"Creagh solidly straddles the line between moody gothic romance and bleak work of horror in this paranormal retelling of Jane Eyre . . . The narrative’s intense and appropriately grim atmosphere is brightened by ebullient writing—Elias is described as “Mr. Darcy with a splash of Dr. Frankenstein”—and a smartly climactic resolution stays true to the inspiration material’s roots."--Publishers Weekly
- Pages: 368 Pages
- Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
- Imprint: Viking Books for Young Readers
- ISBN: 9780593116081
An Excerpt From
Strange Unearthly Things
More likely, it never left.
Awesome. A second shadow—just what I always wanted.
Per usual, this ghost—or whatever it is—is currently just an impression on my mind. A picture and a feeling combined into one, except the details are blurred, obscured by the noise and action of the waking world.
Concentration is the flashlight that illuminates the shades I encounter. But I never get the whole picture until I put charcoal to paper and draw what I “see.”
I don’t want to look too closely at this shadow figure or render it into more solid shapes of black and white. I’ve successfully avoided doing so for four weeks now, assuring myself all the while that this creeper will eventually scram.
I’ve learned the hard way how bestowing attention of any kind can invite certain spirits closer. More than that, I’m afraid that if I do sketch my sketchy tagalong, I’ll discover that it’s something other than a ghost.
But then, isn’t that what my intuition has been whispering all along?
To find out if my instincts are right . . . well, I’ll have to draw it.
Cringing, I focus on the passenger seat in front of mine, tuning my ears to the hum of the Boeing jet that, like my life, carries me forward at a velocity unfelt.
Night occupies the skies we fly through, and thousands of miles below, the Atlantic churns, as do the lightning-illuminated clouds outside the little window.
Rain slashes the layered glass, and my mind is as turbulent as the weather.
Because there’s so much that I don’t know.
Even outside of what this thing is that’s following me, or what it wants already.
I don’t know, for instance, what to expect at Fairfax Hall—who I’m going to have to contend with there or what. What else.
More troubling than that—I don’t know what comes after this job. And that mystery, the yawning void of the whole rest of my life? Well, that’s scarier than any incorporeal lurker.
Gritting my teeth, I fight the urge to think too far ahead.
Ugh. This thing is stressing. Me. Out.
I hadn’t expected it to follow me to freaking England.
I guess my hope had been to escape from it like everything else. Leave it behind like an ugly sweater that I conveniently “forgot.” Now, though, my fear that Fairfax Hall and this spirit are linked begins to seem less improbable.
Either way, the last thing I want is to arrive on the scene of this gig the way I have for most situations in life: with built-in issues.
There is, after all, a lot of money on the table. Enough to keep me flush until I can figure out how to survive on my own. Enough that I can buy the name-brand cream cheese . . .
A definite plus since I don’t currently possess enough cash for a return flight. Not that I’m ever going back. To Lowood at least.
Of course, there’s also the little problem that, oh yeah, I’m supposed to help clear Fairfax Hall of its skulker, not import a new one from America.
The salt-and-pepper-haired man seated next to me, closest to the window, draws a sudden breath, making me jump. He has his chair reclined and his eyes shut.
Envy for the rest he’s getting prods my already sour mood.
I had hoped to sleep on the plane before landing in another time zone, another country. Another world.
Steeling myself, I finally give in and glance behind me down the aisle, toward the seat that my senses—the extra ones—tell me holds my stalker.
The seat appears empty, though the one across from it is occupied by a blond woman wearing headphones. She flicks me a dirty look, then goes back to perusing her magazine.
If only she knew what sat across the aisle from her. She might drop her magazine in search of a parachute.
I sit forward again when the plane hits another pocket of turbulence.
Usually, lurkers—the ones I choose to ignore—eventually get bored with me.
For whatever reason, this one wants my attention. Enough that it’s willing to wait for me to acknowledge it.
Is that what it’s waiting for?
From what I can tell, I’ve got two equally terrible options.
One, I can keep ignoring it, and assure by doing so that it’ll still be on my heels when I walk into this job—which I need—or two, I can unmask it and start to deal with its janky ass.
Helen. What would she do?
I sigh and lean forward, jerking my carry-on knapsack out from beneath the seat in front of me. After yanking my sketchpad free, I scrounge for one of my charcoal pencils.
Setting the sketchpad on my lap, I go to work, tracing a faint black outline. My pencil flits here and there, following the orders of my intuition. My irritation—and, yeah, my fear—lends the lines a frayed look.
A tatty, not-cool shape comes together.
Narrow frame. Lean limbs. Sharp and gaunt features half-lost beneath the hood of a heavy black cloak. Ashen skin like cracked and peeling plaster.
