Undead horrors abound in a sleepy New England Town.
Reporter Jess McCall seems to have it all – a great career, money, fame - but what the intrepid reporter really desires is to finally mend fences with her younger, wild-child sister Amanda. When Amanda suddenly disappears, Jess reluctantly returns to her hometown of Ebony to investigate. There her efforts are stymied by the uncooperative Chief of Police and Amanda’s employer, a respected pillar of the community. Undaunted and unconvinced by their blasé attitude, Jess delves deeper into the circumstances behind Amanda’s disappearance, an action that partners her with Frankie Marshall, a reporter with secrets of his own.
A series of other odd disappearances prompts them to wonder if Amanda’s might not be linked as well, and they begin an inquiry that soon uncovers, among other things, their attraction to one another, a realization complicated by the appearance of Jess’s ex-boyfriend. Old passions take second place to the drama unfolding around them, and they find themselves drawn deeper into an investigation that leads them to an abandoned factory in the woods just outside Ebony. There, they find they must confront undead horrors and the insane madman behind them in order to save Ebony…and themselves.
Amanda never saw it coming.
She was exhausted after a long day in court—who ever said court stenographers had it easy? Her fingers ached from pounding away on her stenographer machine, and there was a knot in her back from hours of sitting. She hoped she wasn’t assigned to Judge Mason again. He was a real pain in the ass, and his lengthy addresses to the jurors made her tired.
But the trial was finally over. They’d found the defendant guilty, and now his lawyer would probably appeal. Well, lots of luck. Luck was something she was desperately in need of, too.
Her answering machine indicated she had six messages. She hit the “Play” button. The first three were various endorsements and advertisements. The fourth was from her sister, the usual “how’re you doing” call, the call she made weekly to appease all the pent-up guilt she surely felt over their neglected relationship. The fifth made her smile. It was from Grey Halleran. “You looked good today in court,” the young District Attorney’s voice was butter-smooth. “As a matter of fact, you look good every day. How about going out for coffee some time, Amanda? Call me.”
Things were looking up, after all.
The sixth message was a voice she barely recognized. It was brief, to the point, just two words. “You win.”
She hit the erase button for the first four, decided to save the last two. Her lips curved upward in a satisfied smile as she replayed the last message again.
It was a bittersweet end to a mediocre day, and right now Amanda knew just what would cap it all off…make her feel even better than that last message.
A nice, hot bubble bath.
She lay back in the tub, luxuriating in the feel of the bouncy bubbles as they settled on her skin. She reached over and picked up the dog-eared paperback she’d just started, one of Ann Rule’s. Ann Rule was her favorite true-crime writer. She loved to read about serial killers – an odd choice of hobby, one might think, but then again, Amanda McCall had never gone by the book in anything she said or did. Just ask my sister, she thought, although she was certain Jess had no idea how far she’d actually go to bring a plan to fruition. Her current one would surely shock her, she thought. She settled down in the warm water, blew a bubble out of the way, and turned to Chapter Ten.
Then she saw it.
The spider, brown and red, no bigger than a quarter, crawling along the yellow-tiled porcelain.
“Aah,” she let out a scream that would have wakened the dead. The book went flying across the tiled floor. Amanda jumped up in the tub and stood, dripping, bits of bubble clinging to her damp flesh.
Amanda hated insects. Spiders in particular.
The spider did not seem in the least upset by Amanda’s outburst. Instead, it continued crawling slowly up the tiled surface. To Amanda, it seemed as if the spider were laughing at her for being so afraid—after all, look at the difference in size!
Summoning up all her courage, Amanda reached over and, with the edge of one perfectly manicured nail, flicked the spider into the tubwater. The spider flailed around for a minute, then began to float on the surface of the water.
Amanda leaned over and regarded it curiously. “You’re dead,” she said flatly. “You have to be. You drowned.”
Amanda couldn’t bring herself to touch its body, so she fished it out with a soft sponge and laid it on the edge of the tub. She retrieved the book and then stepped back in the tub and settled down to enjoy the rest of her bubble bath. She thought about crushing the spider but just could not bring herself to do it. She looked at the inert form lying on the yellow sponge, and mentally congratulated herself on her bravery.
Once again, she opened the Ann Rule book and began to read.
