Available now on Kindle and in paperback!
Keep scrolling for a preview of this book!
“See? This is what I’m talking about.”
Piper looked up from her book, confused. She hadn’t been paying attention.
“This,” said Meg, wagging a manicured finger back and forth, indicating the two of them, as if that in any way explained anything.
“You and me. Hanging out. You know. Girl time. Don’t you miss that?”
Piper’s pretty face scrunched into an expression of complete bewilderment. How was this girl time? She was trying to enjoy her new book and Meg wouldn’t shut up. She wasn’t even talking to her. She was just ranting in her general direction. She’d been rambling on for most of the last hour, complaining about everyone she knew. The last thing she remembered was her droning on about how stupid and stuck-up Melanie was.
She didn’t even know Melanie.
“Come on, Pipes.” Meg had been lying stretched out on the couch, taking up the whole thing. Now she sat up, brushed her shiny, black curls from her face and fixed her with those piercing blue eyes. “We’re like a team. We’re besties. Don’t pretend like you don’t miss me.”
Piper raised an eyebrow. She wasn’t pretending anything. She didn’t miss her. How could she, when she couldn’t seem to make her leave? She’d been here every day this week. This morning she showed up at seven o’clock! And they certainly weren’t “besties.” They never had been. They might’ve been friends occasionally, but mostly they’d only ever been roommates. Meg was far too self-centered and fake to be anyone’s BFF. Those weren’t even her natural hair and eye colors. Regardless of how much she swore otherwise, her real hair was limp and sandy-colored and her real eyes were a muddy shade of brown. The real Meg was sort of mousy-looking.
But she didn’t say any of this. She didn’t say anything. She lowered her gaze back to her book again without commenting at all.
Meg rolled her eyes. “Auuuuugh.”
Piper had no idea what you called that sound she made, but it was textbook Meg. It was deep and throaty, not quite a moan but not quite a growl, either. And utterly obnoxious. She did it whenever she was irritated, which was pretty well all the time.
She thrust her feet out in front of her and dropped her heels onto the coffee table, nearly knocking over a cup of colored pencils in the process. “I can’t believe you won’t just let me move back in.”
“I already have a roommate.”
“I’m your roommate.”
“You were my roommate,” corrected Piper without taking her eyes off her book. “Then you moved out. I found a new roommate. Now there’s no room.”
That sound had never not been annoying in all the time she’d known her. And today it was giving her a headache. A sharp pain was beginning to take root just behind her left temple.
“That’s bullshit, Pipes. You know it. I was here first.”
“And then you left.” It was all she said. It was all she should’ve needed to say. It was as simple as that. Meg had announced her intention to move in with her boyfriend, Martin, without warning and then immediately began packing out all her stuff. Just like that, Piper had been stuck with no roommate and all the bills. As far as she was concerned, Meg surrendered any claim to this apartment the first time she didn’t pay her share of the rent. The fact that she and Martin had barely lasted six months living under the same roof didn’t change that.
It simply wasn’t Piper’s problem.
But Meg didn’t see it that way. “We’ve been friends for years. That doesn’t count for anything?”
Of course it did. It was why she hadn’t kicked her out. But again, she kept this to herself and instead replied, “It’s not personal.”
“Isn’t it?” She wasn’t even looking at her. She was playing with the pendant on her necklace. She always did stuff like that. She couldn’t ever seem to give anyone her full attention. She always had to be occupying herself with something.
Piper was convinced she had ADHD.
“You know it’s not,” she replied.
“Then what is it?”
“It’s just what it is,” replied Piper.
“What does that even mean?” She let the pendant drop back onto her chest and sat up again. This time, she succeeded in kicking the cup off the coffee table. Colored pencils spilled onto the floor. “Why the hell does she have to leave all her junk everywhere?” she snapped. “She’s a total slob.” She kicked a sketch pad that was lying beside the pencil cup, knocking it onto the floor, too.
Piper tried to concentrate on her book, but it was getting harder. That headache was getting worse. And the ceiling fan was making an irritating buzzing sound. That wasn’t helping things at all.
Meg didn’t seem to notice the sound. She turned and stretched out on the couch again and went back to fiddling with her necklace. “I don’t know how you live like this.”