Next come the eyes, which are . . . informative.
Not that I need more evidence to confirm my instincts regarding this thing.
Like a pair of high beams, two orbs of penetrating firelight-orange blaze through the shadowed hood, each slit through the middle vertically by a blade-thin pupil of pure black. My charcoal can’t convey the color I “see,” but it does illuminate a gaze full of intent.
Think feral predator in the dark, except with lava eyes.
But there’s more.
Against pale skin he wears a thin black necklace adorned with a single matching bead pendant.
Because accessories are everything.
Thin dry lips are parted, almost as if he doesn’t want me to miss this detail: the razor teeth that lie beyond. They make me want to ditch the sketchpad and start looking for my parachute.
But . . . I don’t stop. It’s too late, like I’d known it would be the moment I started.
Like the moment after I signed that waiver. Got on this plane.
Told everyone at Lowood what I really thought of them . . .
My heart speeds up as my hand keeps going, almost like it’s possessed, the tip of my pencil trading off between outlining and filling in details.
Locks of long, silken, snow-white hair escape the hood that, on either side of the entity’s head, hides something . . . bulky. The heavy fabric of the hood conforms to curled shapes that conjure the image of a ram’s horns.
I keep going.
His hands tell a story, too. White fingers, cracked as well, degrade into long, sharp black claws.
After finishing his obsidian manicure, my pencil flits back to those eyes. Because there’s something about them. Flashlights of soul-searing doom.
Those onyx gashes that serve as pupils . . . It’s like I know them.
Saw them once in a nightmare I never remembered until now.
And somehow the blackness of the shadows that cling to him isn’t black enough.
Shit, though. My pencil’s not black enough.
I see you, too, those eyes seem to say.
Along with so much else I don’t know how to translate—or capture—with the tools at my disposal.
I go after answers anyway and, against my better judgment, continue to excavate from my inner perception the terrifying image of a . . . a . . .
“The F are you?” I whisper under my breath.
And what do you want from me?
I don’t dare ask this second question aloud. Instead, it echoes through my mind as I pause to examine my work. But then all thought derails the moment those eyes, the ones on my paper, blink.
Terror detonates in my gut. My hands tremble to the point that there will be no more drawing. My heart hammers even harder, beating a warning I know from experience to heed.
If only I knew what, exactly, that warning was.
When the overhead lights flicker, I make myself pause and reevaluate. I make myself think logically.
This thing. I don’t know what it is and I’m too afraid to guess. But am I letting my fear give it more power than it truly has?
It’s entirely likely, for instance, that what I’d perceived as movement had just been an optical illusion caused by the rattling of the plane and the sputtering lights. Because drawings don’t move.
Not even mine . . .
The plane jolts. My hand slips and my pencil jumps. An unintended slash of black now splits the entity in two. The slash also seems to break the spell that, so far, hasn’t allowed me to look away from the sketch.
I glance to the window, to the storm outside, only to find that my neighbor has awakened. Perhaps he was never really asleep. Whatever the case, his crow-footed eyes are on my paper. But then they lift to me, one wiry brow rising in question.
I make no excuses for either myself or the drawing, but, pressing my lips into a line, I close the sketchpad and shift my gaze forward.
The man continues to watch me, his stare burning with grim curiosity. I’m sure he’s about to ask me some question that’ll trash our symbiotic no-interaction relationship, then I’ll have to tell him to mind his own business and he’ll get offended and the rest of the ride will be awkward for all involved.
Hoping to avoid human interaction altogether since it’s massively overrated, I snap off my light, recline my chair, and, shutting my eyes, play his own trick back on him.
Lights out, mister. No one home.
For several long minutes, I try to force myself to relax. But that’s a big fat nope because my drawing stays emblazoned against the backdrop of my eyelids like a possessed photo negative from hell.
Ignoring it, I do the anger-management slow-breathe crap they always tried to push on us at Lowood until my heart stops jackrabbiting in my chest and my hands settle.
Only when I have my peace back—mostly back—do I allow my awareness to stretch out a second time. Cautiously, I take a mental peek.
The wraith is gone now.
This fact? Not as comforting as I want it to be.
I scan a second time, stretching my awareness all the way to the back of the plane and then up to the cockpit.
Once again, though, I’m just surrounded by people.
Surrounded Yet Alone—title to the album of my life, featuring tracks like “Not Again,” “WTF,” and “Why Me?”
Thunder booms and the plane again jars—harder this time. I grip the armrests, bearing down while I refuse to open my eyes and let go of the hard-won calmness I’d almost dovetailed into. That’s when a cool, dry, claylike hand falls upon mine. My eyes pop wide.
