by Paula Lynn Johnson
ASIN : B007JZT5A0
16-year-old Clare can't stop drawing the bizarre, winged skulls she calls "Sammies". Her psychiatrist assumes the compulsive drawings are just expressions of Clare's grief over her father abandoning her. But then Clare discovers that her Sammies are exact matches for the Death's Head on the grave of Samantha Forsythe, a teen who reportedly fell to her death over two centuries ago.
Before long, Clare's drawings morph into cryptic writings that urge her to uncover the truth behind Samantha's death. Together with Neil -- the friend she might be falling for -- Clare scours the local history for clues. She finds that, although Samantha was engaged to a wealthy landowner, there were whispered rumors of her involvement with a younger, biracial man.
Soon, Clare is haunted by disturbing dream images -- a mysterious eye, a broken chain -- that point to someone Samantha called her "Dearest". But who is Dearest? And why does Samantha need Clare to find him so badly?
Isolated and carrying hidden scars of her own, Clare fears her obsession with Samantha will threaten her sanity and safety. But it seems she has no choice in the matter . . .
The Grave Artist is a compelling paranormal murder mystery and a poignant story about loss and what it means thrive in a less-than-perfect reality.
The sale ends, and Gollum and I grab some late fast food. Afterwards, I head back home to a dark house. Lauren and Mom are asleep. I climb the stairs and go straight to bed, too tired to wash up. I’m out almost as soon as I hit the pillow.
And then, the strangest of dreams.
Flashes of naked limbs and scattered leaves. A world painted brown and gray.
It’s a forest in winter, and I’m running through it.
Thick trees block my path. Spiny branches tear at my clothes. I’m crying – choking sobs that hardly let me catch my breath. But still, I run, my breath frosting the air.
I round a bend and stumble against a mound of moss-covered rocks. They’re stacked like a totem – a stone god with a blank face. I push against them, propelling myself forward.
I’m gasping, now. Something thorny strafes my ankle. A shrieking bird flies above.
And then I break through the woods, cross a narrow pathway, and stop short.
My toes curl tight over the edge of a precipice. I rear forward, then back, regaining my balance. A swooping in my stomach as I register the void below, a dark cavity. My pulse beats in my ears, behind my eyes.
Hoof beats. At first, I can’t distinguish them from my pounding heart. But then they grow louder, more deliberate.
I turn and look. A rider approaches from the woods, on horseback. He has no face, just a vague smear of features. But I can make out the broad span of his shoulders, the width of his hands clutching the reigns. I can sense his strength.
Panic floods me.
The rider draws closer and dismounts. For a horrible moment, he stands frozen. Then he paces towards me, slow and menacing.
Terrified, I shuffle backwards, towards the edge. My lungs slow, filtering just enough air for me to remain conscious. Not nearly enough to scream.
The rider is upon me now. The wind catches his cloak and unfurls it behind him in a deadly fantail. I cower down, spinal cord humming, sensing the drop. Above me, he’s become all darkness – a gathering storm cloud.
A terrible crack, like a bone snapping in two. Then staggering pain in my head.
I’m hurtling through the void, spinning and spinning . . .
And then I’m awake, clawing at my throat with my fingernails.
It only lasts a few seconds, until I realize who and where I am. But when my hands calm, I feel something warm clotting on my skin. Dazed, I go to the bathroom and find angry scratches swelling around my neck, circling it like a choker. With my finger, I wipe a bead of blood from my throat and stare at it, horrified.
Oh, my God, it wasn’t just a random dream. The popping sound my skull made as it fractured. That terrible, endless fall. I know who I was, where I was. And how it felt to die.
My body goes limp with fear. I stumble forward and clutch the sink for balance. And then the urge floods me, washing away all thoughts except one.
Draw, O coward.
I clean the one scratch, the bloody one, wincing at the soap’s sting. Then I return to my room. In the dark, my neck throbs and gives off heat. I turn on my desk lamp and sit, rummaging for a pencil and sheet of paper. Then mechanically, I sketch an almond shape, not much bigger than my thumb. I shade in a dark center, flecked with light, with thick strokes around the rim. It’s only as I’m adding a series of fine lines to the outer edge that I realize what I’ve drawn.
It’s an eye. And the way it seems to stare right through me scares the living hell out of me.
Suddenly, all energy drains from me. I’ve never felt heavier, more leaden. I turn the sketch face-down, then tumble into bed, exhausted.
The next morning, I blink awake. Groggily, I take in the Kandinsky poster I’ve pinned to the far wall of my room, the abstract pattern on my comforter. It’s like there’s a wet towel jammed inside my skull. As I lift my head from my pillow, I feel an ache in the crease of my neck. I touch my fingertips to the spot and trace a rough line of torn skin. Now I remember.
I force myself out of bed. My gut cinches up when I see the sheet of paper lying flat on my desk top. My hand trembling, I pick it up by the corner and flip it over.
The eye freezes me. Its gaze is still penetrating, unnerving. But plaintive, too, like it’s asking for help. Asking me for help.
I stand there, stupefied, almost levitating with panic. Get a grip, Clare. Somehow you’ve got to deal with this. Then I reach across my desk for my cell and dial Gollum.
It’s four rings before he picks up. “Yeah?” he says, sleepily. I glance down at my cell for the time: great, I woke the guy before eight.
“Gollum, it’s me. Can you meet me at the diner this morning?”
A pause. “I think so,” he says, more awake now. “Why? What’s up?”
“I – I made another drawing last night, and I don’t know what to do. I think you should see it in person.”
“So something’s messing with you again” he says, more a statement than a question.
“Not just something,” I say. “Samantha.”
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Author Bio: Paula Lynn Johnson loves a good ghost story. She's a former English major and attorney living in central New Jersey with her husband, kids, cat, dog, and killer rabbit. She adores them all, even the killer rabbit. Paula also loves a good laugh! You can read her short, humorous pieces on sites like The Big Jewel and Errant Parent, or on her blog, Twaddle Like a Duck. When she's not writing, Paula sells antiques and art out of Lambertville, NJ. You can visit her online at Tiny's Lambertville.
***Guest Post by Paula Lynn Johnson***
Points of Inspiration: Portrait Miniatures
The Grave Artist is a paranormal thriller, with my protagonist seeming to channel an 18th-Century dead girl. In researching the book, I came across a lot of portrait miniatures from the 1700s and early 1800s, and couldn’t help falling in love with them. I was so captivated, I even included a pair of portrait miniatures as a plot point in the book.
Miniatures were tiny paintings on ivory, the antique version of the photos you keep in your wallet. Some are painted rather crudely, giving the portrait a kind of naïve charm. But some are breathtaking in their skill.
As for the portrait subjects? Well, there’s lots of dour old gentlemen, for sure. But occasionally you come across a young man or woman who, even by modern standards, is unquestionably “hot”.
Here’s a couple of my favorites. They look very Pride and Prejudice, don’t they?
Tour wide giveaway is ahand-hammered sterling silver pendant (about 3/4" wide) on a sterling 16inch chain.
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This tour is courtesy of Bewitching Book Tours.