Posts tagged “excerpt

Just One Smile

One of my short stories, Just One Smile, was published in Rain Magazine, a literary journal released this week. I was excited to see the journal because it featured artwork from one of my students and stories from several friends. It’s a gorgeous edition, available from booksellers on the north coast of Oregon.

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I thought I’d share an excerpt from my story. It’s about a young woman using public transportation who is harassed. I wrote it because it’s a familiar story to a lot of women–many of us could offer our own versions, unfortunately. It’s kind of a horror story, to be honest. No, there’s no ghost in this one, but in writing it, I tried to convey the fear many women experience in these situations. I’m horrified that it’s 2017 and women still have to deal with this stuff. If you’ve experienced this, know that you’re not alone. I hope, if you see something like this happening, you step up and intervene. We’ve got to stand up for each other.

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The bus had been full at the beginning of the route, but as passengers got off, Janie noticed the man was still there, sitting at the back of the bus. Then, at Sunset Beach, he moved to the front of the bus—to get off, Janie thought, until he sat back down, close to her. She peered over the top of her book to find him looking at her, and quickly averted her gaze.

“I seen you before. What’s your name?” he asked.

Answering would only encourage him. Janie ignored the man and kept reading—or pretended to. She couldn’t focus on the words with him staring at her with those hungry eyes, as if she were a meal to be consumed.

“I asked you a question,” he said, his tone demanding. “What’s your name?”

Janie looked over at the bus driver. His eyes were on the road as he slowed for the stop at Westlake Lane. There was an open seat near the front of the bus, right behind the driver. Maybe if she sat there, this guy would leave her alone. She closed her book, then shouldered her backpack and changed seats.

It did no good. The man got up and followed her, gripping the metal bar overhead as he walked down the aisle. “What, you’re too good to talk to me? You’re smarter than everybody, reading your college book?”

Janie stared at the back of the bus driver’s head, waiting for him to say something. He remained silent. The bus gained speed as he accelerated, pulling back onto the 101. The windshield wipers swept back and forth, clearing away the rain. The driver probably couldn’t hear what was happening behind him, over the noise of the wipers and the motor. Or maybe he could, and didn’t want to get involved. Janie clenched her paperback in her hands, wishing it were a can of pepper spray instead of pocket Shakespeare.

“Aw, come on, baby,” the meth head said, taking the seat across from her. “That was a joke. Give me a smile.”

Janie turned away and scanned the back of the bus. There were still two other passengers on board—an elderly woman and a middle-aged man. She met the man’s gaze, and he gave her a sympathetic smile. She nodded, comforted someone was aware of what was happening. If the meth head tried anything, surely the older man would intervene.

Then, at the next stop, the man got off, and it was just Janie, the old lady, and the meth head, and the meth head wasn’t leaving any time soon.

“You’d be prettier if you smiled,” the man said, giving her a smile of his own, one that revealed a mouth full of rotten teeth. “Come on, baby, just one smile.”

He was going to follow her home. Janie knew it. Her stop was coming up, and he’d get off with her. Then what? What was he going to do? What was she going to do?

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017

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New Pitcher Plant Excerpt

It’s been a great two weeks since Pitcher Plant launched! I truly appreciate all the good wishes and support, especially from those of you who attended our online release party, made it to a book event, spread the word, left a book review, or bought the book. You may not realize it, but you did a good deed. Not only did you support this indie author, but a portion of proceeds from sales went to support students seeking a college education through the Lives in Transition Program at Clatsop Community College. I can’t thank you enough.

I can, however, share more about Pitcher Plant. Here’s another excerpt. I hope you enjoy it.

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Climbing up the back steps of the house, we faced our first sign the house required more fixing than Mr. Peterson indicated. The back porch looked like it had once been enclosed, but was now a shell of two-by-fours containing the battered remains of a powder room. The exposed toilet was covered in rust stains and mold, and a spider web stretched over the bowl of the sink. Large black flies hovered around the bottom of the toilet stool and crawled through a crack between the floorboards.

“Guess we can add bathroom to the list of repairs,” I said, frowning as I snapped a photo.

“Deadbolt and doorknob too,” Mark muttered.

I glanced over to see him dialing in the combination. Sure enough, there was a round hole where the doorknob should’ve been and the deadbolt mechanism was missing. Mark slid the combination lock into his pocket and wrenched the door open with both hands. It squealed on rusted hinges, which looked as though they might crack in two at any moment. The wood on the door looked warped. “Maybe a new door as well,” I added.

