI pathologist, Allison is thrust into the investigation and asks Jade for help. The two become embroiled in a mystery filled with danger and intrigue as they attempt to rescue the children and escape with their lives.
“Sure is spooky,” Gene observed in a curiously hushed voice.
With a jolt, Jade realized that they had arrived. She stopped her bike at the beginning of a long, overgrown driveway. There were no streetlights here, only the light of a nearly full moon illuminated the ruined manor house. Tall, dry grass swayed in the evening breeze, the stalks whispering as they moved against each other telling stories of murder and mayhem. Jade shivered as the hair on the back of her neck prickled in fear.
“Me and my big mouth,” she groused in a lowered tone.
“Should have thought of that before you butted into my business, McCarthy.” Billy tried to sound pompous, but Jade noticed that his voice was lowered, too.
She decided to take advantage of his fear in an attempt to turn the situation to her favor. “I'm doing this because I said I would, but on one condition.”
“No conditions, McCarthy. You already said you'd do it.”
Jade could have kissed her when Sarah rushed to her aid. “What's the matter, Billy? Scared?”
Jade smiled as the words had the desired effect. What bully could resist a dare? Not Billy, she decided as his chest puffed out.
“Not even close. What's your condition?”
“If I go in there, you can't pick on the younger kids anymore.”
“What? That ain't fair. You go in the house once and I gotta let people walk all over me forever?”
A minor disagreement broke out until Jade offered a compromise. “No one said you can't defend yourself. But what if you just leave the kids alone that are littler than you?”
Billy spat on the ground. “Fine, otherwise we’ll be standing here arguing all night and I really want to know if the house is haunted, but I got a condition of my own. You gotta bring something out of the house to prove you really went in and didn't just stand inside the door.”
“Yeah, I know. You said that already, brainchild. Besides, the place is abandoned,” Jade reminded him. “What am I gonna find in there to bring out?”
“So you might have to look around a little,” he goaded. After a few more moments when she just stared at him without comment he asked sarcastically, “Now who's scared?”
Jade forgot about her concerns as he stoked the fires of her anger. She gripped her handlebars so hard that her knuckles turned white.
“Let's go, Sarah.”
Jade’s mouth became flat as her lips compressed together in determination. There was no turning back. Her eyes widened as she tried to take everything in on the brief ride down the driveway. Conscious of the small group watching from a short distance away, Jade kept her gaze fixed on the house. To her overactive imagination, it seemed like something evil also watched from within the ancient structure.
Both girls dismounted and dropped their bikes on the ground without taking their eyes off the house. Jade waited a moment, hoping that Sarah would take the lead. She could feel the shakes start in the depths of her bones, but would never admit it out loud.
“Uh uh, not a chance, Nancy Drew. You got us into this so you go first.” Sarah obstinately regarded Jade with folded arms.
Jade mumbled “chicken,” under her breath and reached for the flashlight she had tucked in her hip pocket. She waited for Sarah to retrieve her own. Finally, they ran out of excuses to delay the inevitable. Jade took a deep breath and started slowly for the front porch. Sarah's hand was resting on her shoulder and she was so close they appeared to be moving as one entity.
“Would you stop that?” Jade hissed in irritation as her foot came up on the first step.
“Stop what?” Sarah asked nervously. Jade heard her swallow hard.
She shrugged her shoulder for emphasis. “Stop breathing down my neck. You’re creeping me out.”
“Sorry.” Sarah backed up half a step.
Jade noticed Sarah gave her enough room to walk, but she didn’t back up very far. If a monster came rushing at them, she was probably going to shove Jade toward the creature and make a break for it. By sacrificing her best friend, Sarah would have enough time to get away.
The steps creaked as the girls climbed onto the porch. One of the boards was missing completely, and they carefully stepped over the gaping hole. Jade’s eyes fixed on the front door that hung slightly open from a busted hinge. The sensation of someone watching was stronger here. It felt like someone was daring her to enter the lair. She’d almost convinced herself to turn around and go home when Sarah bumped lightly into her from behind.
More concerned with what the other girl would think of her if she chickened out now, Jade swallowed and raised a hand. She rested tented fingers against the rotted wood and paused for a second to listen intently. Not even the crickets chirped in the yard as she applied slight pressure against the door. She winced as it swung inward with a rusty squeak.
Well that probably woke up all of the mummies.
Jade swept the interior of the living room with her light, amazed at the dirt and debris. Broken glass twinkled on the floor as the light caught it, silent testament to hours of rock throwing by vandals. Remnants of broken furniture littered the room and dust tickled her nose, threatening to make her sneeze.
“There's nothing in here that we can use,” Sarah whispered. Jade could hear her fear.
The comment reminded her that they needed to retrieve something from the house. “Let's try the kitchen.”
The room was set straight back from the living room. She could see the stove in the flashlight beam. Jade figured they’d have a better chance of finding something there. Perhaps there would be an old forgotten spoon left in the bottom of a drawer. Or maybe a knife. Yeah, a big knife that she could use to protect them.
