One of my current books in progress is called ONE AND ONLY. It’s a horror story with a strong romantic element at its core. Think RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3 or FRANKENHOOKER. You can read the first chapter right here.
I’m posting the second chapter of ONE AND ONLY here. This afternoon on my Twitch channel, I will do a deep-dive into this chapter, breaking down my process sentence-by-sentence, and answering any questions you may have about the story, my currently available books, wrestling, or writing in general. Festivities start at 3 pm, central time.
After chatting with my friend J. David Osborne, I’ve been obsessing about the idea of early access to art (a common practice in video games, but very new in the world of fiction) and the growing interest in the meta-narrative behind creative content.
I’m a few chapters into this book. The goal is to post a new chapter each Monday morning and do a corresponding Twitch stream about each chapter in the afternoon. I hope you’ll join me.
“Wake up, Marybeth.”
The speaker had an unfamiliar voice. She’d heard those three words many times before. From her parents. From her sisters. Once from a guidance counselor who said that she lived in a fantasy world. This one came from none of these people. She thought then that maybe it had come from Mason, but that didn’t sound quite right. No, this voice belonged to someone new. So, who was it then?
Come to think of it: where was she? Someplace cold. Someplace dark.
Everything hurt like hell. Her eyelids felt like someone had tied weights to them.
She heard footsteps. Someone was coming.
“Wake up, Marybeth.”
That voice again, though maybe, she thought, not so unfamiliar. It had a buttery quality. It was soft, yet forceful. She tried to replay it in her mind as she lay there in the dark, aching, cold, and stiff.
“Wake up, Marybeth.”
This time, she felt her lips move when the voice spoke. She was the speaker. She was commanding herself to wake, but she didn’t want to! The place where she’d been before was … it wasn’t anything. It was a dreamless sleep. It was … She was dead.
Except, she wasn’t.
It all came flooding back to her. The confession to Mason on the cliff. The attempt at a kiss. The hate that flashed across his face before he shoved her over the edge. The fall. So much pain.
Her eyes flitted open. She was still somewhere dark and cold but was unconfined.
Was she in a field? Expecting pain, she was afraid to move.
The footsteps drew nearer. Became louder. Two sets of them. Men with flashlights. They stood over her. The younger of the two looked fresh out of high school, with his boyish features and slender build. His badge said his name was Olsen. She couldn’t tell if he was naturally as pale as he was now, or if the sight of her had drained the blood from his face. The older cop chuckled, sounding like a weasel. His badge said his name was Brandt.
“Necrophile’s night out, eh?” he said and elbowed Olsen in the ribs.
Olsen’s upper lip curled in disgust.
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Kid, you want to be a cop, you’re gonna have to learn to have a sense of humor. Grow a set.”
“You’re such an ass.”
Brandt gave another weaselly chuckle.
“An ass who you report to, remember.” Olsen gave an uneasy nod. Brandt cocked his head and gave Marybeth a once over. “Pretty little thing, though.”
“Get up, Marybeth.” Her lips didn’t move, but she heard herself clear as HD sound. “Get up and kill them.”
What? No, I…
“I wasn’t asking.”
She felt herself rise like the light end of a seesaw. The two cops gasped. Brandt even cried out. It sounded girlish. With a glance around, she realized she was in a cemetery. She’d been buried alive. Or she’d died and somehow come back.
Olsen raised his hands.
“Ma’am, it’s going to be okay.”
She felt herself grin so widely that she thought the corners of her mouth might split.
“Jesus Christ,” Brandt muttered.
“Okay?” she heard herself ask. “I’ve never been better.”
She lifted one hand, spread the fingers to make a choking claw. Brandt lifted off his feet and slid through the air.
“Damn it, Olsen!” he yelled. “Help me!”
He fell into her grasp and she squeezed. He writhed, kicked his legs, and tried to pry her fingers free.
“Fucking shoot her or something,” he said in a strangled voice.
Olsen fumbled with his firearm. She held out her other hand, palm out. Olsen lifted off his feet, too, but unlike his partner, he sailed backwards. He smacked a thick oak, back-first. His limbs flopped, and he grunted. Marybeth made a fist. He floated forward several feet, stirring as he tried to regain control. She opened her palm again, and he flew back against the oak. This time, he went limp. She lowered her hand, and he collapsed in a heap of dead weight.
Brandt had given up on worming free. He had his gun drawn, pointing it at her in a shaky grip. She took a deep breath in. Brandt tried to steady his hand, reaching over her arm, using both hands. Pointing the barrel right at her face while she kept inhaling. While the air rushing into her grew stronger. While his face came with it. He screamed and dropped the gun when the flesh ripped free. He put his hands to the glistening red mask he now wore, sobbing in agony and disbelief. She let him fall to the ground. He was still screaming when she left the cemetery.
