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Friday, March 8, 2013

Read an #excerpt from the YA fantasy Surviving Curtis Hall: The Lure of Blood by @LAMatthies



Surviving Curtis Hall

The Lure of Blood


by L. A. Matthies





Cover links to Amazon

Excerpt


Chapter One
Tristen: Man or Myth


FORCING HIM TO THRASH back and forth in his sleep, Tristen's dream had taken on a life of its own. What had begun as a pleasant exchange—quite normal, really—had transformed into something dark and ominous. The fun, exciting game of lacrosse, with its easy exertion, had evolved into running away from something ... no ... running to save someone. It was all so unclear. Was it Billy who was in trouble? Was Sasha with him? Tristen couldn't see them, much less reach them. Why was it so freakin' dim down here? He had heard the tortured plea for help, but finding the source was quite another story.

Once again he thrashed about, willing his way through his dream haze, frustrated by his slow progress. As he ran through the damp tunnel, drawn toward the sound of a musical voice calling his name, the scream rang out one more time. It was deafening, drowning out all else. It propelled him from his restless sleep with the sheer force of its agony.

Tangled in his sheets and covered in perspiration, Tristen managed to lift his head from the pillow long enough to silence his alarm clock. His heart still pounding, he came to the realization that this was a new day. Glancing around the room as his eyesight returned to focus, Tristen spied the familiar bronze walls and posters of his room. His eyes settled on both the Halo and The Phantom Menace scenes, which both calmed his rapid pulse and returned him to reality. The nightmare, along with all his apprehensions, was soon forgotten as he grabbed a clean pair of sweats and headed for the shower. It was 5:34 a.m.

Feeling refreshed after his shower, Tristen wrapped a towel around his waist and wiped his hand across the bathroom mirror in the still steamy bathroom. Looking at his reflection in the mirror, Tristen took a quick inventory while running his fingers through his short, spiked blond hair, his green eyes still trying to absorb the extra few inches of his last growth spurt. His now six-foot-two frame, together with his V-shaped torso, looked pretty good, and he felt sure all the extra working out was paying off in spades.

Once back in his bedroom, Tristen decided on a pair of faded jeans and a brown Quicksilver T-shirt. He casually threw on a white Abercrombie sweatshirt as well. He then sat at his dark oak desk and realized that there was no longer any time to escape his yet unwritten essay. Tristen stared at the blank computer screen in front of him. There is nothing like the impending doom of a deadline to wake you up in the morning, he thought. He loved to write, which made English his favorite class of the day. The problem was that in this new school, the stakes were all raised because anyone who was able to gain admission was exceptional.

None of that had ever been an issue for Tristen. He always seemed to find a way to excel at everything he did, although he put in plenty of hard work as well. Somehow he felt that this essay, being the first of its kind that he was presenting at Curtis Hall, was going to define him to his peers and perhaps his professor as well. He'd already submitted some of his poetry and received a favorable response; curiously, this paper was proving more elusive. Finding himself distracted, Tristen thumbed through his student handbook, trying to come up with an angle for his paper. The tangible feel of the pages soothed his discomfort. He found his eyes wandering over the newly familiar symbols and their meanings in the handbook's key.

For the first time in a long while, he found himself wondering what the future actually held. Would he make tons of mistakes and ruin his brilliant prospects? Would he end up some zombie robot who performed all his tasks on cue so as to please his parents and teachers while giving up his own identity? Of course not; he'd been performing this balancing act for years, and he had always managed to have a lot of fun in the process. Why should anything change now? It might be a new place with many new faces, but Tristen was an expert at being likable and providing leadership when most other people needed it.

So why were these thoughts jamming his creative frequency? He'd already scrapped the first two drafts of this paper in disappointment. It wasn't often that he suffered from writer's block, and this was not a very convenient time for it—at all! Maybe something cool was about to happen and this was some kind of psychic-peek-into-the-future-and-that's-why-I-feel-so-weird thing. No matter what was going on, time was running short, so the inspiration needed to start flowing—like now. Still nothing. Maybe breakfast will help. I can't get anything constructive done on an empty stomach.

On his way down to the kitchen, Tristen passed both Emily's and Jake's bedrooms. Looking in strictly out of habit, he could see they were still sound asleep. He remembered the days when he slept without much thought about tomorrow; sometimes he even missed that oblivious kid stage. As he descended the stairs, he could hear someone else wandering about the first floor. He entered the kitchen to find his dad, Frank, fiddling with the coffee pot.

"You're up early Tris; everything okay?" Frank asked.

"Fine, Dad, I just have a paper due today in English. Can't think straight 'cause I'm starving," Tristen replied.

