His Scream Queen

Off
Brooklyn Ann

B Mine, book 3

Book Cover: His Scream Queen
Part of the B Mine series:

QUEEN FOR A NIGHT

When Lucio Argento is dumped by Amteep High’s most popular girl, he plots revenge in a way he's certain will crush her. He convinces Jamie Blair - the target of his ex’s bullying - into doing a makeover that will garner enough votes for her to be Prom Queen. What he doesn't expect is to fall for Jamie, or to become her willing accomplice in uncovering who is behind the spate of deaths of animals in their community.

When their classmates begin to die in the most horrific ways, Lucio and Jamie discover dark supernatural forces are at work, and unless they can conjure a miracle, everyone will die at Prom.

 

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Chapter One

January, 1984

Brittney Shaw allowed Brandon Teller to kiss her as the clock struck midnight. He’d be the perfect candidate to be her king at the prom if only he went to Amteep High instead of Sunnydale Prep. Looking at the glittering throng gathered in the Skeetshue Country Club ballroom, she wondered if she should have asked Daddy to transfer her to Sunnydale. But no, she’d went to public school with the same classmates since kindergarten, and they’d witnessed her transformation from a dull, stringy-haired, middle class girl to the rich, beautiful, popular princess she was today. And before graduation, those peers would see her change from princess to queen.

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Brandon snapped her attention back to the present. “My parents are still in Cabo. I can have my driver take us to my place if you want to go somewhere alone where we can… talk.” He trailed his fingertips across her collarbone.

“That’s very tempting,” Brittney purred. “But I have a headache. Maybe next time.”

Brandon’s protests chased her as she left the dance floor and had one of the club employees call her driver and bring her fur from the coat room. The employee brought the luxurious mink coat and even placed it over her shoulders.

The dolt didn’t take the hint, instead following her out onto the shoveled patio and down the slick flagstone steps. Rock salt crushed under the heels of her red leather Oscar de la Renta shoes as Brittney thought of how easily she could silence him forever if she felt like it.

Once she was delivered home to the gorgeous mansion on Lake Skeetshue that her father had purchased only two years ago, Brittany kicked off her shoes and raced up to her room. She only had a few more hours before her parents would return home from the party.

Quickly, she changed out of her puffed-sleeve red chiffon gown and into a ski outfit that was so two years ago. Something that she could easily throw away if it got too messy.

After grabbing the suitcase that she kept hidden in the back of her walk-in closet, Brittany went back out into the winter night. Her boots crunched over the frozen snow. Her nose and cheeks stung from the cold, but it couldn’t be helped.

This was the first day of the new year. A time when she had to give thanks for all she’d received the previous year and ensure the fortunes for this one.

The gardener’s shed was unused for the winter. Which made this ritual easier. In the summer, she had to store her sacrifices elsewhere.

The animal whimpered when she opened the door, but didn’t try to escape. It was too weak for that now. Instead, it allowed itself to be led to the birdbath in the backyard. Brittney set her suitcase on top of the glass-hard ice surface of the marble birdbath and opened it to reveal the tools that had helped her grant her every heart’s desire.

With practiced ease, she withdrew a large dagger and carved a pentagram in the snow around the birdbath. Then she placed red candles at every point and lit them. Opening one of the books she’d stolen from the library three years ago, Brittany chanted the words that summoned her own personal genie.

Scar rose up in front of the birdbath, looking more solid than he had the first time she called him forth from the netherworld. Long, sharply-pointed horns extended from his large head. His eyes glowed yellow, and his massive jaw was filled with sharp teeth.  The animal let out a piteous squeal and tried to flee, but Brittany was used to this part of the ritual.

Still gripping the knife she’d used to carve the pentagram, she slit the creature’s throat.

Steaming blood sprayed through the air, glittering in the moonlight. Just as she’d expected, crimson droplets splattered on her ski-suit, more than a stain removal spray could handle. She’d have to burn the outfit.

Brittney extended her hands and chanted the ritual words, “Oh, Scarlionapskhis, scourge of the soulless, most infernal, please accept this blood sacrifice as a token of my gratitude for the favors you’ve bestowed on me and as a gift in exchange for making me beautiful.”

The demon inclined its head sardonically and fell upon the still twitching body of the sacrifice.

Brittney used to gag when Scar devoured the animals she’d killed, but after so many years, she was so used to the sight and aftermath. Now, she only wiggled her numbing toes in her snow boots, impatient for the ritual to be over with.

When Scar finished dining, he fixed Brittany with yellow glowing eyes. His growling voice sounded like a rabid dog coughing up shards of broken bones. “Do you have a wish you want me to grant?”

“Not tonight.” Brittany did not fall into the trap. She had quickly learned not to get too greedy with the demon. Not only because it would grow angry with her if she demanded too much too soon, but also, because she didn’t want him to make her owe a debt before she was ready to pay it.

