Creepy Hollow 7Rachel Morgan
By Rachel Morgan
Copyright © 2017 Rachel Morgan
Thrown into a world of magic she knows nothing about, seventeen-year-old Emerson must figure out how to control the deadly power she is suddenly in possession of—before someone else controls it for her.
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For more information please contact the author.
Mobi Ebook ISBN: 978-0-9947040-8-5
Epub Ebook ISBN: 978-0-9947040-7-8
In the dirty alley between Tygo’s Diner and the abandoned library, the stench of rotting garbage provokes my gag reflex. I focus on breathing through my mouth as I remove the crumpled brown paper package from my messenger bag and hold it up. “You know the price, Slade.” I wave the package at him. “Take it or leave it.”
Slade raises an eyebrow. He breathes out a painfully long sigh before turning to the wad of notes in his hand. He flicks lazily through them, counting out the right amount. But instead of handing the money over, he leans one shoulder against the wall and watches me with a smirk. “You drive a hard bargain, Emerson Clarke.”
“Stop being an idiot. The price is exactly the same as last time. Do you want it or not?”
“Course I want it. Lighten up, Em.” He shrugs, his shoulder rubbing against the giant yellow X graffitied across the bricks. “Just trying to make this exchange more entertaining.”
I shove the bag against his chest and remove the cash from his hand. “I don’t need any more entertainment in my life.”
“Hey, you seriously need to chill out,” he calls after me as I turn away.
“Thanks for the advice.” I don’t bother to look over my shoulder at him as I stride away, my sneakers crunching against the damp, dirty ground. I’m almost at the end of the alley when the back door of Tygo’s Diner swings open. I dodge out of the way to avoid being hit in the face. “Jeez, Marty.”
“Oh, great, you’re still here.” He holds a trash bag out toward me. “You forgot this one.”
I consider telling him my shift ended five minutes ago, but it isn’t worth the argument. I press my lips together, push Slade’s money into my jeans pocket, and take the bag. Marty lets the door slam shut without another word. Grumbling beneath my breath, I walk the few steps back toward the dumpster. Slade, still slouching at the other end of the alley, ignores me as I hold my breath, lift the dumpster lid, and heft the trash bag up and over the edge.
I’m about to lower the lid when I hear rustling from within the dumpster. Just a rat, I tell myself, knowing I should close the lid. But that part of my brain that always wants to know if the things I see and hear are actually real keeps my arm frozen in place. The scratching, rustling sound moves up the side of the dumpster. A scaly arm appears, clawing its way over the edge with blue talons and glowing yellow liquid dripping from—
I drop the lid and jump back, swearing out loud.
“Scared of something, Em?” Slade sniggers as he walks past me.
“No,” I snap back. But as he rounds the corner and disappears, I swallow, my heart thudding way too fast. I peek around the side of the dumpster, looking for a half-squashed reptilian arm protruding from beneath the lid. But there’s nothing there. “Overactive imagination,” I mutter to myself as I hurry away, which is the same lie I always use.
I feel easier once I’m out on the main street. Hooking my thumb beneath the strap of my messenger bag, I slow my steps, no longer feeling as though I’m running from something. My fear evaporates as I remind myself that with Slade’s money added to my savings, I finally have enough for a bus trip.
I swing around in the direction of the shout and find Val perched atop the wall surrounding Stanmeade Elementary School. “Hey.” I wave at her as I change direction and cross the grassy area outside the school. I dump my bag on the ground, then run straight at the wall. My right foot strikes the bricks and launches me upward. With my palms flat on top of the wall, it’s easy to pull my legs up.
“Nice one,” Val says as I walk deftly along the top of the wall toward her.
“Thanks.” I sit beside her and dust my hands on my jeans. “It’s an easy wall, though. Not as high as some of the others we’ve tried.”
“I know. Hey, check this out.” She pushes her dark frizzy hair out of her face and holds her phone in front of me. “Latest Top Ten video from ParkourForLife.”
Looking past the crack on Val’s cellphone screen, I watch a guy leap from one building, somersault through the air, and land on the next building, followed by nine more spectacular moves. “Awesome,” I murmur. “I’d love to be able to do all that.”
“Totally,” Val agrees. “I kinda feel like we’ll have to go somewhere else to stretch our skills though. The urban playground here is just too limiting.”
“The urban playground?” I repeat with a laugh.
“Yeah. People call it that, right?”
“Well, I call it that.” She spreads her arms out, almost smacking me in the face with her elbow. “I present to you the Stanmeade urban playground. It’s ugly, but it’s where we started.”
I shake my head, still smiling. “You got the ugly part right. And the limiting part. We know this place and its obstacles too well now.”
“Yeah. Anyway, how was your shift?”
I shrug. “Slightly above average. I sold another one of Chelsea’s homemade concoctions. Slade Murphy again.”
“Again? Ooh, do tell. What secret recurring ailment is Slade Murphy suffering from? Anything super embarrassing we should warn his girlfriend about?”
