The wife of a lawyer and mother of two girls, she slides under everyone’s radar, never revealing what she really is—a murderer.
At least, she feels like one.
Nora’s plagued by the secrets surrounding her older brother’s suicide decades earlier. Yet she lives as though he never existed.
Now, in her thirties, Nora suspects her husband, Dave, is having an affair with her friend, the wife of a leading US Senate candidate. When her friend’s body is discovered—another apparent suicide—Nora is left with haunting secrets and choices that dredge up her grim nature, the side of herself that no one ever sees. Will she act on her impulses? Mustn’t she?
How far will Nora go to protect the life she has built for herself?
|Publisher:||Filles Vertes Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.00(d)|
About the Author
Merry Jones is the award winning author of non-fiction, humor, and dark fiction. She is a long time writing teacher, lecturer, speaker and panelist, and a member of The Authors Guild, International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America and The Philadelphia Liars Club. She co-hosts the Oddcast and The Main Line Writers Coffeehouse. She lives in Philadelphia.
Read an Excerpt
Friday, August 10, 2018
The screams came from Sophie, and they were serious, not the kind that happened in a game, or even in a fight. These were the kind that happened when someone severed a digit, when their hair caught fire. Nora jumped to her feet, slamming her coffee mug onto the table, noting the dark splash on the placemat, the stain that was already forming.
"Girls?" she bellowed as she ran to the playroom, images pulsing in her head. A finger crushed, an arm broken. An intruder at the sliding doors. With a knife, with a gun. Oh God.
Nora swung around the newel post, flew down the half-flight of stairs, took the left past the laundry room into the den. Her socks had no traction, so she skidded over the hardwood floors into the room. Her eyes darted left to right, right to left, searching for blood, for damage, for a stranger. Only when she saw her children intact and uninjured did she allow herself to breathe.
"What?" she panted.
At the sight of her mother, Sophie stopped screaming. She halted her stomping and flailing on the sofa as if only now remembering that she might get scolded for jumping on the furniture. Hopping down, she crashed into the coffee table and knocked her plastic tea set onto the floor.
Nora thought Sophie would barrel into her arms, but no, she stopped beside Ellie, who was crouching behind the sofa's armrest, eyes gleaming and intense like Tommy's. Seeing how much Ellie resembled Tommy was disturbing. Nora almost heard him chuckle.
"Mom! Do something!" Bug-eyed, Sophie raised a hand and pointed at the floor near the sliding glass door.
Nora blinked Tommy away and stepped farther into the room, her gaze following the trajectory of Sophie's finger, unable to understand the panic.
"Goodness," she began. "What's the big —"
Nora stopped mid-sentence, her blood halting its circulation, her skin erupting in goose bumps. Some primal sense took over, some paleo-revulsion, and she recoiled, stepping backward, stumbling over her own feet.
The spider was huge.
Nora's shoulders hunched and her throat tightened. Damn. Her knees dissolved, so that for a few seconds, she couldn't move.
Sophie shouted, begging her to kill it.
Ellie hugged herself and stared.
Of course, yes. She would have to kill it. But, God, it was ugly. And as big across as Sophie's hand, with long pointed spindly legs. Looking at it made Nora's stomach wrench and her skin writhe, yet she couldn't look away.
"Kill it, Mommy!" Sophie screamed. Or maybe it was Ellie. It could have been either of them.
For a few heartbeats, the playroom was silent, electric with tension. Six eyes gawked at the spider. And then Ellie burst into a high-pitched constant keening that reverberated in Nora's bones.
"Get it, Mom!" Sophie yelled, covering her ears to muffle Ellie's wails. When had her daughters become so casual about killing? Was it too much television? She'd have to monitor what the girls were watching and talk to Dave about it. Then again, he'd only tell her she was being overprotective, that the girls had to be prepared for the world they'd live in.
"It's coming closer!" Sophie cowered behind Ellie, hands still over her ears.
"Ellie!" Nora barked. "Cut it out. I can't think with that noise."
"Mom said cut it out!" Sophie yelled into her sister's ears. "Be quiet!"
"Sophie, don't yell in her ears," Nora yelled, then softened her voice. "In fact, don't yell period. And Ellie, hush."
Finally, Ellie stopped screaming. She stood up, rapt and silent.
