A cross between a human and alien crouched in a clearing deep in the Western North Carolina mountains. Skinny, like a half-starved POW in some long-forgotten war, pale skinned, and bald with black eyes that protruded from its emaciated face, it sent out chill-inducing vibes. The creepy-looking creature stared up at sixteen-year-old Mandy Jensen from her phone’s small screen, white eyes glowing, body coiled and ready to spring on whatever crossed its path.
As she continued to study the picture, totally engrossed by the mystery, students rushed past her in muted blur. Most banged into her, or slipped around with a light brush against her arm, as they hurried to the cafeteria for mediocre grub.
A football player bumped her shoulder on purpose and knocked her forward a couple of steps. “Get your nose outta that phone and outta the way, dumb ass.”
“Hey!” She let out a loud sigh. “Not even an apology,” she mumbled. No one wanted to stand in line since a long wait would only give them two minutes, if that, to gobble down their food before the next class bell rang. Not terribly great on the digestive system.
Bradford Phillips—captain of the Mighty Hayton’s football team—whizzed by and grabbed the phone out of her hand. Freakishly tall and thin to the point of anorexia, he looked as if he should be playing basket ball instead of football. In fact, she believed he actually played both. More time away from his meth-addicted father, she supposed.
“What have we here?” he asked.
“Give it back, Bradford.” Mandy held out her hand and wiggled all four fingers.
He laughed and tossed it to his buddy. “Take it.” Bradford’s buddy, George Larson—at least that’s what she thought his name was; she had no interest in the high-and-mighty-my-poop-don’t-stink jocks—tossed it to another football player.
“Give it back before you break it, you morons!” she yelled, causing several students to turn in their direction and stare with frank, and amused, curiosity. No one lifted a finger to help her.
Typical. At least where she was concerned.
When her phone sailed through the air again, Bradford snatched it. “Or what? You gonna call your drunk-assed daddy to come haul me off to jail?”
Someone in line snickered.
Mandy sent them a scowl that would give the devil pause.
They faced forward in a hurry like a soldier obeying orders. Some thought she might be a witch who could turn them into toads with just a single glance, which was totally ridiculous—you needed a spell for that.
“Careful, he might get a DUI on the way to the station,” George said. “Or is that DWI? Which acronym are they using now?”
Wow, a football player who actually knows the meaning of acronym. That’s unkind. Not all football players are dumb. But she wasn’t’ feeling particularly kind right now.
“At least my daddy’s not a meth-head.” She shot Bradford a glare, then shame washed over her. And that’s not very kind, either! Especially since her daddy spent most of his waking hours with a beer bottle or a fifth of Jack Daniel’s fused to his hand.
Anger replaced the glee on Bradford’s face, and he drew back his arm, hand balled into a fist, and swung.
A dark hand flew out of nowhere and stopped the punch cold. The smack against his palm resonated throughout the cafeteria, and everyone froze into silence, except for a gasp here and there.
“I suggest you rethink that,” her savior said in a low voice, causing the entire line to lean forward to hear him.
“Bradford what’re you doing?” George asked, no longer laughing. “Drunk-ass or not, you hit her, and her daddy will throw you through the jailhouse wall.”
Mandy shrank back against the brick barrier that ran the length of the hall to the lunchroom, heart hammering as fear adrenaline raced through her blood. Had Bradford really been about to punch her in the face? Surely he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, be that stupid.
Her rescuer bent Bradford’s wrist back until bones popped, but didn’t break. “Try that again, and I’ll snap your wrist in two.”
“Let go of me you over-zealous body-building baboon.” Bradford yanked his arm out of the big boy’s grip and snarled at Mandy as he tossed her the phone. “Take it. I don’t want you anyway.”
Want you? She juggled it a time or two, but managed to get a grip on it before it could bounce across the floor and land in several pieces. Her father had repeatedly told her he would not replace her Smart Phone if she broke it. She breathed a sigh of relief and held it against her chest, then frowned at what Bradford had said. Want you? What did he mean by that? Or had he just misspoke or, maybe, he was so angry he didn’t know what the heck he was saying.
Bradford headed for the lunch line and cut in amid protests, but no one challenged him. He was a jock, after all, who was the best at just about every sport he played, and the student body worshipped jocks like they were Jesus the Savior come to take them to football heaven.
“Why’d you call his father a meth-head?”
