Read an Excerpt
By Samantha Tamara Thorne
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2003 Tamara Thorne All right reserved. ISBN: 0-7860-1541-1
Chapter OneMeteors showered the black velvet night. The Perseids. Samantha Penrose lay on her back just inside the tree line not far from the cabins and tried to concentrate on the annual mid-August display.
It wasn't easy. Tree limbs blocked much of the view, but the only other place nearby-the best place-to view the meteor shower would be from the shadows of the dock or boathouse. That's where you should be. What are you, a coward?
Maybe I'm just smart. She wiggled a little, trying to get more comfortable on the loamy bed of ancient oak leaves and pine needles. After what she and Merilynn bad seen under the water two nights ago, she really didn't want to approach the lake or its creaky old structures at night.
You're chicken! taunted her inner bully.
No, I'm exercising caution! retorted her inner reporter.
Sam craned her neck as a bright flash fled across the sky and quickly disappeared behind the trees. She knew all about people who weren't cautious; they were the ones who got killed when rock-climbing because they didn't bother to check their ropes, or murdered because they pretended it was safe to walk down a street alone even though everyone knew muggers struck there. If you had to do something risky, you went prepared, alert, confident, but as herfather always told her, you darned well better not do it just to show off.
Lurking around the dock and boathouse would have been showing off. Definitely. And just standing out there in plain sight on the beach would be even stupider. You know you don't want to go near that lake anyway.
If she had brought anyone with her, she might have been tempted to approach the water, and that was part of the reason she'd slipped out of her cabin at one in the morning all alone. Her father always said that taking stupid chances had to do with your inner bully wanting to get loose and show off-or other people's inner bullies daring you to. He said it was more of a man thing, usually, but that she was a chip off his block, not Mom's, so she should learn from his mistakes.
He'd made lots of them, he told her. He couldn't resist a dare when he was young and ended up breaking his arm twice and his leg once. The worst was the time he'd gone up the stairs of the local abandoned "haunted" house (three stories of peeling white clapboard) while the other boys watched-that was when he broke his leg. It wasn't because of imagined ghosts or guys trying to scare him, but because his foot broke through one of the stairs and he crashed through the rotted wood halfway up his thigh before his leg snapped.
He was full of stories like that. He finally learned his lesson in Vietnam. Despite broken bones, sprains, stitches, and a concussion at the age of ten when he took-and won-a bet that he couldn't make his swing go over its A-frame in a complete circle, he had still believed, at nineteen, that nothing could kill him. He did all sorts of stupid things. Bullets barely missed him as he took chances the others in his squad wouldn't. He loved the feeling it gave him. But finally, shrapnel got him. Even now, Sam wasn't sure what shrapnel looked like, or even what it was, but she pictured hunks of twisted knives. The surgeons had removed pieces from his abdomen-he had shiny scars that were pretty cool looking-but they'd also had to remove his left hand and man, halfway to his elbow.
That wasn't cool, not at all, and it was why she listened to him. His missing hand gave her nightmares when she was younger. Even now, sometimes. She shivered despite the warmth of the night. Don't think about it!
Thinking about things that seared you could get you into trouble, too. Old dreams about crawling hands climbing her bedspread, moving over her covers, dripping blood as the fingers moved steadily toward her neck, suddenly flashed through her head. The hand never looked like Thing in The Addams Family. The one in her dreams had a ragged, bloody stump, meaty, with white bone shards sticking out of it like needles.
Stop thinking about that! I have to be on alert. I can't let anyone catch me out here! Only two more days and this stupid camp is over. No more dumb cheers. But if they catch me, they'll make me practice extra time until it's time to go home! Yuck!
The horror that thought stirred was preferable to the kind brought on by thoughts of severed hands. It buoyed her, and she concentrated on the sliver of sky visible between the trees. Soon, she felt no fear at all, just irritation at how little of the sky show she could see.
Quietly, she rose and brushed away the brown leaves sticking to her legs and shorts. Walking to the very edge of the forest, she stood in the shadows of the trees that met the lakefront beach-don't move, people who move get caught-and studied the sky. The still air, retaining dregs of daytime warmth, smelled pleasantly of pine and earth. The view here was much better, but it was easy to look at the lake too, and she really didn't want to look at it.
