Underlined Exclusive: Wrath, an Unpublished Short Story by Kara Thomas!

This exclusive short story takes place before the events of Little Monsters and we’re pretty sure it will leave you even more excited (or terrified) to read the book.

WARNING: If reading at night, you might want to keep the lights on .

 

Ok, you’ve been warned.

 

Ready???

 

Wrath by Kara Thomas

I could be home watching Saturday Night Live. Even in her head, Cassidy realized how pathetic it sounded. Here she was, hundreds of miles from home, at a party—a college party!—and all she could think about was the prospect of her own bed and the blue glow of the TV to lull her to sleep.

She snuck at glance at her cell phone. It was almost one in the morning, and they hadn’t even been at the party very long. Meg had insisted that no one showed up to parties before midnight, but when the cab dropped them outside the Sigma Alpha Mu house, the line was already spilling onto the street.

“What if we don’t get in?” Cassidy had whispered, inches from Meg’s ear. Relief snaked around her ribs; if they couldn’t get into the party, maybe they would head back to Meg’s dorm and make microwave lava cakes and watch TV shows on her laptop like they used to before Meg left for college.

“We’re going to get in.”

It wasn’t Meg who replied; Cassidy turned around in time to see Dani and Maureen, the girls they’d shared the cab with, roll their eyes at each other. Cassidy wasn’t sure which one of them had said it. Beside her, Meg rearranged the hair falling over her shoulder, intent on pretending she hadn’t heard anything.

Dani and Maureen lived across the hall from Meg. Cassidy had instantly retreated into her shell when Dani sauntered into Meg’s dorm room earlier that evening, a bottle of Fireball whiskey in hand, and flopped onto Meg’s bed like she lived there. Maureen had picked up the curling iron resting on Meg’s desk and proceeded to wrap her sun-streaked hair around the barrel while making fun of Meg’s weirdo roommate, who went home every weekend.

Meg had nudged Cassidy while they were piling into the back of the cab and whispered in her ear. “Can you at least pretend to like them?”

Cassidy hadn’t said anything. And now here she was, mashed up against the wall of the Sigma Alpha Mu house, waiting for Meg and Dani to come back inside. When Dani had come up behind Meg, tapping her shoulder with an unlit cigarette, Cassidy almost lost her shit. “Since when do you smoke?”

“Only when I drink.” Meg’s cheeks went pink. Whether from embarrassment or all the Fireball shots they’d done in the dorms, who knew.

Maureen was supposed to wait with Cassidy, but she’d disappeared to take a spot at the flip cup table, snatching the first chance to ditch Meg’s dorky high school friend from home.

Cassidy sipped from her cup of vodka and cranberry juice, only to make it seem like she was doing something besides standing by herself. No one was watching her anyway.

Or so she thought.

“Hey, pretty. Whatcha drinking?”

Cassidy lifted her gaze from the rim of her cup. The guy was in a blue-and-white-striped button-down, a Walker University T-shirt showing underneath. Brown hair, brown eyes.

Cassidy raised her cup. “Vodka cranberry.”

“Nice.” The guy grinned. One of his front teeth was crooked. Cassidy took another sip of her drink, desperate to look away.

“Name’s Jacob.” The guy extended a hand. Cassidy shook it. “Cassidy.”

“You a freshman?”

“No,” Cassidy said. “I don’t go here. I’m visiting a friend.”

Jacob’s eyes lit up. “Are you in high school?”

Cassidy’s insides squirmed. An alarm bell sounded in her head: Lie. “No. I go to community college.”

Jacob’s lips parted, one corner of his mouth tugging upward. “Oh yeah? What school?”

The room was filling up, forcing Jacob to take a step closer to her. Cassidy could smell weed and beer on his breath. She thought of how she she’d taken a five-hour bus ride from Illinois to Wisconsin to see Meg, only to wind up alone with this creep.

“I have to find my friend.” Cassidy wiggled away. “She was supposed to be back by now.”

She waded through the mass of bodies in the living room, skirting the crowd that had formed around the coffee table. People were cheering, laughing, but Cassidy didn’t stop to see what they were doing. Sweat was pooling beneath the gold crop top she’d borrowed from Meg, and her head was feeling hollow.

Cassidy stumbled out the front door, immediately getting edged to the side of the house by the crowd of people waiting to get inside. She dug her phone from her wristlet and called Meg. The line rang and rang until Cassidy heard a click, and voices on the other end.

“Meg.” Cassidy glanced at the screen, just to make sure the call hadn’t been dropped. “Meg.”

The line went silent. Cassidy blinked against the pressure forming behind her eyes and called Meg again. This time, it went straight to voice mail. Cassidy’s phone beeped three times in succession.

The goddamn thing died.