The spider didn't move.
Nora edged over to the bookshelf and retrieved a wad of drawing paper. She held her breath as she rolled it up and held the makeshift tube at the ready — a slugger waiting for the pitch.
"Mom, hurry. It's going to get away!"
Nora half hoped it would. She watched it. An alien being without bones, without a brain. Was it even aware that it existed? That it was in danger? She stepped closer, her body wracked with disgust. And definitely, without a doubt, she didn't just see but felt the spider tense, preparing all its several limbs for battle. Oh God. How did it know? Could it hear her heartbeat? Was it watching her?
A vague memory surfaced about spiders' eyes, that they were made up of dozens of smaller eyes scrunched together, compressed into one organ. Or maybe that was insects, not spiders. Bees, maybe. Tommy would have known. God, the thing was ugly. Her nerves pulsed with the urge to crush it. Why was she resisting? Killing it was no big deal. It was just a damned spider.
The girls were losing it. Sophie's pigtails had come loose, her curls dangling over one ear. She clutched Ellie with both arms, hugging her, comforting her sister when, really, it was she who needed comforting. Ellie stared, white-faced, chewing her lip. Her hands grasping Sophie's.
"Kill it, kill it," their little voices chanted.
Kill it, Nora's mind repeated. She imagined herself a bull-fighter — the spider, her toro. Or no. She was more like a Nazi, and the spider some arthritic old Jew. No, what was she thinking? She was neither torero nor Nazi. Her victim was a spider. Nothing.
So why was she hesitant to kill it?
Maybe she should let it go. She could find a jar to capture it and then dump it outside in the garden. That would show the girls that all creatures have a right to live, that the spider was nothing to be afraid of, that he was just being a spider. Yes, that's what she should do. And it's what she would have done if the spider had given her the chance.
Instead, it made its move.
It jumped. It leapt through the air, landing inches from where it had been. And it didn't stop. It took off running on all eights across the hardwood floor.
The girls' shrieks shattered the air. They glommed onto each other in terror, Ellie bellowing, Sophie squealing. Nora grimaced. Why hadn't she just killed the damned thing? Why had she allowed the situation to heighten to this level?
She jumped into action, overcoming her fear, chasing after it like a mama bear protecting her cubs, stooping to the floor, pounding the thing with the roll of drawing paper. She struck once. Again. And again, and again, sending pieces of spider legs skittering across polished wood. Spider insides pasted the paper. The corpse itself shriveled to a tiny ball, its remaining legs curled up as if trying to protect themselves.
For a moment, there was silence. Nora stood, panting. Unsteady.
Ellie scurried over and gripped the back of Nora's jeans, peering at the small mess. "Ew."
Nora asked Sophie to get a tissue. Sophie dashed from the room and brought back a handful. Nora tried to stop shaking, to act casual as she scooped up the remains, took them to the toilet, and flushed them. She watched the tissue swirl around the bowl and disappear.
"That was gross." Sophie's giggle was high-pitched and tight.
"It was this big!" Ellie spread her arms a foot apart, unsteady, unsure. Measuring herself by Sophie's mood, imitating it.
"I think it was furry," Sophie added. "And it had teeth." She bared hers, making spider faces that were less than scary since she was missing her front teeth.
"This is how Mommy smooshed it." Ellie imitated the moves, slashing the air. Again. And again.
The killing was already becoming family lore. Nora would be the hero of the story, and the spider, the hideous villain.
The coffee Nora had been drinking came back up. She swallowed, forcing it down, hugging the girls and pushing away memories. Wondering if bullfighters felt sick after a kill. But never mind. It was done. On some level, she marveled at how easy it had been. How, at the moment of impact, she hadn't felt any resistance, might as well have been striking the empty floor. She wadded up the piece of drawing paper, stained with spider remains, and tossed it into the trash can.
"Girls." She steadied her voice. "Clean up your toys and wash your hands."
It was almost dinner time.CHAPTER 2
Saturday, July 19, 1993
Nora's tongue pushed against her upper lip as she concentrated on bending the red string behind the blue. She tied a knot and repeated the step with the red string behind the black. Red behind yellow and then purple. The row looked good.