That's as silly as being afraid of a crawling hand.
She made herself look at the lake. It was a good twenty yards distant. It gleamed darkly, a black jewel, unfathomable. Far out, a low mist hung a foot or two above the water. Undoubtedly, it shrouded the island; she couldn't even see its silhouette. The moon hung coyly low, flirting with the tops of the trees, and what light it shed left Applehead Island completely untouched.
Calm now, in control, Samantha returned her gaze to the velvety clear night. Stars twinkled, planets glowed steadily. She picked out constellations; Leo, the Big Dipper. Smaller, more distant, her favorite, the Pleiades. The Seven Sisters. Mythical, magical sisters. She liked mythology, especially Greek stories of gods and demigods.
The still warmth was broken abruptly by a stray breeze. It felt good against her face, holding a hint of coolness, no doubt from the lake, for it brought with it the faint dank cold-water smell. It gave her goose bumps, bringing the image of the ghost of Holly Gayle staring up at her from beneath the lake surface. Stop it, right now! Maintain your control!
The breeze continued, strengthened enough to ruffle her bangs, and she thought she heard faint voices come with it. Singing? It was too soft for her to be sure, but it made her think of times when the water pipes in her home vibrated just right. Her dad had explained how that worked, dispelling imagination with science, but it still reminded her of distant feminine voices singing, almost chanting. She thought that this was what the Sirens of myth sounded like as they lured sailors to their deaths.
Now, in the woods, the voices grew clearer but remained too faint to be truly recognizable as human. Not birds, no, but probably the wind vibrating leaves the way water sometimes vibrated through the plumbing. She cocked her head, forgetting the sky, enchanted by the music.
It sounded closer as the breezes increased.
Five minutes passed before she decided that what she heard really were voices. Not too far away ... She was drawn to them. I can walk along the edge of the forest. No one will see me.
For an instant, she hesitated, wondering if she was being foolish, like the sailors who listened to the Sirens' call. Maybe. But as long as she stayed away from the lake and kept to the shadows and paid attention to where she stepped, why not? Reaching in her pocket to make sure the short-packaged light-stick hadn't fallen out-I probably won't need to break it open, but I have to be prepared!-she began walking toward the singing.
Chapter TwoSkirting the lakefront, moving from tree to tree away from the cheerleading camp, toward the voices singing somewhere along the eastern side of the lake, Sam imagined she was a native scout, sneaking up on buffalo killers, then switched to pretending to be Jane Bond, girl spy. By the time she had turned to her favorite game-investigative reporter, about to break open a story-the singing was very clear, though she couldn't understand any words.
Forgetting the games, she paused to look back at Applehead camp, seeing little but the sodium glow of a few tall lamps among the trees, a suggestion of a square building or two, the hulk of the boathouse, and short length of dock. She wasn't sure how far she'd come-a quarter mile, an eighth?-but the camp looked small and far away. It lay at the short south end of the oblong lake and she was well away from there now, somewhere on the lower eastern side.
The song of the Sirens. Listening to the a cappella voices, she felt a fresh surge of fear, but it passed quickly. The choral music rose and fell, so beautiful, so foreign. The tone grew more intense, stronger paced, as she listened. It was building to some sort of climax and the beauty and intrigue compelled her to move on despite the danger. Alleged danger.
No longer playing pretend, not even thinking of it, but relishing the adrenaline rushing through her, she kept to the shadows, as close to the edge as possible. It seemed darker here. It is darker. You can't even see the moon from here! She patted her light-stick, safe and sound in her pocket, but didn't even think of using it yet, not as long as she could see by the dim phosphorescent gleam of the pale beach sand.
The voices rose higher and stronger, flavored with a tinge of ugliness in the foreign words that stained the enchantment of the choir. She moved forward ten more feet and stopped. The music came from within in the forest-directly within.