Wishes called for careful consideration, cautious wording, meticulous ritual, and a proper sacrifice.

“This night, I gave you this gift and now allow you to return to your realm in peace.” Brittany then said the guttural words that banished the demon before she blew out the candles.

She then lit a sage bundle and trailed the smoke behind her as she kicked snow over the pentagram. After packing her candles and knife away in the suitcase, she hauled the grisly remains of the sacrifice over to the edge of the cliff where the back yard ended and kicked it over the edge, where it sank into the black waters of the lake below.

Back inside, she stripped off the bloody clothes and tossed them in the fireplace. The smell of burning nylon wrinkled her nose. She hoped it dissipated before her parents got home.

After a luxurious soak in a hot bubble bath, Britney changed into a nightgown and settled into her king-size four poster bed.

Her parents’ drunken laughter carried from downstairs.

Mother spoke in a fake, Zsa Zsa Gabor-wannabe voice she’d been affecting lately. “Can you believe that Cora Neery dared to show her face at the gala tonight? I would have thought that she would be persona non grata after the incident at the charity ball last month. Some people have no sense of class.”

Brittney’s father cleared his throat and spoke in a grating, patronizing tone. “The Neerys have more money, and are friends with Mr. Hogadane, Punkin. They’ll always be able to behave as they like. Unlike us, who weren’t allowed among their ranks before my promotion.”

“Well, I still think she’s a tacky hussy,” Mother sniffed. Daddy must have made some sort of expression of disapproval, for Mother’s voice shifted back to normal. “I am of course grateful for the improvement of our circumstances. You’ve worked so hard for our family.”

They have me to thank, Britney thought furiously. If I hadn’t learned the mysteries of the occult and called forth Scar, Dad would still be a junior at Woodward & Paulson instead of being a full partner, and Mom would have been getting her manicured nails dirty working at the jewelry counter at J.C. Penny. We still would have lived in that ugly subdivision on Locust Lane, and the doors of Hogadane’s country club would still be slammed in their faces.

But it wasn’t her parents’ misfortunes and mediocrity that had motivated Brittney to check out that book at the library on casting spells. It was the desire that every fourteen-year-old girl had.

To be pretty.

Brittany still didn’t know if the spells from that first book had actually worked, though just enough things that she wanted happened to make her think it wasn’t coincidence. Her acne had cleared, and her hair did seem a little thicker, and the other girl competing for a spot on the cheerleading squad had indeed suffered a terrible fall and broken her ankle. That was enough to delve further. That first book mentioned the possibility of summoning spirits to do one’s bidding, so Brittany looked up books on that. Most were full of useless ghost stories, but one directed her to exactly what the spell book had promised. Only this book referred to the spirits as demons. Brittany had felt one icy shiver prickle the back of her neck before tossing her hair and deciding that it didn’t matter what they were called, only that they gave her what she wanted.

Months of chants, arcane symbols and a pentagram drawn on her bedroom floor beneath her rug, three dead mice and four dead rabbits later, she brought forth Scarlionapskhis for the first time. All of the demon’s names were impossible to pronounce, that was the first challenge in summoning them.

Brittany called her demon “Scar” for short, but learned quickly that demons did not appreciate nicknames.

The first wish Scar granted was for her dad to have enough money to buy a new wardrobe from the J Crew and Esprit catalogs she and her friends pored over. That wish was granted when one of the partners of Woodward & Paulson Law Firm committed suicide, and her father was made into a full partner.

The wardrobe got Brittany a foot in the door with the A crowd at school, but since the queen bees, Heather Price and Susan Meyer were part of the country club set, Brittney’s family had to be as well.

That wish was granted when her grandmother died shortly after visiting, leaving Brittney’s mom a small fortune, and around the same time, her father landed a prestigious client, gaining the Shaws their coveted invitation to Hogadane’s country club. Wayne Hogadane was the richest man in Amteep, maybe even the northwest. He owned the most prestigious country club, two giant lake cruise boats, the Amteep Resort, the Amteep Press, and some said, the entire town. Becoming part of Hogadane’s social sphere guaranteed prestige.

Brittney never returned the library books. She couldn’t stand the idea of someone else gaining the power she had. Besides, she reasoned, if these books fell into the wrong hands, good people could be hurt. Because demons demanded sacrifices. And while Britney only offered up creatures that wouldn’t be missed and people who were bad, like her father’s mistress, someone else might not be so discerning.

COLLAPSE

Her Haunted Heart

Off
Brooklyn Ann

B Mine, Book 2

Book Cover: Her Haunted Heart
Part of the B Mine series:

Keynote:

When an aspiring artist inherits a haunted house, it will take the help of the cute nerd next door, the crazy recluse down the street, and a cat named DeLorean to drive the evil out.

