Since my excerpt went up on Amazon I've received numerous messages from people saying they wanted to download the excerpt, but couldn't figure out Amazon's flingin-flangin' Kindle download program. Or, they made it that far, but couldn't post a review for some weird reason. Let me start by saying, welcome to the club. I, too, got a migraine trying to figure the whole thing out. I shook my fist at my computer and screamed, "It's MY book!! Just let me see it, you infuriating machine!" (It may've been my imagination, but I swear I heard it snicker.)
For those of you that couldn't open the program, I am posting the excerpt below. This is exactly the way it appears on Amazon, so you can now consider yourself "in the loop." After reading it if you wanna scurry over to http://www.amazon.com/The-Conduit-ebook/ and leave a review--well, that'd be just swell. You should know though that unless you have helped oil the Amazon machine with your hard earned dollars they won't let you submit a review. Translation; you have to made a purchase from them at some point before you can review anything.
I hope this clears up any confusion, and allows more of you to post your feedback! Thanks, and enjoy the sampling of THE CONDUIT.
I didn’t ask for any of this. There was no show of hands before he picked me to be his special ‘chosen one’. Given the choice I would’ve adamantly refused. If for no other reason than frat guys are a heck of a lot easier on the eyes than your average, run-of-the-mill demon. Believe me, I know. And that would’ve been my life; college, freedom, friends and the chance to finally be normal. After everything I’d been through I thought I deserved it. Apparently I was wrong. What awaited me instead was pain, violence and the stress of having the fate of the world literally resting on my shoulders.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Heck, I haven’t even bothered with an introduction. My name is Celeste Garrett. I’m only eighteen. But I happen to be the Conduit, a bona fide hero on earth. Only minus the spandex suit or cape—‘cause yikes.
Before I got the—ahem—call my life was already in a state of upheaval. After a series of break-ins in our otherwise family-friendly neighborhood, my mom made the decision to send me, my twenty year old brother, Gabe, and my sixteen year old sister, Kendall, to live with our paternal grandmother. Goodbye, Sterling Heights, Michigan. Hello, Gainesboro, Tennessee with the whopping population of 840 people. Seriously. Mom would join us in Hickville, USA just as soon as our house sold. From the very day we arrived in the Podunk town things got…weird.
We arrived in Gainesboro as the sun set over the mountain range. My brother and sister had both dozed off, so I examined our new home in solitude. There wasn’t much to see, which my sister would hate. She thrived on crowds. As I drove down Gore Avenue, the main street through town, I admired the small town appeal. The hub of the city only took up about a mile and was lined with two story red brick buildings occupied by small businesses. The crown jewel of Gore Avenue was the library. It stood three stories tall and was sunshine yellow stucco with elaborate white moldings that had been carved with painstaking detail. I noticed since my last visit they had added a Victorian style clock tower to the top of it. It was a charming addition. The ornate building may have looked odd in this minute town if it wasn’t for the scenery encompassing it. Gainesboro is nestled in the Appalachian Mountains, completely surrounded by their splendor. No matter where you stand in town the view is breathtaking, which is why our Grams loves it here.
As I turned on Grams’ street I smiled. She had every light in the house on. No way could we miss our target destination. I parked my white Chevy S-10 and gave Gabe a shove to wake him. Stepping out of the truck, I stretched up on my toes. Eagerly I breathed in the rich mountain air. Hints of pine and wild flowers mingled in the breeze. It smelled like relaxation. Gabe vigorously racked his hands over his face and buzzed head to rub the sleep away, then reached over the seat to shake Keni awake. She had fallen asleep with her face pressed up against the side window. As her heavy lids struggled open, she attempted to untangle her long dancer’s legs from the tiny back seat before her brain was awake enough for such a task. “What? We…here?”
“Yep.” I confirmed.
The front door squeaked open and Grams bounded out onto the front porch to meet us. For as long as I could remember she had looked exactly the same. Her wavy grey hair was short and styled in the standard old lady ‘do. She, like me, measured in at just over five feet tall and barely broke the hundred pound mark. She was as feisty as they came and every aspect of her reflected that. She dressed spunky, lived for fun and spoke her mind—occasionally to our chagrin.
“There you are! There you are!” She shouted. “Celeste, pull that truck into the garage. We’ll unload it in the morning. Gabe, Kendall, get your fannies in here and kiss your Grams!” Laughing, they both climbed out and scurried inside.