Caroline put on a sweater two sizes too big, tucked her blonde hair under her bicycle helmet, and pedaled out of her parents’ garage. She rode the bike out of her suburban neighborhood onto Sugar Bottom Road, which was heavily wooded. When she reached an unmarked dirt path, she turned onto it. The grinding hiss of the gravel under her tires broke through the Juice WRLD on her headphones. The woods were dark and cool, serene. She glanced over her shoulder to make sure no one had followed her.
Russell sat on the stoop of his trailer, clutching a tallboy of Pabst between his knees. A fire blazed inside a circle of stones. When he saw her, he nodded once and stood. She leaned her bike against an evergreen, took off her helmet, and approached him. They embraced. She put the side of her head against his chest and listened to his heartbeat. It was strong, like him. He slinked his fingers through her hair and guided her head so that she looked up at him. His eyes were like ash. His features sharp.
They kissed. Gently at first, then much harder. She could feel him growing against her and all the excitement and fear and need and guilt that came with their looming copulation. They pulled away from each other, holding only each other’s hands. He nodded toward the fire. He’d set up a blanket beside it. She smiled up at him and led him to it. They undressed. The fire felt warm on her naked skin as she pulled Russell on top of her.
When he entered her, she looked down between them, zeroed her focus on their perfect connection. How she made him glisten as he moved inside her. He began slowly. She lightly drew her nails down his back, stopping to squeeze his buttocks. He increased his rhythm and force. He smiled at the way she moaned, which she liked to see because she knew that meant she made him happy. She studied the veins that pulsed in his arms. The dark hair that hung in his eyes, swaying lightly. The fire hissed and crackled, its tongues curling around each log, making her warmer, making him warmer. As she watched the flames dance, she thought she might come this time. Something was building there. Something vibrant, tingly, and hot.
She rose her hips to meet him. He moaned his approval. Slid his hands under her butt. It didn’t last much longer after that. He finished a few seconds too soon, stopping her at the edge. She didn’t protest or ask him to help her along. She simply embraced him, holding him to her until he softened, imagining him melting into her, the two of them becoming one.
They disconnected, and everything felt cold. She wrapped herself in the blanket and scooted closer to the fire. He stepped into his pants and reentered his trailer to grab another PBR. When he returned, he brought over two camp chairs and sat in one of them. She saw he’d brought out two beers, too. He offered her one.
“No, I’m D.D. again tonight.”
He made a sound in his throat and smirked.
“What?” she asked.
“I wish you’d stay with me one of these nights.”
She moved from next to the fire and sat in the chair next to him, taking the blanket with her.
“One of these nights, I will,” she said and took his hand.
He took his hand away, downed half the first tallboy and grimaced. He picked up a rusty pole and stoked the fire. She watched him work, sparks and ash flying up all around him.
“You still love me?” she asked.
He looked over his shoulder at her, eyebrow cocked.
“What about when I get old and gray?”
He set down the poker and knelt in front of her. He put his hands on her bare knees. They felt warm. She started to open for him again, but he applied enough pressure to hold her legs in place.
“I don’t love you because your young,” he said. “I love you because you’re real.”
She ran her fingers through his hair like she was petting a loyal dog.
“I don’t feel real sometimes.”
“You are though.”
“How do you know?”
“I just do.”
She just laughed. There was so much about her that he didn’t know. She reached over and took the half-drunk Pabst. She tilted the can, spilling its contents over and between her thighs, giggling at the liquid’s chilly touch. He stared up at her, eyes widened.
“Don’t want your precious beer to go to waste now, do you?” she asked.
He relented his grip, allowing her to open for him. Then, he lowered his head.
“Did you have a nice ride?” Caroline’s mother asked.
“Sure did!” Caroline said, giggling to herself at the double entendre.
She began to cross the living room to march upstairs.
“Gonna be around for dinner?”
“No, I’m going out with the girls.”
“Why am I not surprised?” her mother said with a laugh. “Your leftovers will be in the fridge.”
Caroline went upstairs to the bathroom. She got the water going hot and stepped under the spray to rinse off Russell, dirt, and smoke. As she washed herself, she thought she should probably tell him to stop coming inside her. Sure, she was on birth control, but there was no such thing as being too careful. The last thing she needed was a baby. Her parents would say she had too much going for her, but she didn’t know about all that. She did know that she was too young.
After her shower, she dressed in a form-fitting maroon sweater, mid-rise skinny jeans, and sneakers. She straightened her hair and sprayed herself with some Light Blue. When she tromped back downstairs, her mother stepped in front of her, holding a bowl of stew.
