I’ve had one brand new book, one short story, and two reissues out within the past several months with two more reissues and a brand new book (Fangdemonium, the 5th and final novel in the Vamped series) coming soon. With all of that and my already more than full-time job as an agent, I haven’t gotten around to posting the excerpt from my young adult suspense novel Faultlines, which is a book very near and dear to my heart. I hope you’ll all read, enjoy, share, comment or do whatever the except inspires you to do!
Excerpt intro: Lisa has committed suicide. Her best friend Vanessa, struggling to come to terms with her friend’s death and piece together what led up to it, now faces another mystery. Someone is taking revenge against those they perceive drove Lisa to her death. Vanessa might even approve…if the pranks weren’t growing more and more serious and if everyone didn’t assume it was her taking revenge and act accordingly. As the danger level of the pranks and retaliations mount, it becomes clear that no one is safe. In this scene we first encounter the work of the vigilante Poetic Justice.
When the bell rang, I took forever gathering up my things so that Rachel would be gone when I looked up. I wouldn’t give her the chance to “accidentally” hip bump me or any of the other stupid, petty things she was likely to do on any given day. Today I didn’t see any way I would stand for it. My emotions were too close to the surface.
I didn’t have to worry about her once I got through the door. Rachel was more an opportunist than an ambusher. That required forethought, and I wasn’t sure that was really in her wheelhouse. Unfortunately, she’d have another chance at me. Lockers were assigned alphabetically like our seats in homeroom, and hers was directly across the hall from mine. Usually it didn’t bother me. I wasn’t her favorite whipping girl. But today, I was vulnerable and just like a shark, she could smell blood on the water.
Luckily, Rachel was busy chatting with Shelby and Ashley when I reached my locker. They were preoccupied enough that I felt okay to turn my back on them. It was a huge mistake.
Everything happened in an instant. A huge pop, high-pitched screams, and something splattering against me like sudden raindrops out of a clear sky. Freaked, I whipped around, wondering what Rachel had done this time . . . and stopped cold, frozen in shock.
Across from me, Rachel’s locker had exploded, and the terrible trio stood covered in blood. It dripped from them in dark rivulets like from horror-film extras, but they didn’t appear hurt. Just shocked. My brain struggled to process what I was seeing. It was like some kind of dye pack had gone off, but what would something like that be doing there in the first place? And anyway, it didn’t look like dye. It looked like blood.
Rachel spat a thin stream of the stuff out of her mouth and started shaking uncontrollably. She went to wipe the residue from her mouth with her sleeve and dropped the arm like a live snake when she noticed it too was covered in blood.
“Get it off, get it off, get it off!” she chanted in rising panic.
Shelby yanked her shirt over her blood-soaked head, revealing nothing but a thin tank top underneath. She used her inside out clothing to wipe her own face before going for Rachel, who reared back and shrieked, “You’ll just rub it in!”
Ashley had been the least hit, but seemed frozen like me, her almond eyes wide, her mouth clamped shut to avoid any of the stuff getting in.
Marianne raced over to me, but stopped short of touching. “Are you okay?”
Wouldn’t she have been at the locker right next to mine? Hadn’t she been hit by the blood?
I shook myself out of my paralysis. “Fine. You?”
She looked down at herself as if to check. “I stopped off at the restroom. Good thing, I guess.”
She glanced around at the carnage, at the other kids watching but staying well away, at Mrs. Kerringer and Mr. Donally pushing their way through the crowd of students to take charge.
“Look,” Marianne said.
I followed the path of her pointing finger, straight to Rachel’s locker. Inside, painted on the wall in red paint or more fake blood, because it had to be fake, were the words IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT, all in caps.
Rachel saw the teachers coming and tried to throw herself into Mrs. Kerringer’s arms, but the teacher backpedaled, and Rachel got the message. Her arms dropped despondently. She stood, looking forlorn, great big teardrops starting to fall from her eyes, creating track marks in the red goo.
I looked around at the gathered kids. Could this be a prank? Or could the sign mean that someone else felt like I did, wanting to strike some kind of blow for Lisa. What was all Rachel’s fault? Was it the bullying or something more? I tried to see whether anyone looked smug or satisfied over the exploding locker. I didn’t know whether I wanted to thank the prankster or . . . or what? He or she’d had the courage, the strength, to do what I hadn’t. Using blood might be over the top, but it had made an impression.
Fear crept in. What if it was real blood? What if it was contaminated or diseased? What if this was more than a prank? I always had some kind of scrape from soccer dives or paper cuts or even hangnails. A thousand little ways to die of infection.
Panic started to rise and my heart to pound. I felt a freak-out coming on.
Marianne must have seen it too. “Mr. Donally, can I get Vanessa to the nurse? I think she’s in shock.”
He turned from the bloody girls to look at me in surprise. From the front, he could see no reason to concern himself with me.
“Why don’t you take all the girls to the nurse?” he said, realization dawning. “Anyone else get hit?”
A couple of nearby kids raised their hands tentatively. I saw fear in their eyes as well.