Piper still refused to comment. Seph wasn’t the tidiest person she’d ever known, but she was by no means a slob. It wasn’t like she left dirty cereal bowls and empty soda cans lying around. It was just her art supplies. They didn’t bother her. And it was no different, really, than the way Meg always used to leave her dirty socks lying around when she lived here.
“I mean what is all this stuff, anyway?” she asked, gesturing at a painting on the wall. “Have you ever even looked at it? It’s hideous.”
There was lots of artwork displayed throughout the apartment, in all manner of styles and mediums. Much of it was fantasy art. Comic book-like stuff. Seph had a thing for comic books and superhero movies. She loved science fiction and fantasy. But the image in question was a large and haunting depiction of the Grim Reaper wielding his legendary scythe in a dramatic pose as he cut down a horde of shrieking, shadowy figures.
“Seriously, Pipes. There is something wrong with her.”
Piper held her book a little higher to hide her smirk. Like everyone else who’d ever visited and gazed upon that painting, Meg had no idea of the true meaning behind the reaper. Seph painted it shortly after they became roommates, following the weird events that took place in November. It was something of a private joke. A portrait of a secret.
If you looked closely enough—and nobody ever had so far—you might notice that Death had the subtle figure of a woman…
“It’s not healthy to expose yourself to people like that,” said Meg.
Piper heard the bedroom door open and glanced up from her book as Seph walked into the room and picked up her purse. She was dressed nice for her breakfast date. Black skirt and black button-down shirt. Black sandals. Seph wore a lot of black. Even her glasses frames were black. All of it matching her raven black hair.
“I’ll be back later,” she announced.
“Say hi to your mom for me,” said Piper.
“Hey, my friend Evie broke up with her fiancé last week,” blurted Meg. She thrust her arm up over the back of the couch and pointed at Seph, making her bracelets clatter together. “She’s going to be looking for a new roommate.”
“Awesome,” said Seph. “That should be perfect for you.”
“Not for me,” she spat, sounding exasperated. “I couldn’t stand living with Evie. She’s a total drama whore. Everyone says so.”
“Huh,” was all Seph said, but she glanced over at Piper, clearly annoyed.
Piper shrugged and dived back into her book. Invisible to everyone in the world but Seph, the luminescent ears on top of her head drooped.
“You’d probably like her, though,” continued Meg. “She’s all artsy. She’s way into those adult coloring books.”
“Right,” said Seph. “Because that’s totally the same thing.”
“Right?” agreed Meg, who didn’t have the best ear for sarcasm.
“I’m not moving out,” she said as she walked through the door. “Later Peps.”
“Bye-bye,” chirped Piper.
Meg rolled her eyes again.
Piper pretended not to notice and went back to reading her book.
“She’s rude. I hate rude people.”
Piper raised an unamused eyebrow at her and then returned her attention to her book again.
Was that damned buzzing getting louder? It was really irritating. Her headache was getting worse.
“You’re selfish. You know that, right?”
This made her lower the book. “What?”
“You didn’t used to be selfish. She’s a bad influence on you. I can tell.”
It was Piper’s turn to roll her eyes. She wished Meg would just shut up for a while. But of course, she wouldn’t. She never did. Not when she was in one of these kinds of moods.
“I’m your best friend, Pipes. Trust me. You don’t need people like that in your life.”
Nobody ever called Piper by her name. Everyone always called her by nicknames. She wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t like “Piper” was some cumbersome mouthful of a name. Even if it was, not all the cutesy nicknames people came up with saved them any breath. Lately Seph had taken to calling her “Pepper” for some reason, which was basically the same name. She had no idea what the point even was.
“I have to pee,” blurted Meg. She stood up and walked off toward the bathroom. “Seriously,” she called back as she disappeared down the hallway, “people like her are toxic. They’re not your friends. They just want to use you.”
Unseen from her chair, Piper stuck out her tongue and made a face at her. She knew good and well who really cared about her.
Seph wasn’t always the nicest person. She was sarcastic and usually not particularly concerned with sparing people’s feelings. Especially obnoxious, deceitful people like Meg. But she was a good friend. Her real best friend. Seph would never do anything to hurt her.
