What Gifts She Carried
(The Grave Winner #2)
Leigh Baxton just wants to pick up the pieces of her life—if you could call it that—but someone keeps resurrecting the dead. These new zombies have a knack for spilling Leigh’s precious blood, something she was warned about by a certain pair of undead sorceresses.
Desperate to find out why they’re here so Leigh can put the nightmares behind her, she must learn more about the gifts she carries. With Tram’s training sessions and clues from her mom’s past, Leigh begins to piece together what she’s capable of.
Too bad there isn’t a Cliff’s Notes version to saving the world.
The zombies have teamed up with followers of the darkest sorceress who ever lived, and they’ll play a wicked game until she’s freed from her prison inside the earth. When the battle to the death begins, Leigh must rely on friends, crushes, and even her enemies to win the war, but not the grave.
Jo slammed the door behind me, which made me jump a little, then waved. They backed out and rode off, leaving me all alone. Well, almost all alone.
I watched them go for a second, but the shadow above lanced the top of my head like only an angry dad’s stare could.
The puddles in the cracked pavement rippled with the moon’s reflection, and I hopped over them on my way up the iron staircase. Time to face the music, or in this case really loud shouting. Every step upward vibrated doom, doom, doom. I gave it the middle finger for the friendly reminder and rounded the corner.
As soon as I reached the top step, the shadow unplugged the pen light from his mouth and shined it in my face. I turned my head away from the spots dotting my vision and took my final steps toward him. The green paint on the walls and doors had peeled and crumbled to the walkway like little piles of broken dragon scales. My boots crunched over them. Welcome to Krapper’s finest and friendliest Crumbly Motel.
“Why didn’t you call?” Dad asked in a low voice. He sounded as tired as I felt. And way pissed.
“I’m sorry.” I blocked the light with my hand and tried to look him in the face. “I lost track of time.”
“Were you really working on a school project?”
The truth was loony-bin crazy, and I’d already lied before. Might as well play it up. “Yes, I was. And we finished the pirate project. The pirates have sailed on to loot and pillage their hearts out. I’m really sorry I’m late, Dad.”
He stood, his book tucked under his elbow, the pen light still aimed at my eyes. “Do you have any idea—”
A loud thud came from inside the motel room. Both our heads whipped towards the door.
My heartbeat skipped. Too many bizarre things had happened. Too many weird sounds would haunt me forever, and this one didn’t feel right at all. I lunged for the doorknob, but it was locked.
“Darby?” I shouted and pounded on the door.
“Leigh, quiet down. I’ve got the key.” Dad pulled the card from his pocket and stuck it in the slot. When the light flashed green, I tore through the door. I had to wait for my eyes to adjust to the dim overhead light before I saw her. Directly across from us. Outside on the balcony. Leaning over the railing so far I could barely see her upper half.
Her purple mermaid nightgown fluttered around her legs. A sudden sharp breeze tossed the hair around her shoulders and unsteadied her grip on the rail for half a second. That half second shot me across the room.
Once I reached the balcony door, I grabbed her foot and pulled. “Darby, what are you—?” Something trickled from my nose. I brushed it away, and blood smeared my hand. A pinprick of dread punctured the small amount of hope I clung to. Hope that all the nightmares in my life could be done. That hope left me deflated when Darby turned around.
Blood seeped from her nose, too. Her hands were covered with it. Terror blazed bright behind her glasses. “You’re…you’re bleeding.”
“You are, too.” The hairs along my arms lifted. Both of us had nose bleeds and both of us were Trammeler sorceressi. One and Two had warned me not to waste my precious blood, but now it flowed down both our fronts for everyone to see. For what? I swallowed. So we could be hunted down? With the balcony and front doors still open, I felt very exposed. “What are you doing out here, Darby?”
Blood settled above the curve of her upper lip. “I—I thought I heard something.”
Dad, hovering in the doorway, raked his hands through his hair. “What on Earth is going on with you girls?” He took Darby by the shoulder and guided her to the bathroom. “Leigh, get the doors and then let’s get you both cleaned up.”
I reached for the handle while holding a sleeve up to my nose. As I slid the door closed, a small, bloody handprint smudged the streetlights behind it. Darby’s. She was bleeding more than me.
A slow but steady doom, doom, doom of footsteps echoed up the stairs outside the still open front door. Someone was coming. And with them came the stink of nasty meat floating in a sewer. Even with all the blood gushing a river out my nose, I could still smell it. Death. Coming closer.
One of my best friends in high school and I no longer speak to each other. I was dumb enough to let a boy come between us, and that was the end. Poof. Five years of friendship gone. My Facebook friend requests to her are ignored. The end.
So I guess I did what any creative type of person would do to deal with this situation and created a lovable character known as Jo in The Grave Winner series. She’s my main character Leigh’s best friend, and she shares many similarities with my lost friend. They share the same bright red hair that comes from a box and the same devotion to saving the planet. Neither of them have any interest in hiding their quirky personalities from judgment. I suppose that’s why I love Jo so much and why friendship plays such a central theme in the books.
My friend and I used to spend a lot of time in thrift stores, and Whaty-Whats, the thrift store in the books, is based on a real location. We perused the racks together, the smell of moth balls, cedar, and gently used clothing solidifying all those times into happy memories. I purposefully made that a special place for Leigh and Jo, a place neither of them would ever forget for lots of different reasons, some horrific and some pleasant.
I have a lot of happy memories of my lost best friend, like the time she wedged herself underneath a chair and couldn’t escape, or the hundreds of times we stalked our crushes. Do I blame her for breaking up with me? No. Do I miss her? Of course I do, but I have those memories of us, and now I can relive our friendship through Jo and Leigh. For now, that will do.
About The Grave Winner (Book #1)
Leigh Baxton is terrified her mom will come back from the dead — just like the prom queen did.
While the town goes beehive over the news, Leigh bikes to the local cemetery and buries some of her mom’s things in her grave to keep her there. When the hot and mysterious caretaker warns her not to give gifts to the dead, Leigh cranks up her punk music and keeps digging.
She should have listened.
Two dead sorceresses evicted the prom queen from her grave to bury someone who offered certain gifts. Bury them alive, that is, then resurrect them to create a trio of undead powerful enough to free the darkest sorceress ever from her prison inside the earth.
With help from the caretaker and the dead prom queen, Leigh must find out what’s so special about the gifts she gave, and why the sorceresses are stalking her and her little sister. If she doesn’t, she’ll either lose another loved one or have to give the ultimate gift to the dead – herself.
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Lindsey R. Loucks
Lindsey R. Loucks works as a school librarian in rural Kansas. When she’s not discussing books with anyone who will listen, she’s dreaming up her own stories. Eventually her brain gives out, and she’ll play hide and seek with her cat, put herself in a chocolate induced coma, or watch scary movies alone in the dark to reenergize. She’s been with her significant other for almost two decades.