When Allie’s best friend dares their group to play a game in a cemetery—something she calls “witching”—Allie never expects what it might mean for her. When she plays, she doesn’t just find bodies, she summons their souls. But one soul wants more than Allie is willing to give.
And the boy next door could be the key to saving her.
Cody Burkhart. Straight from Montana, cowboy hat wearing, and smoking hot, he’s just the thing to help Allie become “normal” again after the death of her mother. And as her newly appointed Guardian, he’s also just the thing to help Allie ward off the vengeful spirit who’s after her soul. Except Cody has his own demons to slay that keep him closed off. But as the full moon approaches, so does their only chance to break the curse, and Cody will have to make the biggest sacrifice of all.
|Publisher:||Entangled Publishing, LLC|
|File size:||2 MB|
|Age Range:||12 Years|
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Witching for bodies in a cemetery was not my idea of a fun Halloween dare, yet I stood at the mouth of a graveyard, divining rods in hand.
At least that's what Nell called them. Ten minutes ago, they were each half of a metal coat hanger. Nell's eyes had practically sparkled as she snipped the hangers with wire cutters by the light of her BMW's headlights, and then bent them into L shapes. Then she handed me the finished product and flashed a dimpled smile. No spells. No special witchy juju. I mean, how potent could these things actually be?
Though I had to admit, despite the late-October warmth, the thin wire felt almost cold in my hands. Unnerving. There had to be a scientific explanation.
My friends seemed mesmerized by the entrance to the cemetery, too, as if the moonlight made the familiar place completely foreign. It was the same looming presence that always sat at the end of my street, yet all five of us stopped in front of the two towering, brick columns flanking the asphalt driveway. Columns that reminded me of rooks in a chess game. Castle watchtowers with no watchers. Who would they protect anyway? Everyone inside was dead.
Vines clutched the weather-darkened bricks like black, sinewy fingers. No gate barred the way, only a cracked driveway that led into darkness.
A shudder rippled through me.
"You coming, Allie?" Hunter's voice snapped me out of my staring, and I watched the rest of my friends head up the driveway, disappearing into the black void one at a time.
Of course, it would be Hunter who waited for me — hand extended. Did my unwillingness to move forward have more to do with the cemetery or his full-of-subtext offer to hold my hand?
He tipped his head sideways. "Come on. I'm just being nice. Not asking you to change your mind." Well, as long as that was clear. The offer was tempting. Even if we were newly "just friends," perhaps holding his hand would banish my irrational fears away.
Weird, because none of Nell's other stupid dares scared me. Sure, they made my heart pound. Gave me a wild rush of fear that ended in laughter. And I'd screamed my throat raw during that first dare — the Freshman Year Fiasco — hiding behind Hunter and clutching his shirt so tight my fingers left indentations in the fabric. Turned out the old Anderson mansion was not in fact haunted — which I had believed until the very real colony of bats flew right at me to get out of the house for their nightly hunt.
Nell had laughed herself silly because she hadn't even planned that.
This fear was different. Heavy. Like unwanted pressure on my lungs. And cold. Cold enough to make my insides ache.
It was just a cemetery. Mom wasn't even buried here. But I ached anyway. Because I was different. My whole life was different. And I'd seen what that kind of change did to people. It stripped them of their friends. It happened to my best friend in elementary school, it was happening to Dad, and if I couldn't convince my friends that I was the same old Allie, it would happen to me.
Right now, I couldn't handle losing someone else. Probably why I'd hung onto my relationship with Hunter for so long. But he'd graciously told me he understood. And that he was willing to go back to being just my friend. I squeezed his hand tighter. He had no idea how much that meant to me. To not lose someone else.
My shoulder bumped Hunter's arm. The moonlight revealed his grin. I faked one in return and tried to embrace my old-normal self before calling up to Nell, "Tell me you brought flashlights."
She glanced over her shoulder and I imagined her devious smile — dimple included. "Are you kidding? We don't want to get caught. Just make sure you have those divining rods."
