Seventeen-year-old Kenna Marsden has a secret.
She's haunted by a violent tragedy she can't explain. Kenna's past has kept people-even her own mother-at a distance for years. Just when she finds a friend who loves her and life begins to improve, she's plunged into a new nightmare: her mom and twin sister are attacked, and the dark powers Kenna has struggled to suppress awaken with a vengeance.
On the heels of the assault, Kenna is exiled to a nearby commune, known as Eclipse, to live with a relative she never knew she had. There, she discovers an extraordinary new way of life as she learns who she really is, and the wonders she's capable of. For the first time, she starts to feel like she belongs somewhere; that her terrible secret makes her beautiful and strong, not dangerous. But the longer she stays at Eclipse, the more she senses there is something menacing lurking underneath its idyllic veneer. And she begins to suspect that her new family may have sinister plans for her...
(The Killing Jar, Jennifer Bosworth)
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The Killing Jar
By Jennifer Bosworth
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2016 Jennifer Bosworth
All rights reserved.
Sometimes you forget you're alive until you're scared to death. As I took in the massing herd of festival attendees, I felt more alive than I had in years. Alive and sick, my stomach churning like a cyclone. I should have skipped dinner, and probably lunch, and breakfast, too, because I was likely about to lose them all in front of hundreds of people.
"Nervous?" Blake asked, eyeing me from the driver's seat. The endless line of cars we'd been trapped behind began to move, and a parking attendant wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt waved us forward.
"Nope," I said, my voice trembling. "Not a bit."
He looked so hopeful I hated to disappoint him. "You know how people always say they have butterflies in their stomach when they're nervous? I have ostriches. A stampeding army of ostriches. I envy the people who have butterflies. They don't know how lucky they are."
"A.," he said, "you have nothing to be nervous about because you're going to kick ass. B. I'm stealing your ostriches. Think of it: an army of savage, alien ostriches living on a squishy pink planet that resembles the lining of a stomach."
"Sounds homey," I said. In a week, Blake would have drawn a whole new comic inspired by my anxiety and posted it to his blog. "You better at least dedicate the story to me."
"To my reluctant muse, Kenna, and her stomach full of ostriches." Blake grinned at me, but seeing my expression his amusement curdled to a sheepish cringe. "Are you really freaking out?"
"You said this was a small festival," I reminded him. "I was not prepared for this." I gestured toward the stage, and the sea of festivalgoers.
"Well ... I've never been to a music festival. I didn't have anything to compare it to."
A female parking attendant wearing tube socks and cutoff Daisy Duke shorts directed Blake toward a space that looked barely big enough to accommodate a motorcycle. By some miracle, he managed to wedge his rattling 4Runner into the space, and the short-shorts-wearing attendant gave him a double thumbs-up and a dizzy grin. Blake smiled back at her, and a pang of jealousy gonged in my chest.
He's not your boyfriend, I reminded myself. He can check out whomever he wants.
Still, I couldn't help glaring at Short Shorts through the passenger window. She sneered at me and turned away, but not before I read the words printed on her tie-dyed festival shirt:
Folk Yeah! Fest 2016
"Either way, it's too late to back out now," Blake said. "Someone's already blocked us in."
The parking was tandem, and we were jammed in front and back. There would be no leaving until the festival was over. Until my song was over.
My heart began to pound so hard I could feel it in my kneecaps. "Can we sit here a little longer?" I asked.
"We need to get you signed in."
"Please? One minute. That's all I need." That was not all I needed, but it was all I was going to get.
The engine idled. An old-fashioned string band called Long Way Home played through the speakers. I'd introduced Blake to them as part of his musical reprogramming. When I'd first met Blake at the beginning of our junior year — after his family moved into the house next door that used to belong to the Dunns — his iPod playlists had been in a sad state, filled with such no-brainer, Top 40 hit makers as Miley Cyrus, John Mayer, Maroon 5, and, God help me, Ke$ha.
"Ah, you're a music snob," he'd deduced after I told him every twelve-year-old girl in America called and said she wanted her taste in music back.
Blake had good-naturedly shrugged off my teasing. "So I'm not a music person."
"That's because you're listening to the wrong music."
"Then teach me, Wise One," he'd challenged, and I accepted. Three months later, Blake was not only listening to Tom Waits and Father John Misty and a few dozen other respectable musicians, but I'd started giving him guitar lessons. I suspected he still listened to his Top 40 staples when I wasn't around, but even a music snob like me couldn't turn my nose up at a song solely because it was popular. I just tended to like things old school, before voice modulation software and glorified karaoke competitions that churned out universally acceptable talent.
But then two weeks ago Blake threw down a gauntlet of his own — a gauntlet that came in the form of a flyer announcing a music festival called Folk Yeah! Fest. And one of the features of the festival was a competition for emerging artists. Participants would play one original song in front of the Folk Yeah! audience. The audience members would vote, and the winner would have a song professionally produced and included on the Folk Yeah! compilation album.
Blake had signed me up without telling me, claiming it was better to ask forgiveness than permission. I tried to decline, but it was too late. Blake had told Erin about the competition and she demanded I go through with it.
