We’re less than a month away from the release day for INTERTWINED! Super excited! Over the next several weeks, I’ll be posting chapter teasers, some big, some small, some vague, maybe a line or two that will make absolutely no sense unless you read it. Today, however, I’m posting the entire first chapter! If you’d like an Advanced Reader Copy of INTERTWINED in exchange for an honest review, I’m still accepting sign ups! Enjoy!
My cousin’s hand dipped toward the tarantula. As she dropped a couple of crickets in, I flinched like the spider was right in front of me instead of clear across the room, encased by a thick wall of glass.
“How do you sleep at night with that thing less than ten feet away from you?” I asked her.
“Soundly and contentedly,” April said, shutting the cage.
“I prefer adorably bizarre, but thank you.” She disappeared into her closet.
I shook my head, smiling despite myself. My cousin, although two years younger than me, had more personality in her little pinkie than most people I knew back home. I loved spending my summers with her. And even though it was a far cry from the lively atmosphere of New York City, I loved the quiet simplicity of Wilmington, North Carolina. Which was why, every summer when it was time to return home, I begged my parents to move here. It was futile. My parents were big-time executives at a big-time marketing agency, and uprooting our lives was never an option I thought they’d actually consider, but still, I tried.
“You’ll cover for me, right?”
Oh. Right. The initiation. A function unconventional April would never think to participate in, let alone lie to her mother about. It was so unlike her. “April, are you sure this is a good idea? I thought hazing was illegal.”
She poked her head out. “Would you keep it down?” Yeah. Like Aunt Millie possessed superhuman hearing and could eavesdrop on our conversation all the way from the kitchen.
“Well, isn’t it?”
“Not technically,” April said.
“What does that mean?”
“There are different kinds of hazing. You wouldn’t understand. You don’t go to high school.”
I leveled her with an affronted glare. “Yes, I do.”
“You know what I mean,” April said, vanishing into the closet again. “Homeschool doesn’t technically count as going to high school.”
“Uh, ‘technically,’ yes it does. And, ‘technically,’ I’m not homeschooled.”
“Whatever. Virtual high school. Same thing.” April emerged wearing a pair of skinny jeans and a green-striped sweater, her chestnut hair twisted up in a messy bun. She faced the mirror above the dresser and dabbed her lips with Chap Stick. “You don’t have to worry about me. Other sophomores will be there too. Besides, they do this every year and nothing bad has ever happened. How dangerous can it be?”
“I’m confused. Aren’t initiations for freshmen? Like a rite of passage? And why are they doing this in the middle of summer and not at the beginning of the school year? Seems backward. Don’t you think?”
April met my eyes in the mirror. They were bright with mischief. Too bright. My insides clenched. I knew that look—trouble. The same look she always wore when she was about to divulge a secret. I wanted nothing to do with it. Where April was a thrill-seeker, I was anxiety prone. I had no idea why I was such a worrywart, but I’d always had a tendency to panic at the slightest prospect of danger or wrongdoing. There was no reason for it, nothing wrong with my home life to warrant such anxiety. I had incredible parents. A wonderful home. A privileged upbringing. My life was perfect. I had no cause for fear, and yet I feared everything.
“I have to tell you something,” April said. “But you have to promise you won’t say anything. I mean it, Lizzie. As my cousin, you’re sworn to secrecy. Promise?”
“Oh, no,” I said. “The last time I covered for you, I broke out in hives and ended up in urgent care. Whatever it is, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.”
“Liz, c’mon. You’re too young to be this agoraphobic. And this is coming from someone two years younger than you. Lighten up. Live a little.”
“I’m not agoraphobic,” I grumbled. I was lying on my stomach at the foot of April’s bed, my gaze still fixed on the tarantula like it might leap from its cage and somehow land on my face without ever touching the floor.
“Prove it,” April said. “Read this and tell me what you think.” She crossed the room to hand me a piece of paper. It hung in the air between us. A challenge.
