A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham: Cover Reveal and Excerpt
By Crime HQMay 14, 2021
Available wherever books are sold on January 11, 2022 — pre-order today from any of these partner bookstores:
- Anderson’s Book Shop (Naperville, IL)
- BookBar Denver (Denver, CO)
- Book Carnival (Orange, CA)
- Cavalier House Books (Denham Springs, LA)
- Copper Dog Books (Beverly, MA)
- Fiction Addiction (Greenville, SC)
- Fountain Bookstore (Richmond, VA)
- Itinerant Literate (Charleston, SC)
- My Sister’s Books (Pawley’s Island, SC)
- Murder by the Book (Houston, TX)
- Nicola’s Books (Ann Arbor, MI)
- Page 158 Books (Wake Forest, NC)
- Poisoned Pen Bookstore (Scottsdale, AZ)
- Quail Ridge Books (Raleigh, NC)
- Riverstone Books (Pittsburgh, PA)
- Saturn Booksellers (Gaylord, MI)
- Schuler Books (Grand Rapids, MI)
- Skylark Books (Columbia, MO)
- Village Bookseller (Mount Pleasant, SC)
I thought I knew what monsters were.
As a little girl, I used to think of them as mysterious shadows lurking behind my hanging clothes, under my bed, in the woods. They were a presence I could physically feel behind me, moving in closer as I walked home from school in the glare of the setting sun. I didn’t know how to describe the feeling, but I just knew they were there, somehow. My body could sense them, sense danger, the way your skin seems to prickle just before a hand is placed on an unsuspecting shoulder, the moment you realize that unshakable feeling you had was a set of eyes burrowing into the back of your skull, lurking behind the branches of an overgrown shrub.
But then you turn around, and the eyes are gone.
I remember the feeling of uneven ground twisting my skinny ankles as I walked faster and faster down the gravel roadway that led to my house, fumes from the retreating school bus billowing behind me. The shadows in the woods danced as the sun streamed through the tree branches, my own silhouette looming large like an animal prepared to pounce.
I would take deep breaths, count to ten. Close my eyes and squeeze my lids.
And then I would run.
Every day, I would run down that stretch of isolated roadway, my house in the distance seeming to move farther and farther away instead of closer within my reach. My sneakers would kick up clumps of grass and pebbles and dust as I raced against . . . something. Whatever was in there, watching. Waiting. Waiting for me. I would trip on my shoelaces, scramble up my front steps, and slam into the warmth of my father’s outstretched arms, his breath hot in my ear, whispering: I’ve got you, I’ve got you. His fingers would grab fistfuls of my hair, and my lungs would sting from the influx of air. My heart would crash hard against my chest as a single word formed in my mind: safety.
Or so I thought.
Learning to fear should be a slow evolution—a gradual progression from the Santa Claus at a local strip mall to the boogeyman under the bed; from the rated-R movie a babysitter let you watch to the man idling in a car behind tinted windows, staring at you for just a second too long as you make your way down the sidewalk at dusk. Watching him inch closer in your peripheral vision, feeling your heartbeat rise from your chest to your neck to the backs of your eyes. It’s a learning process, an ongoing progression from one perceived threat to the next, each subsequent thing more realistically dangerous than the last.
Not for me, though. For me, the concept of fear came crashing down with a force my adolescent body had never experienced. A force so suffocating it hurt to breathe. And in that moment, the moment of the crash, it made me realize that monsters don’t hide in the woods; they aren’t shadows in the trees or invisible things lurking in darkened corners.
No, the real monsters move in plain sight.
I was twelve years old when those shadows started to form a shape, a face. Started to become less of an apparition and more concrete. More real. When I began to realize that maybe the monsters lived among us.
And there was one monster, in particular, I learned to fear above all the rest.
My throat tickles.
It’s subtle, at first. The tip of a feather being trailed along the inside of my esophagus, top to bottom. I push my tongue back into my throat and attempt to scratch.
It doesn’t work.
I hope I’m not getting sick. Have I been around a sick person lately? Someone with a cold? There’s no way to be sure, really. I’m around people all day. None of them looked sick, but the common cold can be contagious before ever showing any symptoms.
I try to scratch again.