Tagline: When things go bump in the night…

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When Zelda Shaye inherits the infamous Sazerac House, she immediately senses that something’s not right about the ancient mansion. Strange noises interrupt her sleep, the garbage disposal has it out for her father, and things move on their own.

Zelda’s hot neighbor, Tobe Friedkin, confirms her suspicions when he tells her that the house is known by everyone to be haunted and that members of the Sazerac family suffered mysterious deaths until they were wiped out, leaving Zelda left as the last female descendent to inherit the legacy…and the family curse.

Zelda’s parents won’t believe her, so it’s up to her and Tobe, with the help of the crazy cat lady down the street, to lay the unquiet spirit to rest before it’s too late.

Excerpt:

Chapter One

Amteep, Idaho, I981

He dreamed about the house again.

Even though the Greek Revival-Victorian-Italianate-hybrid mansion on the corner of Sazerac Street and Bourbon Court was next door to the simpler split-level ranch house Tobe lived in, the Sazerac House always gave him the impression that it was in another world entirely.

The sense of otherworldliness remained whenever he looked at the house, whether awake or dreaming. A forbidding energy emanated from the light blue-gray wood siding and darker blue-gray trim. The tall leaded glass dormer windows gleamed with a sentient light. Long, graceful columns, painted the same dark blue-gray as the trim, propped up a covered porch that spanned the entire front of the house. Three levels high, with slate-shingled mansard rooftops and four chimneys, the house dwarfed every other property on the street.

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As he stood on the wide flagstone walkway leading up to the elaborately carved oak front door, Tobe only knew this was a dream because Cecile Sazerac, the matriarch and last member of the doomed family, sat in her dead brother’s rocker outside, watching him through milky, bluish cataracts. Cecile had died of old age two weeks ago. In real life, the house stood empty, locked tight as a fortress.

Cecile lived on in his dreams, beckoning him as surely as the house did.

“That house is cursed,” old Mrs. Waters from around the corner had told Tobe one hot summer day last year after he had mowed her lawn.

As always, the eccentric cat lady had beckoned him to the shade of her gazebo, where a pitcher of ice-cold lemonade and a plate of snickerdoodles waited. The envelope with Tobe’s pay sat on the edge of the Formica table, not to be handed over until he chatted with the old woman for at least ten minutes. At first, he’d been annoyed that she did that to him. After finishing his hired task, he’d wanted to take the promised money and run home to get ready to spend it on books, music, or a night at the movies. Being held hostage by a chattering granny with six cats milling around his ankles had not been his idea of an afternoon well spent.

But he quickly discovered two things that changed his mind: The first was that Edith Waters was painfully lonely. She didn’t have any children and her husband had died ten years ago. No one ever came to visit her, so Tobe was the closest thing she had to a friend, aside from her six cats. Guilt tore at him when he’d come to that realization. If eating her delicious cookies and sitting with her for ten measly minutes gave her such joy, he vowed that the least he could do was try to stay longer.

The second thing he discovered, when he actually started listening to the stories Edith Waters told him, was that the old woman was an interesting person. And she knew things. A lot of things. Like what times Officer Higgins around the block did his nightly patrol through the neighborhood before he returned home to sleep the day away. Useful information when you were a teenage boy sneaking out at night long past curfew, and still useful when you were an adult with other plans. Mrs. Waters also told him that the Hurleys were swingers, the Bawdens were potheads, and that Mr. Arenson had terrible insomnia.

And she knew about The House.

“What do you mean, cursed?” Tobe had asked, trying to conceal his excitement.

Mrs. Waters had scooped Kirk, a brown and gray marbled tabby with a white belly and mismatched socks, onto her lap and scratched him behind his ears. “I mean exactly that. The ground it was built upon was drenched in blood, and people have died since the day the first nail was hammered. The Sazeracs used to be a large and prosperous family. Ten members of the clan lived in that house at one time. The house picked them off one by one. And now Cecile is the last.”

Tobe had listened as Mrs. Waters painted a macabre history of the family who built the place. The Sazeracs, who doubled their fortunes from bootlegging during prohibition, seemed to be doomed to misery. Mysterious deaths claimed some, others disappeared, and at least two went insane, imprisoned in their own minds. Edith claimed that the house had at least four ghosts, and probably more.

His new friend’s stories had doubled his fascination with the Sazerac House. So much that he went to the library and dug up every bit of information on the family and house that he could find. By the time his senior year at Amteep High School had started, Tobe had become an expert on the house next door. And by Christmas break, he’d become obsessed.

The drive to get inside the Sazerac House consumed him. His first few attempts failed. An offer to mow the lawn was declined despite the overgrown grass and tangled garden, and Tobe’s offer at selling candy for a school fundraiser resulted in the elaborate oak front door slamming shut in his face.

