I’m thrilled to announce that See Me has just been released!! See Me is Amy’s story, and is Book One in the Zombie Love series. See Me is available on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. Here’s the description, and a sneak peek at Chapter One for you:
Amy Love, a high school junior, plays a Ouija board with friends one night and unintentionally connects with someone whose, well, not visible to the naked eye. When her body’s taken over and her soul is stuck watching helplessly—she’s terrified. When the zombie guzzles bologna that she will have to work off at the gym—she’s angry. And, when her zombied body pulls up a news article on her laptop about a boy named Jonathan Miller who was recently in a car crash—she’s . . . intrigued.
When the zombie chooses another host, Amy learns that the zombie is actually teen Jonathan Miller, son of the famous Maisy’s Meow comic creator Jacob Miller. Jonathan tells Amy he doesn’t know whether he’s dead or alive, only that when he’s not in a body, she is the only one who seems to know he exists.
Amy decides to help Jonathan discover what happened to him and, when they can’t find his body, they try to find a substitute—preferably one that isn’t occupied. On the journey, Jonathan leads Amy into all kinds of danger. To her surprise, he also leads her heart to somewhere unexpected. She’s always heard of love at first sight, not love at first fright, but how can Amy be falling for a boy she’s never even seen?
Copyright © 2014 by Susan Hatler
I’ve felt invisible for as long as I can remember. My dad, a freelance photographer who travels all over the world, only sends me a postcard a few times a year (if I’m lucky). My mom got remarried to my stepdad when I was six, then they had my little brother, who became the star of our household because he’s totally more adorable than me.
In school my teachers stare right through me, so I’ve given up raising my hand in class—not that I’d been a huge hand-raiser, mind you. My best friend Brynne’s the good girl. My other best friend Nicole’s the pretty one. I’m the third friend nobody really notices. Until now.
Alex Decker asked me out today.
Hot, amazing, and popular Alex asked me on a date. He could have any girl in school and he chose me, Amy Love. It’s not like I have self-esteem issues, really, but there’s just nothing exciting about me. I’m a sixteen-year-old junior with average looks, pathetic grades, and a closet comic strip addiction.
I mean everyone knows about my obsession for reading Maisy’s Meow comic strips, but I haven’t told anyone that I’ve been writing my own comic series. Or that I’d filled out an entry form yesterday for the contest hosted by Maisy’s Meow creator, Jacob Miller, to have the winner’s work reviewed by his publisher. Wowzers!
Not that I’ve gotten up the nerve to mail my entry off. Yet.
But I will, as soon as I think of a series title. Other than that, the form is completed and tucked safely in my sketch pad. I’m going to swing by the post office this week to mail it. And if I win, that means a lifetime of being invisible is about to change.
My grades may suck, my mom and stepdad might think I’m wasting my potential, but it’s possible my two dreams could actually become reality: a publishing contract and a relationship with Alex Decker. Oh yeah, baby!
I’d be ecstatic about the unexpected turn my life had just taken if only my best friend would stop stuffing tissue in my bra. . . .
In my bedroom, where Brynne was bouncing with excitement on my bed—she’d come over to help me get ready for my date with Alex and had a few irritating ideas as to how I could look amazing—I gaped down at my lumpy chest in horror. “I invited you over to help me look amazing for my date. How exactly do you think this qualifies?”
“Boobs are totally in, Amy.” As if to emphasize the point, Brynne pulled three more sheets out of the box, jumped to the floor, then shoved them into my B-cups. “It’s Friday night, it’s your first date with Alex, and I’m making you look extra hot.” She stepped back and eyed her handiwork (aka: my chest). “It might be worth the money to invest in a push-up bra. I’m just saying.”
Frowning at my reflection in the mirror, I pushed my loose brown waves back over my shoulders then immediately slouched forward to counteract the busty effect. “No way. I can’t go out in public like this. Besides, don’t you think Alex would notice if they’ve grown since school today?”
She widened her baby-blue eyes, then tucked her honey-blond hair behind her ear. “He’d have to be staring twenty-four seven to notice half a cup size. Alex doesn’t seem that tacky.”