I held them up and twirled them in my free hand, not like she could see them in the dark. "And what am I supposed to do with these? Raise the dead?"
"Something like that."
I stopped twirling.
Mandy came up beside me, walking so close that her shudder shot through me, too. "Good thing it's a full moon."
Nell waited for us to catch up, fingering the moon charm on her necklace, its opal iridescence lost in the darkness. "Witching works best with a full moon."
Mandy stopped walking.
I exchanged Hunter's hand for Mandy's and pulled my best friend toward Nell. If I was going, she was going. "Nell, are you ever going to tell us what witching is?"
"Eventually." With a flip of her blond hair, she led us deeper into the cemetery.
"Don't tell me you're taking us to the back, where the century-old graves are." Mandy's eyes pleaded with me —
me. Like this was my idea. Or like I had any control over Nell's schemes.
"Don't worry. You have one and a half strong guys to protect you." Nell pushed against her brother's shoulder.
"Ha. Ha." Derek's six-foot-something frame towered above us and he held his lit phone up to his chin, illuminating the creepy curves of his face. "Who dares disturb the dead?"
As if in reply, a thick cloud passed over the full moon and the darkness grew so deep it seemed to affect my hearing. The metal rods turned colder in my palms and I sucked in a breath.
"All right, give me these." Nell took the rods and warmth rushed back through me like returning blood flow. She changed direction off the main driveway and down a path between headstones. "Over here looks good."
"Ladies first." Derek motioned for Mandy and me to go ahead, then a deep evil-villain laugh rumbled in his throat as we walked past him.
I rolled my eyes. "So chivalrous."
"He's just scared." Mandy gripped my arm tighter.
"Yeah, right." Derek chuckled.
This had to be the oldest part of the cemetery. Under the cover of huge trees, the air cooled. A noise behind a headstone stilled me. I turned toward the boys. Why'd they have to walk behind like that? Something rustled in the grass beside them.
"What was that?" Mandy whispered.
"I heard it." Nell turned around and her phone's flashlight momentarily blinded me. She screamed.
Derek screamed, too, his long legs dancing around as he raced passed us, and my heart skittered to a faster beat. The dark, humped form of a raccoon scampered away, and my fear abated.
I doubled over laughing. "Not scared, huh?"
The light shook as Nell leaned over, giggling.
"I was just startled. It's not the same as scared."
Hunter's laugh rose above ours.
"Shut up, Hunter." Derek punched his shoulder hard enough to make Hunter rub his upper arm, but not hard enough that Hunter lost his smile.
Nell shined her phone's flashlight on some crumbling headstones. "What do you think?"
Mandy wrapped her arm around mine, gripping it like a blood-pressure cuff. "You can't even read the names." She pointed to the right. "That spot looks less scary. And brighter."
Nell sighed but started in that direction anyway. Everyone followed. Mandy was right — moonlight made it easier to see, but the uneasy feeling in my stomach intensified as I moved toward that grouping of headstones. They were crooked and uneven. Like the ground beneath them settled a long time ago but never actually stopped settling.
The damp air made it harder to breathe.
"All right, what do I do with these things?" Derek took one of the L-shaped wires from his sister.
An involuntary shiver crept up my back as I recalled how cold those things were.
"Hold it like this." Nell held the smaller section of the wire in her hand, letting the larger section point straight out in front of her. "One in each hand." She gave Derek the other one. "Now, loosen your grip so they're free to move when they want to, and start walking."
Derek examined his metal rods. "You're saying they'll move on their own?"
"No way." Derek shook his head and tried to hand the hanger back.
"You scared?" Nell's teasing tone was evident in her voice.
"Good." Nell pointed toward the graves. "When you're over an actual body, you'll see the two points converge." She held her arms in front of her as if they were the metal coat hangers. Then she folded them and her fingertips nearly touched. "If one side still sways" — she demonstrated by moving her right hand a little — "then you've most likely hit a female."