"It's my dying wish," she proclaimed, making me wince. I would never get used to Erin's cavalier attitude toward the likely chance of her own premature death.
"You play that dying-wish card once a week," I said, but Erin propped her garden hose arms on her bony hips and narrowed her eyes at me behind her thick glasses.
"If you don't play at this festival, I'll never forgive you," she amended.
I sighed and said yes, as if I'd ever had a choice. It was impossible to say no to Erin when I didn't know how much longer she'd be around.
"Your minute is up," Blake said, and killed the engine. Long Way Home's hectic but harmonious guitar/banjo duet went silent, and the muffled strains of live music coming from the stage replaced it. My heart started beating in kick-drum bursts. The passages between my throat and lungs narrowed, signaling an oncoming asthma attack. I fished in my bag and found my emergency inhaler.
"Are you okay?" Blake's eyes widened in alarm. I tried never to use my inhaler in front of him or anyone else. It made people nervous, I'd observed, and I already had a tendency to make people nervous.
"Yeah. Fine." I sprayed my lungs with an acrid fog of medicine, and the tension in my chest eased.
Blake stuffed his keys into his jacket pocket, but made no move to open the car door. "Kenna, if you really want to withdraw —"
"No. I promised Erin."
But my promise wasn't the only reason I needed to finish what I — or technically, Blake — had started. I was about to start my last year of high school, and I had no desire to follow graduation with any of the things that sounded responsible, going to college and majoring in something practical in the hopes of someday getting a normal job and securing a normal life as if I were some normal girl.
Normal lives were for normal people, and I was not one of them.
I reached for the door handle. "Let's go. The longer I sit here, the more likely I am to chicken out."
We went around to the back of the 4Runner and Blake popped the trunk. I reached for my guitar in its scuffed, black hard case, covered in scraps of my favorite lyrics scrawled with silver pen. Blake beat me to the handle and picked up the guitar. "I'll carry it for you."
"Oh. Um. Thanks." I would rather have carried it myself. My guitar was like an extension of me, a Horcrux containing a piece of my soul. It was a gift from my mom, given to me shortly after the Jason Dunn incident. After I stopped touching other people or letting them touch me. She didn't encourage me to change my new rule. Instead, she brought me something I could touch without worrying whether I would hurt it. She taught me my first few cowboy chords, and then I was off to the races, teaching myself to play using video tutorials and songbooks I ordered online.
But I let Blake be the chivalrous guy he wanted to be and carry my guitar because it made him happy. He was always doing stuff like that. Opening doors for me. Offering to let me try whatever he was eating. Laughing at my jokes even when they weren't funny. I wanted to tell him to stop trying so hard to win me over. I was already won. He had me from the moment he'd knocked on our door to introduce himself and offered oatmeal raisin cookies he'd made himself. I hated raisins, but apparently I was a sucker for "boy next door" types like Blake, who looked like a shy, English prep school student with his pale, freckled skin and his thick, brown hair parted on the side. He was the kind of guy who belonged in a school uniform with a striped tie and a blazer, whose cheeks turned bright pink in the wind. His innate sweetness was, to a lost ship like me, a beacon in a black night.
But I couldn't admit that to Blake, because if I did he would want us to change our relationship status from "just friends" to "something more complicated," and that was where things got tricky. It wouldn't work, and I'd end up losing my best friend. Unacceptable. Besides, what guy wanted a girlfriend who wouldn't let him touch her?
We headed for the wide-open field, where a stage jutted from the landscape, and were ingested in the flow of people heading in the same direction. The festival had been going since noon. Blake and I could have arrived earlier and seen some of my favorite indie folk bands play, but I'd needed the extra hours to rehearse my song. I'd probably practiced too long. The tips of my fingers were sore, and my throat felt raw as a scraped knee.
The crowd pressed in around us, and I felt my back stiffen. I tried to make myself smaller so I could avoid touching anyone around me, but it didn't work. Some stoned guy wearing a slouchy beanie cap stepped on the back of my heel. A college-age girl taking a selfie elbowed me in the arm. Suddenly Blake's shoulder was pressed right up against mine, the back of his hand against my hand.
I felt the life under his skin, warm and bright and ebullient.
I jerked away, my heart rattling like machine-gun fire.
"Sorry." Blake looked startled. "I'd give you space if there was any."
"Don't worry about it," I said, trying to sound casual even though I was the one who'd drilled it into Blake's mind that he should worry about it. I'd never figured out the right explanation to give Blake about my "no touching" rule. If there was anyone I did want to touch it was him, especially when he looked the way he did tonight, trying so hard to fit in that he'd made himself even more conspicuous: clean-cut, East Coast preppy masquerading as a scuzzy hipster. Still, he blended better than I did. With my blond hair bleached and tinted the color of a gloomy sky, wearing my signature shades-of-gray ensemble, I looked like a watered-down goth, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo–Light. The rest of the festival attendees were a sprawling patchwork of color and texture. Flower prints and neon and plaid. Leather and lace and suede fringe. Denim and dreads. Hair dyed lavender, cotton-candy pink and blue, mermaid green, sunset shades of orange and magenta. People dressed as decades, ranging from the Gatsby era to the stonewashed eighties.