“Unlike the girl stuffing my bra,” I grumbled. Brynne may have that angelic look, but most of the time her brainiac mind was in the gutter. Like now. I yanked every last tissue out of my bra and then batted her hand away when she protested. “It’s time to end your obsession with tabloid magazines, girl. They’re messing with your head.”
She threw her arms up in frustration. “Those magazines are my brain candy. My favorite frivolous indulgence. You know how stressful it is keeping up my GPA. If I don’t have an outlet from parental pressures, I’m going to crack.”
“Your mom and dad need to chill.” Although at least they encouraged her unlike my mom, who lived to criticize me. She’d worked seven days a week to put herself through nursing school and expected me to work as hard in school when all I wanted to do with my free time was sketch comics. I’m sure she’d think I was wasting my time if I told her. I sighed, then handed Brynne back the tissues because there was no way I’d be using them. “I’m sorry, but I can’t change myself to impress a guy. Not even Alex Decker.”
Brynne crossed her arms in a pout. “I was just trying to help.”
“I know.” I gave her a reassuring smile, then smoothed my black halter top back in place and brushed off some lint from a tissue. “How do I look? Should I switch back to the red tank?”
“No, I think—”
“Check out what I brought, you guys.” Nicole, the most adventurous of our trio, sailed through my bedroom doorway carrying a wooden board high in the air. I’d asked her to come over to help me get ready for my date—she knew amazing tricks with eyeliner—but that didn’t seem to be a makeup bag she held in her hands. She kicked the door closed behind her with a gleam in her eye that said we needed privacy for whatever she had planned.
This couldn’t be good.
“What the . . .?” I gazed over at the game-like board, then an eerie feeling crept over me as I got a better look. An alphabet was etched across the center of the board in Old English font with the word “YES” in the top left corner and the word “NO” in the top right corner and “GOODBYE” at the bottom of the board underneath the alphabet. Oh, no. “Is that a Ouija board?”
“Those are freaky.” Brynne chucked the rejected tissues into the zebra striped garbage can under my desk and strode over to Nicole. “Where’d you get that?”
“A relic from my thirteenth birthday party, remember?” Nicole dropped to her knees, her sleek dark bob bouncing against her chin as she set the Ouija board on the carpet. “Found it in the back of my closet today when I was searching, in vain, for my favorite black boots.”
I pressed my lips together. Obviously Nicole had forgotten those boots were on loan to me, and I wasn’t about to remind her since I planned to wear them with a new outfit on Monday. “Why must you bring that creepy thing into my room tonight of all nights?”
She traced her hands over the Ouija board as if examining a buried treasure. “Because we’re going to use it to find out about your future with Alex. Now, turn off the lights and gather around me.”
My mouth dropped open. “You’re supposed to be helping me get ready for my date—not trying to summon the dead, which is wrong on so many levels.” I shook my head then glanced at my clock. “It’s almost seven o’clock, and Alex will be here in half an hour. We don’t have time for ghost talk.”
First Brynne stuffing my bra and now Nicole with this crazy game. Didn’t my friends understand how important this date was to me? I’d been crushing on Alex for over a year and did not need anything spoiling this night.
Liking Alex had gone on so long it actually became kind of a hobby— spotting him in the hall, assessing his outfits, speculating on which girls he was into. This fun, gaga-from-afar phase had gone on so long that I hadn’t expected anything to ever come of it. I mean, he’d never shown more than a friendly interest in me. Well, not before today. What had I done to catch his attention?
“Relax.” Nicole threw me a wicked smile. “You look fabulous already. Playing this game will help you gear up for tonight in the best way. Trust me.”
I crossed my arms. “How exactly—”
“Don’t you want to ask the afterworld if Alex will kiss you goodnight?” Nicole’s voice held a sultry tone.
I froze, picturing Alex’s mouth inches from mine. The image was enticing. Very enticing.
Unable to resist temptation, I flipped off the lights. “I’m in.”
Brynne sat down next to Nicole and crossed her long legs. “Shouldn’t we light a candle or something? For ambience? Even though everyone knows this is a bunch of bull.”
Nicole tilted her head. “If it’s fake, then why do you look so nervous?”
“I do not.” Brynne’s voice shook a little. “Whatever.”
“I’ve got a candle.” I lifted the marshmallow-scented pillar off my desk, snatched some matches from the drawer, and pulled my blinds down so the room went pitch black. “I haven’t played with a Ouija board since back in the day when we were friends with Lindsay Sloan.”
