Summer of Zombies 2014 SPOTLIGHT: Peggy Martinez’s State of Decay

It’s the Summer of Zombies and you know what that means? Certain death and/or arms caching? Plague? Bands of Mad Max-like marauders skipping from town to town to glean tools and food for survival?

Nope.

*jazz hands* BLOG TOUR!

Summer of Zombies 2014 Blog Tour

The stench of rotting flesh is in the air! Welcome to the Summer of Zombie Blog Tour 2014, with 33 of the best zombie authors spreading the disease in the month of June.

Stop by the event page on Facebook so you don’t miss an interview, guest post or teaser… and pick up some great swag as well! Giveaways galore from most of the authors as well as interaction with them! #SummerZombie

The Summer of Zombie 2014 blog tour has already launched, and I’m very happy to have fellow zombiephile Peggy Martinez as a guest today to learn more about her and her novel State of Decay!

Peggy Martinez

When not writing, Peggy can be found spending time at home with her husband, her teen son, and four little girls. She loves reading, writing, soap making, aromatherapy,gangster movies, prepping for the zombie apocalypse, and downing insane amounts of Twizzlers and Kazoozles.

As if being a wife and homeschooling mom of five doesn’t keep her busy enough, Peggy Martinez is a full time Author who has six published books, including The Time Warper Series, State of Decay, the Contradiction books, and Unnatural Occurrence. Peggy’s dream is to own a small homestead where she can raise some chickens along with her five kids, tend to a large garden, and one day take her dream vacation’s to Ireland, Greece, and Scotland.

SPOTLIGHT ON: State of Decay

State Of Decay by Peggy Martinez

What is your latest zombie release?

State of Decay

Quick description of it (no spoilers)

Despite what you’ve been told, the Apocalypse doesn’t begin with fire raining down from the heavens, nor does it begin with the human race falling down on their faces in supplication before a triumphant god. No, the sounds of the Apocalypse are much more terrifying than that, and I should know … I’ve heard them, and hearing the world tumble into chaos around me is not something I’ll ever forget. My name is Melody Carter. A Boeing 767 fell from the sky and wiped out most of my neighborhood. But, that’s the least of my worries. My list of “Things I’m Most Worried About” shifted dramatically when my dad told me that charred corpses tried to make a meal out of their rescuers … I’m thinking yours would too. This is my story. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Something unique about it

The infection is spread differently than most zombie novels I’ve read and my heroine is the daughter of a retired Army officer, so she kicks butt & takes names. :)

Interested? Be sure to order State of Decay at Amazon and B&N. You can also find Peggy Martinez at on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest pages.

3 Comments

June 9, 2014 · 11:09 am

Busy, busy, busy

It’s been a busy couple of months in the world of Getting My Work Into Your Grubby Little Hands. I haven’t taken the time to sit down with you–how you been? Did you do something different with your hair? You’re looking vivacious today, if you don’t mind my saying.

As a quick update, these things happened:

All of these are awesome and make me all happy in my squishy bits, but one of these things is not like the other: JukePop Serials is a bit of a different creature because it is serialized. Which means that I’ll be posting segments of the story every month, a la Scheherazade. (Except I won’t be doing to to keep from being killed. Otherwise, exactly the same.)

So check these out! Buy the books with the intent to A) loan it to everyone you know so that they lust after it and want it for their very own, or B) gather with your friends to burn in effigy. (Bonfires are awesome in the winter. Best to buy lots of copies to make the flames gigantoid.) Share the links to the online stories with so many people we crash the publication sites. +Vote, share, retweet, favorite, and like where applicable and with reckless abandon!

It’s like a subversive awesome club designed to… *dramatic pause, taps fingertips together* PROMOTE ART! *maniacal, evil laughter*

You know what this means, right?

We need a team name. Suggestions?

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Filed under Bucket List, I take myself way too seriously, milestones, Writing

This is a pretty normal conversation for our house

It started with this: “I think we should get another dog.

We recently lost both of our cats, one as a run-away and the other due to health issues that forced euthanasia. There’s been a strange gap in our house, as a result, a period where things are too quiet, too orderly, not puked on or frustrating enough. So naturally, when I saw a friend post an adorable picture of their new foster dog, I saw an opportunity and went to my husband with it.