A flutter of panic in her chest. She hadn’t been able to charge her phone fully, because Meg had needed the outlet for her curling iron. Cassidy had meant to go into the hall to use the outlet there but she’d forgotten, and now her goddamn phone was dead.

She couldn’t stay out here. The booze in her blood was doing little to keep her warm. She hadn’t brought a jacket—none of the girls had, too much of an inconvenience—and the November night nipped at every sliver of her bare skin. She marched back up the steps to the house, using her hands to part the crowd. “Excuse me. Excuse me.”

The guy manning the door hassled her until she convinced him she had just been inside and she’d already paid her five dollars. Cassidy tamped down a burp, swallowing away the sting of vomit from her throat. She tried to take inventory of the shots she’d done in Meg’s dorm—three, maybe? The problem was that she’d barely eaten; Meg had promised to take her to the dining hall when she arrived on campus, but Cassidy’s bus got stuck in traffic, so she’d scarfed down the granola bar her mother had packed her.

Cassidy made the rounds of the house, eyes peeled for Meg or Dani or Maureen. They weren’t in line for either of the two bathrooms.

Cassidy pulled out her phone, hoping that by some miracle it had been resurrected in her pocket. The sight of the black screen threatened to unglue her. She blinked away tears and stumbled back outside.

A cab. She’d find a cab to take her back to campus. She didn’t have a student ID to get back into Meg’s dorm, but maybe the building monitor would take pity on her.

The street was quiet, save for the crowd in front of the house. Cassidy wrapped her arms around her middle and headed for the corner, where she’d have better luck finding a cab.

Fucking Meg and her fucking friends. Cassidy shivered; she’d reached the corner, only to realize that the road was a dead end. She chanted the words under her breath as she headed back the way she’d come: Fucking Meg.

Cassidy kept her head down so she wouldn’t have to make eye contact with the people standing outside the frat house. What if they noticed her walking back and forth? It was so pathetic it made her want to puke.

She noticed the patch of ice too late. Her tailbone smacked the sidewalk, her legs tangling around each other. A pack of guys gathered around a car parked on the street howled with laughter.

The tears blurred her vision. She rolled onto her side, wincing, as someone put a hand on her upper arm. “Are you okay?”

Cassidy looked up. Wide, warm eyes staring down at her. Someone laughed in the distance and the guy looked over his shoulder. “Shut the hell up. She could be hurt.”

“I’m okay.” Cassidy accepted the guy’s outstretched hand. She couldn’t help but notice how strong he was. He was wearing a Green Bay Packers sweatshirt, wavy brown hair peeking out from under his knit beanie.

“My friends are dicks,” he muttered. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

Cassidy’s throat went tight. “Not really. I lost my friend and I have no idea where I am and my phone is dead.”

“Do you want to use my phone to call her?”

“I don’t have her number memorized. We came to the party together, but I think she left—” She halted, realizing her words were slurring together. “I just need a cab to get back to campus.”

“You’re not going to find one here at this time of night. This neighborhood is a dead zone.” The guy’s brows knitted. “You said campus—Walker, right?”

Cassidy felt her teeth knocking together. “Y-yeah.”

“I live off campus,” the guy said. “I’m heading back toward the school—I have to pick up a friend from another party, but if you don’t mind making a quick stop, I could drop you off at the dorms.”

“Are you sure?” Cassidy rubbed at the gooseflesh on her arms. She heard the threat of tears in her voice, and the guy must have too, because he gave her a sympathetic smile.

“It’s really not a problem. Seriously.”

Cassidy felt herself thaw a bit. As long as she had a ride back to campus, she could deal with everything later: getting into the dorm, her dead phone, Meg and her stupid friends. “Thank you. I can’t thank you enough.”

“Don’t mention it. I’m Stephen, by the way.”

“Cassidy.” She followed Stephen across the street, where a green sedan was parked. Stephen held up his remote and opened it with a blip. Back on the other side of the street, the pack of guys hollered at them. Stephen gave them the finger and opened the passenger door for Cassidy.

“Thank you. Thank you.” She didn’t know if she was capable of saying anything else. Stephen started the engine and heat blasted from the vents. He pointed two of them at Cassidy; she leaned back in the seat and closed her eyes.

“How’d you wind up here?” Stephen asked, once he pulled away from the curb.

“My friend has a class with one of the guys,” Cassidy said. She caught Stephen’s smile.

“They’re kind of the worst.”

“I gathered.” Cassidy paused. “Do you go to Walker?”

Stephen scratched the back of his neck, one hand perched on the steering wheel. “Yup. Graduating in May. You want the radio on?”

“Sure.”

Cassidy stuck her hands in front of a vent, kneading her frozen knuckles, as Stephen tuned the radio. He skipped over a station playing a familiar, bass-heavy classic rock song before doubling back and turning the volume up.

“I love this song,” Cassidy blurted.

“It’s kind of creepy,” Stephen laughed. “But a classic.”