But two months ago, Tobe achieved successful entry with honesty. He told the old woman that he’d fallen in love with her house and would love to see the inside, even if it was only the foyer.

Cecile Sazerac squinted at Tobe for a moment before nodding. Her cataracts had gotten so thick that she didn’t seem to recognize him. “Very well, young man. I haven’t had living company since my dear brother shuffled off his mortal coil, so I may as well share a cup of tea with you.”

For a moment, Tobe gaped at her, disbelieving that she would allow him inside and blinking at her odd phrasing. Living company? Did that mean that Edith was right and the house was haunted?

“Shut your mouth before you catch a fly,” Cecile had said drily. “Follow me.”

Tobe passed through the doorway into the shadowed foyer and a shiver darted down the back of his neck. Cobwebs wove through the arms of the wrought-iron coat tree, and the black and burgundy fleur de lis patterned rug beneath his feet was faded and worn. He followed Cecile into a large open room that was illuminated by a brass and crystal chandelier, and full of sheet-covered furniture that resembled Halloween ghosts. Paintings of dour ancestors from the previous century hung on the wall beside a huge stone fireplace.

The dining room was in a similar state of disuse, with sheets on the chairs, cobwebs strewn through another chandelier, and a vast dust-covered table that could seat thirty people. He wished he could peek to see what kind of chairs they were. Chippendales? American Victorians? The big cabbage roses on the late-nineteenth-century wallpaper resembled staring faces.

“Come along.” Cecile’s cane had thumped on the heart pine hardwood floor. “You may join me in the parlor for tea and then you may leave.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Tobe hurriedly obeyed, not wanting to risk her changing her mind and having that big butler/handyman muscle him away. Or worse, for her to call the police, as she’d threatened one of the previous times he’d tried to get inside the house.

The parlor was spotless, with gleaming hardwood floors, plush antique rugs, and fancy objets d’art in an elaborately carved hutch. Instead of dour Sazerac ancestors scowling on the walls, paintings of landscapes and nature added to the room’s welcoming comfort. With the afternoon sunlight streaming in the large bay windows, Tobe saw how old and frail Cecile had become. All those years seeing her watering her azaelas every morning had made his subconscious believe that she was ageless.

But sitting across from her in a velvet wingback chair allowed him to see the truth. Ms. Sazerac’s time was running out. Wrinkled skin, thin as tissue paper, revealed blue veins beneath, her hollowed cheeks were framed with bones that looked sharp enough to cut, and her gossamer white hair with pink scalp showing beneath overwhelmed the faint streaks of red.

“I suppose you’ll ask me if I killed Louis.” Cecile’s words disrupted Tobe’s perusal of her features.

Tobe blinked at the abrupt turn in conversation. “No, ma’am.”

He remembered Louis, the catatonic old man who’d sat outside in the rocking chair on the wide covered porch, staring blankly out at the street. Children would sometimes try to taunt him, but quickly gave up when they got no reaction. A maid came out every twenty minutes to wipe the drool from his chin. Tobe had timed the routine once.

Edith had told Tobe that Louis had once been a wild, rebellious man and a notorious drug dealer, but after multiple times being committed to asylums and several shock treatments, he became a vegetable for the last two decades of his life. He’d died in the winter of 1976.

The old woman pulled him back into the present and continued as if Tobe hadn’t objected to the idea of her committing fratricide. “It doesn’t matter one way or another, since I’ll be dead before the lilacs bloom, but I didn’t kill my brother or my niece. The house took one, the demon took the other.”

“The demon?” Tobe echoed. Edith had mentioned a curse, but not a demon.

For a moment, Cecile stared through Tobe, as if trying to find someone inside him. Then she shook her head and made a shooing motion with one wrinkled hand covered in rings. “Go wash your hands. Dolores is about to bring in the tea and cakes. The bathroom is down the corridor, the second door on the right.”

As he’d made his way down the corridor to the bathroom, every bone in Tobe’s body itched with the need to race up one of the curved staircases to explore the bedrooms of the dead Sazeracs whose stories he’d read in the library.

But as his feet began to stray from the path he’d been directed to take, an icy gust of wind rifled through his hair. Goosebumps prickled his flesh. Was he going to see a ghost? A door across from him creaked open. Tobe sucked in a breath.

A woman in a starched uniform stared at him with narrowed eyes and a suspicious stare. She wasn’t as ancient as Cecile, but she was still old. Her white hair was twisted in a tight bun. She must be Dolores. “The bathroom is through that door. Best hurry. The mistress does not like to be kept waiting.”

Tobe nodded and obeyed, taking minimal time to admire the bathtub and the fixtures on the antique sink before hurrying back to the parlor.

The same old woman served Tobe and Cecile with a tray of tea and cookies. With some of the disturbing history he’d read, Tobe didn’t drink from his cup until Cecile had sipped from hers.