I approach him with a big smile, to show that I’ve just thought of a very good idea and am quite proud of it. (Everyone knows that when you look really proud of something, even a screwup, other people have a harder time shooting you down or getting mad about it.) “I think we should get another dog,” I declare proudly.

He answers with an incredulous look of horror.

“No really,” I continue. “I’ve thought about this…” (I don’t tell him it was only about two seconds ago.) “…and since we’ve lost the cats, I think we have room to save another life.” (That’s right, I played that card a bit early because I’m not above playing dirty.)

“Why would you ever think this was a good idea?”

“I’m pretty sure that’s self-evident. Because I thought of it.”

“You do realize that when we got married, I went from a house with no pets, to a house with a cat. Then to having a cat and a horse. Then to a cat, a horse, and another cat.”

“Yes, but–“

“Then to a cat, a horse, another cat, and a dog. And then a cat, a horse, another cat, a dog, and another dog. Do you see a pattern here?”

“But the pet needed a pet!” 

He closes his eyes for a moment, like he’s counting to ten. “Then it was a cat, a horse, another cat, a dog, another dog, and half a dog.”

“When did we get half a dog?”

“When Jupiter comes over.” (My bro-in-law, who lives with us, has a girlfriend, who does not, who got a dog. But Jupiter’s the kind of dog that really favors alpha personalities, so he often comes home with the very alpha bro-in-law during school breaks.)

“Jupiter’s a pretty big dog. I think he counts for more than half.”
“Only got half a brain.” (Can’t argue with that.) “AND THEN, we sometimes dog sit for M. So that puts us to a cat, a horse, another cat, a dog, another dog, half a dog, and two dogs that aren’t ours.”

“Right, but the half a dog and the two that aren’t ours don’t stay very long.”

“But when they are here, I’ve learned it’s about two dogs over my tolerance. Short term is fine, but not for permanent.”
“But that means you wouldn’t mind another dog.”

“HOW DO YOU FIGURE?”

I said ‘the half dog and the two that aren’t ours don’t stay long’ and you replied that it was two dogs over your tolerance, which means I’ve got a half a dog’s room left over.”

He just stares at me with this squinty, incredulous look. I think it’s because he’s impressed at my math skills. “We’re not getting a half a dog.”

“No, that’d be silly. I say we just get a small one, like a Dachshund or a Chihuahua.”

“A little dog?” (You would’ve thought I’d suggested a skunk. But  he’ already shot that  idea down earlier in the month.)

“Why not? It wouldn’t take up nearly as much space as the cats did.”

“This isn’t a space issue. It’s a we’re-not-getting-another-dog issue.”

“That’s hardly fair. You’ve already outlawed goats, potbellied pigs, ferrets, and de-scented skunks. I really think I’m owed a compromise at this point.”

“I let you have fish.” His eyes light up. “I FORGOT ABOUT THE FISH! That made, at one point, a cat, a horse, another cat, a dog, another dog, a half a dog, two dogs that weren’t ours, and two fish.”

“You didn’t let me have the fish. I kind of just brought them home one day and put them on the half wall and waited for you to notice.”

He glowers at me.
“Besides,” I continue, “you don’t even have to interact with the fish.”

“I have to look at them.”

I glower back, and, sensing victory he goes, “SO. Now that we’re down to no cat, a horse, no other cat, a dog, another dog, sometimes a half dog and two dogs that aren’t ours, and two fish, I think we’re good.”
“Hardly good. We still have space to fill. Besides, having the cats taught us that we’re really just dog people, so it makes sense that the next pet is another dog.”

“We don’t need a next pet!”

“Of course we do. We need to fill the hole of loss the cats left. But you don’t get to pick out the next dog. Last time you picked, you picked the broken one that we had to teach how to dog because she somehow never learned on her own.”

“We’re not picking out another dog.”

“Of course not, I just said that. I’ll pick it out. But don’t worry, you get veto power.”

“I veto now.”

“YOU’VE GOT TO WAIT UNTIL YOU HAVE OPTIONS TO CHOOSE FROM.”

“We don’t need options! We’re not getting another dog!” Then he left because his carpool buddy had arrived to pick him up, but I think it was really just an excuse not to continue the conversation.

