by E. Graziani
Not only is high school junior Magenta Thorson Rain still struggling with the loss of her mom to cancer, but she must also deal with issues that many other teens must face—high school crushes, awkwardness, and an overprotective parent.
Then there’s Lion, who has his own secrets about Magenta. He knows more about her than he could ever reveal. Lion also sees that Magenta is unwittingly making things happen around her, but must keep it secret, as some of his kind may see her as a threat.
Then, on Halloween night, Magenta suffers a massive hemorrhage in her brain. After waking up in the hospital, she begins seeing terrifying visions—the hunted women all with flaming red hair just like hers; her mother, who has been dead for years—and the Shadow Man, always in the background, always elusive, but always there.
And if that isn’t enough, everything will change again. And when it does, it changes big.
BUY THE BOOK!
The thinnest sliver of water from The Narrows reflected the blue sky. Looming in the distance was the Verrazano Bridge, which connected the Staten Island and Brooklyn shorelines.
Curled up on the ancient roots of the old oak was like resting in a grandmother’s gnarly hands. They held me up. Grass, weeds, and wildflowers meshed to form a quilt underneath. It comforted me. Water lapping at the shore, in a never-ending flow from the Hudson into the Atlantic, sustained everything. It nourished me.
As I tugged at the entwined hearts chain now permanently adorning my neck (it belonged to Momma—Mom has its twin) I breathed in the brisk October air, it opened the book on my lap and flipped to chapter one.
I froze. A sharp pain plunged into my head so deeply, that I cried out.
Everything around me swelled and rippled as though I were underwater. I squeezed my eyes shut and clamped my hands around my temples, nauseous at the circles and waves assaulting me. “Oh, God,”I whispered, swaying back and forth trying to stand, but my legs were like Jello-O.
Then the voices...the whispers...suss, suss, suss...at first, like insects murmuring far away, then louder and clearer like a division of armed flies swarming into the air. Chaotic snippets of consciousness, bits of conversations, like someone was sitting on my shoulder whispering thoughts into my ear. The suss, suss, came from every side, pulling me toward it, drawing me in. Some whispers were hateful, some scared, others astonished. “Breathe. Focus on breathing,” I murmured. Breathe, breathe...come on...will it away.
“Wake up...they’ll test you...it’s the only way...you are our special gift...you are a gift to us all.”
Suddenly, the voices became people. Floating up and up, free. I guided them to emerge from thick fog and looked up to the pristine blue of the cloudless sky. We clambered up the mountain, not with our feet but with wings. The ground telescoped away from us, leaving only a distant memory of the battle.
I lead the way, not with a map or notes, but by voices, ghostly whispers in the wind. Suss, suss, suss…In the wind were echoes of a promise. I faced the little group I came with, which had now grown into a multitude. They were silent, but the expressions on their faces reflected every emotion. Some trembled, others were in awe.
I raised my arms high and watched as they moved closer, against me, over me, until I couldn’t breathe anymore. Memories of childhood went swirling by like a dark tornado and every memory had Momma in it. Momma when I was little, Momma lighting my birthday candles, shadows of Moms decorating the Christmas tree. Then it all faded.
As abruptly as my world was swept away in that dark tornado, it burst back into a shower of comets. In seconds, the agony and the voices were gone.
Noises drifted around me, giggles of kids playing on the swing set in the park, cars zooming by on the expressway, leaves rustling with a dried crackle overhead. I opened my eyes. I was under the oak. Back in my old Staten Island neighborhood, my book now lying flopped over on the grass. The same baseball game was playing out on the little league diamond not fifty feet away. Birds chirped, runners ran, and my heart thudded against my ribs.
“What in the actual...” My hands reached up to my chest and face to make sure I was all there. My head did laps, and I couldn’t figure out if I was more horrified or exhilarated—or a little of both.
My first impulse—call Mom.
With shaking hands, I grabbed my phone. But when I got to her number, my thumb hovered over it indecisively.
Halloween is on Thursday. “Crap.” Thursday’s ‘Shaun of the Dead’ night with Ainsley and Sarah.
Mom was cool, but she worried. Maybe too much since Momma passed away.
It’s probably stress. She’ll think I’m getting sick and pull the plug on my plans. I hung up. “Probably need to get my eyes checked again.”
I shoved my stuff into my backpack and wobbled to my feet. It’s only a ten-minute walk home. Not even feeling it anymore. Still, I had my phone in my hand. I tapped at the last number on my Recents. It rang a few times, then went to voicemail. “Hey Ains, nothing important, just...just walking home now. Thought I’d see what you’re doing. Okay, talk later. Bye.”
I should have told Mom.
* * *
As I waited, I scanned the East River, its inky dark waters black velvet. Around it, the two Burroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn surround it like jewels. Specks of light reflected from its banks on both sides like a necklace.
People hurried by, looked down, mostly headed to the ferries. Anyone who saw me from a distance that night may have thought I was enjoying the view, watching the ferries come and go. But if they looked closer, my face revealed a frown. A tooth-gritting, annoyed, impatient frown.
I reached into my jacket pocket and plucked out my phone. “Crap,” I whispered, glancing at the time.
