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       The Watchers (Book 1: The Watchers Series), p.1

           Lynnie Purcell
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The Watchers (Book 1: The Watchers Series)
The Watchers

  Book 1 of The Watchers Series

  By: Lynnie Purcell

  Edited by Benjamin Locke

  Illustrated by: Tatiana Vila

  Copyright 2011 Lynnie Purcell

  Chapter 1

  The sky behind us rippled angrily with dark thunderheads as we raced toward the blue horizon. Despite the darkness chasing us and the beauty of clear skies to the front, I was upset. My sour mood, especially my sour expression, did not go unnoticed. Ellen, my mom – though I was seriously considering giving her up for adoption – glanced over at me from where she was driving.

  “Clare, didn’t your mother ever tell you that if you make an ugly face, it’ll freeze that way?” she asked, breaking the heavy silence between us.

  “No,” I said, “you have better sense than that…I mean, really, how would my face freeze unless we were in Antarctica? Even then, I’m sure something would fall off before my expression would freeze. The idea, the mere thought, of a bad expression freezing is more ridiculous than this ridiculous move.”

  Thinking I was being silly, she started playing with the radio of our car, flicking between stations erratically in search of one that was actually playing music. Beyond her, the trees, which had been a border to the small two-lane road for the past hour, gave way to the first vestiges of humanity. Car lots and burger joints sped past us in a blur, their bright colors contrasting to the brown of the forest surrounding them. I watched her play with the radio, trying not to look at the rundown buildings and cow pastures beyond us.

  “I thought you weren’t holding a grudge about moving,” she said after a moment, finally giving up on the radio and her attempts at cheering me up.

  “I’m not holding a grudge…I’m profoundly irritated. There’s a difference.”

  “I’ll just have to owe you one,” she said.

  “A very big one,” I muttered darkly.

  “It’s not like we haven’t moved before,” she retorted, the dimples in her cheeks disappearing with her frown.

  That was the understatement of the year. We had moved so many times in my life that I referred to our station wagon as ‘the caravan’ and to Ellen and me as ‘the roving gypsies.’ Before, we had always moved from one city to another, jumping from coast to coast like jack rabbits, never settling in one place for longer than two years. Our mainstay were cities and towns large enough to get lost in if we wanted to, which we did. It was how we hid. Even though that didn’t sound like a very appealing way to live, I had grown accustomed to alleyways and rooftops of cities, to the ebb and flow of the crowds, and the rhythm of places like New York, Chicago, or L.A. It was home.

  Another long row of thick trees and even thicker undergrowth momentarily dominated the landscape, the car lots and burger joints disappearing behind us. A person could get lost here as well, but only if they took a long, blindfolded, walk in the woods.

  “This isn’t the same,” I said.

  “I know,” she agreed quietly.

  We’d been over this several times since she had told me we were moving. She understood how it felt to be here more than I did. She knew how it felt to hate the place we were headed toward.

  She turned to me, her eyes wide and full of hurt. “Trust me?”

  I sighed and rubbed at my forehead thoughtfully, the scowl disappearing.

  “I trust you, Mom. It’s just…” I trailed off, thinking about the real reason for my irritation.

  Tomorrow, I would be forced into the tiny, miniscule, thing they called a high school here. While I was certainly used to first days – going through five public high schools in the last three years meant the stares, the questions, the not fitting in were second nature to me – I’d never been to a school like this one. Ellen called her old school ‘quaint.’ I called it hell.

  The clouds, which had been trailing us dolefully since our entry into North Carolina, thickened, hurrying us along as the trees gave way to the first row of brick buildings of the deserted downtown. I looked at the cheerfully quaint buildings, with their cheerfully quaint awnings as we passed and was suddenly glad for the clouds. They were perfectly dark, a contrast to the frightening cheerfulness of the awnings and the buildings.

  “Oh! I love this one!” Ellen exclaimed suddenly, startling me out of my dark thoughts.

  She turned the radio up louder at the sound of Stevie Nicks belting out throaty lyrics. A smile lighting her face, she started singing along and dancing in her seat, already forgetting about our argument. Singing happily, one arm flailing dangerously around the small space as she danced, she made a right on to a small road packed with cars.