Before starting a new one, Nora leaned back and gazed out the sliding doors. In the yard, the leaves of the apple tree and dogwoods were perfectly still. Nothing moved, not a squirrel or a bird. Even her mother's wind chimes hung limp and silent. Earlier, she'd heard the boys next door shooting baskets in their driveway, but not now. Now, it was too hot even for them. Nora stared at the trees, wondered if they felt the heat. Did they get thirsty? Lonely? Bored? Did trees feel anything at all?
Canned laughter drew her attention to the TV, a Saved by the Bell rerun that Nora hadn't really been watching. She had seen the episode tons of times. But she liked the show, the way all the kids got along, the ease of their friendships. Their acceptance of Screech even though he was annoying. Not to mention that Zach was so cute. And sweet — like now, when his arm was around Screech's shoulders, reassuring him that he wasn't a total loser.
A commercial came on. Nora went back to bracelet weaving. Checking the tape that secured the finished end of her bracelet to the coffee table, she repositioned herself on the hardwood floor, her back against the sofa, her legs sprawled out. Holding four strings taut, she worked the fifth through them, following a pattern she'd learned at camp. Blue behind black, knot. Behind yellow, knot.
She was tying blue behind purple when Tommy clumped down the stairs. She hesitated mid-knot, tensing.
Shoot. Why did he have to come down where she was? Why couldn't he stay upstairs in his dark room developing his bug pictures, or in his dark stuffy bedroom doing whatever he did in there with the door closed all by himself? She steeled herself, preparing. If he messed with her, she'd ignore him. This time, she would pretend he wasn't even there until he got bored and went away. She wouldn't get mad: that's what he wanted.
"Yo, pissface." Tommy never called her by her name. Mostly, he used a variety of terms reflecting bodily waste. If she reacted, he got encouraged and even more obnoxious. So she didn't react.
He joined her, plopping his skinny annoying self onto the sofa, setting his ant farm smack on top of the tape that secured her strings, taking his camera out of its case.
Nora tried not to cringe. Why why why had he brought his stupid bugs with him, let alone dumped them exactly and precisely where she was knotting? Stupid question. He did it because he was Tommy. Her older brother lived to bother her, gross her out, scare or make fun of her. Well, she wasn't going to let him. She would ignore the farm and concentrate on her knots. Where was she? Yellow behind purple?
But Tommy wouldn't let her ignore him. Holding his camera, he climbed off the sofa and hunched on his knees right beside her, so close that she could feel his body heat and smell his peculiar odor, a combination of sweet and stale, musk and warmth. She could even smell his breath. He must have had bologna for lunch.
"I know you don't like them." He aimed his lens at the plexiglass case. "But I don't get why. Look at them. See how nice they are? Nobody's stuck up or thinks they're better than anybody else. Nobody gets in fights. Not like people. Ants are actually better than people."
Only her brother would say a thing like that. The more odious they were to others, the more Tommy loved them. He watched his ants the way she watched Saved by the Bell.
She kept knotting, sorry that she'd looked at them. They made her itch, the way they never stopped moving, scurrying through their tiny tunnels, digging, crawling with all those legs. Yuck. But she couldn't let Tommy know that. If he knew, he'd stick them in her bed or her underwear drawer. Tommy repositioned himself, shooting their pictures from various angles.
Why couldn't he go hang out with his friends and leave her alone? Oh. Right. Because Tommy didn't have any friends. Because he was the weirdest, most annoying, dorkiest kid ever. And he had nothing better to do than torment his younger sister.
Tommy stopped shooting and frowned. He put his camera down and, without asking, peeled Nora's tape off the table. Nora held onto her strings with one hand and smacked him with the other.
"Don't — Tommy, leave that alone!" He reattached the tape a few feet away. "Your string's ruining my shots."
"So? Go take your stupid pictures someplace else. I was here first."
"Tough. The light's good here."
Nora reached for the tape, peeled it off, and replaced it where it had been.
Tommy didn't comment. He watched until she was finished, then unfastened the tape and moved it away again.