Cassidy tilted her head to the window, humming along with the song. Why couldn’t she remember its name? She’d heard it dozens of times as a kid; it was one of her father’s favorites. Even worse, Cassidy was getting the spins. Shit, what if she didn’t sober up by the time she got to Meg’s dorm? Would the building monitor write her up? The thought almost made her laugh. She wasn’t even a student; how could he write her up?

“You okay?”

Cassidy swiveled to face Stephen. “Me?”

“Thought I lost you there for a minute,” he said. “I think you fell asleep.”

“Crap, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. I’m not offended.” Stephen grinned. “We’re almost there.”

Cassidy sat up straight. Rolled her neck until it cracked. She glanced out the window, watching the trees, dusted lightly with snow, whiz by. The car passed a sign that said WELCOME TO BROKEN FALLS.

“Broken Falls?” Cassidy watched the sign retreat in the side mirror. “Isn’t Walker in Middletown?”

Stephen flicked the turn signal on, his brow furrowing. “The house my friend is at is supposed to be around here. I’m gonna have to pull over and call him for the address.”

Cassidy’s stomach puckered as Stephen stopped on the side of the road. He leaned toward the windshield, peering out into the dark. Cassidy spotted a dirt path leading up a hill.

“I think it’s here,” Stephen said.

Cassidy swallowed, keeping an eye on Stephen as the car eased up the driveway. His face had gone slack. Cassidy’s heartbeat quickened. On both sides of the car, there seemed to be nothing but woods for miles.

“I don’t see a house,” she said. “You have the wrong place.”

Stephen rolled the car to a stop. Cassidy clutched the door handle, ready to yank it open. “What are you doing?”

“Hey, shhh. It’s okay.” Stephen leaned over, taking her face in his hands. When she jerked away, he tightened his grip. “What’s the matter?”

Cassidy tucked on the door handle. It was locked. “Let me go. Please.”

“Shhh, shhh.” He kept saying it. Shhh. His hands moved to her shoulder and then to her arms, pinning them down as she tried to claw at his face.

“Let me go!” she screamed, before he clamped a hand over her mouth. He moved his free hand to the zipper of her jeans and she wiggled out of his grasp for just long enough to reach around him and lean on the car horn.

Stephen jerked back, surprised. Cassidy elbowed him in the nose. While he was shouting you broke my fucking nose! she leaned across him and punched the button that unlocked the doors.

Cassidy stumbled out of the car, bile rising in her throat. She ran back toward the road, the snow seeping into the sides of her flats. She patted her back pocket, remembered her dead phone, and pressed her fist to her mouth to muffle a sob.

Rustling in the woods behind her. She kept running, the cold air slicing through her lungs. The road should be close; she came to a halt at a half-frozen stream. Surveyed her surroundings. In the distance, under the light of the moon, she spotted the outline of a house.

That doesn’t make sense—who would live in the middle of the woods—

She didn’t stop to think. She ran toward the house, away from the sound of Stephen’s footsteps. Cassidy darted in and out of the thicket of trees, yelping as a branch sliced across her cheek.

“Cassidy? Where are you? You’ll freeze out here.”

She forged ahead, her feet numb. Several feet away from the house, she halted.

A barn. It was just a stupid, rotting barn. One that hadn’t seen people in decades, it looked like.

Stephen’s footsteps drew closer; he was faster than she was, bigger, stronger. Cassidy ducked into the barn, searching for anything to hide behind. Moonlight streamed in from a gaping hole in the roof.

I am going to die. He’s going to kill me.

The sound of her name, again. Stephen promising not to hurt her. She looked around, her heart rocketing into her throat—and there it was, hanging on the wall, on a rusted hook.

Stephen burst through the barn door at the same time Cassidy gripped the handle of the shovel. He whipped his head around, his jaw connecting with the wide swing.

Stephen stumbled backward, his elbow flying up to cover his face. He kept fumbling to regain his balance, until his foot connected with something on the floor. Cassidy thought she saw a flash of white in the corner of her eye before Stephen went down with a sickening crunch.

A whimper escaped Cassidy’s throat. She cocked the shovel and took a step toward Stephen, who was screaming in pain. He rolled onto his side and she shrieked.

The rusted prongs of a pitchfork were wedged into his back. Stephen had stopped screaming; his face had gone slack, lips parted slightly.

Cassidy covered her mouth. She hadn’t seen the pitchfork lying there—how had he fallen at such an angle? She swore it hadn’t been lying there a second ago. She didn’t have time to process what was happening: Stephen, still very much alive, was dragging himself forward, grasping for her ankle—

Cassidy brought the shovel down on his head. Once, twice, until blood splattered her flats and Stephen stopped moving.

***

She couldn’t stop crying. She’d been sitting in Stephen’s car for half an hour, debating what she should do. Would the police believe her, that it was self-defense?