Happy the twelve hour drive was behind me, I took a few minutes to appreciate the beautiful surroundings. The houses here were quaint, but the ambiance was phenomenal. I meandered to the garage, my hand just about to give the door a yank, when something caught my eye. At first I thought it was a shooting star, but it was too low to the ground. Some sort of unidentified orb came in fast. Convinced I was about to see a small comet crashing to the earth, I turned to watch it. To my surprise it darted from side to side. Whatever it was, it was alive. In an elaborate motion it swooped down and buzzed my head. I squealed and covered my head with my arms. What the heck was this thing? I’d heard bugs in the south were big, but this thing was the size of a house cat! I risked a peek as it veered in again, this time swerving in closer. Fearing the wrath of a mutant bug, I screamed and fell to the ground in the fetal position. I heard it whiz passed my head, then silence. Of course my brother had to pick that moment to appear.
“Whatcha doin’?” He asked. I actually heard the smirk in his voice.
“Big mutant lightning bug!” I yelled.
“Your courageous display must have scared it off, ‘cause I don’t see it.” He snickered. “But if you’re worried it’s going to come back for another vicious attack I could pull the truck in. You can go hide inside.”
Without a second thought I tossed him the keys and rushed inside, arms firmly protecting my head.
“Whoa! Where’s the fire?” Grams asked as I flew in the door.
“Tennessee bugs are terrifying!” Safely inside, I relaxed and gave my beloved Grams a long awaited squeeze. “Hi, Grams.”
“Hi, baby. Don’t worry about the bugs here. They might be big as a Volkswagen, but they squish just the same. Now, come grab a plate. I ordered pizza.”
Gabe followed soon after and the three of us kids swarmed the tasty treat. We didn’t bother with the plates, but ate it from the box where we stood. Mom would never have let us get away with that. Grams just hung back, a safe distance from the feeding frenzy.
“Want a slice Grams?” I asked between bites.
“No thanks, I already ate.”
“More for us.” My brother muttered through a mouthful.
We were well on our way to consuming our individual body weights in the cheesy goodness when Grams rose from her recliner. The determined look in her eye should have been our first clue something was up, but she had lured us into a false sense of security with food. Wiley minx.
“While you’re busy stuffing your faces and therefore can’t argue, let’s go over some ground rules for while you’re here.” She began.
Our chewing slowed tentatively. Rules? At Grandma’s house? What kind of backward, twisted dimension had we slipped into?
“First, I am not your maid. As long as you are here, you will pick up after yourselves. Are we clear on that?” We nodded dumbly. “Second, Grams has a life. I have lots of activities that I’m involved in. Like tonight, I had to skip my Lambada class so I could be here when you arrived.”
Grams doing Lambada? Brain, if you would please skip visualizing that traumatizing image, I would appreciate it.
Beside me, my brother gagged on his pizza. The image must have crept in. Poor guy.
“I am telling you this because it means I will not be here to entertain you. I expect each of you to keep yourselves busy and out of trouble.”
“You don’t have to worry about me.” Keni declared, her blue eyes wide with chipper enthusiasm. With a flip of her annoyingly perfect, long, blonde hair she went on. “I already looked online and found out when auditions for the Community Players production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof are. I would, like, die for the chance to play Maggie the Cat!”
“Good girl Kendall.” Grams gushed and my sister beamed. Kendall wasn’t trying to be a suck-up. It came naturally. Grams’ gaze turned disapproving as she focused on Gabe. “What about you, young man? Your mother tells me that you have made no plans to go back to college after your little incident last year.”
My sister and I both froze. The incident she mentioned was a taboo topic with Gabe. It normally made him go from annoying jokester to snorting buffalo in the blink of an eye. Gabe had been on the road to success before our Dad died in an accident a year and a half ago. He was at Michigan State University on a full ride football scholarship. Then Dad died. A few months later Gabe decided to cope with his mourning by indulging in a little underage drinking. The result was a DUI, the loss of his driver’s license plus getting kicked out of school. He moved back home and had refused to plan for his future in any way, shape or form since.
He became unbearable to live with, stomping around the house and throwing temper tantrums like an overgrown toddler with even the slightest provocation. Knowing of my brother’s love for sports, I suggested he get involved in some local athletic leagues as a way to get him out of the house for a while. After that sports became his escape. He signed up for whatever he could and excelled at them all. For a while he was tolerable again. In preparation for our move, he had quit all the teams he was on. His nasty attitude returned immediately. It appeared he needed someone to beat the snot out of him on a daily basis to keep him mellow.
