A story of urban fantasy, growing up and making sense of a world that does not often present itself as normal from fantasy writer Sharon Skinner (The Healer's Legacy, Mirabella and the Faded Phantom).
Think being a High School sophomore is hard? Try doing it when your messed up genetic code turns you into a wolf every full moon. Not only does Merissa have to deal with high school divas, bullies and pop quizzes, she also has to hide the awkward truth that once a month she really does get bitchy.
And just when she thinks she's found someone she to whom she can actually relate, her new classmate Bree turns out to be an arrogant witch. Literally. If they weren't the only non-Norms in the entire town of Fair Glen-aside from the annoying half-Elf, Jeryd, who shows up and complicates things-Merissa might not give Bree the time of day.
But when Bree is drawn into a curse that causes chaos at school and threatens the town, Merissa must find a way to vanquish the dark power behind the curse and keep her parents from finding out about it.
All without failing biology.
|Brick Cave Books
|5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.72(d)
|13 - 18 Years
Read an Excerpt
When I walk into the Coffee & Cues with Joey Marsh on a Monday afternoon in April, it seems like my life has finally taken a turn toward normal. Just two teens stopping for mochas. No big, right? Yet, the sun shines brighter, the coffee smells richer, and our rinky-dink hometown is suddenly less claustrophobic. It feels big enough to finally let me breathe — if I can just calm my pounding heart enough to catch my breath.
Joey grips my hand in his, refusing to let go even as he digs out his wallet and I can't stop the smile that spreads across my face.
Two weeks and three days. That's how long it's been. I'm still dizzy at the newness. I'd pinch myself, but I don't want anything to spoil this moment. For most of the year in tenth grade, I'm this girl no one has ever noticed. Till one day I trip over my big size elevens and dump my books in front of this guy in a leather jacket, and the next thing I know, I'm dating the best-looking boy in school.
I glance over. Joey's dark hair that's just a little too long, hangs down in blue eyes the color of a summer sky. He sees me looking and smiles, that amazing dimple destroying every girl within range.
Okay. So, he isn't perfect. His grades aren't the best and I know my parents don't like him because he's been in trouble. He's even spent time in the Youth Detention Center. But he's stayed out of trouble since then, and he's been really sweet to me. Anyway, there's something exciting about a guy who rides a motorcycle, and yeah, maybe I'm attracted to bad boys. Which makes sense if you know my genetic history. Plus, he smells great. Leather and motorcycle oil with an overlay of chocolate.
"Let's grab a couch." Joey leads the way into the store-front-turned-game-room that's connected to the coffee shop. Mochas in hand, we skirt the pool table, snake our way around the kids playing video games, and head for the alcove where secondhand furniture surrounds a low table with a chessboard painted onto the top.
We just reach the couch when I hear a shout. "Hey, Merissa! I've been lookin' for you." Kandi Johnson, the biggest, meanest girl in school, stands in the doorway, hands on her hips, and glares.
"What's up with her?" Joey asks.
I shrug, trying not to look concerned, but adrenaline crashes through my veins in a fight-or-flight frenzy. "I don't know." I step toward the couch, only to freeze when Kandi yells again.
"Hey! I'm talkin' to you." She points at me. "What's a matter? You too stupid to know your own name?"
My hackles rise as I swing around and watch her march toward me. Crud. Kandi Johnson is a bully — a great big Amazonian-sized bully — and she is headed right for me. Things go quiet. The crowd vibrates with anticipation.
Kandi crosses the room in three steps, stopping in front of me, scowling like she's just eaten something nasty. Or is about to.
She's taller than me, and I have to look up to meet her stare. It feels like there's a heavy rope wrapped around my chest and the longer we stand there, the tighter it gets.
I force myself to breathe.
"What's going on?" Joey asks, but I can hardly hear his words over the rushing sound in my ears.
Kandi's voice is right inside my skull when she growls, "Stay out of it. This is between me and her." She jabs a finger in my direction.
