Updated: Oct 16, 2020
Hello, my dear readers! As some of you likely know, my second novel, HAWNT, is scheduled for an October 26th release. I'm equally as excited about this standalone paranormal novel as I was for my debut. This story has also been in my back pocket for quite a few years. One day, the voice of this awkward, comic-book-obsessed, teenaged ghost with a heart of gold popped into my head. Try as I might, I couldn't shake that voice, and his story demanded to be told. As words jumped to paper, I quickly fell in love with the character, and I think you guys will, too.
So, without further ado, here's an EXCLUSIVE FIRST LOOK at Gene's introductory chapter in HAWNT, which you can PRE-ORDER HERE.
Gene Hawnt’s downfall started with Sara Davies.
Any idiot could see she was out of his league. She was beautiful and smart, always looking so polished and put-together—aka everything Gene wasn’t. Sara had flowing, blond-highlighted hair and curves in all the right places and hung out with people equally good-looking and popular. The opposing crowds they ran with wouldn’t be caught dead sitting together at the same table in the cafeteria. As for Gene, he was never much of a ladies’ man. He had to chug half a bottle of Pepto-Bismol before he’d even worked up the nerve to ask her out at his best friend, Jake Malcolm’s, urging.
“You’ve got to go for it,” Jake had said. “I mean, she might turn you down cold. But then at least you’ll know, right?”
So, Gene took his shot. He was determined to make Sara the Mary Jane to his Peter Parker. They’d be the new power couple of the decade. They’d fall in love, he’d be cool for a change, and they’d live happily ever after, yadda yadda. It was a pipe dream, but you’d never know unless you went for it, right? Shock of all shocks, she said yes, and his gamble paid off. Jake was equally as shocked, judging by their conversation a couple hours later.
“When you said you were gonna ask a girl out, I didn’t know you meant Sara. I thought you were talking about Jazzy, or someone,” he’d said. Jasmine was maybe the only person in class more awkward than Gene. Not to sound mean, but she was . . . well, not a looker, and she smelled faintly of body odor most days.
“Wait, so you thought Jazzy would turn me down?”
“Hey, you’ve got things going for you, man. But I also know how you get all up in your head and it comes across as, well . . .” Jake trailed off, shoving his sandy, overgrown hair from his eyes. He looked like one of those California-style, beach bum burnouts—out of place in the middle of podunk Louisiana. “You batted way out of your league.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
“Girl’s hot as hell. Her last boyfriend was Todd—quarterback Todd.”
They’d been sitting in front of Jake’s house after school, on the sun-faded hood of his beater car that was older than his sixteen years, the radio blaring bits of Avenged Sevenfold between bouts of static. The passenger mirror was hanging on by torn strips of duct tape, the driver’s side door scraped down to the rusted metal from a previous run-in with a tree. “That thing can barely make it up the block without stalling,” Gene once pointed out, to which Jake had so tactfully replied, “Well, she gets me to your mom’s house in no time.” Never try winning a dispute with Jake Malcolm. It was like arguing with a brick wall armed with a stockpile of your mom jokes.
Though Gene supposed he wasn’t one to talk when it came to cars. His parents had gifted him their old Honda—now pushing 150,000 miles—when he’d gotten his license six months ago, and it had definitely seen better days. That reminded him, he could not let Sara see the inside of his car. He realized it was littered with empty McDonalds bags and straw wrappers and maybe a dirty sock or two.
It was now an hour and a half before the date, and the jitters were so bad that Gene had to raid his father’s secret Captain Morgan stash. It wasn’t particularly well-hidden; he kept it in the nightstand next to the bed he shared with mom, tucked away under balled-up socks. Gene took it back to his room and untwisted the cap, keeping the swigs small—hopefully small enough to slip under his father’s radar.
So, here Gene sat, at his cramped desk in his dark room with the curtains drawn, staring at his comic book shelves on the wall while sipping a drink he didn’t even like, all in an attempt to make his own rampant thoughts more tolerable. He thought how if he were a superhero, his title would be Captain Dufus, the Lame Boy Wonder. His powers? Being intolerably awkward and making everyone else feel better about themselves in comparison.
Seriously, why the hell did she say yes, Gene wondered. It was a riddle he felt he’d never solve. Did she pity him? Was she going to stand him up, have a laugh with her stuck-up friends at his expense? Maybe he should text her to confirm the plans. They were still meeting at the Stonefire pizza place at eight o’clock, right? What if he got the day wrong? Had he put enough gas in the car?
What if you stopped being such a basket of anxiety? he chided himself.
A couple small beeps made Gene look at his phone.
“Hey man, you ok over there?”
It was Jake, and Gene couldn’t help but wonder why he’d ask that. Probably because he knew his friend was sweating out his first date with one of the most popular girls in school. Jake wasn’t always the most perspective—no wait, perceptive, that was the word—but he had Gene pegged there.
"I’m good, dude. Wish me luck,” Gene started to type back, but then deleted it. Because it was a lie. He wasn’t good; he wasn’t good at all, and part of him was hoping Sara would cancel so his stomach could untwist itself from the knotted ball it’d become. Jake knew his friend was in over his head, and that ticked Gene off. It was like the whole world knew how bumbling he was, and pitied him, and he hated it. Couldn’t he be known for something else for a change?
Gene set his phone down and took another sip of rum, cringing as the bitter liquid washed over his tongue and burned his throat. He leaned back in his chair and placed his feet up on the desk, feeling the alcohol work its way through his muscles. He couldn’t drink too much, because he knew he had to drive soon. But taking the edge off couldn’t hurt, right? It should at least be warming him up by now.
So why did he feel so cold?
It was like someone had cranked the air conditioning all the way down, and for a second Gene thought he might see his next breath. It was October, sure, but it was also Louisiana where the weather would stay muggy for a long while. Shrugging, he tilted the bottle to his lips again and at that moment his phone rang. It was the theme song from Super Mario Brothers—Jake’s ring tone. Gene peeked at the phone near his feet, annoyed. What did he want? Jake was the last person Gene needed getting into his head. He was hanging on by a thread as it was, close to bailing, and his friend was the absolute worst with pep talks.
Again, why was it so freaking cold? He’d have to ask Mom and Dad if something was wrong with the air conditioning, but they were out at the movies and wouldn’t be back until well after Gene was gone for his date. He groaned. Oh, God. The date.
Sara, you could do so much better than me, he thought. Deep down, he knew she’d never be his MJ. She’d never fall for him. Maybe sometimes he could fake confidence, but the facade would fall away sooner than later, like a Scooby Doo villain’s disguise. He’d be exposed for the spineless jellyfish that he was—in full view, a sorry glob quivering on wet sand, humiliated. And likely dumped.
“Huh?” Gene gasped at the sudden sound of a harsh whisper and peered over both shoulders, seeing nothing but the cozy darkness of his room, barely illuminated by the feeble glow of his desk lamp. On the wall beside him, Sheriff Grimes of the Walking Dead was pointing a revolver toward his head, looking sullen in the poster. Not a soul stirred. Not even Old Sass, Mom’s cat who he knew was roaming the house somewhere.
Gene didn’t drink much. Were hallucinations ever a side effect? Or was this some weird, anxiety-induced thing? It felt like more, though. Because suddenly, the air felt solid around him. His breath came out in a puff of mist and just then, Gene swore his chair jerked beneath him.
What the . . .
Before he could register what was happening, he fell backward and took the chair with him. The second his head made contact with the hardwood floor, it was lights out.
His last thought was of Sara, just before the world went black.