1. Joyful and Lovely,
2. Dark Outside,
3. Five Months,
4. The Only Battle,
6. Figuring It Out,
7. Like a Disney Movie,
8. Ray of Light,
10. When You Smile,
11. In the End,
12. The Joker,
15. A Little Guidance,
16. Friday Night,
17. Someone Else's Story,
18. Ryan Gosling,
19. The Wizard of Oz,
21. Ridiculous Timing,
22. About Time,
23. The Movie I'm In,
24. The Bridge,
25. Some Kind of Hero,
26. A Sliver of Sunlight,
29. The Ticking Clock,
30. A Gift Returned,
31. Totally and Completely,
32. The Great Below,
33. Not So Good,
36. Nothing to Fear,
37. The Terrible Beauty of Being a Teen,
39. A Sign,
40. My Prayer,
41. Hurley's Numbers,
42. Lost for the Moment,
43. Drum Song,
44. Head Over Heels,
47. A Light Blue Nightmare,
49. Solitary for Starters,
50. A Smell, a Taste, a Touch,
51. Hundred-Year-Old Grandmother,
53. Soon, My Friend,
54. More to Say,
55. Messed Up,
58. The Conversation,
62. A Mess,
63. The Sun and the Rainfall,
64. What Comes Around Goes Around,
65. A Brief Lull,
68. The Balloon,
70. The Memories You Try to Bury,
71. Uh Huh,
72. Weird and Surprising,
75. Nowhere Fast,
78. Heading In,
79. A Familiar Face,
81. Sweet Dreams,
82. Monster Story,
85. The Third Passage,
86. Driver's Test,
87. Start of the Breakdown,
88. The Wheel Goes Round and Round,
89. What Is Imagined and What Is Real,
90. Question Marks or Bite Marks?,
91. A Night of Romance and Mystery,
93. Return of the Beast,
94. What's Your Deal?,
95. Sweet Dreams Part 2,
96. Something Else for the Scrapbook,
97. Getting Out,
98. This Jerk,
99. No Light, No Light,
100. Sæglópur (Do You Understand?),
101. End Theme,
102. The Most Beautiful Song on Your Playlist,
103. Now We Are Free,
104. My Son,
105. How You Carry On,
106. Tick of the Clock,
107. One Final Postcard,
108. Going Away for Good,
109. Rabbit Hole,
110. Something I Should've Done,
112. Come Alive,
114. Promise (1),
115. Promise (2),
116. The Thinner the Air,
117. New Surroundings,
118. Facing the Grave,
119. The Pretty Picture in Front of You,
121. The End,
122. All the Difference,
123. Life and Death,
124. Is Your Love Strong Enough?,
125. Maker and Judge,
126. Coming Out Party,
127. Well, It's About Time,
128. The Road Never Traveled,
129. Waiting to Exhale,
130. True Faith,
133. Just Like Heaven,
134. The Living Proof,
135. Crystal Clear,
137. All Flowers in Time,
Joyful and Lovely
The first thing I see when I unlock the front door to the cabin and turn on the light is Lily.
I freeze and clutch Midnight a bit too tight.
Lily is dead. I saw her die with my own eyes. I can still close them and picture her body in the woods after the car she was driving took a sharp turn over a mountainside and ejected her. I still feel fortunate I was wearing a seat belt, but when I think of Lily, that word doesn't come to mind.
Regret is more like it.
I shut my eyes as I hear Mr. Page's truck backing out of the driveway and heading back home. I know I'm just seeing things. It's just the stress of having flown back from Chicago with Kelsey and somehow managing to keep the truth from both her and my father. It's knowing they've taken Mom, of knowing she's not here, of knowing that I'll open my eyes and Lily won't be anywhere—
The golden-haired goddess gives me a flirty smile as she stands.
This is not happening. Not now.
It's too soon.
I just got back to Solitary. We need a little warm-up, folks.
We can't get the dead girl waving in the opening scene, can we?
"Welcome home, Chris."
Something about the way she says my name isn't quite right.
I stop breathing.
Midnight jumps out of my hands and scampers into my mom's bedroom. She's probably going under the bed.
I wonder if she can see what I'm seeing.
Lily flips her long curly hair over her shoulder and grins. "I won't bite. At least not today."
I have a weird case of déjà vu as I swallow and then shut the door, knowing this is one of those things. I'm still not sure what to call them. Episodes. Visions. Occurrences.
