Click here to read Chapter 1: Magic. Here you can read the second sample chapter of my debut novel, Manifestation, an urban fantasy adventure that explores the revival of magic and mystery in a world that is unprepared for the changes arcane powers will bring. Available in paperback and ebook.
Chapter 2: Manifestation
Gabby woke up late in the night. She was disoriented for a moment, until she remembered she was in her friend’s bed. Callia slept next to her, her angelic face softly glowing in the moonlight, her hand still resting against Gabby’s skin. Gabby’s heart raced, and she couldn’t help leaning down and planting a soft kiss on her friend’s lips. She lingered for a long moment, then pulled away as Callia whimpered contentedly in her sleep.
Gabby looked at the digital clock on the nightstand. The glowing green numbers read 2:14. “Shit,” she whispered. Her parents were going to kill her when she got home. Taking the car had been bad enough, and being out until all hours of the morning was probably giving her mother more time to stew on her anger.
Gabby climbed out of the bed, pushing away her desires as she pulled herself from Callia’s touch. She changed back into her still-damp clothes, moving as quietly as she could in the dark room. Once she was dressed, she unlocked the door and slipped out into the hall, holding her breath the entire time.
She’d taken two steps down the stairs when she heard a door open behind her. She froze, hoping that if she stayed still, she wouldn’t be seen or heard in the dark. A moment later, the hall light flared to life. Gabby shut her eyes against the sudden brightness, then slowly opened them and turned to see Callia’s mother standing in the hall.
“Gabby,” she said, crossing her arms. “When did you get here? You know, your mother has been calling here all night looking for you.”
Gabby swallowed and lowered her head. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Gainsborough,” she whispered. “Please don’t tell her I was here? I’m going home now—”
“I’m not going to lie to your mother, Gabby,” Mrs. Gainsborough said. “You should be ashamed of yourself! Taking your mother’s car, staying out all night, and now I catch you here, in my daughter’s room.”
Gabby’s face turned red as she glanced back towards Callia’s door. Did Callia’s mother know what had happened? Not that anything had happened. Not really. It had just been a kiss. A kiss Gabby could still taste on her lips.
“I’m calling your mother,” Mrs. Gainsborough said. “She can come down here and get you, and—”
“No!” Gabby whispered. “Please, I . . . I’m going home right now. I don’t want to get into any more trouble.”
Mrs. Gainsborough stared her down for a long moment. “You shouldn’t be out alone this late at night,” she said. She let out a sigh. “Your parents are probably asleep by now, so I suppose there’s no point in waking them. But let me get my coat, and I’ll drive you home.”
“But what about my mom’s car?” Gabby asked. “I can’t leave it here.”
Mrs. Gainsborough tapped her fingers on her arm and studied Gabby for a moment. “Where did you park?” she asked. “Is it far? I don’t want you wandering through the streets alone in the middle of the night.”
“I parked right around the corner,” Gabby said, turning towards the stairs. “Really, I’ll be home in five minutes.”
She waited for a moment, until Mrs. Gainsborough nodded. “All right,” she said. “Fine. But I’m calling your mother first thing in the morning.”
Gabby decided not to argue the point any further. She didn’t want to get into any more trouble than she was already in. She hurried down the stairs and out the door. Mrs. Gainsborough followed her and watched her as she walked from the house, until she was around the corner and out of sight.
The rain had stopped, but the night air was freezing, and Gabby’s breath frosted in the air as she hurried back to the car. When she was still a couple of blocks away, however, she saw the flashing lights of a police car in the distance. She froze in place, her mind screaming in panic. She thought about how many laws she was technically breaking at the moment, being out past curfew with her mother’s car and wallet. She held her breath and hoped that the police weren’t there for her, but there was no such luck. When she got close enough to see what was going on, she spotted a cop car and a tow truck by her mother’s car. Her mother must have reported it stolen, or at the very least called the police to report her daughter missing and send them looking for her.