The old woman noticed, giving Tobe a wry smile. “The last poisoning to occur in this house was back in 1931. Besides, I wish you no harm, young man. In fact, I am hopeful that you may be useful in the future.”

“You mean to mow your lawn or to help with repairs?” The cornices over most of the bay and dormer windows were crumbling and the roof was in dire need of new shingles.

Cecile cackled, a dry reedy sound. “Oh, things are too far gone here to bother trying to improve. Leave that to the next one to bear this millstone.”

Tobe felt a twinge of sadness to hear her talk about this beautiful house in this way. How much tragedy and suffering had really occurred under this roof? He remained silent, watching the dust motes swirl lazily in the air, hoping Cecile would continue.

He was rewarded after an endless silence. She leaned forward and seized his hands with wrinkled, bejeweled fingers. “The curse must be broken and the demon must be imprisoned in iron.”

Wow. That was not what Tobe expected “The demon?”

“Iron,” Cecile repeated calmly, as if she were asking Tobe to rake the leaves from her yard. “That’s what they told me.”

Tobe’s arms had prickled with goosebumps at her words. “Who are they?”

Cecile shook her head and blinked rapidly, an unnerving sight, with those filmy cataracted eyes darting around blindly. “Dolores,” she cried out in a shrill voice. “Help me to my bed.”

The maid had rushed into the parlor and glared at Tobe as if he’d been responsible for the old woman’s sudden distress. “You had best leave.”

Tobe had never left a place faster.

***

It was that day Tobe dreamed about. Only this time, he went further.

The wood had creaked below his shoes as he’d ascended the west staircase, the one that led to Belinda Sazerac’s attic room. The one who’d famously gone mad, and been imprisoned for years before throwing herself from the window and falling to her death.

Suddenly, the whole house seemed to spin around him. Tobe clung to the bannister and closed his eyes, overcome with dizziness. When he opened his eyes, he stood before the attic room.

The door swung open before he could reach for the tarnished knob.

A woman in a white lace-trimmed nightgown stood in front of one of the large octagonal bay windows. She swayed back and forth, humming softly. The melody was haunting and somehow familiar.

Tobe held his breath and willed himself not to move. He knew on some primal level that if he saw the woman’s face, he’d lose his mind. Don’t turn around, his mind cried out. Please, for the sake of my sanity, don’t turn around.

The woman turned.

Her face was a corpse’s ruin, cheek and jawbones protruding through paper-thin flaps of desiccated flesh. Insects crawled through the tattered, yellow lace of her nightgown. Her eyes were covered with a rheumy film.

She grinned at Tobe, her brown teeth seeming to be too large for her cavernous face.

“I’ve been waiting for you, young scholar, future kin.” The words emerged in a dry rustle, wind through a tomb. “Help the bearer of the legacy. The demon must be contained.”

She reached for him and—

Tobe jerked awake, drenched in sweat despite the air conditioning blowing from the vent above his bed. He trembled as he rolled out of his queen-size bed and dug his clothes from the pile of clean laundry his mom had set on top of his dresser.

The dream was so intense that Tobe couldn’t stop reliving it, occasionally shivering despite the early June heat. After showering and eating breakfast, he rushed outside, eager to head over to Edith’s house to tell her about the dream. She was the only one who appreciated his obsession with the Sazerac House. His parents thought he needed to see a shrink.

As Tobe’s feet sank into the lush lawn, he froze when two cars parked in the driveway of The House. “Breaking the Law” from the latest Judas Priest album, British Steel, blared from the open windows of the second car, a shiny blue Datsun wagon. The new owners had arrived.

Edith had told Tobe about the family only last week, the day before he graduated high school. He’d been at school, cleaning out his locker, when two men had shown up at the house to look it over. Edith had used her granny-skills to get the story. The Sazerac family hadn’t been wiped out after all. Some distant relatives had been found, but Edith wasn’t told whether the family would be moving into the house. Tobe hoped they did. Especially since one of them clearly liked good music.

His wish had come true. Not caring if he was caught staring, he watched the driver’s side door of the Datsun wagon open and a pair of pale glorious legs step out onto the cobblestone driveway.

Tobe’s jaw dropped when he saw the rest of her. Tall and lean, with dark red hair tumbling over her shoulders, she was the most beautiful girl Tobe had ever seen. Black cutoff shorts hugged her slim hips; threads of denim caressed her shapely thighs. A black AC/DC shirt with the sleeves ripped off revealed slim arms and sculpted shoulders. Her vibrant stance and aura of open energy was the antithesis of the previous owner’s stooped posture and guarded air.

“I think I’m in love,” Tobe breathed.

As Tobe watched her walk to the back of her car and take a cat carrier from the wagon’s cargo area, the house behind her seemed to awaken from its uneasy hibernation.

