Don’t be deceived by the pretty pink cover: the insides of The Merciless are twisty, creepy, gory, and sometimes downright terrifying. Book 2 is no exception. We checked in with author Danielle Vega to get the inside scoop on writing the series, and boy did she deliver. Here are 5 scenes from the The Merciless II that got cut. Think you can handle it? Read on to find out…
Reminder! The Merciless ebook series is on sale until 3/29!
We slowly approach a green sign that reads: Now leaving Friend, Mississippi, Population: 9,786
I sit up. A kid in a black hoodie stands in front of it, holding a can of red spray paint. He crosses out the ‘6’ in the town’s population, and paints the number ‘2’ in thick, drippy lines.
My stomach clenches, and a bitter taste hits the back of my throat. I lean forward, my breath fogging the window. It seems to take us ages to drive closer. The boy lifts the paint can, again, and writes something new:
Then he turns, and pushes the hood back from his face, and it’s not a boy at all. It’s Brooklyn. She glares at me with that manic smile, and blood drips from her teeth, along with something thick and black that looks like tar. Her eyes burn into me, and I hear her voice in my ear.
I’m coming for you…
I’m standing in the main hallway of the St. Mary’s dormitory. I don’t know what time it is or how I got here, but it’s dark. Moonlight streams in through the stained glass, and wind blows past the trees, pushing long, moss-covered branches against the windows.
I blink, my eyes heavy. I must’ve been sleepwalking. The cold, wooden floor chills my bare feet, and goose bumps crawl up the back of my neck. I wrap my arms around myself, shivering. Dead saints stare out from their gilded frames, the cracked oil paint making their faces look creased and ancient.
I glance down at myself. Mud covers my legs and arms, and stains the hem of a lacy pink nightgown I don’t remember buying. I wiggle my fingers. There’s mud crusted in my knuckles and beneath my fingernails. It feels powdery and dry. Like paint.
Panic flickers through me. Something happened. Something I don’t remember. I head for the main door, telling myself to stay calm. The ancient, wooden floorboards groan beneath my feet. The sound cuts through the silence and I freeze, horrified. My panic burns hotter. I start walking again, faster this time. Something flickers at the corner of my eye and I flinch, and spin around.
Nothing there but a long, empty hall and walls lined with portraits.
I breathe in deep, my chest rising and falling heavily as I back into the door. I run my fingers over the wood, and curl them around the heavy, brass doorknob. I turn the knob and pull. The door doesn’t open. I glance down. Long, crooked nails jut out of the frame.
“No,” I whisper. I turn and grab the doorknob with both hands, pulling with all my strength. It doesn’t budge.
“Sofia…” Brooklyn says. Her voice is close—she’s practically whispering in my ear. I yank at the door, twisting, tugging…
Brooklyn’s hand drops onto my shoulder—
The shadows at the far end of the chapel move, and Brooklyn steps out of the darkness. She wears a thin, white tank top instead of her usual black uniform, and she’s slicked her hair back with gel, leaving it shiny and hard. Like a helmet. Adrenaline rolls off of her in waves. I can practically smell it.
“Hi Sofia,” she says.
Some deep, animal instinct kicks to life inside of me. The air turns razor sharp—I feel like I could cut myself if I move too quickly. Something is very wrong. I need to run. I take a slow step backward, toward the door. Brooklyn is speaking, but it takes me a long moment for his words to reach me.
“I’m doing this because I love you,” she’s saying. “You have evil inside of you, but we can help. We can save you.”
“Who’s we?” I whisper. I take another step toward the door, and two hands clamp down on my shoulders, holding me in place. I stifle a scream.
Something blue flashes between the bunny’s paws.
“What the hell?” I mutter, leaning over Heathcliff’s smelly cage. He’s chewing on something, but her pellets are all gone and there’s nothing else in the cage that he should be eating.
“Come on, give it up,” I say, reaching for him. He clamps down on his new toy, but I manage to wrestle it away. I hold up my hand and squint.
A jagged, bright blue crescent lies in my palm. I stare at it for a moment before I see the thin line of red along one edge.
Blood. Bile rises in my throat. I’m holding someone’s fingernail.
