I'm currently running a special on the Kindle version of my novel, Unidentified. Until the end of November, it is $0.99. This story of alien abduction was an awful lot of fun to write and based on the creations many readers have had so far, a lot of people seem to be enjoying the twists and turns or the plot and the journey of the characters. If you're curious about the book's plot, here's the quick description:
Troubled FBI Agent Nicole Mitchell is brought back from administrative leave and offered a second chance to solve her most haunting case. A disturbing series of kidnappings has a small town terrified. Mitchell is certain that a serial kidnapper is exploiting local fears of UFOs and stories of alien abductions to hide in plain sight. Desperate to uncover the truth, Mitchell enlists the help of a skeptic who questions even her theory. In three days, a local girl will vanish for good. As Mitchell rushes to solve the case in time, she uncovers a far more sinister reality than she ever imagined. Mitchell must shake off her own dark past if she’s going to save the girl. But could this case be her undoing?
If that sounds intriguing, I invite you to grab a copy on either Kindle or paperback (after all, I definitely hope more people check it out and a writer's gotta make a living somehow, right?). However, if you're still not quite sold, might I interest you in the first chapter of the novel for free?
Well, here you go ...
Her scar hurt again, and this was always unsettling. Stephanie looked out of the car window at the nearly moonless night and tried to distract her mind, which seemed determined to fixate on the small scar on the back of her neck. Silvia, who drove the old Camry while talking with Annette, pulled over and stopped the car. Outside, the driveway to Stephanie’s parents' house stretched away from the road, pine trees lined both sides. Normally, this was a welcomed sight, a comfort. But tonight, looking out that window, Stephanie felt as if the darkness appeared somehow more intensely black and the driveway longer and surrounded by unseen dangers.
“Are you sure you don’t wanna' come?” Silvia looked back at Stephanie in the back seat. “Eddie will be there.”
“I’m sure,” Stephanie replied, not taking her eyes off the driveway.
“Well, look, the movie starts in ten minutes. We have to get to the theater in Lincoln. So …” said Silvia, doing little to mask her annoyance.
“Thanks for the ride,” Stephanie mumbled, and opened her door.
She exited the car and watched it pull away. How could she explain how she felt to them when she wasn’t even sure how to rationally explain it to herself? She wished they would have told her ahead of time the evening’s plan included going to the theater in Lincoln to watch a horror movie. She felt stupid for insisting on being dropped off at home instead of going with the rest of them. Maybe she should have forced herself to go, but she couldn’t put herself through that, not anymore. It was hard enough to sleep most nights now as it was. She didn’t need to infest her mind with even more nightmares, imagined or otherwise.
Turning, she began to walk down the gravel driveway that led up to the log cabin house her parents, Tim and Dorothy Clark, had owned for the past eleven years. A subtle pulsing sense emitted from the small scar on the back of Stephanie’s neck. It sat right over her spine and most days, it was something she thought little of. It had randomly appeared there almost a year ago, but she had no recollection of what had caused it in the first place. But one thing seemed certain; any time it bothered her she had a bad night.
As she made her way up the driveway, an increasingly familiar feeling crept over her body. Her skin crawled, and a chill traveled through her in spite of the warm summer night. She was being watched, she was sure of it. Try as she may to keep her eyes locked on the house up ahead of her, they wandered left and right, peering momentarily from one dark shadow to another. When she was younger, these woods had been a welcomed refuge for imaginary adventures. And maybe in broad daylight, she would have felt the same way about them. Now, however, they were menacing and suffocating.
This discrepancy between how Stephanie felt about days and nights was something that had been growing for months. She felt a split within herself. During the comforting light of days, she was generally happy and content. But when the sun set, she could not escape the sense of fear that crept over her. It made her feel childish. Over the months, it had worn her down to the point that even during the day while she felt safe she could not keep from thinking about each coming night. She’d grown more withdrawn and depressed. She eventually realized that the most distressing thing was not being able to talk to anyone about all of this. She knew the stories in town. It was hard to escape speculations about where that man had gone, or who had taken that boy, Tommy. So she kept her fears to herself. But even as she had finished up her second semester at Wellesley College, she found that she hated crossing campus at night. She found herself studying late in the library; sometimes, she even wandered its open interior architecture and suspended walkways that crisscrossed the building to kill time, waiting until someone she knew seemed headed out towards the dorms. Some nights she was lucky, other nights she wasn’t.
A subtle rustle from somewhere in the trees off to her right caught her attention. She picked up her pace. An icy chill spread through her chest as she heard the rustling matching pace with her. In an instant of brash bravado, Stephanie stopped. The rustling stopped too. There’s someone there!
