Monsters of Wintervast Island
A new young adult novel about a ‘90s-obsessed gamer girl who, along with her unlikely group of friends, must find a missing boy on an island where H.P. Lovecraft-esque occurrences are a normal part of the day.
Intrigued? Here’s the brief synopsis:
On Wintervast Island, a place where things like infinite time loops and forbidden portals make life anything but ordinary, sixteen-year-old Stacie Collins has just started the job from hell. Working at the local animal shelter seems like it would be fun, except when Stacie has to deal with teleporting reptiles, invisible dogs, and emotionally manipulative cats.
But that’s nothing compared to when her friend Manny disappears. On Wintervast, a disappearance can be worse than death. With a ransom note as her only lead, Stacie must find her missing friend, and in the process, she’ll have to face the truth of her world: Monsters don’t live under the bed. They live inside your head.
And now, for your reading pleasure, please enjoy this excerpt:
I drew a deep breath, closed my eyes, and wished upon the Treehouse Gods as I rolled the dice. It fell from my hand, hit the tabletop, and bounced twice before rolling to a stop.
Crowing with joy, I said, “Yes! Hasta la vista, Baby! With that critical hit, Orc Number Three’s head just exploded.”
Around the table, four other people—the rest of my gaming group—groaned.
“Could you stop with the Terminator references, Stace? Those movies are so old, my dad likes them,” Nina said from beside me, reaching out her thin hand and lightly punching at my shoulder.
“Hey, the Terminator movies are classics,” I countered, shoving her back. “Timeless, you might say. Anyway, they’re not that old!”
Directly across the table, my best friend and ex-boyfriend, Tyler, frowned. “Another critical hit? How do you keep doing that?”
“Guess the dice just love me.” I shrugged, looking up at the wall shelf above our heads where five troll dolls stood. Years ago, I’d nicknamed them the “Treehouse Gods.” My multi-color-haired trolls, the luckiest things I’ve ever owned, were always watching over our gaming sessions. I made sure of that. Just like I made sure that we always gamed here, in the Treehouse’s Round Room.
Built thirty feet off the ground in the cradle of a giant redwood’s branches, the Treehouse was aptly named. But because of stability concerns, a lot of the rooms were made in different shapes. The one we game in happens to be the Round Room—the one with our perfectly round game table.
“Don’t be so cocky, there are still a dozen orcs we have to take down,” Roach said.
I gave her a side-eyed, un-amused look before pulling out my pocket recorder. I pressed the button and said, “There’s Roach, being a pessimist again. She’s not really called, Roach, though. She just likes it better than Rochelle, for some strange reason. She’s always being kind of a downer, despite loving gaudy, bright jewelry and clothes with attention-grabbing flair. Personally, I’d rather wear cropped tops, flannels shirts, and tore up jeans. You know, like they used to wear in the 1990s.”
The game group collectively threw their palms against their foreheads instead of groaning this time. Tyler said, “Stace, we can hear you. Will you put that thing away?”
“At least the dice have stopped chasing us around with little tentacles growing out of each number,” Manny grumbled, scooping his fingers through his thick black hair. “Had to run up and down the hallway five times just to get Nina to stop screaming at those suckers.”
“Um, what are you talking about?” Nina asked, scooting her chair away from Manny. “Dice don’t have tentacles. That’s impossible.”
“Come off it, don’t you remember how the plastic cracked and…” Manny trailed off, a vacant look washing across his pale face. The rest of us coughed, nervous, when a thin line of drool appeared at the corner of his mouth.
“Manny, dude, you okay?” Tyler asked, lifting his hand and waving it in front of the other boy’s face. Behind thick, round glasses, Manny blinked his deep brown eyes rapidly, smoothed a hand over his tuxedo T-shirt, and shuddered out a long, low moan for a few seconds.
Then he barked out a laugh, which sounded too much like an actual dog, and said, “Is it my turn now? I’m ready to take down an orc or two.”
I gaped at him for a few seconds, scratched my bobbed reddish-brown hair, and said to the recorder, “Manny’s a bit of an oddball. It’s true, tentacles have been spotted in the Treehouse on a few occasions. Most of the time, I tell my mom to get the vacuum out and she takes care of them. But dice growing tentacles? Like I said, he’s an oddball. But I guess that’s what you’d expect from someone whose full name is Anaximander.”
Manny leaned over and cuffed my hair with his hand, demanding, “Don’t call me that.”
“Plus, he’s the only one in the group who hasn’t dated Tyler. Our weirdness barometer is usually measured by who’s swapped spit with the Scotsman heading up our D&D campaign,” I explained to my microphone, winking at him.
Tyler—said Scotsman—rolled his eyes at me in return. He self-nominated himself to be our dungeon master; we wouldn’t have it any other way, though.
“Yeah, okay, Orc Number Four is pretty pissed off that you killed his friend. He’s attacking Ninani with a broadsword,” Tyler declared, pointing to Roach. “What are you going to do?”
