Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thank You From My Heart!

You will never, ever understand how much your kind comments have meant to me - first chapters are so hard to do and I am just buzzing over here, relieved/thrilled that you like it! Bless each and every one of you for your generous, sweet, uplifting words. Seriously, I'm just so happy! And if you think chapter one is scary, just wait. The Dying Breath really is a WILD ride from start to finish! So far, those who have read it have told me without a doubt it is their favorite. Watch out for Justin! REALLY watch out for Kyle. A storm is coming and you need to be ready!

LOVE to each and every one of you,

Alane Ferguson

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Chapter One of The Dying Breath!

Well, you asked for it and I just got clearance to post an exerpt of The Dying Breath! I hope you all like it! This comes with hugs and kisses from me to you!

Chapter One

“There’s no way I can let you in that house with the remains,” Sheriff Jacobs told Cameryn. A small man, the sheriff leaned his hip against the porch’s wooden railing, his expression obscured by the sun’s reflection on his glasses. He took a long drag from his cigarette, sending a plume into the frigid February air, then lazily flicked the ashes onto the snow-encrusted bushes below. “Sorry to smoke in front of you—I wouldn’t do it ‘cept it cuts the smell. There’s not another odor in this world like the stench of a decaying human and I, for one, can’t stand it.” Another drag, and then, “And I’d appreciate it if you stopped rolling your eyes at me, Cameryn Mahoney. I know you’re assistant to the coroner, but you’re only seventeen and your father, the real coroner, ain’t here yet, which means I’m the one in charge. We’re not breaking in until Pat gets here.”
“Except you’re not listening. We don’t have to break anything!” Cameryn protested.
The sheriff cut her off. “Dream on. Leather Ed keeps this dump locked up tighter than a drum.” Jacobs waved his cigarette toward the metal bars that wept trails of orange rust onto the home’s weathered siding. “Bars on the windows, deadbolts on the doors, all to protect stuff that wasn’t even worth stealing. Soon as my deputy gets here he’ll bust us in, and then we’ll go inside, together, to see what’s what. Afterwards you can take your pictures of the dead.” He pinched the cigarette between his thumb and forefinger, taking a long drag. “You know, I’ll never understand why a pretty girl like you….” His voice trailed off, but Cameryn no longer listened because her mind was focused on other things.
The answer, she knew, was in the door itself. She peeled off her thick coat and dropped it next to a pile of trash Leather Ed had stacked against the siding, a stack that had grown to a height of almost three feet. Squatting, she examined the dog-door flap, darkened to black from years of grime. Leather Ed owned an emaciated German shepherd which had already been removed by a worried neighbor, a man who had called the police, who had, in turn, called the coroner’s office, who’d sent a text to her. Death had its protocol.
Studying the frame around the dog door, Cameryn mentally took its dimensions; then with a tentative swipe she kicked the weathered plastic. The panel swung back and forth like a metronome, revealing a patch of dirty floor and a crumpled edge of a paper plate. Difficult, yes, but she could clear it, with or without Jacobs’ consent. She got on her knees and began to back in feet first, her hair falling into her face in dark curtain. It was a tight fit. As she moved she tried not to picture the filthy linoleum her jeans would scrape against or notice the fresh wave of odor that wound around her like a pungent scarf. The metal lip of the dog door dug into her backside and she was just tilting onto her hip when she felt hands yanking her beneath her armpits. The sheriff pulled her to her feet with so much force she almost cried out.
“Are you crazy?” Jacob’s expression was the same one everyone in Silverton wore whenever they looked at her now. Lines of worry, and inside that, real fear. “Your father would skin me alive if I let you out of my sight.” His hand sliced through the air as he talked over her protests, “No, Cameryn, not even for a single moment. No, no, no!”
“Come on, I only want to go a few feet inside so I can unlock the door—that’s all!” she cried. “Let me do my job, Sheriff. I’m not an infant.”
“No, what you are is a target.” Leaning close, Jacobs dropped his cigarette onto the porch. With a slow, sure motion, he ground the stub beneath the heel of his boot. “No one knows what’s in that house. Probably nothing but the body of the town eccentric. But the fact is, Kyle O’Neil’s got you in his crosshairs and right now you’re on my watch. I’m not taking any chances.” He paused for a moment, for effect, Cameryn guessed, but she wouldn’t let him see how his words had hit home. The verbal punch to her heart—she had learned to take the hit without flinching where outsiders could see. She forced her eyes to meet his, which were cold and wintry gray. Raising her chin, she said, “That’s ridiculous. Kyle’s gone.”
“How do you know that?” Jacobs tapped his finger to his temple. “Huh? Use that famous brain of yours. There ain’t no body.”
“Yes, but—”
“But nothing. I know everyone in town is saying that psycho got lost in those mountains and froze hisself to death, and I hope to the good Lord they’re right. Maybe come spring we find his sorry carcass frozen in some creek. But you need to think about this: if that boy had enough smarts to kill his teacher, he’s smart enough to keep hisself alive, even in February.” He jabbed his forefinger at Cameryn. “Until we find him, I say you’re in danger, which means you’re staying right here by my side. Understand?”