Willing herself forward, Stephanie continued to walk quickly. She reached the yard and headed straight for the front steps. Stopping, she turned back to look at the woods. One part of her brain could hear what her father would say: it’s probably a deer—though it might be a coyote. But the other part of her brain, the primal part responsible for the drive to survive, felt sure that lurking in the deep shadows of those woods was something much more sinister than a coyote. She stared into the blackness and felt sure she could feel something staring back at her.
Unable to will her body to stay there another moment, she turned and bolted up the steps. Reaching the front door, she ripped open the screen door and produced her keys. She unlocked the door and flung herself inside the house before she could give much thought to the hour. It was nearly ten thirty. Her parents, both prone to rising early, were no doubt asleep. She wondered if she’d been too loud. Pausing, she listened to the quiet house. She could hear the faint sounds of the old TV on in her parents’ room. Only the light over the kitchen sink glowed downstairs. This was what her mother always did when she was out. She crossed to the kitchen and extinguished the light. The darkness felt immediately oppressive. She turned it back on and opted to pull out her cell phone to use as a makeshift flashlight.
She crept up the wooden stairs, trying to keep them from creaking too loudly, though no amount of effort prevented them from creaking to some degree. In the stillness of the house, each creak and pop seemed amplified. Reaching the top of the stairs, she immediately headed for her parents’ room. As she expected, she found them both in bed, fast asleep, the TV still playing an old movie on cable. She quietly reached over to the television and turned it off. Her mother stirred slightly, but made no other sound. Stephanie hesitated for a moment, looking at her sleeping mother. An urge to wake her swept over her. But why? What did she need exactly? What would she say to her? She was nineteen, not nine. Somehow, claiming to be scared of … of what? What did she think was outside? Now that she was inside, she wondered if her mind had just been playing tricks on her. You’re just being silly, she told herself. And with that, she turned and left the room.
She spat the foaming toothpaste out and rinsed her mouth. Standing in the bathroom now in shorts and a tank top, she looked in the mirror. She reached back and brushed aside her dark hair. Her fingers hovered above the scar on her neck. She touched it. A pulse like a low-level electric shock shot through her neck and back. She removed her hand and just stared into the mirror. Somewhere in the house, something creaked. Her eyes shot to the door she’d left ajar. You’re letting your mind run wild now, she told herself. The sooner you just go to bed, the sooner you can just be done with this night. But was that all she could hope for from now on? To get through nights so that she could lead a perfectly happy and seemingly normal life during the day? Standing in the bathroom in the middle of the night feeling creeped out, either by her own active imagination or by something else, she realized that this was not the time or place to work that out. She forced herself to leave the bathroom. She exited and shut off the light. Though the distance to her room was short, she felt every inch of that darkness as though she’d been plunged into murky dark waters with no sense of how deep it reached.
In her room, she quickly turned on her bedside lamp. She climbed in bed and looked over at the window. A light breeze caused the curtains to wave slightly. She cursed her father for being too cheap to install air conditioning. It was too warm tonight to dare to close the window. But it was clearly one of those nights for Stephanie: a bad night. Every now and then, she had these. Her methods of muddling her way through the night varied. She glanced over at the lamp by her bed and the alarm clock that sat below it. It was now nearly eleven. There was still a lot of night ahead of her. Leaving the lamp on, Stephanie rolled over and forced herself to close her eyes. Just go to sleep. Everything will feel different tomorrow. It always does.
She had no recollection of when exactly she might have drifted off to sleep, but she must have been asleep. Now she was awake, suddenly. She looked around without stirring from her place in bed. She was still on her side. Her lamp was still on. But she faced away from the lamp and clock. So she had no way of knowing what time it was or how long she might have been out. But the air felt cooler. She must have been asleep for a while at least.
A faint tapping sound somewhere behind her caused her muscles to tighten and goose bumps to travel up her arms. There was that feeling again, that feeling of being watched. She turned herself over quickly, unsure of what she would see, but hoping to see nothing at all. Her room as it normally looked confronted her. Her stuffed animals were on the old dresser, her closet door securely closed, her mirror in the corner … she hated the mirror. Something about mirrors at night …
She took a deep breath and tried to relax. Laying back down in bed, she looked over at her alarm clock. It was now 2:58 AM. She had definitely been asleep, and for a while too. That was the good news. The bad news was that being only about three AM, there was a lot of night ahead of her still. And of course, this part of such nights was always the longest. Sometimes she would just lay awake unsure of what had unsettled her. Had she dreamed? Other times, she knew she’d heard things, felt things, seen things. She pushed all such thoughts from her head. Now was not the time to think about anything like that. She had to get her mind on something else, anything else. An old urge she hadn’t felt in years crept up. Should she say a prayer? Her parents, still being “church folk,” as she had once described them to her college roommate, had brought her up with some semblance of religious tradition. But she had let all of that drift away from her—or she away from it—some time ago. It wasn’t the first time the thought occurred to her on a night like this. But she never knew what to say. Instead she just stared at her clock. The minute digit changed from eight to nine.