Mark scowled at it, and then stepped inside the house. The crease between his eyebrows deepened as he took in the kitchen.

In a word, it was a nightmare. Like the back porch, some of the cabinets were hollow shells, with broken shelves and no doors. One of the upper cabinets listed so badly I was convinced it might fall. I turned in a slow circle, taking photos to document what would need to be repaired. The countertop was splintered plywood. There was a stove, and surprisingly, a dishwasher, but no refrigerator. The floor looked like it’d once been tiled but someone chipped it away, leaving only curving lines of dark mortar. I chanced a look at the sink and immediately wished I hadn’t. The skeletal remains of some rodent lay on the dirty porcelain bottom, surrounded by a halo of wiry brown hair and chunks of decaying flesh. I started to retch, and covered my nose and mouth.

“What?” Mark asked. He’d peaked at the electrical outlets behind the stove, directing the beam from his Maglite between the appliance and the wall.

“Rat,” I managed, and pointed at the sink. I backed away and gulped in air that didn’t hold the stench of death.

Mark crossed the kitchen. “Lovely.” He looked as disgusted as I felt.

“One would think, if you were selling a house, you might at least clean it up,” I said, eyeing the sink from a safe distance.

“One would think,” he agreed. He sauntered over to what looked to be a pantry or broom closet, and yanked open the door. It came off in his hands, leaving him holding the knob and struggling to brace the door before it slipped from his grip. He clucked his tongue and carefully leaned the door against the wall beside the tiny closet. Judging by the look on his face, this house wasn’t winning him over.

It was a look I knew well—he’d give me the same expression of disapproval whenever I suggested we break from our routine and do something novel, like try the new pizzeria in town or drive down to Cannon Beach to check out a new art gallery. Mark wasn’t a fan of change. I thrived on it. I told myself it was just one of those things between people who’d been married a long time. One partner wants to try something new, the other doesn’t understand why things can’t stay the same way they’ve always been. I’d learned long ago when Mark got that look on his face, the best thing to do was to give him space, let him stew awhile. He’d come around.

Leaving the kitchen, I stepped into a large room that seemed to be a combined living room and dining area, and took more photos. Beautiful windows were set into walls paneled in Douglas fir. I remembered the description of the paneling from Mr. Peterson’s ad—he’d described it as a rare feature, and said it added to the beauty of the house. He was right. The paneling gave the room a warm, welcoming feel, which was a nice change from the horrors I’d encountered in the kitchen. I imagined the ramshackle house not as it was, but as it could be—a vintage beach cottage with airy furnishings and maybe even an outdoor shower to wash the sand from our feet.

Along one of the living room walls it looked like there’d once been a fireplace—what if we restored it? I envisioned a hearth made of river rock, and smiled. Maybe the place had potential. The kitchen was a mess, but we could gut it and turn it into exactly what we wanted. It was a blank slate.

I glanced toward the kitchen, where Mark inspected the pipes under the sink. They were rusty and he looked annoyed, muttering under his breath. I sighed. I couldn’t fall in love with this house yet. Not before my husband rendered judgment.

That was another problem with us. I was a glass-half-full kind of girl and he was a perpetual skeptic. He thought I got too swept up by romantic notions, and I wished he’d live a little, and not be so maddeningly practical all the time. Still, he was here, playing along at least. Perhaps this time we’d meet each other halfway. I could stand to be a little more reserved, and maybe he’d get inspired by the house’s potential—maybe.

I returned my gaze to the large living-slash-dining room—the great room, as I’d started calling it in my head. An arched door with dirty glass panels seemed to lead to a hallway, and a set of French doors led to another room. The light fixtures in the ceilings were removed, and scary-looking wires poked willy-nilly from the ceiling. The electrical system in the house definitely seemed to have issues, as Mr. Peterson had mentioned. I walked over to a smaller door next to the one leading to the hallway and opened it.

It was a closet under the stairs, the bottom of the risers draped with cobwebs. Gross. The floor of the closet was worse though. It was covered in junk—trash, discarded clothes, toys, and even a collapsed umbrella stroller for a toddler. I wondered who lived here before, and why Mr. Peterson hadn’t taken the time to throw out this stuff before putting the house up for sale.

A thump startled me. I scanned the trash on the closet floor and spotted droppings. There was probably another rat, a live one this time. Shuddering, I shut the closet door. There was another thump—too heavy to be a rodent. The thumps continued, and I realized they sounded like footsteps.

We weren’t alone in the house.

