Site Loader

Sneak Peeks

Start reading YOUR LONELY NIGHTS ARE OVER by Adam Sass

Excerpt alert! Scream meets Clueless in this YA horror from Adam Sass in which two gay teen BFFs find their friendship tested when a serial killer starts targeting their school’s Queer Club. Scroll down for a sneak peek of Your Lonely Nights Are Over, on shelves September 12!

Chapter One


I’m probably the only person in school not obsessed with that Sandman show. I can’t escape it. Popular kids, nerds, teachers, janitors—-since the show dropped, everyone’s become an amateur detective. Yesterday, AP Bio didn’t start for fifteen minutes because Mr. Kirby was theorizing about the killer’s incomplete shoe print. He and my best friend, Cole Cardoso, went on and on about how modern technology could recreate the print better than seventies computers (if only the evidence still existed).

“It’s a shame San Diego PD didn’t keep better records before the FBI got involved.” Mr. Kirby sighed.

Cole was trying to convince Kirby that Mr. Sandman knew someone in the force—-a father or friend—-who messed with the evidence. But Mr. Kirby just shook his head. “Never ascribe to malice what can be explained by incompetence.”

Cole rolled his eyes. “Corrupt and incompetent, then.”

Mr. Kirby clumsily tied his obsession back into the bio lesson for the day, but nobody was mad at the distraction. For the first time in his teaching career, he had his students riveted.

Anyway, because Mr. Sandman was never found, this show has my classmates thinking he’s behind every corner. But the slayings happened in San Diego, California, and this is Stone Grove, Arizona: a rusty, dusty canyon town of twenty thousand. A lonely place to live, sure, but unlikely to see the return of a famous boomer slasher. I don’t blame people for gossiping. They like thinking something exciting could happen here.

But Stone Grove isn’t that special.

Which is why I’m not bothered about these death threats that have been popping up. They’re a prank, as simple as that. Today, Queer Club is meeting about the texting drama during free period, and I’m here to make sure they stop believing the whispers that Cole and I are behind these anonymous texts. This happens a lot—-people blaming us. Looking cute and inspiring jealousy are kind of our thing. But death threats? That warrants a public denial.

Maybe we should get publicists! High school reputation publicists should be a thing, but until that day comes, I have to make my own statements. So here I am in room 208, the Queer Club’s regularly reserved space—-where the band and choir rehearsed before they built the new auditorium. It’s a theater–in–the–round classroom with desks scattered across three levels of crescent–shaped stadium platforms. Since the auditorium opened, it’s become a flex space, either for clubs or a quiet study area—-which is why I’m a stranger here. I study in my own time.

Just kidding, I have extremely bad senioritis.

Actually, that’s also a lie. I got early acceptance to my top–choice theater school in LA, so I don’t have senioritis; it’s more likeI’m ready to leave this town so I can start living my life–-itis.

“I didn’t see you at the meeting last week,” says a pretty, upbeat white girl with long, silvery hair. Her name is Em. She’s a trans sophomore whose cheerleading social circle has never quite bumped into mine—-which is a circle of just me and Cole. Em and I wait alone in the cavernous classroom, which usually hosts a dozen Queer Club members but so far is shockingly empty.

Typical. I finally come back to this damn club and everybody ditches.

“I used to come to these Queer meetings when I was a freshman, but I just wasn’t a joiner,” I admit, brushing on a coat of cherry ChapStick. Em nods in awkward silence at her desk atop the room’s highest platform. “I’m Frankie Dearie, but everyone just calls me Dearie.”

Em smiles. “I know. You’re a big–boy senior now.” Her brow furrows. “Boy, right?”

Chewing my lower lip, I give my outfit a cursory scan: a black cropped tank with cutouts on the sides, calf–high boots, and a sheer lilac bandanna worn tightly around my throat. I snort. “Yeah, boy, but . . . I’m figuring it out.”

Em sighs into her resting palm. “I feel that.”

Tick. Tock. Where is everyone? Where’s Cole? He was supposed to be my buffer.

Em taps her pen against her cheek, watching me, clearly about to ask what she’s wanted to since I sat down. “You know . . . It’s okay if you did it as a prank—-”

“JESUS,” I groan. “We didn’t send those threats.”

Em throws up innocent palms. “Hey, I thought it was kinda funny . . .”

“Believe me, if it was us, we’d claim credit by now. Our primary goal is always attention.”

Em returns to her phone, and I return to mine. No response yet from Cole to my HELP MEEEEE, ARE YOU CLOSE? texts. I open a saved screenshot of the reason I’m sitting here in purgatory: the death threat texted from an anonymous number to two members of Queer Club.