There was a well-worn path to follow. She turned onto it and faced the trees, thinking that this was the end of the line. If she used the light-stick, someone might see it, but how could she walk into the trees in near blindness? You can still see the path a little. Just stay on it and go a little ways. Just until you can't make it out anymore. It's what a smart reporter would do.
Reporters, her father had told her when she asked, usually had much longer life spans than spies, and agreed that journalism would probably be a more rewarding career. When he said that, he was bandaging her magnificently skinned knee. Finished, he told her, You have to be cautious now so that you can grow up and become what you want to be.
The path was pale bare dirt, mixed with sand at first, and as long as she walked very slowly, she could make it out. The choral sounded closer, wilder yet still oddly religious. Just a little ways farther, she promised herself. Stay in control, don't take risks.
As she crept along, a slave to her curiosity, it suddenly occurred to her that these voices might not belong to students from the college or girls from camp, or even counselors. Sure, camps had sing-alongs, but this didn't sound like anything associated with roasting marshmallows.
Telling ghost stories, maybe.
She shivered and stumbled as the all but invisible path jogged. She paused, her eyes on the ground, her ears entranced, her nose full of earth and pine and lake smell. And fire. Just a hint. A campfire, a bonfire, but not a forest fire. Slowly, she became more aware of the trees pressing in on her, of the voices, singing so close-it's the way the wind is blowing, they can't be that close!-of the lack of other forest sounds. Nervously, she continued to look down, and could barely see the outline of her shoes, let alone the path. This is it. Time to turn back.
And then she looked up.
In the woods, not too distant, she spotted a small square of firelight-the bonfire. It was as if she were looking at it through a window, but that didn't make sense, nor did the color of it-the flames, if that's what they were, had a greenish tint.
Sam realized she was trembling. You can change the color of fire by tossing chemicals on it. Or maybe it was just the green of the trees casting strange reflections. The chorus lowered, then rose again, frenzied, reminding her of church music, weird church music. And then she realized she was looking at the old chapel.
The haunted chapel.
A few days ago, she would have laughed off the haunted part. Now she wasn't so sure. Voices rose impossibly high and, for the first time, they reminded her of the banshee-howls on Applehead Island.
They don't sound anything like the howls did, her inner bully challenged.
No, but they still remind me of them, replied the wary investigator within.
She'd come so far that she decided to continue on. Soon the fiery greenish gleam coming from the window threw enough light to let her see the path. Silently, she moved forward and the size of the window grew quickly. She was nearly there. Singing filled the air. A few more steps and the trees ended, encircling a broad clearing the same way they did the lake. In the middle of the clearing stood the ruins of the chapel. It's a make-out spot. But it sure didn't sound like anyone was making out in there.
Swallowing, she crouched low and moved fast, covering the space to the window in twenty steps. She stayed slightly hunkered beneath it as she worked up her courage to look in. She took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, and studied what she could see of the building. There were actually two windows; this one, which had been her beacon, at one side of the small chapel, and another, just like it, at the other side. The blank center of the stone building must have once been behind the preacher's pulpit.
Slowly, slowly, she rose, leg muscles tight and tense, and peered into the window.
The fire burned about ten feet away, casting eerie light and shadow on green-robed figures gathered beyond. They were hooded, covered from head to knee-which was as far down as Sam could see. They stood in a circle, their arms raised and hands held. They continued to sing and Sam couldn't see what, if anything, was in the middle of the group. Rising higher, calf muscles trembling, threatening to knot, she saw their feet.
They were all floating a foot above the ground. Nah, don't be ridiculous. Only half a foot.
Sam nearly laughed, forced herself to maintain control. No! Don't lose it. It's just a trick.
She couldn't look away as the girls' song grew soft and they slowly floated to the ground.
They parted into two columns and as they did, Sam held her breath at the sight of a pale, naked woman on the ground between them. She was staked out, roped at wrists and ankles, completely exposed and helpless. A gag of green cloth invaded her mouth. Long blond hair spilled around her head. Her eyes rolled back in her head.
Excerpted from The Sorority by Samantha Tamara Thorne
Copyright © 2003 by Tamara Thorne
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.