“Oh, God, no, no, no,” Gabby whispered, rubbing her hands across her face. She looked around, uncertain what to do. Being brought home by the police would make her situation worse.
She turned in the other direction and started circling around the block. It was a long walk from Callia’s house back to her own, but she decided she’d rather walk home in the cold than get picked up by the police. She kept a brisk pace, trying to come up with a story in her head that would explain what had happened. She tried to think of a convincing way to make her mother believe someone else had stolen the car, even though she knew any story she concocted would be full of holes.
The silent streets were empty, except for an occasional car passing by. After walking for almost an hour, she realized she’d gone in the wrong direction. Her mind was so frazzled that she’d lost her way. She was almost back in the industrial district at the edge of San Lorien. She cursed under her breath and turned around, rubbing her arms in an attempt to keep warm.
She was finally headed back in the right direction when a pair of headlights illuminated her in the darkness. She turned around and saw a car approaching. She considered hitching a ride, but she knew that was too dangerous, especially in this neighborhood. She turned back in the direction she was heading, ignoring the car. She expected it to pass her by, but as the car approached it slowed down. She glanced back. A shadowy figure watched her from the driver’s seat. She picked up her pace, suddenly feeling very alone and vulnerable and far from home. The pressure in Gabby’s skull returned, worse than before. The car followed, and she panicked, breaking into a run.
Tires squealed behind her as the car raced after her. It sped up until it overtook her, screeching to a halt right in front of her and blocking her path. Gabby screamed and turned to run in the other direction, but the driver got out of the car and chased after her. Her breath burned in her lungs as she fled, but the ground was slick from the rain and she lost her footing. Before she knew what was happening she slipped and fell, and then the man was on top of her. She tried to fight back, but he was too strong. She searched inside for the strength to fight him off. There was a burning light in her mind, just beyond reach. She screamed and struggled and tried to find the light, but she was helpless to stop what was happening. Eventually she gave up and turned everything inward, her thoughts, her emotions, and the light she’d been reaching for. Trapped with no hope of release, she surrendered and let it happen, while the pressure inside her continued to build endlessly upon itself.
* * *
The house was empty when Gabby finally made it home. She stumbled through the door and shut and locked it behind her. “Mom!” she cried out into the darkness. “Dad!”
There was no answer.
She dragged her bruised body upstairs, searching every room for some sign of her family. No one was home. She went into her room and found a note lying on her desk:
I don’t know what in God’s name you were thinking taking my car, but you are in serious trouble. We came home and you were just gone! I don’t know what’s been going through your mind lately, but this is unacceptable behavior.
It’s almost four in the morning. I just hope you’re someplace safe. Your sister just went into labor and I think it’s for real this time. We’re taking her to the hospital. When you get home you had better call me right away so I know you’re safe and sound. And as soon as we get home you and I are having a serious talk about what you did.
Gabby sat on her bed and sobbed, clutching the note to her bruised chest. She pulled out her phone with trembling hands; after what had happened, she had been in too much shock to think to call for help. She turned the phone back on and saw more missed calls, texts, and voice mail notifications from her mother. Her fingers shook as she tapped the screen, about to call her parents and beg them to come home.
She stopped before making the call and looked at herself in the mirror. She was covered in mud, her hair was tangled, and her sweater was torn. She didn’t want her parents to see her like this. She put down the phone and stripped from her clothes, throwing everything she was wearing—the torn sweater, ripped jeans, and shredded panties—in the garbage. She never wanted to look at those clothes again.
She showered, spending a long time under the hot water, trying to get clean. She didn’t feel clean. Later, she returned to her room, changed into fresh clothes that covered the bruises, and locked her door. She didn’t feel safe anymore, not even in her own home. She lay down on her bed after the worst night of her life, and by the time she fell asleep the sun was rising.
She slept most of the day and ignored her phone whenever it rang. She didn’t leave her room once all day. It was late by the time her family came home. They were laughing and happy, and her brothers’ voices drifted up along with her parents’ from downstairs. Before long there was a bang as someone tried to open Gabby’s door.
