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Sample Chapter

Curious about my books or my writing style?  For your reading pleasure, I’ve copied the first chapter of my book A Shadow in the Dark below. This book and its sequel, Living It Up to Live It Down, are available to purchase from Royal Fireworks Press at http://www.rfwp.com/series96.htm#900. The text below is copyrighted and cannot be reproduced except by the publisher and author. But you already knew that!

A Shadow in the Dark

by Ronica Stromberg

Chapter 1

            Kirsten Hart had walked into situations that didn’t feel quite right, but that summer, she walked into an entire neighborhood that felt wrong . . . terribly wrong.

            “Who are you?” the neighbor boy asked, his eyes narrowing as she approached the mint-green farmhouse he lived in.

            Kirsten stopped on the gravel driveway, a few feet from where the boy sat on his tricycle.  “Kirsten,” she said, “your new neighbor.  I just moved in over there.”  She pointed west, toward the hill she had walked over.  The old, white farmhouse her mother had bought stood–paint peeling and shingles missing, but still it stood–on the other side of the hill.

            The boy scrambled off his tricycle in sudden eagerness.  “You got any brothers?”

            “One.”

            “How old?”

            “Eleven.”

            “Oh,” he said, his voice dropping.  “I’m four.”

            “I’m twelve, going on thirteen,” Kirsten said.  She closed up the distance between herself and the boy and crouched.  “Do you know of any kids my age around here?”

            “Naw,” he said.  “Well, there is one girl.  At least I think she’s your age, but you’ll never see her anyhow.”

            “Why not?”

            “She doesn’t come outside.”

            Kirsten furrowed her brows.  “What do you mean?”

            “She stays in the house all the time.”

            “Which house?”

            “That old one across from yours with that old lady.”

            “Are you sure?”

            He clamped his lips together.  “I seen her with my own eyes.  She seen me, too.  She has eyes as dark as midnight, and when she seen me, she hid behind the curtain.”

            “Why?”

            “I don’t know.”  He looked back at his own house and said more softly, “My mom won’t let me go there no more.  I wish I had someone my own age to play with.”  Before Kirsten could say any more, he turned and ran up to his house, calling, “Ma!  Ma!”  He swung open a screen door on the side of the house, pushed in another door, and shouted into the house, “I met the new neighbor!”  He disappeared inside, banging the screen door behind him.  After a few moments, when he still had not returned, Kirsten walked back down the driveway to the country road.

            As she made her way home, her ears tuned in to the quiet of the country.  Insects chirred from the ditches on both sides of the road, and birds settled their quarrels at a distance.  Once, she heard the s-s-s-s of a creature–a snake?–slithering through the grass in the ditch.  She moved to the center of the road and continued her walk from there.  She had no fear of being struck by a car; the clump of her sandals told her how alone she was.  Life here was already so different from the life she had known in town.

            “You just need to make some friends,” Kirsten muttered to herself as reassurance.  In town, Madison and Danette had included her in all that they did.  True, the two had shared more in common with each other than with Kirsten, making for an uneasy friendship, but since they all lived on the same cul-de-sac . . .

            Kirsten kicked the gravel road, and a rock broke free, bouncing away ahead of her.  Why did she have to move into the country anyway?  Dad.  But, no, she wasn’t going to think about him now.  She’d take things one at a time.  First, she had to make sure this move into the country didn’t snap the best friendship she had.  “And you will make new friends,” she muttered to herself again.

            At the top of the hill, she rested a moment.  Although it was only the middle of June, the heat and humidity of Southeast Iowa pressed in on Kirsten like a thermal blanket.  Her chestnut bangs lay smeltered to her forehead with sweat.  She slid them back with the heel of her hand.

            Beyond the bottom of the hill, in the yard of the farmhouse catercorner to that of her family, a hulking, gray-haired woman in a long, black skirt stood beating a rug against a tree stump.  Kirsten had seen her out earlier and had skipped her house for that reason:  The bun in the woman’s hair and the stoop of her posture suggested she was too old to have children Kirsten’s age.

            Still, this would be the house in which the neighbor boy claimed to have seen the dark-eyed girl.  Kirsten descended the hill.  By the time she reached the T the country road made with her family’s driveway, the old woman had gone inside.  Kirsten considered giving up on introducing herself to the neighbors today because of the heat and the unpromising appearance of what she had already seen.  But she suspected this reluctance could become permanent.  She continued on to the old woman’s farmhouse and made her way up the driveway and across the yard.  With a haste spurred by dwindling courage, she hopped up the three concrete steps leading to the front door.

            She was raising her fist to knock when, out of the corner of her eye, she saw something move in the front picture window . . . something too small to be the old woman.  Kirsten stopped, her fist in mid-air, and stepped closer to the wrought-iron railing.  She leaned over it slightly.  The dark drapes in the window swayed gently.

            Was someone there in the shadows?  Or had the young neighbor boy’s talk made her paranoid?  She craned her neck to see better.

            A sudden jar of the door nearly sent her over the railing.  She fell onto the wrought iron and rocked with it, the base of the railing more secure than the top, held to the concrete with rusted screws.  She steadied herself and turned toward the door, her face warmed more by guilt than by the heat of the outdoors.

            “May I help ye?” the same old woman she had seen earlier asked, her lips and cheeks twitching as if she wanted to spit.  Her eyes bore into Kirsten.

            For a moment, Kirsten forgot her reason for knocking.

            “Yes?” the old woman demanded, a pitch higher.

            “Do you have a daughter my age?”

            The old woman huffed indignantly.  “No!” she snapped and stepped forward to fill much of the door frame.  “Who are ye to come peering in my windows and asking such questions?”

            “I’m your new neighbor,” Kirsten mumbled.  She pointed back at her own house hesitantly.  “I just thought there might be someone here that I could be friends with.”

            “No,” the old woman said, backing into her house.  “Ye will find no one here like that.”

            Burhm!  The door slammed shut, and Kirsten found herself facing weather-beaten wood.

Copyrighted 2009 by Ronica Stromberg

 

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