Go Hunt Me
- Pages: 320 Pages
- Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
- Imprint: Razorbill
- ISBN: 9780593204856
An Excerpt From
Go Hunt Me
You're safe here.
That's what the nurse told me when I arrived at St. Constantin's.
Every time the wheels of the hospital cart squeak on the freshly mopped tile floor. Each time the orderlies whisper to each other in the hallways. When someone drops a lunch tray or coughs or clears their throat. I flinch and the heart monitor beside my bed beeps frantically.
I can't sleep.
Can't close my eyes for a second.
Every time I do, I see Jax's face.
It's the details that give me nightmares.
The castle turrets that were the same scarlet color as the dried specks of blood I can't pry out from underneath my fingernails. The thin branches of the gray alder trees that twisted around my limbs like endless tentacles. The rustling leaves that concealed a conspiracy of whispers.
I can't stand to be in the dark. For the dead travel fast.
When they found out where I'd been picked up, a look of understanding crossed their faces. They'd heard stories about Castle Prahova. The doctor who spent all morning digging shards of glass out of my scalp told me the private estate about fifty kilometers north of Braov was a place that inspired legends. It had been the home of medieval warmonger Vlad Dracul, the real-life inspiration of the fictional character Dracula. The locals believed that the monsters of Prahova were more terrifying than what made it onto the pages of Bram Stoker's novel.
Of course, I already knew that.
It was Dracula and his legends that drew us to Romania in the first place.
But we didn't know that the castle had a more recent history of unsolved crimes and unexplained accidents. People went missing. Bodies washed up on the bank of the river that cut across the countryside and ran along the base of the sharp cliffs that bracketed the castle. For years, the place was owned by a drug dealer who used it for storage and operations. The Romanian police spent the better part of two decades relentlessly chasing a cartel across the always foggy, dense forest.
But even the farmers who knew the castle by reputation were shocked when our flaming utility cart crashed into the wooden fence outside of Rupea and I dragged Reagan's bloody body out into the wet, muddy road. Six dead American tourists. The Poliia Rom‰n sent a team to recover the remains. I don't know what there will be left to find.
Anything left of my friends.
My hand always feels empty. As if it will always be trying to reach out and pull Hazel from a pool of dark black water. I force my eyes open and stare at the greenish hospital lights.
You're safe here.
Dr. Fieraru says that my mother caught the red-eye from Phoenix. The police will send a car to the airport and she'll come to take me home. When I'm able to check my phone, I see all the alerts about Justin Bloom. In LA, the police are hunting for the famous film director.
Wanted for questioning.
A while later, as I am reading the same page of the hospital magazine for the hundredth time, a short woman wearing a floral-print dress and with her long, dark hair in a neat braid knocks lightly on the open door of my room.
"Alexandra Rush?" she says in a calm, pleasant voice.
The chirps of my heart monitor increase in pace.
She enters with soft footsteps and says, "Please do not be alarmed. I am Police Inspector Ana Skutnik. I understand you already spoke to the police yesterday after you arrived at the hospital. Do you feel up to answering some additional questions?"
Truthfully, I do not feel up to it. I'm not sure I will ever feel up to it. But everyone will want to know the story of what happened, and I am the only one who can tell them. Our families deserve answers. From me.
Again, I nod.
Inspector Skutnik offers a comforting smile and takes the beige leather guest chair to my right. She leans forward, placing a small device in front of me on the overbed table. "If it is all right with you, I will be recording this interview. May I call you Alexandra?" she asks.
"Alex," I croak out. "My name is Alex."
I pick at the cast covering my broken arm and try to avoid scratching at the jagged, crisscrossed black stitches that bind the cuts all over my legs.
She nods. "I have a copy of your statement here. But I am hoping to get a fuller, more detailed picture of what happened. Particularly to gather information that might help the team at Prahova as they search for . . ." Her smile falters.
As they search for bodies.
Don't close your eyes.
"Okay," I whisper. My heartbeat slows. I'm so cold. So almost dead inside.
