The Haunting is book 7 in the Seacliff High Mystery Series. The book published on September 5th and I wanted to provide those of you who have not tried the series a peek at Chapter 1. http://amzn.to/2w8gpIt
Alyson has three things to deal with in this story: A haunted house, a reoccurring dream which could be portence, and Chelsea’s stalker.
Thursday, October 19
My life is a lie. Everything about me—my name, my past, even my future—is shrouded in secrets and half-truths. At my core, I’m basically an honest person, so it pains me that I must deceive the people I care about the most. My birth name is Amanda Parker. Prior to my death and very public funeral, I was a popular student, heiress to millions, and a well-known socialite. Only a handful of people in the entire world know that my death was staged in order to protect me from the men who threatened to kill me. When Amanda Parker died, Alyson Prescott was born.
As far as names go, I’m rather fond of Alyson, but after more than a year in witness protection, I find the line separating Amanda from Alyson has begun to blur. Despite the insanity that has become my life, I was dealing with the changes, until five months ago, when my handler whisked me away from my new life after an unconfirmed tip threatened my very existence.
Four months ago, my mother and I made the decision to return to Cutter’s Cove, Oregon, despite the danger that may exist. The nightmares, which would come to overshadow my life, began the very next day. Although the intensity of the dream has escalated over time, the script for each dream is the same. I’m standing on the porch of a dilapidated old house looking at a dark-colored door. I instinctively know that my destiny resides beyond the threshold, but I’m paralyzed with fear and hesitant to enter. I gather my courage and fight the instinct to flee as I cautiously turn the handle and take a step inside. In the instant before I wake, I experience the terror and helplessness that has come to dominate even my waking hours.
“Earth to Alyson,” my best friend Mackenzie Reynolds said as she snapped her fingers in front of my face.
I glanced at her, dazed, as I wondered where I was and why I was there.
“Class is over,” Mac informed me. “We need to go.”
“Was I sleeping?” I asked.
“I’m not sure. Your eyes were open, but you certainly didn’t seem to be listening to the lecture.”
“Did I drool?” I wiped the side of my mouth with one hand.
“Just a little. Don’t worry; you didn’t snore. I don’t think anyone else knew you’d dozed off. That’s the third time in a week. Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” I said as I closed my book and slipped it into my backpack. “I just haven’t been sleeping well. I guess everything is catching up with me.”
“Still having the dreams?”
I nodded. “Almost every night.”
I slipped out of my desk and followed Mac out the door and into the crowded hallway of Seacliff High. Only one more period until lunch, when I could head to the library, find a table in the back, and have a proper nap.
“Do you think maybe you should talk to someone about what’s going on?” Mac asked.
“Who would I talk to? We both know the dreams began after I returned to Cutter’s Cove from Madrona Island. We both know the root of the dream stems from the fact that very bad men are trying to kill me and I have no idea whether they’ve actually found me and are waiting for the right opportunity to strike, or if Donovan’s intel is wrong and my cover is secure.”
Mac stopped walking. She turned to look at me, her dark eyes mirroring her concern. “I know this is a crazy way to live and I can’t imagine how difficult this must be for you. You know I missed you desperately when you were away, but are you certain coming back to Cutter’s Cove was the right decision?”
“Honestly?” I tilted my head to one side, causing my long blond hair to cascade over my shoulder. “I’m not sure. I do know that unless I want to run forever, at some point I need to make a stand.”
Mac took my hand in hers and continued down the hall. “You know I’m here for you. Whatever you need.”
“I may need to copy your history notes.”
“You got it. In fact, why don’t we get together after school and I’ll help you study for tomorrow’s exam?”
“There’s an exam tomorrow?”
“Midterm. Remember, we were given a study guide on Monday.”
“Oh, that exam.” I groaned. I had to admit it was beginning to feel like I actually was losing my mind. “I do need to study, but I promised Caleb I’d go over to the house the Halloween committee has selected for the Haunted Hayride to see if I can get a sense about what’s going on.”
“Is weird stuff still happening?” Mac asked.
Caleb Wellington was the event chairperson for the Haunted Hayride and he took his responsibilities to the school and the town very seriously. “Not only are there all sorts of strange sounds and slamming doors, but some of the props were moved from one location to another, and there’s been a fair amount of vandalism as well. Based on what Caleb has told me, I’m going to go out on a limb and say the house really is haunted.”
