Enjoy this preview excerpt from Healers and Thieves, by Susan Quilty
Chapter One: A Night in the Attic
Amanda Jones loved to read on her own but listening to Mr. Hewlett drone on about symbolism sapped all joy from the experience. As far as Amanda was concerned, if an author had something to say, they should simply say it. Besides, Amanda reasoned, Mr. Hewlett’s search for a book’s hidden secrets probably just added meaning the author never even intended.
Mr. Hewlett’s English class bothered Amanda for another reason, too. His love of reciting lengthy passages, followed by long-winded explanations, gave Amanda’s mind too much space to wander away. When that happened, her mind always wandered to the same place.
The Victorian house in Amanda’s head was shadowed but warm, ostentatious but inviting. The lower floors were filled with antique furniture, textured wallpapers, and heavy draperies. The attic, which she had only recently begun to explore, was cooler in both tone and temperature than the rest of the house. It had a shabby, unkempt atmosphere. Its floorboards were silvered with age. Its walls gleamed a bluish gray that was nearly indistinguishable from the wooden doors facing Amanda now.
Six doors. Two doors on each of the three walls.
Amanda could not see the space behind her, yet she knew she was standing in a small attic alcove in a home that was more familiar than her own apartment. She also knew that this home, as real as it felt, did not exist in the world outside of her dreams.
The doors in front of Amanda were identical. They were paneled and worn. Their dull pewter knobs showed a patina of age that matched the dry, dusty floors. There was one that spoke to her more than the rest. The second door on the left. It seemed to be nestled a hair closer to its corner, almost as if cowering from Amanda’s touch. It also tempted her, beckoning her to take a look inside.
As Amanda puzzled over her conflicted reaction to the door, a slight rattle drew her eyes toward its strangely oval knob. She squinted, waiting, holding her breath. And there, again, a tiny rattle. It was more vibration than movement. As if someone was standing behind the door and holding on to the knob while a tremor passed from their shaky hand into the aged metal.
Amanda inched forward, listening for sounds of movement. The silence was complete, except for her own breath. And then, again, the rattle. Peering into the dim light, she focused all of her attention on the doorknob, beginning to discern its faint, yet definite quiver.
Amanda pivoted toward the sharp voice, banging her knee on the underside of her desk.
“Hellooo?” The voice sang with a laugh. “You in there?”
Through rapid blinks, Amanda identified Trina’s round face and thick, curling hair.
The classroom lights were overly bright. The sounds of shuffling feet and rustling papers were deafening. Amanda blinked against both. She turned back toward the six doors, confirming they had been replaced by a classroom wall bearing a long stretch of whiteboards.
“Come on,” Trina nodded her head toward the students straggling out the door. “The bell rang. We’re outta here.”
After all their years of friendship, Trina was still amused by Amanda’s moony lapses. Amanda was not. With a flutter of embarrassment, she gathered her things and tried not to look toward Mr. Hewlett’s desk. There was a dull pressure growing in the front of her head and an ache of tension stiffening her neck. They were familiar feelings.
The noise around Amanda and Trina only increased when they stepped into the school hallway. Lockers slammed, kids chatted, and teachers chided. For a dizzying moment, Amanda wondered if she had one more class today or two, whether it was time to eat lunch or time to go home. Yet with each step, the fog cleared a bit more. Gradually, the world came back into focus. The books in her arms became solid, heavy, and her feet navigated their way quite naturally to Geometry, her last class of the day.
“Tell you the rest later,” Trina called as their paths split. Amanda flashed a smile, completely unaware of whatever story Trina had been telling.
Stepping into her math class, Amanda felt a sense of calm drape over her shoulders. In the chaos of messy emotions and confusing social interactions, math was a constant. The rules didn’t change, the formulas stayed the same. Math offered puzzles that could reliably be solved, unlike the shadowy rooms that were always whispering for her attention.
Students were still wandering in as Amanda arranged her books in a neat stack and opened her notebook to their most recent homework assignment. The numbers swam and faded before her eyes. The paper’s blue lines brightened, then wobbled into a hazy blur. With her eyes closed, Amanda curled her fingers around the edges of her desk and focused on feeling the smooth, slick wood under her palms. She tried to deny it, but the aftereffects of her house visits were getting stronger and lasting longer.
I am here, Amanda silently repeated to herself. I am here. I am here. I am here.
When she opened her eyes, the numbers on her paper were back in focus. Crisp and clear. The lines were solid and unwavering. Amanda looked up, saw Ms. Randall watching her curiously and knew it wasn’t the first time she had come in with odd behavior. Her face flushed as their gaze held, and then the class bell rang, startling them both.
Ms. Randall stood, wiped her hands together and announced, “Right triangles and the Pythagorean Theorem. Who wants to come up and show us how to solve our first problem from last night’s homework?”
Feet shuffled and papers rustled around the room, but Amanda smiled in quiet relief. It was exactly what she needed. The smell of the markers and the sound of their subtle squeak on the glossy white surface. Something real to distract her from her imaginary world. Yet even as she carried her notebook to the front of the room, a small part of Amanda’s mind stayed fixed on the image of that oval doorknob. Fixed on the sound of its gentle rattle. Fixed on the question of what could possibly exist behind that wooden door.
Once you’ve read the full book, please leave a review at your chosen retailer. Thank you for your support!