Was it self-defense? She could have gotten away easily, once she’d knocked him out with the shovel. His eyes were closed, but he was still breathing, and she kept hitting him. It was as if something had taken over her—some entity, some other Cassidy, one filled with vengeance and rage.

The police would be able to tell how many times she hit him, right?

Cassidy wiped her face and started the engine; Stephen had left the keys in the ignition. The shakes had seized her body. She didn’t feel drunk anymore. She sucked in a breath and backed down the hill, leaving the car’s lights off.

Stephen’s car had a GPS. She punched in Walker College and let the directions download; according to the map on the screen, she was on Sparrow Road.

A violent gust of wind shook the car, and Cassidy looked up. She caught a glimpse of the side mirror. The blood drained from her body: there was a woman on the side of the road. Cassidy froze, but the woman kept walking, stumbling, toward the hill Cassidy had just come down. She never stopped to look back at the car. Cassidy peered closer in the mirror—the woman was in a nightgown, and she was barefoot.

Cassidy pressed down on the gas pedal, peeling away from the shoulder of Sparrow Road. When she looked in the side mirror, the woman was gone.

***

Fingerprints. It was all Cassidy could think of as she pulled into the first empty parking lot she could find within two miles of Walker College. She parked Stephen’s car behind a dumpster; she was behind some sort of warehouse.

Cassidy riffled through the center console, finding a balled-up Dunkin’ Donuts napkin. She wiped down the steering wheel, the door handle—everything she’d touched.

She spied a leather wallet in the cup holder. She flipped it open, finding a driver’s license for someone named Alexander Ports. The license had Stephen’s picture; his birth date revealed that he was thirty-one.

Relief washed through Cassidy. Those guys outside the frat house—they hadn’t been Stephen’s friends. Alexander’s friends. They probably hadn’t gotten a good look at her face either.

Her feet were raw by the time she reached Walker College. She had no idea what time it was. When she stumbled through the doors to Callaway Hall, Meg was at the security desk, frantic.

She threw herself at Cassidy. “Where the fuck have you been? I’ve been calling you for two hours. We were about to call the police.”

“My phone was dead.” Cassidy’s lips were numb. She looked down at her flats, which were splattered with blood. Alexander’s blood. Her stomach dropped to the floor, but Meg wasn’t looking at her feet.

“How the hell did you get back here?”

Cassidy mumbled about a cab and let Meg drag her up to her floor. She headed straight for the bathroom at the end of the hall. Yanked paper towels out of the dispenser and scrubbed her flats until Alexander’s blood was gone.

She didn’t want to clog the toilet, so she tore the bloody towels into pieces, flushing them one by one. Eventually, someone started pounding on the stall.

“Cass. What are you doing in there? You’re seriously freaking me out.”

Cassidy drew in a breath. Shut her eyes and leaned against the door. “I’m fine.”

***

In the morning, there was nothing in the news in the morning about a body being found in Broken Falls. By the time Sunday morning rolled around, there was still nothing—not even a missing persons report for an Alexander Ports.

Meg was passed out on her bed, her arm thrown across her eyes. Cassidy left a note on Meg’s desk saying she was going to get coffee.

Cassidy found a cab outside the drugstore a few blocks from campus. When the driver told her it would be twenty bucks to get to Broken Falls, Cassidy just nodded. “That’s fine.”

She had him drop her off a mile from Sparrow Road. It wasn’t even seven o’clock yet; the sky was gray and pearly. Cassidy pulled her coat around her and let her phone GPS direct her toward Sparrow Road.

Stupid. So, so stupid to come back here. She knew it, but she had to see for herself. She had to know Friday night wasn’t simply a nightmare.

And if no one had found him, she had to get rid of him somehow.

The barn looked even more dilapidated during the day. Even in her drunken state, how had she mistaken it for a house Friday night? Cassidy pressed one hand to her chest, willing her heartbeat to slow down.

She paused in the entrance to the barn. Covered her mouth with a hand, in case she got sick.

She stepped inside.

A small oh escaped her throat. The barn was empty—there was no Alexander/Stephen, no shovel, no pitchfork.

Cassidy had to sit down. What the hell. What the hell.

She started to stand, her knees threatening to give way beneath her. She held out a hand to steady herself, and she saw it: the blood staining the snow on the ground where Alexander/Stephen’s body had been.

Cassidy tore out of the barn. Impossible, impossible. She had to have lost her damn mind. He was there—she freaking left him there—

She skidded to a halt when she reached the bottom of the hill. Doubled over, gasping for breath.

When she looked up, she saw the woman on the other side of the street. Staring at her. She was wearing the same nightgown she’d had on Friday night, the midsection stained with blood. Her bare legs were splattered with caked mud, and her brown hair fell in strings over her shoulders.

The woman locked eyes with Cassidy, and very slowly, she raised a finger to her lips.