Book Blogger Fair: Book Excerpt from Eileen Sharp’s Certainty
Ren can see the future through ghosts who speak to him. He’s used to knowing more than everyone else until he meets the girl he will fall in love with. Ren’s feelings about MacKenzie are complicated because he knows something tragic about her brother that he can’t tell her. He knows what will happen but should he be the only one who does?
Jack walked at a brisk pace from the Lecture Hall on the Penn State campus. The air was no longer crisp, but downright cold as the sun set, leaving the sky pink and purple. The lights to the Lecture Hall burned a rich, gold color behind him. Taking an evening class was a desperate measure, but he’d waited too long to register, and he really needed the class. He was looking forward to going to his apartment and getting out of the cold.
It was late fall, when Pennsylvania was stunningly beautiful. During October there were pumpkins on every doorstep, and it always felt like something momentous was about to happen. Then one day Halloween was over, the pumpkins were tossed in the garbage, the trees were all bare, and the edges of winter crept on the edge of nature. Mid-November had no pity.
Walking home as dusk deepened, the cold bit through his inadequate sweatshirt. He quickened his pace. It was his second year at school. The newness of being a college student had worn off. He wasn’t quite sick of it yet, but that was because he’d done well on his mid-terms and didn’t hate his classes this semester. He’d taken an easy load.
His parents said stuff like they were proud of him but he always had the sense that he was just meeting their expectations, not really exceeding them. His father was a math professor, so it was kind of hard to impress him by just getting into college. His mom may have been a little more genuine with her praise, but she was impressed with macaroni necklaces so that didn’t mean much.
If he were being perfectly honest, Jack wasn’t that impressed with himself either. He had no particular passion for his degree in psychology. He’d picked it because he wasn’t good at math or english. Or school in general.
Passing a bench he felt the itch to vault it. He’d been freerunning since he was a kid and it just felt natural jump off of pretty much everything.
He especially liked heights, and not just for freerunning. He biked off ramps and had done some bmx trick riding. If there was a reason to amp up the fear factor, he found it. He loved the twinge of fear at the top looking down and the exhilaration of finding himself in the air and having no way to turn back. Nailing a trick wasn’t so bad either.
Lights glowed from all the bottom floor windows of the house he shared with his roommates when he stepped up to the porch. Someone was home, which he found comforting. The screen door creaked when he opened it, and the front door was unlocked. They were all a little lazy about that. The white paint around the door frame was peeling, and like the rest of the house, the porch had that long-suffering look, as if it were sure that it only had to make it through one more semester and then it would go to a real owner, not a pack of college students.
He entered the living room and found his roommate Michael on the couch, books piled next to him on the squat, beat up coffee table. He had his laptop across his knees and a large textbook on his lap. His dark hair was in its usual state of chaos, and he wore some geeky Dr. Who t-shirt that he might have had since the seventh grade. Michael was a small guy with pale skin and a lot of nervous energy in his skinny little body. He looked up when Jack walked in, frowning. The frown didn’t mean anything personal, Jack had learned. It was Michael’s usual expression when he studied. He really had nothing to frown about. His IQ was pretty high and he didn’t just do well in his classes, he dominated the entire Biology department. He was a rare intellect who was almost immediately invited into a cutting edge research program at the end of his freshman year.
“Hey, man,” Jack said, letting his backpack slide off his shoulders.
“Hey,” Michael said, the frown momentarily disappearing into something that almost looked like a smile.
“Anyone else here?”
Michael shook his head. “No. It’s been pretty quiet.”
Jack glanced over at the kitchen, his mind wandering to the shelves of the fridge, jumbled with condiments, leftover pizza and some hoagies that had been there for two weeks. “I’m going to grab something to eat.”
Michael’s studying frown returned and his eyes went to the textbook on his lap. “Okay.”
Jack opened the freezer and took out a bag of tater tots. He turned on the oven, found the beat-up cookie sheet and dumped the tater tots on it and put them in the oven. He nuked a frozen burrito while he waited for the tots, sitting down at the table. He opened up his bookbag and pulled out his laptop. He checked his phone. Morgan had sent him a text. Curious, he read it. He and his little sister were close, but they didn’t talk or text that often.
Are you coming home this weekend?
He thought about it. He hadn’t planned on it. It was a two hour drive, which wasn’t that bad, but he didn’t usually go home on the weekends. Nope. Why?