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© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017


Pitcher Plant Release Day!

Release Day for Pitcher Plant is finally here! Come help us celebrate launch day at our release day party on Facebook. Stop by from 6-10pm EDT, and enter to win a ton of amazing prizes from Filles Vertes Publishing and yours truly, including signed books, a Seaside-themed gift pack, a $10 Amazon gift card, manuscript critiques (for those of you who have novels in progress), and more. Wondering where to get your copy of Pitcher Plant? Click right here to get it from FVP. It’s also available on Amazon in paperback and as an eBook.

I have three things to share with you today–a Q&A about the book, an excerpt, and a nifty bookmark that you can print and put into service. Enjoy!

(Tip for printing the bookmark: right click on the image, click “copy image”, and then paste it into a Word document. Tada! Your bookmark is ready to print.)

Q&A:Bookmark

Q: Pitcher Plant is about a couple who buy a house on the Oregon coast, intending to fix it up, only to find out it is haunted and may be connected to a killer. What inspired the story?

A: It was inspired by a real house I visited when my husband and I were house hunting. It was a cool old house, and as we toured the property, I wondered what had happened to the people who lived there before. Of course, being a horror fan, my mind took a dark turn. It wasn’t much of a leap after seeing the spooky basement and a dead rat in the kitchen sink.

We’ve done renovations on houses before, so it was also easy to imagine a couple restoring the house. What I didn’t know, between house repairs and forensics (like how fast bodies decompose in various environments), I researched. My browser history is pretty scary. I’m not planning on killing anyone, I swear.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: Given that there’s a mystery in Pitcher Plant, I had to know who my villains were and plant clues along the way. But it’s also a suspense novel, and writing by the seat of my pants works well for creating unexpected twists, especially those that blur the line between the supernatural and the psychological. When I write, I usually start out with a basic idea of how the story will go, and then let my characters drive the action. I find the stories are more genuine that way, rather than adhering to a strict plot. It also helps to ground a story with realistic details that provide a sense of authenticity.

I also wrote from first-person limited, which is conducive to a suspense novel because readers only know what the main character knows and experiences. The plot unfolds for the protagonist and readers at the same time.

Q: Pitcher Plant is your fifth book. What else have you written?

A: Earlier this year I released Sunset Empire, a young adult fantasy set in Astoria, Oregon, which is close to Seaside, where Pitcher Plant is set. (If you like the Pacific Northwest, these books will certainly give you a tour of the north coast of Oregon.) The book debuted in the best selling Secrets and Shadows boxed set. Sunset Empire blends local lore and history with a paranormal twist. There’s a ghost in that one too, lurking in the tunnels under Astoria’s streets.

The supernatural is definitely a theme in my books. I also wrote The Solas Beir Trilogy, a young adult series which plays on boogeyman myths, combining legends in a contemporary fantasy with magic, old Spanish Colonial mansions, and parallel worlds.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m collaborating with a friend on a novel about a small town on the Oregon coast that comes under siege by an extremist group after a natural disaster. It’s my first time writing fiction with someone, so that’s been a fun challenge. I look forward to focusing on that this summer.

Q: Who are your favorite authors?

A: I just finished reading a great book by Hester Young called The Shimmering Road. It’s the sequel to her Southern Gothic, The Gates of Evangeline. I loved the characters, twists, and supernatural elements. I also like Jim Butcher, Neil Gaiman, Christopher Moore, Terry Brooks, Kendare Blake, Chelsea Cain, and many other fantasy and horror authors. Stephen King is my absolute favorite. I’ve been reading his work since middle school, and he’s had a tremendous influence on my writing.

I also love horror movies, and they have taught me a lot about pacing and suspense. Some favorites are Pan’s Labyrinth and The Cabin in the Woods. Guillermo del Toro and Joss Whedon are masterful story-tellers.

Q: Horror and ghosts are a theme here. Have you ever seen a ghost?

A: Yup. Several years ago, my husband and I lived in a house where a number of things happened that we couldn’t explain rationally. It was a plain ranch house built in the 80s—not what comes to mind when you think haunted house. One night, I stayed up writing and my husband went to bed. I was sitting at the dining table, working on my laptop. The house had an open floor plan connecting the living room to the dining area, and the combined room and hallway were well-lit—nothing creepy about the interior of the house.