“Oh, this is real mature, young lady!” her mother yelled through the door. “You were gone all last night, and now that you’re home you lock yourself in? Gabby?” Her mother banged hard on the door as she screamed at her through the thin wood, “Gabby? I’ve had enough of this. I know you were off at Callia’s house last night, her mother called and told me. Your sister had the longest day you could possibly imagine, and we are just thanking God that she made it through okay. Now you are going to march your butt downstairs apologize to your father right now! And tomorrow when you meet your nephew you are going to treat him and your sister with some respect, do you hear me? Gabby? Gabriella!”
Gabby remained where she was, huddled in the corner. She didn’t want her mother to see her the way she was. She didn’t want anyone to see her shame.
“Fine,” Mom snapped. “You can just stay in there all night and think about what you’re doing to the rest of the family.”
Gabby heard her mom stalk off and stomp down the stairs, while all she could do was huddle in the corner and cry.
Her tears eventually stopped and she sat there in the dark, alone. Her head throbbed with pressure that wouldn’t go away. She didn’t want to talk to anyone, but she knew she couldn’t sit there forever. She went downstairs, and found her family all together in the living room. They were showing pictures of the new baby, who was down at the hospital with her sister. Her parents and brothers were all quietly talking, looking happy and fulfilled. Gabby crept up quietly, without a clue how to explain to them what had happened. She didn’t know what to do next.
“Mom . . .”
All eyes turned on her. She stifled a sob. When she opened her mouth to speak, her mother cut her off, “Unless you’re here to apologize, I don’t want to hear it.”
“But nothing, Gabriella Marietta Palladino,” Mom said. “I don’t want to hear it.”
Gabby choked back a sob and yelled, “No! Mom, you need to listen!”
“You do not speak to your mother that way!” Mom screamed. “If you aren’t going to learn some respect, you can just go back to your room.” She stared Gabby down and pointed to the stairs. “Upstairs!”
“Now!” Mom screamed, standing up and pointing towards the stairs.
Gabby stared at her as tears streaked down her face. Her father sat quietly and let her mother call the shots. Anthony and Frankie looked between her and Mom, but they said nothing. Frankie looked like he was about to say something, but a sharp look from their mother cut him off.
Gabby turned and ran up the stairs and into her room. She slammed the door shut and slid to the ground, hugging her knees to her chest as she broke down in sobs.
She stayed in there the rest of the night. She didn’t go downstairs for dinner. The stress, the crying, and the gnawing pit in her stomach from not eating anything all day had given her a headache that wouldn’t go away. She endured it for as long as she could. Her head was still pounding when she heard the front door open later in the night. She looked out her window and saw Frankie and Anthony leaving, returning to their lives away from home. Not long after that she heard her parents down the hall, getting ready for bed. When quiet settled over the house, she crept into the bathroom to search for some aspirin.
She opened up the medicine cabinet and snatched the bottle down, then dumped half a dozen pills into her hand. She popped them in her mouth and turned on the faucet, cupping her hands and filling them with water to wash the pills down. Then she splashed the cold water on her face to wash away her tears.
After she dried her face, Gabby grabbed the aspirin bottle to put it away. She paused and stared down the mouth of the bottle for a long moment, her mind blank of any conscious thoughts. She turned the bottle in her fingers, watching the little orange pills tumble about inside. Then, without really thinking about what she was doing, she put the bottle to her lips and dumped the full contents into her mouth.
She turned on the faucet and leaned over the sink. She choked on the pills as she tried to wash them down, and she ended up spitting half of them back up. The water carried them down the drain. She opened the medicine cabinet to search for more. She grabbed Dad’s heart medication and the diazepam Mom was taking for her nerves. She swallowed them all, a handful at a time.
The empty pill bottles were scattered all over the countertop. A few stray pills were littered across the floor. She left them there and she went back to her room, turned off the light, and laid down in bed to go to sleep, possibly for the last time.
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