I scowl at the fingers now clamping my own, but they are not the man’s.
Papery digits mapped by hairline fissures curl and tighten around my hand, threatening to crush bone.
I snap my head up, my gaze meeting with slit pupils. From the depths of sooty sockets, those molten eyes blaze into me.
“You dare return?” he asks in a deep and melodious voice that doesn’t fit with his monstrousness, dark lips writhing around black gums embedded with serrated teeth.
“Last time should have proved this is no game,” hisses the spirit—the creature—his accent rounded, faintly trilled, and unplaceable. “But if you are determined to play savior, Jane Reye, then I must again play executioner. You know that.”
With those final three words, the cracks netting his skin flare to life with the same orange firelight of his eyes—like he has magma for blood.
The heat wafting off him engulfs me.
With an earsplitting screech, I tear my hand from his unyielding one, strip off my seat belt, and launch myself into the aisle.
I trip, my sketchpad flipping out of my lap. Sketches go flying as I drop to the carpet.
The concerned murmurs of too many voices fill the night-darkened plane as I find my nose two inches from the drawing of the creature I just met face-to-terrifying-face.
I twist toward the seat next to mine only to find it occupied again by the man from before.
Concern pinches his brow. He has his hands on his seat belt, trying to unbuckle it so as to get to me. First person, place, or thing to touch me, though, is getting cracked.
“Is there an emergency?” asks the anxious female flight attendant who approaches.
“I think she was having a nightmare or an episode,” answers the man. “I tried to wake her, but . . .”
As he trails off, I lift my right hand for inspection. The echo of pain from its being squeezed in that murdering grip remains, the sensation arguing against the man’s claim that I’d been asleep.
“Miss, are you all right?” asks the flight attendant, her shadow drifting to fall over both me and my sketches, which lie scattered all around.
Somewhere in the back, a baby wails.
I mutter an unintelligible reply before lifting my eyes to the hundred others projecting judgment. While half the passengers survey me with worry, the other half regard me with irritation.
Headphones Lady lays it on thick with a sneer, her gaze bouncing between me and my drawings, several of which depict screaming faces, twisted figures, and, yeah, some naked people.
After tucking my hair, black, long, and straight, behind my ears with quaking hands, I begin to gather the pages, not caring when I bend or crinkle them. Then the flight attendant crouches next to me.
Her lilac perfume makes me gasp.
“Can I help you with this?” She hands me one of the sketches among the mix that doesn’t depict a spirt.
“I’m good” is all I say as I collect from her the surrealist drawing of a girl peeling her skin off like a T-shirt to reveal a skeletal rib cage stuffed to bursting with flowers.
This one, I take more care with, sliding the drawing back into the sketchbook along with the others.
I force myself to inhale deeply, take in the comforting floral aroma that my best friend—my only friend—Helen, loves more than any other.
Strengthened by it, I rise, pretending not to see the attendant’s outstretched hand.
“Are your parents on board?” she asks. “Or someone I can seat you next to for the remainder of the flight?”
“I’m . . . by myself,” I say. She doesn’t need to know that I don’t have parents. She doesn’t need to know there’s no one other than Helen or that, at eighteen years old, I’m finally and officially—thank God—on my own.
“Can I bring you something to drink?” She ushers me toward my seat and my neighbor, who now raises both brows at me.
“Ginger ale?” I tell her, but only because “back off” will probably just lead to more trouble when all I want is for her to stop fussing over me so that I can go back to being invisible.
The attendant touches my seatmate on the shoulder. “Keep an eye on her?” she says, then heads down the aisle, giving him no time to refuse.
“You don’t have to do that,” I assure the man as I hurry to secure my sketchpad back in my bag, where I should have left it. “It was just a dream, like you said. I’m not going to flip out again.”
Also, I don’t need him to look out for me. I don’t need anyone.
He remains silent for a moment. Then he gestures to my bag.
“It’s all those monsters you draw,” he says through a nervous laugh. “Might try drawing something a little more . . . peaceful. Like rainbows or bunnies.”
I offer him a polite smile.
So many things are about to come spilling out of my mouth.
I eat them and they go down like pinecones.
Because when it comes to other people, I’ve learned it’s better to let them think and say what they want. One, they’re used to it. Two, no one gets me anyway.
No one but Helen ever does. Ever will.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t slap up a few more metaphorical keep-out fences for the duration of one flight.
One life . . .
“I would draw those things,” I say, peering past him through the rain-speckled window to the sky that finally begins to lighten. “If they were what I saw.”
To this, he makes no reply.
Instead, he turns to stare forward.
Only now it’s his hands that grip the armrests.