Nicole groaned. “Don’t remind me. That girl would eat her young if it would get her into the right university.”
“For less than that,” I said, annoyed that Lindsay constantly kissed up to teachers, making her the star student in all of our classes. So annoying. I took a step, then cursed as I tripped over Nicole’s foot, accidentally kicking the Ouija board.
“Careful,” she snapped. “Don’t mess with the board’s energy.”
“Oh, please.” I squatted down on the floor next to Brynne, whose knee brushed mine as she shifted. “This had better be quick.”
Nicole sighed dramatically. “I’m doing this for your benefit. It wouldn’t kill you to show a little gratitude.”
“Thank you, my spiritual guru,” I joked, then struck the match, which hissed before it burned bright orange in the dark room. Seconds after I got the wick lit, the sugary-sweet marshmallow fragrance wafted up my nose. I squinted to read the bright red letters from the clock on my nightstand. “Twenty-seven minutes and counting.”
“Assuming he’s not late.” Nicole raised her hands in the air and brought them together in prayer position. “We are talking about Alex Decker.”
I frowned. “What? You don’t think he’s interested enough to show up on time?”
Nicole took a deep breath then let it out audibly. “Let’s ask the spirit world.”
Tingles skittered up my neck as I felt the dark room close around me, but I didn’t want my best friends to think I was chicken. I raised my chin. “Yeah. Let’s.”
We all held hands, closed our eyes, and breathed in and out. Nicole inhaled again, so we followed her lead. Then, she did it a third time. I opened one eye and peeked at my friends’ shadowy faces. “Can we start before I pass out from over-oxygenation?”
“Shh. This is serious.” Nicole kept her eyes closed, straightened her spine, and hummed in an eerie way. “Spirits who are here, we’ve gathered this evening to ask you important questions.” Her voice was low and she stretched out each word she spoke. “We respect that you’ve passed on and thank you in advance for your guidance.”
A chill zipped through me and my other eye popped open when the candle flame wavered for no apparent reason. My mouth went dry and I swallowed the mass of fear creeping up my throat. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. . . .
“Please use this Ouija board as a portal so that you, friendly spirits, may share your wisdom with us.” Nicole opened her eyes and gestured to the board. “Now, let’s place our fingers lightly on the planchette.”
Brynne’s forehead wrinkled. “Huh?”
“The pointer thingy,” I whispered, placing the tips of my fingers on the planchette, being careful not to touch the clear window that would cover the letter the alleged spirit wanted to convey. In middle school, I’d been the queen of moving the planchette around the board to freak people out at the slumber party with words like “I’m here” and “Help me.” But right now felt different. The air hummed around me and this suddenly felt all too real, making me shudder.
“P-Planchette.” Brynne stuttered, then cleared her throat. “Oh, I didn’t know the pointer had a real name.”
Looked like I wasn’t the only one who was spooked.
“What should we ask first?” Shadows flickered over Nicole’s animated face as she glanced from Brynne to me.
“Ask about Amy’s date with Alex, right?” Brynne shifted her fingers.
Nicole nodded, then closed her eyes. “Friendly spirits, guide our fingers and let us know if Alex Decker will be on time for their date this evening.”
The pointer glowed an eerie white in the dim candlelight. It didn’t move.
We eyed each other in silence.
Nicole took another deep breath. “Friendly spirits, enter and guide us to the answer. Will Alex show up on time?”
The little pointer wiggled and slowly inched upward on top of the word “YES.”
“Thank you, friendly spirits.” Nicole rolled her shoulders and sucked in a breath. “Will Alex Decker kiss Amy Love after their date tonight?”
A chill crawled up my spine, but my gaze fixated on the planchette—on the answer I hoped for.
The pointer swooped to the center of the board, circled twice, and then slid upward to cover the word “YES.”
I turned to Brynne, chin tucked into my chest. “Did you make it move to that word?”
Her blue eyes widened and she slowly shook her head.
I squinted at Nicole. “Do you swear on your black boots that you didn’t move the planchette?”
“Don’t be so suspicious.” Nicole smiled and wiggled her eyebrows. “Thanks, friendly spirits. You’ve been very helpful. Now a final question. . . Amy, you ask something.”