Mac furrowed her brow. “Can ghosts do that? Move things?”
“As far as I know, no. In my experience to date ghosts aren’t corporeal and can’t move things, but things are being moved and there doesn’t seem to be an earthly explanation, so for the time being I’m going to suspend disbelief and see what I can discover. Caleb is a smart guy and he’s pretty much convinced the problems they’ve been having are paranormal in nature.”
“Even if that’s true and ghosts are behind all the problems, is there anything you can do about it?”
I shrugged. “I’m not sure. If the house is haunted I’ll need to see if I can determine why the spirits are hanging around. If I know why they failed to move on maybe I can find a way to help them resolve their issues. And if I can’t do that maybe I can at least find a way to appease them so they’ll quit messing with Caleb’s props. I don’t suppose you’d want to come with me?”
Mac looped her arm though mine as we continued down the hallway. “You know I will. And I’m sure Trevor will come as well if he doesn’t have football, although he did say something about extralong practice sessions this week because there’s a home game tomorrow.” Mac had referred to Trevor Johnson, the third member of our awesome threesome. “I have next period with him, so I’ll ask him. Do you want to meet for lunch?”
“I’m going to head to the library instead. Tell Trevor I’ll meet him in the parking lot after school. If he has football ask him to text me. Either way, I’ll swing by and pick you up from your internship on my way out to the house.” Mac was a computer genius who worked for a software company as an intern during fifth and sixth periods.
A look of concern crossed Mac’s face. “Are you sure you don’t want to have lunch with us? You’re looking a little thin.”
“I’m sure. I have a granola bar in my backpack. I’ll nibble on it between classes, but right now my body is demanding sleep over food.”
“Okay. I’ll see you after school. And maybe we can study after we check out the haunted house. I have a feeling this midterm is going to be a tough one.”
“I need to study and I need to pass that class. Why don’t you plan to come over for dinner? Trevor too. I’ll text my mom to tell her to expect you.”
“That sounds good.”
Somehow I managed to stay awake through my fourth period computer science class and was looking forward to a power nap in the library. I’d been spending my lunch hour napping more and more often lately, and I was sure someone was going to notice and say something at some point. When that happened I guess I’d have to alter my routine and maybe nap in my car, but for now the library provided a warm, quiet place to catch some Z’s.
The library at Seacliff High was actually a pretty awesome place to hang out even when you weren’t looking for a place to nap. The room was quaint and cozy, with two levels, each containing mahogany bookshelves and hardwood tables and chairs. The ceiling was high in the center of the building, allowing for the levels to be open to each other. I’d settled in on the second floor at a table in the back that provided the best place to nap unnoticed. I took my sweater out of my backpack, folded it to use it for a pillow, and lay my head down on the table in front of me.
“Alyson,” I heard Chelsea Green say just as I was drifting into unconsciousness.
I opened one eye but didn’t lift my head from where it was resting. “Yes?”
“Are you okay? You haven’t shown up in the lunchroom all week.”
Chelsea and I weren’t all that close, so I was surprised she’d noticed. It wasn’t that we didn’t get along; it was more that she was an A-list cheerleader and I was a no-list weirdo who saw ghosts and solved mysteries. “I’m fine. Just a little tired. Did you need something?”
Chelsea sat down on a chair across from me. I groaned as I opened my other eye and raised my head. It looked like I wasn’t going to be able to avoid finding out what was on Chelsea’s mind no matter how much I really wanted to drift into a dreamless sleep.
“Because you’re awake anyway I do have a teensy problem I could use your help with.” Chelsea tilted her head so her long dark hair brushed the table as she spoke.
“And what teensy problem might that be?”
“I have a stalker.”
“For the past couple of weeks someone has been sending me photos. They’ve been taken in different locations, but all of them are of me during the day. At first I just thought it was one of my so-called friends pulling a prank, but now I’m not so sure.”
“These photos—were they taken at school?”
“Yes, initially, either at school, at cheerleading practice, or at a school-related event. But lately I’ve been receiving photos taken at home, the most recent at my dad’s birthday dinner two nights ago. It’s really beginning to irritate me.”