 

Since we’ve been married, I’ve broached this topic, or some incarnation of it, a couple of times a month for the last 6 years. To date, he’s shot down fainting goats, a mean pony for Rynn to learn to ride on, another dog, more fish, squirrels, ferrets, potbellied pigs, de-scented skunks, capybaras, snakes, chickens, a duck, sugar gliders, a raccoon, and an air plant. (Not sure why he had such strong views about the air plant, but whatever…). Statistically speaking, I’ve just got to keep at him. I’ll wear him down one day.

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Filed under dogs, pets

FPU Graduates: 1 Year Later

March marked our first anniversary with Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. I’ve posted before about our experiences with this course, namely when we first started, about three weeks in, and then again a month in. Now we’re up to a year, and I can say that we’ve hit a good stride. We were able to repeat, for the most, our progress making and living by our budget, putting money away in various savings accounts, and spending cash for the things we agreed at the start to pay cash for. It’s comfortable now. If you’re new to Dave Ramsey’s principles or just starting an FPU course, know that it does get easier. A LOT easier.

We have hit a few wobbles along the way, though they’ve thankfully been A) minor and B) we’ve been cognizant enough to notice when we’re straying off track and subsequently take action to get back on track with minimal gnashing of teeth. Unfortunately, I can testify that old habits do die very hard: our biggest struggle is still with not eating out on a regular basis, so when we mess up in other areas (go to the grocery store a few days late, get lazy and don’t want to cook, forget to withdraw Blow money on our designated withdrawal day), we find ourselves falling back on this bad habit.

FPU ProTip: Be honest about your biggest hang-ups in following this program and be diligent in staying away from the actions that help encourage those hang-ups.

We also encountered our first experience where someone close hasn’t understood our motivation: a while ago, a close friend commented that we were fixated on money. That some of the actions we were taking (having what appeared to be a restrictive budget, putting all our extra money to tackle our Baby Step goals, my taking on a large freelance editing job on top of my current full-time job, etc.) had become “obsessive.” The friend even doubted that we would ever be able to stop compulsively saving: “First it was the emergency fund, currently it’s the house payment, and you’ve talked about taking a trip to Ireland when you’ve paid off the house…when is it ever going to end? Don’t you see that it’ll never be enough? It never is for obsessions.”

Our friend even warned against the toll this was probably taking on our daughter, that I wasn’t able to spend enough quality time with her given the freelance job, because even though I was only working after she’d gone to bed, I was stressed and tired (which was true) which, consequently affected our time together. I was also told it was “sad” that I had not been able to chip in on a friend’s new baby gift because I’d said “It wasn’t in the budget.” All of these things, our friend claimed, were a result of our money obsession.

As I listened, I was speechless. To have someone close be so off-base to what I thought we were doing. To have my motives, my parenting, and my work habits questioned…it made me sick with hurt and anger (and oh man was there anger) and even fear. I started questioning if that was what we were really doing. Were we just two people with good intentions that had truly become money obsessed? Over the hurtful words, that second-guessing of my own intentions was the worst part.

So I sat Clayton down for a heart-to-heart. Sure I felt confident that God wanted us to follow this path for our finances, but maybe our friend was meant to be a wake-up call, an impartial third-party observer. Maybe we really did need to reevaluate what we were doing and the situation we’d made for ourselves; good actions should be bearing good fruit, right? And the more we analyzed and the more we identified our financial fruit, we realized that it was moving in a very positive direction. It wasn’t just that we were saving more—the more responsibly we managed our money, the more God seemed to give us to manage. I’m not saying we were becoming fantastically wealthy, just that the more we followed a biblical financial path, the more we seemed to have at our disposal to give at unexpected times. (And that really is the fun part, to be able to give in creative, spontaneous ways and see God bless that.) Even beyond the money aspect, we’d seen how positively our marriage and relationships with others had actually become strengthened, too. We simply didn’t see any of the bad fruit that’s commonly associated with greedy, obsessive behavior.

The I realized I’d been asking myself the wrong question. It wasn’t a matter of “How could my friend think that of us?” It was more like “How could they NOT think that of us?” It’s actually pretty natural logic for an outside observer to have. Our friend doesn’t live with us and consequently can’t see the positive trend our financial actions are taking, doesn’t see our checkbook to know how much more freely we’re able to give, doesn’t see our kid thriving in her environment or our relationship with her growing daily, the subtle improvements in communication our marriage has had, or the financial peace of mind we’ve gained.