He dug into the burrito and turned his attention to the laptop, opening up the paper he’d been working on. It would be hard to find something he cared less about than Kierkegaard’s incoherent ramblings in Fear and Trembling. The quality of this burrito, for instance, he mused, putting his fork down and leaning back to open the fridge. He tilted his chair back as his fingers scrambled in the door for the hot sauce. He found it and let the door close, his chair thumping down on the floor.
Dumping a generous amount of sauce on the burrito, he sighed and got back to the paper.
The floor creaked overhead and he looked up at the ceiling. A pipe rattled somewhere in the house’s interior and he stuffed another spicy bite in his mouth. The old house made a lot of noise. He went back to his work.
The tater tots were eaten long ago and he’d downed a few Mountain Dews by the time he finished his paper. His other two roommates had come home and gone upstairs already. He stood up and stretched, realizing it was late. He checked his phone. I didn’t make Homecoming court. But I’m still wearing a tiara.
She’d included a selfie with the tiara on her head. She was wearing pajamas and she had her toothbrush stuck in her mouth.
He smiled. She was pretty but she hadn’t let it go to her head. He was kind of proud of her, not that he would admit it. She was a good kid.
Congrats! Who are you going with?
Hopefully not some idiot, he thought. Maybe he should come home this weekend.
She answered immediately. It took you three hours to answer my text?? Nicolas Tournay. He’s from The Cove.
He rubbed his eyes. The boarding school for kids so wealthy they didn’t know why people counted money. So he’s rich.
Whatever, it’s a blind date. I’m sure he’s nice.
Night. Have fun with MC Money.
He sighed and closed his laptop, still smiling to himself. He loved making fun of her.
He turned out the kitchen light and the whole house went dark. Michael had gone to bed as well. He went to the front door and turned the deadbolt. It clicked loudly.
The house felt cold. He picked up his laptop and walked to the stairs. They groaned under his footsteps. Shadows leaped up on the walls in the brief glare of headlights from a passing car out in the street. He went to his bedroom and pushed the door open. His door was one of the few that didn’t creak, swinging open without a sound.
He turned on the light switch and closed the door. He was tired. Peeling his clothes off and sliding under the covers, he fell asleep almost instantly.
He woke in the middle of the night. Some instinct pushed adrenaline through his veins and swept away the fatigue. Eyes open, he lay in the dark, alert without knowing why. Then he heard it. From the closet door came the sound of something sliding on the floor.
He stared at the closet, his body going cold. He tried to tell himself it
was an old house noise. The room remained silent as he bullied his mind into accepting that it was nothing.
The sliding sound came again, and this time there was a soft bump. He slid out of bed and stood, facing the closet door. He could see barely see it in the light that came in from his window. He grabbed the door open and cocked a fist. It was dark and he couldn’t see inside. His heart pounded as he stared at it blindly.
He heard a loud thud against the back of the closet. He jumped back and stood there, his eyes wide. He turned away from the closet and grabbed his phone to use the light from the screen. His hand shook as he pointed the feeble light into the depths. Clothes on hangers, his luggage and some shoes were illuminated, but nothing else. He stepped closer, moving the screen to find all the corners of the closet, and then his eyes drifted upward, to the shelf.
He’d thrown a pair of boots up there, and they lay exactly as he had remembered them, one fallen over on its side and the other next to it. He moved the light back down. He stared at everything, but there was nothing else to see. Nothing had fallen. There was no explanation for the sounds. He closed the door, hearing it click into place.
He turned and shone the light around the room. It all looked the same, but different. Did the shadows always slide that way?
When he faced the closet again the door gaped wide open. Seconds ticked away as his brain adjusted to what his eyes told him. His mind and his body were almost disconnected now, his mind stumbling over things it didn’t understand and his body reacting to the reflex to flee. He had to get out. As he turned around, intending to grab his pillow and a blanket, he saw a dark figure standing across the room.
It was tall, its face shrouded by shadow. It didn’t move, but its presence filled the room. Jack couldn’t step away, his body paralyzed by terror, staring at the tall figure.
A small click came from the closet, as if it had closed. The tall figure’s head moved, following the sound.
In his head Jack was screaming, but no sound would come out of his mouth. It seemed like out of the corners of his eyes he kept seeing other things move, but he couldn’t take his gaze off the figure standing at the window.