“Fine.” I snatched the paper. Fashioned to look like an admission ticket, spindly branches fringed the edges of the gold parchment paper, giving it a creepy, vintage feel. The left side depicted a rundown mansion with narrow steeples, backlit by a huge full moon, while the rest of the ticket supplied the details of the invitation. “Haunted House,” it read in black capital lettering across the top, and below that, “Initiation Ceremony” in bold orange. The location was listed as the “Jefferson Plantation”; the date read, “Thursday, July 20, 1905.” I frowned. Today was the twentieth, but it was Sunday, not Thursday. And what was with the year? It was 2014, not the beginning of the twentieth century. “Wait at the end of your driveway at 9 p.m. sharp.” Crammed in fine print were two warnings: “Attend at your own risk” and “Enter if you dare.”
“Well?” April prompted.
“Very official,” I said, handing the ticket back to her.
“None of this information alarms you?”
“Not even a pea’s worth of anxiety?”
“The place is haunted. That doesn’t bother you?”
“Or that it’s abandoned?”
That wasn’t mentioned on the invitation, but nope, that didn’t bother me, either. “You can stop the twenty questions now.”
“How about the fact that I won’t have cell service?”
“Nope—wait, what? How do you know?” April hesitated, like she was afraid I might curl up in a ball and start sucking my thumb. “April, for crying out loud. Just tell me.”
“Okay, okay.” Sitting on the edge of the bed, she hugged a pillow to her chest. “Just don’t freak out, okay?”
“Fine. Freak-out mode disabled. Go.”
“I’ve been there before.”
“There, as in … ”
“The Jefferson Plantation.” Behind her black-rimmed reading glasses, April’s eyes were huge with excitement. Oh no, this can’t be good.
“April, what did you do?”
She worried her bottom lip. “I sort of … maybe … trespassed.”
I slapped a hand over my face.
“It’s not as bad as you think. People do it all the time. I swear.”
“That doesn’t make it okay, April. Lemming. Cliff. Ringing any bells?”
“It was a stupid dare, and my friends and I were bored, and you know how much I love hauntings. Besides, nothing happened. We went during the spring.”
I grimaced. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“There’s only activity during the summer.”
“What kind of activity?”
“Pilates and kickboxing,” April deadpanned. “Ghosts, Lizzie. Haven’t you been listening?”
Chills pricked my spine. “I don’t believe in ghosts,” I lied. Because lying was easier than admitting my fears.
“Oh, they’re real,” April said. “Trust me.”
“Why? I thought you said nothing happened.”
“Well, nothing happened, per se, but we did discover this.” Rising from the bed, she crossed the room to rifle through her desk. Doubling back, she handed me another piece of paper, this one sheet protected.
“Read it.” Her voice was ominous, unusual for April. Whatever it was must be legitimately disturbing. “Would you stop being such a scaredy-cat? It’s a piece of paper. Not a voodoo doll.”
Scowling, I snatched the paper from her. It was tattered, more yellow than ivory with trails of black ink. As I focused on the words, I felt a slice of discomfort. The calligraphic lettering was slightly jagged. Like they’d been difficult to write. A date occupied the top right corner—July 20, 1905. The same date listed on the invitation. What was the significance of this date?
I read the entry aloud: “‘Midnight is nearly upon me. Every muscle in my body screams. Every touch is tender to the welts mapping my skin. It will never stop. Lost in the hour of darkness, I wrap my blanket firmly around my soaring heart, begging midnight to perish. But it never relents. Silence ceases. Voices echo. It begins again. And I hate the man who makes midnight evil.’”
For a long moment, I was silent. The words were heartbreaking, yes, but it was more than that. They were private. Raw. A glimpse into someone else’s pain and suffering. And even though they were written over a century ago, reading them felt wrong somehow.
I handed the paper back to April. “Where did you find this?” I asked.
“In one of the bedrooms of the house,” April replied. “But I haven’t told you the strange part yet. When we found this, it was face down on the floor. And when my friend Brittany bent to pick it up, her hand swiped straight through it.”
“But you’re holding it right now.”
“That’s the strange part,” April exclaimed. “None of my friends were able to pick it up. Only me.” She paused, awaiting my reaction. Like what she said was entirely plausible. “I know what you’re going to say. You don’t believe me, and that’s fine. But I’m telling you the truth. Ask my friends. They’ll tell you the same thing.”