Seconds later, I caught a tall, thin figure on my left. Still partial to wearing black was a fleeting thought.
His charcoal coat was strained at the shoulders. He was a lot taller and broader. With a chin still jutting out defiantly, he looked even more full of himself than he did four years ago.
He skipped up the stairs of Veteran’s Plaza from South Street two at a time. On his mouth, a flash of a tentative smile, but it disappeared in seconds. My guess was he took in my chilling glare. We stood in awkward silence, observing each other like two rams before the battle.
“Well, Chris,” I said. “I’m here. What do you want?”
“Is that the way it’s going to be, Lion? No hello, no nothing?” He stiffened his spine and stepped back. “Lighten up. I tried to tell you this morning before you cut me off.” His defiant stance was softened by the anxiety in his eyes. “Look, I know you think I’m bullshitting, but I swear I’m telling you the truth—”
“You got balls showing up here, asshole.” Asshole came out through clenched teeth as I poked an accusing finger in his face. “There’s nothing here. Go back to Seattle, Chris.” Anger boiled from deep within, rising like some caustic soup.
He looked at me like I was a total moron and snorted out a laugh. “You’d sooner gaslight me than talk about this? You’d sooner deny what may be real than discuss the possibility? Why would I come all this way to—”
“I have no idea what your motivation is, or why you’re making this stuff up, but I’m telling you, you’re mistaken.” I shoved my hands in my pockets to keep them from grabbing his throat.
I turned my back to go, but a nagging kernel of curiosity halted my next step. “How the hell could you even read it from there?” I sneered over my shoulder.
“It was like—it was like the earth—every tree, root, and fiber were reaching out to me.”
Dread gripped the base of my scalp, but I shrugged it off. “You’ve been watching too much David Suzuki.”
“Lion, I’m telling you it was a message. A kind of—”
“No,” I yelled. No bounced off the buildings and then faded away ominously. “That’s impossible. That doesn’t happen.”
He grabbed for my shoulders, his mouth open to speak, but he didn’t have time.
I lunged at him and grasped the lapels of his jacket. “Go home. Leave me alone. Leave her alone,” I growled, my nose nearly touching his. With a shove, I released him and backed away, leaving him shaking his head, his teeth grinding down on his jaw.
This time, I turned away for real and walked down the steps to the sidewalk. I was about halfway to my car parked on South Street when something else hit me. I stopped and turned to ask him, but he was already gone.
I should have listened to him.
* * *
Sunday Night—Midtown Manhattan
Mitchell was cowering inside, but outwardly, he was the picture of confidence. Putting on a brave face didn’t matter. If Grayson wanted to, he could read anyone. Who wouldn’t be nervous meeting the most powerful of his kind? He’d be an idiot if he wasn’t. Then again, he couldn’t show weakness. Grayson didn’t like weakness. He crushed weakness and any other frailty you may have had the unfortunate opportunity to show.
With these thoughts, he gripped the leather padding of the armchair a little tighter and forced himself to peer at the artwork on the opposite wall of the study. He examined the eclectic mix of expensive-looking modern art pieces and old-fashioned portraits, faces that stared off into space. The apartment and its luxurious contents only served to reinforce the fact that Grayson was a very rich man. There were rumors about how he and his family had amassed such wealth—the stock market always seemed to favor them. Rules were rules, but Mitchell had lived long enough to know that depending on who you are, you could break them.
Clip, clop, clip, clop. He twitched unexpectedly when he heard the boots coming toward the door to his left. A cold finger slithered down his spine. His gaze snapped to the sound as he wondered how ‘typicals’ lived their lives like this. Then, even before the door opened, he felt Grayson inside his head. The door swung wide, and threads of tentacles wound themselves into his brain like thorny brambles.
“Good evening, Mitchell,” Grayson said as he strode into the room. If you saw him on the street, he’d blend in with everyone else. “Tell me more about why you needed to see me so desperately on a Sunday night.”
Before Mitchell could even gather his thoughts, Grayson was already standing in front of the picture window, eighty-four floors above Manhattan, his hands folded behind his back, waiting.
Mitchell tightened his grip on the armrests. “Grayson, you were reading me. You must know what I’m—”
“Even so, I want to hear it from you to make sure,” Grayson interrupted, with a voice as smooth as cold-tempered steel.
Mitchell squirmed in his seat. “It was this morning. I read it. In McCarren Park over in Brooklyn.” His voice and hands competed at which was trembling the most. “I think it’s her...the girl—”
“I know who you mean.” Grayson pushed his hair back with both hands and turned around, his shape a silhouetted aura of acerbic yellow against the starry sky. “If that’s so, and that’s a big ‘if’, how could you have sensed it? And why didn’t I?”
“I...it was in the ground. All over it. Like a swell. A wave.”
“Interesting,” mused Grayson. “I was up here all day today.” After allowing a shudder to escape, he closed his eyes.
A moment passed, then another. Mitchell never looked away from him. After a while, Grayson’s hands were in such tight fists, that his knuckles stood out hard and white like gutted fish spines. Finally, Grayson opened his eyes and glared down at Mitchell. “I see now.” He turned back to the window and focused on an ascending airplane. “We may need to watch her after all.”