So when Grams mentioned “the unmentionable” Kendall and I braced for yet another blow up. To our surprise, he gave a detached “Not yet.”
“Do you plan to get a job?” Grams pressed.
“Don’t know.” He shrugged.
Grams pursed her lips, clearly not happy with how this conversation was progressing. “How did you occupy your time back in Michigan?”
“I see. And did you become a professional athlete with one of those million dollar contracts?”
“No.” Gabe said with a sarcastic half-grin.
“Hmmmm. Guess you should probably get a job then, huh?” She raised her eyebrows, daring him to argue. Wisely, he did not.
“Probably.” He answered.
“I could talk to Will Burke for you.” She stated. “He’s the athletic director at Gainesboro High. He might be able to find a coaching position for you.”
Gabe’s nodded his approval. “That’d be great Grams. I’d really like that.”
We’d been there less than an hour and Grams had already succeeded where the rest of us had failed for a full year. This lady was good.
“As for you.” Grams turned to me with narrow, pondering eyes, her hands resting on her hips. “I know you have all the grace of a two-legged race horse, so what the heck do you do for fun?”
Ahh, nothing like the loving banter of family. Just gives me warm fuzzy feelings.
“Until fall I thought I’d just help you around the house.” I shrugged, pushing a strand of uncooperative brown hair behind my ear. “I’m sure there are things you need to get done.” Come September I would finally be heading off to college. After Dad died I put my college plans on hold to help take care of my family. Mom needed all the help she could get, so it hadn’t really been a choice. Now I wanted to have a nice, relaxing summer. Then rejoin the land of the living as a freshman at Rhodes College in Memphis. I couldn’t wait.
“Oh- pish!” Grandma scoffed, her hand flipping as if to bat my words away. “The Johnson boy takes care of odds and ends around here for me. Don’t you worry about that. Your mother put me under strict orders to make sure you have some fun before school starts. So, what would you like to do?”
I hadn’t put pressing matters aside long enough to consider my own likes and dislikes for so long that nothing sprang to mind. A sad statement in itself. I thought back. Back before the unthinkable happened.
“I guess I like to draw.” I said sheepishly. Both Gabe and Kendall’s heads whipped in my direction. Slow smiles spread across their faces that made me instantly self-conscious. “What?” I scowled.
“You haven’t even mentioned your drawing since—it’s just been a long time.” My sister grinned warmly.
“But I don’t have any supplies.”
“Not a problem!” Grams interjected. “There’s a hobby shop in town that carries everything you need. And, if you like to sketch nature scenes, I know of the perfect spot.”
“Well, that’s…convenient.” I was going to be drawing again, whether I wanted to or not. “Where?”
“Just outside of town there is a public walking trail that leads into the mountains. It’s a nice cleared path, if you stay on it you won’t get lost. Along the way you will see some of the most beautiful sights! There is one spot in particular, right next to a little brook that I just love to go. If I could draw anything more than stick people, that’s what I would draw.” I had to admit it sounded tempting. Maybe I would give it a try.
The sun had barely set on our first day in Gainesboro, and we each already had plans for what the summer would hold. However, if we had known what was really on the docket, we probably would’ve been planning instead to change our last name to Gonzales and go into hiding witness-protection style.
We spent most of the following day unloading the truck and settling in. It was mid-afternoon when Grams put us under strict orders to strike out on our own and see what the town has to offer. And that had been my intention. I planned to check out the trail and stretch my artistic muscles—until I saw the mess that my darling brother left me.
While Grams’ house was always neat and tidy, the garage held the truth of her pack rat tendencies. I hadn’t realized how tightly Gabe wedged my truck in amidst the clutter until I attempted to back it out. My wheels moved back an inch and a landside of knick knacks, boxes and outdated furniture pelted down on my tiny truck.
I stood back to survey the damage. Turning my head to look at it from all angles.
“What on earth happened?” Grams exclaimed as she rushed out of the house. “Oh! Celeste! What the heck did you do?!”
“Just thought I’d rearrange the garage by ramming my truck into stuff.” I grumbled miserably.
Grams grimaced, “How bad is the damage?”
“I won’t know until I unbury it. But from the way that armoire is leaning, I’m guessing there’s going to be a nice dent in the side panel.”
“I was right in the middle of scrubbing up the dishes, let me go let the water out and I’ll give you a hand.”