All our friends see is us ratcheting down on our frivolous spending, not taking as much time to entertain ourselves like we used to, hearing us spout phrases like “It’s not in the budget” or laud becoming “debt free” or “paying off the house.” They’ve heard us talk about moving from Baby Step to Baby Step in a continuous progression (which may seem endless if they aren’t familiar with Dave Ramsey’s program). Or, they might not agree entirely (or at all) with the Dave Ramsey plan and so begin considering your actions with a negative perception from the start. Given this, it’s perfectly reasonable for someone to come to the assumptions my friend made. The good financial fruit we’re bearing are largely intangible (as they’re related to our mindsets and behavior) and the visible signs aren’t usually things you broadcast with a loudspeaker (“WE DID X GOOD DEED WITH OUR MONEY BECAUSE GOD PUT IT ON OUR HEARTS!” or “I JUST HAD A WONDERFUL CONVERSATION WITH MY SPOUSE ABOUT HOW TO SPEND OUR TAX REFUND! INSTEAD OF SPENDING AN HOUR ARGUING ABOUT IT, WE HAD A FIVE-MINUTE CHAT AND THEN WATCHED THE WALKING DEAD!”).

And that actually made me proud. Because the only way for my friends, especially a close one who knows us fairly well, to think we’ve become money obsessed is for us to be pursuing financial peace with gazelle intensity! Which, from a Dave Ramsey perspective, IS AWESOME! I’m not mad at my friend for what was said—I’m really, really glad that their words made me realize that our actions have become apparent to others (even if others disagree with them).

So for those trying to follow Dave’s plan I give you this advice: stay focused on this path that God’s put before you. Even if you don’t approach it from a religious perspective, if you know that this is a positive thing for your life and your money and your finances and you see good fruit growing from your new financial habits, KEEP IT UP! Dave warned you this would happen. He predicted that folks might say you’re crazy or perhaps even look down on you for sticking to something that seems so radical and foreign to them. What you’re doing is certainly not the status quo.

Keep living like no one else right now. Because later, you know what you’ll get to do…?

Yup. You know.

5 Comments

Filed under Dave Ramsey, financial misadventure, Financial Peace University, milestones

Hey, how’s it going? It’s been a while, but I’m back for a bit. And you’re looking pretty awesome–did you lose weight?

I had the following conversation with my daughter this morning:

“I have idea, Mommy.”
“What’s that?”
“I get two pennies.” (This for a job that usually only earns her one: helping feed the dogs.)
“That’s your idea? That you should get two pennies for a one-penny job?”
“Yes. I did work.” (Because she’s long since learned that work = money.)
“Intriguing. And why’s that? What’s your logic?”
She thinks for a second. But as I hold a poker face, she starts to crumble. She is, after all, only two.
“One penny please.”

She gets these negotiation skills from me. DIRECTLY from me. Obviously bargaining will not be a personal strength.

On the other hand, I am happy to see that she’s at least reinforcing the base line, forcing me to at least agree to the original price–as opposed to me being like, “Oh yeah? Well how about nothing?”

It’s interesting to see which traits she’s developed (or learned) from either of us and the way who she favors changes by the day. In personality, she seems to favor me, preferring to hang back in social situations and watch the scene before jumping in, for noticing small details often overlooked by others, for wanting to be cuddled instead of left alone when she’s sick, the quick way she mastered the Super Pout, and loving books over blocks. But make no mistake–she still loves blocks.

Mentally, she seems to favor Clayton from the way she savors the liberty of detail one can take when building something; showing abnormal patience with getting it just right, even when you’re telling her to stop, to drop it, to not touch that; in her strong sense of self-confidence and incredulity when you show her she’s wrong; for having to touch it just one more time simply because you warned her not to. (But the mischievous look she gives you while she does it is all me.)

She has his strong desire to “fix” situations and my eagerness to be needed, be useful–this is especially helpful after meals, when you don’t feel like picking up the dishes, or when she’s running away when it’s time to put on her shoes and the only way she’ll come near you is to help hold the sock you offer. Given all the things we need her “help” to hold, she must think we’re ridiculously weak.

She can go from serious contemplation of her fork to a goofy song in the span it takes to remember the lyrics to “Hey Diddle Diddle.” And she always expects you to join in.