She smiles again. It's a motherly expression. "Let us start at the beginning."
I notice that the policewoman has a soft leather case she rests on her lap as she pulls out a handful of papers. For a minute her eyes glide over the printed pages.
"What do you want to know?" I ask.
Her eyes linger on the marks around my neck. "Only the truth."
"The truth is messy," I say with a sigh.
Inspector Skutnik reaches for the water pitcher on my table and refills my Styrofoam cup.
"Okay, Alex. Tell me. What brought you to Romania?"
153 days ago
EXT. PARADISE VALLEY-NIGHT-ALMOST HALLOWEEN
Mummy Mountain was silent and still and dark.
I was late. Nothing new about that. Since Dad got sick, I was late all the time.
The enormous silver punch bowl on the seat next to me vibrated and bounced up and down as I took the turn from Lincoln Avenue onto the single-lane Hummingbird Road. I had to drive slow in the old Ford Taurus to take the tight turns. Once I passed the country club, I had only the sliver of a moon to light my way. The tip of a white crescent rose slowly above the rock formation that was said to look like the head of an Egyptian mummy.
It always struck me as odd that these narrow, poorly lit mountain roads were the access point to the houses of the richest people in Arizona. But Kenna McKee told me, "We can't make it easy. We don't want just anyone to get up here."
During the day, delivery drivers and landscapers and construction crews created a flurry of activity. But after dark, the one-percenters stayed out of sight, hidden behind their private gates and dense landscaping. Me and Kenna and the rest of our friends were supposed to be setting up for the McKees' epic Halloween party. But helping my dad had taken longer than I thought, so it was almost ten when I crept along, alone on a Friday night, my phone no longer buzzing with messages from Jax and Reagan checking up on me.
I should have been focused on my application to film school. USC's Cinematic Arts program admitted around 2 percent of its applicants. I had script pages to polish, a personal statement to write, a short film to make, and reference letters to beg for. Plus, since my family was out of money, not only did I need to be better than 98 percent of the thousands of applicants who wanted to walk in the footsteps of George Lucas, Shonda Rhimes, and Jon Chu, but I also had to find some combination of grants, scholarships, and loans to get me to California.
But tomorrow was Halloween. Of senior year. It was the last time that all my friends would celebrate our favorite holiday.
I didn't know what the future held, but it probably wasn't too many more parties with Paradise Valley Catering's famous ravioli and Mrs. McKee's epic skeleton-themed charcuterie boards. Hopefully someday I'd be a famous director, but that Halloween might be my final chance to sneak a Diplom‡tico rum cocktail and steal sips while gazing at all the twinkling lights of Phoenix's sprawling suburbs.
Halloween. The one day of the year when you got to choose who or what you wanted to be. When you weren't at the mercy of the hand life had dealt you. A prince without a birthright. A witch without magic. A vampire who never has to hunt their friends. You could be anything. And you were allowed to talk about the things that scared you. To experience fear from a position of relative safety. To sort of confront the monsters that lived underneath your bed. I think that's what attracted me to horror films. The best scary movies were about people who faced their demons and emerged as something different.
The McKees lived in the middle of Mummy Mountain. Not in the more "affordable" homes near the base where doctors and lawyers put out their custom doormats, but not at the very top either. A few retired rock stars and film directors and the heir to the Campbell's Soup fortune lived in the handful of homes near the peaks that overlooked all of Scottsdale. I arrived at the long, steep ramp that led to Kenna's house and stopped in front of the closed iron gate with the massive metallic 52, Shane McKee's jersey number, welded onto it. Leaning out the window, I punched my code onto the keypad mounted to a pole.
After the gate creaked open, I had to shimmy the old Silver Bullet up the drive and parallel park it between stacks of tables and chairs waiting to be set up for the party. The truth of it was that I was one of the people who didn't belong on the mountain. Our family business teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. Bills piled up on Mom's desk. Even with us all pitching in to help Dad through his last round of chemo, dirty dishes always filled the sink, and the refrigerator was always almost empty, and the yard was always in need of a mow.