Your lonely nights will soon be over.

Mr. Sandman used to mail the words in a note to his victim the day before he killed them. If you saw that message, you were as dead as hamburger in twenty–four hours. On the bodies, he’d leave a second note—-Your lonely nights are over—-closing the deadly circle. That’s how the news gave him the name Mr. Sandman. It’s the title of a creepy 1950s song that uses that “lonely nights” lyric.

So, half a century later, two states away, and after a show glorifying the killer starts streaming, this cursed message is sent to two of the most exhausting people in school: Grover Kendall (Queer Club’s secretary) and Gretchen Applebaum (treasurer). Now those two believe they’re either hours away from being slaughtered or the victims of a cruel prank.

Grover, Cole, and I used to be friends years ago (all of us in Queer Club used to be, actually), but it got complicated in middle school, and by high school, Grover had such a falling–out with me and Cole that he will now never miss an opportunity to shit–talk us. Who knows what Grover has been saying privately, because the dirty looks we get in public are constant. His bad vibes for us are so well known that all he had to do was put out a TikTok saying he’s the victim of bullying and the whole school jumped to us as suspects.

I thought that Cole and me showing up at Queer Club would smooth things over, or at least help everyone see the truth: we don’t care enough about these people to prank them.

Yet here I am, with no Cole, no Grover, and no Gretchen. Nobody but me and Em.

“Is this the L . . . GT . . . B club?” asks a small, dark–skinned Black freshman who has wandered inside the classroom. A janitor with a bushy mustache holds the door open for him.

Em perks up. “Yep!” The boy cautiously hugs his overstuffed backpack. “Well, it’s just G and T so far.” She chuckles. “I’d love a G&T.”

I courtesy–laugh, and she can tell. Her face falters. “I’ve never had one. My mom, um . . . loves them.” She groans to herself. “Ah, God, I gotta get out of this town.”

“SAME,” I mouth to Em.

The freshman boy has already left, in—-I can only assume—-fear.

The door bursts open again, and my heart lifts. Cole Cardoso, an eighteen–year–old boy with light brown skin, a swoop of inky–black hair, and a sharply handsome face, sneaks in wearing a maroon bomber jacket over a tightly fitting white tee. A gold chain drapes over the top of his muscular chest. At the sight of him, I thrust my fists in the air victoriously. Em starts compulsively brushing her hair. Cole’s beauty can be debilitating.

“Thank God you’re here,” I moan luxuriously.

“Got behind, sorry, was running to my venting music,” Cole mutters as he slips his AirPods into their case. His tone is oddly self–conscious. He eyes Em like she’s an enemy combatant, which isn’t surprising. I dragged him back to this club, which is probably still nothing but snippy, humorless debates or news about the latest inhuman bill from our ogre congresspeople.

“I thought there were like ten people in this club?” Cole asks.

“Right?” Em laughs. “This is my second meeting.”

“Apparently, it’s down to just us three,” I say, hugging my bestie. He certainly smells like he’s been running, and his hands are bone–cold, so he must’ve been outside. Even in a desert town, February gets chilly.

Cole doesn’t sit. His sculpted eyebrows arch as he scans the room. “No one’s here?” he asks. “Byeeeee. Dearie, let’s go.”

“Maybe they’re running behind!” I open my phone to text Lucy, the club’s vice president. “Five more minutes and then we’ll go.”

Cole boops my nose. “We don’t need to be here. You’ve been manipulated. We didn’t send those threats, and Grover made this a character assassination because he’s a jealous FLOP.” My friend sighs, as if disappointed in me. “The Flops called the shots and you came running.”

I can’t even look him in the eyes, that’s how correct he is. “Then why did you come?”

“Every statement you make on this rolls the dice with my reputation too.”

My ears get hot. I forgot again.

When you’ve been best friends as long as Cole and I have, it’s easy to forget you’re not twins. Well, it’s easy for the white friend. As time has gone on, more every year, I’m reminded with a painful spasm that Cole is not my twin and this bullshit jealousy people have for us lands differently on his shoulders.

“I was gonna deny everything,” I whisper, hooking Cole’s pinky in mine.

Smiling, he takes my frail shoulders in his strong hands. “You have a soft heart, and snakey bitches can smell that. They’ll tell you how scared they are. You’ll apologize even though you had nothing to do with those threats. But not on my watch! If I hear one ‘I’m sorry’ leave your lips, I’m going to sit on your face in front of the whole club.”

