Read an Excerpt
By Tamara Thorne
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013 Tamara Thorne
All rights reserved.
"They say she's still down there." Merilynn Morris trailed her fingers through the cool summer water as Samantha and Eve dipped their oars, slowly paddling toward the little island in the center of the lake. "She's still down there, trapped. Waiting."
"Waiting for what?" asked Sam. "Prince Charming?"
Merilynn looked up at Samantha Penrose and Eve Camlan with eyes so green that when they first met, Eve thought she wore colored contact lenses. But she didn't, and contacts couldn't do what Merilynn's eyes could do. Now they appeared to change from the deep shades of the shadowy forest to that of brilliant emeralds. At the sight, even scared-of-nothing Sam stopped giggling.
Merilynn looked far older than her eight years as she regarded them. "Prince Charming's for little kids—" she said archly.
"I kno-ow," Sam interrupted. "I was joking. Who cares about dumb old Prince Charming, anyway?"
Eve did, but she didn't say so. She'd already figured out that Sam, who was pretty much a tomboy, and almost a whole year older, would think she was a wimp if she talked about hand some princes and beautiful princesses, about dragons and knights and true love. And Merilynn? She wouldn't tease, probably, but she'd do that weird, serene smile of hers, like in those paintings by the Old Misters.
In fact, Eve had no idea what went on in the green-eyed girl's mind, but it was something mysterious, interesting, and a little spooky. Like the way she could change the color of her eyes. Eve thought it was magic, but when she said so, Merilynn had a giggle fit. For an instant, Eve thought she was going to make fun of her, but instead she said thank you and kissed her forehead, which was another weird but kind of nice thing Merilynn did sometimes.
"Holly Gayle," Merilynn said, sitting up straight in the little boat but looking down into the dark water, "is waiting to smite the evildoers who drowned her town and murdered her for her treasure."
"Smite?" asked Eve. "What's 'smite'?"
"It's something God does," Sam said. "It's like squishing a bug."
Samantha grinned, somberness all gone. "Yeah, Evie, this giant hand comes down out of the clouds thumb first, and starts squashing people." She demonstrated on her knee. "But that's not real and neither is any old treasure. I've been hearing this story since the first night of camp, and there's no treasure. That's just a fairy tale. Probably, Holly Gayle wasn't ever real either."
"It's all true," Merilynn said solemnly. "Holly Gayle was real. She's at the bottom of the lake. She's waiting." Late afternoon sun reflected on the lake water and blazed through her red hair.
"Merilynn, you're giving me the creeps," Eve said, glancing at the sky, involuntarily shivering as a cloud edged in front of the sun. "Maybe we should get back. It might rain and we need to practice our cheers."
Sam rolled her eyes to the sky. "It's not going to rain and we're almost there. Paddle faster. I want to see the island—we might not get another chance."
Eve nodded and did as Samantha ordered. She couldn't let spooky stories stop her now. The three had planned this trip to Applehead Island for two days, and now, while just about everybody was on a field trip to Greenbriar University, on the other side of the lake, was the only time they could get away with it.
"Why do you think the island is off-limits?" Eve asked as they drew near the rocky tree-topped oasis. They were close enough that she could make out misshapen apples on a few of the ancient, arthritic trees. Years ago, there were orchards here. Now the rest of the trees were under the lake. Could they still grow apples? Dark orchard, tree limbs reaching in vain toward the sun as they drown. She shivered. "The counselors sounded really serious when they said we couldn't come out here."
"It's haunted," Merilynn said, staring past Eve at the island.
"Shut up!" Samantha said, laughing. "You'll scare her. Eve, it's off-limits because it's a make-out spot. Our counselors meet the counselors from the football camp out here at night." She giggled. "We'll probably find all sorts of nasty things up there."
"Nasty?" Eve asked, delighted, her fears for gotten.
"Yep. Like blankets and underwear and stuff."
"And condoms," Merilynn added sagely.
"Huh?" Eve asked as Sam cracked up.
"You don't know what condoms are?" She pushed long titian hair from her face.
"I know," Sam said. "My parents have them in the bottom drawer of my mom's nightstand." She giggled some more. "They have all kinds of weird stuff in that drawer. I think it's sex stuff."
"But what are condoms?" Eve asked, pleased that know-it-all Sam didn't really know after all. "Come on, Merilynn."
Laughter tinkled down the scale and the girl's green eyes glowed with mischief. "They're for sex," she said.
"And?" Sam urged.
"Guys stick 'em on their thingies so they don't get girls pregnant when they stick it in."
"When they what?" Eve gasped.
"Stick it in." Merilynn was controlling her giggles, but just barely. "Eve, don't you know what sexual intercourse is?"
Eve shook her head.
Samantha cleared her throat. "You know those boring cartoons they show us about how guys' sperms go in and look for your egg so they can make a baby?"
Eve remembered the stupid drawings, all right. What a snore. "So?"