"You can't possibly tell that." Mandy's voice was as breathless as I felt.
Nell simply shrugged. "We'll let the tombstones tell us afterward."
Did she have any fears? Was I the only one covered in a chill that seemed to cling to my soul? Maybe Mom's death had altered me in this area, too. Death wasn't this far-off elusive thing that I never thought about anymore. Death was real. Always present in my thoughts because of the hole it had left in my heart.
Derek tried to hand his sister the rods. "Maybe you should go first and show us."
Nell made chicken noises.
Derek shifted his shoulders like he was preparing to shoot a free throw. "I just don't want to mess up."
Hunter groaned until Derek started walking. At first, nothing happened. Then, as he walked past the headstone, to the other side, the metal rods twitched toward him.
"Whoa." He stopped.
Imaginary centipedes raced across my skin.
"Keep going," Nell whispered.
The rods moved as he took another step. They came together, making a straight line in front of him, just like Nell had explained.
Right. Because she'd explained it. That had to be it. Derek knew just how to the hold the rods. Maybe they'd practiced at home or something. Yeah. That made sense.
"Congratulations. You just walked over a dead body." Nell's voice quavered and her hand flew to that charm on her necklace.
Mandy leaned closer to me, if that could be possible. "Tell me this isn't magic."
Nell dismissed Mandy with a wave of her hand. "No magic. Farmers witch for water all the time. It's also called water dowsing."
Goose bumps sprouted all over my skin. What water? Wouldn't these bodies be nothing but dry bones? "So ... we're looking for water?"
Devious smile right on cue. "Of course not. You can witch for bodies, too. It's science, just like water dowsing. Isn't that fantastic? These rods are showing us where the bodies are. I got this new book and learned all about it."
Nothing about that comforted me. Nell's books were always full of dark, scary, skin-crawly stuff.
Mandy squirmed. "Aren't these bodies already marked?" Nell's moon charm landed in the dip of her collarbone. "Well, we have to start somewhere we know it will work. Besides, it's not like I'm trying to find lost bodies. Unless — " "No," Mandy and I said in unison. Derek and Hunter laughed.
"We aren't the Scooby Doo gang." Mandy let go of my arm and blood rushed back into the limb.
"Oh, Velma." Nell put her hand on Mandy's shoulder. "Stop being a killjoy."
"All right, give me a shot." Hunter reached for the witching poles.
Derek handed them to him. Time to call out the twins on their little hoax. Game over. Very funny. I pressed my fingers to my lips and glued my eyes to the poles as Hunter walked over the grave. They twitched.
"You're moving it. You have to be." Mandy's voice trembled.
Hunter held his hands steady, staring at the wires. "I'm not."
Another step. The poles swung together and we all gasped. Hunter stopped. "The right one is still moving. Is this a woman?"
Nell read the headstone. "Marjorie Stevens."
Goose bumps on my scalp.
He handed the rods to Nell and shuddered. "This is your best dare yet."
She took them, and her eyes widened as she started toward the graves. What? No "thank you"? No devious grin or flip of her hair? She had to be as scared as we were. That did nothing to put me at ease.
Her footsteps were slow, like a tightrope walker. We crowded closer together and watched. Moonlight seemed to grow brighter. A wire twitched out, back, seeming to have a mind of its own, like a dog sniffing the air to catch a scent.
"You're moving it," Derek said.
"No. I'm not." She shook her head.
"Yes, you are. Look how — whoa." The bars converged and froze. Derek stepped back.
She hurried off the grave and tried to give the wires to Mandy. "Your turn, Scooby."
Mandy stepped away from me. "No way. It's Allie's turn."
I shivered without her constant comfort and stared at the L-shaped pieces of metal. Not so scary. Right? Then why didn't I want to touch those things again? Nell's eyes started to narrow. Old Allie wouldn't have hesitated this long. I took the wires. They were warm and slick with sweat. As soon as I curled my fingers around them, they chilled.