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep.” I kick his shin playfully.

Em stares, wide–eyed, and my smile falters. “He’s kidding!” I tell her. “We’re just friends.”

Em holds up say no more hands, but Cole says, “See, that’s the stuff I’m talking about.”

“What stuff?”

“We know we’re friends who talk sexy for fun without it meaning anything. You careso much about how you come across!” Tsk–tsking, he slips off his jacket and gets comfortable next to me.

Chewing her pen, Em asks, “So, who do you think sent those death threats?”

“Who?” Cole asks, flipping hair from his eyes. “How about they sent them to themselves?”

“Why would they do that?”

“For the attention?” Cole snorts, as if he’s the only rational person left on earth. “This is something everyone in a so–called Queer Club should be suspicious of: attention–seeking. That’s what we are. That’s what we do. It’s the oldest motivator in the book besides, like, money.”

“I mean, that could make sense,” I say. “Grover and Gretchen feel invisible.”

Ever since Grover made that video where he sobbed about what he called his “death message,” I’ve had this lump of dread in my chest. Grover’s notnot cute, and his vulnerability about feeling unloved made him . . . I don’t know . . . I got this overpowering impulse to take care of him. But was that his intention? A thirst trap of guilt?

To paraphrase Ms. Spears, there are two kinds of people in the world: ones who attract through confidence and ones who attract through self–pity.

Cole is the epitome of one, Grover of the other. That’s why they’re perfect enemies.

Em, deep in thought, slaps her pen against her open palm. “There was no tragedy mask.”

“THANK YOU.” Cole thrusts his hands toward her. “Where’s the tragedy mask?”

“Wait, what?” I ask.

Cole scoffs to Em, “He doesn’t watch the show.” She smirks, seemingly pleased to finally have an inside track on Cole that I can’t access.

“Sorry I’m not a death addict like the rest of you,” I say, playing with my neckerchief. “Explain the tragedy mask.”

Cole takes my hands and brings them to his lips. “My sweet friend, you live on Jupiter. It’s the poster for the show. The main symbol of the killer. Mr. Sandman signed all his victims’ messages with a doodle of a tragedy mask. You know, the theater kind . . .” Cole scrunches his face in an exaggerated frown. “The few witnesses and survivors all saw Mr. Sandman wearing the mask. It’s his thing, and it isnot present in the fake–as–hell messages those Flops sent to themselves.”

“But . . . that was in the seventies. He’d be a grandpa now. What if he can’t master a phone, and this is the way he does messages now, with no doodle?” Cole’s blank stare cuts me deeper than any words could. I run my hand through my mop of dark curls, embarrassed that I’m taking this circus remotely seriously. Standing, I pull on my black leather jacket that’s decorated across the back with hot–pink roses. “Okay, enough scary stuff, no one’s coming.”

“Thank GOD!” Cole bellows. Even Em seems grateful someone finally made the decision to pack it in. She slides her notebook into a canvas tote and flings it over her shoulder.

Leaving the room how we found it—-lights on and door open—-the three of us step into the empty hallway. Large shafts of afternoon sun cut through the circular overhead windows, casting spotlight shapes across rows of hunter–green lockers. In the distance, a smattering of footsteps squeak over the linoleum, but otherwise, for two in the afternoon, there’s surprisingly little going on.

Cole and I sling our arms around each other’s waists, as Em tags along two paces behind. “Ugh,” Cole says, “dealing with Grover was so much easier when we were kids, and I could just titty–twister him into shutting up.”

I elbow him and whisper, “I’m sure he’d love it if you did that now.”

“I would jump into traffic first.”

“Maybe he just needs some smooching to calm down.”

Cole squints. “Dearie, guys who do the wounded sparrow thing are manipulators. If you fall for it enough times, you’re gonna marry some dickhead who controls every breath you take.”

“Okay, harsh!” I flick his ear and he hisses.

“I’m sorry! He’s just . . . Ugh, Dearie, don’t like Grover. He sucks.”

“I can handle myself.” I lace my cold, slender fingers into Cole’s, which are warm and soft, despite all his deadlifting. Cole is sporty, but he also knows proper skin care.

We swing our arms lazily. Em is probably baffled about what our deal is. Most people are.

“Don’t worry,” I whisper, “I’m not marrying anybody until I’m fifty.”

Cole’s dimples pop. “Me, right?”

I nod. “For the taxes.”