“No, that’s okay. I caused the destruction, I can clean it up.” I said, giving myself a mental forehead smack. If Gabe was home I would have made him help, since this whole thing was his fault. He was already in town looking into an assistant football coach position, so I would go it alone.
Another exasperated groan and I begrudgingly got to work. Once I got to the armoire, I righted it and checked out the damage. Not too bad, just one dent where the corner of it impacted. I could live with it. A chunk of wood sticking out from under my tire caught my eye. A chair must have fallen in the avalanche and I backed over it. Shrapnel from the chair carnage impaled my tire and it was hissing its way flat. That I couldn’t live with.
Grams came back out toting an icy glass of lemonade. I snatched it, muttered a quick “thanks”, and downed it in one gulp.
“Ouch, that’s a bad dent.” Grams said, glancing up to gauge my reaction.
“It’s not that bad. But by any chance do you know how to change a tire?” I motioned towards the flat.
“No, sorry. It’s always been my feeling that the ability to change a tire is one of the reasons we keep men around.” She gave me a strained smile, trying to make light of a bad situation.
“Gabe does, but it won’t matter right now anyway. I don’t have a spare.” I had known I needed to get one but had failed to do so. It wasn’t an issue until now.
“That’s not a problem.” Grams explained. “It’s a short walk to Hank’s place.”
“He’s the only mechanic in town. He’ll loan you a spare. Gabe can throw it on. Then you can drive up to Hank’s, and he’ll get you all fixed up.” I briefly wondered how I would get the spare home, but dismissed it. Small town like this, Hank probably did pick-ups and deliveries. I guess some good came from everybody knowing everyone.
“Sounds good.” My break over, I went back to clearing off my hood. Picking up a box that landed on my windshield, I glanced inside. “Whoa. Who is this nasty looking guy?”
“What’s that dear?”
I set the box down and pulled out the item in question. Carved from one solid piece of wood was a creature I had never seen before. It had the head and wings of a bird, but the body of a predatory cat. Its stance was assertive and proud; chest out, feet widely plant. Its head was thrown back, as if in a roar.
“Hmmm…where did that come from?” Grams wondered.
“You’ve never seen it before?”
“No, never. It must be an heirloom of Grandpa’s. I know what it is though. It’s the Gryphon. He’s supposed to be half eagle and half lion.” She came up behind me so she could inspect the sculpture as well.
There were words etched along the bottom. “Protector of the Divine.” I read. “What does that mean?”
“The legend was that the Gryphon protected divine items from falling into the hands of those that would use them for evil.”
“Divine items like what?”
“The Holy Grail, Noah’s actual ark, stuff like that.”
“So he’s like a big, mythical guard dog?”
Grams chuckled, “Well, look at him! Who would want to mess with that?”
“Good point.” As I turned the sculpture side to side examining it I heard a faint whirring. Before I could pull my hand away a toothpick-sized wooden spike jutted out and pricked my finger. “Ow! Crap!” My blood dripped onto the sculpture and I put my finger in my mouth to clean it off.
“Why the heck would anyone booby trap a wooden figurine?” Grams pondered as she took my hand and examined it. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, surprised me more than anything.” Looking at the carving I saw the spike retract back inside of it. “It must be important to someone if they felt the need to protect it like that.”
Grams scoffed, “It’s so important it’s been sitting in my garage for God only knows how long.”
For reasons I couldn’t explain I asked. “Can I have it?”
“You want the booby trapped artwork?”
Wordlessly I nodded. I refrained from telling Grams that as soon as my blood touched the sculpture I felt powerfully drawn to it. I was filled with unexplainable joy when she offhandedly said I could have it. Claiming it as my own felt right and I had no idea why.
I was wrong. Absolutely nothing good comes from being in a town this size.
As it turned out, Hank didn’t offer a drop-off/ pick-up service. They just loaned you the tire and sent you on your merry way—a fact that would have been helpful to know before I walked there. I was left to my own devices to figure out how to get the stupid tire home.
After failed attempts at alternative methods, I accepted my only choice and rolled the tire down Gore Avenue toward Grams’. Had it been a full sized tire, it may have been better. I could have walked normally and rolled it along. The stance I contorted myself into to push the spare tire along knocked me down about a thousand cool points, even if I was the only one who cared. My face blushed bright red as I squatted down and rolled it hand over hand.
Hank’s entire crew watched me out the window not even bothering to hide their laughter. Could even one of them offer me a ride home? No way! Turns out chivalry isn’t dead, it’s just busy laughing and pointing.