“It was actually for his girlfriend. A contraceptive tea of some sort.”
Val tilts her head back and laughs. “Well, let’s hope that works.”
“I guess it must be working, since this is the second pack I sold him. Anyway, that’s not important.” I pull my sleeves down to cover my thumbs. “What’s important is that I’ve finally saved enough for another bus ride.”
Val straightens. “To visit your mom?”
“Cool,” she says, though her voice lacks enthusiasm.
“It’s just …” She shifts a little. “Are you sure you want to do that? It really upset you last time you visited her.”
I chew on my lower lip before answering. “I know, but I’m hoping it’ll be different this time. She might be better. Besides, it’ll be worth it to get out of this place for a little bit. I’m counting the days until I don’t have to share a house with pain-in-the-ass people anymore.”
“I hear ya,” Val says, her curls bouncing as she nods. I know she doesn’t entirely mean it, though. Our family situations are both tough, but in completely different ways. While I’m stuck with an aunt who hates me and a prima donna cousin, Val has four younger siblings her mom expects her to help take care of. And I know Val loves them, despite all her complaining. So in a few months’ time when we’re finally done with school, I have a feeling I’ll be leaving on my own.
“Hey! Get off there!” We look over our shoulders into the school yard where Mrs. Pringleton is shaking her bony finger at us.
“But we’re not doing anything wrong,” Val shouts back.
gnarled hands form fists, and the pink marks across one side of her face turn pinker. “I’m calling the police if you don’t get off there in the next ten seconds!”
“Cool,” Val says. “Tell Uncle Pete I say hi.”
“Val.” I nudge her arm while trying to keep from laughing. “Let’s not give the old woman a heart attack, okay? We can climb right back up once she leaves.”
“Fiiiiine.” Val shuffles her butt to the edge of the wall and jumps down. I follow a moment later. “I guess I should go home to the mini monsters anyway,” she adds. “But I’m giving myself another five minutes of freedom first.” She sits on the grass and crosses her legs.
“Fine by me.” I remain standing but lean back against the wall and play with the edge of my sleeve. “You’re probably already in trouble for being late, so what’s an extra five minutes?”
A car rumbles by, and on the other side of the road I notice a person who wasn’t there a minute ago. A guy with an annoyingly familiar swagger to his step. “Wonderful,” I mutter. “What’s Dash doing back here?”
“Hmm?” Val looks up. “Oh. Probably going to the party.”
She twists her head to the side and looks up at me. “You know, the one at the Mason farmhouse.”
“I didn’t know, actually. Is Jade’s older brother home again?”
“Yeah. Supposedly looking after Jade and the other Mason kid while their parents are away.”
“And instead he’s throwing another party,” I say with a sigh.
“Yeah. Lucky for us lowly high-schoolers.”
“Sure. If that’s your thing.” I look back across the road at Dash. As always, he’s highlighted his honey-blond hair with streaks of bright green. All I can do is shake my head at the odd color combination. “His hair is so weird. I don’t know how they let him get away with it at whatever preppy school he goes to.”
“You don’t know how they let him get away with amazing hair?” Val asks with a laugh.
“No, I mean the color.”
She laughs harder and shakes her head. “I don’t know what you could possibly find offensive about that boy’s beautiful hair, but okay. I won’t argue with you.”
I look down at her with a frown. “Beautiful hair? Really?”
She shrugs. “What can I say? I find him attractive.”
I groan and look up once more, and Dash chooses that moment to glance across the street, give us a charming grin, and wink. “Seriously?” I mutter. “Who the hell winks at people?”
“Dash, apparently, although probably only at you.” Val smacks my ankle. “You know he loves to irritate you. Anyway, you should come to the party. If Dash came all the way home for it, you know it’s gonna be good.”
“Please. Dash is probably bored out of his mind at whatever uptight, snooty private school he goes to. No doubt he jumps at the chance to go to any party.”
“So … does that mean you’ll come?”
I shake my head as I watch Dash continue on down the street. “Not my scene, Val. You know that.”
“You know you can still come to parties even if you don’t want to drink, right?”
“So I can stand there totally sober and watch the rest of you get hammered? No thanks.”
“Or you could just have a little bit.” She pats my sneaker. “You need to chill out more, Em.”
I fold my arms across my chest. “Remember how my uncle died of alcohol poisoning? And how my mom tried to drown out her delusions by drinking? Yeah. I’m trying to avoid situations like that.”
Val is quiet as she gets to her feet. “Come on, Em. You know that’s never going to happen to you.”
I blink away the memory of that scaly, glowing arm reaching out of the dumpster. “Okay, here’s a reason for you: Dash is going to be at that party, and I don’t feel like ruining my night.”
“Okay, okay, I get it. You’re not coming to the party.” She loops an arm around my neck and hugs me. “Try to have a good evening anyway.”
