By- M.A. George
Genre- YA Paranormal
Publication Date- April 16th, 2014
Add it to your TBR list:
Meet Layla McKelland:
Novelist (unpublished, but cut her some slack…seventeen is a bit early to despair),
Slightly neurotic introvert (Alright, let’s be honest…there’s no “slightly” about it),
International Woman of Mystery, and…
Okay, just scratch the bio.
The only real “mystery” in Layla’s life is why her father has never been on the scene. Or why her mother drags Layla to a new coastal home every year.
Nothing about the latest hometown seems too newsworthy…until a routine day at the beach leaves Layla questioning whether she’s read one too many paranormal fantasy novels. The plot thickens when a random guy claims to know things about her father—a bizarre claim he backs up with an equally impossible stunt. And Layla soon finds herself on the wrong side of a mysterious attempted drowning…on her own kitchen floor.
When all is done, Layla will attest that fact is far stranger than fiction. And nothing in real life is ever as transparent as it seems…Not even water.
Especially not water.
First Excerpt – From Chapter 1
The year? Take your pick.
July 23rd is always moving day.
My Aunt Cora’s footsteps trudge down the final steps of the staircase, the box in her hands meeting the wooden floor with a deliberate thud. “So…What’s your big plan for this time next year, Meredith?” Her voice as it echoes up the stairs to my room is laced with sarcasm; but even from this distance, I can hear the undercurrent of concern.
There’s a pause before my mother responds, and I imagine she’s heaving an exasperated sigh. It’s her favorite response when her sister gets confrontational for no apparent reason. Eventually, she mutters a reply clearly not intended for my eavesdropping ears. And for that precise reason, I abandon the cardboard box I’m packing and tiptoe toward my doorway with piqued curiosity.
“I don’t know, Cora…” This time she definitely blows out a heavy sigh. “I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.”
“Well, what happens when your daughter crosses that bridge ahead of you and disappears on the other side?” I hear Cora’s impatient foot tapping against the planks of wood. “She’ll be eighteen…and no longer under your purview.”
Twenty seconds into the conversation, and Mom’s already on her third sigh. Aunt Cora knows precisely how to push her buttons. “What could possibly possess you to think that I haven’t been aware of that fact for the past seventeen years?”
“I’m just saying…” Aunt Cora’s voice settles down a notch. “Prepare yourself.”
“I know, I know,” Mom reluctantly agrees. I peer around the doorjamb to catch a glimpse through the staircase railing, as my mother is trying to scrub the worried wrinkles from her forehead. “But how do you prepare yourself for the most terrifying event of your life?”
I scowl as her somber words filter through the air. Why would the fact that I’m finally nearing adulthood make my mom look like she’s about to lose her breakfast? I’m not exactly Hell on Wheels. Sure, I’ve done a few stupid teenage things…but nothing in comparison to your average American kid. She knows I’m not suddenly going to turn into a binge-drinking vandal with the world record for indecent exposure arrests by the time I’m nineteen. Doesn’t she?
My aunt’s voice falls to a murmur, as she gives Mom’s arm a squeeze for emphasis. “You must tell her, Meredith.” Cora’s back rounds to face me, dipping down as she scoops up the cardboard box and marches out to the moving van. My ears strain to pick up her parting comment, “You can’t protect her forever. At some point, you have to teach Layla how to protect herself…and the sooner the better.”
My mother’s head dips forward, sagging low under the weight of a burden I don’t quite understand; but it’s clear from the stoop of her shoulders that she’s on the verge of buckling. I tilt a little further out into the hall, debating whether to rush down and comfort her. Apparently she’s getting a jump start on the whole Empty Nest Syndrome; and maybe I can shoo away the blues with a hug…a quiet reassurance that we still have a whole year before I leave for college. Wherever that happens to be, I definitely plan on staying there for more than three hundred and sixty-five days. No moving boxes, no packing tape. They may have to forcibly evict me from my freshman dorm when I graduate.
As my weight shifts from one floorboard to the next, the wood groans in protest. The low creak seems to snap my mom out of her funk; and she jiggles her head back into the task at hand without even looking my way. She scoops up a box and marches out the door, her long honey blonde waves swaying as she descends the front steps in a hurried clip. That box is practically twice her size and probably weighs half as much as she does; but you’d never know it by the way she heaves it into the back of the moving van. Mom’s never been particularly good at knowing her own limits, at least not in a physical sense (one of the many traits I inherited from my mother). We don’t exactly have a lot of excess meat on our bones; but we’re a lot stronger than we look…and we’ll practically snap our spines to stubbornly prove it. Aunt Cora’s not quite as spindly as her only sister; and it seems a perfectly natural maneuver as she nimbly leaps down from the back of the van and jogs back toward the house to retrieve another box.
