I shuffled into the living room looking for Wolf. He sat in front of the hearth staring at the skull. He glanced at me when I came in, then leaped to his feet and took my elbow.
“I’m ready for bed,” I said. “Can you help me get up the stairs?”
“Sure,” he said. “But why don’t you just sleep down here where I can keep an eye on you.”
“Because I have to have the skull under my bed, remember? Down here there’s no bed, only a couch, and I’m not taking any chances. My throat is killing me. I’m getting weaker. Wolf, I’m scared. My whole life, I’ve taken care of myself and Benny. What will happen to my brother if I die?”
Wolf grabbed my shoulders. “Don’t talk like that. We’re gonna beat this thing. Whatever it is.” He snatched the skull, tucked it under his arm, and bent down. “Get on my back and I’ll give you a ride.”
I hesitated. “What if I'm too heavy?”
Wolf laughed. “You're far from heavy, Dharma. Look, you need to start trusting me. And you have to start trusting yourself. You are stronger than you think you are, and you’re braver than you know. Now hop on.”
I wrapped my arms around his neck, and collapsed against him. “Thanks,” I said, inhaling his woodsy scent.
Wolf labored up the steps, every muscle in his strong back flexing beneath me. At the landing, I slid off and hobbled down the hallway to the master bedroom.
“Good thing I made the bed last night,” Wolf said.
“You did? Wow, thanks.”
“I had to have something to do while you were sleeping.”
He pulled back the blankets and held them up so I could climb into the soft bed. Wolf got on his knees and slid the skull underneath the creaky springs.
“You sure you’re going to be okay up here?”
“I hope so,” I said. “At this point, nothing matters but sleep, even if I don’t wake up.”
“Are you sure about that?” Wolf said. He gazed into my eyes and leaned in close, his lips almost touching my forehead. My heart skipped. For a moment, I thought he was going to kiss me, but instead he placed a hand against my cheek.
“You still feel like you have a fever. No wonder, with everything you've been through.” He pulled away. “I’m going to camp right outside the door. Call me if you need anything.”
“Thanks,” I said. It felt good knowing he would be so close. I couldn’t blame him for not kissing me. My heart sank, I'm sure I looked totally gross. I closed my eyes, listening to his hollow footsteps as he walked away.
Every sound set my nerves on edge—the howling wind, the rattling shutters, the clatter of pipes, a weird scraping outside my window. Then I heard another noise. A different kind of noise. Low. Raspy. I strained to hear against the wind, and held my breath. The eerie sound stuttered in the darkness.
Heavy, mucus-filled breathing.
Coming from under the bed.
Excerpt # 2 from
by Angela J. Townsend: River of Bones
The rain faded and fog swirled around the bog in the distance, creeping through rows of cypress trees, disguising the landscape in a blinding haze of white. Through the choking fog, a dark figure crawled crablike from the water. I strained to see in the mist. Could a gator rise above the weeds like that? As I watched, it pushed itself upright—no, definitely not a gator.
I looked over to where Wolf had disappeared around the side of the house, my heart racing as a sick feeling settled into my gut. I cast a glance back to where I had seen the shape moving…
And it was closer! It had almost reached the house, shambling in an awkward way, as though it were not truly walking but moving in time with strings rather than muscles. And I could see it now much more clearly. Its head was bowed, with a matted rope hung around its neck, dripping with sludge. Muck and water dripped from the rotted garment hanging on its—no, her—body, as if her very insides were leaking the fluids dripping from her frame. A rag circled her head, dirty with muck, pulled slightly to the side, exposing a bare spot where her hair and ear should have been.
Paralyzing terror sawed through my spine. Run! Move! I stood rooted to the spot. Head still down, the figure raised a boney finger pointing at me, hobbling grotesquely toward the house.
Fear scrambled my thoughts. I had to warn Wolf! Adrenaline surged. I sprang into action, raising my hand to beat on the window, when something slammed into the back of my knees.
Excerpt # 3 from
by Angela J. Townsend: River of Bones
My cheeks blazed, I opened my mouth to speak, fighting for words that wouldn't make me sound like a fool, when something shuffled upstairs again.
Wolf stared at the ceiling, his brow creased. “What's that?”
“I don't know. I heard it just before you came in. I was going to ask you to come with me to check it out.”
He walked from the kitchen to the foot of the stairs and peered into the dark stairwell. I put Benny into the playpen with his sippy cup and toys before following Wolf up the stairs. Just as we reached the landing, the hollow footsteps sounded again. Wolf glanced over his shoulder and whispered, “It might be the pipes rattling. Old houses can make all kinds of random noises. Stay close and let’s do some exploring.”
We checked out each room, finding nothing but dust and building materials from half-finished renovations. Then we came to the second staircase, which led to the third floor. Steep and narrow, it swept much higher than the one leading to the second floor. I held tight to the handrail, following Wolf to the third floor landing. Five doors, all closed, lined the narrow hallway, two on either side and one at the end.
“Let’s hurry. I have to get back to Benny,” I said, taking a giant step and tripping over my own feet. I landed hard, spraining my wrist.
“Are you all right?” Wolf said, scooping me up. I started to dissolve in his strong arms. He stared into my eyes for several seconds, then grabbed my hand and placed it against his lips. His mouth parted under my hand and his breath danced across my fingertips. I could hardly breathe. Heat seared into my face.
“Yeah, I'm okay,” I said softly. I pulled back my hand–my body tingling in places I didn't know I had.
The footsteps sounded again. Wolf helped me to my feet, his eyes wide and alert. “It’s coming from down the hall. Stay behind me.”
We tiptoed to the end of the hallway to the last door. Wolf gripped the glass doorknob. “Who’s in there?” He called. A faint flutter or shuffle could be heard on the other side of the door. Wolf turned the handle, but it wouldn’t budge. “It’s locked.”
Whispering voices traveled under the threshold. Footsteps sounded again.
“Open up, we’re coming in!” Wolf said. He glanced at me, his eyes hard. “I’m gonna break it down. Stand back.”
I took a step away and Wolf shoved hard on the door. It flew open and every ounce of me begged for it to be closed again.
This book may have been received free of charge from a publisher or a publicist. That will NEVER have a bearing on my recommendations.