Compared to the rest of the festival goers I was as drab as smog. But I didn't really care. Gray was how I felt, so I wore my spirit color openly. It was the one true aspect of myself I showed to the world.
Except I didn't feel gray around Blake. That was the best and worst thing about him. I was used to gray. I wasn't prepared to deal with the rest of the spectrum he brought out in me.
Blake did the talking at the sign-in table, where a man and woman who looked like they'd time traveled to the festival from the dust bowl era — the man wearing a porkpie hat and suspenders, the woman in an unflattering, vintage sack dress with a Peter Pan collar and buttons down the front — handed me a document to sign and a square of paper with the number 7 printed on it.
"Kenna Marsden, you are lucky number seven, our last performer for the competition. I was worried you weren't going to show up." She beamed at me. "I loved your entry song. Is that the one you'll be singing?"
I nodded, feeling dazed as I stared at the number in my hand. "There were only seven entries?"
"Oh, no, we had hundreds, but we winnowed it down to our favorites."
She gave me more instructions, but I felt like I was listening through a wall. Luckily, Blake was attentive enough for both of us.
"Good luck!" the sign-in girl called as we headed toward the stage.
"See?" Blake said. "Hundreds of entries and you were one of seven chosen! That has to make you feel good."
It was impossible to explain to Blake why I rarely felt "good" about anything. Blake's family bought the house that had formerly belonged to the Dunns, but as far as I knew he was ignorant of the tragic fate of the Dunn family. After losing their only child, Jason's parents got divorced, his dad lost his job, and shortly after that lost his mind. He was remanded to a psychiatric hospital in Portland, where, rumor had it, he raved about how his son's soul had been sucked out of his body by a demon girl. That would be me, the one who'd been with Jason when he died. Who had run from the scene and vanished into the mountains. Fortunately, Mr. Dunn was the only person who had jumped to the right conclusion.
Blake stepped in front of me, forcing me to stop. His expression was adorably stern, like a little boy pretending to be a drill sergeant. "Come on, Kenna. You spend all this time making me listen to other people's music, when your stuff is just as good, and you hoard it away like it's some shameful secret. No matter what else happens tonight, just be proud of yourself for two seconds."
I gritted my teeth to keep the truth contained. I would never be like him. Blake drew his quirky, deranged comics and posted them on his blog without a second thought. The comments people left ranged from fanatical praise to troll scum vitriol, but when I asked him if the belligerent comments bothered him, he just shrugged. "It's not personal."
But the songs I wrote, the lyrics, the mournful, funereal, guilt-drenched melodies ... those told the truth I guarded so carefully. The truth I could never admit, or I might see the answering candor in the eyes of someone I cared about.
Condemnation. Disgust. Revulsion.
He doesn't understand, I thought, because he doesn't know his best friend is a murderer. He doesn't realize that if you do something bad enough, it follows you for the rest of your life.
I didn't get a chance to answer his question. We were interrupted by Erin's voice shouting my name.
"Kenna! There you are!"
I turned, and saw my bespectacled twin waving, our mom at her elbow. I gasped as Erin darted into the crowd, weaving past a grouplet of hipsters and hippies.
I sped to Erin's side and snarled at the few jolly festivalgoers who didn't get out of her way quickly enough.
"Are you okay?" I asked, looking her over as though she'd been in a car accident. Anyone who didn't know Erin was my twin would never have believed we were even the same age, much less two halves of the same egg. Erin was so small and scrawny she could have passed for a malnourished, little-girl version of Keith Richards. There was no official name for the condition that forbade Erin from thriving in the body with which she'd been born. Whatever it was, it kept my mom and me in a constant state of alarm. Erin's bones were so brittle she could trip on a crack in the sidewalk and fracture her ankle, and her blood so thin she was liable to pass out if she had to stand too long. She had a bad heart along with asthmatic tendencies, but where my asthma seemed to manifest only during moments of stress, hers was exacerbated by pollution, exercise, dust, and a hundred other things I could list from memory.
"When do you go on?" Erin asked, pushing up her comically thick glasses, which had slid to the tip of her nose. "Are you freaking out? I'm freaking out! Did you know Lorde was only seventeen when she won a Grammy? That could be you!"
"If I ever win a Grammy, it will be because of you," I told her.
Erin was the only person I never turned away when I was working on a song. I let her sit in the basement and listen to me play as long as she wanted. She may have had a broken body, but her mind was sharp and analytical. If my entry for Folk Yeah! had impressed anyone, it was partly thanks to Erin's critical ear.
Excerpted from The Killing Jar by Jennifer Bosworth. Copyright © 2016 Jennifer Bosworth. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Prologue: The Killing,
When the Music's Over,
So Much Blood,
Circle of Death,
It's Happening Again,
The Road to Somewhere,
This Side of the River,
Moonflower and Moth,
Splinters and Stains,
Best Night Ever,
X Marks the Spot,
About the Author,
Also by Jennifer Bosworth,