A young adult horror story with significant Lovecraftian influence, Splinters deals with how ordinary human resistors must sacrifice the normal lives they could have tried to live in favor of fighting for all humankind
Under most circumstances, Ben and Mina would never have had reason to speak to each other; he’s an easy-going people person with a healthy skepticism about the paranormal, and she’s a dangerously obsessive monster-hunter with a crippling fear of betrayal. But the small town of Prospero, California, has no ordinary circumstances to offer.
In order to uncover a plot set by the seemingly innocent but definitely shapeshifting monsters that look like friends, family, and neighbors, the two stark opposites must both find ways to put aside their differences and learn to trust each other.
About the Author
Matt Carter is the author of various horror, sci-fi, and young adult fiction. F. J. R. Titchenell is the author of Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (That I Know Of) and several young adult, fantasy, sci-fi, and horror short stories. They live in San Gabriel, California.
Read an Excerpt
The Prospero Chronicles I
By F.J.R. Titchenell, Matt Carter
Jolly Fish PressCopyright © 2014 F.J.R. Titchenell and Matt Carter
All rights reserved.
The Funeral Crasher
I'd never been to a funeral without a casket before. Then again, I'd never known a missing person before. This trip was full of firsts.
The funeral home had managed to fit about eighty folding chairs into their cramped, stuffy parlor, and they were all full of mourners and well-wishers. This wouldn't have been so bad if the funeral director's promise of having the air conditioning fixed in twenty minutes had actually been true. The mid-summer heat had transformed the room into a pressure cooker that smelled heavily of sweat and flowers. I couldn't leave. I wanted to, maybe just for a minute so I could clear my head, but I couldn't because I had to be there for my mother, and she had to be there for the dead girl's mother.
Missing. Not dead. Missing.
They didn't have a coffin, but they did have a large yearbook picture of a pretty blonde girl wearing a nice, not-too-fancy dress. Her smile was gorgeous and hopeful, unaware that less than a year after the picture was taken it would be blown up and surrounded by more flowers and teddy bears than you could count.
We were friends once upon a time. Not close friends, not even good friends — when we were both six, we'd liked each other well enough, and, since my mother was best friends in college with her mother, we got used to playing together during my mother's infrequent trips to Prospero. It didn't last long since we each soon entered the age where playing with the opposite sex was considered gross, but we were nice enough to smile and say hello and spend a few polite minutes together whenever our mothers would force us to.
I wasn't that choked up about her death (disappearance), but there was still something surreal about actually knowing the person whose funeral you're attending.
The program said that the services were set to begin in ten minutes. Some of Haley's friends and my mother would deliver eulogies about how lovely and special a girl she was, about how she had brightened all of their lives, and about how the world would be a much worse place for not having her in it. Standard stuff. The kind of stuff that would break any audience into a chorus of tears and moans of grief.
Any normal audience at least. This audience's behavior was anything but normal.
Don't get me wrong, there was plenty of sadness to go around. About half the audience, mostly high school-aged, probably Haley's friends, were emotional and, if not already crying, were on the verge of tears. The older members of the audience, on the other hand, the parents, the select representatives of the Town Council who had decided to attend ... their reactions were a bit off. While most of them put their best sad faces on, more than anything else there seemed to be an air of fear, even frustration as they occasionally whispered amongst themselves. Even stranger, I could swear that a few of the older people looked happy, as if this were a day of celebration instead of mourning.
This is why I never really looked forward to Mom's trips to Prospero. The place is just oozing with small town strange. Big city strange I can deal with — you expect it; at least in all the noise and anonymity, I can avoid it. Small town strange is another beast entirely, that kind of strange where you know, you just know that everybody's watching you and judging your every move ... I don't know how anyone could handle that for long without going completely insane. Top it off with Prospero's tourist-friendly reputation for the bizarre ...
I needed some air. I tugged on my mother's sleeve.
She looked at me, daubing her puffy eyes with a tissue, "Yes, Ben?"