I jerk my hand back and the fingernail drops to the floor, a single spot of blue on the oatmeal-colored carpet. Sutton doesn’t paint her fingernails blue. She keeps them short and perfectly polished in Essie’s Ballet Slippers, a barely there pink. And Leena doesn’t paint her nails at all. So who lost their fingernail in the bunny’s cage.
I think of Leena’s story from my first night in this dorm.
Abby just disappeared…
A small graveyard butts up against the far side of the chapel. Leena told me they used to bury priests and nuns here back when our chapel was just another country church. Then the school bought it, and the land around it. They couldn’t exactly dig everyone up so they just left the graveyard here. A wrought-iron fence circles the border, a sign dangling from the gate. No Entry, it reads.
I always figured the gate was locked, but I lift my hand and push and it swings open with a soft creak. I walk across flattened grass and weave around moss-covered tombstones and crumbling, stone angels. I try not to think of the bodies rotting below my feet. Clothes disintegrating around fleshless skeletons. Fingernails long and curled. Still growing.
A tiny, black spider scurries over the toe of my shoe, disappearing into the brush before I have time to scream. I shiver, and make my way to the heavy, old cross on the far end of the graveyard. Tangled ivy snakes over the stone, twisting into thick knots in the corners. Dead grass grows up over the base, making it impossible to read the name of the body lying six feet below.
Jude leans against the cross, hunched up in a faded leather jacket for warmth.
“Hey,” I say, stopping behind him. He jerks and his eyes widen, and then relax when he recognizes me.
“Jesus,” he mutters. “I didn’t hear you.”
“What are you doing out here?” I ask.
Jude rubs his hands together, then shoves them into his leather jacket. “Thinking. It’s quiet out here.”
I lean against the cross next to him. It’s wide enough that there’s room for us both, narrow enough that our shoulders almost brush against each other. “What are you thinking about?”
He lets his head fall back against the cross, his shoulders clenching around his ears. He looks so lovely like this, with moonlight making his skin glow silver, and dark hair curling around his neck. I think about touching him. I wonder if his skin feels rough with stubble. If his hair would tangle in my fingers.
“I don’t know. Life, I guess.” Jude shrugs his shoulders to release the tension. “I feel closer to God out here.”
He lifts a hand to his mouth and rests two fingers against his lips.
I clear my throat. “You have to sneak out of school in the middle of the night to feel closer to God?”
“This is the closest I ever feel to God.” Jude shift to face me, his body less than a hand’s width away. I can smell the old leather smell of his coat. “I really messed things up at my old school. I’d do things just to get a laugh, or because I thought it would make the guys think I was cool. I never asked myself if I was hurting someone, if it was wrong.”
Jude rakes a hand through his hair, staring out over the graveyard like he sees something I don’t. Moonlight hits his eyes, but it doesn’t reflect back. The light sinks into his pupils and disappears.
“I told myself I’d never be like that again.” His voice is lower now, almost like he’s talking to himself. “No matter what I did, what mistakes I made, I’d always remember who I was. What I believed.” His eyes flick back to me. “That’s what faith is, to me at least. It’s knowing that what you’re doing is right. Not letting the rest of the world change who you are.”
“Yeah,” I say, my voice barely more than a breath. I suddenly wish, with all of my body, that I could believe as strongly as Jude does. I wish I could drink his conviction like water.
Mist drifts up from the ground, creeping over our feet and ankles. It glints on the frost-covered grass, making the ice glow silver. Jude glances down at his feet.
“I bet you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about,” he says.
“What do you mean?”
“You don’t seem like the kind of girl who’d let people push you around.”
I release a low, humorless laugh. “You’d be surprised.”
“I don’t think so.” Jude curls a hand around the back of his head, brushing the dark hair off his neck. A cloud moves across the sky, letting in a slant of moonlight at just the right angle to illuminates a knotted, white scar twisting up from the collar of his shirt.
“What’s that?” I brush the scar with my finger. Jude flinches, and cups his hand over mine.
“That is nothing.” He moves my hand away from his neck, but doesn’t let go. He weaves his fingers through mine.
I frown, trying to make out the scar in the darkness. “Are you sure? It looks bad.”
Jude straightens, and lets go of my hand. I let it hover in the air for a second, not quite sure I remember how to make it work. “It’s from a long time ago. I deserved it.”