I started noticing years ago that my daughter Jillian has a magnificent gift. She can entertain herself anywhere with anything. She can take a knife, plate and napkin at a restaurant, add an evil salt shaker, maybe a heroic ketchup bottle, and create a world within her own mind that must be truly fascinating. Because she never looks bored, and these items are always moving around the table talking to each other.
Her room is full of characters she's collected over the years, and when you clean, you must clean around the worlds those characters live in. Their stories are on-going, and she doesn't want them disrupted.
And this year, she started to devour books. Series after series of them. She even asked for a library card. Shocking!
Since I'm taking a little time off this summer, I asked her if she wanted to try and write a book together, and she said yes. Her first topic: the zombie apocalypse. Great. I told her I know very little about zombies, and what I know I've learned from snippets of The Walking Dead as she's watching it. I prefer romantic adventures to blood and gore. But, we both love suspense. And we both love camping.
So, here's are first chapter in our first middle grade book as J.L. Bond. ( Jillian and Linda Bond.) Jillian wrote the prologue. I don't know about you, but I think it's creepy! What does she have in store for us?
Enter these woods the hunter.
And become the hunted.
No one knows the full story.
If they did, most people would have done the same thing.
Those people were never my friends. They were my survival tools.
Some people can do the right thing. Others can’t.
When it came to the woods, these scared kids knew nothing about survival.
This is why I had to do what I had to do.
I knew that they were getting into something deeper than they understood.
I knew it was dangerous.
I knew with each passing day they were digging their own graves.
I just made the end easier.
Okay, maybe not easier.
Stacey Sanders didn’t want this camping trip to be her first and her last.
She didn’t want to end up a bear appetizer in the middle of the Tennessee woods.
She’d just turned sixteen. And this was no way to celebrate.
A branch snapped.
She sucked in a deep breath, trying really hard to stand perfectly still.
So that thing in the woods wouldn’t notice her.
But, her legs were trembling, and her heart was quaking. Can it sense me panicking?
Another branch cracked.
Something behind her growled. Or was that muffled, weird sound her own fear crawling out from deep within her chest? Chunks of her macaroni and cheese lunch rose into her throat.
Don’t throw up! Don’t! That animal would surely smell her, zero in on her location, if it hadn’t already.
Oh God, she’d never wanted to come on this silly school field trip. It wasn’t even required for her science grade, but her mom had insisted. Signed the permission slip without telling her. Like whose mom does that? Then when her mom had finally admitted her treachery, she’d insisted this scavenger hunt around the Ocoee River would be the perfect way for Stacey to bond with her new classmates. Finally make real friends.
Leaves crunched behind her, like someone or something was stepping or crawling toward her.
Stacey’s radar was so fine tuned from years of living in fear that she could sense when the thing shifted even the slightest bit in direction.
If she screamed for help now, her classmates would think she was a big chicken.
She sniffed the air, trying to smell the creature. Could it smell her? Why had she used that bug spray? The kind that smelled like strawberry body spray from her favorite store in the mall.
More shuffling of leaves. Then scratching sounds followed by something mewling like an angry cat.
Maybe it is a cat. The hair on the back of her neck rose up in ripples. Maybe I’m just overacting.
Stacey flicked her gaze to her right and left. Nothing?
Which way was back to the first checkpoint, where the group had started their scavenger hunt an hour ago? She wasn’t sure. Oh gosh! She shouldn’t have wondered off alone, in one of her dreamy states.
A short snort.
Her jaw clenched. That sound was even closer than the last one. Her heart picked up its pace. You’re fine. You’re fine. It’s just the wind.
Except the afternoon was cool and still.
Maybe it was just a possum or raccoon. But her science teacher, Mr. Bolt, had warned her that many of the smaller animals in these woods were still dangerous because campers and hikers often fed them. And the creepy critters came back, hungry, aggressive, looking for more.
Another tree branch snapped. Further to her right.
What should she do? Grab her backpack on the ground behind her. And bolt? Would it chase her?
She could wait here. Perfectly still.
But for how long?
Since she was the new kid in school, no one really knew her enough to miss her or care about her safety in the spooky forest.
Except for one person.
And he was the one she was avoiding.
Max Lee was getting too close. Stacey shivered but not from the cool, dampness surrounding her. It was an awkward situation she found herself in. Wanting the safety of Max’s friendship and attention, especially out here in the woods, but realizing the most popular girl in West Glen High School had marked Max as her own. Piss off Aiden and these four days in the woods would be an even greater hell.
Another snap and then….something like sniffing.
From something not human.
She hated the woods! It was too full of creepy crawly things that wanted to bite you. Small hairy spiders (her greatest freak out by the way) and big wolves or bears. Her stomach triple flipped. Who enjoyed this stuff?
Max, that’s who.
And she couldn’t even call him for help.
Something tickled the back of her leg.
It was on her!
And then it dug deeper, scratching the skin on her right calf till it stung.
Warm liquid rolled down to her ankle.
Had to be blood.
Her stomach clenched. Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! I'm going to throw up.
Instead, Stacey opened her mouth and screamed.