Want a sneak peek at my newest novel, The House on Coven Cove? I’m 20,000 words in and my goal is 60,000 words. Here’s a look at chapter one.
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Chapter One: Bumps in the Night
“Come on, follow me.”
As I lie on my cold asylum bed, I hear those four words echo in my mind. A singular, unfortunate event tore my universe apart… forever.
I turned seventeen last summer. My birthday just happened to be the day after my mother’s death anniversary. As an early high school graduation gift, my father let me choose whether to live with my step-mother, Estelle, or continue living with him. They divorced when I was eight and Estelle moved across the country. Without a second thought, I chose my step-mother. Mountain people were nice and the weather was cooler. My dad’s place was in the middle of a California suburb and he stayed in a drunken stupor. Within a week of given permission to move, I was on a plane to Lavenville, North Carolina.
While on the plane, I pondered what life would be like in a new state. Estelle didn’t have biological children and she never remarried after the divorce. It was going to be the two of us and her cat, Migs, in an old house. She had bought the house only a month prior to my stay. The thought of us experiencing the newness of it together was magical.
When Estelle picked me up from the Lavenville Airport, I was surprised to see that she had changed. Her hair was longer, but it was not the thick, beige curls I was used to seeing. It was coarse-looking and frayed at the ends. Dark circles under her eyes made me wonder if she had slept in days. However, she wore an oversized knit sweatshirt, holiday leggings, and bright red pumps. She held a decorated poster that said Jonna Sweeney.
It was nice to finally see her again. She always made things seem okay even when my world seemed like it was crashing down around me. We hugged for a solid five minutes.
“I bought a new car! Want to see?” Estelle shrieked.
“Yeah, of course!”
As soon as I stepped outside, I could see a shiny black sports car that looked like a something Batman would drive. Both of us had ridiculous grins on our faces as we hopped in the Corvette, and were on our way to her new house. It was the biggest home I had ever been in. She sent me pictures of it when she first bought it, but nothing could have prepared me for the feeling I got when we pulled into the driveway.
It looked like it was out of a Victorian magazine – a dollhouse with white trim and shutters. The roof was tilted with snow-laden scalloped shingles and a set of stone steps led to a wrought iron storm door. Two matching towers were on either side of the house with stained glass windows depicting garden sceneries.
“Well, go on,” Estelle laughed as she stood behind me. “Make yourself at home.”
Snow fell off my boots and melted on the floor as I stepped through the front door. An overwhelming scent of apple cider warmed my nostrils. I could see a row of pillar candles burning on the fireplace mantle, which was cobblestone to match the front steps of the house. The hardwood floor was glistening with a fresh coat of wax.
“Your room will be right there, darling,” Estelle said as she heaved a large suitcase in the door and nodded toward the door on my right.
A shadow streaked across the floor at the bottom of the door. I was reluctant to go in. The door was painted mint-green to match the living room and the giant crystal knob added to my thought that this place was an oversized dollhouse. As I twisted the doorknob, I fully expected to see an entirely pink bedroom with a gossamer canopy and rows of porcelain dolls resting on the pillows.
Instead, I saw a small, dark bedroom. It had a full-size bed dressed in fluffy blue pillows and a matching down comforter. A black leather loveseat was positioned in the corner with an iron quilt rack beside it. I thought Migs had created the shadows under the door before I walked in.
“I’ll let you unpack while I make us some tea. Are you hungry? I’ll make us some cookies before dinner,” Estelle said after placing the last of my luggage in the room.
I flashed her a smile. “Thanks.”
After unpacking, I joined Estelle in the kitchen. She was hovering over a cast iron teapot with a mini-strainer in one hand and a bag of artisan tea in the other. Her body blocked what she was doing with her hands.
“I just visited the local tea shop yesterday,” she said, turning to face me.
I mingled around the kitchen and looked at her wall art, discretely glancing at her hands every minute or so. They had become so spotted and wrinkled in such short time. I trusted Estelle. But, after dad being accused of murdering my mother, I didn’t feel like I could fully trust anyone.
“This tea is called Bourbon and Apples,” she continued.
“Oh, that sounds fancy,” I said, taking my eyes off her hands, and meeting her gaze. “Is there anything I can do to help you?”
“Sure.” She motioned toward a silver serving set beside her enamel sink. “If you’ll bring me that teapot. Oh, and I forgot to tell you. The attic is–”
A knock on the door interrupted her.
“I’ll get it,” I said.