Moving Day is always just that: One day, and one day only. The entire house packed up and whisked away to a fresh, new town before the sun has a chance to dip below the horizon. Dawdling isn't allowed.
As I’m reminded of that fact, I scurry back to finish packing boxes. I hate it when Mom and Aunt Cora get antsy and start to pack my things for me. I pick up the pace as Cora’s footsteps bound up the stairwell. She’s sure to be finishing up her own room any minute now, and then she’ll descend upon mine. I start grabbing armfuls of books from the shelves, delicately easing them into the boxes lined up on my bed. (I have a thing about creased covers.) Of course, I’ll have to re-organize my collection yet again. Maybe I’ll take the opportunity to mix it up this time—sorting them by cover color, rather than alphabetically. The thought brings a little smile to my neat-freak face.
I breathe a satisfied sigh as I step back from the bed and dust my palms together, the mattress now sagging under the weight of my treasured library. Mom and Cora can barge in if they want now. I’m not nearly as particular about the contents of my closet. (Okay, so I sort my shirts by color too…but creases in shirts are easily remedied.) Almost on cue, Aunt Cora whisks through the doorway. Her hurried knock announces her presence somewhere around the moment she leaves the door swinging in her wake. She’s already halfway across the room and scooping up one of the boxes from the bed. “If you want to pack the rest of these yourself, Honey Bun, it’s time to light a fire under it.” She darts her brown bobbed head toward the empty boxes still lying in wait in the corner, hiking the book-laden box up with a knee. “We’re moving on to furniture in fifteen minutes.”
I swear my aunt was a drill sergeant in a past life.
Actually, she’s not quite this bossy the other three hundred and sixty-four days of the year. With each passing year, I get the sense she despises Moving Day as much as I do.
I watch with a nervous gulp as she wrangles my meticulously-packed box into her arms with another hoist from her knee, the tape straining to hold its grip on the shifting cardboard. She calls a reminder over her shoulder as she tromps out into the hall, her feet already finding the stairs. “Fifteen minutes, Birthday Girl…Not a minute more.”
That’s right. Moving Day coincides with my birthday.
Funny coincidence, that.
It’s one of my mom’s many quirks…She thinks it’s somehow “exciting” to make a new beginning in honor of my birthday each year. I gave up long ago on trying to convince her it’s not exactly my idea of excitement. And I gave up even longer ago on trying to decipher the reason behind her obsession with relocating annually. Believe it or not, it’s not her strangest quirk. So I’ve learned to tolerate it, just like I tolerate all of her little eccentricities (possibly because she loves me despite my fairly abundant peculiarities).
I went through a phase of concocting all kinds of mysterious stories surrounding our life on the move. My personal favorite: Cora and Mom were former C.I.A. operatives, who stole government secrets and were now forced to change their identities and live on the run. (Never mind that they stupidly chose to stay in the country. Maybe crossing the border would be too risky? Or maybe they’re just not as bright as they seem.) Of course, I didn’t share my outlandish stories with anyone. I scrawled them in spiral notebooks—my “rough drafts”, as I called them—ready and waiting to be turned into a full-length autobiography if ever the need arose. Nowadays I’ve moved on to writing fiction with no connection (real or imagined) to my personal life. My life may be a little weird…but beyond that, it doesn’t make for riveting reading.
Aunt Cora’s tromping through the house bellowing, “Move, move, MOVE!” with a clap of her hands on each booming repetition. I stand by my former drill sergeant reference.
I seal off the last box, pausing to press out the air bubbles trapped under the packing tape. The walls practically rattle as Cora’s voice blasts past the open doorway, and I scramble to my feet, heaving the box from the floor and dutifully marching out to the moving van. Mom is still standing in the cargo area, hurriedly shoving boxes against the walls, clearing space for the furniture. It drives her crazy that Cora just dumps boxes wherever they happen to land; and she’s got about 0.2 seconds to get everything in order before her sister starts cramming in a mattress on top of everything.
I cross the lawn to help Aunt Cora with the box spring, purposefully fumbling to heave it up over my head—just trying to buy Mom a few extra seconds to satisfy her obsessive-compulsive organizing side. She signals the O.K. to start loading the furniture with a nod, streaking the matted hair across her sweaty forehead with the back of one hand. We’re no strangers to humidity; but the back of a moving van in the middle of a Mississippi summer is flat brutal, even at ten o’clock in the morning. It takes another hour before Mom is stepping back with a satisfied fold of her arms, admiring the fruits of our labor: our whole lives once again jam-packed into the back of a moving van, without an inch to spare. For three reasonably feminine-appearing women, we can rival any burly moving crew with one hand tied behind our backs.