There was nothing to say. Looking past him, she focused on a hermit thrush perched on the rim of a toppled bird feeder, its claws as fine as thread. It was a trick she’d begun to master, a mental dodge she used when people insisted on pressing themselves into her life: stare at something else, concentrate on the detail of the thing. Let their words pass over like water.
“I’ll take your silence as a ‘yes’,” Jacobs told her. “And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna call my deputy. He shoulda been here by now.” Jacobs stomped down the rickety porch steps and turned his back toward her, one finger screwed into his ear while he pressed the phone into the other.
Cameryn was aware of the cold creeping through her too-thin shirt, grateful that it cooled the heat of her frustration. Overhead, above the peak of Molar Mountain, the palest moon shimmered, a golden coin floating in a blue water sky. In the past, her beloved mountains had felt protective. Now, they’d become walls. Walls that echoed the word that had come to define her.
It was the perfect word as to what she’d become. She was no longer Cameryn Mahoney, senior at Silverton High, straight-A student, science geek and forensic guru. When she walked the hallways at school whispers followed, marking her new identity: The Victim. The hunted. Prey.
She had almost loved him once. Kyle On’Neil, the boy who, with terrible precision, had tried to kill her. Before the police arrived he’d vanished into the mountains, and Cameryn had believed the F.B.I. when they announced he’d been spotted in Mexico. And yet, as Silverton glittered beneath strings of Christmas lights, Cameryn received a message on her bedroom computer. I see you. Come out and play. Move your curtain and look out. By the trees. I’m waiting.
She’d pulled back her curtain. There, illuminated by moonlight, stood Kyle. Even in the half-light she’d recognized his muscled frame, his square jaw, the yellow hair glinting like dandelion fluff, his legs thick as tree trunks rooted into the ground. His face had been too deep in shadow for her to make out his eyes, but she could see the curve of the mouth. He was smiling.
Kyle raised his hand, touching his heart with his fist before extending his open palm toward her. Horror flooded her as he faded back into a stand of pine. It was only then she realized she was screaming.
And once again Kyle O’Neil had vanished. It was the second time he’d threatened her life. This time, though, the town’s reaction had been different. Aware that she’d been twice menaced, Silverton had pulled together for Cameryn’s protection, and she felt as though she were an insect caught in a web. It was as if she would suffocate in the silk cocoon of good intentions.
Now she watched as Sheriff Jacobs paced across Leather Ed’s yard, his boots cleaving snow. “Yes, Justin, Cammie’s with me.” He stole a glance at Cameryn before twisting away. “Quit worrying…she won’t do nothing without my say-so. I’ve got it under control.”
At that moment Cameryn felt something click in her head. She won’t do nothing without my say-so. Maybe if she took back the power in her life again, people would stop looking at her like the victim she was more conclusively becoming every minute. And she knew exactly what she had to do.
She looked at the door, her nerves tingling. Throwing a quick glance in the sheriff’s direction, she backed to the dog door and dropped to her knees again, this time pushing fast, scraping her vertebrae against the metal frame with so much force she knew she would have a bruise down her backbone. She didn’t care. Once inside, she rocked back on her knees, exhilarated as she steadied the swinging flap with her hand. For the first time in a long while she’d done something on her own and the independence was electrifying.
It was dim inside. As Cameryn unfolded herself, she brushed off the front of her jeans, taking a moment to allow her eyes to adjust. The kitchen countertops were piled with plates and paper cups. A coffee pot, so stained the white plastic had turned to sepia, tipped drunkenly on a broken base. Although she’d never been inside the house, Cameryn had waited on Leather Ed many times at the Grand, and the interior of the home was exactly what she expected. A mess.
She drew in a breath and tried not to taste the stench of death that almost overpowered her. So far, Jacobs hadn’t sensed her absence, which would give her time to open the door in triumph. It is better to beg forgiveness than ask permission was a phrase her friend Lyric had taught her. But when she reached her hand to unlock the deadbolt she realized there was nothing to turn. The face of the brass deadbolt was smooth and flat; a keyhole yawned where the knob should have been. Staring, she tried to compute the dichotomy. How could a bolt need two keys? The outside of a lock demanded a key, but the inside lock should require only a turn of a handle. This side of the deadbolt was blank.
“Cammie!” She heard the sheriff curse and the heavy stomp of his boots on the porch. He pounded the door so hard it sounded like a sonic boom. “Are you in there?”
“Yes,” she called back. “I told you I could fit.”
Swearing, and then, “Come out of there right now—that’s an order!”
Cameryn ignored this. “I was going to unlock the door but there’s just a keyhole on this side,” she cried, loud enough for him to hear. “I don’t get it.”
“That’s because Leather Ed was paranoid. He used double key deadbolts to make sure nobody could break into his house. You have to have the key to get out.”
“So where is it?”