Somehow I'm the chosen one to see faces of the dead like this.
I've already been seeing weird things since leaving Chicago. Perhaps these are all signs that tell me I should've stayed there. But I had no choice. I had to come back or Mom would be hurt. Or worse.
"Do you want to play a game, Chris?"
There it is again. The thing with the name.
Did she say Chris or Chrissssssss?
I start to back up.
"You still want me, don't you, my dear little boy?"
She starts to laugh in a weird way I don't remember ever hearing.
This is just a dream just a bad spooky thing to start my stay back in Scary I mean Solitary, North Carolina.
As she smiles, I see her face suddenly become hard, as if the makeup has dried up and is starting to crack and flake and fall off.
"It's time to see behind the mask, Chrissie-pooo," Lily says.
But of course it's not Lily and I know this and I'm about to open the front door when the lights go off.
I expect a cold, dead hand to touch me, grab me. But instead I hear the shuffling of footsteps upstairs.
My body is shivering. I can't tell if it's from the cold January night or from this cold greeting inside.
Suddenly my stereo is blasting upstairs. No, strike that. Uncle Robert's stereo is blasting. I recognize the song but can't really think of the title or the group because I'm about to pass out.
I've got to get out of here but I know this is just a dream or a vision and it can't hurt me. Right?
The droning singer upstairs calls out, and I know this is a message. Perhaps this is something I need to know for the battle ahead. Or for the ongoing war.
The song grows louder with each step I take. The light is on, and I know it wasn't on when I first stepped into the cabin. When I reach the bedroom, I don't see Lily or the Lily-thing anywhere. I just see the familiar record player turning and a record sleeve on the bed.
I pick it up and see the image of a stone angel lying on her back with one arm outstretched and her other hand covering her face. Above the image is the song title.
"Love Will Tear Us Apart."
I know the Joy Division song. There's nothing joyful or lovely about it or the image.
So I wonder why the ghost of Lily wanted to share this joyous song with me as I scan the room and see the outline underneath the blanket on my bed.
Just get out of here do what Midnight did and scramble for the closest dark corner and hide do it Chris come on!
But as the song continues on, I move toward the head of my narrow bed and then pull back the comforter, squinting because I'm unsure what I'll see.
I jerk back, and the blanket pulls back with me.
The lifeless figure on the bed is not ... it's not human.
For a minute I just stare, wondering if it's going to move. I'm shaking. The song ends, but I hear the record continuing to turn and the crackling through the speakers.
I'm standing in my room, staring at a mannequin. But this isn't just any mannequin.
It's wearing the same thing that thing was just wearing. A shirt and a black jacket and jeans.
And the face and the hair actually resemble Lily.
I take a deep breath and walk over and touch it. It's hard and cold.
My heart is racing.
I shiver as I take in the blank look staring back at me.
I'm back in good old Solitary, and this is how it begins.
When the phone rings, I gladly answer it.
"How's your mom doing?" Kelsey asks.
It's only been an hour since I walked into the cabin and found that thing. After freaking out and then regaining my senses, I finally managed to bring the mannequin downstairs and put it in the laundry room. But it's very real. And I swear—if I hear the washing machine going tonight, I'm seriously going to move out.
"Everything's cool," I say.
This is technically not a lie, because I'm playing it cool to keep things cool. I don't know where Mom is and don't have any idea when I'll find out. All I know is I can't say anything to anybody or she will die.
"Tell her thanks again for the plane ticket," Kelsey says.
I know I don't sound like myself and after the time we just spent in Chicago with my father, Kelsey is surely picking up the bad vibes.
"I didn't mean to call so soon—"
"No, it's fine."
"Look, I don't mean to pressure you or anything."
"Kelsey, it's fine. Seriously. I'm glad you called."
Because there's this mannequin in my cabin that resembles that hot chick I got to know over the summer.
"Thanks," she says after a pause. "For everything."
"Thank you for coming."
For a moment I remember why I asked Kelsey to come away with me. It wasn't to temporarily escape this crazy place. It was so she would live past midnight on New Year's Eve.
I'm really glad to hear her voice.
"School seems far off," she says.
"So does graduation."
"We'll make it. It'll be here before we know it."
"And then what?"
"And then ... I don't know. Drive off into the sunset."
"Can we do that now?" I ask.