"Can I go get some water?"
She smiled, faintly, looking to the woman wrapped in her arms. "Sure. Could you get a cup for me and your Aunt Christine as well?"
"Sure," I said as I got up and walked down the center aisle. Late arrivals milled around the back, trying to find an available seat. Among them was a gawky-looking girl in a long-sleeved black dress that might have belonged to her grandmother. She looked like she had only been told how dresses worked just in time for this memorial service. Her curly red hair hung haphazardly around her face, a striking contrast against her pale skin. A pair of thick, black-framed glasses made her eyes look enormous.
I couldn't be sure, but she seemed to be staring intently at me as I walked into the next room. I'd have been unsettled even if the town itself hadn't already put me on edge.
In the next parlor over, a buffet table had been set out with a selection of hors d'oeuvres, a punch bowl, and bottles of water in ice. I grabbed a few, cracked one open, and took a long, grateful sip.
When I turned to head back to the service, the red-haired girl was standing in my way. I was startled, almost dropping my bottle to the floor. Up close, I could see that she stood barely five feet tall, and if it hadn't been for the intensity of her gaze, I could almost have tripped over her before noticing she was there. She didn't move.
"Hi," I said.
"Hi," she replied. An awkward silence followed. Though I could already tell she was hardly the world's greatest conversationalist, given the day, I wanted to be polite.
"I'm Ben," I said, holding out my hand.
She didn't take it. She only said, "I know."
Again, that unsettled feeling was grabbing my stomach, but being too polite for my own good, I couldn't act on it. "Well, then you've got me at a disadvantage?"
"Mina. Mina Todd," she said quickly, her eyes leaving me for a moment as if she were worried someone might overhear her. Satisfied that she was clear, she smiled briefly. As odd-looking as she was, she had a radiant smile.
"Did you ... did you know Haley well?" I asked. Though this could have been a minefield, it did seem like the safest conversation topic.
"Better than she knew me," Mina said, shrugging. She did not elaborate on that statement.
This was getting a little too weird for my tastes. I could have doubled back into the parlor easily — considering the stifling heat, I decided on a different approach. I reached for my pocket, pulled out my cell phone, and forced a surprised look on my face.
"My phone's vibrating, I'll be right back."
"No, it isn't," she said simply.
"It's very quiet," I explained, starting to turn away from her to make my escape.
"No, it isn't," she repeated. She looked at me, worried, clearly wanting to say more. She was weird, I understood that, but something really had her on edge.
Still, I quickened my pace. Thankfully, she didn't follow.
It was nice outside. Hot, but nice. A faint breeze brought in the scent of the redwood trees that surrounded Prospero. I realized then that, Prospero's strangeness aside, I could probably deal with summer in Northern California, better than a lot of the places we'd lived at least. Better than Virginia and Texas, and those three weeks we spent in Phoenix. That quick escape was one of the few times I was glad my mom likes to move around so much.
I sighed, took another sip of water. This trip was another excuse. I knew it. Mom wasn't happy with her job and she hated our landlord. When she said we were coming up here to offer comfort to Aunt Christine and she didn't know how long we'd stay, I knew, I just knew that it would be her way of quitting her job. Something would happen, she'd decide to stay longer, and then, the way she had at least once every two years since Dad had died, she'd say it was time for a change.
If it had been funny, I'd have laughed. Instead, I kicked a stone across the funeral home's parking lot. It bounced harmlessly off the tire of a Jeep parked near the exit. I watched it skip out into the street, wondering how far it would go.
Then I saw her.
There was a girl walking down the middle of the street, dirty and barefoot, wrapped in a tattered old Army blanket. She looked like a zombie, unmindful of the cuts on her feet, how little the blanket covered up her probably naked form, and the car that was barreling down the road toward her. It was going too fast, and the driver wouldn't see her in time around the blind corner ahead.