"What do you think those cartoons are sup posed to be?"
"Bodies," Eve said slowly. She shook blond hair out of her face.
"Whose bodies?" Merilynn asked.
"'Toons' bodies, how should I know?" Eve glanced at Sam, who was red-faced, shaking, and just about ready to explode. "What's so funny? Whose bodies, Sam?"
"Grown-ups." Sam snorted and started giggling again.
"You guys don't know anything, do you?" Merilynn said. "After you get your period and your boobies grow, you want boys to stick it in you. They have to wear condoms so that you don't make babies."
"Ewwwww!" Sam and Eve cried in unison.
"Your parents do it, Sam," Merilynn said happily. "They have condoms. That's proof. Both your parents did it and didn't use condoms, because if they did you wouldn't have gotten made."
"So our counselors are doing it on the island?" Sam asked. "With boys?"
"Well, if they're not doing with boys, we won't find any condoms. And you know what that means?" Merilynn twinkled.
"What?" Sam asked.
"Oh, gross!" Eve wasn't positive what lezzies were, but was pretty sure it was disgusting.
"We should spy on them," Sam said.
"We can't," Eve said. Sam wanted to spy on everybody. She always wanted to know every thing about everyone, which was kind of fun, but no way did Eve want to be on Applehead Island after dark. "They'd know the boat was gone when they go to come out here."
"No," Sam said. "I mean, let's look in the counselors' cabin after they go to bed and see what they're doing."
"Okay," Merilynn said, carefully standing. "We're here." She jumped out of the boat into thigh-deep water. "Woo! Cold!" She walked to the pointy end and yanked it forward, onto the narrow beach. "Help me!"
The others got out and together they pulled the rowboat up far enough to be sure it wouldn't float away.
"We need to hurry," Eve said.
"Why?" Sam asked. "It's only about four o'clock. They won't be back from the field trip until five-thirty, at least."
"Look at the sky," Merilynn said.
Overhead, clouds dotted the sky now, puffy white on top but gray and flat on the bottom. "Where'd those come from?" Eve asked. "A few minutes ago, there was only one."
Merilynn giggled. "Maybe it had babies."
"Come on, you guys." Sam had already hiked up the little hill and was looking back down at them. "Follow me." She turned and started walking.
Merilynn glanced at Eve and stepped forward, but Eve put her hand out and touched her arm. "Can I ask you a question?"
"Sure." Merilynn looked into her eyes. "Any thing."
"How come you're here? I mean, you said your father is, well, a Father."
"A priest," Merilynn said. "That's right."
"So, he doesn't have sex."
"Well, he's really my uncle Martin. He adopted me when I was a baby after his brother—my dad and my mom—got killed in a car accident."
"But you call him 'Father,'" Eve said.
Merilynn's nose crinkled in a pixyish grin. "Everybody calls him 'Father' because he's a priest. I do too because I think of him as my real father, but I could call him Uncle Martin if I wanted."
"But he's a priest. Isn't that wrong or some thing, calling him Father?"
Merilynn shrugged. "I don't think so. He doesn't mind. He says he gets the best of both worlds because he's a Father and a father."
"Are you guys coming or what?" Sam's voice called from somewhere above.
"In a second," Merilynn yelled. "Listen, Eve, I'll tell you a secret, but you have to promise not to tell."
"Yes, even Sam, because she'd start playing Lois Lane or something and snooping too much, and this is private. It's probably not even true, but I think it is. I have a hunch it is."
"What?" Eve's hand tightened on her friend's arm. "Cross my heart, I won't tell."
"Okay. I think Father isn't my uncle. I think he's my real father. As in, once he had sex and didn't use a condom."
"But he's a priest," Eve protested, shocked. "You mean he had you before he was a priest?"
"No. He's been a priest for like twelve or thir teen years."
"Then he couldn't be your father. He can't have sex."
Merilynn bent forward and kissed Eve's fore head again. "No, Evie. He could have sex, he's just not supposed to. I think some beautiful fairy queen made love to him when he was asleep."
"You mean like an angel?"
Merilynn nodded somberly. "Yes, only I think angels don't have anything, you know, down there, so it was a fairy queen. They've got lady parts and so she got pregnant and had me, but couldn't take care of me in the fairy kingdom, so she left me with him. And he made up the story about my real mother and father dying when I was only a few days old to cover it all up. Because they probably wouldn't let him be a priest anymore if they knew the truth."
"But nothing, Evie. I looked everywhere. On the Net and in Father's pictures from when he was little. He had a brother just a couple years younger than him that's in the photos up until Father was about ten, but then there's no sign of him. No more pictures. I think maybe he died a really long time ago."
"Do you have a grandma you can ask?"
"No. Nobody but Father." She started walking, Eve beside her. "It's just a theory of mine."
"It's nice," Eve said. "I see why you don't want Sam to know, besides the snooping part."
Merilynn paused. "Why?"