I can also see in her certain traits common to only children, traits I shared when I was young: the unwillingness to share (that she may not grow out of) and to not just enjoy being but expecting to be the center of attention when she wants it (this, again, she may not grow out of). It’s particularly obvious when she throws you that certain sly grin after doing a small gesture she’s proud of. It’s 100% “Did you see how clever I was just then?” And like the parent of an only child, I absolutely did because I’m fascinated with everything she does.

Right now her favorite things are books about going potty, carrying around favored stuffed characters (a birthday doll, DeeDee; a Dr. Seuss character she calls Sleepyhead, and Kermit the frog), and seeing how far she can get with shrill screams when she’s unhappy, like the kids at daycare do. She’s showing a more active independence of thought, anticipating things we’ll need for dinner (napkins, cups), and making inquiries into the well-being of others (“Do you want more water, Mommy?” or “What’s the matter with [whoever's showing distress]?”), and praying for her daycare teachers by name. We’ve got to let her pray at meals, otherwise the prayer doesn’t work, and woe to us if we don’t ask her if she wants two blankets when she goes to bed at night, just so she can turn us down with “Only one, please.” But she’d love the opportunity of telling you, “Good DAY to you, sir!” in her best British accent.

I’m sure it’s personal parental bias that makes me think that she’s largely showing the best characteristics of both of us and only a few of the lesser favored ones. Certainly none of the actively bad ones–or maybe I’ve just convinced myself those are just natural two year old qualities that she’ll grow out of. Maybe. Or maybe she’ll show an entirely new set of characteristics tomorrow, a rash of one or two things she’s been sitting on, perfecting the look or sound of until they’re perfect. And that’s how I know that two year olds are related, however far down the evolutionary line, from magician’s hats. What they pull out of themselves on a daily or even hourly basis is amazing. (Though if she starts pooping a never-ending stream of colored handkerchiefs, we’re headed to the ER.)

(After she gets some money from the change jar. Because that would definitely be a two-penny job.)

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Filed under kids, parenting

Reason #651 why my husband is awesome: Cat diapers

Just for the sake of saying, I competed in NaNoWriMo this year, which is why it may seem like I skipped all of November as far as blogging went. Sorry about that. But I won it, so that should be probably no some consolation. Also, my story “The Death of Santa Clause” was published in Strange Christmas 2012 anthology (http://www.lulu.com/shop/jean-m-goldstrom/strange-christmas/paperback/product-20548022.html), so if you’re still not sure what to get that special reader in your life…. (Apparently if you order before Dec. 14 and enter the coupon code “FELICITAS” in all caps, like you’re ferociously whispering some Harry Potter Christmas spell, you get 20% off. This thing practically sells itself!) 

So there. That was November. Now you’re caught up.

But now its December, which means that everyone’s really happy (unless they’re not) and a little bit crazy. And since Christmas is my favorite season (that’s right, it’s not “winter” for me, it’s “Christmas”, as in “spring, summer, fall, Christmas”), I certainly fall into both those categories. Which is why I’m so glad I married a man willing to not only put up with the crazy but sometimes even foolishly indulge it. Case in point, today’s email conversation.

(Quick backstory: our cats have a history of peeing on things. This is annoying. It has led to many, many attempts to understand, fix, and mitigate said action, as well as the destruction of a couple of carpets, numerous towels (there comes a time when the smell refuses to leave), and an entertainment center.)

Mind. Blown.

To which my fabulous husband replies:

Clayton response

I do love that man.

4 Comments

Filed under Bitch Kitty, milestones, NaNoWriMo, Writing

Happy All Hallows Read!

[A few years ago, the illustrious Neil Gaiman started a trend, called All Hallows Read. Basically, the idea is that in the week of Hallowe’en, or on the night itself, you give someone a scary book. That's it. It's a fantastic idea and I love it. So, this Halloween, I decided to participate by writing you all a scary story. Consider this my All Hallows Read to you. Happy Trick or Reading!]

Starting Over

“I’m not too sure about this,” Suzanne said. She stood just inside the threshold of the front door, shifting her weight from one foot to the other and glancing around like she was expecting something bad to happen. The hallway smelled like old people and boiled eggs, and just faintly underneath it all, a hint of bleach. It was like someone woke up, made breakfast, and set about cleaning right away.