“All of you to the nurse,” he said. “And don’t touch anything along the way. The rest of you, I need your names. Officer Garza may want to talk to you. Then I want everyone to get to class. The janitor will have to get through with his crash cart. If you need to get past this spot, go around—outside the school and back in through another door. This area is closed.”
I was torn. Part of me wanted to stay and talk to Garza, even though I didn’t have anything to offer. But Marianne took her job seriously, and herded us down the hallway toward the nurse’s office. I didn’t fight her, but I could have broken my neck craning it to see back the way we’d come. I wasn’t the only one. A couple of times Marianne reached out to get one of the other girls moving and stopped herself before actual contact. The second time, Rachel reacted anyway, as if Marianne had not only touched her, but tasered her. She jolted her back to herself, as though someone had flipped her ‘on’ switch.
Rachel wheeled on me with fire in her eyes. “You,” she shrieked. “You did this.”
I glared back at her. “In case you didn’t notice, I got hit too. If I’d set this up, I’d have made sure to be outside the blast zone.”
“No, you’d be smart enough to get splattered to throw off suspicion.”
“Maybe that’s the way your twisty little mind works, but not mine.”
“Liar,” she accused.
Shelby glared at me in solidarity with her friend.
“According to the sign in your locker, it’s all your fault,” I responded. “So, what did you do? Maybe bully Lisa to death?”
Rachel hissed and came at me, nails out like they were talons that could rip me to shreds. I reared back, throwing my hands up to defend myself, anticipating the pain.
Ashley stepped between us.
“That’s enough,” she said, shocking us both. Her voice shook, but her glare said she meant business. “Lisa’s dead. You’re both covered in blood and you want to spill more? Are you crazy?”
Rachel craned her neck to see me over Ashley. From the rage on her face, I think she seriously considered knocking Ashley out of the way and coming for me anyway, crazy or not. With those baby blue eyes flashing, she looked like a possessed Barbie come to life. I think it was only the blood that stopped her.
“This isn’t over,” she spat at me.
“It is for now,” Ashley said. She gave Rachel a significant look that I hoped didn’t mean we’ll get her later.
“Well, here we are,” Marianne cut in, trying to break the tension.
She pushed open the door to the nurse’s office and led the way. Nurse Henning met us just inside. Her eyes widened as she saw us.
“The VP said blood, but I had no idea— Behind the screens, all of you,” she said. “There are sponges, sanitizing soap and nail brushes back there. Do your best. Hit everything.”
Her concern wasn’t exactly doing wonders for my panic, but she’d gotten a lot set up in a short time. The screens she waved us toward were like the ones they used for scoliosis screening back in elementary school. There were tubs there of sudsy, antiseptic-smelling liquid. Not comforting. A minute after we’d stepped behind the screens, the nurse tapped on the metal framework. “I’ve got a bin here of emergency clothes.” She pushed it behind the screens with her sensible white shoes. “You should all pick something to replace what got bloody. I’ve put plastic bags in the bin as well for your dirty clothes.”
“I’m not wearing someone else’s hand-me-downs,” Rachel protested.
“Well then, you can stay in what you’re wearing until your parents bring you something else. I’m calling all of your parents now. If you want to talk to them, please let me know.”
“Don’t worry,” Rachel said, shooting me a look. “They’ll hear all about it.”
I was sure they would. Rachel was not the kind to suffer in silence.
I couldn’t see the gunk on my back, but I could feel it when I moved and my clothes didn’t, stuck to me like glue. It made me want to tear them all off. I did the best I could with the clean up, contorting myself to reach what I could and then sanitizing my hands to within a layer or two of skin. I kept my shirt on, leaving the bin for those who’d received the bulk of the splatter, so I was the first one to the nurse’s desk. Instead of using her phone, I took my cell into the bathroom. I felt like a little girl calling for her mommy, but I couldn’t think of anything else to do. I was suddenly feeling fragile. If one more thing went wrong today, I might just break. I didn’t want to do it in front of witnesses.
“Mom,” I said, when she answered. “I was wrong. I’m not ready. Please come get me.”
Then I waited on the clinic couch. I thanked Marianne as she left, but aside from that I sat in my own little world trying not to think or feel or cry. By the time Mom came to gather me up, I was sure the other girls thought I’d lost my mind, but I couldn’t seem to care. I ignored their looks and the accusations they threw my way—all except for Ashley, who stayed eerily silent after her earlier intervention. The only thing I reacted to was when Mom and I had to pass close to my locker on the way out of school—close enough to see the janitor’s sandwich boards connected to each other with orange plastic ribbon, cordoning off the area like a crime scene. And in the center, all that blood, looking eerily real, maybe awaiting evidence collection before clean up.
It made me think about Lisa’s death. Supposedly there’d been no blood. When she broke the news, Mom said Lisa had hung herself. In her garage. Over a tarp. Which I didn’t get at first, until I thought of all the cop shows where the bowels loosened in death. Then I could almost see it. Lisa wouldn’t want to leave a mess. Not a physical one, anyway.
It was that “almost” that screwed with me. I still couldn’t imagine Lisa killing herself. Not Lisa.