I passed through the small dining area, then through the living room to answer the door. The old handle squeaked as I pressed down on the thumb latch. The hammered dents in it made me wonder if it had been handmade when the house was built, and the small sliver of window was too far above my head for me to see who was there before I opened it.
I expected to see a salesman or a neighbor looking for their lost pet. Instead, Estelle’s Russian Blue cat, Migs, greeted me with a hiss then ran inside.
I poked my head a little further outside and looked both ways. Nothing caught my eye, except a squirrel running across a power line. Whoever knocked must have left in a hurry.
“I don’t see anyone,” I yelled back. “But, Migs ran inside. Is that okay?”
“Oh, yes! Of course!” Estelle yelled back at me, then began to hum a tune.
I sat on the leather recliner and soaked in my surroundings. A large, flat screen television was mounted on one wall. A gigantic, black and white framed picture of Migs was on the other. Within a few seconds, Estelle rounded the living room corner carrying the silver serving set, complete with a matching claw-foot teapot and two cups. She placed the set carefully on the coffee table, handed me a cup, then took her own and sat in a rocking chair.
“Help yourself to milk and sugar,” she said, then took a quick sip of her tea. “That was strange, no one being at the door. I could have sworn I heard someone knocking.”
“I heard it, too,” I said, then we looked at each other and laughed.
“It’s probably some neighbor kids playing a prank,” she replied with a smile, then adjusted her electric throw blanket so that it covered her lap. “I still haven’t met them all. But I’m assuming they’re all nice. The crime rate in Coven Cove is as low as it’s been in many years, I hear.”
While listening, I grabbed two sugar cookies from the tray and looked around the room in admiration. I always thought Estelle had a knack for decorating, though my father used to say it was clutter. The fireplace blazed with a decorative wrought iron screen in front of it. Atop the mantle were shadowboxes which held familial military medals and awards. Migs curled up on her Sherpa cat bed in front of the fire.
“How’s your father?” Estelle asked, her lips pursed together.
I knew she was just wanting to start a conversation. She didn’t really care how he was. As far as I knew, they divorced because of him. Estelle couldn’t take any more of his financial infidelity and alcohol abuse. I had eavesdropped on many of their conversations regarding the matter.
“He’s fine,” I replied. “Just working, drinking, and attending his drama club meetings every week. How are you liking this new house? It’s much bigger than your last one.”
Estelle paused for a moment before replying. “It’s okay, I guess. It’ll be much more welcoming with you here. It’s been a lonely month. I’m glad you could come stay with me.”
I adjusted my legs, stretched my back, then turned my attention to the weird-angled rafters in the middle of the vaulted ceiling. I didn’t have to major in architecture to know that those rafters weren’t positioned right.
“What happened there?” I asked.
Estelle looked up and shrugged her shoulders. “I’m assuming that’s why I landed this house so cheap. It seems like the people who built it were in a rush. Maybe it was winter and they were trying to hurry and get done.”
Before I looked away from the old, wooden rafters, something caught my eye. Something at the very top of the wood-paneled ceiling. At first, I thought it was something like a dark, round ball. But once I looked, it was gone.
There was a long shelf on the wall that was level with the rafters. The shelf housed six urns – ashes of animals that had passed. Four dogs and two cats, all which Estelle loved very much. Two figurines sat on opposite ends of the shelf – one a man wearing overalls and the other a woman in a long dress. I could have sworn the man was facing forward, just like the woman, when I first looked at it. But, looking back, the man had rotated.
“That’s weird,” I muttered.
“I thought that man matched the woman. I thought they were both facing forward,” I said, and placed my last cookie back on the serving tray.
As I was talking to Estelle, she twiddled with her necklace pendant. It was one I had seen her wear many times – a tiny corked bottle with gray powder and small white bits inside. When our family dog, Shuggie, died in a tragic hunting accident, Estelle had the crematorium put a bit of the ashes in the vial before they sealed the urn. She keeps Shuggie with her everywhere she goes.
“They are,” Estelle started, then stopped as she noticed the man was facing Shuggie urn. “Oh… well, they were. I don’t think that shelf is level, anyway. It sits sort of at an angle.”
We both paused for a second before Estelle continued, “I really should find another place to put those urns.”
Later that night, I showered and dressed in the warmest pajamas I had. It was snowing more than it had been when I first arrived. Estelle was kind enough to let me have her spare television, which was a small tube TV from the nineties. Either way, I was thankful because sleeping without background sound had always creeped me out.
After Estelle wished me goodnight, she gave me a pitcher of water with a matching crystal drinking glass, then went to bed. The room I slept in was only accessible via the living room. I’m not sure if the home builders originally made it to be an office but it was small and had a long closet with a mirrored sliding door.
