Hey guys! So, Newhaven: Book Two of the Reaper Trilogy is set to come out in April, and I'm excited to share a little piece of it in the meantime. Below is an exclusive look at Chapter One of Newhaven. Enjoy!
The crystal ball is cool in my hands. I stare into it intently, watching, waiting, tongue clenched between my teeth in concentration. The ball is small and sleek, and seeming to shine with its own luminescence. It’s also nothing but a prop. I’d found it at a thrift store slash gift shop a block away from my tiny apartment. The shop where my mother works as a salesperson and where I work as a psychic, because apparently, in the Outside world, you need money in order to live.
But the crystal ball is a tool for my customers. As Preston says, Outsiders love a good spectacle. And a girl from the creepy ruins of Everhaven who can talk to ghosts and read fortunes in crystals, well… that draws a crowd. Enough of a crowd for me to make more than my mother does, and contribute to bill paying.
Four months ago, my entire world was turned upside down, just as it had been for the 966 surviving residents of Everhaven. Just over a quarter of the former 3, 918 residents. We were displaced, nomads from our home, without purpose. The Provider was gone.
Many of them have scattered, branching off to find their place in this big, unfamiliar, scary world. But some of us have stuck together, taking baby steps towards reacclimating with the Outside. Those of us who have stuck together ended up in the nearby town of Lawton, which isn't far from the ruins of Everhaven. It’s a tiny town, brimming with psychics, though most of them are fake. How do I know? Because I’m pretty much the only one of them who actually sees ghosts—that lingering effect of my strange calling in Everhaven.
Mother hasn’t spoken much about what happened since we left. She no longer wears her Provider necklace, and she no longer knits. When she first left Everhaven, she was completely rudderless, but finding a job at the shop gave her a purpose again, and she threw herself into it headfirst. She spends most of her days dusting off the antiques and prettying the displays, and even learned how to work the cash register. Honestly, I’m proud of how far she’s come. As for me, the store had an opening for a psychic. Almost all the little stores in this town have a psychic working out the back; it’s kind of their thing.
Now, I clear my throat and speak to the man sitting across the table from me—my last client of the day. “I see that your dream is to be a famous artist… a painter. I believe you could be very successful.”
“Pah! Clearly you haven’t seen my dear son paint,” says the ghost of the man’s father near my ear.
In Everhaven, I was the only one who could hear the voice of the Dead when they were inside their bodies. But here, in the Outside world, I can see spirits even without their bodies, and they’re drawn to me. Must be a perk—if you want to call it that—of being part Reaper.
Fortunately, that made me a perfect candidate for a psychic position, and I passed the interview with flying colors. Even made the owner of the store cry when I spoke to her late sister.
“Um, I feel like there might be another path calling you more strongly than painting, though,” I tell the man, at his father’s behest.
The man’s eyes light up. He can’t be all that much older than me, maybe early to mid-20s. “I also DJ on the side.”
“DJ?” My brows rise in question.
“Yeah, DJ. Ya know, Disc Jockey?” I don’t know, but nod and let him continue anyway. “My name was DJ Shock Wave—that’s two words, like a first and last name. I do weddings and everything.” The man says it like he expects to impress me. He doesn't; DJ may as well be a foreign word to me. The man’s father is equally unimpressed.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake, my son will never get his life together,” the ghost scoffs, cupping his forehead in his hand.
I stop looking into my crystal ball then, scooting it gently aside on the table. “Your father is here,” I say.
The man shuffles uncomfortably in his seat. “He-he is?”
“He’s standing right next to me.”
The man looks, of course seeing nothing.
“He says he’s… proud?” I eye up the ghost, who shakes his head. “He loves you?” I try again.
The ghost shrugs. “Sure. He’s my son, after all—I gotta love him—but he’s a real rascal.”
“He called you a rascal,” I tell the man.
“That sounds like him,” he answers wryly.
“I think your father only wants good things for you in life.” I shoot a pointed look at the ghost, eyebrow raised.
“Of course,” the ghost says. “I want to see my son succeed in life. He just has a tendency to make all the worst choices. May I?” The ghost holds his hand out to me. “I’m ready.” The ghosts say this a lot, and I haven’t quite figured out why yet. He touches my shoulder—a light touch, a cold mist. Then the ghost disappears in a haze of light. I don’t know where they go when this happens. But they go after they touch me. After they say they’re “ready.” Every time.
“He’s gone now,” I say. “He said he only wants to see you succeed in life.”
“Succeed by his standards, maybe.” The man sighs, then leans forward. “Hey, listen. What was it really like in Everhaven? Because man, have I heard some doozies. Nobody liked going there. Everybody steered clear, for the most part. But I’ve heard stories that you guys would sacrifice virgins and stuff.”