“Honestly, Tyler, you think that’s me? Ninani is Nina’s character. I’m Shellady. How can you mix us up?”
“Hey, in my defense, I only started confusing your names after we were dating,” Tyler said, chuckling a bit and turning his point to Nina. “Okay, what are you going to do?”
Nina said, “Ninani uses her big ass crossbow to shoot that ugly orc.”
Roll it,” Tyler said.
She tossed her die, her face falling into despair at the number two that she rolled. She tossed her long, dark blonde hair and narrowed her blue eyes. “Damn. That’s what I get for wearing a dress under my battle armor.”
“Nina’s the type of girl who loves being a girl. She almost always wears dresses, from cute little sundresses to the occasional gown. And always with thick matching leggings for dealin with Wintervast’s snow.”
The group started giving me death glares. Tyler looked up from his game notes and said, “Either cut that out or I’m taking your recorder away. I’m serious, Stace.”
“Fine. But not before I get my last word in: YOU GUYS ARE BEING UNFAIR,” I shouted at the ceiling. Then I pocketed my device and offered up a peace symbol with my fingers.
“Loudmouth. Can’t believe we don’t just throw you into the Mortal Portal,” Manny said. He slouched down in his seat and crossed his muscled arms across his chest like disgruntled bulldog.
Four pairs of eyes widened at him. You’re not supposed to even joke about the Mortal Portal.
“What?” Manny said.
“Didn’t you hear the public radio announcement?” Nina squeaked. Her eyes grew as big as a bushbaby’s. “If we even think for too long about the Mortal Portal, the constable’s covert police will detain us.”
I snort—I can’t help it. “You mean his dad’s personal ninja squad?” I slap a hand over my mouth in horror. For all I know, they might be monitoring our conversation right now. Open mouth, insert foot, Stacie.
Nina squeaked again and said, “Shut up!”
“I didn’t hear the announcement,” Manny confessed. “But my dad’s not going to lock me up for anything. You guys, on the other hand…” he chuckled, but it was forced. “I stand by what I said before, though. Stacie’s a loudmouth. Exhibit A happened three seconds ago.”
“Do you hear that?” Roach said suddenly. All four of us looked at her, watching her start to collapse into a plump ball like an overweight cat. She whispered, “I think someone’s in the wall.”
The rest of the group followed her gaze to the stretch of wall behind Manny. From somewhere, maybe inside the wall itself, came the sound of a low, mournful voice. It sounded like singing.
“Winter is immense and endless.
But you are not.
Winter is never lonely with the void above and the beasts below.
But you are alone. Forever alone.”
A strange purple haze began to grow on the wall, followed by a black pit at its center. Before my eyes grew a face, a horribly grinning face with a mouth too big for such a face, filled with disfigured teeth. It wore strange classes with devil horned rims, and wide earnest eyes like the Cheshire cat. A bespectacled Cheshire cat grinned at me from the abyss in the wall. It continued to sign, until the lyrics became nothing more than a shriek inside my head. I clutched my hands against my ears and screamed, willing it all to go away, for it all to end.
Then, just as suddenly, it disappeared; gone without a trace.
And I forgot it.
“What… were we talking about?” I said, looking around at the four faces across the table.
Tyler rubbed his fingers in his red-haired sideburns and stammered, “Uh, I’m… we were talking about killing orcs, right?”
“And taking Stacie’s recorder away,” Manny said, reaching out to snatch my handheld device. He yanked it away and I made an ungraceful noise of protest.
“YOU GUYS ARE REALLY BEING UNFAIR!” I said, standing up and walking away from the table.
“Loudmouth,” Manny grouched.
I went into my room and a minute later came back out, carrying a new recorder. I said into it, “Manny doesn’t like me that much, but that’s okay because nobody really likes me that much. I’m the type of person everyone knows, but wishes they didn’t. I’m short, loud, and opinionated about everything. And those are just my good traits.”
“How many of those do you have?” Nina asked.
“Enough,” I replied.
“Stacie, I know you want to record all of your thoughts and memories for your future bestselling memoir, but if you don’t give it a rest, I’m going to call off gaming for tonight. Even the rest of the week.”
I gasped in mock outrage. “You wouldn’t dare!”
“Try me,” he said.
“I did,” I snapped. “And you were a dud!”
“At least he wasn’t my sloppy seconds,” Roach said, nudging Nina and waggling her dark eyebrows suggestively. Nina squeaked at the implications. They all started teasing each other—especially the three girls—until a phone started ringing.
Tyler and Manny fell silent, and then, recognizing Stacie’s cell phone, burst out singing at the top of their lungs, “Stacie’s Mom has got it going on! She’s all I want and—”
“Not cool, guys,” I yelled over their obnoxious singing, and ran over to pick up my phone from the armchair where I left it. “Hello? Mom?”
“Stacie! Oh, sweetheart, what have you done?”