"It's pretty dark outside."
I know that. And I have a bad feeling it's going to stay dark outside for a really long time.CHAPTER 3
Blink and it will pass you by. This place, a town always in the shadows, an address no one pays any attention to.
It's close to midnight, and I sit on my motorcycle, looking at the sleeping buildings and feeling the stillness. I've been back for just over twenty-four hours and everything feels the same. Bleak and cold and lifeless. Not just this town, but me.
I rub my chilled hands together. The only sign of life I got today was a text from an unknown number. It said to be downtown at midnight.
Lots of people could have sent me that text. I'm hoping that my mom sent it, but I'm afraid that it belongs to the people who have her.
If she's even still alive.
I try to silence that voice, but it keeps popping up inside my head. It's been wondering the same thing ever since I discovered that the rugged mountain man happened to be Uncle Robert in costume and that Mom had been kidnapped. The same thing the next day when we discovered the plane tickets from "Mom" for flights from Chicago to Asheville. The same question that greeted me as I opened the door to the cabin and felt the cold inside.
Is Mom still alive, or did they kill her?
The good news is that Mom spoke to Dad before emailing the tickets, explaining that she was too busy and too tired to make the drive up to Chicago. I think she said a few other things, perhaps some relationship stuff that Dad didn't feel like mentioning. He never questioned the tickets or the call or anything.
I have enough questions for both of us.
It's strange how I feel. The chilly, empty feeling is there, but the fear isn't. Looking at the darkened buildings and the black windows doesn't frighten me. Waiting out here doesn't frighten me. The thought of dying doesn't even frighten me.
All I hope is that it's not too late to save Mom.
I see the bright lights and the big SUV, and I know who it is without even needing to hear the voice inside. I get off the bike and walk over to the street where the massive Hummer waits. I open the door and see Staunch behind the wheel, just like the first time I ever saw him.
"Where's my mother?"
He jerks his head and then grits his teeth. This guy doesn't get many people refusing to do what he's asking.
"Boy, I'm gonna tell you this once: get in the vehicle now."
But he doesn't frighten me. He can't hurt me, not anymore. He's no longer going to bully people around like his son does at school.
"I'm not going to go anywhere unless you tell me—"
He curses and opens his door and then I hear the big rushing footsteps coming around the front of the car. My stomach drops, and I see him coming on like some wild animal. He pounds the side of my face with something hard and flat.
I slam against the side of the SUV, then crumple to the hard asphalt.
I feel something grab my shirt and jacket like a crane and lift me up, then launch me backward against the car again. I'm out of breath and half the side of my face is paralyzed and I can't even shout out. I'm back on the street, then lifted up again and propped against the side of the car.
Staunch curses at me. I can only really look out one eye, but I see something thin and black in his hand.
"Your time has run out, boy, and I mean it. No more. I don't care who you are, do you hear me? Just 'cause I can't kill you doesn't mean I can't hurt you."
And with that he takes the black thing he's holding and whacks it against my forehead. Then my eye. Then my cheek. It feels like some kind of heavy weight or piece of metal or steel.
I cry out in pain, but he pounds my mouth, cutting my lips against my teeth. I start to sink away, but he lifts me up again and swats me on my ear. Then he curses in my face and shakes me over and over and over again until I start to black out.
"Don't go just yet, don't you—"
But I'm losing it all.
"Open your eyes and look at me. Hear me out, boy."
I squint out of my one working eye. I taste blood, and my entire head and face throb and I cough and begin to choke.
Then I start to scream until he puts the black thing in my mouth, almost making me gag.
I suddenly realize that I'm biting down on his cell phone.
"From here on out, you do what we say. What I say. You got that? Do you?"
He shoves the phone in my mouth further, ripping the sides of my mouth.
"You got five months to shape up and start playing by the rules. Five months. You got that?"
I try and say some variation of "Uh huh."
"Marsh is an idealist and others have patience and that's fine, but I'm not here 'cause of my patience. I will kill your momma, and if that doesn't work I'll kill that pretty little blonde thing, and I'll keep killing until I finally make you choke on your own blood. I don't care whose blood it is and what kind of special boy you are, I will do that 'cause that's what I do."
He yanks his phone out of my mouth and then releases me. I drop to the ground like a bag of heavy garbage. I'm moaning and coughing, and I've never felt so much pain in my life.