"Eat a good breakfast. You guys work out so hard, it's a wonder you can consume enough calories to keep going, much less get your brains to work," said Frank.

"I will, Dad; you don't need to worry about me." With that, Tristen took three eggs and scrambled them as he waited for his bagel to toast. He washed down his savory breakfast with a tall glass of orange juice and then thought about a cup of coffee for a moment but quickly dismissed the idea. It wouldn't do to be jittery in class. After all, he wasn't entirely sure he wouldn't be expected to read his paper aloud to the class today.

Now that he was fueled up, Tristen felt excited to go back upstairs and dive into his essay headfirst. He finally decided on a lighter, more comical approach, rather than just stating the facts.

Tristen McCoy English 10

Let's see. You're a reader, so lacrosse is basically like a Quidditch match from an H. P. novel—minus the flying broomsticks and magic, of course. It's pounds of fun, if you don't mind a little bit of blood, sweat, and tears—okay, so tears might be a small exaggeration.

That is what I do: cocaptain the lacrosse team, keep up a straight A average, and let's not forget that I must maintain a respectable example for my younger sister and brother.

Well, it's not that bad. Actually it's kind of cool. I mean what can you expect from a kid growing up in Hibernia? Sounds like it would be cold, doesn't it? No, we are not in a foreign country, people; it's only New Jersey. Beautiful, quiet, suburban New Jersey.

Sorry for getting sidetracked. I am thinking writing is definitely in my future. After all, we are supposed to be conscious of our career aspirations in addition to everything else these days. Not a musician. Medical school—not quite feelin' it. But Novelist extraordinaire? Now that has a nice ring to it!

Okay, back to my "bio." Tristen McCoy here. I am a sixteen-year-old sophomore at Curtis Hall, the most prestigious private school for a good fifty miles at least. I am the youngest cocaptain in perhaps thirty years—maybe ever. But whatever. I am having a blast playing this game. It is almost like I was born holding that stick in my hand. It's a good thing for me, too; otherwise, I would have to find some "safe" activity or get a part-time job after school so I wouldn't be tempted to try drugs and ruin my life. Thanks, Mom, you are absolutely right—it is all about making the better choices.

Don't knock the parents here now; mine are pretty cool any way you slice it. As long as I toe the line, they don't complain much. If you can believe this, they even appreciate my sometimes sarcastic sense of humor. Mom says it's a talent. I'll bet every once in a while she wishes I wasn't quite so talented!

Where was I going with this again? Oh yeah, I am the oldest kid in the family. That leaves my sister Emily, twelve years old and in middle school. By the way, she is an AWESOME gymnast. Then there's "baby bro" Jake (he hates when I call him that). He's ten and from another planet called elementary school. They both have a lot of energy—God bless Mom.

Frank (aka Dad)—he's a fireman. I know, pretty cool, right? He's a 9/11 survivor, which means that he has basically seen the worst that life has to offer—it punched him in the gut, and he still got up for more. The great thing about Dad is that he always punches back. You can't keep a good man down—grandpa used to say that about Dad. It might sound a bit old-fashioned, but it really suits him! The absolute best thing about Frank: he does NOT want me to follow in his footsteps. That is definitely not what I would want to spend my life living up to. Thanks, Dad.

Now, Mom—her name is Sue. As we have discussed already, she is all about the better choices. Sue is a stay-at-home mom—I think that is what we are supposed to call them these days? She runs kids around, runs the house, runs the budget. I would be tempted to say taxi/ maid/accountant, but I would not want to totally piss her off. So I just say, "You're right, Mom; our house runs like a well-oiled machine." She loves when I say that. Sue is efficient—you gotta give her that! Love you, Mom!

We live in a four-bedroom house, and we are on a dead-end street—Forest Drive. Honestly, it looks nothing like a forest. However, we do have a nice group of trees on our side of the dead end. The thing I like best about our street is that if you decide to play ball or skateboard, which "baby bro" loves, there is no traffic to interrupt your game. Every summer since I can remember, my friends and I have played ball there from morning till night, complete with parents dragging us in after dark because we don't have the good sense to come in on our own.

I need to start thinking of a title for this literary masterpiece. Maybe "Life on the Streets of Hibernia." Nah, too urban. What about "My So-Called Life"? Definitely not. Too TV show. I've got it: "Tristen McCoy, Man or Myth?" Now that is catchy.

Can you believe this is how I began my sophomore year at school? I have transferred from Hibernia High along with a handful of my friends this year. We all play lacrosse (coolest game ever), and our parents didn't like the element at HH. After two students being arrested for selling drugs and one being dragged out in handcuffs for calling in a bomb threat last year, who can blame Mom and Dad. This parenting thing seems much too complicated; they're always worrying about every aspect of EVERYTHING! They think this private school will be a better stepping stone toward our futures. I say it's all good as long as I can play lacrosse and it's not an all-boys school, 'cause that's just lame!