“Um, no.” I bristle. “No virgin sacrifices.”
He laughs and leans back, thumping his palm on the table. “See, I knew that was bogus.”
“Plenty of goats though.”
The man laughs again before realizing I’m serious. Then his brows furrow. “Shit, you guys really were into some weird stuff in that town, weren’t you?”
“You don’t know the half of it.” But then, I sigh. “It was all we knew. For a long time.”
“And now it’s wiped off the map by some freak earthquake, off the charts on the Richter scale?”
“A freak earthquake,” I agree, though I don’t say it was because my boyfriend and I broke the contract that bound our souls to some evil, underworld king and the town crumbled as a result. Freak earthquake is the best explanation I—or anyone else from Everhaven—can give. It’s the only thing the Outside world can even begin to comprehend.
The man pays me, adding a nice-sized tip. Then he thanks me and leaves. Another satisfied, intrigued customer.
It’s the end of my shift.
“Last of the day?” The owner of the shop, Daphne, speaks to me over top a low shelf of antique lamps she’s dusting. I nod.
She’s maybe in her late thirties with thick, wavy hair and flawless, dark brown skin. Being from Everhaven, I’m not worldly enough to identify her ethnicity, and she’s never told me other than to say she is, “A little of this, a little of that.” She’s lived in Lawton for the past two years. She needed a change, and a town of psychics seemed “Cool,” in her own words. She claims she never believed in psychics until she met me, though. She calls me the real deal.
“Make anyone cry today?”
“Just one,” I reply. “Happy tears this morning. It was a mom and her young daughter; I spoke to the grandmother. She was sweet. She was mainly concerned that her cat was being treated well.”
Daphne chuckles. “You’re something else, you know that? You’ve got a gift, no doubt. You scare me sometimes—but you’ve got a gift.”
She’s kind but no-nonsense, and very blunt. In that way, she reminds me of Marcie. I feel a pang as I think about my best friend, no doubt suffering in the horrible underworld known as the Beneath. Where I left her.
No, Abbie, don’t do this to yourself. Don’t let Daphne see.
Clenching my teeth to keep my chin from quivering, I hold out my tips for the day and give Daphne her cut for letting me work from the back of her shop. She’s fair; at least, I think she’s fair. I always seem to have plenty left over.
Daphne whistles, eyes wide as she counts her share. “Abbie, you are good for business. Never change, sweet pea.”
Mother isn’t working; it’s her day off, so she’s probably shopping for groceries at the market. I tell Daphne goodbye and push through the door, hearing the overhead bell jingle as I pocket my profits for the day.
When I walk outside, I’m surprised to see Preston walking up looking just as good as ever. He’s tall, with a mop of sandy brown hair, hunter green eyes, and a faint scar on his forehead that somehow only adds to his appeal. He’s dressed in a soft-looking, V-neck shirt that matches the color of his eyes, paired with sleek khakis. He’s dressed much nicer than I am; I suddenly feel ridiculous in my “psychic medium” garb. Everything on me is blousy, ruffled, and packed with way too many conflicting colors. Preston still looks at me like I’m a sight to behold though—in a good way—and I appreciate him all the more.
“Just the girl I was hoping to see.” He grins as he reaches me.
“Oh, not your other girlfriend?” I say teasingly as he pulls me into a hug.
He whispers right into my ear. “She’s the next stop.”
That earns him a thump on the chest; he chuckles and bends his head down to kiss me thoroughly.
It’s still weird, saying the words “I have a boyfriend,” because I’d never had one before a few months ago. It’s a brand-new concept to me.
When he finally breaks the kiss, much too soon in my opinion, he leans back a little and examines me. His thumb traces the faint purple shadows under my eyes.
“You’ve been having the nightmares again, haven’t you?” It’s more of a statement than a question. He knows me well. Nightmares of the Beneath, of my father and best friend trapped in that hellish place for eternity, and of all the death and destruction left in the wake of breaking the town contract… they never go away, though some weeks they’re worse than others.
“That obvious, huh?” I say with a sigh. I’m sighing a lot these days. My initial joy at finally being free of Everhaven was quickly replaced by the harsh realities of the Outside world, along with anguish over the thought of my loved ones still trapped in the awful place known as the Beneath.
He offers a sad smile. “I’ve been getting them again, too. Real bad this week especially, for some reason.”
Without thinking, my hand drifts to the warm metal around my neck. The metal piece that the Reaper—Louis—had given me years ago, without my knowing. Sometimes I think that if I rub it hard enough, I can summon Louis and ask him how to get back inside the Beneath, to rescue those trapped there. My father, Marcie, our ally Dean, Preston’s father, and countless others. But the Reaper vanished without a trace after Everhaven crumbled.
