Today on the site we have an exclusive excerpt reveal from Carrie Pack’s The Lights, a YA horror novella releasing on December 11 with an f/f couple at its heart. Come check it out!
It’s winter break and Molly Monroe is content to enjoy her town’s annual Festival of Lights with her girlfriend Chelsea at her side. But almost immediately after the lights go up, the town’s children begin to act strangely, especially Molly’s own brother, Roger. When their next-door neighbors are killed in a grisly double homicide, Molly begins to suspect the incidents are linked. Now she must convince her parents and the rest of the town to take down the Christmas lights before everyone gets killed.
And now, the excerpt!
As I cut out tree and reindeer shapes from the dough, I stole sideways glances at Dad as he worked on the frosting for the decorations. I decided to take my chance and broach the subject of Roger’s behavior.
“Dad, have you noticed anything weird with Roger?”
Apart from the blank staring, he’d also stopped playing video games and begging to know which of the wrapped gifts under the Christmas tree were for him. And since the Van Atters’ murder, he had watched me with piercingly cold eyes. Dad didn’t seem to notice how weird he’d gotten.
“I think he’s still a little under the weather.” Dad licked a dusting of sugar off his thumb. “And I’m sure that business next door didn’t help.”
“Yeah.” I scooped up the delicate shapes and placed them on a baking sheet. Even with Roger’s odd quirks, the murder was more disturbing. “Is Mom okay?”
Dad made an uneasy hum that landed somewhere between agreement and a question. “That detective gave me the number of someone for her to talk to. I’ll call after Christmas.”
“Maybe call tomorrow,” I suggested.
I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and looked up to find Roger standing next to Dad.
“I want to see the lights,” he said.
Dad smiled at him. “Sure, kiddo. Right after Molly and I finish up these cookies we’ll go.” He ruffled Roger’s hair. “Why don’t you go see if your mom wants to tag along?”
Roger’s expression didn’t change, but he went upstairs.
A few minutes later Mom shuffled downstairs with Roger in tow. She looked awful, with dirty hair framing her thin and pale face. Dark circles marred the skin under her eyes and she wore an old pair of Dad’s sweat pants and an oversized, stained sweatshirt. But it was the first time she’d been out of bed since the murders. So we all piled into the car and drove downtown.
With less than a week until Christmas, the streets were crowded with shoppers and visitors who had come from neighboring towns to look at the lights. People stood in wonder at the bright colors and sounds coming from every direction. Some of the children stopped to stare just as they had after the processional, while their impatient parents tugged at little mittened hands. The stress of the season was getting to everyone it seemed.
The more lights we passed, the more Roger became entranced, and the more children we saw. It seemed every family with small children was out on this night, and they were all here looking at lights. By the time we reached the town square, dripping in lights as it was, Roger had begun to mutter to himself from the back seat. When we passed under the sparkling, blue “Happy Holidays” sign, Roger smiled like he had a secret and whispered, “It’s time to kill.”
I turned sharply to face him, but he continued to gaze out the window. His face, backlit by the blue of the lights overhead, gave off an eerie, ominous glow. But it seemed I was the only one who had heard him. I glanced toward the front seat where Dad sang along with the radio, which was blaring Christmas carols and Mom stared out the window, both unaware of the terror now coursing through my veins. I looked back at Roger, but his expression seemed normal. Perhaps it had just been the strange glow from the new LED lights. Perhaps I had imagined his creepy whispering. Perhaps I was overreacting. Again.
It felt good to be doing something kind of normal, even if it was only a moment or two. So I let my worries fall away and tried to enjoy myself. But I didn’t take my eyes off my brother.
When Roger asked to go back out the following night, I refused to go. Even if I had imagined his strange behavior and the blue glow, I was not interested in reliving it.
“Oh, come on, kiddo. Where’s your Christmas spirit?” Dad leaned in conspiratorially and whispered, “Besides, I think it will do your mother some good to get out again.”
I shrugged. “We went last night. I don’t need to go again. Besides, Roger’s the one obsessed with the lights, not me.”
“I think it’s sweet,” Dad said.
“I think you mean creepy.”
Dad laughed it off. He said when I was Roger’s age I beheaded all my Barbie dolls and strung them up around the house like piñatas. “It’s just a phase,” he said. “He’s testing his boundaries just like you did.”
“Well, it’s a creepy phase and I’m not going,” I told him, folding my arms across my chest.
Dad sighed. “And one day my sweet Roger will go through this belligerent teenager phase,” he said, mostly to himself. He kissed me on the cheek and slipped on his coat. “Why don’t you make us some cocoa for when we get back?”
“Sure,” I said.
I watched as Dad pulled the car out the driveway. Mom was curled in on herself, like she had been since the Van Atters were killed, but Roger stared back at me, a blank look on his face, and it occurred to me that it wasn’t my brother. Someone else was looking out at me from behind his eyes.
Carrie Pack is an author of books in multiple genres and a recipient of two Foreword Reviews INDIES Book of the Year Bronze awards: in 2016 for In the Present Tense (science fiction) and in 2017 for Grrrls on the Side (young adult). Grrrls on the Side was also a finalist in the Bi Book Awards. She also hosts the BiSciFi podcast and is creator of the #BiSciFi Twitter chat.