I didn't think; I just ran for her. The car rounded the corner. The squealing of brakes filled the air. I collided with the girl, knocking her off her feet. We fell into a ditch full of dry pine needles by the side of the road. The car swerved, missed us by inches and ran into a lamp post in front of the funeral home. Its hood crunched inward and glass lay everywhere. I don't know what was louder, the unending blare of its horn after the impact, or the sound of the lamppost falling down and crunching another car in the parking lot. Someone screamed.
I looked down at the girl, rolling off her when I realized, shamefacedly, that she had broken my fall.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I meant to do that better. Are you all right?"
She was coming out of her trance. The vacant gaze was soon replaced by the look of a person coming out of a deep slumber.
Sitting up, I repeated, "Are you all ri —"
Then I saw her face. She'd lost some weight, needed a shower and some shampoo, and was a little bloody, but there was no denying it was her.
"Haley?" I asked.
Her eyes focused on me, shocked and fearful. Letting out an animalistic scream of grief and fear, she wrapped her arms powerfully around me and wept. Comforting crying girls had never been one of my strong suits, let alone beautiful girls who'd been missing for two months and declared legally dead and then showed up naked outside their own memorial services. I like to think I did my best as she hung on to me.
People from the service had started filing outside, checking out the accident. Some were already on their cell phones calling 911, which gave me one less thing to do, thankfully.
"Can you walk?" I asked, getting only loud sobs in response. I took that as a no.
Carefully, I cradled Haley in my arms and picked her up, making sure the blanket covered her. She was so light. Too light. As quickly as I could, I made my way to the accident site and the crowd that had gathered around it.
"We need help here!" I called.
With a moderately impressive car accident to look at, they noticed us slowly, but when they did, we were swarmed. There were all the reactions you'd expect on an occasion like this. Shock. Excitement. Elation. I set her down, and though she regained her footing for a moment, she soon sat down on the curb, holding the blanket around her protectively as people hugged her, questioned her, or just stood around crying. People called for her mother, and soon she came running out with my mom in tow.
Aunt Christine screamed in surprise, tears of joy running down her cheeks as she wrapped her arms around Haley and me powerfully. She babbled incoherently as she kissed first Haley, then me on the cheek, and though I was soon pulled aside by the crowd for congratulations from a couple dozen strangers, I did catch her saying the words "Thank you" and "hero."
Within minutes, there was a police car parked in front of the funeral home and five minutes after that, an ambulance to take Haley and the driver to the nearby medical center. By then I'd had my hand shaken and my back pounded so many times I was thinking of asking for a ride over there with them.
It was right around the time they started to load Haley into the back of the ambulance that I felt the insistent poking on the back of my shoulder. I turned around, expecting another well-wisher or congratulatory handshake.
Instead, I got Mina Todd. She looked at me, almost frantic, as she wrote furiously on her funeral program with a marker and thrust it into my hands.
"We can't talk here. It's not safe. Just ... call me, okay?"
Before I could ask what she meant, she darted off into the crowd and disappeared. I looked back to Haley as she was loaded into the ambulance. She smiled at me, grateful, and for a moment, it almost looked like she said, "Thank you."
I was a hero. A hero. I gotta say ... it felt pretty good. They wouldn't call me a hero for much longer, not the guy who just saw her wandering in the street and decided to help. I was going to enjoy it while they did.
It was almost an afterthought when I finally looked at the message Mina had scrawled on the back of her funeral program. Beneath her phone number, in large block letters, she had printed three simple words.
THAT ISN'T HALEYCHAPTER 2
Change of Plans
I am probably not crazy.
More importantly, I am almost certainly not wrong.
Strange things happen in my town. Most people at least agree on that. If you haven't already heard of Prospero, California, you only have to walk down Main Street, take a lap of the glorified gift shop we call a cryptozoology museum, and stop for a Cherry Timewarp at the Soda Fountain of Youth to know that it's that kind of town.
Everyone has heard the stories about the monsters in our woods and about the people who come here with Parkinson's or cancer and then live to be a hundred. Some even know they're true.