  “Sings a song sounds like she’s singing whoo whoo whoo…”

  I laughed at her despite myself, her natural cheerfulness bubbling over and filling the car with good humor. Ellen’s happiness was irrepressible. Wanting to be a part of her joy, even for an instant, I started singing along. Smiling at me in encouragement – glad I had stopped scowling – Ellen made another turn on to a smaller dead-end road overflowing with parked cars. As she slowed down to avoid hitting the cars, I looked at the houses that lined both sides of the cluttered road.

  The houses were old and stately, and looked as if they had been around forever and would continue to exist when everything else on the Earth was gone. Large, leafless, trees crowded the grassy yards, adding to the charm and stateliness of the houses. Even though the grass was brown with winter, I could tell that the yards were well-loved and manicured. I wondered how the houses would look in the spring or summer; if the trees shaded everything, creating a natural tunnel of green across the road, or if the empty flower boxes were a riot of color and heady scents.

  “And the days go by…like a strand in the wind…in a web that is my own…”

  I stopped singing as we pulled to a slow stop in front of a gothic-style white house set back from the road and away from the other houses. It was the last house on the dead-end road and was completely bordered by forest to the left and back. The house was larger than I had thought, with sharp angles and painted eaves accentuating the gothic style of it. I stared in amazement, not able to wrap my brain around the idea that this house, of all houses, was really ours. It was something out of a dream.

  “But the moment that I first laid eyes on him… all alone on the edge of seventeen…”

  “Is this it?” I asked over the song.

  Ellen turned the radio down. Her eyes moved over the white house, the many windows, the screened-in porch, even the stray cobwebs along the porch, as a thousand memories of growing up flooded into her brain.

  “Yeah, this was your grandparents’ house.” Her hands moved to turn off the ignition. “Our home,” she whispered softly, as if she couldn’t believe the words she was saying.

  Home. I couldn’t believe it either – it was such a foreign word to my gypsy nature – but I knew the word had a different connotation for her. This was the house she had been born in, the house she had grown up in, the house where she had experienced all her formative memories. It was the place she would always consider her original home, no matter what city we ended up in. I envied her that.

  Her home wasn’t just a place of fond memories, though. It was also the home she had run away from at fifteen. No one thought she would make it two months after she left, but she hadn’t touched foot here in almost eighteen years. Her parents hadn’t talked to her since her disappearance, not even when, two years later, she had called to tell them they were grandparents of a baby girl. It took a family friend and three phone calls to tell them about their granddaughter. The fact that someone outside the family knew just made it worse. They never forgave Ellen. I don’t know i
f they ever forgave me – I’d never met them.

  Why did they leave it to me? They couldn’t have forgiven me, I heard Ellen say very softly, mirroring my thoughts.

  I looked over at her, curious about her words for multiple reasons. Had she really said anything, or was it the voices in my head again? She had tears in her eyes, though her face didn’t give me any hints to if she had said the words aloud or not.

  “Are you okay?” I asked softly, putting my hand on hers.

  She wiped away the tears with a quick hand. “Just old memories….I can’t believe they left it to me after all this time. I thought…I thought they hated me. But this….”

  I patted her hand in comfort, trying to suppress my own feelings. I had just heard her thoughts again. I knew she hadn’t said the first part aloud. Plus, she had sounded different, the way people sounded in their thoughts. It was something I was still trying to come to grips with.

  Her physical voice was stronger, less echoed but confused, as she spoke again. “I mean, how did they even know where we were, Clare?”

  I could only shrug in response. I didn’t understand it either. She hadn’t told her parents what city she was in, hadn’t tried to contact them since she had told them about me, yet her father had left her the house in his will. It had come as a total shock when their lawyer, an old friend of Ellen’s from school, had tracked us down to tell us her dad had died and had left her the house, the money, everything. She had stayed away for two months, on edge and unsure of what to do, a part of her wanting to come back, another part terrified to. Thinking about it, I silently promised myself to not scowl again in front of her. She was going through enough without my childishness added on top.

  Collecting her thoughts, she said seriously, as if she thought she could will her promise into being, “I promise it’ll be different this time, Clare. It feels different, like we’re meant to be here, like we’re meant to stay, you know?”