"She'd think the fairy goddess mother was silly."
Merilynn nodded and took Eve's hand as they reached the top of the hill. "She would think it was silly. But she'd be wrong."
"Yes," Eve said, squeezing Merilynn's hand. "She'd be wrong."
Applehead Island was so named because it was a lump of land shaped kind of like an ugly head poking out of the water. It rose maybe a total of twenty feet out of the lake at its peak, and scraggly old half-dead apple trees stuck out of the upper reaches like spiky hair. From the lake's edge, at times of day when the sun hit it just right, it really looked like a face, from the nose up. A jetty of land at water's edge stuck out like a nose on the side facing the cheerleading camp, and above it, two rocky hollows peered, eyelike, toward shore. Then, a little above, the trees poked up like bristly hair. From shore, Eve, Sam, Merilynn, and some of the other campers loved telling ghost stories about the face, like how it was the head of a giant and he'd walk to shore at three in the morning and peep into the cabins (that part, the peeping part, was Sam's idea of course). If you were foolish enough to be outside when he came ashore, he'd snatch you and take you back to his underwater town and keep you there with Holly Gayle and the treasure forever. Or maybe eat you, if you preferred Sam's version of the story.
But from here, standing between gnarled old trees with their litter of puny greenish apples, the island wasn't all that spooky. But the water was. The sky, filling with gray-bottomed clouds, made the lake look black and fathomless. Here and there sunlight still hit the water in little lightninglike flashes, but that didn't make it any cheerier. Pretty much the opposite, Eve thought, shivering. "There's a whole town down there," she said.
"Yes," Merilynn said softly. "It's still there. It's been there forever."
"And lots of trees." Sam jumped down from a boulder behind them. "It's only been there since 1906," she said. "I looked it up. They flooded the valley to make this reservoir that year."
"And killed all the people," Eve sighed, feeling a delicious little tremor run through her.
"No, they didn't. That's just made-up stuff," Sam said. "Everyone had already moved out. Most of the people went to settle in Caledonia, and some moved to the other side, near the university, and created a new town and named it Greenbriar, after the university."
"Some town," Eve said. "A gas station, a dinky store with a post office inside it, and a motel. Bor-ring."
"There're some houses and stuff," Merilynn said. "But you're right, Evie. It's pretty dinky."
"There used to be more stuff there," Sam told them. "More people and more businesses. There was even a church."
"The church is still there," Merilynn said, pointing toward the far side of the lake. "In the woods behind the university. It's a ruin now, haunted by the green ghost. The Forest Knight. There are still some old deserted cottages in the woods, too. They say the people just disappeared from them. Left their food on the table and fires in the hearths and just—pop!—vanished into thin air. Maybe the green ghost took them. Or the people who trapped Holly Gayle. They're still here, too. Their ghosts, or maybe even the actual people. Maybe they were Druids and they never die. No one knows for sure."
Sam rolled her eyes. "That's nonsense, Merilynn, old silly stories. But there really was a church. And a school, too."
"Greenbriar University is a school," Eve said, glad that Sam thought Merilynn's stories were made up.
"I mean a regular kids' school, not a college. A public school."
"Where'd all the people go?" Merilynn prodded, with a slight smile. "I mean if they didn't mysteriously disappear in the forest."
"Nobody 'mysteriously disappeared' unless maybe bears ate them or they murdered each other," Sam said. "They left because it's nicer on the coast. It's easier to get to, on a main road, and there are more places to work. And Caledonia's pretty; probably most of them went there, or down to Red Cay to start fishing businesses. Some must have gone to live in San Francisco."
"It's nice here," Merilynn countered, gesturing around. "A lake, forests all around, ancient oak trees, pine trees, squirrels—"
"Nuts." Sam laughed.
Sam was pretty for a tomboy, with sable-brown eyes and thick dark hair that would look really good if she'd let Eve style it for her.
"Samantha," Eve said firmly, "Merilynn's right. It's nice here. Maybe the people moved away be cause of a curse."
"The curse of Holly Gayle," Merilynn added.
"You two." Sam shook her head. "Okay. There was maybe a coed at the university named Holly Gayle, and maybe she drowned—"
"Was murdered," said Merilynn.
"Maybe. Whatever, the records that far back were mostly destroyed in a fire in the administration building. There's no proof."
"She's down there," Merilynn said calmly. "Sometimes, late at night, you can hear her calling for help from the old drowned ghost town under the lake, where they imprisoned her forever."
"Or until somebody can set her free," Eve added, trying to make the idea more appealing to no-nonsense Sam. It didn't help.
"Who captured her?" Sam asked, grinning. "Satanists?"
Merilynn made a face. "Of course not. Satanists are, like, sooo boring. The people that captured her were Druids or something. They worshipped the old gods."
"Older-than-God gods?" Eve asked.
Excerpted from The Sorority by Tamara Thorne. Copyright © 2013 Tamara Thorne. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.