STORM’S EDGE is out tomorrow, so I thought I would take the opportunity to share with you all the first chapter of the book.
October 9th 2017
Ruby waits under the shelter of an old tree, its branches stripped bare by the cold weather.
Lester walks toward her through the tall grass that juts from the freshly fallen snow like a sea of black hair on a white scalp.
He smiles. To everyone else, it is a freakish expression on his tortured face—but Ruby has always found it endearing. She’s always seen the man beneath the monster.
He pulls something out of his back pocket. A tangle of white cloth. He hands it to her. “Wanted to fhow you fomethin’,” Lester says, his deformed lips pronouncing every s with a lisp.
Ruby unfolds it. It’s a mask of some kind—two rough eyeholes cut into the fabric. She looks up at him, frowning. “Lester . . . I don’t know what this is.”
She hands it back over. Lester removes the belt from his jeans, puts the hood over his head. Ruby backs up, unsure. The mask he has created for himself doesn’t take shape until he buckles the belt around his neck, tucking in the white material.
Ruby gasps. “Lester, take that off.”
“Thif if me, Ruby.”
She continues to back away from him, knowing this meeting was a mistake. She should never have agreed to it. Should’ve listened to her gut and said no. “Please, Lester. You’re scaring me.”
He advances toward her, his eyes burning from the darkness cast by the holes in the fabric.
Ruby tries to run. Lester clasps his hands around her neck, pulls her down to the ground. He pins her to the spot, his breath escaping the white cloth in puffs of frozen vapor.
Ruby sobs, screams, tries to tear his arms away and free herself, but Lester is too strong.
“Why, Lester?” she asks, hysterical. “Why are you doing this?”
Lester looks down at her. “Because you’re my princeff . . .”
Ida gasps for air, sitting bolt upright in the bed, soaked through with sweat, clutching the sheets. She tries to regain her composure, to resist the anguish tearing holes in her soul. In the darkness of her room, she draws the damp sheets up over her body, the shivers settling in.
Ida closes her eyes, and she is back there, at the house. Lester lying facedown in a pool of his own blood. Every second fresh in her mind, as if it just happened. Ida ignoring Detective Harper’s calls for her to stay where she is. Getting down on the floor next to Lester. Placing her hands on his body. Making the connection. Watching him as a young man, befriending her mother—then betraying that friendship as he strangled Ruby to death.
Seeing everything that came after—the girls he killed because he saw Ruby in them. Reenacting that fateful day up at Wisher’s Pond over and over and over again.
Witnessing Lester’s fall toward oblivion. She thought the dreams of her mother’s murder would stop now that Lester was dead. Now that his soul had been consumed by the darkness . . .
If only that were so.
She gets up. Goes to the bathroom. Fills the sink with hot water. She cups her hands under the water and douses her face. The mirror over the sink is steamed up, even with the door open.
Ida wipes away at it with her forearm, and there, standing behind her own reflection, is Lester—white hood over his head, belt tight around his neck, dark eye sockets cut haphazardly into the white cotton.
She shrieks, spins around, but she is alone. Turning back to the mirror, she sees only her reflection. A frightened woman, plagued by dreams. By memories that aren’t hers.
Ida watches the mirror mist back over, as if from some invisible breath. She turns the light off, returns to bed. After a long while listening to the sounds of the house at night, she sleeps the sleep of the dead.
Chalmer is a small hamlet with a population of less than a thousand people. Ten miles southwest of Hope’s Peak, it’s a quiet place as featureless as the endless, flat farmlands around it. Rose’s Groceries & Supplies is the closest Chalmer gets to a Buy N Save, but it serves its purpose well.
Ida grabs a basket and carries it through the entrance. As grocery stores go, it’s pretty large—taking up three storefronts, its big white facade (with “Rose’s” accented in bright pink) dominating the lower half of Main Street.
Ida doesn’t like heading into town, but if she really has to, she goes early in the morning. There are fewer people, less hassle . . . and parking isn’t such a bitch.
She walks up and down the aisles, filling the basket. In the baking section, she gets everything she needs to make cookies. She woke that morning with the idea in her head that she would whip up a batch. Sometimes, there is only one salve for the soul, and that is good old-fashioned home cooking.