It was late—probably close to midnight—when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a tall man standing in the hallway. At first, I thought my husband had woken up and come out of our bedroom to remind me to go to bed, so I wouldn’t be exhausted for work the next day. I turned my head and saw a black, shadowy figure, with no distinguishing features other than a sense I had that the thing was male and not friendly. We watched each other for a few seconds, and then the shadow man disappeared. I was more shocked than scared, and felt like I shouldn’t acknowledge what I’d just seen, because doing so would give it power. So, I turned back to my laptop and kept writing. I never saw the thing again, but I sometimes had the sense of being watched. I was glad when we moved out of that house.

I do love ghost stories though, and I’m always game for hearing them. And I don’t think all ghosts are malicious—I’ve heard some great stories about benevolent ghosts. My grandma once told me she lived with the ghost of an old woman and the ghost would repair things around the house, like sewing buttons back on to clothing. I don’t know if that’s a true story, but it’s a cool idea.

I think that’s why I’m attracted to writing about the supernatural. I don’t know if ghosts or cryptozoids are real, but I like the idea that they exist, the sense of possibility that even though we’ve discovered so much about our world, there are still mysteries to be solved.

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Excerpt:

In the middle of the night, I woke to the sound of someone singing. After Mark’s rough day, I didn’t dare disturb him. I got up and quietly pulled the door shut behind me as I left our bedroom. Sara’s bedside lamp was on. I went in her room to find her sitting on the floor next to her doll, singing and coloring. “Sara, honey? What’re you doing?”

She looked up at me. “Playing with Tara.”

I didn’t realize she’d named her doll. “Well, it’s two in the morning. You and Tara need to go back to bed.” I felt grumpy about having to leave the warmth of my bed to tell her that, but I tried to temper my annoyance. “There’s school tomorrow, sweetie.”

She nodded, and started picking up her crayons. I knelt down to help her. The drawing was of her and another little girl, holding hands. The girl had hair in braids. “Aw, were you drawing a picture of you and Sophie?”

Sara shook her head. “No. That’s Tara. She comes to play with me at night.”

A chill ran down my spine, though I wasn’t sure why—not right then. I tucked my daughter and her doll back in bed, and gave Sara a kiss on her forehead.

I moved to turn off the lamp when Sara whispered, “Tara wants a goodnight kiss too.” I smiled and kissed the doll’s forehead. Then Sara said, “No, not the doll, Mom. Tara.”

I stared at her, puzzled. It occurred to me Tara might be the name of an imaginary friend. It wouldn’t be the first time Sara had one. “Okay…where’s Tara?”

“Don’t be silly, Mom. She’s right here.” Sara patted the place next to her—there was a slight indentation on the pillow next to her head. “Can’t you see her?”

I shook my head. “I’m sorry, honey. I can’t.” Sara’s brow furrowed in disappointment, so I added, “How ‘bout I blow her a kiss? Think that would be okay?”

Sara smiled, nodding. I puckered up, kissed my own hand, and blew it at the spot next to my daughter. Then I turned off the light. “Sweet dreams.”

“Sweet dreams, Mama,” Sara said. I couldn’t see her in the dark, but the blankets rustled as she burrowed into them.

It wasn’t until I was back in my own bed that I remembered the photo we’d found before we moved in. The little girl who’d lived here before—Tara.

Thanks for reading!

Art for Pitcher Plant Cover

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017


Sunset Empire Launch!

Thrilling news! Sunset Empire is finally (finally!) available as both an ebook and paperback on Amazon. I’m so excited to share this book with you, because it’s really a love letter to the north coast of Oregon, blending fantasy with history and showcasing some of my favorite legends and sites from the area.

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I’m also elated to share that it is included in the Secrets and Shadows box set, a young adult collection with ten fantasy, paranormal, and sci-fi novels from New York Times Bestselling, USA Today Bestselling, #1 Amazon Bestselling, and award-winning authors. This week Secrets and Shadows became a #1 Amazon Bestseller in the UK. I’m so grateful to all our readers who made this happen.

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A few things about Sunset Empire:

  • Stay tuned for giveaways on Amazon and Goodreads. I’ll also be giving away a Sunset Empire-themed prize when we reach 1,000 likes on my author page on Facebook.
  • I’m currently looking for reviewers for Sunset Empire, so if you’re interested and willing to post reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, message me with your email address. I’ll send you a free ebook.
  • Subscribers to my blog are eligible for a free short story or chapter. If you’re interested in receiving one, contact me with your email and I’ll pass that along.
  • If you order Sunset Empire now, it will arrive before Christmas.

Here’s a description of the book, and another excerpt. Enjoy, and thanks for reading!