Or maybe it’s allergies. Ragweed is higher than normal. Severe, actually. An 8 out of 10 on the allergy tracker. The little pinwheel on my weather app was solid red.
I reach for my glass of water, take a sip. Swish it around a bit before swallowing.
It still doesn’t work. I clear my throat. “Yeah?”
I look up at the patient before me, stiff as a wooden plank strapped to my oversized leather recliner. Her fingers are clenched in her lap, thin, shiny slits barely visible against the otherwise perfect skin of her hands. I notice a bracelet on her wrist, an attempt to cover the nastiest scar, a deep, jagged purple. Wooden beads with a silver charm in the shape of a cross, dangling like a rosary.
I look back at the girl, taking in her expression, her eyes. No tears, but it’s still early.
“I’m sorry,” I say, glancing down at the notes before me. “Lacey. I just have a little tickle in my throat. Please, continue.”
“Oh,” she says. “Okay. Well anyway, like I was saying . . . I just get so mad sometimes, you know? And I don’t really know why? It’s like this anger just builds and builds and then, before I know it, I need to—”
She looks down at her arms, fans her hands. There are tiny cuts everywhere, like hairs of glass, hidden in the webby dips of skin between her fingers.
“It’s a release,” she says. “It helps me calm down.”
I nod, trying to ignore the itch in my throat. It’s getting worse. Maybe it’s dust, I tell myself—it is dusty in here. I glance over to the windowsill, the bookshelf, the diplomas framed on my wall, all of them sporting a fine layer of gray, glinting in the sunlight.
I turn back toward the girl.
“And why do you think that is, Lacey?” “I just told you. I don’t know.”
“If you had to speculate.”
She sighs, glances to the side, and stares intently at nothing in particular. She’s avoiding eye contact. The tears are coming shortly. “I mean, it probably has something to do with my dad,” she says, her lower lip trembling slightly. She pushes her blonde hair back from her forehead. “With him leaving and everything.” “When did your dad leave?”
“Two years ago,” she says. As if on cue, a single tear erupts from her tear duct and glides down her freckled cheek. She wipes it angrily. “He didn’t even say goodbye. He didn’t even give us a fucking reason why. He just left.”
I nod, scribbling more notes.
“Do you think it’s fair to say that you’re still pretty angry with your dad over him leaving you like that?”
Her lip trembles again.
“And since he didn’t say goodbye, you weren’t able to tell him how his actions made you feel?”
She nods at the bookshelf in the corner, still avoiding me. “Yeah,” she says. “I guess that’s fair.”
“Are you angry with anyone else?”
“My mom, I guess. I don’t really know why. I always figured that she drove him away.”
“Okay,” I say. “Anybody else?”
She’s quiet, her fingernail picking at a chunk of raised skin. “Myself,” she whispers, not bothering to wipe the puddle of tears pooling in the corners of her eyes. “For not being good enough to make him want to stay.”
“It’s okay to be angry,” I say. “We’re all angry. And now that you’re comfortable verbalizing why you’re angry, we can work together to help you manage it a little better. To help you manage it in a way that doesn’t hurt you. Does that sound like a plan?”
“It’s so fucking stupid,” she mutters. “What is?”
“Everything. Him, this. Being here.” “What about being here is stupid, Lacey?”
“I shouldn’t have to be here.”
She’s shouting now. I lean back, casually, and lace my fingers together. I let her yell.
“Yeah, I’m angry,” she says. “So what? My dad fucking left me. He left me. Do you know what that feels like? Do you know what it feels like being a kid without a dad? Going to school and having everyone look at you? Talk about you behind your back?”
“I actually do,” I say. “I do know what that’s like. It’s not fun.”
She’s quiet now, her hands shaking in her lap, the pads of her thumb and pointer finger rubbing the cross on her bracelet. Up and down, up and down.
“Did your dad leave you, too?”
“Something like that.”
“How old were you?”
“Twelve,” I say.
She nods. “I’m fifteen.”
“My brother was fifteen.”
“So you get it, then?”
This time, I nod, smile. Establishing trust—the hardest part.
“I get it,” I say, leaning forward again, closing the distance between us. She turns toward me now, her tear-soaked eyes boring into mine, pleading. “I totally get it.”