Shadows crept across the inside of the house as though they were living things. The room Jade focused on was dark except for threads of moonlight around the edges of the back door and streamed in through the broken windows. Ancient yellowed wallpaper peeled off the walls and hung in long strips from the ceiling. The dusty room smelled of mildew, but it wasn't as littered with rubble as the living room. She took comfort in the fact that there was a back door. They could get out of the house quickly if they needed to. Jade and Sarah swept their lights back and forth to make sure they were alone.
“Check the drawers,” Jade instructed, taking one side of the cabinets while Sarah took the other.
Jade had squatted and pulled open the bottom drawer before she found anything other than dust. It looked like a junk drawer and was full of old paper. After tucking the flashlight under her arm, she began rummaging through in the hope of finding something useful. A sudden skittering up her spine caused Jade to freeze and her eyes to widen in alarm. She shot a glance at Sarah and saw her own fear reflected back at her in the girl’s pasty features.
Up to this point, it had been a game made all the more enchanting by the imagined fear of ghosts and goblins. All of that went out the window in a flash as eyes darkened with genuine fright cut to the back of the kitchen. Slowly following Sarah's gaze, Jade spotted what Sarah had already seen. A narrow band of light showed under the door to the cellar. Her breathing suddenly became noisy, virtually gasping, not in exhaustion but in abject terror as something down in the root cellar crashed and she realized they were not alone in the house.
Their mission completely forgotten for the sake of self-preservation, they bolted for the back door. Jade was closest to it and reached it in an instant. A scraping sound drew her attention and she looked back over her shoulder, watching in disbelief as Sarah's feet went out from under her. She landed on her knees. Sarah choked off a cry of pain and Jade saw her reach down to pick at something on the floor. She automatically grabbed for Sarah’s hand and tugged her toward the door.
“Hurry, Jade, hurry,” Sarah whispered urgently as footsteps thumped up from behind the closed door. Sweat popped out on Jade’s forehead and she had the sudden urge to urinate when she saw the bare door handle stem sticking out from the door face.
“I can't,” Jade practically wailed. “The knob's gone.”
Sarah shone her light down at the door. Only the metal shaft from the handle that remained on the outside was visible. Rusted in place, it seemed to mock them with the possibility of escape so near at hand yet impossibly out of their reach. They huddled against the door with their arms clutching each other desperately, and turned to face the unknown terror heading their way. Braced for the inevitable, they were surprised when the door suddenly opened behind them and they fell into a tangled heap on the back porch. Jade cried out at the shadow looming over her and then realized it was the blond girl from the playground, Allison.
“It’s time to go,” the seven-year-old said, leading Jade and Sarah away from the house.
Jade noticed Allison quickly pushed the door closed again before running for her bicycle, which was near her own. It was a little pink thing with a wicker basket and knobby white tires, but it was transportation. All three girls hopped on their bikes and rode as quickly as they could toward the boys waiting at the end of the drive.
“Hey, what's she doing here?” Billy asked, pointing to Allison.
“Saving our bacon,” Jade shot back, ignoring his posturing while Sarah informed him that someone was in the house.
All of them headed for town, glancing frequently over their shoulders. Jade was convinced a pack of demons was chasing them. Only Allison seemed unconcerned, and Jade wondered if she was too young to understand just what was happening. She had saved them, but Allison now delayed their escape. Her tiny legs just couldn’t pedal fast enough to keep up. The boys were unwilling to wait for Allison and informed them that they would meet again at the hardware store. They took off, leaving the three girls alone in the night.
“Thank you,” Jade said to Allison. “You're too little to be out here on your own, but you really came through. I owe you one.”
“You owe me nothing,” the little girl said in her sweetly accented voice. “We are even now.”
“Well, I guess we still lost the bet. We didn't get anything to prove we were inside.” Somehow, she didn’t feel too bad about it. At least they didn’t get crunched up into powder by a kid-eating troll.
“Yes we did.”
Confused, Jade looked at Sarah as they pedaled. She was delighted to see something dangling from a chain, wobbly in the moonlight as Sarah moved.
“It's what I slipped on in the kitchen.”
Jade winced with guilt as she saw the bloodstained, torn jeans. “Is it bad?”
“Nah, it's just a scratch. Don't worry about it.”
Finally, they arrived back in town. The meeting with the boys took only a few minutes. Sarah proudly showed them what she had found and then Jade threatened to beat Billy up again when he tried to take the chain from her. Eventually, passions faded as exhaustion reared its head. The kids broke up and all headed for home. Jade told Sarah she would make sure Allison got home all right, but as she turned to leave Sarah stopped her by grabbing her hand.
“This is for you, Nancy Drew.” She pressed the object into Jade's hand. It was the chain Sarah had found. It was a lightweight thing, like the chain to a gold necklace. Jade quickly hugged her friend before climbing onto the bike and riding away.
Jade accompanied Allison home. She rode away in amazement, impressed by the little girl’s stubborn streak. The window to Allison’s bedroom was so high that she needed to boost her up enough to grasp the sill. Jade felt a measure of respect for someone so small with so much determination and courage.
After dropping her bike on the ground, Jade wearily climbed the tree and entered her room. Everything looked exactly as it had when she had left. Confident that her parents were none the wiser, Jade changed into her pajamas, climbed between the sheets, and promised herself that she would never step foot inside Norwood Manor again.