Callum Blackwater thinks his life can’t get any worse. But he’s wrong.
Callum never felt like seeing the dead, but they kept haunting him. The only thing that helped him not see them was a diary he had found in the basement of his house.
When his friend Nathan is reported missing and a severed hand is found in the forest, Callum gets a hint as to who might be behind it all.
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK
I step inside a Shadow. It’s a black-and-white movie with no sound. I watch those who have only a few moments to live. While the rest of the world passes by sightless, I see them dying, screaming into silence as if they call for me to help them, and I just stand and watch death taking them.
The Shadow lasts for only a few moments, and then the movie is over. Everything becomes colorful again, but I know the people I just saw will soon be dead.
Darkness closed in on Nathan and me as we trudged through the mush of fallen leaves. The ground was a mosaic of vibrant red and yellow, with a few patches of brown here and there. Sponge-like moss shriveled under my feet, and as I took another step, icy cold water trickled into my new sneakers.
“Dammit!” I jerked my leg up but the sneaker was already soaked.
“C’mon, Callum,” Nathan urged, exasperated at my slowness. “We’re nearly there.”
Nathan hadn’t told me what he wanted me to see. As usual, he’d said, “You have to see this, Callum.”
Did I have any other choice? As we threaded our way through the darkening swamped forest I wondered why I’d listen to him and go wherever he wished.
“How much farther are we going?” I asked, with as much irritation as I could muster.
He rolled his eyes and pointed ahead with his index finger. “It’s there.”
I hadn’t been to the forest very often, but each time I approached it, goosebumps popped all over my arms and back. This time was no exception. My heart began racing like mad, as if warning me we’d encroached on someone else’s territory. Someone we shouldn’t disturb.
Nathan turned his head left and right, then exclaimed, “Here it is at last!”
Twenty yards ahead of me, he crouched and started inspecting something, and I still couldn’t see a thing. When I reached him, I gulped, cold fear sliding down my limbs.
“Holy crap!” I muttered. “What the hell is that?!”
It looked like a pool of blood. Not just a few grass blades flecked with it, but—as I looked farther—a whole field filled with dark, crimson liquid. I gulped another time and the hairs on my neck stood on end. I turned around to check no one was watching us—I’d had a feeling someone’s eyes were on me, and I didn’t appreciate it that much.
“I came across it yesterday. Wicked, right?” Nathan looked up at me, fascination sparking his eyes. “Seems to have grown even bigger.”
“Looks like blood,” I voiced my fear at last, a shiver traipsing down my spine.
Nathan stood up, his eyebrows knotted. “Oh, come off it. There’s too much of it in here. And where’s the body? Or bodies?”
I let out a nervous laugh, trying to soothe my nerves—I hadn’t seen a Shadow so far, which was a good sign. But why was I afraid to see one? They only happened when someone was about to die, not any other way.
I picked up a dried stick from the ground and poked the crimson substance with it. Nothing happened at first, but when I tried to retrieve the stick, it wouldn’t budge. The liquid around it started gurgling.
“Uh-oh,” I said, letting go of the bloodstained piece of wood.
“What have you done?” Nathan hollered.
“N-nothing,” I stammered. “We’d better go, man.”
“You think?” He gave me a sarcastic look.
I took a step back, watching the stick sinking slowly into the syrupy liquid. When it was about to disappear, a bony hand shot out from where a stick had just been and gripped my right ankle in a fierce vice.
I screamed like never before. Raw instinct to survive spurred me to wriggle the leg out of the grip, but the skeleton fingers were too strong for me, felling me to the ground. Nate tugged at the sleeve of my jacket, and instead of helping me set free, he was sliding into the pool of blood together with me. I raked the ground with my fingers, soil getting under my nails, yet I sunk deeper and deeper.
When I thought there was no hope for me, I saw my chance.
“The log! Take the log!” I pointed to a dried bough lying within easy reach of us. Nate let go of me, sprinted towards the log, picked it up, hopped back to where I writhed, and thrust it into the place
where the thing manacled around my ankle was supposed to be. To my disbelief, after a few thrusts the hand let go, and I scrambled out, helped by Nate’s trembling hands.
We bolted away from the place without looking back. I couldn’t care less about my sneakers or jeans covered with dirt. All I could think was: Get away from that fricking hand.
After a few minutes we slowed down a bit, breathless and shaking.
“What was that?” I asked in between gasps as we entered Craven Street, my voice raspy.
“No frickin’ idea,” Nate replied. “Right before this thing grabbed you, I think I saw a face.”
I raised an eyebrow at him. Judging by his restless eyes and ashen complexion, I knew he was holding something back.
“Do you remember the missing boy I told you about? Greg Thornby?”
I didn’t like where this was going.
“I think it was him there.”
I vaguely remembered the story. A boy had gone missing a month before Mom, Beverly, and I moved to Whitecross Town, but now it caused goosebumps all over me. His body hadn’t been found after a few weeks’ search, and the inquiry was dropped. What if Nate was right? What if it was Greg there?
We walked down the street in silence. I was a real mess, with the blood stains and dirt over my jeans.
Now I’ll have to come up with something to tell my mom, I thought grimly.