Meg was the toxic one. She was selfish, not Piper. All she cared about was getting her old room back. And she was getting downright vile about it.
She tried to forget about Meg and focus on her book, but she was having trouble concentrating, even without her ex-roommate’s constant, self-centered droning.
It was that stupid noise.
She looked up at the ceiling fan, wondering what was wrong with it, but she realized that it wasn’t coming from there.
Confused, she closed her book and looked around. Was it coming from the air conditioning vents? The refrigerator? What else made that kind of buzzing noise?
Maybe there was a light bulb getting ready to go out. Sometimes they made irritating buzzing noises right before they blew.
She stood up and walked around the apartment, listening for it. It wasn’t coming from the living room…or the kitchen…or the hallway…or from anywhere, as far as she could tell. She stopped and turned around, puzzled. She couldn’t even determine which direction it was coming from. Regardless of where she went, it didn’t get any louder or softer. It remained perfectly and perplexingly constant.
It didn’t make sense. It had to be coming from somewhere. Didn’t it? What kind of sound didn’t have a source?
But as she passed the mirror on the living room wall, she paused and stared at her reflection.
Unless it was a different kind of sound…
She couldn’t see anything unremarkable. She looked precisely the way she always looked when she gazed at herself in a mirror, precisely the way almost everyone else in the world saw her. She had long, light blonde hair, fair features and soft, blue eyes. All her life, people had been telling her that she was exceptionally pretty, so she probably was, but she didn’t care to think that she was exceptionally anything. She certainly didn’t feel exceptional. She’d always felt like she was perfectly average, which was all she needed to feel good about herself.
And yet, as she found out when she first met Seph, she was anything but average.
Seph saw the difference. She had a gift. She could see things no one else on earth could see. And when she looked at Piper, what she saw was ghostly, animal ears protruding from the top of her head.
No one else could see them, not even Piper. And not even Seph could feel them. If she tried, her fingers would pass through them as if they weren’t even there. But they were real. She knew because sometimes they allowed her to hear things other people couldn’t.
That was what was happening now, she realized. The reason she couldn’t pinpoint the source of the buzzing was because she was listening with the wrong ears. It wasn’t going to get any louder or softer, no matter where she went, because it didn’t have volume. It wasn’t a sound. Not in the way that most people heard sounds. She was going to have to listen with her spirit ears.
But she hadn’t used them since that day at Shawbeck Ranch. She wasn’t sure she remembered how. And besides that, she didn’t want to use them. Her heart was already pounding. Her mouth had gone dry. A growing anxiety gripped her, closing in around her lungs, rapidly swelling into a smothering dread. The last time she heard something with her spirit ears, she ended up nearly dying. Repeatedly. And horribly. She still had nightmares about the things she witnessed on that terrifying journey.
She turned away from the mirror and glanced around at the quiet apartment. Absently, she reached up and pinched her lower lip, twisting it as she pondered her situation. It was what Seph called her “thinking face.”
She wished Seph were here. She’d know what to do. Maybe. At the very least the two of them could figure it out together. But Seph wouldn’t be back for at least a couple hours.
She was on her own.
Well…there was Meg. But Meg was useless. She couldn’t handle most of the normal things the world threw at her. She certainly didn’t possess the emotional capacity to deal with things like mall wraiths, flock goats and fringe cats.
She walked to the window and peered out into the bright, morning sunlight. There was nothing that wasn’t supposed to be there. No shadowy forms or vicious creatures were prowling the property. At least, not in plain sight.
But they wouldn’t be in plain sight. They’d be hidden somewhere, watching, waiting… Or, for all she knew, they might be invisible. Nothing was impossible. That was one thing she’d learned back in November.
November also taught her that you couldn’t ever run away. Not really. You could run from all the monsters out there, you could even run from yourself, but you couldn’t run from your future. That, you were always running toward, even when standing still.
She closed her eyes and forced herself to take a deep, calming breath. It was okay. It was just a noise. (Well, sort of…) It didn’t mean the horrors were beginning again.
She crossed the room, opened the door and peered out into the empty hallway, listening.