I don’t put much effort into saying goodbye to the house. Soon it will be just another one among the sea of places I’ve counted sheep at night. They all start to blur together after a while. I turn my back on the quaint little house that’s no longer home and hop behind the wheel of my vintage Volkswagen Rabbit. (Somehow “vintage” seems a kinder description for my beloved girl than “old as all Hell”.) Her engine sputters a wheezy glug, pop, gluggity-putt-putt-putt as I anchor my left foot against the clutch and give her a gentle little rev on the gas with my right, pulling one of the ponytail holders from the stick shift and quickly twisting my hair into a wadded bun. It will take an eternity before the A.C. finally gets cool enough to rival the scorching summer sun; and I can’t see past the dash with a tangled mess of windblown brown in my face. I glance in the rearview mirror and take a moment to mash down the pile of quilt-wrapped clothes in the backseat, coaxing the mound out of my line of sight. Aunt Cora’s parked behind me, tapping her impatient fingers on the steering wheel, and I scramble to get some tunes going on the MP3 player in my passenger seat. Music is definitely a necessity to make the ten-hour drive to our new Texas address tolerable. I settle on one of my favorite Pearl Jam tracks, moving on to making sure my notebook is safely tucked under one of the portable speakers. We can’t have the pages of my novel-in-progress getting ruined by flapping in the breeze all day.
Contented that everything is settled in its proper place, I adjust the speaker volume one more time and wave ahead to Mom’s reflection in the van’s side-view mirror. I follow behind as she eases out into the street, with Cora taking up the rear in her faded maroon minivan. Why a middle-aged woman with no kids needs a minivan is beyond me; but I guess I shouldn’t be complaining. At least I’m not the one driving it. My Little Red Rusty Hood suits me much better. (Yes, I gave her a name…“Lil Red”, for short. She gets me where I need to go, and that at least earns her a name.) As expected, we’re fifteen minutes outside of town by the time the air from the vents seems cool enough to seal myself inside the vehicle with a crank of the window. Another two miles or so, and our little caravan is merging onto I-10 heading west.
Texas. Surprisingly, it hasn’t been on the list of states of residence until now. I say “surprisingly”, because it has a fair chunk of coastal property. Enter Mom’s next noteworthy quirk: She has to live near the water. The more of it the better. With the exception of the year I turned ten, we’ve always lived on one coast or another. Actually, even that year wasn’t really an exception, per se…They call it the “coast” of Lake Huron, but Mom decided it doesn’t count. It’s the only year we moved twice, relocating to South Carolina in the fall. I wasn’t the least bit heartbroken…It was already starting to turn pretty chilly in Michigan, and I’m not so good with winter weather.
Whatever the reason, Texas is our new home-of-the-year. Port Aransas, to be exact. And as we cross into the Lone Star State and veer southward, it’s clear that winter weather is not even remotely on the horizon.
I didn’t think it was possible, but it feels even hotter and muggier than Mississippi. And it’s after five o’clock. Ugh…
It’s pushing nine by the time Highway 361 takes us to the deck of a Port Aransas ferry. I cut the engines and crank down the window, feeling the gentle rock of the boat as we coast across the water to pick up where the highway left off. At least it’s good and breezy here…although, the impression that it seems cooler may have more to do with the fact that the sun has finally gone to rest for the night. I can’t make out much of our new hometown in the darkness, so I just lean my head back and enjoy the gentle rocking motion. Call me crazy, but I’ve always loved the sway of the waves. As much as the constant packing up and changing homes drives me nuts, I’ll never complain that Mom insists on living the coastal life. My fingers tap out the rhythm of the music on the steering wheel, the MP3 player still going strong. I haven’t even come close to exhausting my playlist on this trip, and I’ve got a fresh new gift card burning a hole in my pocket. Mom and Aunt Cora figured out a few years back not to bother picking out a birthday gift. Just give me the funds to divide between books and music, and I’m a happy camper.
It’s been nice to soak up the serenity of the moment—the familiar squawk of seagulls echoing through the night air as we drift along—but I’m not disappointed when the ferry docks on the Port Aransas side. I restart Lil Red’s engine, giving her a reassuring pat on the dash as I gently rev the gas. She’s as tired of driving as I am, and we still have a moving van to unload.
Another one of the cardinal rules of Moving Day: It’s not over until the van is empty.
Happy birthday, Dear Layla…Happy birthday to me.
About The Author
M. A. George is part proud mother of two adorable children, part super top secret agent…Oops, probably just lost that job.
Writing is what keeps her up into the wee hours of the night. Fortunately, she has a lot of energy (Read: caffeine is her friend). She has a bit of an obsession with music (It does a fantastic job of tuning out rambunctious children while she attempts to focus).
She sincerely hopes people out there enjoy reading her work as much as she enjoys writing it. And if anyone hears of work for a super top secret agent, she’s now available (Discretion guaranteed…).
Find M.A. At
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