Was it possible the spirit world was really communicating with us? Could it see my future? Would I ever fit in the world as much as everyone else seemed to?
My palms turned clammy and I concentrated on touching the pointer as lightly as I could to ensure I wouldn’t subconsciously move it. “Um, friendly spirits? Can you tell me if . . .” My voice trailed off. I wanted to ask if I was kidding myself entering the Maisy’s Meow contest, but my friends didn’t know I’d been writing my own comics. What if they asked to see them? What if they thought I sucked? I bit my lip, my belly roiling. Better to go with my back-up question. “Is, uh, Alex Decker my true love?”
My fingers twitched and I held my breath as the planchette swung in an arc toward the center of the board. The tension built, my heart thumping, as the pointer slid left then right and then. . . .
A loud bang clattered from behind me. “Agh!”
Brynne and Nicole and I simultaneously screamed at the top of our lungs as the pointer skidded off the board.
Something banged against my door again, followed by the sounds of juvenile laughter.
My face heated as I stood, flipped the lights on, then yanked my door open. “Jimmy, that better not have been you or so help me . . .”
My freckle-faced brother grinned, showing his two missing front teeth. “Some dude is downstairs waiting for you. I bet he heard you scream. Ha!”
“You are so busted.” I turned him around, then guided him toward the stairs. “Mom!”
“Jimmy, come help Mommy in the kitchen.” My mother’s impatient voice drifted up the stairs.
“Unbelievable.” I pushed my door closed, leaned back against it, and gaped at my friends, who were sitting motionless around the Ouija board. “Do you think Alex heard all that?”
“Who cares?” Nicole jumped to her feet and pinched my cheeks. “We already know he’s going to kiss you goodnight. Better take along some breath mints.”
A kiss was great, but I’d rather know if he was my true love, or if we’d break up like my parents had. My eyes automatically drifted to the Ouija board, where the pointer sat facing upward in the middle of the board.
A chill crept across my chest. I distinctly remembered the planchette flying off the board. So, how did it get back there? I shook my head. Nicole or Brynne must have put it back when I wasn’t looking. . . .
“Do you think spirits were really talking to us?” I whispered to Brynne as Nicole opened my bedroom door.
Brynne shrugged. “Forget about it. Go have the night of your life. If you marry Alex, I expect to be a bridesmaid at your wedding.”
Nicole laced her arm through Brynne’s as they headed for the stairs. “She’s sixteen, Brynne. Not thirty.”
Left alone in my room, I slid my purse strap over my shoulder, reached for the light switch, and took one last glance over my shoulder.
The pointer’s circular window now covered the word “NO.” My breath caught in my throat. My heart pounded and pins pricked along my arms. The pointer had been in the center of the board a moment ago. I’d just seen it. I stared at the word encased by the plastic circle.
How had the pointer moved to the word “NO” all by itself? My brain searched for a logical explanation. Brynne must’ve kicked the board when she got up. Yeah, that had to be it.
I flipped off the lights and pulled my door shut.
It wasn’t like the spirit world cared about me or whether my date was going to kiss me. It’s doubtful there even was a spirit world.
Unfortunately, those thoughts didn’t ease the distinct feeling I had that someone was watching me.
After an embarrassing Q and A session from my parents on where Alex planned to take me (the movies) and what time he planned to have me home (before midnight), he and I were finally on my front porch. Alone at last.
“You look nice,” he said, then reached for my hand.
“Thanks.” My heart skipped a beat when his fingers laced through mine. I couldn’t help noticing that he looked extremely gorgeous himself with his thick head of blond hair styled up in front, a black long-sleeved shirt that fit snugly over his broad shoulders, and a shy half-smile meant solely for me. Wow. After fantasizing about him so long, it was hard to believe this was actually real.
We were ambling down the cement path toward his black sports car parked at the curb when I spotted movement behind the rear tinted windows. What the . . .? Every muscle in my body tightened. Maybe my mind had fabricated the “being watched” feeling, but there’s no way I was imagining the outline of a figure in the backseat of Alex’s car. I stopped in my tracks and threw my hand over my mouth to stifle a scream.
Could that really be one of Nicole’s “friendly” spirits?