As if sensing his staring, the beautiful redhead halted and spun on her heel to look at him. When her blue eyes met his, Tobe’s mouth went dry. An electric spark, teeming with stories of the future, jolted between them.

They would do great things together. They would—

Abruptly, she turned her back on him and headed up the walkway to the house. If her reaction to him was any indicator, his hopes of getting inside were crushed.

COLLAPSE

His Final Girl

Off
Brooklyn Ann

B Mine, book 1

ISBN: 978-1948029889

 

At summer camp, Wes and Linnea's new-found romance barely has a chance to survive as a masked killer goes on a rampage.

DON’T GO IN THE WOODS

Computer nerd, Wes Carpenter, dreads having to spend ten days at summer camp with the rest of his in-coming high school senior class. But when he meets strong-willed and confident farm girl, Linnea Langenkamp, everything about being away at camp improves immediately. When a malicious prank awakens an ancient evil, turning their summer romance into a bloodbath, Wes and Linnea pray they make it home alive while fighting for the survival of their classmates. With Wes’s ingenuity and Linnea’s knowledge of the forest, together they may be able to stop the killer, save the camp, and maybe even find their happily ever after on the way.

 

Excerpt:

Amteep, Idaho, 1978

 

Wes Carpenter wiped his brow as he turned the page of the latest issue of 80 Micro Magazine. Only twelve more lines of code and he’d be able to play Scarf Man, a game that was supposed to be an imitation of Pac Man. It was monotonous, typing in hundreds, sometimes thousands of characters into his computer, but some games could not be found on cassette at RadioShack. At least this method had helped him learn the computer’s language.

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Wes had gotten the TRS80 computer for Christmas last year, but hadn’t really gotten the hang of it until he’d fallen ill with a monster case of bronchitis, which morphed into pneumonia, then to mono. As a result, he’d spent nearly six months at home. The never-ending sickness had wreaked havoc on his asthma and cost him a school year, but there had also been a silver lining. Huddled in bed with issues of Byte and 80 Micro his father had gotten for him, and in the hours where he had the strength to get up, Wes used his time to gain knowledge and mastery of the computer.

His breath tightened as he typed the final line of code. If Wes missed one character, the game wouldn’t run. Reaching for his inhaler, he waited for the computer to process the code. Once he took a deep puff of acrid, chemical-flavored moisture, the pressure on his lungs loosened, and he was able to breathe again. Still, he remained tense through the endless waiting for the computer to process the commands. Five minutes later, the screen flickered and music began to play as the title and copyright date appeared on the black and white monitor.

“Yes!” Wes pumped both fists in the air.

As his fingers reached for the arrow keys to move Pac— er— Scarf Man, his mother opened his bedroom door.

“Wesley.” Mom’s voice was brusque as she strode into the room. She was probably going to complain that his computer was giving her radio static again. Sometimes his computer did that. But her radio was portable. His computer was not. If she took her radio outside, or even into the kitchen, she wouldn’t have trouble.

“I have some news for you.”

Relief washed over him that she wasn’t going to bug him about his computer again. “I’m a little busy, Mom. Can’t it wait?”

“No, it can’t. You’ve been locked in here with that silly, bleeping thing for months. You can take a moment to talk with me.” Laurie Carpenter was normally an easygoing, cheerful mom, but now Wes heard the rare thread of steel in her voice.

Leaving the Player One screen flashing, Wes turned down the volume on the monitor. “Okay. What’s the news?”

“You’re going to summer camp.” Mom beamed like the wheel-spinning woman on The Price is Right.

“What?” Wes rubbed his eyes, wondering if this was some kind of joke. “I’m too old for that stuff.” His nineteenth birthday was last week.

“It’s tradition up here for the senior class to go to camp and get to know each other before school starts,” Mom explained, ignoring Wes’s protest. “I think it sounds lovely. Especially since you haven’t gotten to know anyone since we moved to Amteep.”

Wes thought it sounded like a stupid tradition. “Spending ten days with my classmates before school starts will feel like going back to school early.” He wanted to spend those last two weeks earning money at his job at the movie theater, and at home with his computer.

“Spending the rest of the summer cooped up inside is bad for you.” Mom wagged her perfectly manicured finger at him. “Furthermore, you could stand to make new friends.”

“I’m older than all of them.” And even if Wes hadn’t been nineteen, it’s not like he’d be well-received. Not with his glasses, asthma, and gangly form. Not with his interest in computers and complete illiteracy in all things sports. He may as well have had “nerd” tattooed on his forehead. On top of all that, he’d moved to this small town in North Idaho from San Diego and was a “city boy” according to the jerks who’d jeered at him in the theater parking lot the other day.