The room beside mine connected to the same closet. So, if you were to slide both closet doors open, the two rooms would be an open floor plan, which was a little strange to me. I didn’t see any purpose in two rooms sharing a closet.
When Estelle had given me a tour of most of the house, I saw that the entrance to the attic was in the other bedroom – the “study,” Estelle called it. Since the house was split-level, the only thing above my room, the study, and the living room was the attic. Estelle’s bedroom was its own separate tower, which she didn’t give me a tour of. I’d never been able to shake my fears of attics and basements, and knowing that the attic entrance was in the next room made me feel uneasy.
I turned the tv on to a family game show and sank into my bed for the night. After taking a deep breath, I realized just how tired I was. The flight from California to North Carolina was long and exhausting. My nerves were on edge from such a big transition. I closed my eyes for a moment and focused on breathing, counting each exhale and inhale.
For the first time in a long time, I missed my dad. Sure, he was hard to get along with at times. But I had never been more than one hundred miles from him. Guilt rushed through me as I wondered if he missed me as much as I missed him.
I drifted off to sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. In a half-sleep stupor, I heard Estelle’s voice echo in the living room.
“Come on. Follow me,” I heard her say.
It was more of a whisper, but I wasn’t sure if she was calling for me or for the cat, who was most likely napping in front of the fire.
“Who, me?” I asked, but she didn’t reply.
I propped up on my shoulder and looked back at the door into the darkness of the living room. Estelle wasn’t there but Migs was. The cat was staring at the light fixture in the center of the ceiling.
“Estelle?” I said a little louder.
My voice shook, and my feet became cold. I wanted to jump up and shut the door as quickly as I could. But I didn’t. I knew if I did, I would be face-to-face with the darkness of the living room. It’s not the dark, but the unknown in the darkness that scared me.
Don’t be such a scaredy cat, I told myself.
Migs hissed and swatted at the air, then ran off. I heard his footsteps make it all the way across the living room. I assumed he made it to Estelle’s bedroom, which was up a flight of stairs on the opposite end of the house.
I refused to look back through the bedroom door.
I know I heard her. But why would she be standing in the living room… in the dark? If she needed me, she’d just come in my room and talk to me.
The more I talked to myself, the more my heart pounded and the colder my feet became.
Stop. You’re just scaring yourself.
I took a few deep breaths and convinced myself that I had just been dreaming. I reluctantly closed my eyes and lay on my back, so my ears could hear instead of being mashed into a pillow. I tried to roll on my side, which is how I usually slept. But the thought of having my back open and unprotected made me even more nervous.
I feel asleep before I knew it and the dreams I had were disturbing, to say the least, even though I have never been one to have such dreams. I’ve had nightmares before, but the dreams I had that night involved tall, muddy figures cackling and dancing in circles around a bonfire. It wasn’t terrifying nightmare material, but it certainly wasn’t welcoming.
The sound of light and rapid footsteps pulled me out of my slumber. At first, I thought it was already morning, though I felt like I had only been sleeping for a few hours. Pitch black surrounded me. The TV was turned off. Not even the moon outside my window was visible.
I adjusted my eyes and steadied my quivering hands, reached for the remote under my pillow, and pressed the oversized on-button.
“Come on,” I whispered.
As I waited, the knots in my stomach tightened and I refused to blink.
Five seconds passed and I could hear the TV static as it warmed up, but it still hadn’t turned on. I tried it again. As soon as my thumb pressed the button a second time, I heard footsteps walking away from the side of my bed – the side I was laying on.
My heart thudded like a jackhammer, the blood racing to my temples. Tears pooled in the corner of my eyes. I wanted to scream for Estelle, but I didn’t. My body was paralyzed. The darkness made feel like I was suffocating. I held my breath, but I still felt warm exhales on my lips, like someone was an inch away from my face, staring back at me.
The TV finally illuminated the room and I stared through the doorway, my heart still in my throat, and tears cascading down my cheeks. I could see Migs sitting in the doorway, again, staring up at the bedroom light fixture.
I couldn’t think of a logical reason I heard the footsteps walking away from my bed or why I felt warm breaths on my face. Did I really hear them, or was I just dreaming? Were the warm breaths my own?
The digital clock beside my bed blinked one o’clock.
There was no way I could fall asleep. Instead, I turned the bedroom light on, along with the bedside lamp. Then I turned the channel to the brightest, most vivid-colored happy cartoon I could find.