“Thanks. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
We head in different directions, Val walking around the back of the school to cut across the field, while I continue along the road. Long shadows stretch across the pavement, and the washed-out orangey brown haze of sunset fills the sky. I turn just after the post office—
—and see a figure in a silver hooded cloak standing in the middle of the road. In front of him or her is a man with pointed ears. The cloaked figure touches the man, and the man becomes a solid statue of gleaming, faceted crystal.
With a gasp, I duck back behind the building, my heart thundering. I press my back against the warm brick wall and slap both hands over my eyes. I count to ten while forcing myself to breathe slowly. “There’s nothing there,” I whisper to myself. I start counting again, and this time I keep going. I reach eighty before I’m brave enough to lower my hands from my face. Slowly, I peek around the edge of the building—and of course, there’s no sign that a hooded figure and a person made of crystal were ever there. Because they weren’t, I tell myself. I press my back against the wall once more. “You didn’t see anything,” I whisper. “There was nothing there. You didn’t see anything strange. You are not losing your mind.”
But as I hurry along the main road, choosing to take the longer route home, I can’t help thinking of all the times weird things like this have happened. The unidentifiable creature sitting on the park swing one day. That man with the pointed ears who came to the diner one afternoon. And that time I looked in the bathroom mirror and for just a moment, my hair was blue. “I’m not losing my mind,” I repeat quietly, almost desperately. This is probably related to something I saw on TV. Or something I read. My brain is processing something fictional and regurgitating it more vividly than I expected. This is what people mean when they talk about an overactive imagination, right? “Yeah, that must be it,” I murmur. “That must be it.”
It must be anything except the obvious: that I’m turning out just like my mother.
I try to keep my gaze focused on the ground at my feet the rest of the way home, not wanting to see anything I shouldn’t be seeing. It’s a much longer journey than if I’d used the street I was supposed to use. The street the cloaked figure was on. It’s dark by the time I reach our driveway, and I almost run up it and around the side of Chelsea’s house. I’m never this eager to get home, but I’ve somehow convinced myself that I’ll be safe once I get inside. I let myself in through the kitchen door and take a moment to breathe as the door clicks shut behind me.
A boiling pot containing something that smells like it could be pasta sits on the stove. Through the open door that leads to the garage salon, I hear Chelsea and Georgia chatting. My earlier fear begins to seem silly in comparison to the ordinariness around me.
I cross the kitchen without calling hello to Chelsea and Georgia. They won’t particularly care that I’m home, and I don’t particularly care to greet them. Instead, I head straight for my bedroom, removing the money from my pocket as I go. I force my door open, shoving it past yet another box of Chelsea’s salon supplies that seems to have found its way into this room since this morning. I let my messenger bag slip off my shoulder and onto the bed, my focus now on counting out my commission from the money Slade paid me. The rest, of course, goes to dear Aunt Chelsea. She’s the one who makes the weird herbal remedies.
I pull my ice cream tub of toiletries off the shelf above my bed and look inside it for the resealable plastic bag I keep my savings in. I’ll count it all now and make sure I have enough, then buy a bus ticket tomorrow. I riffle through the various bottles, my fingers feeling for the crumpled plastic bag.
My stomach drops as I empty the tub’s contents onto my bed, just to be sure. I spread everything out, but the little zipper bag definitely isn’t there. My skin grows cold, then hot. That was months and months of savings, all so that I could visit Mom, and now it’s gone?
My hands become fists as I storm out of the room and head straight for the salon. I find Georgia lounging in one of the chairs, staring at herself in the mirror as she combs her hand through her sleek blonde hair. On the opposite side of the room, Chelsea stocks the shelves with more of her homemade herbal products.
“Where’s my money?” I demand.
Georgia jumps in fright and almost slips out of her chair, but Chelsea is still for a moment before turning to face me. “Your money, Emerson?” she says. “I think you mean my money.”
“You’ve been stealing from me for months.”
“Stealing from—I have never stolen a single thing from you. I always give you exactly what you’re due and only keep the percentage I’m allowed. You know that.”
“Right.” Chelsea crosses her arms and nods. “And then you go back to my bedroom afterwards and steal whatever you want. Money’s been going missing from my purse for months now. At first I thought I was imagining it, that it must be my mistake, but then I started keeping track of exactly how much was there.” She gives me a triumphant smile, as if she’s done something wonderfully clever. “And you know what I discovered? Small amounts of money started to disappear every week or so. And look where I found it.” She digs in her pocket and pulls out a plastic bag. My plastic bag.
“That is my hard-earned savings,” I tell her, feeling a knot of nausea forming in my stomach. “That is not yours.”
“Don’t lie to me. I know how you girls spend money. As if it grows on trees and you have no responsibilities in the world. What I want to know is where is the rest of it?” She shakes the bag in the air between us. “Because you’ve taken way more than what’s left here.”
“I didn’t steal from you!” I shout. I glance at Georgia, who’s watching the two of us with a small smile. My anger increases a level as I point at her. “You want to know where your money’s been going? That’s where you should be looking.”