“If you’re the only one who can touch this piece of paper, explain why I can do this?” I grabbed the paper and waved it in her face.
April’s eyes narrowed. “I was getting to that, but thank you for pointing out the obvious.”
She reclaimed the paper midswipe. “When I took the paper and we left the plantation, it became … tangible somehow. Suddenly, my friends were able to hold it, and even weirder, only outside the plantation gates.”
“How do you know that?”
“We went back to test it,” April said. “As soon as we stepped through the gates, the paper was intangible to everyone but me. Like the property was protecting it.”
“By placing it in your wayward hands? Doubtful.”
“Ha ha. Very funny.” April shoved a pillow in my face. “Can you be serious for five seconds? I just told you I can touch untouchable objects, and you’re acting like it’s no big deal.”
“I’m sorry. I just don’t know if I …”
“If you believe me,” April finished, clearly annoyed. She rose from the bed, taking the paper with her.
“April, I’m sorry. It’s just hard for me to wrap my mind around this kind of thing.” Again, I lied. It wasn’t difficult to believe. It was difficult to accept. Accepting led to a much scarier question. Why April? “C’mon,” I coaxed. “Tell me the rest.”
Across the room, April fiddled with a lamp tassel. “You promise to listen and not make me feel like an idiot?”
“I promise,” I said.
April smiled, practically flying to the edge of the bed. “So, it gets even weirder. My friends and I found an entire blog dedicated to this haunting. There are reports dating back to the late nineties, documenting the experiences of different people all around the world. Videos, pictures, electronic voice phenomenon, you name it. Liz, all of them reported the same thing—they couldn’t touch this piece of paper. What’s even weirder, though, there are other belongings inside that house that can’t be touched.”
And it was suddenly clear. Why April was so eager to participate in this so-called initiation. “That’s why you’re doing this. Isn’t it? You want to go back so you can collect the other belongings.”
“Well, don’t you think it’s weird I’m the only one who can touch them? Maybe I’m supposed to take them.”
“And do what with them?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll know when I have them all. And at the very least, it’ll prove I’m not a liar. You should’ve seen the comments when they posted my—” April slapped a hand over her mouth.
“April,” I ground out, “please tell me you did not contact that blogger.”
“I did not contact that blogger,” she mumbled through her fingers. “Nor did I ask him to post my findings and specifically credit me as the first person to take an untouchable item.”
“April!” Scooting to the edge of the bed, I started pacing. “Do you have any idea how stupid—” And then a new thought dawned on me. What if April wasn’t invited? What if she was selected? “April, who gave you that invitation?” I demanded.
She shrugged. “A boy from school.”
“And do you know this boy?”
She shrugged again. “I know of him.”
“He’s a senior,” she explained impatiently. “His name is Jack Callahan. He gave me the invitation, told me it was a secret, and that it was invitation only. That’s it.”
“And you don’t think the timing is at all suspicious?” I asked. “That you would be invited afterposting that poem, or whatever it is, online for the entire world to see? April, for all you know, this initiation is a sham. Who else was invited? Did you even bother to ask?”
“Of course I did,” April said, standing from the bed.
“And, like I said, it’s a secret. They’re not allowed to tell.” She grabbed a pair of sneakers from her closet and placed them on the vanity bench.
“What about your friends?” I pressed.
“They said they don’t know anything about it,” April admitted, loosening her shoelaces. “But that doesn’t mean no one else was invited.”
“Are you listening to yourself? Doesn’t this sound sketchy to you?”
“Here we go again.” April groaned, shoving her foot in the sneaker. “Like always, jumping to conclusions, assuming the worst, and convincing yourself that something awful is going to happen. Liz, why are you so paranoid?”
“I’m not paranoid. I’m worried about you.”
“Well, stop. There’s nothing to worry about. It’s harmless fun, okay?”
I glanced at the iPod radio clock. Quarter to nine. Time was running out. “Can’t you go another night? Like with your friends? People you trust?”
