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A chilling and masterfully crafted teen horror novel guaranteed to keep the pages turning, the mind reeling, and the lamp on any reader's bedside table on long after midnight. Privileged and popular Caleb Mason is celebrating his high school graduation when he receives a mysterious, disturbing letter from his long-lost childhood playmate, Christine. Caleb and his jokester friend Bean decide to travel to his tiny hometown of Hudsonville, Florida, to find her. Upon arrival, they discover the town has taken a horrifying turn for the worse. Caleb's childhood home is abandoned and his father has disappeared. Children are going missing. The old insane asylum has reopened, and Christine is locked inside. Her mother, a witch, is consumed with madness, and Christine's long-dead twin sister whispers clues to Caleb through the static of an a.m. radio. The terrifying prophesies of the spirits are coming to pass. Sixteen clocks are ticking; sixty-six murdered souls will bring about the end of the world. As Caleb peels back layer after layer of mystery, he uncovers a truth more horrible than anything he had imagined, a truth that could only be uttered by the lips of the dead.
J. Gabriel Gates is a Michigan native and a graduate of Florida State University. He has worked as a professional actor, written several Hollywood screenplays, and coauthored the teen fantasy series The Tracks. Visit his website www.jgabrielgates.com.
Read an Excerpt
Something in the ruins waits.
A daydreamy, hot Southern summer, the sky above like a great blue eye. Watching. Two little girls with laughter in their smiles. Two same smiles, giggling. They hug. They hit one another. Two sisters, and me. High, dry weeds, brown and scraping. We fight through them together. The forest behind is black liquid. Pathways through the weeds, a thousand pathways, a game of chase. Now lying amongst the long grasses, giggles give way to sighing.
I get up. I whisper to one of the girls. (This has happened before.) Her hair is long and straight. Eyes glitter. There are no sounds, as if this were a silent movie or something, but there is one word that bleeds through like a subliminal message: dare. Eyes glittering, this is a childish contest of pride. I smile my dare to herI feel the smile on my face. She swallows once in fear, then giggles it away. The other sister says nothing, watches with sad, distant eyes. Long, straight hair. Through the weeds again now. Shuffling, we three. Biting burrs on white socks. A little hill. We reach the top and the air stops. There it is. Edifice. Eclipsing all. Empty. A thousand windows stare through us like blind eyes, black and shattered, the lights that once waited inside them now betrayed to darkness. Another word bleeds through: hospital.
Their momma told them not to go.
The dare hangs all around us. Two little girls, just alike. Dirty dresses and dimples. One stands still and scratches her leg.
The other, the Dared, has half crossed the clearing already. She's passing the swimming pond, sleeping mirror. Tiny girl, she blazes through the weeds on scabbed, bruised legs.
She keeps walking.
She'll show us she isn't afraid. But she's very afraid. She walks slowly. Keeps looking back. Acting brave. I look up at the too-many windows, and they gape at me like gnawing, starving maws. Suddenly, I want to call her back. My stomach aches, I want to call her back so bad. But I don't. I watch her. She sneaks under the chain-link fence, little dared one, catches her dress as she wriggles through but tears herself free. Crosses a patch of cracked, scarred cement; the heat waves from it dilute her for an instant; for an instant she seems almost to melt away, but she walks on, over old beer cans and fallen bricks, patches of grass poking through the cement. Up to the stoop. Up to the door.
The back door. A black hole. Her tiny feet follow each other forward, one after another, closer and closer, and she pauses at the threshold, looks back at us. Even from so far away there's no mistaking, no denying the meaning in her pleading silence: 'Take back the dare.' But she's already there.
Then it happens, too fast to be real. The little girl next to me screams, only her breath goes in instead of out and makes the words:
'Something in the ruins waits!'
And in the black square of the doorway, something jerks the other little girl backwards into the dark.
The ceiling is blue. His first thought is that nothing is real. Nothing is to be trusted. He pushes himself up against the headboard and stares at the knob on his closet door, waiting for the feeling to drain out of him. The knob is glass. Antique. He half expects it to move, but it does not. Nothing moves. The room is saturated in stillness. When there's no sound, no motion, it's easy to see how flimsy everything is. Reality seems mushy. Liquid, almost, in this half-light. The little illumination leaking through the curtains is tinted with blue. It must be late. The clock says six o'clock exactly.