Description:

She may be guilty of arson, but she didn’t kill the burned girl haunting her.

After her house burns down, Elyse Pthan is forced to move to Astoria, Oregon to live with the strict grandmother she never knew. Rebelling against her grandmother’s rigid rules, Elyse discovers the terrible heritage her mother kept hidden. Her family may be responsible for the 1922 fire that nearly destroyed Astoria, the death of a girl who longs for vengeance as she haunts the tunnels beneath the city, and mysterious disappearances spanning hundreds of years.

Helping her uncover the truth is Phantom, an enigmatic and surprisingly attractive boy, considering his scars, his talent as a pickpocket, and his status as the local social outcast. A boy with a hidden weapon and a dark heritage of his own, that could turn him from friend to hunter.

Excerpt:

Phantom had been tracking the beast when he heard the first scream. It was coming from somewhere within Shively Park. He started running toward the sound, praying he wasn’t too late.

The creatures were growing bold. The one he was following had left its usual territory in the woods southeast of the city, and ventured alarmingly close to the Astoria Column, a popular place for tourists and locals alike. He wondered if the beast had been spotted by any of the visitors who had climbed the column’s spiral staircase for a view of the Columbia. He doubted it. On a sunny day, you could see all the way to the Pacific Ocean from that vantage point, but the day was overcast with a misty rain. In low light, the creatures camouflaged themselves so well against the backdrop of the forest, most people wouldn’t recognize them for what they were until it was much too late to get away.

Phantom had never seen one out in the open, but he knew they crossed roads sometimes because he’d seen deer carcasses outside the monsters’ traditional hunting zones. He’d even spent the night in a tree before, observing the creatures’ nocturnal activities. They liked the dark. At night, they had no need for camouflage. Darkness shielded them from detection, allowing them to move freely without fear of hunters like himself.

Running silently down the path toward the old bridge, Phantom could hear glass breaking. Someone, a girl, by the sound of her screams, was making a whole lot of noise. That was bad. She was about to attract the wrong kind of attention.

He couldn’t see the creature, but it was close. He could smell it. The air was thick with the pungent smell of death.

Phantom checked his weapon and then left the path, trying to stay hidden in the thick brush. He padded uphill so he’d have a better view of the bridge. He would need a clear visual of the beast to take aim.

He crouched down in a clump of ferns, behind a tree. Peering around the trunk of the tree, he could see her—the new girl, Elyse. What was she doing here? He thought back to his encounter with her at the battery and then later in the alley. She certainly had a knack for finding trouble.

She retrieved something from her pack and cradled it in her hands, before hurling it at the bridge like she was pitching a baseball. He cringed as the tea cup shattered, and looked around frantically, trying to spot the beast.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw it coming—a blur of dark fur that seemed to blend in with the forest. The girl was poised, ready to launch another cup at the wall, when she seemed to suddenly realize something was wrong. She whirled around, a look of sheer terror on her face.

Phantom took aim at the dark shape bearing down her and released the bolt. To his horror, he missed.

Want more Sunset Empire? Get it here. Happy reading!

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016


Secrets & Shadows Launch!

It’s launch day for the Secrets and Shadows box set! This young adult collection includes ten full-length fantasy, paranormal, and sci-fi novels from award-winning and bestselling authors. Do you have your copy yet? If not, click here.

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I’m thrilled that my newest book, Sunset Empire, is part of this collection. To celebrate, I’m sharing one of my favorite scenes with Elyse and Phantom, which features Fort Stevens State Park on the Oregon coast. Enjoy.

Excerpt from Chapter Five, Social Food Chain:

Mr. Mills led the group into Battery 245 at Fort Stevens. After the dark, unsettling walk through West Battery, Elyse was glad to see the bunker was outfitted with fluorescent lights.

“Battery 245 was built in 1944 to upgrade harbor defenses in World War II,” Mr. Mills explained as he led them down the narrow corridor, which ended in a T. There were a series of darkened rooms with opened doors on either side of the hallway. “The battery was self-contained, with its own power generator, plotting rooms, magazines, and other facilities. It was also designed to be gas-proof in case of chemical attack.” A few students laughed. “Yes, yes—you’re all very clever,” Mr. Mills said, a slight smile on his lips, “but let’s save the gas jokes until we’re outside in the fresh air. Come. On to the mine observation station and the steam plant.”