My eyes bugged and I tightened my grip on Alex’s hand, chills skittering down my spine. “Something’s in the backseat of your car. No joke.”
“Right.” He tugged me along toward his car and then released my hand to fumble with his keys. “That’s just Todd and Josh. They’ve been wanting to see this movie too, so I said they could come.”
Relief washed over me that it wasn’t a ghost, but my forehead wrinkled as he opened the front passenger door so I could get in. I gaped up at him. “You brought your friends along?”
He shrugged like he didn’t see what the big deal was. “Yeah. They’re cool, huh?”
I stared at him, debating what to make of this. I’d thought he’d asked me out to spend time with me, not to hang out as one of the guys. Then Alex did that swoon-worthy half-smile thing and I decided that, even with a few tag alongs, all hope of a relationship wasn’t lost. “Sure. It’s fine.”
I slipped into the front passenger seat and he closed the door behind me. Todd and Josh mumbled greetings as I pulled my seatbelt across my chest. “Hi, guys,” I said, trying to sound perky and not like I thought it was (totally) weird they’d want to come on our date.
“Hi,” Todd said.
Josh patted my shoulder. “Hey, Amy.”
Okay, it’s not like spending Friday night with three of the hottest guys in school should be considered a drag, exactly. But I did want a real date. Ending with a kiss like the Ouija board promised. And, hello? If you’re interested in someone, you don’t bring your buddies with you. Right? If only there were a sly way to text Brynne to get her thoughts.
Shoot, if I’d known this was a group thing, I could’ve brought her and Nicole along, too. Nicole would’ve been ecstatic since she had a thing for Todd lately.
I watched Alex climb behind the wheel, then my arm prickled, causing the hairs on my right forearm to stand at attention. Heat radiated across my right shoulder so I flipped my gaze toward the window to scan outside. Goosebumps stampeded up my neck, once again giving me that bizarre feeling that someone was spying on me. But when I surveyed the area, all I saw was our three-car garage and the front walkway.
Nobody there. At all. This had to be lingering ick from using the Ouija board. I shuddered. Never again.
Swallowing my fear, I tried to shrug off the weird feeling, and turned toward my date. Unfortunately, Alex started up a conversation about football (yawn) with his buddies right before he put his foot to the pedal and we sped down the street.
On Monday morning, I sat at my desk in English class and tried to ignore the feeling of something pressing against me. You’d think that’d be easy since I couldn’t see anything besides my classmates hunched over their desks and the teacher reading his book. The freaking spirits were here, but nobody else in class seemed to notice them.
That or I was losing it.
After sensing them on and off all weekend, the feeling had gotten stronger last period during history class. Trying to get my mind off Alex and what a let-down our date had been, I’d been reading my new-to-me first edition Maisy’s Meow comic book I’d picked up at a thrift store last week when I had that feeling that someone was watching me. At first, I thought Mr. Gillespie had caught me—that he’d take away my new book—but it wasn’t Mr. Gillespie.
It was Nicole’s spirits.
I mean, what else could it be?
Now, in my seat, directly behind my English teacher’s desk, the spooks were pulling at me again. A tug of invisible emotion. Willing me to acknowledge them. My heart thudded in my chest and I sucked in a breath, but nobody else seemed aware of what was happening to me. The other students continued scribbling their five-page essay for Mr. Coleman on The Scarlet Letter.
My forearms prickled. I didn’t know what the spirits wanted and didn’t care. They just needed to go into the light, or wherever spirits went, and leave me alone. I bit my lip and refused to acknowledge them as I scribbled my concluding paragraph.
They didn’t like being ignored.
The feeling of ice-cold thumbtacks pricked over my chest and into my neck. They pleaded for my attention, but San Felipe High didn’t teach sixteen-year-olds how to deal with the invisible.
“Go away,” I muttered, then did the only thing I could do. I wrote the final sentence of my essay, then added a period. As I pressed the pen hard against the paper, willing the spooks to take a freaking hike, the ink seeped out, making my period look more like a comma.
Without warning, the pen jerked from my grip. It whipped across my paper and spiraled to the center of the page, spinning dark, loopy lines over my second supporting paragraph. What the . . .?