  I resisted the urge to laugh, knowing she was being sincere. Ellen put a lot of stock in her feelings. She relied on them more than she did her brain. Even when her brain was telling her the logical thing to do, she went with her gut instinct without hesitation. It was maddening. I loved her for it.

  “Sure, Mom,” I agreed easily.

  She wiped the last of the tears away and glanced at the old house again, her eyes uncertain. Shifting the keys in her hands, she turned to the back seat full of our belongings, then back to the house. She didn’t move to get out of the car and I didn’t have to be a mind reader to know she was stalling.

  I laughed at her. “Did you want to go inside? Or did we come to stare?”

  “I’m scared to go in,” she admitted.

  “I know…I’ll be right here,” I promised.

  She nodded and inhaled a deep, calming breath. I turned and shoved at the passenger door – having to throw all of my weight against the rusty door before it budged – and stepped over the curb. I automatically pulled my leather jacket tighter around my shoulders, not expecting the way the wind cut through me. New York had been cold in the winter, but this cold was deeper, bone chilling, like an icy knife tearing into flesh and bone. It would be something else I would have to adapt to.

  Shivering, my breath curling up to the heavens in response to the cold, I turned to wait for Ellen. As I did, I noticed several faces peeking out at us from the houses up the street. I tried to return their stares, to show them I didn’t appreciate the gawking, but they melted out of sight when they noticed me looking. The occasional twitch of a curtain betrayed my audience as they switched to a more covert form of surveillance. I felt the scowl returning despite my promise to keep it at bay. I hated being spied on.

  Ellen joined me quietly, her eyes not straying from the house once; not noticing the curious eyes on both of us. I let her lead the way up the path and resisted the urge to turn back and return the stares. She stepped absently up the broad steps as if they were old friends and opened the door to the screened-in porch with practiced movement.

  Just as absorbed by her thoughts as she was, I looked around the small porch we had walked up to. Despite not wanting to get attached – we would move again soon enough – I couldn’t help but love the small swing and the wooden rocking chairs, which rocked slightly in time to the wind. The attraction to the swing and chairs was amplified by the fact that this place, this house, was a part of Ellen’s life I had never gotten to share with her. It was like walking into one of her memories.

  I turned at the sound of keys rattling; they were loud even over the wind that was blowing crisp air around us in fitful gusts. Ellen’s hands were shaking so badly she was having trouble getting the silver key in the lock.

  Taking pity on her, I took the keys and put the proper one in the lock for her, offering a smile for courage. She gave me a grateful look and took a second to stop her trembling. With another deep breath, she turned the heavy latch and pushed the door open slowly, as if she expected someone to jump out at her and yell “boo!” Each step she took on the wood floor was as if she was threading her way through a minefield, her sneakered feet tentative and unsure. A sudden roll of thunder from behind us made her jump, freezing her momentarily in place. When she was sure it was safe, she started walking again, and finally crossed the threshold of her childhood home.

  I followed her in quickly and shut the door behind me, cutting off the cool wind before it disturbed the peace of the inside.

  The bright, happy-looking interior was a surprise. From my vague impressions of my grandparents, whom Ellen didn’t talk about very often, I had thought the whole place would be decorated in grey and black, to reflect their unforgiving and unbending natures. Perhaps the decorator had not always been so unforgiving. Or had different hands decorated the room?

  On the left of the front door was the living room. The furniture, though bright and clean, was old and mismatched, collected piecemeal through years of hand-me-downs. Though antiques, the furniture was in perfect condition; a little too perfect. The room felt neurotically decorated, as if all the furniture had been arranged until it was in the perfect spot.

  Another archway led off from the living room, but I couldn’t see anything beyond where I was standing. I figured it was the dining room. Wide, wooden stairs that bridged the first and second stories were directly in front of me and separated the living room from a narrow hallway on the right side of the front door. The hall, which followed the length of the living room on the opposite side of the stairs, had two doorways along the right side. The first entrance was shut off by a heavy wooden door, but the second was broad and open and, from what I could tell, led into a bright, airy kitchen.

  My eyes roved around everything in a repeat, absorbing what I had missed. Despite it being beautiful, bright and elegant, everything having its proper place – line and form merging seamlessly – there was a definite air of neglect hanging around, like it hadn’t been lived in for years, rather than months. The cobwebs in the corners and the dust motes hanging in the air from our entrance, only added to this feeling.