Curtis Hall, which is some old converted mansion on fifty acres of land, has a very cool campus, which I love. When you start out in a town like Hibernia, you get used to normal. Curtis Hall is anything but normal; grandiose is more like it. Granted, there is an unbelievable selection of courses and electives available to choose from. I had a difficult time making up my schedule; there was not enough time in the day to fit everything I'm interested in! That's how I ended up dragging Billy to an additional night class twice a week.

I don't know about anyone else, but my old school did not come complete with a man-made lake, labyrinth, and subterranean tunnel system. I am thinking next semester Topiary could be an easy A for me. How hard could it be to shape plants into animals and other cool stuff? I mean, I'm no Edward Scissorhands, but it will at least be entertaining. Let's just say this place is different. School, yes; boring—definitely NOT!

It is October second, which means that I have officially been a student at Curtis Hall for three weeks now. I guess this would be considered more of a College Campus lifestyle. Unlike at HH, you really don't find kids randomly hanging out in all the nooks and crannies of the school. It is expected that all students will be at the appropriate place at all times. Did I mention that this campus is ginormous?!

There are all the predictable classes, such as Math, English, Social Studies, and Science, and foreign language requirements. Then you've got your over-the-top Phys Ed Department, which expects us to sample three to four different sports per year. I chose lacrosse (no surprise there), archery, tae kwon do, and gymnastics. Don't even laugh; that is a hard class! I got the idea from my sister Emily; she said it will improve flexibility, and since she can contort herself into a pretzel, well, you do the math! I managed to talk my friends into the same gym classes I chose so we can hang together at least once per day.

Since lacrosse is a spring sport, we decided to take it as an elective in the fall, follow that with archery second quarter, gymnastics third quarter, and tae kwon do fourth quarter to round out the year. I wonder how the nonsport people figure this stuff out? This plan should ensure that we are extra strong and flexible for the start of the competition lacrosse season. The pressure is on. We actually feel like we need to prove ourselves here at a new school. Just to give you a brief heads-up, I will run through the lineup quickly. First, we have Billy Morrow, my best friend and lifelong teammate. Then there's Justin Scott, Tony Steel, and Paul Greco, all of which have been playing together since the age of six. We all had a love for the sport, so it was only natural to pursue it. That's the Hibernia crew.

I don't really know the other guys yet, but we did make introductions at our official/unofficial tryouts before admission to the school. It seems that Curtis Hall is not accustomed to having their name sullied by any nonperformers on or off the fields. Anyway, the ones I can remember are a few juniors: Karl Nikos, Troy Roberts and Bobby Dunn. Also, two seniors, being Eric McCabe and (not to be forgotten) Pierce Ferrari, my Cocaptain. Somehow they all seemed to have a bit of a chip on their shoulders, but when I think about it, we are the new guys moving in on their turf. We'll just all have to figure it out. Rumor has it they like to win as much as we do, so game on!

For all you overachievers, there is a complete schedule of night courses, as I have previously mentioned. I have decided to try my hand at swordplay. I know, how useful will that skill be in the real world? It just sounded so awesome that I could not possibly resist. This also I felt the need to share with poor, unsuspecting Billy. He really is a good sport, allowing me to persuade him into being such a joiner. So picture this: every Tuesday and Thursday night we take the twenty-three-minute car ride from Hibernia to Ogdensburg because we feel the need to reenact Medieval Times for a grade. We almost shouldn't be allowed to have this much fun at school! I hope there will be enough time to work my way through the curriculum. If not, I may have to become a permanent fixture during summer breaks. Hey, at least then my parents wouldn't have the grueling task of figuring out how I spent all my free hours of summer vacation.

Now I am in jeopardy of missing my bus since I can't resist a good story—namely my own. Later!

Tristen hit the Print Now button. When the sheet fed out, he ran down the stairs. He was ready to slip through the front door when Sue stepped in the way, blocking his exit.

"Tristen, what is your rush? Did you eat a good breakfast? I hope your father told you it's my night to drive the girls to the gym, so if you need a lift, have Billy call his mom, okay?" his mom asked.

"Mom, I can't miss my bus. I had a great breakfast, and no, Dad never shares ride knowledge, but I should be fine. Love you, bye!" Tristen quickly exited. In the background he heard his mom say, "Love you too, honey!" Works every time, Tristen thought. When you gotta go, that is the way to get it done. Thank God, because here's the bus now!

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