On Valentine's Day I posted an excerpt from a novel I have already finished, so this morning I find it only fair to post an excerpt from one I'm still working on. It's called Crystal Grader and will be out this Christmas. The genre is coming-of-age. A young girl falls in love with the man who is giving her writing lessons and decides to go after him, full court press.
To set up the scene you're about to read (I hope) let me say that very same girl is tasked to do chores around her tutor's farm as a method of paying for her lessons. Only today the tutor is off on a book signing tour, which means Crystal (our heroine) is left to complete her chores alone on a dark, windy day in an old, spooky house. Her mom, whose name is Lucretia, drops her off at the front step.
And that's it. I'll shut up now and let you read. Thank you again for your time. We'll talk more soon.
The next day—Sunday—did not bring a stop to the high winds. Quite the reverse. Lucretia agreed to drop
off at the Jackson
farm after driving Lucy home, and the trees were swaying like stalks of wheat
as they approached. Chubby, with fur
flying, offered up several angry barks at the sight of a new car, but turned
friendly again when Crystal put down the window to say hello.
“You know,” Lucretia said, bringing the car to a halt, “I’ve lived in
all my life and never even knew this house was here.”
“I think that’s sort of the idea,”
replied. “I asked my history teacher
about it at school. He told me it served
as a fort during the Civil War, and that its owner really wasn’t keen on
A snort came from the driver’s seat. “I bet. Who was the owner?”
“Not the Andrew Jackson. But yes, that was his name.”
“Well he did a hell of a job with the location. 2004 and you still need to drive through half a forest to get back here.” Her next question was one
Crystal had already heard. “Is this Jarett Powell guy a farmer too?”
No doubt she had noticed the barn off to the left, and maybe even a few rows of wheat behind the house.
Crystal replied that Jarett was indeed a
farmer, but that she wasn’t expected to do any field work during his leave of
“I hope not,” her mom stressed. Then, grinning: “Otherwise your new name is Applejack.”
“Well gee whiz, Mister Powell,” she said, in her best imitation of that yellow cartoon pony’s voice, “I got the field all plowed but the orchard’s a mess and the haystacks still need pitchin’. Yee-haw!”
“She doesn’t talk like that!”
After they finished laughing
was let out of the car, with a promise to call home for another ride once her
duties were complete. She waved as
Lucretia turned the car around, then gave Chubby a hug.
“First thing we’re gonna do is give you a bath. How does that sound, huh?”
Chubby’s happy bark sounded like this was the best idea he’d heard all day. She walked him to the side door with the wind whipping at her hair and skirt. Her key turned in the lock.
A dour atmosphere waited on the inside. Shadows brooded in every corner. A narrow hallway leading to the kitchen had turned gray, and the top of the staircase looked nearly pitch. After turning on a few lights,
Crystal went left into
the living room. Here she switched on
the television, then another light in the dining room and one more in the
kitchen. Yet the shadows would not be
driven back so easily, and it soon became apparent that the house was too large
and too old for one girl to spend a cloudy afternoon alone in. Paintings on the wall seemed to regard her as
she passed; cracks in ancient wooden doorframes seemed to twist into frowning
Even Chubby felt it. His tail had gone still, his eager prance the same. Drawing in a deep breath,
forced herself to walk back through the living room and upstairs. Here her nerve nearly broke. One dark doorway after another gaped in the
hall, while outside the wind continued howl.
could not help but remember the bearded man she had seen looking down at her
from the bedroom window on her first official visit to the house. Had that been nothing more than
imagination? Or was he still haunting
“Boo,” she called out, trying to make herself relax.
When no one answered, she led Chubby to the end of the hall. There was a small, cheerful little bathroom here, and after closing the door—and locking it—
began to feel better. She bundled Chubby
into the tub while singing a tune from one of Hannah’s CDs. Twenty minutes later the dog was shaking
himself dry on the tiles, giving his mistress a decent shower in the process.
“If you weren’t such a sweet dog I’d be mad at you for that,” she told him, reaching into a cabinet for some paper towels. “No going outside until you’re completely dry, okay? House rules.”
Chubby gave a bark to show that he understood.
Once back in the hallway she got creeped out all over again. The urge to run downstairs, finish her chores, and get out of the house pressed on her thoughts. She went to the top of the staircase…and stopped.
A wide open door to Jarett’s bedroom was at the opposite end of the hall, giving birth to an altogether different—and formidable—urge.
took a hesitant step towards it. Her
fear of the environment was vague; she didn’t know how much of the supernatural
she believed in, if any at all. On the
other hand, her curiosity was becoming sharper by the moment. She was standing alone and unsupervised near
the empty bedroom of the man she craved, the man she loved. Did it really make sense to let a few
childish qualms—what Hannah sometimes called the heebie-jeebies—act as a
barrier against what might be found inside?
Crystal said to herself,
“not this girl.”
She went down to the bedroom and snapped on the light. Blue carpet and brown paneling sprang into view. Heavy curtains hung over the window. An alarm clock ticked on the headboard of a neatly made bed.
“Let’s check out the closet,” she said to Chubby. “How’s that sound?”
The reproachful look on Chubby’s face required no further castings for his opinion.
“Oh stop it. You’ve done worse.”She opened the door. Most of Jarett’s wardrobe, as she was already well aware, was dark. Beneath it were two pairs of boots: one black, one brown. In fact everything about the closet looked very masculine.