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A violent history lurks beneath the white-washed facade of Cicatrice, Louisiana. And that evil is waking up.
It’s been two weeks since Chloe Anderson’s fiancé, Victor, disappeared with his daughter, and each night since, Chloe has awakened from the same horrible dream. She’s convinced the nightmares are trying to tell her something, especially when she finds Victor’s camera at an old antique shop downtown—a place where the shadows of the past roam the cobbled streets.
Chloe takes a job at the shop, hoping Victor will return for his prized possession. But when she’s sent to do an antiques appraisal on the outskirts of New Orleans, she feels the energy of the sprawling plantation like an icy hand on her back, drawing her away from the shop—and sucking her in. Perhaps it’s the plantation’s mysterious owner triggering her long-dormant intuition. But intuition doesn’t explain the terrifying visions that now plague her waking hours, or the mutilated girl who stalks her from the shadows, vanishing when Chloe tries to speak to her. And the voices…
Come to me.
Watch out for the dark, child.
Is this what Victor meant when he told her he’d felt possessed? Is she losing her mind the way he did?
Now Chloe must look deep within herself, summoning a power she’s tamped down since childhood, because the thing that took Victor is an old, vicious darkness, far more ancient than the horrors that seep from every branch on the white-washed plantation—more appalling than the hideous acts of violence that lurk in each long-abandoned cemetery. And if she cannot defeat the evil, if she succumbs to the madness, the creature stalking the town will take Victor, take Chloe…and make sure no one leaves Cicatrice alive.
For fans of Stephen King, Nick Cutter, and Thomas Heuvelt, this breathtaking supernatural thriller is a masterfully crafted novel about what horrors might exist on the other side—whether we believe they are there or not.
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“In this haunting, atmospheric Southern Gothic paranormal thriller set in New Orleans, where ghosts loom larger than life, a young woman’s connection to the afterlife draws us into relentless suspense that leaves us questioning every element of reality. Full of twists and turns, The Jilted leaves the reader breathless to the very end.”
~Bestselling Author Wendy Heard
“I love horror and [O’Flynn’s] story crafting is as good as it gets. This story really got under my skin! INTENSE creepy factor, multi-layered, supernatural horror. Brought me back to the days when I’d stay up till the wee hours of the morning reading Stephen King novels.”
~Award-winning Author Beth Teliho
“Heart-stopping twists and turns, answers to your burning questions hiding in plain sight, yet you can’t see them because O’Flynn once again writes in such a way that makes you question everything. In short…brilliance.”
-Author Mike Cruise
“The creepy horrors that come from Meghan O’Flynn’s twisted mind create an intriguing tale that sends the reader on a thought-provoking journey. I love her take on the world of ghosts and demons, and would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Stephen King.“
-Author Chrissy Woj
“Meghan O’Flynn has this way of writing that makes you forget yourself…a delightfully confusing and panicky read as she mindf*cks you page after page. There were at least 5 different times where I was absolutely sure I knew how it would end…NOPE.”
-Louise Treadwell, InfoSciGeek
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Abram Shepherd, present day
The man writhes, his body twisting against the mattress, fists clenched, face shadowed beneath the low-hanging beams of the roofline. His olive-skinned chest seeps blood from wounds I cannot heal. He licks his lips like a nervous animal, and then cries out, high and piercing, as if someone were running him through with a blade, such a guttural incantation it sounds almost inhuman. And it may be, for who’s to say what is mortal and what is not? From the moment humans emerged from Earth’s womb, we have carried a thread of sharpness within us, a fury that expands when we allow even the slightest hint of that agitation to catch our gaze. Because we focus there, you know, fascinated by the wickedness we see laid bare like the flesh of a lover.
That madness becomes our own. And soon it is all we see.
I clench my pipe harder between my teeth, the smoke circling my head like an herbal fog.
The man’s eyes snap open and focus—for an instant only—but in that moment I see his humanity concentrated there, fixed in that tiny glint of light around the iris. “Please, Father …” he croaks in a strong Spanish accent, and his head snaps back, his spine contorts—“Father, save me, help me”—and then his words degenerate into glottal, hopeless blubbering. “Perdóname, Padre, perdóname.”
Forgive me, Father, forgive me.
I cough once, trying to clear the putrid, meaty stench from the back of my throat, but it remains despite the smoke from my pipe, the air heavy as the cross around my neck. Perhaps if I truly wore the Roman collar as I’d once intended, I would be better equipped to fight this. But even if I were a priest, no one is remarkable enough to be granted forgiveness; my deeds here are but a physical prayer of repentance.