“Oh come on. It’ll be ok. Besides, we’re coming right out again in a minute.” This was from Mark, who was already out of sight around the corner into the living room. It was his house, but his parents weren’t home yet, and this was the first time Suzanne had gone to a friend’s house when their parents weren’t there. She was pretty sure she’d be grounded if her dad found out, so she was anxious to get back to the safety of the street and get home.

A tabby cat poked its head from underneath a love seat in the entrance way and meowed at her. She stepped forward to pet it, glancing around again as her fingers rubbed the soft fur at the back of its ears. It leaned into her touch and closed its eyes in bliss, purring like a small motor. “If my parents find out that I’m over here…” She didn’t quite want to admit that she wasn’t supposed to be there. The Brewster twins, Mary and Mark, had only been at her school for a week, but she’d already developed a crush on Mark that her parents probably wouldn’t approve of. They told her sister, Marianne, that she was too young to be interested in boys and she was a year and a half older. Suzanne was still a little thrilled that Mark had invited her to his house at all—the last thing she wanted to do was act like she was scared of breaking the rules. That wasn’t how cool kids acted at all.

“What, they don’t let you visit friends’ houses?” Mark’s head popped out from behind the corner, frowning. The cat have a venomous hiss and darted back under the loveseat, startling Suzanne. Mark rolled his eyes. “That cat hates people. I’m surprised she let you touch her. You coming?”

She followed him into the living room and down a long hallway. The house looked ordinary, with a few boxes stacked neatly against the wall in the hallway. “We’re still unpacking,” he tossed back over his shoulder. It was eerie to be in someone else’s house without their parents being home. He stopped in front of a bedroom door that had a poster of Spiderman clumsily taped on it. Inside, the room was mostly boxes, with the rumpled sheets of a bed against one wall and a lonely chest of drawers across from it. There were bumper stickers stuck to the fronts of the drawers, but the print was too small for her to make them out without staring.

He darted around the bed, snagged something from the ground and held it out to her. “ Isn’t this cool? My dad bought it for me when we moved here. Said it might help me make friends.” It was a remote-controlled helicopter with blades that sounded like a hive of bees buzzing when it hovered. He demonstrated how lights on the side flashed when it made machine gun noises, and she tried to pretend she was interested. But she was acutely aware of the time shown on the digital clock next to his bed. Her own skin started to feel itchy with the sense that every minute that she stayed put her one minute closer to being grounded.

“Can we hurry? I’m supposed to be home in ten minutes.” It embarrassed her to admit she had a curfew, but she decided nothing was worth risking getting grounded for, not even a visit to Mark Brewster’s room.

“Do you always have to go straight home?”

“Not usually. Just since…” She glanced at the doorway and lowered her voice. “Just since the murders. My Dad said it’s not safe to dawdle after school until they catch whoever did it.”

“Oh, yeah. I kinda heard about that.”

“You kinda heard? Wasn’t Terrence Latrell in your English class?” She was surprised—she thought every was taking the murders as seriously as her Dad was.

“Wait, that’s why he’s been out this week? He got killed?” Mark’s eyes were very wide and his mouth hung open as he stared at the carpet in shock. “Oh man. I just thought..well, that he’d been sick or something. But killed?”

Suzanne unconsciously straightened a little, pleased to be able to show off her knowledge on a subject he obviously didn’t know much about. “There’ve been three so far,” she confided. “All kids.” She cocked her head. “Well,” she amended, “the first was a high school kid. But the last two were from our school.” Her voice dropped even lower and when she leaned toward him, he leaned forward, too, to hear her better. “My Dad says there’s a serial killer on the loose.” She allowed a gloating smile when Mark’s eyes got even wider. “My mom got real mad when he said that, because it was at the dinner table. But I heard them talking later that night about it, and she thinks it’s one, too.”

Mark frowned and fidgeted with the edge of his shirt. “Yeah, my mom and dad mentioned that earlier, too.” Suzanne’s shoulders slumped a bit–she’d thought her parents were pretty smart to have come up with that–but Mark didn’t notice. “They were worried about my sister.”

“They were worried she’d be killed?”

“No, not that. Worried that…” He looked up at her, and she was surprised to see that he looked uncertain, as if he were struggling to decide what to tell her. “Do you know why we came to Woodbury?” She shook her head. “My sister kept getting into… She had some trouble at our last school.” He looked at his shirt again. “It got so bad that we had to move.”

Suzanne stared at him, unsure how to respond. “That’s…terrible.”