When Joey shrugs and sits down on the arm of the couch, something inside me withers.
"What is it you want?" I ask, trying not to look as betrayed as I feel. My teeth are clenched. My voice sounds thin through the storm in my brain.
"I heard you called me a bitch." She steps closer, flexing her thick arms.
"Wh — what?" I take a step back and bump into the coffee table. First off, there isn't anyone I know well enough to talk to like that. Second, it's a compliment I'd never bestow on her. But I sure as hell can't tell her that.
"I heard you called me a bitch!" Her hands squeeze into tight fists, knuckles cracking loud in the quiet room.
Is she making it up, or ...? I look around, wondering if the jerk who put me in this situation is in the room. A dozen faces stare back like feral animals waiting for blood, but no one moves. "I don't know where you heard that, but it isn't true."
"Well, that's what I heard. And now you're gonna be sorry." She spreads her feet and raises her fists.
"I don't want to fight you." My voice sounds throaty, the roaring in my ears louder.
"Too bad," she snarls. "'Cause you don't get a choice. But I'll tell you what, I'll let you take the first shot."
"Go ahead. Hit me." She opens her arms.
My mom is going to kill me if I can't talk my way out of this, but all I can think to say is, "I'm not going to fight you."
"Yeah, you are. Hit me." She feints toward me.
I shake my head, digging my nails into the palms of my hands to keep from swinging on her.
"Hit me!" Kandi yells, smacking her chest with a balled hand.
"Listen, Kandi —"
Her left fist comes up quick, lands hard on my right cheek. My hand goes up to my stinging face and I spin around. Everything goes red, then black. There's a buzzing noise; a screaming wind; a cyclone tearing through me. Until, slowly, a gray mist fades from my eyes like I'm coming out of a fogbank.
I'm sitting on Kandi's chest, my hands wrapped around her neck. My teeth are bared and an angry growl tears from my throat. Her eyes are wide and a look of fear-coated surprise has replaced her former sneer.
Panic rises and I stare at my hands. It takes me a moment to realize they're still human. Then relief flutters over me like flapping crows' wings. "I said, I won't fight you," I tell her through gritted teeth. "Understand?"
She tries to nod her head and I loosen my grip. I draw in a raspy breath and stand, trembling with the adrenaline rocketing in my blood. I step back to give her room. She crab-crawls backward to the pool table, hits her head with a loud thunk, then leaps to her feet and runs. I watch through the big storefront window as she streaks past outside.
The room is quiet. Not one video game bleeps and every kid in the place seems to have stopped breathing. They're all watching me, staring at me like I've grown fangs. Or ears and a tail.
Not this time.
I purse my lips and give them a shrug, trying to be nonchalant, but my body feels rubbery from bouncing between anger, fear and relief. With the show over, everyone breathes normally, including me, and the plink and blip of video games slowly resumes.
When I turn back to the couch, Joey is gone.
For a second, I think I might actually cry. But then I get angry, again. He could have tried to help. He could have made some kind of effort instead of backing down like a useless jerk, just because Kandi told him to. Not that I needed his help, obviously. But he couldn't have known that, could he? I mean, I'm not model-thin and helpless-looking, but it's not like my body is covered in muscles, either. And, anyway, what kind of boyfriend just sits and watches when the girl he's dating is attacked by the school bully?
So much for bad boys.
I plop down onto the worn sofa and stare at the coagulating mochas. Across the room, kids are totally absorbed in their games. Not surprising. It wasn't much of a fight, after all. But if my mom hears about this, I'll be grounded till I'm forty-seven. Why did Kandi have to pick a fight with me? And why today, just four days before the full moon?
I always knew something was wrong with me. I mean, different. That's what Mom calls it. "It's not wrong to be different, Merissa," she says in her completely logical (meaning totally out-of-touch-with-reality) way.
Shows how much she knows.