A whisper came from another corner of the room. Get out.
The tall figure moved forward.
Jack stepped backwards. The shadow loomed larger. Maybe all his common sense finally broke free from its tenuous mooring, he didn’t know. Instead of running out of the room, he hurled himself at the dark figure. He jumped on his bed to get at it, his fear and terror curdling into determination or madness. He expected to die. His body hit something and for a brief moment he looked up into the shadowed face. Pale yellow eyes stared back at him, and there was nothing sentient in them but hatred. Then Jack was falling into the window.
He hit the glass and heard it crack. It was an old window, not the modern two-paned kind. His elbow went through one of the panes of glass. He heard his body thud against the window but he didn’t break through. Glass fell and hit the sidewalk below, loud in the night. The cold air blew into the room.
Blood trickled down his arm, warm, almost hot. He moved his elbow out of the broken window. He clutched his arm against his stomach, his forehead touching the cold glass, his breath fogging the window. He turned around.
Even in the dark, he knew his room was now empty. He didn’t see it, he felt it. Nothing was there now.
Shaking, he stumbled to the bed and held his arm. After a long while he stood up and went to the light switch, flooding his room with ordinary light. He glanced over at the closet.
He sat on his bed, sometimes looking over it. That was the only place in his room that he still felt uneasy about.
When dawn came he still hadn’t moved. His room was bitter cold. When the sunlight streamed in he finally looked down at his arm. The blood had dried and his fingers stuck to the cut as he pulled them away to look. It was a nasty cut, but it wasn’t deep enough for stitches. He got up and walked down the hall to the bathroom and shut the door.
He turned on the water and watched it turn red-brown as he washed his cut. His hands started shaking. He watched the bloody water swirl down the drain.
He stuffed a piece of cardboard in the broken window and called the landlord about it. Mr. Corey wasn’t happy and there was some drama about whether it had happened during a party, but when all his roommates were convincingly genuine about their surprise over the broken window, Mr. Corey finally believed him. Jack still had to pay for the window, but he wouldn’t be kicked out.
All of it seemed to happen to someone else. He actually didn’t even care about his landlord’s anger or his roommates bewildered testimony. He told them he had tripped getting out of bed in the middle of the night and showed off his cut.
He skipped breakfast and walked to his first class. Sitting in the back of the room, watching his statistics professor write on the whiteboard, his mind went back to the tall figure that had appeared in his room.
His room had been filled with more than shadows; it had been filled with a dark will. A will made of hatred. He thought about the word he wanted to use. Evil. He could almost picture it in his mind, the letters drawn out in some medieval script. If he ever used the word at all it was while he laughed. He never thought of it as a real concept. Yet there was nothing else that could describe what he felt in that room. He could not deny it was real. Evil existed.
When the professor dismissed the class Jack realized his notebook was blank. He hadn’t written down a single word. Even more telling, he didn’t care.
Getting back to the house he decided that he was too distracted to study this weekend. He might as go home for a visit. Besides, home always seemed to make him feel more like himself, and he needed that right now.
He drove out of town and got on the interstate, thinking he should let his parents know he was coming home. And Morgan had that homecoming thing. He reached for his phone and dialed his sister’s number.
She didn’t answer right away, so he just left a message. “Hey Morgan. I just wanted to give you a heads up–I’m coming home for the weekend.”
He paused and for a moment a cold shiver went down his back. That odd, disconnected feeling he’d had ever since that night made his head light. But that wasn’t her world. “Have fun at the dance. See you later.”
He went to call his parents, but the phone’s screen went dark and died. That was odd. He didn’t remember having a low battery. He would have plugged in the charger but he’d packed it somewhere. He’d be home soon anyway.
After an hour of driving, the sun slipped away, and he turned on the headlights. He flicked the cruise control on drove through the night.
About the Author
I am a YA writer who lives in Pennsylvania with my husband of many years. Yes, we are old. We have four children and several grandchildren who make my world go around. I like to take mysterious pictures in front of blinds and I kill houseplants, mostly by accident.
I am dedicated to writing positive fantasy, whatever that means. Hopefully it means my readers get a good vibe when they are done with my stories. I’m always working on something, usually a couple novels at the same time because I like to jump around. I should probably stick with one genre but I don’t–it’s fun to explore fantasy, sci-fi and paranormal romance and anything else.