A pause, and then, “Where’s what?”
“The key.”
“I—he—Leather Ed kept them on his self.” Smacking the door again, he cried, “Okay, you’ve proved your point, you’re a very resourceful and independent girl—”
“Woman,” Cameryn said. She bit the edge of her lip.
“Woman. Now come out of there.”
She said it so softly she knew he couldn’t hear her through the door. Doing something on her own was critical in a way she couldn’t define. The protective bubble-wrap needed to be ripped away. As she formed a plan in her mind, Cameryn felt more like herself than she had in weeks. It seemed as though she were finally shaking off the fog of sleep. Her mind was humming again.
The sheriff pounded wood, his thumps coming as rapidly as blows from a jackhammer. “Get yourself back through that doggy door right now!”
Cameryn stood close to the door, her palm resting on the cool wood. “Listen, I’m going to find Leather Ed and get the keys. Then I’ll open the door. It’s the most logical thing to do. So just chill.”
“Cameryn Mahoney!” Jacobs roared, and Cameryn knew enough to jump back. The sheriff reached his arm through the dog door shoulder deep, cursing in frustration as his hand grabbed nothing but air. There was no way he could fit through the opening. He knew it, too.
Cameryn tuned out the pounding, concentrating instead on what she might find in the next room. Though the dim half-light she moved forward, the smell thickening with every step. Cupping her hand over her nose Cameryn walked into a room filled with trash, with only a tiny rabbit trail, a foot wide, winding between mounds of newspapers and old magazines.
So, Leather Ed, this is your living room. A recliner had been shoved against a battered sofa covered with an afghan made of yarn. Both were empty. The television had been left on but there was no sound. The weatherman pointed to different points on a map, his mouth moving silently as the light blinked against the walls.
Strange, she thought as she took in the disarray. What a weird, sad man. She remembered waiting on Leather Ed at the Grand right before Christmas, when she and the cook had surreptitiously watched Leather Ed muttering to himself. Cameryn had noticed the way the cowhide conformed to his body until they became a kind of shell. The smell of unwashed flesh engulfed him as his gray hair sprung from his head in a kind of tangled wire. Like everyone else her age, she’d steered clear of the man. Now, inhaling the distinctive odor that told her Leather Ed was most surely dead, she felt ashamed of herself. Maybe the town that overwhelmed you, just like it’s overwhelming me, she thought. Were you trying to escape us? But even as she thought it she knew it wasn’t true. He’d walked among them, but he’d been invisible. The town was trying to escape him.
She moved on.
The smell was more intense by the staircase. Blinking, she looked up into the dark that stretched above her. The stair creaked beneath her foot when she took a tentative step, her hand gliding on the wooden railing as she began her ascent.
Sheriff Jacobs’ cries were muted now and easier to ignore. From this distance the sheriff’s rapping sounded like a pencil tapping against a desk as she stepped into the upper hallway. And then there was another sound, a voice that made her chest tighten. It was louder than Sheriff Jacobs’. More urgent. Angrier.
“Cammie, it’s me, Justin. You’ve got to stop this right now! It’s not safe!”
She groaned. As protective as her father and Sheriff Jacobs had been, Justin, Silverton’s deputy, had been worse. Still, she was committed to her path. Let them yell. All would be forgiven when she got those keys.
A door was on her right, cracked open less than an inch. Cautious, she pushed against it. Hinges squeaked loudly as the door swung open and she registered a stench strong enough to taste. Pulling her shirt over her nose she breathed through the cotton, grateful for this barest protection.
It took a moment for her eyes to adjust. Shadows seem to float against the wall like underwater creatures. Through the murky light she strained to see. Her fingers found the switch plate and she flipped it on. And there, propped in a chair by the bed, was the bloated corpse of Leather Ed, a book clutched in his hands. Body fluid had seeped onto the pages, covering the lines of print in an eerie watercolor. His feet, still encased in worn boots, were planted on the floor while his leathers, distended from decomposition, shone in the light. But it was his face that made Cameryn’s mind freeze. Every bit of skin was gone from his eyes down to his neck. His teeth, white and gleaming, grinned at her from a stripped skull. His jawbone had been wiped clean.
She could feel the horrified expression on her face as the room began to wobble at the edges of her periphery. Forcing her breathing to slow, Cameryn tried to make herself think rationally.
The German shepherd must have gotten to the corpse. His dog did this. From her forensic studies she knew animals could consume their masters after death. You’ve still got to get the keys. Keep going, she commanded as she moved closer to the body.
She wouldn’t have noticed the piece of paper folded neatly on the end table next to the body but for her name. The word ‘Cameryn’ had been printed in beautiful precision.
She reached out and grabbed the parchment, written in a perfect cursive hand.
To Cameryn, my anam cara,
I will love you until your dying breath. Please believe that I will find you, my Angel of Death. We are bound by cords you cannot break. Two worlds, intersecting separate pieces that the fates will never break apart. Trust that I will be with you soon.
In eternal adoration,
Kyle O’Neil.