I blinked, wondering if I should pinch myself. My palms were flat on the desk, yet the pen stood upright in front of me, frantically moving on its own. I stopped breathing and watched as it traced a harsh line down the center of the page, heading straight for me.
Then, the pen stopped abruptly and dropped sideways onto the desk with a clink.
“You find that amusing, Miss Love?”
Heart pounding, I whipped my head up to where Mr. Coleman’s pinched face glared down at me. “W-What?”
He crossed his arms. “If you think I’m interested in reading through your chicken scratch, you’re quite mistaken.”
I glanced down at the strange markings my pen had made. That they had made because yeah, spirits really did exist. There was no denying it now. I certainly hadn’t made that scribble. Although, this wasn’t exactly a positive revelation. “But, I didn’t do anything, Mr. Coleman.”
“And I didn’t do this.” He removed a red pen from his pocket protector and drew a giant “F” next to my header, “How Hester Prynne Got Screwed.”
“That’s not fair!” I’d worked my bootie off on that essay—after staying up until midnight reading the Cliffs Notes—and I deserved at least a “C” on it.
“What’s fair is that you remain in here during the break and recopy your essay word for word. You will write every letter neatly to show proper respect to your English class and to me.” He made eye contact with the students who dared to watch our exchange. “There’s a lesson here, people. I will not tolerate practical jokes in my class, no matter how boring you find the subject matter.”
I gripped the edges of my desk. “But—”
“Time’s up.” Mr. Coleman zipped to the front of the classroom. “Pencils down. Class dismissed.” He peered at me in the back row. “Everyone except Amy Love.”
The man loved to rub it in.
Then the dismissal bell screamed its siren. My fists clenched, but I remained in my seat and endured sympathy looks from Brynne and Nicole as they flitted their fingers at me then filed out toward freedom. This wasn’t my fault. Why wouldn’t my lame teacher listen to me?
I frowned and retrieved fresh sheets of lined paper from my backpack. May as well get it over with. The lifeless pen lay in front of me and I wondered if it was safe to touch. Goosebumps popped along my arms, but from my own fear, not because of the spirits. I couldn’t sense them anymore. They must’ve taken off.
How many spirits had Nicole summoned? And what did they want with me anyway? Were they trying to send a message? If so, they’d done a lame job. The scribble marks didn’t exactly pass for English.
Footsteps approached, but I refused to look up. “The assignment won’t rewrite itself, Miss Love.”
“I didn’t think it would, Mr. Coleman.” The guy got his thrills by harassing me. What had I ever done to him? That would be nothing. Since he was still standing there, I raised my head and gave him a fake sweet smile.
He frowned down at me. “Unless you’re looking for a one-way trip to detention, I suggest you start writing.”
“Yes, sir.” I glared at his ugly wingtips as he walked away. He was such a tool for making me do this. Not like he couldn’t read my essay through a few random marks.
Voices clamored from the hallway. Nicole and Brynne’s giggles echoed in, reminding me what I was missing. I deserved to be at break with them, comparing notes on who was hotter: Todd Wilson or Alex Decker. Definitely Alex—even though our date had been oh-so-awkward with his friends present. Despite promises from Nicole’s wooden board, he hadn’t even kissed me goodnight. He had made some kind of awkward attempt, but ended up tripping over himself at my doorstep, then falling on his rear. Not exactly romantic.
The Ouija board spirits had done me wrong. And now they wouldn’t go away.
Those freaky spirits should be rewriting my assignment since they’re the ones who messed it up. I stared at the black pen that had charged at my chest mere minutes ago. If the possessed ballpoint killed me, it would serve Coleman’s right.
I poked the pen with my index finger and it didn’t zap me. I took that as a good sign, picked it up, and began copying my essay over on clean paper.
How had the spirits controlled the pen anyway? It’s not like they had hands. At least, none that I could see. And why were they bugging me? It’s not like I was psychic or special. Besides, Nicole was the one who had summoned them. They obviously had the wrong girl.
They needed to find the right person and move on. But how could I help them do that? Because there was no way I’d go near a Ouija board again. Ever. I hated to involve my friends in something this creepy, but it was time to get advice on how to ditch these spooks. I only hoped Brynne and Nicole would believe me when I told them.
After all, if the unseens could control my pen, there was no telling what else they could do.
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