“Only by a year.” Laurie bent to pick his clothes up from the floor. “And probably some less than that.” Suddenly, she frowned. “Are you worried about dating?”

“Mom,” he groaned. “I’m worried about college. I’m worried about how I can convince Dad’s boss to give me a chance at Micron when I graduate. I’m worried about how to then turn that job into a career writing programs that will make me enough money to buy one of those nice beach houses back in San Diego.” At the dismay in his mother’s eyes from mentioning moving away, he switched to a teasing note. “I’m worried about there not being enough of those cookies I smelled you baking left after Janey got to them.”

A smile tilted the corner of Mom’s mouth. “Wesley, I’m being serious. I know the move was rough for you.”

It was. Even worse was he couldn’t object too much because his dad had gotten an amazing promotion at Micron, moving to their new second headquarters in Amteep. All predication pointed to this town booming in the next decade, becoming a stronghold in the growing tech industry. But Wes missed his home in San Diego the moment they’d left. He missed the few friends he’d had, the much bigger RadioShack, the record store, and the multitudes of rock concerts and clubs he would have been able to access to see live bands if he’d been there for his nineteenth birthday. Instead, he had spent his birthday at a bar with his father, playing an awkward game of pool and trying to pretend that the pitcher of beer Dad had ordered had been Wes’s first. He didn’t think Dad had been fooled.

Greg Carpenter was a brilliant man, with a PhD in electronic engineering. For many years, Wes wanted to be exactly like his dad when he grew up. But now that Wes was almost there, he knew he was nowhere near going down his father’s path. And yet, that didn’t bother him so much. Wes’s own path loomed ahead, frightening and exciting all at once. Who he would become, he didn’t quite know. He’d likely leave home after graduation.

Sometimes it was scary to think that if it weren’t for getting sick last year, he might have been on his own already. Those missed months had cost him most of his senior year of high school. Now he’d have to do it all over again. And, apparently, attend summer camp.

“Wes?” Mom interrupted his musings. “There’s a list of things you’ll need to pack for camp, and of course we’ll have to go to the pharmacy and get you an extra inhaler.”

He sighed and leaned back in his chair. “I’m not going to some silly camp. That’s kid’s stuff.”

“Yes, you are.” Mom remained implacable, and somehow smug, like she had an ace up her sleeve. “I already mailed the check.”

Wes bit his lip. “Then you can ask for a refund.”

Mom’s spine straightened and she put her hands on her hips. “Your father and I are taking your little sister to Disneyland, so no one will be home.”

For a moment he was tempted to demand why he wasn’t going to Disneyland too, but he couldn’t. If camp was kid’s stuff, then what was Mickey Mouse? He leaned forward and rose from his seat. “I’m an adult. I can fend for myself.”

Mom’s lips curved in a triumphant smile before she delivered the killing blow. “Not without food, you can’t. I haven’t shopped for groceries all week, instead using up what we have.”

Shit. Wes had been curious about the interesting casseroles and smorgasbord platters she’d been serving lately, but hadn’t noticed that she hadn’t gone to the grocery store in a while. Mom had him there. Wes loved to eat. His parents marveled at where he put it all, since he remained scrawny. And he could put away a lot. More than he could afford with his part-time wages at the movie theater.

It looked like he would be going to camp after all. Holding up his hands in surrender, Wes forced a smile. “Fine. You win. At least I’ll have time to read. Where is this place, anyway?”

“On the other side of Lake Skeetshue. Remember? Where we had that lovely cruise.” She pulled a brochure out of her back pocket. “It’s called Camp Natli— I can’t pronounce it. Another Indian name, I guess.” She handed him the brochure, displaying overly joyous teens paddling canoes on a sparkling lake with a beach and fake totem poles in the background.

Wes squinted at the name of the place. Camp Natliskeliguten. “I can’t pronounce it either. I think it sounds more German.”

“They call it ‘Camp Natty’ for short.” Now that she’d won, Mom had returned to her usual cheerful self. “And aside from the lake activities in the picture, you can learn archery, canoeing, and they’ll even have guided nature walks so you can learn about the forest. By the time you get back, you’ll know more about our new home than the rest of the family.”

Wes did not share her enthusiasm. A lot of that stuff would be hell on his asthma. Also, the idea of wandering around in the woods spooked him a little. As his little sister had proudly announced, there were some scary wild animals in the forests surrounding Amteep. Bears, wolves, mountain lions, and bobcats. And although Wes had swum in the ocean plenty of times, he couldn’t say he enjoyed it. Knowing his luck, he’d tip over a canoe and fall into the cold water, lose his glasses, and maybe get covered in leeches.

Mom continued, ignoring his grimace. “And there will be dances and socials with the girls. Maybe you’ll meet someone special.”

“Maybe,” he muttered, hoping to deter another worried speculation about his lack of interest in girls. Well, it wasn’t a total lack, more that most girls lacked interest in him. Dad had even pulled him aside for a “man to man” talk a little over a year ago.