Staunch is cursing now, saying something about his busted phone and about what I made him do. My head feels ripped open and suddenly I realize I'm going to die here, just like this, after being beaten to death by a cell phone.
Can you hear me now?
I'm not sure if Staunch said that or I imagined it.
I hear the door shut and hear the engine throttle and then ...CHAPTER 4
The Only Battle
The sound of a bird chirping wakes me up.
I can see sunlight coming through a window—actually like a wall consisting of one giant window—and landing at the foot of the bed I'm in. I'm under heavy covers, and my eyes are having a hard time opening.
When they're finally opened for good, I brace myself for the pain I know will be there.
But nothing comes.
My eyes look out what appears to be a bay window at the front of the room. All I can see are trees and bushes and flowers. A door to my left at the base of the bed seems to be open. Wait—no, it's a screen door.
For a second I try to get up, but then feel light-headed and know I'm going to fade away again.
For some reason I think of Frodo waking up and seeing Bilbo. He's in that faraway place where the elves live. He's alive and everybody's happy to see him and everything looks warm and glowing.
Wait—am I wearing a white nightgown?
"You might want to drink a little of this," the voice says.
I open my eyes, and there sitting on the side of the bed is Iris. Those wide eyes bursting with sweetness. For a second she looks about twenty years old, but then my eyes adjust and I see the wrinkles all around her face.
"Try and sit up for a few minutes."
I do as I'm told, and she gently brings a glass cup up to my lips. It's a warm tea of some sort. I take a little, then keep taking it until I finish it.
"This will help you heal."
"Where am I?"
She smiles. "In a safe place."
Iris shakes her head. "No. You are alive and conscious, Chris. And at a very important juncture in your life."
I sigh and can only say, "Huh?"
"I'm not going anywhere. Just take it easy for the moment."
"Are you a ghost?"
She raises her eyes and appears a bit offended. "I might be old, but I'm not dead, thank you very much."
Iris takes the cup and then walks into another room. I sit propped up, trying to keep my eyes open, wondering what I'm doing in this small room with the bay window surrounded by a garden outside.
I wonder if Jocelyn is going to come out next and serve me some cookies and milk. Or maybe Lily will come and offer me a drink of something I couldn't buy in the store.
The chirping bird seems to have brought a crowd with him. They're all outside singing away like some choir. It's pretty.
I believe Iris when she said this was a safe place. I'm not sure why, since most everybody I've come to know has lied to me.
Maybe they don't lie to you in dreams.
But this doesn't seem like a dream. I feel my face and can tell that it's partially swollen. My lips have cuts on them, and one eye is a bit harder to see out of.
All of that, yet I don't feel pain. Maybe Iris gave me some kind of weird drug.
I'll have to ask for more before I leave.
It's weird, because it's January, yet the screen door is letting in the sounds of springtime or summer.
I hear steps and see the thin figure in black come back into the room.
"Where am I?"
"In Solitary, not far from where you were beaten up."
"But it's—the door—it doesn't feel cold."
She nods, glancing down at me with curious eyes.
"You took a nasty beating," she says. "You're not very pretty to look at."
"Guess my modeling days will have to be put on hold."
She smiles, and it's good to see something so—so pure. Like the morning sun coming in.
"All of the events surrounding you, Chris ... is it impossible to take them all in?"
"I don't know. I guess, when I think of everything."
Iris takes a chair and then sits next to my bed. "Remember when I told you about those unseen places? About the spaces in between?"
"This is one of those. The Crag's Inn—that was another."
"What happened to you? I didn't mean—Jared lied to me—if he's even called Jared. He told me he was my cousin and then he came with me and I didn't know—"
"I know. It's okay."
"The place burned down to the ground. I can't believe he actually did that."
"He wasn't the one who did that," Iris says.
She doesn't answer but only looks out the window. "That place was only temporary anyway."
I don't understand how she can say that. "But the history—I swear I didn't mean to bring him there."
"It served its purpose. And perhaps—maybe that was just one step in your journey toward God."
I'm still waiting for this to be a dream. Or for Iris to be a ghost. Or an angel. Because how could she know something like that?
Nobody knows, not my father and not Kelsey and not anybody.
She smiles, either reading my mind or being able to hear the thought.
Excerpted from HURT by TRAVIS THRASHER. Copyright © 2013 Travis Thrasher. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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