Preston draws a deep breath before he speaks. “I keep thinking that maybe my father left some other clues for us, encoded in his journal. But I think I’ve read that thing a thousand times and I’ve got nothing.”
“Got nothing. What else is new?”
I scowl at the harsh voice and turn to see Sal Capello’s deep-set, dark eyes. He’s walking with Jonah Lane—Blue. They are two other Everhaven survivors. Blue is taller and lankier, whereas Sal is shorter and stockier. For some reason, they chose to stick around Lawton too.
Though I’m not always pleased to see Sal. He used to be my nemesis and a bit of a bully, though he’s changed somewhat, and even saved my life in Everhaven, pulling me out of a crater. He’s still Sal though, which means the bad kind of blunt and the wrong side of pleasant. Jonah, on the other hand, has become a surprisingly bright spot. He waves at me and smiles warmly, blue eyes twinkling. Jonah has been learning something called sign language, since he can’t speak too well—not since the Silence cut his tongue out. I’ve learned a few words from him myself. Sal, to his credit, has been learning the most alongside Jonah, probably in an effort to keep his mind occupied. Jonah signs “Hello,” and that one I know. I sign it back with a smile. He makes some other quick signs, and I frown, unable to decipher the full message.
“Wok,” he says, and I understand at once he’s asking how work was.
“The usual,” I answer. Sal taps him on the shoulder and makes some quick signs, hiding them from me. Jonah nods, and then looks at me in apology, realizing Sal is being rude.
“See you later,” he signs to me. “You too,” he signs to Preston. Preston signs goodbye back. He’s also learned more sign language than me, given that Jonah is his roommate.
I wave and smile—at Jonah, not Sal. Then I turn to Preston, who shakes his head, eyes locked on Sal’s retreating form.
“Capello never really gets any more pleasant, does he?”
“Slightly more tolerable than he used to be, maybe. But pleasant? Definitely not,” I agree.
Preston reaches for my hand and laces our fingers together. “I thought I’d surprise you for after-work dinner. Don’t worry—” he holds up a finger to silence me as I open my mouth to protest, “I already received approval from your mother to whisk you away on a dinner date.”
“Well then, sounds like an offer I can’t refuse.” I grin. “Where are we going?”
“That’s classified,” he says slyly before offering me his arm, which I gladly accept. It can’t be too classified; there are only so many restaurants in this town. Though, way more than Everhaven, which only had two.
As we stroll, arm in arm, we pass by Outsiders. I suppose we’re Outsiders now too, and despite a four-month adjustment period, it’s still a bit of a culture shock. The daily news is so chaotic and sad, deaths all the time, disease all the time, something we never had to worry about it Everhaven, Though it was all a lie meant to keep us complacent until our souls could be reaped and dragged Beneath.
A female Outsider chats on her cell phone. She’s clearly a tourist passing through to get a psychic reading. She pauses in front of one clairvoyant’s shop, right in front of the Tarot Readings sign. She’s wearing short shorts I’d never be caught dead in—shorter than I was ever allowed in Everhaven—and some kind of flower headband worn sideways, around her forehead. She holds out her phone and snaps what I’ve come to learn is called a selfie, making a peace sign in front of the shop, pursing her lip-glossed lips.
Outsiders love their selfies.
Cars shooting exhaust fumes speed by on the narrow street, honking. The noise is sharp and biting and I resist the urge to cover my ears. There are so many harsh sounds I still haven’t gotten used to in the Outside world, so many people acting way more reckless than I’d seen in Everhaven. And from my understanding, this is still considered a tiny town, a laid-back place. I can only imagine what a big city like New York or Los Angeles must be like. Part of me would like to know; another part of me shudders at the thought.
We arrive at our destination. Turns out, it’s Bella Note’s, the little Italian restaurant. My mouth starts watering as the smells of cheese and garlic hit my nostrils. Small as this town and restaurant might be, it’s still better than the ones we had in Everhaven—meant to discourage Outsiders from sticking around.
Preston holds the door open for me to enter. The area is small, tables covered in thick, white paper draped over them, each with a flickering fake candle in the middle, the dim lighting adding to the warm ambiance. There are pictures of what I assume must be Italy plastered all over the walls, fake grape vines snaking around them.
“Madame,” he says with a sly wiggle of his scarred brow as he pulls out my chair for me. He’s really pulling out all the stops tonight. I smile and scooch into the chair, and he takes his seat opposite me, the lines of his face highlighted by the flickering, fake candlelight. He flashes that million-dollar smile in return, and as the waitress comes by to take our drink order, I can’t help but think he’d make a killing as a server; he’d be raking in tips galore, with that smile. Me, I’d be tripping over my shoelaces and likely fired my first day.
“Just water, please,” Preston says, and I echo his order.
As Preston squints in the dim lighting to read the menu, I clear my throat and talk about what’s been bugging me.