My thoughts were interrupted by the voice I hated more than the sound of nails screeching against a whiteboard.
“Well, well, well, little Callie’s got poop all over himself. Did you do it to him, Rushmore?”
Cheering and clapping followed the remark.
I turned around, my teeth clenched. A group of teens were catching up with us. I knew they were only half a year older than me, but they were a gang of thugs compared to me and Nate. Stan Crosby, the boy who spoke, was in the center, flanked by four boys and girls on either side. They made my life a living hell. During the short time I’d been in Whitecross, he’d given me a couple of black eyes, tripped me whenever he saw me, and humiliated in every possible way. The son of the school principal, he easily got away with it, and I didn’t feel like blabbering about every one of his
pranks to my mom. Just had to live with it.
“Back off, Stan, or—” Nathan snarled, taking a step towards the group.
“What? Are you going to kick me?” Stan’s group produced another round of cheering and
“I’ll make sure you will.” Nate balled his fists and took another step.
I grabbed him by the sleeve and whispered, “He isn’t worth it. You’ll only get another detention.” To my relief, Nate didn’t argue.
“Right, Nate, listen to the loser.” Stan folded his arms, a lopsided grin playing on his face. “You are lucky we are not in the mood for kicking your sorry asses today. But we will next time, I promise.” He turned to his cronies. “Come on, guys, let’s go.”
They rushed past us, Stan giving me a hard push with his shoulder. I tried my best not to flinch, even though the push hurt as if his shoulder was made of rock.
As their silhouettes and voices retreated into the distance, Nate and I stood watching them.
For a few minutes, I even forgot about the hand that tried to drag me into the swamp. But something told me my bad luck for the day wasn’t over yet. If all the bad things were bound to happen to me all at once, they would, and today would be the day.
“Let’s go,” Nate said. “Wayne and Audrey are waiting for us.”
Whitecross Town was a small godforsaken place, fringed for the most part by an ancient forest. The old townsfolk said it used to be a village whose first two streets formed a cross. They added “white” to the name because of the soil rich in chalk. As time passed and the village turned into a small town, a few more streets appeared here, but the name stuck.
The two-story cottage where my mom, me and my sister, Beverly, moved to was perched on what Whitecross people called the Crossroads. That was where Nathan and I headed right now. As the horrors of today played back in my mind, I decided to break the silence.
“Are we going to tell the guys what happened?” I asked.
“Sure. What if it was Greg there? We’ve got to find out what the hell’s happening there.” He offered me a humorless smile, a sign he was being serious.
That was Nathan. Never reasonable, always dragging me into trouble.
“You don’t think he’s alive, do you?” I couldn’t help myself.
“We’ll have to make sure first.” He was serious, I had to admit to myself.
I started tsking and snapping my fingers, which I knew irritated him, but at least helped me distract myself from the haunting images of the blood in the forest.
“By the way, here they are."
Wayne and Audrey. Perhaps the two people I envied most of all in the whole world. Only a year older than me, they already held hands in public, kissed at the back of our school, and did who-knew-what-other things that I, the loner of Whitecross as I called myself, couldn’t afford because for starters I’d never even had a girlfriend. For a fifteen-year-old I had way too many things wrong about me, yet this one made me probably the most miserable.
Wayne and Audrey. Everyone at school compared them to Romeo and Juliet, and now that I saw them holding hands I wished it was me with Audrey instead of Wayne.
“Hey, guys!” Nathan called.
I shot an uncomfortable look at Audrey, mumbling a hardly audible ‘Hello’ then looked down as if in shame.
Well, did I mention I felt like a total loser when girls were around? With Audrey I was a real mess. She was special, a flawless angel with perfect auburn hair, and an aroma of peaches around her. I
turned into a vegetable. But what chance did I have to date such a girl? Zilch.
We set off going down the Hill, towards our secret place—the Underground—that was not far from my home. Located in the wood, it was a cellar from a long demolished house that Nathan had found a year ago. We used it as our regular meeting place during the nights.
“You won’t believe what we just saw in the swamps,” Nathan started his story, but I didn’t want to hear the continuation of it. As we were about to turn left, into Montague Street, the thing I feared
most in my existence happened.
A Shadow crept over me.
Nathan, Wayne and Audrey crumbled like dust in the wind, and the world faded to black and white in the blink of an eye.
At first I heard them. A low growling sound reverberated in my head. My throat lodged, as I watched them coming for me.
They whispered something I failed to make out. My insides wobbled with fear as I saw their mutilated faces; limbs broken and hanging limply. Rotten flesh failed to cover their uneven, yellow teeth. Drooling, they watched me with a hunger I’d never seen in a sane person’s eyes.
“Callum!” someone called out for me from a distance, and the Shadow was gone.
Nathan yanked me by the shoulder; I was shaking against his steady hand.
“Are you all right?” He looked at me, his eyebrows knotted.
I swiveled around to check if there were monsters behind me.
“Erm, yeah, sure,” I replied. “I just realized … I think I’m gonna go home. Just remembered I promised Mom I’d return earlier today.” That was a downright lie, but no one seemed to mind.
Letting go of my shoulder, Nathan shrugged. “Sure. If you change your mind, you know where to find us.”
I nodded, turned around and ran home as fast as I could.