The door to the bathroom creaked open. Amanda jumped, then laughed as her yellow cat Palestine padded into the room. The cat sat next to the tub, regarded Amanda with his wide green eyes.
“You’d be proud of Mommy, Pally,” she said to the cat. “Mommy killed a big bad spider.”
The cat cocked his head at her as if to say, “big deal.”
Amanda laughed. “Hey, it is, bucko. It’s more than you ‘ve done around here, lately.”
She slid a glance to the side of the tub and sucked in her breath.
The yellow sponge lay there, but it was bare.
The spider had disappeared.
She leaned over the edge, surveyed the floor. No sign of it.
Amanda shrank back against the side of the tub. “It crawled away? How? He was dead. He had to be! He fell right in the water, and floated around! He was dead!”
Well, the minute she got out of the tub, she was going to get on the computer and do some research on spiders.
Evidently, some of them could swim underwater.
“Pfft!” Palestine sat back on his haunches. His lips drew back, revealing his incisors in a very unlovely cat snarl.
“What’s with you? I’m the one adrift in a spider’s swimming pool,” Amanda growled. She ignored the cat, who turned and still hissing, ran from the room. She looked after him and shook her head.
“Gives new meaning to the phrase, “fraidy cat,” she chuckled, determined to forget about the spider incident and continue along with Ann’s account of a psycho killer hunting for his former wife in Texas. She leaned back and within a few minutes was completely absorbed in the book.
So absorbed, she didn’t hear the soft chanting that began right underneath her bathroom window.
She turned the page to begin Chapter Eleven and paused. A sound, not unlike the hiss of a snake, reached her ears.
Snake? There were no snakes here! The hiss came again, followed by a stinging sensation at the back of her neck. She reached around and her hand closed over something hard and flat. She gave a sharp tug, and then looked at the object in her palm.
“What in God’s name?” She turned the dart over in her hand. Is he responsible for this? Well, then, if that’s his game, I’m getting the hell out of here—right now. A sudden sensation of being watched washed over her. She slowly raised her eyes and focused on the edge of the tub.
The spider, now as big as a toy poodle, crawled along the edge of the tub, its tentacle outstretched, headed in her direction.
Amanda stifled the scream that rose involuntarily to her lips. She jumped up, splashing water all over the tiled floor of the bathroom. She cowered against the back of the tub, staring in shocked disbelief.
“Can’t be,” she muttered. “Can’t be. Can’t be.” Amanda looked around for a weapon.
The spider inched closer.
“Can’t be,” she cried again. “Not real. This isn’t real. This can’t be happening.”
Outside the chanting reached a crescendo, but Amanda did not hear it. She pressed herself against the back tiled wall and began to cry softly.
“My God,” she whispered. “It was true, wasn’t it? It was all true.” She ran her tongue over lips that were dry with fear. “Please, please. I’ll do anything you want. Make it stop. Make it stop.”
Then the spider jumped.
Amanda swung her body to the left to avoid it, but instead shot forward as her foot slipped in the slick water. She fell hard, cracking her skull on the porcelain of the tub as she went down.
Is this what it’s like to die? It’s not supposed to end like this! Those thoughts filtered through her brain…then, nothing.
Amanda McCall lay still, sprawled half-in, half-out of the tub, her wide, sightless eyes staring at nothing, Ann Rule’s book still clutched between her stiff, cold fingers.
Outside, the chanting stopped. A few minutes later the pad of soft footsteps could be heard in the hallway. The bathroom door slowly inched open. A shadow fell across Amanda’s body. The only sound now was the steady drip, drip, of the bathroom faucet.
One swift motion, and the faucet was turned off. It reached into the pocket of its loose jacket, removed a gleaming knife, and reached for Amanda’s lifeless wrist.
The incision was swift. The specter put the knife to its lips, rolled its tongue over the blade, licking the flecks of red blood. Replacing the knife in its pocket, the shadow hefted Amanda over its shoulder as if she were no more than a sack of potatoes, then made its way out as quietly as it had entered.
In the living room the phantom figure paused before the phone, bent down, hit the button on the answering machine.
“You have two old messages.”
The shadowy form listened to the messages, then a hand snaked out, pressed the erase button.
The cat watched the intruder leave, his mistress in tow. He hopped lightly up on the couch and settled next to the answering machine, its rumble of a purr the only sound in the house that had become as still as death itself. .