I’m in the process of revising my horror novel Caleb’s Moon. Here is the second draft of my first chapter. Feel free to read it and leave a comment with your thoughts. I’ve included four questions after the excerpt.
It wasn’t the wolf that alarmed Louie Channing. It was the little girl in the blood-soaked dress.
Louie sat at the foot of her bed watching the storm through the window. She held her son Caleb in her lap. She told him that if they counted the seconds from the flash of lightning to the thunder, they could determine how far away the storm was.
“Can it get us in here?” He asked.
“No, Bean. We’re safe.” She kissed the top of his head. “When we see the next one, will you count with me?” Caleb looked over his shoulder and nodded. His skin shone in the moonlight. She wiped his cheek. Still warm, but he’d stopped crying.
A brilliant fulmination turned the sky violet. She felt Caleb tense and hugged him close as he buried his face in her arm.
“One,” they said together. Louie listened for the thunder. The fan beside Caleb’s bed whirred across the hall. The room was muggy. She considered bringing the fan into her room but decided against it. Caleb would never be able to sleep without it..
“Two.” The clock in the living room ticked, a metronome in rhythm with her heart. She listened for rain, but there was none. This was a dry thunderstorm, common in the pacific northwest during the summer. In nearby Wenatchee and Leavenworth, they called it fire season. The summer’s were dry and hot. They baked the mountains to kindling. All it took was a spark then the flames would catch the wind and burn for months. Ellensburg wasn’t as dry as her neighboring cities, but the winds were stronger here. The fire warning sign over Blewett, the nearest mountain pass, had Smokey the Bear pointing to the red zone. Louie hoped for rain.
“Three.” Caleb sucked in a ragged breath. His fleece pajamas rustled as he pressed himself against her chest.
“Four.” She could hear the canal running along the outside of the complex. She loved the sound of the water, so soothing but tonight the wind had whipped it up into a torrent as loud as ocean waves. The frogs and crickets fell silent.
“Five.” These weren’t waves. Something was splashing as it moved through the water. Something big.
“Six.” A thud, as though a boulder had been dropped onto the banks. What the Hell was that?
“Seven.” Branches rustled and snapped like bones. It was running through the trees and it was getting closer.
“Eight.” The pounding of feet drew closer, it sounded too heavy to be a deer. A cougar? The lightning must have scared it out of the mountains.
“Nine.” A child’s lilting laughter. Louie froze. Her heart beat in her ears.
“Shh.” She moved Caleb off her lap and went to the window.
She cupped her hands around her eyes, pressing them against the glass to block out the moon’s reflection. Her hot breath fogged the cool pane. She wiped the condensation away and then she saw it. A pair of shining red eyes staring back at her from the other side of the clearing.
Transfixed, Louie stared back. Did it see her? From where she stood, she couldn’t be sure. Then it moved.
It circled the trees and loped into the clearing. A wolf. Its white fur matted with a tar-like substance. A small girl ran alongside it. Her dress clung to her filthy bare legs. Her face caught the light and the muck on her face shone red. Blood.
This isn’t real.
“Mommy, you stopped counting.” She looked down to find Caleb standing beside her, clutching her leg. “Why is that girl outside?”
“I don’t know, baby. I don’t know.” She channel surfed through the thoughts in her head and only came up with white noise.
The girl laughed and danced through the yard. The wolf snapped at her, but she did not look afraid. She slowed to a walk and the pair continued on, silent and graceful as ghosts.
“But she’s going to get electrocuted. You said.”
“I know. I know what I said, okay. Just be quiet and let me think.” It couldn’t have been the wolf that attacked her, but the blood. The blood had to come from somewhere. Did she fall? Is she in shock?
A roar of thunder rattled the windowpane.
“I said shut up, Caleb!”
Louie pressed her eyes closed and took a deep breath. Get it together. A taste like bile filled her mouth at hearing her mother’s words escape her lips. She took Caleb’s hands in hers. Her eyes volleyed between him and the window.
“Caleb, I’m sorry, but you have to be quiet, okay?” Caleb. The window. “I need to figure this out.”
“Okay.” His blue eyes were glassy. His lip trembled. If he cried, Louie had no doubt that the wolf would hear him.
“Shh shh. It’s okay. It’s okay.” She wanted to make it right, but there wasn’t time. She had to do something.