Mandy took her attention from Bradford and stared at a wiry-muscled African American teenager with Denzel Washington eyes. After a moment, she dragged herself out of the depths of his irises and shrugged. “Because, he is a meth-head, just like my daddy’s a drunk.”
“But your father is the sheriff.”
“So long as he’s competent in his job, he’ll be just fine.” She tossed him a smirk. “Besides, he’s very good at pretending to be sober.” She poked the screen on her phone and drew up the picture again. “However his chances of getting reelected might suck.” She moved to join the line, which had backed up beside her. He fell in behind her as she reversed directions to the tail end, preferring not to be a jerk like Bradford and break in front of someone.
“I miss New York already,” her rescuer mumbled.
Mandy stuffed her phone in the case clipped to her jeans. She used to stick it the back pocket of her jeans, but dialing strange numbers with her ass a few times put a stop to that. She was pretty sure she’d gotten cussed out in Arabic once.
“Ah, so you’re new here,” she asked. As if there had ever been any question on the point. “Why do you miss New York—besides it being your last home? Or, perhaps your only home ‘til now?”
“No one knew anything about me there.”
“And that’s a good thing?”
“For me it is.”
“Well, since you pretty much saved me from a broken nose, or at the very least a bloody nose—thank you, by the way—do I get to know your name?”
“Abraham Lincoln Abernathy.”
Mandy laughed before she could stop herself. “Seriously? Your parents named you after the sixteenth president?”
“Well, he was against slavery.”
Mandy held out her hand. “Nice to meet you Abraham Lincoln Abernathy; my name’s Amanda Kate Jensen, but most people call me Mandy.” He slid his calloused hand into hers and gave it a firm squeeze. A city boy? His calloused covered hands said something different. Maybe he ain’t afraid of hard work. She liked that. A lot.
“Since I’m most likely your only friend right now, Abraham, you wanna sit with me for lunch?” Mandy asked.
He hesitated a moment, and she thought he might walk away, but then he smiled and said, “Sure, and you can call me Abe.”
They grabbed a tray, snagged a plate holding a cheeseburger and shoestring fries, and headed toward a corner table near the back as far away from the raucous football players as they could get, which didn’t put that much distance between them since she could still spot Bradford’s glare as if he stood right in front of her.
“What were you looking at so intently on your phone a few minutes ago?” Abe bit off half the cheeseburger in one bite. “I thought for sure one of those bozos was going to flatten you a time a two, trying to get to their daily allotment of greasy, over-fried food.”
“Just this weird picture.”
“Can I see it?” he asked, his voice muffled by half a burger churning in his mouth.
Jeez, he must really be bored with this place if he wants to see weird pictures on my phone. Mandy pulled the phone from the case and brought up the photo.
He studied it a few seconds. “Creepy.” He shoved the rest of the burger in his mouth. “Real?” He said around a mouthful of masticated cow and real fake cheese.
“Not sure. Thinking about going out tonight where it was taken and see if I can prove it a hoax.” She swished several skinny, fries through a lake of ketchup and stuffed them in her mouth. Wasn’t school food supposed to be healthier than this?
“Just curious. Something to do, mostly.”
“Not a good idea—especially all by yourself.” Abe swallowed, took the camera from her, and studied the picture. “Looks like it’s a hell of a ways back up in the woods.”
“Yeah, I know.” She wasn’t too sure she’d have the guts to venture out of her yard at night, even with a full moon. Not since her mother had disappeared in broad daylight. No telling what might happen in the dead of night. And what if she ran into that thing creeping around in the dark? She shuddered at the thought of coming face-to-face with it.
An open carton of chocolate milk sailed through the air and landed on the table between them, sloshing brown liquid across the Formica, and splashing the front of her white T-shirt.
Mandy jerked back then looked toward Bradford and a table full of laughing football players. “Oh, now, that’s real mature.” She grabbed a napkin and wiped at the mess on her shirt, which didn’t help a whole hell of a lot. With a sigh, she gave up and tossed the soiled napkin aside in disgust.
Surprisingly, Abe laughed. “I think he likes you.”
“Oh, gee, how could you tell?”
“Yeah, well, he better not try to hit you again.
Excerpted from "Creature (Hayton County Supernatural Series Book 1)" by Margaret Marr. Copyright © 2015 by Margaret Marr. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.