Friday, January 23, 2009

I've Got the Cover!

The cover for The Dying Breath just arrived and as soon as my tekkie husband comes home I'll post it! (I'm pathetic with this kind of stuff, but I'll watch and learn!) I LOVE the cover! I queried my editor yesterday about the legalities of posting excerpts, and I still haven't heard from the legal department. I'm almost positive it's okay but I need to know how much I'm allowed to reveal. So, keep those fingers crossed!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Working, working working!

It's beautiful in Colorado - outside my window pine needles catch the light and the wide, blue sky stretches endlessly overhead - I just love winter days! Now that I'm working on my new book, Dragonfly Eyes, I'm deep into research on the Civil War and the paranormal. Again, send on those ghost stories! Darla just wrote to tell me she is finishing up her OWN book (way to go, Darla!) and I just had to share how cool I think that is. I'm sure Darla has a tremendous feeling of accomplishment just knowing that she's done, and I'm excited for her. Speaking of seeing your work completed, I've now seen Twilight eight times (I've always been a bit obsessive) and I think it's amazing the way Stephenie created her own world with her own rules. I'm doing the same thing right now, and it's quite thrilling. I hope a lot of you will follow Darla's lead and try your own hands at writing, because there's nothing better!

I can't wait for The Dying Breath to get into your hands! I'll post a picture of the jacket art when I get it and hopefully some of the first chapter. I can tell you that TDB is a wild ride!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Sad Day

It's so strange - I'm beginning a new book as a tribute to my murdered friend Savannah, which, in turn, has made me think a lot about what comes next. As I was contemplating Savannah's life my thoughts turned to her father, so I just reached for the phone and called him. His number was disconnected, but he'd told me he was thinking about moving in with his brother, so I didn't panic. Then I emailed him and...I just found out he died. So...the last link to Savannah is gone. Savannah's mom, Maxine, died in 2005 and now Al, who drove all the way from Utah to attend my daughter's wedding, has passed, too. Even Savannah's killer is dead. It's like a book has been closed, every chapter complete.

What we should all remember is to love each other while we can, because life is brief. This message isn't meant as a downer, but more a reminder, to keep loved ones close. The last time I talked to Al he laughed (I'm always saying something crazy) and he told me he loved me - he didn't have any other children besides Savannah and the holidays were particularly hard for him. I'm just glad that I know we go on.

Please give someone you love a hug today in memory of Al Anderson, Savannah's father. He was a truly great man who touched many lives. And for you, Al, I send my love...until we meet again.

Alane Ferguson

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Happy New Year!

The start of this new year has already been a blast, especially since I've seen Twilight SIX times. I love Edward (Robert Pattinson) but I have to admit sometimes the special effects were a bit cheesy - the 'tree climbing' scenes were painful! Still, SO much fun! I highly recommend it!

Right now I am writing a book called Dragonfly Eyes, and it deals with the paranormal. So - any more ghost stories? Personal experiences you'd like to share that might end up in my new book? As far as The Dying Breath, I still have to get clearance from the legal department to post a blurb. I'll follow up on that tomorrow.

In the meantime, I hope this finds you all happy and excited for 2009. I just KNOW it will be amazing!

Hugs from Colorado,

Alane Ferguson