I sat up straighter. “Have you told anyone else what you told me?”
Chelsea shook her head. “I’m not sure who I can trust. The photos have to have been taken by someone who knows me well enough to know my routine. And they’ve been sent to me via both text and personal email, which means they also know my phone number and email address.”
I narrowed my gaze. “Are any of the photos inappropriate?”
“Not really. There were a few without makeup, which terrified me, but so far, I haven’t been sent any photos of me getting dressed or in the shower. Still, I’m starting to feel violated. I find myself looking over my shoulder all the time. It’s creepy.”
“I agree; it is creepy. You should tell your parents. Or maybe even the police.”
Chelsea crossed her arms across her chest. “No. I can’t do that. If I tell my parents they’ll probably keep me under lock and key until they find out who’s behind the photos, and if I tell the cops they’ll interrogate all my friends. For all I know, this really is just some joke, and I don’t want to look like I give a rat’s ass if it’s just one of my stupid friends pulling a prank. If it got out that I ran to my parents over a joke it would destroy my popularity ranking. What I need is for someone like you who likes to play Nancy Drew to look into this quietly.”
I paused but didn’t answer.
“Please. I can pay you.”
I frowned. “I don’t want your money, but I’m worried. Being stalked is nothing to take lightly. The person behind the photos could be dangerous.”
“Maybe, or it could just be Cora Lee trying to make me look like an idiot. You know she was mad when I beat her out for homecoming queen. It would be just like her to come up with a lame prank to embarrass me.”
I frowned as I considered Chelsea’s request. While having a stalker was serious business, Chelsea was a self-serving snob who was both the most popular girl in school and one of the most hated. I could totally see someone sending her the photos just to mess with her. If it was just a prank and she let it be known that the photos had gotten to her I did see how it could affect the way she was perceived by others; she was famous for trying to pretend she didn’t care in the least when others tried to retaliate against her for one slight or another.
“Please, Alyson. I’ll be nice to you and everything.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Don’t do me any favors.”
“Okay, then, I’ll totally ignore you if that’s what you want. You’re the only one who can help me with this.”
“Okay,” I eventually said. “I’ll look in to it, but I have some conditions.”
“You show me all the photos you’ve received so far as well as all you receive in the future. If I suspect at any point you’re in actual danger we tell your parents what’s going on.”
Chelsea paused and then answered, “Okay. I guess I can live with that.”
“I’ll also need to bring Mac in on this. I know she isn’t your favorite person, but she can help us track down the origin of the texts and emails.”
Chelsea let out a loud sigh. “Oh, all right. But no one else.”
“I can’t guarantee Trevor won’t find out. The three of us are a team. We spend a lot of time together, he’s helped in the past, and quite frankly, it will make it easier for me if I don’t have to keep it from him. Besides, if your stalker is male he might have a better chance of getting a confession, if we even get that far.”
“You know Trevor cares about you, and you know he can keep a secret.”
Chelsea groaned. “Oh, okay. You can bring Mac and Trevor in it, but that’s it. If you need to bring my name into a conversation with anyone else I need you to promise you’ll check with me first.”
Chelsea smiled. “Great. So where do we start?”
I jotted down my email address and slipped it across the table to Chelsea. “Forward the photos to my personal email, not my school one. Once I get them I’ll talk things over with Mac and we’ll come up with a strategy. The easiest way to figure out who’s doing this to you will probably be to backtrack the photos to the phone number the texts were sent from or the IP address the emails were sent from.”
“Okay I’ll do it after school, and thanks, Alyson. I know I haven’t always been nice to you, so I do appreciate your helping me.”
I started to lay my head back down when Chelsea spoke once again. “You know, you’re looking a little ragged. If you aren’t going to get the sleep you need some concealer would be a good idea. The dark circles under your eyes are going to begin to attract attention and I sense attention isn’t what you’re after.”
Chelsea was right about that. Attention wasn’t at all what I was after. “Thanks. I’ll keep your suggestion in mind. Now if we’re done…”
Chelsea stood up and I lay my head back down on the desk. Unfortunately, the bell for fifth period rang before I had a chance to even close my eyes. Despite how desperately I needed it, it looked like I wasn’t going to get my power nap after all.