Her grandmammy made her cookies when she was a little girl. When she and her mother would visit—though those visits were sometimes few and far between, depending on how well Ruby Lane was getting along with her father at the time—the old house would be filled with the smell of freshly baked cookies. Later, with her mother gone, Ida’s grandmammy would bake regularly to cheer her up. And even after that, at the mental hospital, her grandmammy would make regular visits.
Without fail, there were enough cookies to last for days.
Ida swings by the alcohol department, deposits a six-pack of beer into her basket, and heads to the front of the store to check out.
The smell and taste of her grandmammy’s cookie recipe is one thing she can count on to lift her spirits. Even if the memories connected with them are bittersweet.
There are two cash registers, manned by women in aprons. The old man in line in front of her glances back casually, his eyes going wide when he sees who is behind him. Ida ignores him. Since the Lester Simmons case, she has seen her picture in the local rag on more than one occasion. Some notoriety has come with it. The old man pats the woman in front of him, whispers something to her, and she, too, looks back at Ida. The woman tuts and shakes her head.
Ida’s face goes hot. Suddenly the store feels too small, the walls pushing in on all sides. Sunlight hitting the front windows, turning the inside of the store into a sauna. It takes an eternity for the couple to check out, and as they leave, they both glance back at her again.
Ida puts her basket next to the register and avoids the cashier’s gaze. She pays and hurriedly leaves with her bags. Outside, she sucks in a big lungful of air, her chest getting tight.
It’s a panic attack. Give yourself a minute.
She heads for her truck, her heart skipping. She unlocks the passenger’s-side door, sets two of the paper bags in the footwell, and then spills the contents of the third onto the seat. She scrunches the neck of the bag in her hand and leans into the cab, breathing in and out with the bag. Her pulse slows, steadies, until she feels like she can get a full breath at last. She takes the paper bag away from her face, repacks her groceries, and backs up a step from the truck. Her behind hits something, and she turns to see that she’s knocked into Hank Partman, the owner of Past Times, a store farther up Main Street. Ida frequents his store on a regular basis to buy vinyl.
“Oh God, sorry!” Ida says.
Partman smiles with those ridiculously large, perfectly straight false teeth of his. “No worries. I was actually walking over here to see if you were okay.”
Partman points toward his store. “I was outside and saw you breathing into the bag. Figured you might need help.”
“No, it was just asthma. Don’t worry about it,” she says, trying to downplay the incident.
Partman shakes his head. “Ida, you’ve been coming to my store since you were a teen. I know you well enough to know that you smoke like a chimney stack. You don’t have asthma. You were having a panic attack, weren’t you?”
“Yes,” Ida says stubbornly.
“But it’s passed now?”
She shrugs. Attempts a smile that doesn’t feel right—let alone look convincing. “I’m a bit of an expert.”
“I can imagine,” he says. “Look, why don’t you come over to the store. I can make coffee. I’ve got new vinyl in. Don’t rush off.”
“No. I appreciate it, Mr. Partman,” Ida says, walking around the truck to the driver’s side, “but I must get going.”
“Okay,” he says. “Well, the offer is there.”
“I know it is, and I am so thankful, but right now I think I’ve had enough of being gawked at.” She throws her head in the direction of three middle-aged women on the other side of Main Street, talking in whispers and observing their exchange.
Partman watches as she starts the engine, pulls the seat belt over her.
She winds the window down. “I’m sorry.”
“Maybe next time,” Partman says.
“For sure.” Ida pushes the truck into gear and drives along Main Street. She takes a left onto Nareesh Avenue and heads past a row of businesses: a photographic-supply store, a florist, the real estate agent she’s been working with to get her grandparents’ house on the market.
Now she’s faced with the prospect of returning home, where she has covered every reflective surface in the house, even though she knows it won’t stop the haunting, any more than disconnecting the phone stopped it from ringing . . .
For years, she believed that if she confronted her mother Ruby’s murderer—if she knew why—it would put her demons to rest. But now she knows that’s not the case. What she saw in Lester Simmons’s memories just before his life ebbed away was the terrible truth that he hadn’t acted alone. That his evil had seeped into the bedrock of Hope’s Peak and, even now, was still bearing fruit.
Her mother’s murderer may be dead. But to truly avenge her, Ida knows that she must slash and burn until the poison that has taken root in Hope’s Peak is gone.
Forever . . .