‘No one’s brave till they gotta be.’
Small town America. One humid summer, the lives of three teenagers collide after a violent act.
When Nate finds Seven on Lightning Ridge, he’s overwhelmed by the need to protect her from Kane, the bruise of a boy who hurt her.
But Seven doesn’t want help from anyone. She wants justice, and she’s going after Kane.
A turbulent friendship grows between Nate and Seven. Only, there are things Nate hasn’t told her. About the terror in his past. The thing he’s always run from. It’s coming after him again.
Read the opening of my YA novel:
Lightning Ridge. Got all I need right here. My cabin. The quiet of the forest. The vastness of the chestnut oaks, so wide an’ sprawling they block out the sky, block out everything. Under the trees, the light is heavy an’ green. The earth’s damp, smells like old rain. There’s wood sorrel an’ blackberries. I eat ’em as I go along. Ain’t no-one round here ’cept the birds an’ squirrels, an’ sometimes that old bobcat. But he don’t mind me none.
Beyond the shelter of the hemlocks an’ the chestnut oaks, it’s bright, everything too vivid. I cross the open ridge, to the Skeleton Tree. Lightning caught it years ago. The sap boiled up an’ burst out. The bark came off like a snake shedding its skin, an’ left the wood beneath on show, the color of bones.
Ain’t just the tree got struck by lightning. More than once it’s caught a person. The score is: Lightning one, Humans three.
Three people survived. More than survived. They was healed.
Brenda Lee came up here picnicking with her family sometime in the thirties. A storm blew in, an’ her momma watched lightning run down her body like it was water. She was left with marks on her skin like a stream rippling, but Brenda Lee could hear for the first time in her life.
After the lightning caught Essie Smith her gnarled old fingers unfurled an’ all pain was gone.
An’ Hester Bingham swore the bolt that struck her one August night made her fertile. In May 1974, she gave birth to her first child. She was fifty-five, an’ that baby was my mom.
Poor old Jed Adams, he weren’t so lucky. The lightning killed him quick, right here. There’s a plaque to mark the spot.
Some say this all is down to God or bad luck. Some folk whisper ’bout witches, an’ some say it’s just the weather. Summer storms are common round here.
I don’t know ’bout any of that, but there’s a stillness to this place, like it’s just waiting for something to happen.
Been one of them days, so hot the air itself is sweatin’. Mr. Mason’s had me workin’ hard and there’s more to do tonight. I park up in the front yard, go on in the house. It smells of lemon cleanin’ stuff. Mattie keeps it neat. Everythin’ is put away where it should be, all the dirty messy stuff kept out of sight.
The TV’s blarin’ in the den, but ain’t no-one watchin’. Mattie’s in the kitchen. Lacey’s playin’ at beauty pageants with her stupid dolls, like always. Billy’s at the table drawin’.
‘Alright, Billy Boy?’ I say.
‘Hey, Kane. We goin’ up the ridge?’
I sit down by him. ‘Yeah.’
‘Is there goin’ to be a fire an’ dancin’?’
‘You know it.’
Lacey comes over. ‘You ain’t goin’ out, Billy,’ she says. ‘You’re playin’ with me.’
‘Leave us be,’ I tell her. ‘Billy’s too old to play with dolls.’
‘You promised!’ She shoves a doll at Billy.
Billy’s got a hold of the damn doll, makin’ it dance and they’re both laughin’.
‘Billy, we ain’t got time for this.’ I scrape my chair back.
Lacey starts up, squealin’ like a baby goat.
‘Shut it, Lacey.’ I ain’t in the mood for her. I ain’t never in the mood for her.
‘Billy’s playin’ with me,’ she says. ‘Look, it’s a weddin’. I made confetti and everythin’.’ She throws tiny strips of paper in the air.
I don’t care about her stupid doll weddin’, but somethin’ about that confetti makes me look again.
‘Where d’you get that?’ I say.
‘Your room,’ she says. ‘In that jar under your bed. I cut it up.’
Can’t be. Even she wouldn’t be so dumb. Even Mattie wouldn’t let her precious princess do that.
I reach down, swipe a handful of the paper.
‘Get off it, Kane,’ she whines. ‘Finders, keepers. It’s mine.’
She cut up dollar bills. My dollar bills. My hard-earned cash, kept safe, secret.
It’s always clean, the money I get from Mr. Mason. No creases or tears. Got that new smell. But now it’s little scraps, sticky with jelly smears.
There’s a roar inside me. Next thing, I got Lacey by the shoulders, pressed against the wall. The stink of her in my nose, the sickly smell of whatever crap Mattie’s been usin’ on her hair.
I don’t hear nothin’ but the blood-thunder in my ears.
Lacey wriggles like a bug on its back, but she can’t get away from me. Her face turns the color of grape juice, she’s strugglin’ so hard.
‘Kane!’ Mattie drags at my arm.
She’s pullin’ at my fingers now.
‘Leave her be, Kane. Leave her be.’
‘Kane,’ Billy cries. ‘Kane, don’t hurt her.’
My grip on Lacey loosens. She slides down the wall, starts cryin’ real loud. Mattie wraps herself around her.
Billy puts his hat on, coverin’ his ears. He looks at me with them big wet eyes.
‘Let’s go.’ I storm past him, out onto the porch.
Here it is. Defiance. The shit end of nowhere. A town fraying at the edges. Nothing’s passed by since Bakersville and that was thirty miles ago. No one else is going this way. And why would they?
Heat throbs all around, beats down from above, bounces off the tired road. On so-called Main Street, Foster’s Hardware is a ghost shop with its whitened glass. The grocery store and Ike’s Hikes are still in business, but the posters curling in the windows, they were there two summers ago. Charlie’s diner is the only place breathing. The smell of chargrilled burgers pumps from its open door. There’s a fridge full of icy Coke inside, and that’s where I’m headed, when a pickup rattles through town.
Kane Deadman, that bruise of a boy, is driving. In the open back, Billy the Twig’s got his deer-stalker on, ear flaps down despite the heat. He sucks on a beer, along with two of those sly-eyed Shivers boys. One of them flings an empty bottle in my direction. And then they’re gone, quick as they came, out of town toward Lightning Ridge, leaving dust and trash spinning in the gutters.
In the diner, I grab a Coke and chug it down at the counter. It runs cool and light through my insides.
‘Nate, that you?’ Charlie comes out the kitchen. ‘Man, you got tall.’ He waves away my handful of coins. ‘Your dad know you’re back?’
‘No. Better get going.’
‘Come back soon,’ Charlie says.
He knows I will. Not much else to do around here except hang out on the ridge.
Early evening, but it’s still hot. The air’s damp and heavy. Moving my legs is like hauling logs through mud.
Off Main Street, the clapboard houses sag on the sidewalk, like they’re tired of being. Five minutes, and there’s Dad’s place, bigger than the rest and painted white. His office is in front. Patients get to wait out on the porch, but no one’s there now. He’s done for the day.
I go around the side of the house, under the apple tree, and cross the back deck. The door’s locked. Through the glass, the kitchen is dark and empty. He’s not home. And I’m glad. Over a day to get here, and I still don’t have a story good enough to tell him. Hitching, the bus, those last long miles on foot – that was about the getting away, not about arriving. Soon as I get here, what happens? All the stuff I left behind starts up its scratching in my head.
I need to run again.