An excerpt from the soon-to-be-released Monsterville (the literary equivalent of a trailer), capturing when Lissa first encounters the monster in her woods.
I headed to the backyard and its giant trees. A frayed rope hung from a branch, probably leftover from an old tire swing.
As I slipped into the woods, one of my flip-flops sank into goopy, cool mud hidden beneath a layer of dead leaves. I pulled my foot out with a big squelching sound, but the flip-flop stayed behind. Gross. I bent and rescued it from the reddish mud.
I almost turned back. Nothing about the wet and dark woods was inviting. But it felt kind of peaceful there, and it was nice to be alone after last night’s Mandatory Family Fun Time.
Overhead, a bird cawed, and then something skittered under the brush nearby. I pushed my way through some branches. Someone had bulldozed trails and water pooled in the rutted tracks of the cleared ground.
Now, I know this is going to make me sound super wimpy, but this was my first time in real, honest-to-goodness wild woods. Central Park has woods, but come on. It also has a carousel and carriage rides. That’s not the wilderness. And Dad took me “hiking” (really emphatic air quotes here) before, but those trails were made of concrete and had guardrails. Nothing like this.
Picking my way down the trail, I checked out the scenery. Maybe someone more nature-savvy could have identified the trees and bushes, but to me it was all: tall tree, short tree, scruffy bush, scruffier bush, etc. There were also those gumball things on the ground—you know, those spiny little balls with stems sticking out of them—but I didn’t know what kind of tree those fell from. And stubby purple flowers dotted the ground, but I had no clue what they were. Ditto with the waxy plants shaped like umbrellas. Umbrella plants?
Maybe I’d ask Adam to give me a tour. As a Boy Scout, wasn’t it his job to know what plant you could eat and what could kill you? Plus we were neighbors. He was supposed to be hospitable.
As I got deeper into the woods, I realized it had become quiet. It was a weird sound. Or non-sound, I guess.
In the city, there was always sound, no matter where I was. If I stopped on the sidewalk and closed my eyes and just listened, I’d hear taxi horns and voices and footsteps. (Plus someone would shove me and scream a four-letter word about getting out of the way).
My skin crawled. It was weird to know I was the only person around. And even weirder to know these woods were all ours.
I made my way farther into the woods and craned my head back. The tree limbs were so thick I could barely see through to the sky.
Water burbled somewhere, and I cocked my head. A creek? That would be cool. Especially if there was a rock to lie out on, someplace quiet where I could work on my first real screenplay.
I fought my way through branches and brush toward the water, almost biting it when I tripped on a root sticking up from the ground. Flip-flops had been a dumb idea.
Eventually I saw the lip of a wide creek. I climbed down a steep, short hill to get to the water, slipping a couple of times.
“Wow,” I said aloud when I got to the bottom. My voice echoed.
It was really pretty down here. The current was fast, racing over rocks at the bottom of the creek and splashing against fallen limbs. About twenty feet farther down, it looked like beavers had been building a dam. There was a pile of tree branches and leaves in the middle of the creek. Water ran around it in deep currents, making a sucking sound.
I wished Casey and Taylor were here. We could hang out with lawn chairs and books, Casey sitting under a huge hat and slathered with SPF 150 because of her pale skin, and Taylor in baby oil to make her dark skin “tire black,” as she calls it.
I picked up a rock and tried to skim it across the surface. It sank.
Suddenly, the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, and even though it made no sense at all, I had this crazy idea that someone was watching me. I could imagine exactly how I’d look if a camera captured my stalker’s point of view—stepping hesitantly, slow. Vulnerable. Maybe seen in a flash frame, to show the stalker close . . . then closer . . . closer . . .
I tried to shake off the feeling, but my heartbeat drummed against my chest, like my body was trying to warn my mind.
Even though I felt paranoid for doing it, I swiveled my head all around. Just making sure everything was in order—you know, no one-eyed fisherman clutching an axe and giggling crazily behind a tree.
Nothing. The water burbled lazily in the creek, and far away, a bird called. Through the gap in the trees above, the clouds in the bright blue sky looked like cotton candy. In every way, it seemed like a beautiful day for a walk in the woods.
So how come the feeling was still there?
I decided to go back to the house. I mean, in movies it’s always when people go against their gut instinct that they end up biting it.
I started to climb up the bank, using a root sticking out of the ground as leverage. It was hard going because my hands were shaking and my legs felt weak.
Water splashed in the creek. I froze, one hand grasping a root and the other stuck in the gritty mud. What was that? A beaver? A deer? Or—
Someone—or something—moaned. It came from near the beaver dam.
My heart pounded. I reached for another root, but it snapped off in my hand.
With a lurch, I grabbed for another one. Scrambling, not even caring about the mud I was getting all over my clothes, I crawled to the top of the hill.
I stole a look over my shoulder. Bubbles rippled the water. A huge dark form moved below the surface.
Maybe it’s a turtle, I thought to myself. But turtles didn’t thrash around like that, and they weren’t six feet long. Whatever I was seeing was no turtle.
All at once, it shot out of the water with a huge splash, like someone coming up after a dive. I screamed and fell backward, landing hard on my butt and rattling my teeth.
It was a creature. It had two arms and two legs like a person but everything else was just . . . wrong. Fishlike. Water dripped from its scaly body shimmering in the sunlight. The creature lifted its green face, its flat nose quivering like it was smelling something.
It locked eyes with me. For what felt like forever, we stayed frozen, staring at each other. My heart hammered so loud I was sure it could hear it.
What was this thing? It looked like the supernatural villain in a blockbuster film, but there was no mask, no zipper up the front of its body, no campy sound effects.
Meaning, it looked completely real. And this wasn’t a movie. So, based on the powers of logic . . .
It opened its mouth, showing sharp, triangular black teeth. Its tongue was dark purple.
“Don’t come any closer!” I croaked.
Run! I commanded myself. It was the first rule of monster movies. Run, don’t try to get a better look. But I was rooted to the spot. Monster bait.
The creature shook its head. It didn’t have ears—just a dark hole where each ear should have been.
I glared at the thing, trying to hide how scared I was. “What do you want?”
The creature licked its rubbery lips. When it spoke, its voice was a loud rasp.