“Last call,” her mom said.
“No, thanks. Smells good though.”
She gave her mom a peck on the cheek and skipped through the front door toward her car. The blue Ford Fusion had been a gift from her parents upon her acceptance to ASU. She had no intention of going.
First, she picked up Amber who lived in a neighborhood with houses three times the size of the houses in Caroline’s neighborhood. Amber didn’t throw it in anyone’s face. She did the opposite, often seeming embarrassed by her parents’ affluence. She always made Caroline pick her up and drop her off at the park across from her development even though Caroline had seen her house more than once and everyone knew the area in which she lived. Caroline had once seen Amber punch a dude in the nose for suggesting her riches made her a spoiled brat.
Now, she was sitting on a park bench, staring down at her phone. Caroline gave the horn a light honk. Amber looked up and brightened, springing to her feet and running toward the car.
“Hey, girl,” she said, sliding into the passenger seat.
“Hey yourself. What’s up?”
Caroline put the car back in drive and pulled away from the well-lit park.
“Did you see this shit?” She shoved the phone in Caroline’s face. The headline practically screamed: GRAVE OF BELOVED GIRL DESECRATED. Before she could read the smaller printed details, Amber yanked the phone away. Caroline put her eyes back on the road. “Some pervert dug up Marybeth Carlyle’s grave.”
“It was probably your creepy friend.”
“Mason’s not creepy,” she said.
“Babe, come on. He seems nice, but let’s be real. When we were all talking about that dumb Hereditary movie, he took some weird book out of his backpack, opened a page and said: ‘here’s Paimon right here.’”
“That was three years ago. I’m sure he’s … matured a little.”
“Oh, I’m sure.”
As they drove toward the Clemente twins place, they had to drive past the part of the woods where Russell lived. Caroline turned to look at the passage leading to his trailer but kept her thoughts to herself.
“Speaking of weird,” Amber said. “I can’t believe that Roderick kid just lives back there. What does he eat? Squirrels or something?”
“I’m sure he goes food shopping, Amber.”
“Still. What kind of guy just lives in the woods?”
The kind of guy that I like, she wanted to say, but she kept silent. Sometimes secrets mattered more than pride.
When they reached the house of the Clemente twins, Caroline gave the horn two taps.
“And now we wait,” Amber said. “Want to take bets on how much time passes before they come out?”
“No,” Caroline said.
“You’re no fun.”
The twins—Farrah and Felicity—came out wearing matching green hoodies and black leggings. They slid into the back seat. Caroline pulled away from their house.
“Are you guys seriously riding without music?” Farrah asked. Caroline and Amber looked at each other. “I don’t know how y’all do it. Put on something fun.”
Before Caroline could touch the radio, something screeched from next to Farrah as a death metal song blared from Felicity’s phone.
“Ugh, turn that shit off,” Farrah said.
“You said you wanted music,” Felicity said, laughing.
The twins fought over the phone, guttural growls from the lead singer providing an absurd soundtrack to the tussle.
“All right knock it off,” Amber said, swiping the phone and silencing the music.
“Hey,” Felicity whined.
“You don’t get this back until I know you two are gonna behave. If we’re going to buy that beer, we can’t just act like a bunch of little girls.”
“Oh, please,” Farrah said. “All you have to do is show Ted behind the counter a little skin and he’ll let you have the whole store.”
“For free,” Felicity added.
Amber looked at Caroline for backup. Caroline pulled the car back onto the wooded road.
“Well?” Amber asked.
“Well, aren’t you gonna say something? Defend your best friend’s honor?”
“Well, they do have a point,” Caroline said, barely containing her laughter.
Amber looked ahead and stuck out her lower lip stuck out in an expression of mock hurt.
“Fine,” she said. “Still not giving you bitches back your phone.”
“Hey, come on!” Felicity said. “Don’t be like that.”
Something shadowy slumped out into the road. Caroline kicked the brake pedal, pressing it all the way to the floor. The car lurched to a halt. Its headlights flooded the figure which had walked right out in front of them. It was a girl and Caroline recognized her.
“Marybeth,” she whispered, while her riding companions shouted over each other.
Marybeth turned away and staggered off to the woods on the other side of the road.
Before Caroline could even take a moment to evaluate what she hoped to do, she threw the car in park, unbuckled her seat belt and opened her door to get out.
“What are you doing?” Amber asked, her voice sharp with disapproval.
Caroline didn’t answer. She sprinted into the woods after Marybeth. After the girl that, as far as she knew, died over a week ago in a tragic fall off Sunset Cliffs.