Unwilling to give them back and reveal the depth of my fear, I loosened my grip on the smaller side of the rod and stepped forward, tombstone in my sights. Another step. Nothing happened at first. Then the ends of the wires twitched. I stopped and watched them hover for a moment, then I walked forward again. The wires vibrated.
Another step. The metal quivered in my hand, but the arms wouldn't swing together. One more step and I stood maybe two feet from the headstone. The bars swung together and one still moved. On its own.
"A girl." Nell gasped.
A girl. Shudder.
"Look how small," Mandy said. "I mean, she must have been short." She flicked on her phone's light and shined it at the marker. Her hand went to her mouth. "It's a baby. Eleanor Rose."
"A baby?" A shiver ratcheted through me and I stepped off the grave.
"That explains why it took so long to get a reaction," Mandy said, sadness tinged her tone.
"Try another," Nell said. "You're good at these."
"Really. Because I feel like I'm shaking." I was shaking. "Mandy needs a turn." I held out the wires for her.
She shook her head wildly.
"Come on, Allie, do another." Nell pointed to a grave across from me.
I glanced toward it and cold air blasted through me. "That one?"
"What's wrong, Allie? Scared?" Nell raised an eyebrow.
I gritted my teeth and stepped forward. A biting breeze touched my cheek. Uneven ground against the ball of my right foot threatened my balance. I focused on the rods. Something sucked all the autumn warmth from the air. It didn't feel like winter, either. Just left me cold. Cold from the inside out.
One more step and the wire arms swung together. The right one quavered like a tiny pendulum. Another woman.
An airy voice swept through me like a hissing wind.
I stopped. The wires slid out of my hands. Not funny. I glared at my friends, but every one of them stared at me with rapt attention.
"Help! Don't let her hurt me."
Not one of my friends' mouths moved as I heard the throaty whisper.
I bent to pick up the wires. A cold breeze slammed into me.
"Please. She's going to kill me!"
It was like a shout that time and I didn't recognize the voice. I hurried off the body and handed the wires to Hunter.
"Creepy, huh?" He grinned.
"It's almost like they're talking to you."
"Talking? Really, Allie, you have quite the imagination."
Had no one else heard? Was it a prank? It had to be. I scanned their faces. The darkness stole the familiarity of what I expected to see there. I didn't know what to read in their expressions, so they all looked empty. My eyes begged for a hint of light to help me discern what they were thinking.
"No, she's right." Nell hugged herself and rubbed her arms. "It's like we're getting a piece of their story, like the baby. How small she was. It's still creepy, though."
I shivered and Hunter leaned close. "You cold?" His nearness didn't dissuade the feelings. The chill. The ache.
"No. Just ... "
"Terrified?" He chuckled.
"Shut up." I almost smacked his arm.
"Sorry." And there was something genuine in the way he said it.
Mandy checked her phone, and when the light I craved bathed her face, I noticed her tight features. She was scared. Had she heard the voices? "We should head back. Allie's dad will freak if she's not home by eleven."
"You didn't get to try." Nell's voice held a teasing tone that sounded forced.
Mandy shrugged. "Next time maybe."
"Chicken," Derek said to her.
Everyone laughed. Except me.
The five of us walked out of the cemetery into a world of streetlights and dark patches of neatly cut lawns. The air was warmer out here. The cold foreboding that had clung to me like a film slipped off, and I breathed deep until the voice echoed in my head as a memory. Help me. It had to have been real. What did that mean?
Had no one else heard the voices?
Maybe they were good at faking. Really good.
Derek and Hunter high-fived about something I completely missed, and Nell threw her head back in a laugh so loud that I half expected neighbors to turn on their porch lights and peek through their curtains.
Mandy looked at me and chuckled, shaking her head. I nodded like the conversation actually interested me. I'd have to stop zoning out like that or someone would notice.
"You okay?" Mandy wrinkled her forehead.
Excerpted from "Summoner"
Copyright © 2017 S. D. Grimm.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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