Very few know the two are connected.
I do. I know what happens to people here, what the Splinters do to them. I've seen it.
And I am one of the few resistors working to stop it.
Most of the people I've lost along the way have not received the last respects due to them. The ones being used by the Splinters are not quite dead, and few realize that they're missing, but I've been to more than my share of funerals as well.
I don't like them.
All those people sitting so still and quiet, so eager to be offended. It's even worse than school. Mentally alphabetizing and spelling the periodic table can only keep you occupied for so long.
This one had been a necessary evil, an investment I hoped would pay off.
Back in the basement bedroom that served as my office and sanctuary, I could finally think.
My room was as organized as the space allowed while keeping everything I needed easily accessible. Most of the walls and table space were taken up with amulets of various sorts, a salt lamp and Eye of Osiris, plenty of different hex marks, a vial of holy water, a few garlands of garlic, and bundles of sage. There's a handmade broom over the door, and the top of the dresser was covered with different crystals and herb sachets.
They all looked silly, took up valuable workspace, and didn't smell too pleasant mixed together, but some of their combination seemed to be working, so I'd had to learn to tolerate the rest of them, for as long as it would take to isolate the active ingredients. And if the combination failed, I had plenty of flammable materials for more aggressive defense.
There was room for the things I needed to keep my mind in working order, the electric keyboard and headphones, the ceiling-high shelves of jigsaws, puzzle books, puzzle boxes, and half-finished lanyards. The closet had a chin-up bar over the door and just enough space kept free to hide something the size of a small human when necessary, less comfortably but also less obviously than in the tiny adjoining bathroom. The reference books were under the bed. At least, the good ones were.
Over the desk was the bulletin board containing the essentials of my life's work. My map where I marked all the sightings, my schedule of the most important bits of watching and listening to do, my ever-shifting top five leads, and, most importantly, my lists of names.
Effectively Certain Non-Splinters (ECNS for short), Probable Non-Splinters, No Useful Information, Probable Splinters, and Effectively Certain Splinters (or ECS).
I'd crossed Haley Perkins off the Probable Non-Splinters list when she'd gone missing, and she hadn't been anywhere since then. Suddenly, she needed a place again.
I selected a Java Monster from the case of assorted energy drinks in my closet, turned on the computer monitor, selected a playlist, and turned to a fresh Sudoku page to clear my head.
One, four, eight ...
"I am the very model of a modern Major-General ..."
All the nicely ordered thoughts crowded Haley securely into the part of my brain where I could handle her, like packing peanuts.
Two, three, nine ...
Haley had been missing for two months. Like everyone else, I'd thought she was almost certainly dead.
Excerpted from Splinters by F.J.R. Titchenell, Matt Carter. Copyright © 2014 F.J.R. Titchenell and Matt Carter. Excerpted by permission of Jolly Fish Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Ben has returned to Prospero, CA to attend the funeral of a friend, Haley. But while there she is discovered. But things are not as they seem. Odd ball Mina has been fighting the Splinters for years and knows Haley is a Splinter. A Splinter is a centipede like alien that attached itself to humans or animals and wants to take over Earth. Mina knows that Ben is new to this attack and tries to recruit him to the fight. Unfortunately, because of her fighting the Splinter, Mina is socially awkward, has no friends, and has a hard time trying to tell Ben about the Splinters. There is a lot more to Prospero, CA than meets the eye. I was curious to figure out what kind of monsters Ben and Mina were going to fight. But when I learned about the Splinters I instantly though of a combination of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Host. Ben is returning to Prospero and has no idea what he is getting into and how can he just believe the crazy girl that is telling him about an alien invasion. And Mina, she is such a strong person, ignoring what others call her just to keep fighting. I really liked all the references to other horror movies too. It is the perfect nod to all of the things that go bump in the night. I had a hard time putting this book down. Thankfully I also have book two, Shards on hand so I can start reading right away. I received Splinters for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.