“You’re not one of those men who are… ah…” Dad had scratched the back of his neck, his ears beet red. “Interested in other men, are you?”

Wes had laughed, though there was a bit of unease. One of his close friends was a homosexual. Would Wes’s father hate him if he swung that way? “Of course not. I like girls. I’m just waiting to meet the right one. Someday I want what you and Mom have.” And that was the utter truth. Except Wes didn’t have high hopes of that ever happening. Something was missing inside him and he didn’t think he’d be ready, much less worthy of love unless he found it.

His mother snapped him back to the present. “Turn off that beeping contraption and come with me. There’s a huge list of things we’ll need to pack for you.”

Wes sighed and pushed his chair in under his desk, giving his computer and new game one last mournful glance. Then his stomach growled. “Are there any cookies left?”

There were. Wes ate four as he sat across from his mother, scowling at the endless list of items he’d need for ten days of camp, half of which he didn’t have. Bug spray, a poncho, a pocket knife, a hatchet, and a flint kit for making fires.

As they checked off the list of things they did have—flashlight, changes of clothes, et cetera—Wes found himself spacing off, half-listening to the PBS program Janey was watching in the living room.

“…after the third mysterious accident, which left four miners dead and seven wounded, the Sundown mine closed for good. In 1948, the land was purchased by…”

Mom heard the TV as well. Her mouth twisted with disgust. “Janey, why don’t you change the channel? Honestly, I don’t understand why you like to learn about such morbid topics.”

Janey’s voice held its usual indomitable cadence. “I just do.”

Mom raised her eyes to the heavens and sighed. “What did I do to be punished with such stubborn children?”

Wes laughed. “We got it from you.”

By the time Mom was placated by Wes’s cooperation with the prep for camp, Dad had come home for dinner. The crock pot beef stew melted in Wes’s mouth. He’d miss this cooking when he was at the camp. His melancholy increased when he returned to his computer only to discover that Scarf Man sucked. If the computer had a joystick, it might be playable, but with the arrow keys? The control was crap. After struggling with the game for two hours, he gave up and put on a Deep Purple cassette.

Lying in bed with his headphones on, Wes realized that next week he wouldn’t be able to do this either. More than ever, he wanted one of those Sony Walkmans that had come out last month. Too bad the things cost a hundred and fifty bucks. Even then, the one that had been available at Amteep’s RadioShack had sold out the day it was released, and future units were on backorder.

At least I have my boom box, Wes thought before he dozed off.

***

Wes ran through the woods, breath tight and heart pounding as an unseen figure chased him. The grip on his lungs tightened further until his breath came in pitiful gasps and wheezes. Someone grabbed his hand, urging him along. He summoned up the will to keep running, though the underbrush threatened to trip him. Thunder rumbled, despite flashes of clear moonlight penetrating the gaps between the pine boughs. A blessing and curse, because though Wes and his unseen friend could see where they were going, that meant that he could see them too.

But who was he?

They stopped running so abruptly that their shoes sent gravel skittering in all directions. Lightning flashed again to reveal a gaping maw before them. A black abyss threating to swallow them whole. But to go back meant death as well.

“We have to,” his friend whispered.

He couldn’t reply. He couldn’t breathe. Together, they plunged forward and—

***

Wes woke drenched in sweat and heaving, his chest constricted by an invisible boa. Scrabbling for his inhaler, he knocked his water glass from his nightstand. The shattering sound made him cringe as he took a big puff from his inhaler. This was the worst asthma attack he’d had in months.

Sucking in air until his lungs cleared, he lay there shivering.

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Publisher's Weekly on Publisher's Weekly wrote:

Ann (the Brides of Prophecy series) playfully combines romance tropes with the campy horror beats of ’80s slasher movies in the fun first novel in her B Mine series. Farm girl Linnea Langenkamp and computer nerd Wes Carpenter meet at summer camp before their senior year of high school sometime in the 1980s. Their instant mutual attraction develops into love with very few stumbling blocks, save for the cartoonish jocks and cheerleaders who bully them (“The Neanderthal grinned. ‘I like punching nerds.’ ”). Then a storm strikes, cutting the power and knocking out the bridge that connects the campsite to the mainland. When one of the campers turns up dead, Wes and Linnea discover that the camp abuts an abandoned mine with a tragic history. With a masked killer on the loose and bodies piling up, Wes and Linnea attempt to keep their peers alive, aided by their Native American camp counselor, who has little to do beyond offer sage wisdom to the white teens. Despite the danger, the couple still find time for tender sex scenes that will gratify romance readers, but the emotional moments are hampered by two-dimensional characterization. Still, this quick, genre-bending story will please New Adult romance fans. (Apr.)


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