Mark gave an angry glance to the side. “It wasn’t fair!” he burst out. “One day stuff started happening and everyone thought it was her. People all over town kept harassing us. The teachers whispered things behind our backs. Folks tried to pretend they weren’t staring at us when we went to the grocery store. The neighborhood kids, kids at school—they started with the names. Calling her ‘Bloody Mary’ and ‘Mary the Maniac.’ It was awful! She’d come home crying every day. It wasn’t even her fault.” He glared at his shirt. Suzanne thought she saw a shine of tears collecting along his lower eyelid. “This is our chance to start over.”

“What kind of stuff happened?” Suzanne asked in a soft voice.

He blinked quickly and frowned at her. “What?”

“You said stuff started happening. What kind of stuff? Was it the same kind of stuff as here?” Goosebumps rose along her arms and she felt her scalp tighten. The room felt colder, though she knew it probably wasn’t. It was her that was getting colder as she listened.

Mark opened his mouth, but before he could answer, a door slammed shut somewhere back the way they’d come. Suzanne jumped and whirled to face the hallway beyond the door. “Hello!” a woman’s voice called out. “Hello? Anybody home yet?”

Mark stepped quickly past her to the door and leaned his head out of the room. “I’m here, Mom!” he yelled down the hall. “And I’ve got a friend, Suzanne.” It seemed so strange for him to be calling down the hall instead of going to meet his mother to talk. Suzanne’s mom always got on to her for yelling in the house, when she could just as easily walk down the hall and talk in a normal voice like a civilized young lady.

“Oh lovely!” the voice shrilled back. But even though his mother sounded cheerful, Suzanne thought it felt wrong, somehow. She supposed it was just because of what she and Mark had been talking about. “From school?”

Mark glanced back at Suzanne and gave a theatrical roll of his eyes. She giggled. “Of course from school, Mom! I was just showing her my pets.”

“Well, don’t get too messy, love. You don’t want to ruin your school clothes.”

Suzanne moved forward to touch Mark’s arm. “No, wait. I can’t. I need to get home, remember?”

“It won’t take very long,” he assured her. He smiled. “They’re just in the closet. Don’t you want to see?”

“But…” She glanced between Mark and the doorway, torn. “If my Dad finds out, I’ll be grounded for li—”

“Relax.” He smiled at her, the same cute smile that he’d given her the first time she saw him in class, and pointed at the door. “One quick glance and we’re gone. Besides, it’s probably best if you’re not here when Mary gets home. She doesn’t like it when I have friends over.” As he moved toward the closet door, she realized there was no trace of the tears he’d been close to shedding moments before. In fact, his eyes were clear and alert, and he grinned like her sister did when she rode her bike down a very steep hill.

He put one hand on the doorknob to his closet and then paused. With a glance over his shoulder at her, he said, “I only show this to my friends. But we are friends now…aren’t we?”

She couldn’t help but nod, though the way the sunlight slanted through the curtains in his room told her it was way too late for her to be out.

“On second thought,” Mark said, stepping back. “You open it. It’ll be even cooler that way.”

He straightened in a motion that made his shoes click together at the heels, the way a doorman might stand at attention for a rich lady in a movie. She moved forward, feeling like some other girl in a dream, and put her hand on the knob. Though she expected it to be cold, the brass was warm from Mark’s hand. She pulled it open.

Inside were small glass aquariums, the kind she’d seen in pet stores for lizards or snakes. Three were side-by-side on a shelf, with another three perched on top of those. Each one held a head, in various stages of decomposition, floating gently in a clear liquid that looked too thick to be water. She stared at the heads that stared back at her, feeling empty as her brain struggled to make sense of what she saw. The three on the bottom row were obviously the farthest gone, with milky orbs for eyes and small bits of flesh like sediment floating around the faces. But the ones on top were the freshest. She registered Terrence’s head bobbing, frozen in an expression of surprise.

Suzanne opened her mouth to scream, but only a low huh huh huh noise came out. She turned, slowly, to look at Mark. He stood where she’d last seen him with the same feral grin as before. But now he held an empty aquarium. She hadn’t even heard him move to get it.

He held it out to her and said, “We’re going to need this.” She took it like a robot, unable to keep from looking down into the bottom with a glassy-eyed gaze that didn’t really see anything. Don’t get too messy, his mother had said.

“Now the fun part begins.”

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