Her lamp flickered! Faint tapping sounds emitted from the far corner of her room. Stephanie felt the cold flow of fear race through her body. They’re here! She laid on her back, trying to control her breathing. She gripped the sheets of her bed. More tapping. Her lamp flickered again. Then, it went out!
Darkness swallowed her. It couldn’t have been more than a split second, but in that time, Stephanie wondered if she should run. But as the thought occurred to her, a bright blue light suddenly shone through her window. The light travelled up the floor, over the bed, and across her body. A pressure crept over Stephanie’s entire body as she lay there. She couldn’t move!
She was lifted from her bed, head and shoulders first, her feet remaining on the bed for the moment. Her fingers were forced to open and release the sheets. Her arms remained stiff, still outstretched where her hands had been gripping her sheets. She was standing, arms out, facing the window now. Only, there was no weight on her feet. She floated forward, off the bed, and towards the window. Her heart raced; she desperately wanted to scream, to make this stop. Only her frantic eyes could move, searching left and right for any means to stop her slow approach to the window.
An oppressive hum droned now. The light grew brighter and the hum louder. It hurt her eyes, but she couldn’t close them. Tears streamed down her cheeks, yet brighter still the light grew as she was pulled closer to it by some unknown force, some invisible hand that both pulled her from her bed and slowly squeezed her body tighter in the process. She couldn’t breathe. The light grew brighter still, until there was nothing but the blinding light and the deafening hum.
Karen knew better, but she was so annoyed with her husband that she couldn’t help herself. She looked down at her cell phone screen even as she drove down the rural New Hampshire road, the familiar sight of trees and the White Mountains in the distance at the moment forgotten. Instead, she read the last text from her husband: “No time, had to give them money for lunch.”
She swore under her breath and glanced up at the road. Then she looked back down and began to type out her furious message. She doubted that her son would end up being able to have lunch at all with his gluten allergy. What would be available to buy at the day camp? Would they have accounted for food allergies? How many times had she told her husband to pack her son and daughter a lunch? She managed to tap out the words, “What will Devon eat?” and then she glanced up at the road.
She screamed and slammed on her breaks, jerking the steering wheel hard to the right. A person stood in the middle of the road! The tires screeched and her Jeep Grand Cherokee leaned forward and a little to the left with the force of fighting so much inertia. Her seatbelt held her in place. The SUV rocked back as it reached its sudden stop.
Karen looked out her window. She hadn't hit the person. They still stood a few yards back in the middle of the road. It was a girl, by the looks of it, maybe a teenager. Her dark hair blew in the breeze. Karen threw on her hazard lights and got out of her car, her sudden panic instantly exploding into rage.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” she screamed at the girl. “I could have killed you!”
She marched up to the girl, but as she approached, she noticed that the girl wore only a tank top and shorts. Her feet were bare. Judging from how dirty they were, she’d been walking for a while. What’s more, it seemed the shorts and tank were inside-out. The tag on the back of her shorts fluttered in the light breeze as Karen approached her. The girl still faced away. She took a shaky step forward on her stained bare feet.
“Hey, are you okay?” Karen said, her tone now suddenly changed again, given her new shock and concern. She walked around the girl and found that she stared off into the distance, her eyes icy and vacant. “Are you on drugs?” she asked. But Karen got no response from the girl, so she reached out and touched her arm.
The girl’s eyes snapped to Karen’s hand and then up to her eyes with sharp focus. She opened her mouth and let out a deafening scream! Karen stumbled back, falling on the road. Pain shot through her elbow where it landed hard on the asphalt. The girl continued to scream with such primal ferocity that Karen forgot everything else. She scrambled away from the girl and back to her Jeep. Reaching inside, she found her cell phone. The girl’s scream ceased, but the echo of it bounced out through the woods and haunted Karen’s ears. It was as if the scream had silenced the surrounding world. Even the breeze seemed to die off. On her cell, she punched in three numbers she had not dialed in a long time: 911.