“Yeah?” He peers up at me above the over-sized menu.
“Do you think our fathers found each other? You know, Beneath?”
He chews his bottom lip in thought. “I like to think so. I like to think they’ve found each other and a good hiding place.” He scans the menu. “Hey, fettuccine alfredo sounds good.”
I ignore the last bit. “What if Ivan found them?”
Preston sighs and closes his menu. “The thought is never far from my mind, believe me. But would it be possible to talk about something else tonight? I wanted this night to be about us, you know—nice.”
“But I think it’s important we talk about it.”
“We do talk about it. All the time.”
“No, we don’t.”
“Yes, Abbie, we do. You bring it up all the time.”
“I bring it up, maybe, but you keep changing the subject, so we never actually talk about it.” I rub my necklace then, the one that Louis had left for me to find. I hold it up. “You know I talk to this thing every night? I talk to it like it’s a microphone and Louis can hear me at the other end. Thinking that maybe someday, he’ll respond with answers about how we can get our fathers out. And Marcie… and Dean.”
The waitress returns with our waters then. She draws a pen and a pad from a pocket in her apron. She wears black slacks and a white collared shirt with a bowtie—the Bella Note uniform. Her hair is cut into a sleek bob, but the sleekness ends there. Her face looks worn, dark circles under her eyes bleed into the edges of her freckled nose. I realize I must look about the same. “Are you ready to order?” she asks.
I realize then that I haven’t even cracked my menu. “I, um, just need a minute,” I say sheepishly. She leaves, and it only takes me a minute of scanning to decide on lasagna. I close my menu.
“Anyway, what I was saying is that it’s been four months and we’ve made no progress in figuring out how to get them out.”
Preston reaches across the table and grabs my hand, squeezing tight. I squeeze right back. “I know this is important to you. It’s important to me, too. But it’s also been four months of us getting settled and adjusted into a new life in a harsh Outside world. It’s not like we’ve been sitting around twiddling our thumbs.”
He releases my hand and pauses to take a sip of water before continuing. “Also, it would help if I could afford to buy a computer. I’m still barely able to make rent with my grocery store wages, and not able to get much quality research done at the internet café. Shoot, I still barely even know how to use a computer. Those things are tricky; I don’t know how Outsiders make it seem so easy.”
“If money is a problem, I can pay for dinner tonight. I got an extra big tip from my last customer.”
He rolls his eyes. “Abbie, no. This was supposed to be my treat, and that’s not what I meant."
Before I can protest further, I feel… something. It starts as a tingling that works its way to my bones, the tiny hairs on the back of my neck standing up just as they used to when a corpse was near in Everhaven, as they do now when a spirit lingers. But the tingling intensifies. This is no corpse, no spirit. This is something else.
The metal around my neck grows warm. I look around, half expecting to see the Reaper. But then the metal stings me, burning my skin. I see a bright, white flash, and suddenly I’m back in Everhaven… only, this isn’t Everhaven. There’s a procession of hooded Silents, that much is the same. But the town looks all wrong. For starters, there are palm trees and cactuses littering the landscape, and a large gathering of people I don’t recognize. Like nameless, blank slates. They walk around an unfamiliar setting; the buildings are all coated with a rough-looking material and topped with brightly colored tiles. The crowd converges around a shrine, familiar yet foreign, because the symbol is the same—a square within a circle—but the surroundings are different. All wrong. Then it’s like I’m watching a camera pan under the shrine, through a familiar door, across the red wasteland of the Beneath, zooming zooming past the mutant animals and the moaning soul compounds and horrible, hulking Guardians. To the red tower, the throne room where Ivan—the ruler of the realm Beneath—waits, red eyes gleaming.
It’s Ivan’s horrible face that makes me scream. That laugh, that horrible laugh…
When I come to, I realize I’m on the ground and Preston is kneeling next to me, his hands on my face. My eyes flutter open and Preston breathes a sigh of relief, his expression a mask of concern. “Thank goodness,” he whispers, stroking my hair from my face.
“Is she ok? Should I call an ambulance?” I hear a worried female voice ask—our waitress.
I want to say I’m ok, but I can’t, because what I just saw can only mean one thing. The Reaper must be sending me a message. A warning. No, I am far from ok.
“Preston, I… it’s…” I can barely formulate a sentence. I’m sputtering.
He helps me to a sitting position and places a palm flat on my back for support. “What is it? Did you see something?”
He knows I get flashes sometimes. Or, I used to, though I haven’t had one like this in some time. Not since my father was visiting me from the Beneath while Everhaven was still standing.
I grasp my boyfriend’s wrist—attached to the hand that lingers on my face—and lock onto his hunter green eyes, my own eyes wide and wild as I say the words with panic. “It’s happening again.”