  With my mind on the décor, and the feelings that this place had been abandoned a long time ago, I followed the hall to check out the rest of the house, and almost ran into Ellen. She had stopped abruptly next to the kitchen door.

  With one trembling hand, she touched the wall where a large photograph hung. I can’t believe they didn’t take this down, that was the year…

  “You okay?” I asked.

  I put a hand on her shoulder, not liking the tone of her thoughts, or the way she was trembling. Memories that correlated to the picture floated across my eyes, but they went by too fast for me to make sense of them. She turned to me and in her face I could see how painful it was for her to be in this beautiful, neglected, house. Her pain was startling. “I’m fine!” she lied.

  She suppressed the emotions I saw swimming in her eyes, but her thoughts betrayed her. Time in this house was the only thing that would make her ‘fine.’ As we looked at each ot
her, a silent understanding of this fact created a bridge of understanding. Ending the moment, she grabbed my hand.

  “Here!” With childish abandon, she started running down the hall, dragging me after her. Still holding on to me, she ran me up the stairs by the front door. Laughing at my laughter, she dragged me to the last door in a long hallway of doors. The upstairs was less open than the downstairs, but had a definite air of comfort the downstairs didn’t have. It felt more lived in and less like it had been abandoned.

  The white door we had stopped in front of had stenciled flowers along its edges and worn places along the bottom from years of opening and shutting. It definitely looked well-loved.

  Ellen released my hand and gestured grandly. “I promised you an awesome room as part of moving here….so, here it is.”

  I opened the heavy door curiously and saw another set of stairs leading up, only these were narrow and dark. I gave her a skeptical look, remembering the promise she had made, not able to help the doubt that a bedroom could make up for this hiccup of a town.

  “Go on!” She pushed me forward to get me moving.

  Everything was dark wood – the slanted ceilings, the floors, even the trim around the windows, yet it was open and bright due to the large windows on either side of the long room. Heavy beams supported the angled ceiling, giving me plenty of headroom and adding to the sense of space. It was perfect. No. It was beyond perfect.

  As I crossed the creaky floor, marveling at the architecture, a window seat running the length of the large windows urged me to sit down and enjoy the view it offered. Unable to resist, I leaned across the cushions – dust swirling in the air in response – and looked out the window. I spied a small backyard that was bordered by a forest of trees. It wasn’t the ocean, a city street, or a rooftop, but it would do.

  I smiled, glad to be so high up, and sat down on the bench, so I could focus on the rest of the room. A few boxes were scattered around, but it was mostly empty, except for a large forgotten bed in the far corner, and a brick chimney, which was in the center of the room. Ellen went over to the bed and plopped down familiarly. The grey light filtering in from the dirty window opposite me cast strange shadows on her face. The pain was still etched in her round face, but she smiled, changing the darkness of the shadows dancing on her face.

  “I hope you don’t mind using my old bed.” She patted it fondly causing another puff of dust to circle in the air.

  “I don’t mind in the slightest.”

  Like that mattered to me! I would have space – this room was larger than the entirety of our last apartment – and I would have privacy. While I didn’t mind being around Ellen, privacy was something I always enjoyed and craved – especially lately.

  “Do you like it?”

  Her thoughts rushed about the space in chaotic waves as she tried to focus on the present and suppress the past. One thought in particular caught my attention. Please say it’s good, even if you hate it, I need something to be good for you here.

  I smiled at her, genuinely pleased that I didn’t have to stretch the truth. “I love it. It almost makes up for moving.” I raised an eyebrow at her. “Almost.”

  She jumped off the bed, her good humor back. “I’m glad!” She raised an eyebrow at me. “Almost.” She hugged me fiercely and kissed my cheek, a silent ‘thank you’ for being there for her and for ending my reign of the scowl. “I guess we’d better get the things out of the car before it starts to rain,” she added.

  “Yeah,” I agreed already moving to the stairs.

  We passed through the house silently, and I felt Ellen slowly unwind, something about our conversation relaxing her. At the landing of the first floor, she was almost back to normal, normal enough to be worried about her stomach.

  “I’m starving,” she said as we walked out the front door together. “What do you say to Chinese?”

  “They have takeout here?” I asked skeptically.

