STEPPING STONES (Stone #1) by Kacey Vanderkarr
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 332, Paperback
Published: 25 August 2015, Urban Fey Press
Happy book birthday Kacey!! ❤
Onnaleigh Moore is part of a plan—and it isn’t hers. When her brother dies in a car accident, Onna is desperate to preserve the tatters of her family. Any hope of finding normalcy vanishes when her mother runs off and her dad turns to booze to numb his pain. Onna’s grief is crippling, but the boy who showed up just when she needed him is helping her cope.
Everett’s presence is comforting, though he knows things—Onna’s name just before they met, where she lives, and sometimes he comments on thoughts she doesn’t say aloud. She pegs him for a stalker, or maybe psychic, but the truth is deadlier than she imagines. As their feelings for one another deepen, Everett confesses a horrifying secret: Onna’s brother is only the beginning of the plan, and some fates are worse than death.
(From Chapter 3)
Ahead of them, the expressway snaked in each direction. When Caleb lived at home, he and Onna would walk to the overpass at night and watch the cars speed past. Their lights created ribbons of color and the steady roar of rubber against concrete rumbled through the bridge and into their feet.
Once, after Caleb left, she climbed onto the barrier and dangled her bare feet over the edge. She imagined the drivers beneath her in a panic because they thought she’d jump. She sat there for nearly an hour, waiting for someone to call the police or her parents, but no one did. Then she walked home, tears streaming her face, though she couldn’t decide if she was angrier Caleb left or that no one noticed her.
“How did your mother die?” Onna asked, glancing out the window. Sunlight glinted off vehicles and made the road shimmer with heat. A long time ago, Onna thought the mirage of water over the road was a portal to another dimension.
Onna nodded, not taking her eyes from the window. There weren’t words to fill a void like that. Instead, she cranked the handle and let early fall air caress her cheeks.
Everett slowed on the overpass and Onna leaned against the door. A shift in traffic below caught her attention. A semi swerved from the outer lane, moving in slow motion, as though the truck waded through sludge. Screaming airbrakes reached her ears as the semi careened into the median and flung itself into oncoming traffic.
“Oh my god,” she yelled, white knuckling the doorframe.
“What is it?” Everett said, steering the Mustang to the shoulder.
Vehicles dodged the impending collision, taking sharp angles and sliding onto the edge of the road. Onna watched near misses, horrified. Most of the traffic cleared the bullet speeding toward them, filling up the sides of the highway and hurtling into the grass like blood clotting in a vein. One remaining silver car had nowhere to go. It swung to the right and spun out of control. From this distance, Onna couldn’t see the driver’s face, but she searched the windshield anyway. In the space of a heartbeat, the truck demolished the silver car.
Metal shrieked as the car and semi became one, twisting around each other like lovers. The immediate silence was deafening.
Onna was out of the Mustang and tearing down the weed-infested hill before the car stopped. Pickers slashed at her calves. Her heels slipped on rocks. Everett yelled for her to come back. She ignored him.
Below her, people climbed from their vehicles. They approached the wreck like cautious animals, circling, scenting for danger.
By the time she reached the road, flames leapt from the debris, hungry yellow fingers that grabbed for smoking remains. Onna tasted gasoline and fear.
The Prius’s driver side disappeared inside the car, a crumpled twist of metal. Nothing remained of the windshield. The deflated passenger airbag hung over remnants of the hood.
Onna’s heart squeezed into her throat next to her stomach.
She propelled herself forward, breaking through a barrier of onlookers. A hand grabbed for her, catching her elbow before she shook it off. There were voices, a constant, babbling stream that she couldn’t separate into words.
Lots of people drive Priuses, she told herself.
It’s not Caleb.
Still, her hands shook as her feet found concrete. A slim white hand hung from the shattered window. There was blood. Onna smelled it before she saw it. Rivulets trickled from the ravaging teeth of the window, mapping out a path to the dangling hand with a huge sparkling engagement ring.
Onna’s heartbeat rushed in her ears, insistent, like the sound of an explosion underwater. She struggled to make sense of the tangled metal, pale skin, and blood. Then, red hair.
“Cora!” she screamed. Adrenaline surged into Onna’s arteries and she hurled herself into the wreckage, mindless of flames and the growing puddle of gasoline. Shouts rose around her. Warnings, pleas. She tried the door handle first, unsurprised when it didn’t budge.
Arms slid around her waist and pulled her backwards. “Stop.”
She struggled against Everett, kicking and punching. “Let me go! That’s Caleb. It’s Caleb.” Her words broke into sobs and she finally wriggled free. Her knees stung when she hit pavement and crawled toward Caleb’s car. This time, Everett followed.
“Help me,” Onna begged, pushing to her feet and sliding her arms into the smoldering car. She caught Cora beneath the armpits, ignoring the startling white of jagged bone protruding from her forearm and shards of glass that remained in the window frame. Cora’s eyes were closed. Blood dripped from a gash in her hairline, from her nose, her ears.
More hands appeared beside Onna’s as onlookers braved the fire. Everett counted to three and they pulled. Black smoke poured from the engine, filling the car and making it impossible to see. Distantly, Onna knew she was coughing, suffocating. Her lungs ached from lack of oxygen.
Undeterred, she rearranged her grip on Cora and Everett counted again. It took four tries, but eventually Cora came free, her weight falling against them like the dead limbs of a ragdoll. Onna climbed toward the spot Cora vacated before they’d even carried Cora to safety.
Hands pulled her back. “You can’t.” Everett’s words ended with a wracking cough that loosened his grip.
She stumbled away and lunged for the opening. Glass tore at her arms and legs and ripped her shirt. Smoke oozed across her vision like poison, scalding her eyes. Gasoline and heat filled her throat. She coughed. “Caleb?” Using her fingertips, she found hot metal, sharp bits of glass, and cottony stuffing spewing from the seat. She tried to call his name again, but no sound came out.
Her head grew heavy.
She was spinning. Dizzying lights flashed in front of her eyes. Onna jammed her hands farther into twisting metal. She felt something warm. Damp. Solid.
Kacey Vanderkarr is a young adult author. She dabbles in fantasy, romance, and sci-fi, complete with faeries, alternate realities, and the occasional plasma gun. She’s known to be annoyingly optimistic and listen to music at the highest decibel. When she’s not writing, she coaches winterguard and works as a sonographer. Kacey lives in Michigan, with her husband, son, and crazy cats. Along with her novels, Reflection Pond and Antithesis, Kacey’s short fiction can be found in Sucker Literary Vol 3, and the upcoming Spark Vol 7, Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things, and Out of the Green: Tales from Fairyland.