She looked at the wolf. She had never seen one outside of television and the zoo before, but it wasn’t unheard of to find one in Ellensburg. Half the state was wilderness. She was more unsettled by the calm between the girl and the wolf. Wolf aside, something about that kid wasn’t right. She couldn’t have been more than six and here she was running around at night in the middle of a storm. And her laugh. Had Louie heard it during the day at a park, it would have made her smile. But seeing this girl— this blood-soaked girl— laughing chilled her. Why isn’t she afraid? Where are her parents?
“Caleb, I need you to listen to me carefully,” said Louie. His large eyes held her hard stare. “I’m going to go outsi—”
“Caleb, it’s okay. I’ll be safe, but I need to make sure the girl outside is okay.”
“It’ll be alright. I won’t be gone long. Just stay here. Don’t leave this room. Don’t open the door. Can you do that?”
“Good boy.” She paused before going through the door to glance at the window. The girl was gone.
Louie stepped outside. She didn’t think to bring a flashlight, but she didn’t need one. The moon, a perfect amber orb encircled by a halo of red, lit her path. Papa Wetherby called a moon like that a blood moon. Her told her that when you saw one trouble was brewing and if you were smart, you got the Hell out of its way. Louie didn’t believe in things like that but walking alone with the weight of eyes on her, she wondered if there might be some truth to the superstition.
She looked across the lawn to the mirrored row of sleeping duplexes and townhouses, to the road and the copse of trees that barred the canal.
The girl was nowhere to be seen.
“Hello?” She kept her voice low.
A cool breeze brought the smell of grass and earth to her face. The wind danced through her hair. In the playground behind the duplexes up ahead, the swings squeaked like rusted wheels. When she turned around, she half expected to see the girl standing there mute and expressionless as a doll. The wolf beside her growling as it crouched down to strike. She pressed her eyes closed and turned.
The frogs croaked their night song, giving the all clear that whatever had been out there was gone. Louie exhaled the anticipation that had built within her. She surveyed the yard one last time and, satisfied that the girl was gone and there was nothing more she could do, she went inside and locked the door behind her.
She found Caleb by the sliding glass door, peeking behind the Venetian blinds.
“What are you doing? You were supposed to wait in your room.”
“I couldn’t see you.”
She went to him and lifted him up, holding him like a koala. “I told you I’d be right back, didn’t I?” He nodded.
“Did you find the girl?”
“No, Bean. She must have found her way home.”
“The dog too?”
“Yeah, they were both gone. They’re probably home in bed now which is where you should be.”
“Mama, is it still storming outside?”
“No, baby. I think it passed.”
He looked apprehensive as though he was still making up his mind about whether or not he believed her.
Her cell phone sat connected to a charger on the kitchen counter. She could call the police. They would come out and look for the girl. Her foster brother Johnny was a cop. She could call him. But something told her that the girl wasn’t missing and the wolf would not let itself be found. She would be forced to stay up and wait for Johnny or some other cop to come to the door and say they found nothing. To listen to them ask her is she was sure she didn’t imagine the whole thing. It was late, she was tired, and she was ready to put this night behind her. She would never admit it out loud, but she was glad the girl was gone.
“You wanna sleep in my room tonight?”
Caleb nodded and she carried him to her room.
She tucked Caleb in. He rolled over to the other side of the bed, next to the nightstand. Louie always slept on that side. She had even when she shared the bed with Caleb’s dad, but she didn’t mind. She climbed in and cuddled up to next to her son. He yawned deep, his body melting with exhaustion.
“You’re my sun, my moon, and all my stars,” she told him as she always did at bedtime, punctuating her words with kisses. Caleb kissed her nose.
“I love you, mommy.”
“I love you too, Bean. Goodnight.”
She lied there looking out the window. She half expected to see the wolf. To look up and find those red eyes staring back at her. She debated getting up to close the blinds, but she didn’t want to disturb Caleb. He was finally asleep.
Was it guilt or fear that kept her from sleeping? She thought about what she told Caleb. She wanted to believe it was true, that the girl was at home with her dog curled up at the end of her bed, freshly showered and tucked in by a mother who loved her. Louie wanted to believe that, but she knew better.
Questions about the chapter:
- Would you read the next chapter?
- How would you describe the mood?
- Did Louie’s decision not to call the police make sense?
- Was this easy to read?