Nothing like the manicured, gated properties up here.
Grabbing the punch bowl, I slid out of the car and into the warm night.
McKee Manor, as they called it, was an odd mishmash of architectural styles. Most of the yard lights were off, so I couldn't quite make out the white columns near the front door or the Southwestern-style patio that I knew was on the east side. Resting the punch bowl on my hip, I pulled out my phone and turned on the flashlight. Half of the front yard was full of gravel and saguaro cactus, and the other contained rows of withered rosebushes. The whole place was surrounded by a ring of tall, funereal cypress trees and a concrete-block wall.
I was supposed to give the punch bowl to Mrs. McKee, but the main house was dark and things were quiet. After listening to the crickets chirp for a few seconds, I continued on.
Kenna had her own little suite on the west side of the property. She had it decorated to look like a house was smashed up against another house. There was a dramatic black-and-white-striped awning and tons of dusty yellow and light green walls. She had done a ton of work to make the place look like perpetual Halloweentown, and it had paid off. Kenna had become a social media star. Her videos on everything from how to choose the right black eyeliner to preparing your own horrors d'oeuvres kept going viral, and she had more than three hundred thousand followers.
I knocked on Kenna's door a couple of times. Where was everyone? Reagan, Jax, Carter, Maddie, and Hazel were nowhere to be found. Maddie was supposed to be setting up her face-painting station, and the rest of us had party jobs that ranged from assembling favor bags to blowing up pool floaties. I imagined my friends off somewhere without me. Carefree and normal. At the midnight movie or having late-night shakes at the country club. Jax was the perfect boyfriend. Reagan could do things with computers that should have been science fiction. Maddie was one of the best artists I'd ever seen, Carter's band was profiled by the Phoenix New Times, and Hazel was the genius who had it all figured out.
Where did that leave me?
My armpits grew moist and clammy. It was October in Arizona. In other parts of the world, leaves were changing colors and people were out shopping for sweaters. But in Phoenix, people were debating which Halloween costumes we could wear without getting heatstroke. It was about four million degrees outside. After nearly letting the punch bowl slip from my sweaty grip, I tucked it under my arm and wiped my palms on the legs of my jeans, almost dropping my phone in the process.
I should have worn shorts.
My footsteps crunched in the gravel as I moved past Kenna's green wrought-iron patio furniture and toward her window in the back. There was a light breeze and the tops of the cypress trees swayed as I walked.
This side of Kenna's house was almost its own little world. The trees blocked the neighborhood from view and created long shadows across the rocks as the moon continued to rise. Several patio tables were between me and the wall about twenty feet away. Yard decorations, most still in their boxes, were piled up everywhere. There were fake tombstones, plastic skeletons, an oversize inflatable pumpkin, and a giant, bloody rubber snake. This was probably all the stuff Mrs. McKee wanted us to set up. Off in the distance, the backyard's pool light was on, and tiny waves in the crystal-clear water lapped and sparkled.
Hoping to see my friends inside watching a movie or clustered around Hazel, going over one of her infamous checklists, I turned the corner to the backyard and neared Kenna's large, square window.
Someone else was back there.
A tall and thin man. Partially concealed in a series of bougainvillea bushes to the side of Kenna's window. Clad in a long black coat with a fur collar and wearing a white porcelain mask that suggested that some phantom or specter was underneath.
There was something kind of familiar about the scene.
Like from one of my dreams. Or nightmares.
Kenna's blinds were open, and she was sitting on her bed typing on her laptop the way she usually did on school nights. There was no sign of the rest of our friends. The man leaned out of the bushes, watching her work.
Like he was waiting for something.
The man moved forward, and the moonlight that managed to break through the tree canopy glinted across the blade of a long knife. Or a sword. A dizzy panic threatened to overtake me, and it took all of my concentration to stand. I covered my mouth with my hand to stop myself from screaming or maybe to muffle my heavy, panicked breathing. Some armed maniac was staring at Kenna through her window. I had to call the police. My fingers trembled as I tried to unlock my phone.
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