Even as a little kid, I hated being indoors. I wanted — no, I needed to be outside, touching the fertile ground, inhaling the fierce air, the sun's warmth and light soaking into skin and bones. I could hear sounds the other kids couldn't, and I could smell in color.
Weird. But true.
Back in preschool, when the other kids would settle down for naps, I could never sleep. My ears followed the sounds of insects crawling along the walls, bees buzzing in the bushes outside the windows. And heartbeats. All of them thump-thumping in a chaotic rhythm that slowed down as the other kids nodded off to sleep. In the quiet, my ears would begin to pick up the rustlings of small animals — squirrels in nearby trees, rodents in the grass — and then my stomach would begin to rumble.
Only, I wasn't hungry for graham crackers and milk.
I slump forward. The mochas have turned a cold and sludgy charcoal gray. I pick mine up and stare into the gooey layer of melted whipped cream that floats on the surface like scum on an abandoned fishpond. My nose wrinkles before I can even get the cup to my mouth and I want to sneeze. I set the cup back on the table in a rush so I don't spill it all over myself.
Needless to say, I've never had anyone I could tell my secret to. That's why it was such a total high when Joey started paying attention to me. I guess I wanted to believe that the old saying is true. You know, the one about love being blind. Not that I thought he was actually in love with me. I just hoped he might like me enough to be a little near-sighted. Obviously, he's got his eyes wide open now. Seeing me lose it that way was probably like laser eye surgery. Who wants to date a girl who can out-bully the school bully?
I sink back into the sagging couch. Across the room, a group of kids huddles around a video game, one of those big retro game consoles with the old original games on it, stuff like my parents used to play.
One of the kids at the console is watching me. I haven't figured out which one, yet, but I can feel her eyes on me — I know it's a girl — boys feel different when they look, the way they stare, measuring, questing, imagining. This is different. It's like she's trying to decide if I'll bite.
I might, I want to tell her, but probably not, today. I look past the group of kids, out through the big window, at the street outside, the cars rumbling past. I pretend to be interested in a bright yellow Prius that stops right out in front. Even with my human ears, I can hear it purring quietly, its electromechanical hum like the buzzing of a giant bee.
Of course, I couldn't care less about the car; it's just something to focus on while I figure out which girl is watching me. Slowly, I inhale through my nose, sensing the air in the room, tasting it on the back of my tongue. Letting it settle into my brain.
At first, I can't separate the overabundance of smells. All the colors in the room are woven together. I generally try to ignore the too-many rushes of scent and color that mingle inside my brain. But now, I slow my breathing and concentrate. Then, bit by bit, I begin to unravel them and each one takes on its own special tint. Finally, I isolate her scent, her particular hue.
She's pale vanilla mixed with dead leaves, or some kind of green wood covered with dusty flowers, mossy greens and pale lavender. Hard to pin down exactly, but unique. My nostrils flare. My nose twitches. I exhale and lean over the mochas to try and get her out of my brain. But, like every new scent the first time I catch it, she's stuck there.
An indelible imprint.
One thing I know for certain, she's different. Not different like me, exactly, but not like the other kids. Not one of the Norms.
Finally, I raise my eyes.
She's standing at the far edge of the group, acting like she's watching the girl working the game's controls. But her lilac-colored eyes are focused beyond her. Focused on me. Like they recognize me. Even though I know I've never seen her before. She tilts her head just a bit, her hair falling to one side like a dark curtain, and her lips quirk up in a secretive smile. It feels like a dare. I want to get closer, find out who she is, what she is, but before I can get to my feet, she's across the room and out the door.
I'm sitting up straight, the hairs on the back of my neck sticking out like quills on a porcupine, but the other kids are just as casual as before, totally engrossed in their stupid game of Space Invaders, or Pong, or whatever it is. They didn't even notice when she left. Not one of them showed any sign of even seeing her. Like maybe they hadn't known she was there to begin with, so didn't recognize the vacant space she suddenly left in the room.
