As K.C. Tansley, I write YA contemporary fantasy. Here’s an excerpt.
“Some mysteries were built so intricately, it took centuries to unravel them. Others remained forgotten, left to gather dust in the memories of the dead. Castle Creighton waited over a century for its chance.”
–Professor Astor, The Price of Power: The Curse of America’s Uncrowned Aristocracy
Chapter 1 —The Path of Most Resistance
Girls without dads are expected to be either overachievers or underperformers. I guess normal was never a possibility for me. I’d blame my dad, but I never met him. Besides I liked to think that life isn’t destiny but choice. Mom chose to have me. He chose to leave. I chose to work hard.
You might say my choice sprung from necessity. I didn’t have Daddy’s money laying out a golden path to my future. I had to earn every cobblestone I laid down on my way to McTernan Academy and beyond. Maybe I’m a little arrogant about that. I’ll admit it.
But when I finished my exam early and I turned to leave most of my classmates behind, I’d have traded my completed exam for any of theirs. To have the kind of life they had. A mom and a dad looking out for me. A sibling or two. And a golden retriever. A nice normal existence.
If I had that, I’d be heading back to the dorm to get ready for a party. Celebrating the end of spring semester midterms. Instead, I speed-walked out of the building, followed the diagonal brick path across campus, and entered Gelman Library. First pick of the research materials nudged me a little closer to equal with my peers.
My beyond rich classmates had certain futures, a college where they were legacies, then a job at Daddy’s firm or a marriage to Daddy’s right hand man. Everything waited on them. I didn’t have that kind of certainty. I had to be smarter, faster, better.
Don’t be fooled. I wasn’t such a good girl. I considered this atonement before the sin. At the stroke of ten, Morgan Sanchez, my best friend and roommate, would break free from her circulation desk duties. She’d drag me along on one of her nocturnal adventures like a reluctant Cinderella. She believed we could bend the rules and not get caught. When I was with her, I almost believed it too.
I took the elevator to the third floor to find the books I needed. I gathered an armload full and held them in place with my chin. Made my way to the sixth floor—to my favorite table surrounded by rows of bookcases. No other people in sight. Perfect working conditions. I pulled out my binder and reread the notes I had on Castle Creighton. I tried to imagine living in the isolated castle. Holed up on a private island off the rugged New England coast. Absolutely private. Bearably desolate. A feeling of rightness warmed my belly.
Regional lore whispered the place was cursed. That’s how locals explained the 127-year-old unsolved murder. The supernatural was a great scapegoat—hard to disprove, impossible to prove. Much easier than facing the evil in people.
I had to dig deeper. I eyed the piles of books in front of me, wondering which was next. The thin book with the green spine caught my attention. When I flipped it open, I sneezed. Great. Just what my allergies needed—dust from the last century. Reaching for the wad of tissues in my backpack, I skimmed a few pages. Knew why this book hadn’t been opened in ages. Bo-ring.
I quickly moved on to the next book about the castle’s owners, the Radcliffe family. Their fortune rivaled the U.S. Treasury. Their family predated the Rockefellers and Roosevelts. They had it all until the one night everything changed.
Sebastian Radcliffe was destined for greatness. All the newspapers had lamented it after he disappeared. Marrying Cassie Mallory seemed like the worst mistake of his life. Their wedding night ended in an empty room with a huge pool of blood.
This book didn’t mention the hypothesis where Sebastian went mad and murdered his bride, throwing her lifeless body into the ocean and disappearing from sight. The author stuck with the family’s statement: a conspiracy—a double homicide—where neither body was ever recovered.
The next chapter indulged the locals’ belief in a curse on the Radcliffes. As if something unseen and unheard crept up on the family and took its revenge.
My gut reaction tended toward the logical. I bet he killed her and ran off to some tropical paradise to live out the rest of his days with an island girl. Typical guy. No remorse, no looking back.
I flipped to a clean sheet of notebook paper and started fresh at the top. My pen scraped and my handwriting scrawled across the page until the lights hummed and buzzed over my head. They dimmed, flared back to daylight brightness and flickered. I dropped my pen.
Everyone swore a ghost haunted the library, but I clawed at the idea of a stupid soccer player pranking me until it bled all over my reality. It was the only way to keep the ghost away from me.
The lights flicker-flared three times. A chilly burn prickled against the base of my spine. My neck muscles tightened up. Ghosts don’t exist. They can’t hurt me. They can’t touch me. They aren’t real. I repeated the mantra to push them away from me.
The books beside me rattled on their shelves. Three fell to the floor, each spine cracked open to chapter nine.
That mantra saved me when I was nine. I prayed tonight wasn’t the night it failed me.
I shoved my stuff into my backpack and threw it over my shoulder. Swept the rest of my books into my arms and speed-walked to the exit. A couple minutes and I’d be out of here.
Row by row, the lights behind me went out. Sweat broke out across my upper lip. My heart pleaded not again, not again. A chair darted into my path. I dodged to the left and sprinted down the aisle to escape the growing darkness.
I needed light. I needed people. I needed life around me.
Skidding around the end of the stacks, I froze in front of the light switches. No one was near them, but that didn’t stop the lights from going out. Maybe there was a second set of switches at the other end of the floor and a laughing jock. I didn’t go looking. I ran to the elevator and hit the button, giving it three long seconds before I hightailed it to the stairs.
Ghosts don’t exist. They can’t hurt me. They can’t touch me. They aren’t real.
I flew out of the stairwell and onto the main floor, crashing into Morgan. She grabbed me to steady herself. “Kat, what’s wrong?”
“I…nothing.” Bright lobby. Morgan. Safety. I tried to laugh it off, but it came out more like a hiccup gasp.
I nodded, studying the floor tiles.
“There’s only one set of light switches.”
I looked up, straight into her aquamarine eyes. “Bull.”
“Why do you think I always close down the 3rd floor at the end of the night? The sixth floor creeps me out. Take my advice. Study on another floor.” She tucked her jet-black hair behind her ear, exposing the medusa ear cuff we’d picked up yesterday on M Street.
It didn’t matter. Ghosts had a way of finding me. “The sixth is the quietest.”
She swept my blonde bangs to the side. “Because everyone else has enough sense to stay away after 9 p.m.”
“Can we go, please?”
“You’re really freaked.”
“I’ll be fine.” As soon as my heart stopped trying to break out of my rib cage. I needed fresh air. Plants. Life.
Morgan slung her messenger bag over her shoulder. “All set.”
When we stepped outside the library’s doors, I swam in the night breeze and tugged the hoot of an owl around my shoulders. I pressed a palm against the nearest oak tree, resisting the urge to drop my books and wrap my arms around it. Reassurance found in the living.
My heart settled down in its cage. “What party are we hitting?”
Morgan laughed. “First, we drop our stuff off and get prettied up. Then we see where the night takes us.”
“How many are we going to?” Last night, she’d talked me into sneaking into one party for a little while. But when my boarding school, McTernan Academy, and our famous neighbor, Georgetown University, finished midterms, the parties were non-stop. Morgan loved seeing how many college parties she could talk her way into, always managing to top last semester’s total.
“Kitty Kat, trust me. You’ll have a great time.”
“How about we curl up in pjs with Cheetos and a good ‘80s comedy?”
“Not a ghost movie?” she teased.
She didn’t know about the ghosts and me. No one here did. And I wanted to keep it that way.
I denied their existence every day to have a normal life. Knowing what exists, but believing it doesn’t. Some kids were afraid of strangers. I’d learned that the most harmful things were the unbelievables. Because they needed you to believe in them.