  “Of course they do. Just because this is a small town doesn’t mean it’s archaic!”

  I turned and looked at her in disbelief. She laughed as she walked around me to unlock the trunk of the wagon. “Okay, okay! They have takeout, at least.”

  “Great!”

  As I unloaded the car, and Ellen talked in my ear to keep my thoughts off tomorrow, I could feel the neighbors’ eyes on me again, following my every movement. I didn’t have to stretch my imagination very far to wonder what these steadfast, unchanging, country folk thought of the strange looking Punk girl moving in next door. I knew for a fact what they were thinking. I sighed and lugged another bag onto my shoulder, thinking that in any other town I would be invisible.

  After I finished piling everything into the living room, Ellen ordered Chinese food as promised and we put on the Chiller Channel to “Evil Dead,” one of our favorite movies. We laughed over the horrendous special effects and made fun of the actors as we ate our better-than-expected food.

  When we finished dinner, we started the process of unpacking and cleaning. It would take weeks, really, to make this place feel like a home again, but after a couple hours of hard work, it began to look like a real house, rather than the forgotten memory of one. The cobwebs and dust motes were gone, at least.

  After I had arranged my room with some spare furniture from downstairs, and cleaned off the dirty windows, I went to the window seat and looked out into the darkness. Ellen’s thoughts were dimmed by the floor separating us, and, for the first time in hours, I had a reprieve from my curse.

  I was just starting to relax, managing to forget about my anxiety for tomorrow, when I heard a much different thought than Ellen’s. It was rough, filled with excitement: She’s here! It worked!

  I sat up, the strength of the voice alarming. I craned my neck to see below. Was someone trying to break into the house? Dark shadows cast swaying branches on the abandoned dark lawn. There was no one there.

  Yet, the voice continued. Lady Cassandra will want to know…

  The eager voice trailed away.

  I waited for a moment, straining to hear more. The sudden silence was repressive. Strange…

  I rubbed at the goose bumps on my arm and put my feet on the floor, adrenaline surging through me. Should I call the police? I laughed at the thought, and shook my head. And tell them what? That I heard a scary thought?

  Searching for an answer in my large room, I caught sight of the alarm clock by my bed. My stomach sank around the weirdness of the thought I’d just heard. It was time for bed.

  As I brushed my teeth in the small bathroom at the other end of the hall, I realized I wouldn’t get much sleep. It wasn’t a pleasant prospect to look forward to, but pacing around would only keep Ellen up. She had an important day tomorrow too. It was her first day at the law office where she would act as secretary for the same lawyer who had tracked us down to tell us about the will. His old secretary had quit during his search for us, and he had told Ellen the job was hers if she decided to move back. I had thought it funny he would hold a job for her, but the blush in her cheeks when I asked her about it was enough to let me know that Sam Lawson, lawyer to the people of King’s Cross, North Carolina, and Ellen had a longer history than I had originally thought.

  I said goodnight to Ellen, trying to hide how upset I was about tomorrow, and went upstairs to dwell as quietly as I could.

  I crawled into bed and listened to the sound of rain whooshing through the night air for a while. Here, at the apex of the house, the rain seemed very close, almost as if there were no walls separating me from the storm. I would never have admitted it to anyone, but it was a bit scary how the shadows stretched the length of the long room, how the trees made odd shapes on my walls, and how the rain, aided by the chilly wind, tore angrily into the side of the house. With the neglect I had noticed earlier, and the shadows that danced around my room, it felt as if I was in a haunted house. It didn’t help that Ellen was acting haunted by being here.

  For the first time since driving into this ti
ny, God-forsaken town, I felt my emotions threatening to unravel and betray me. Not able to stand it, I threw off the covers and went over to the window seat. I figured that if I could see the trees that were casting shadows on my walls, I would calm down long enough to get some sleep. I didn’t hear any more strange thoughts coming from my lawn, just the rush of wind and popping of wood.

  As I sat there looking over the swaying trees, my knees tight against my chest, I came to the resolution that I wouldn’t let this place, this town, beat me. I was stronger than that.

  I pressed my head against the frosted glass, not knowing what to expect but resolved in the knowledge that one way or another I would deal with it.

  I always did.

  Chapter 2

 
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