The hum of the silence is disconcerting. He keeps thinking he hears something. Somehow, the sound of the non-noise has the same quality of a real sound. It sounds like . . . what? He can't put his finger on it, but it doesn't go away.
He gets out of bed, twists his boxers, straightening them, and walks across the rug and onto the hardwood floor. It creaks under his weight and he's grateful; it chases away the non-sound for a moment. He opens his door, steps into the hall. Here, the stagnant air is filled with the same timid light as his room. Twilight. He walks over to the stairs and leans over the rail.
'Hey, what's for dinner?'
No answer, except for a barely perceptible echo. He walks back up the hall. His legs hurt. Shin splints. He walks into the bathroom, blows his nose on some toilet paper, pulls on a pair of jeansthe belt is conveniently waiting in the loops from the last time he wore themand walks back down the hall, thinking about the dream. Trying not to think about it, actually, but reliving it in spite of himself. It won't leave. Even now, as he's going through the motions of life, performing all these normal actions, the fear still aches in his bones. He acts like he's ignoring it, but he cannot.
He crosses back down the hall, listening intently for some familiar soundthe chopping of vegetables for dinner, the mindless, chattering drone of the TV, the moan of the garage door as one of the parents makes an early appearance home from work. There are no sounds. The ache in his bones won't stop. He can't shake the dream. Hell, maybe he's still asleep; maybe this is just another hallway in the labyrinth of his subconscious. Maybe he woke to a world where he's the only survivor of a terrible cataclysm; maybe he's the last person left alive on earth.
Or maybeand this thought really chills himmaybe this is where the door the little girl was pulled into so many years ago ledmaybe, in some terrible metaphysical contortion, that black doorway leads here, to the shadowed foyer of his own empty house.
As that thought seeps through his mind, dripping from the land of fleeting fancy into more primal regions, it almost freezes him in his tracks. It's a horrible idea, the kind that keeps coming back to you, like the image from a video he saw in history class of the Buddhist monks who burned themselves to protest the war in Vietnam. When you turned away, when you closed your eyes, the sight remained.
He's made his way downstairs now. He passes the coatrack in the hall, trips over the shoes he shuffled off an hour earlier, before his nap, and continues toward the kitchen. It's getting deeply dark outside and here, away from any windows that might leak in the last residual rays of the dying sun, the blackness is almost total. He fumbles with his handhere's the table, here's one of the doilies his mom insists on draping over everything, even though it looks archaic and lameand here's the lamp. He traces his hand up the smooth brass shaft of its neck, without seeing it, bumps the shade with his elbow, finds the switch with his clumsy, still-waking fingertips, and twists. There's a click and a flash. He gasps.
Someone there? The hairs on the back of his neck are standing up. It's dark againthe light has burned out. His body is tense, his back pressed against the hallway wall.
Then he smiles, realizing. There's no one there: he just saw himself in the hall mirror. He exhales a snorted laugh. What a jackass. What a baby. The lightbulb popped and he saw himself. Good ol' scary Caleb, a skinny eighteen-year-old guy. He probably couldn't scare a 7-Eleven cashier with a ski mask on. His body relaxes. A car approaches outside, its headlights shining through the stained glass windows flanking the front door, casting everything, fleetingly, in an eerie glow. Then it passes. He snorts again, laughing at himself. What a baby. . . . Can't shake a wittow scawy dweam. He takes a step forward, toward the kitchen door, then stops dead.
Something behind the door moved.
A scraping sound. Tiny. Real. No light shines around the doorjamb. The room beyond is dark. He realizes he's shaking. He tries to breathe, tries to still his limbs, but cannot. Something is really there.
Courage . . . this is your house, right? Not a dream, right? And you're eighteen nowsupposed to be a man.
His teeth clamp together, eyes narrow, fists clench. His hand rises up from his side and tentatively rests on the wood of the swinging door. Only a push now. Why's he so scared? Why can't he shake that dream? Okay, one . . . two . . .
Another sound, almost too faint hear at first. But there. His mouth falls open and he shivers, leaning closer. Voices. A thousand, whispering, clamoring, lisps mingle and seethe over one another, creating a sound that is almost like silencebut isn't.
He feels his heart pounding, man or not, but steels himself against the rising tide of his fear.
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