It felt different here. She wasn’t sure how it was different because it still sounded the same, probably because her brain still didn’t know how to process this strange, new input.
She glanced at the table next to the door. Her purse was sitting on it.
She shouldn’t follow it. That would be a bad idea. The things she heard with her spirit ears had always led her to trouble. And this time Seph wasn’t here to protect her.
But the “buzzing” pulled at her, compelling her to follow…
With a groan, she turned and plucked the keys from her purse. Then she stepped into her flip-flops and walked out into the hallway.
She really hoped this wasn’t like November. It took three days to complete that strange journey to Shawbeck Ranch. And she didn’t want to have to call into work this soon after changing jobs. She’d only been working at Victoria’s Secret for about a month now. It’d look bad if she had to call in and make up some sob story.
She paused to listen again. After a moment, she shook her head. No. She was doing it wrong. She was listening for a sound. This wasn’t a sound. It was…well…she didn’t really know what it was… But it wasn’t a sound.
She tried again. She closed her eyes and focused on that irritating “buzzing” sensation.
Was it stronger here? Was she closer to the source? It was hard to tell, but she thought it was. It seemed more… More something. Not louder, certainly, but maybe sharper? More intense?
The headache was getting worse.
She set off down the steps, trying to focus on the buzzing, on listening with her spirit ears and not her human ears. It wasn’t easy. She was used to having only five senses. She wished she could remember what she did last time.
How long had it been? It was July now, so… She did the math in her head. Eight months? Had it really been that long? It didn’t seem possible.
At the bottom of the steps, she stopped and looked around again. There was definitely a change in the “buzzing” now. She still wasn’t sure how to describe it, but she was increasingly sure that she was getting closer to the source.
And it was changing, too. Or maybe it was only that she was beginning to understand what she was hearing. It wasn’t so much a buzzing as it was a sort of garbled static. Like the noise between radio stations.
Were there voices in the static? Or was that only her imagination?
She walked toward the front door, but after just a few steps, she stopped again. No… Not that way. She turned and looked the other way, toward the back door. There? It wasn’t really a conscious realization, but rather a sort of gut feeling. She wasn’t sure if she was learning to use these queer ears or if it was some deep-down, primal instinct. Either way, she was sure the source was coming from that direction.
But even as she began walking toward it, an uneasy feeling crept through her.
Something wasn’t right.
That anxiety she’d been feeling had fully bloomed into dread by now, and that dread was rapidly swelling into stark terror. She kept telling herself that it couldn’t be happening again. They accomplished their task in Nebraska. They won. And yet she was also certain that her spirit ears didn’t lie.
Something unnatural awaited her somewhere on the other side of that door.
She paused before reaching for the handle.
That static-like sensation in her brain was strangely frantic. The headache had grown into a constant pounding, making it harder to think straight.
She shouldn’t be doing this. Not without Seph. They were a team. Neither of them would’ve survived that business with the shepherd on her own. It was the way it was supposed to be, the way fate intended. Seph had the prophet sight. She could see what no one else could. And Piper had the spirit ears. She could hear what Seph couldn’t.
But did this queer static really have anything to do with those events in November? The shepherd was gone. Destroyed. He wasn’t coming back. Not ever.
And yet she really didn’t want to open that door…
In fact, she took a step backward. Although she couldn’t possibly explain how or why, she was certain that something horrible was standing just on the other side.
Inside that static, she could definitely hear a voice.
Well…not hear, exactly… (This was so confusing!) But it was there, just the same. She couldn’t understand what it was saying, but there was something incredibly creepy about it.
She took another step back.
Her heart was racing now.
She reached into the pocket of her shorts and pulled out her cell phone. She should call Seph. And she should run away, of course. Back to the safety of her apartment. Or at least whatever illusion of safety it offered her. If this really was anything like the last time she heard things with her spirit ears, then nowhere would truly be safe.
But she didn’t run. She was frozen in place, her eyes fixed on the lower portion of the door.
Was that the sound of something scratching?
Inside her head, she was screaming at herself. Run away! Run away before it opens the door! But she couldn’t run. She couldn’t even move. She was too afraid.
Then the door flew open.