Elyse followed the other students out of the battery and stopped to read the plaque at the entrance. Hearing a scuffle behind her, she peered into the corridor. Jared and Parker jogged up the corridor, laughing. They were trailed by Leif, Maddy, Jackson, and Ava. She turned back to the plaque, feigning interest as they passed. Something about their hushed snickering worried her. What had they been up to?

She waited until they left, and then slipped back inside Battery 245. Her footsteps sounded overly loud as she walked down the corridor alone. At the junction, she turned a slow circle, studying each of the rooms. Nothing looked amiss, except one of the doors was closed. Not just closed—it was barred shut with a length of rebar. She was certain it hadn’t been before.

She stared at the door and then approached quietly, listening. The silence was eerie. Stomach churning, she grasped the rebar and pulled it loose from the door’s iron handle. Carefully, to minimize the noise, she set it on the floor of the corridor. Then she opened the door.

The boy with the scar sat cross-legged on the floor of the room, holding a cell phone. He looked up and then raised his eyebrows. “Oh. You. Not who I expected.” His bottom lip was busted and bleeding and his left eye was starting to swell.

“Who were you expecting?” Elyse asked. She thought she should feel guarded around him, considering what Lien had said about him being questioned in the Jenna Williams case. But she wasn’t afraid of him.

Phantom smiled, and then winced when his lip split open more. “The owner of this phone.” He returned his attention to the phone and swiped the screen, seemingly ignoring her. Then he glanced up. “What was the most annoying earworm from summer?”

Elyse stared at him. He’d clearly been beaten up, and he wanted to chat about music? Maybe his brain had gotten rattled in the fight. “What?”

“The most irritating pop song this summer. What was it?”

Elyse thought about it. “Tell Me, by Kat Savanna.”

“Never heard of it.”

Elyse laughed. “Yeah, you did. It was all over the net. You couldn’t have missed it.”

Phantom just looked at her blankly. “Maybe if you sang it?”

Elyse shook her head. “Uh, no.”

“Please?” He gave her a hopeful smile. It looked painful.

She crossed her arms. “I’m not going to sing it, but the lyrics were like, ‘Tell me I’m the one, summer’s just begun, tell me, say it’s true, I’m the only one for you.’ You know—total mindless, repetitive crap—gets in your head and you can’t get it out.”

Recognition dawned on his face. “Oh, that one.” He shuddered with mock horror. “It’s awful. Perfect.” He played with phone and then, more to himself than her, said, “Now—just have to change the ringtone…and…done.”

Phantom set the phone on the floor, and then retrieved a leather wallet from somewhere behind him. From the way he studied it, Elyse was certain it didn’t belong to him, any more than the cell phone did. He took out a twenty and shoved it in his jacket pocket. He started to close the wallet, then paused, thinking. Elyse watched, fascinated, as he retrieved a second twenty and stashed that in his jacket pocket as well. Then he closed the wallet, placed it on the floor in the middle of the room, and balanced the phone on top of it. He eyed the two items and then, satisfied with his work, rose to his feet and brushed off his jeans. “Let’s get out of here.”

Elyse put her hands on her hips. “So…I take it you’re a pickpocket?”

Phantom gave her a sly smile. “Something like that. But the way I see it, dude locks me in here, the least he can do is pay for my cab ride home.” His smile widened to a vulpine grin. “And dinner.”

“You’re not going back to school?”

He frowned, and Elyse got the impression she’d asked a dumb question. “I can’t very well show my face on the bus if I’m supposed to be locked in here, can I?” he asked. “Kind of ruins the mystique.”

Elyse had no idea what he was talking about. “Your lip is bleeding,” she said.

“Is it?” He wiped at it absently, and glanced at the blood on his fingers. “I’ve had worse.” She found herself staring at his scar and looked away quickly.

“You’d better run along,” he said, dismissing her with a wave of his hand. “Being seen with me will do nothing for your social standing.”

Elyse planted her feet. “I don’t care about stuff like that.”

“You should.” Phantom stepped around her, out into the hallway.

Elyse wondered why he would care about her social standing, but didn’t say anything. Instead, she followed him into the corridor and asked, “Why do they call you Phantom?”

He grinned. “For one, I’m pretty good at getting out of bad situations.” He pushed the door closed and secured it with the rebar.

It didn’t look quite right to Elyse, so she adjusted the metal bar so the door looked exactly the way it had when she’d encountered it. “And? What are the other reasons?”

But he just smiled and shook his head. “Some other time. Thanks for the rescue.”

 

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Stay tuned for more news about Sunset Empire. It will soon be available as a single paperback!

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016