Okay. So that was how it was going to be? A silent move-the-tape fight? Should she engage? Escalate things by moving his farm? Nora's heart pounded out her anger, but she resumed knotting, determined not to lose track of her pattern, refusing to get distracted by her older brother, his tense bony frame, his thick matted curls with the permanent cowlick on the crown of his head, the angry pimples blossoming on his fuzzy, bristly, unshaven chin, the strange musty sweet smell of his body, his clicking camera. Nora concentrated on strings, on colors, on pattern. She knotted black with yellow, purple, red, and blue. But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't ignore the persistent movement of hundreds, maybe thousands, of tiny swarming creatures just a few feet away. Their motion nagged at her, and the nagging grew until she felt them crawling — not just on her skin, but under it — as if she herself, her body, was the ant farm and the tiny things were swarming inside her.
Ridiculous. She needed to ignore them. But the itching wouldn't stop. Nora held the strings in one hand, scratched her arms and legs with the other. She stretched her neck, took a breath, and assured herself that no bugs were on her, let alone in her limbs. She couldn't let Tommy get to her. One of her mother's homilies rang in her head: Don't make a mountain out of a molehill. Or an anthill?
Tommy knelt, adjusted his f-stops, clicked the camera again and again.
Nora wove the next row with purple, forming fours and tying knots. But — oh God — her neck tickled. Her back. Cripes. Holding her threads in place, she checked the farm. It was intact. No bugs had escaped. She'd just had a tingle. An unrelated itch.
Tommy nudged her arm, leaning over her to take a shot. She shimmied away, swallowed the urge to pound him, and tied red behind blue. Wait, that wasn't right. Shouldn't it have been purple behind red? Crap. She'd messed up her strings, all because of Tommy with his stupid camera and ants. What was he doing? Why was he so close?
She looked up, came face to lens with Tommy's camera. "What — are you taking my picture? Don't." She turned away.
But Tommy scooted around the table, tracking her movements and clicking pictures. "That's great. You look really annoyed. Now look at the ants. I want to get your expressions."
Nora took a breath, closed her eyes. Do not react, she told herself. Do not let him see that he's getting to you. She made her face placid and calm, opened her eyes and focused on her string.
"I said, look at the ant farm."
Tommy stopped taking pictures. He picked up the television remote and turned off Saved by the Bell. Aiming the camera at her, he clicked a few times. He was trying to provoke her into making faces so he could take embarrassing photos, but Nora was on to him. She ignored him, sorted her strings, and began a new row of purple.
Tommy picked up the ant farm and held it up to Nora's face. "I told you to look at the ants!"
Nora closed her eyes but sensed thousands of tiny legs, their incessant motion. She heard Tommy breathe in his bologna breath. And without looking, she pushed the farm away.
Tommy pushed back, harder, crouching now, pressing his weight against hers so that the farm was caught between them.
Nora dropped her string and used both hands, thrusting her weight against his. Tommy leveraged his position, using his whole body to shove the ant farm into her face. He was taller, weighed more. She couldn't resist for long. The muscles in her arms trembled, her shoulders burned. Finally, she simply let go.
Tommy fell forward against her. They rolled backward, Tommy half on top of her. The ant farm, launched by the force of his weight, flew across the family room and crashed into the bookshelf, slamming onto the hardwood floor. For a moment, neither of them moved. They lay stunned, out of breath. Then Tommy's eyes went wide.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "What You Don't Know"
Copyright © 2019 Merry Jones.
Excerpted by permission of Filles Vertes Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A dark psychological suspense that will haunt you Note: This review contains NO spoilers Huh... What a dark and disturbing read this is! And, I loved it! The mystery and suspense as Nora's life unfolded with each turn of the page was like a slow burn. Shifting from the present to the past to the present, readers will get a feel for Nora's haunted life. The synopsis alone revealed pretty much what the book is about. But, it is in between the pages where Nora's emotional turmoil unravels to tell what led to everything that happens and has happened in Nora's life. What You don't Know is such a dark and unsettling telling of Nora's dismal thoughts that swirled around her mind. This made for a good suspense, mystery, thriller. This story played with your mind and emotions. Haven't read any of Merry Jones' books, but this is a good start for me. I loved how the pacing/flow of the story was steady and subtle in order to capture that dreadful worry that Nora lived with in her present... even in the past. The well-written characters add in creating that melancholy feel that Nora lives/lived with. I would think that fans of dark psychological suspense/thrillers would enjoy this read. Reviewer: Jasmine