“Believe me, I’ve tried,” April said. “But I don’t have a license—or a car for that matter—and Sarah’s older brother, who’d driven us to the plantation in the first place, decided to spend his vacation in Lake Michigan this summer.” She patted her pockets. “Where did I put my cellphone?”
Panic rose in my throat. “I’ll take you,” I blurted.
April froze midstep. “You’ll take me?”
“I have a license, don’t I?”
April read the fear in my eyes. “What good is a license without a means of transportation?” She resumed searching, lifting pillows and pulling the covers back.
I was losing her. “I’ll borrow your mom’s car,” I lied again.
“And what?” April asked, sifting through her laundry. “Tell her we’re going for ice cream? Liz, I love you, but you’ve never told a lie that didn’t result in high doses of antihistamine. And my mom is a human lie detector. One hive and we’re done for. Besides, I already told her I’m spending the night at Sarah’s.”
“Wait, you’re not coming back tonight?”
“Nope,” April said, now digging through her vanity drawers. “For all I know this initiation can take all night, and I don’t want my mom waiting up. Don’t worry. I told her you were too tired to be any fun tonight, which is why you’re not joining me.”
Throat clenching. Stomach tightening. “April, I promise I’ll take you. Just not tonight. Any night but tonight.”
“No can do, cuz,” April called from the bathroom. “Tonight is kind of a big deal. It’s the first day of the haunting and there’s no way I’m missing it.”
I frowned. “First day?”
“Remember how I said there’s only activity in the summer?”
“That’s because it’s an imprint haunting. It begins on the same day every year—July 20. And from what I’ve read, the first night is extremely active.”
Extremely active? This wasn’t good. I’d been so preoccupied with the logistics of the initiation that I hadn’t considered the dangers of the haunting. “April, I get that you’re into this paranormal stuff, and while trumping an episode of Ghost Adventuresmay sound like the thrill of a lifetime, it can also be really dangerous.”
“Thought you didn’t believe in ghosts.” April ducked her head under the bed.
“Well, I don’t, but—”
“Liz, it’s an imprint haunting. These ghosts don’t know they’re dead. They’re leftover energy or whatever. They can’t harm anyone.” Then to herself, “Where’s my damn cellphone?”
As soon as she said it, I spotted it under a pile of toppled books. I inched my way toward it. “What happened to these ghosts?” I asked, trying to distract her. When she entered her closet, I dashed to the fallen books. Grabbing the cellphone, I stuffed it under the waistband of my shorts.
“Total mystery,” April said. “Something major went down in 1905. Two family members disappeared one night and were never found.” Well, that explained the year on the invitation. April reappeared, grey-blue eyes scanning the room. “If my mom calls in the morning, and I don’t answer, she’ll call Sarah’s house, and if her mom answers … ” She bit her lip, looking stumped.
“Keep looking.” I backed toward the door. “I’ll check downstairs.” I quickly fled the room and ran down the hallway, my steps soundless as I descended the stairs to the foyer. I shoved my feet in a pair of sandals.
Flinging the door open, I slipped outside. Remembering what the invitation had instructed, I scurried down the porch steps and across the brick path, halting at the end of the driveway. Apart from the moon’s silvery glow, the night was dark, the air thick with humidity. A couple of darkened lampposts scraped the sky on either side of me, the street uncomfortably still.
I glanced at April’s cellphone—8:51 p.m.
Any minute now, April would come flying out the door.
I jittered where I stood. My plan was to send them away. Whoever they were, they weren’t taking my cousin, not if I could help it. It was either that or tattle to Millie. And I couldn’t do that. April would kill me. I glanced over my shoulder. C’mon…
Strong arms gripped me from behind. I squealed, dropping April’s cellphone. I tried to twist around, but a hand smashed my mouth, pulling me away from the curb. A loud ripping noise rose above my frantic screeching—tape? Oh crap, oh crap! It happened fast. One second I was flailing with all my might and the next I was wrestled into submission, my shriek smothered in my throat as darkness plunged over me.
Want to know what happens next? Join Elizabeth at the plantation and meet Adam Hunt, a mysterious ghost hunter with his own agenda.