But I noticed. And now I'm worried.
She definitely isn't like me, and she's not a Norm. So, what is she?
Mom's always saying there aren't any Others like me in this part of the country, because this region belongs to Papaw. He lives high up the Sierras and only comes to visit in the summers when the roads to his cabin aren't blocked with snow and ice. Papaw says if it weren't for me, he'd have moved up to Alaska or someplace even farther away like Iceland or something.
Our "condition" sometimes skips a generation, or two, like it did with my dad. Papaw told me there was even a time, way back a couple hundred years ago, it skipped so many generations, the family thought they'd lost the ability all together. But they didn't. And I sure didn't get skipped.
What matters is that the girl with the wisteria-colored eyes and the earthy smell doesn't belong here. At least, I don't think she does. I don't know what it means that she's here, but I'm sure as hell not going to ask my mom. Who knows what she'll do? She might even contact Papaw and get him down here to investigate. And as much as I miss him, for some odd reason, that's the last thing I want.
I lean back, away from the murky sweetness of the mochas and breathe in the last of her scent. Odd. It's already nearly gone. All I can find is a pale green mossy-ness with a hint of spider web.
* * *
Dinner is over and I'm rinsing the last of the plates before sticking them in the dishwasher. It's been a good night. I haven't broken a single thing. So far, I think, as the plate I'm holding starts to slip out of my grasp. I manage to juggle-catch it and set it down in the sink with a glassy clink. Then I breathe again. If I break any more of Mom's dishes, she'll make me buy her a whole new set.
I don't know why I'm such a klutz, but ever since I hit puberty, I've been clumsy, awkward, like the skin I wear is an oversized sweater.
Carefully, I pick up the plate and slide it into the dishwasher, add the soap, and close the door. I push the button and listen to the rush of water streaming in as I clean and rinse the sink. My mom doesn't understand how I can be such a butterfingers with normal stuff like doing the dishes when I can play video games and zap monsters for hours without losing a single life. I tried to explain the difference to her, but she just doesn't get it.
Or me, for that matter.
Out in the living room, Mom is watching one of those annoying reality shows. I don't understand the attraction. I get more than enough reality every day. If she really wants to see a bunch of drama, she ought to come to my high school. Not that I get involved in any of it, as long as I can help it. Other than my recent run-in with Kandi, no one really notices me. At least they didn't, before Joey. They also barely talked to me. Not like they'll start now. Not after everyone hears what happened at the coffee shop. And everyone will, probably before first period tomorrow. Although, I can't figure out if that's a good thing or bad. I mean, the other side of me grins every time I think about it, but the human side ... Well, since I can't really sink through the floor and disappear, what difference does it matter what that side of me thinks?
Except it does.
Because, while I never really fit in before, now I never will. What boy is going to want to date a girl who can practically tear someone's throat out in ten seconds or less? If I were a Norm, it would sure creep me out. Although, for some reason, I'd really expected more from Joey. Thinking about him just sitting there on that couch rakes a claw across my heart and makes a part of me want to cry. Except the other part of me, yeah that part, just wants to bite him.
I let out a slow breath and rinse the sink, letting the spray of water wash the stainless steel clean. I'm not sighing over a stupid boy, I tell myself. Honest. I'm just breathing, like Papaw taught me. Yeah, right. I dry my hands on a dishtowel and head out into the living room.
Mom lifts the remote and pauses her program. "You done with your part of the kitchen?"
"Homework?" She gets up to go wipe the kitchen table and sweep the floor.
"Not much," I tell her. "Just a small section on human anatomy. I did everything else in class."
She gives me that Mom look.
"I'll be in my room finishing my homework." I clomp down the hallway, wishing I walked like other girls, smooth with a swish or a little bit of a hip swing. But I'm not graceful like that. Especially, not now.
Excerpted from "Collars & Curses"
Copyright © 2017 Sharon A. Skinner.
Excerpted by permission of Brick Cave Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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