Our chortling is interrupted by a flurry of footsteps. Ms. Drake, a fortysomething white woman in a blue polka–dotted jumpsuit, rushes past, clattering her hip against the school’s double exit doors before running into the parking lot. A gust of bitingly cold wind rushes in.

“Ms. Drake?” Em calls.

Ms. Drake is our librarian and the Queer Club’s faculty sponsor. Whatever her reason is for not showing up today, something has her terrified. She shouts into her phone: “HELLO? We need an ambulance right away! Stone Grove High School!”

Every muscle in my body freezes.

By the time Em, Cole, and I look at each other, the screams begin.

We turn toward the sound. Students are clutching their faces as they run sobbing down the corridor—-away from a place we can’t quite see. “A shooter?” I whisper.

“We would’ve heard shots,” Cole whispers back uneasily.

I can barely speak with this lump of fear in my chest. “What do we do . . . ?”

Cole’s grip on my hand tightens as the three of us wait against the lockers.

My mom is a detective. If I text her, maybe she can get here faster? Slowly, with a sweating hand, I open my phone to text Mom, when Ms. Drake bolts back inside.

“They can’t be dead!” Ms. Drake mutters to herself as she rushes past us.

Dead. Who?

“Get out of here,” Cole says, pulling me away urgently, but I rip free and sprint after Ms. Drake, her courage contagious. I have to help. Cole yells, “Dearie, wait!” and chases me until we round the corner.

A dozen students swarm around someone on the ground whose tennis shoes stick out of the crowd like the legs of the Wicked Witch’s sister under Dorothy’s house. The shoes squirm on the ground, so whoever it is, they’re still alive. As Ms. Drake parts the group, a young boy with thick glasses and light, tawny–brown skin runs out, sobbing incoherently. It’s Benny Prince from Queer Club. A crimson streak of blood stains the shield on his Captain America shirt.

“Benito?” Cole asks, horrified, as he stops the boy. “Oh my God, you’re bleeding . . .”

“Cole, he’s . . .” But Benny is in too much shock to finish what he was saying. He whispers something softly in Spanish and Cole nods, his eyes laser focused.

“Then whose blood is it?”

Another person wrestles free of the crowd: Lucy Kahapana—-a small girl with light bronze skin, a side–buzz haircut, and rumpled skater boi clothes. Her hands are stained red, and her eyes are puffy from crying.

“Lucy, what happened?” I ask, stepping into her path.

“We need an ambulance!” she shrieks as she moves to run down the hall. But almost immediately her sneaker slips, sending her hurtling backward into me. Before I can correct my balance, we both collide with the linoleum. Pain rockets through my shoulder. From my vantage point on the ground, the crime scene becomes clear: two more Queer Club members—-Mike and Theo—-crouch over a boy shaking uncontrollably, sitting with his back against the lockers. The shoes I saw. It’s Grover—-I recognize his blond hair and beefy arms. Ms. Drake shushes him. He’s alive but drenched in scarlet. Barbed wire is wrapped around his neck like a noose. Puckering gashes have turned his throat into a waterfall.

It’s like Saw. I’m breathless.

“They’re coming, sweetie,” Ms. Drake says. “Don’t touch it. Don’t touch the wire. Mike, HOLD HIS HANDS DOWN.” Mike does as he’s told and presses Grover’s hands to the floor. Grover fights him—-he very badly wants to pluck the barbs out of his neck, but Ms. Drake is right. If he dislodges them, there’ll be no stopping the bleeding.

Grover blubbers in a panic: “He—-he—-he—-had a mask.”

“Don’t talk,” Ms. Drake says forcefully. “Your neck, remember?”

Assurance has swept over her, crowding out any fear or doubt. My fear and doubt, however, aren’t going anywhere. If someone doesn’t come soon, Grover will die—-twenty–four hours after getting that text.

Still on the floor, Lucy covers her face as she cries. Cole’s confident hands wrap under my arms, and he lifts me . . . but not before I spy another body.

Gretchen Applebaum. The other club member who received a Mr. Sandman message. She lies next to Grover, motionless and ignored. Her eyes stare open vacantly. Her blond pigtails lie soaking in the pond of blood that seeps from the barbed wire wounds across her neck.

She’s dead.

At the edge of her body is a note made from sandy–brown cardstock, which sits tented on the floor like a dinner invitation. Written in neat cursive is an unmistakable message: your lonely nights are over. Next to the handwriting is a doodle of a tragedy mask—-the symbol Cole and Em said kept it from being a true Mr. Sandman message.

The texts were real. They were a threat.

The killer from TV has found our Queer Club.

Penguin Teen