I trudged along for about half a mile before I stopped to stretch my back in front of the modest, independently owned grocery store. I froze in my tracks at what I saw there. A news van was parked in front of the grocery store.
No, no, no, no, NO! I am not going to be on the news rolling this infuriatingly tiny tire down the street!!
Freshly motivated, I pushed that tire for all I was worth. Rolling it as fast as I could across what suddenly seemed to be an endless parking lot, an inkling of hope started to build in me. I was about half way across and hadn’t been noticed!
But then life intervened, as it so enjoys doing, when I heard a voice behind me.
“Excuse me, miss?”
No! He is not talking to me. Keep rolling!!
“Miss?” Whoever it was, he was following me.
I don’t care if it’s that old guy who hands out the million dollar checks I’m not stopping! It’s too mortifying!!
“Whoa, hold on a sec!” The male voice called. An arm shot out and grasped my elbow. I lost control of the tire and it took off on its own. I watched in horror as it meandered down the sidewalk, across the shoulder and out into the road. An oncoming car slammed on the brakes and swerved to avoid it. I hung my head and hurried to retrieve my tire. As I bent to pick up it up, I mouthed an “I’m sorry” to the irate driver. The gesture he gave in response made it clear my apology went unaccepted.
I heaved the tire against my chest and penguin-walked back to the sidewalk. Of course the guy waiting there with a flabbergasted expression had to be hot. Because what kind of mortifying fun would it be for the universe to let it be a sixty-year-old grandpa?
“I am so sorry.” He stated, struggling not to laugh.
“No problem. I was hoping I would get to play in traffic at some point today.” My tone was bitter enough to taint the joke.
“I was just going to ask if you needed help. But once you got that thing moving at Mach 10 I figured you were just gonna jump on and take off.” The stranger’s voice was thick with the amusement he failed to hide.
“I didn’t even think to try that. It may have been easier.” I laughed, grateful to see some humor in this.
He held his hand out to me. “I’m Alec Jeffries with Channel 4 News.”
“Really?!” The shocked word slipped out before I could stop it. If I had any embarrassment left in me, I may have blushed. Thankfully, I was maxed out. “I’m sorry. That was rude, you just don’t look like a reporter.”
Reporters on television always looked neat and professional. Saying Alec didn’t fit that part was an understatement. He had long strawberry-blonde hair pulled back in a tight pony-tail at the nape of his neck. The shirt and tie he wore obviously weren’t his. His tall, lanky frame swam in the oversized clothing. The tie was loosely knotted around his neck. The shirt untucked. Clearly he went for the comfort angle, not style—a fashion sense I could relate to.
He smiled at me in a youthful, carefree way that added to his boyish charm. “I’m not. I’m actually a cameraman, forced in front of the lens against my will.”
“How’d they rope you in?”
“The station I work for is out of Nashville, but I was born and raised here. When they heard about the cat story, they decided to send the local boy out, much to his dismay.” He explained.
“What cat story?” I asked.
“Haven’t you heard?” His crystal blue eyes sparkled with delight. “There have been panther sightings in the mountains.”
“Panthers?” I repeated, not sure I had heard right. “Did one escape from a zoo?”
He shook his head. “No zoos have reported missing animals.”
“Panthers aren’t indigenous to this area. Isn’t it more likely to be a mountain lion or something like that?”
“That’s what I thought, too.” He shrugged. “Seems a heck of a lot more plausible. But there have been eye witnesses that swear it’s a black panther.”
I couldn’t help but shiver. The idea of coming face to face with a carnivorous predator like that creeped me out, and my reaction didn’t go unnoticed.
“Don’t worry. It hasn’t eaten anyone…yet.” Alex raised his eyebrows and smiled mischievously. “So, are you going to tell me who you are, or do I have to guess?”
“Oh, sorry! I’m Celeste Garrett.”
“A relative of Gladys Garrett?”
“She’s my grandmother.” I nodded.
“She was the school nurse, right?” Small town grapevine, everyone knows everyone.
“Yep. She’s retired now.”
“I remember her. She’s a really nice lady.”
“I think so.” I agreed.
“You never answered me. Would you like some help getting your tire home? Or, are you just gonna get it going again and see if you can fly there?”
“As much fun as that sounds, I would love a ride home.”
As we tossed the tire into the back of the news van, Alec commented offhandedly, “By the way, I got some great footage of you and your tire.”