The man moans, froth forming at his lips and dripping down his cheek to the bed like the ooze of raw egg white. I have seen this surrender before, oh so many times, but they do not all go so easily; the skin on my left leg still burns with my most recent wound. Helen. She fought harder than most, crying out in prayer as she fled over the lawn, red scarf flying behind her like blood spurting from a neck wound. Afterward, I could almost feel the quivering nerves beneath her flesh as if they were mine, the sharp agony as The Dark bound her in coils of hate that tore her soul from her body and dragged it to a place I cannot begin to name. It was over quickly, as endings so often are, and though I hurled my prayers into the night, I was soon alone, my only response the bitter howl of the wind.
The man bucks off the mattress now, spraying spittle against the pillow, wetting the stained green blanket. It will not be long. He has gone so much faster than the others, perhaps because the evil is thicker since Helen was taken; I can feel the violence in the air, seeping from The Dark like pollutants into a water supply.
I can practically hear the good doctor, my only friend, whispering, “You’re obsessed, Mr. Shepherd. Delusional.” The doctor would tell me I should stop this madness. “Go back to your wife,” he’d say. But I’ve spent far too much of my life ignoring my calling—the past looms full of abandoned things, wasted moments I could have used more wisely.
The man’s arms and legs still, though his chest heaves with the rapid inhales of a panting dog—much too fast. Then he screams again, loud and long, and this time it is wholly and poignantly human, and my own humanity responds with a painful tightening of my rib cage. Staring at the glitter in his wild eyes, watching him go from madness, to horror, and back, my heart vibrates with such savage intensity I think it might stop altogether; I fight against this, for I am not ready to be tossed into the fiery pits with my ancestors. I know what they did—I found the journals in this old house, hidden beneath a floorboard, the pages tattered and worn. How I wish I had not read them. Because now I see fully the wickedness I am up against—see The Dark for what he is. He’s been tormenting these grounds for eons, spreading malevolence like a virus, and far more will be sacrificed unless I find another strong enough to help me, someone who can lure The Dark out, so I might expel him from this place. And if I cannot weaken his hold here, I will not have the slightest chance of salvation.
The doctor may believe he can ease my burden, soften the pain of the cancer, but he cannot ease the suffering of my soul—he does not believe there is anything to fear. But he will believe. Soon he will see it too.
I can feel The Dark even now in the coldness whirling around me, though there is no open window, no earthly source for such a breeze. The man in the bed shudders then stills, his breath a thin wheeze, his shirt covered in crimson, so steeped in his own pain he cannot not see beyond the tip of his nose. So many exorcisms, and every one ends in defeat. I still hear those lost souls crying sometimes—or the wails of angels, admonishing me for my failures. Or perhaps that is my own soul, crying out in the night, reminding me that my faith is not strong enough to heal anyone.
Yet healing is not the goal. Expelling The Dark requires far more unusual methods than exorcism or mere summoning; and something far more dangerous. The demons here must be allowed to roam free and all those near will feel their presence even if they are not perceptive enough to identify that barbarous clawing at the base of their spine. I do not know what it will do to those who are able to see the evil. Perhaps they’ll go mad with it, too.
I sit on the edge of the bed, and the man’s eyes snap open, the fear reflected there deeper and more harrowing than the malignancy that tightens the air around us, the breeze suddenly hot as campfire smoke. The Dark is messing with us, trying to confuse me. It will not work.
“The Light or The Dark?” I ask him.
“The Light, The Light …” Blood bubbles between his lips. I press a rosary into his hand—his mother’s, his most prized possession, and it is the last bit of comfort I can offer. “Go now, my son.”
“No, no, Padre, no … help … help …”
I lean close to his ear, whispering, the stink of his sweat ripe in my nostrils. “I cast thee out.” He coughs, and his eyes flutter closed, still and silent as if in death. Then his back arches and he shrieks—even the walls vibrate with the intensity of his screams.
I spread my hands in the air above his forehead, his fevered skin already writhing, like a nest of snakes is wriggling beneath his flesh, and though my rings do not touch him, the skin sizzles—the smell of burning fat seeps into my sinuses. My wedding band, and Justine’s band on my pinky, warm, the engraved crosses inside them brighter, hotter, than the rest. It does not matter that Justine no longer recognizes me—evil remains, but love lingers too, even if it is harder to spread.
I close my eyes, feeling the room shrink and expand, the entire house breathing with me. “I cast thee out,” I whisper again. “Into The Light.” I lean closer and whisper the final words, once, twice, thrice.
The man shudders. I lower my hands, the flesh on the young man’s head still sizzling, burning, then extinguishing itself with a staccato sucking sound. My rings are still warm against my palm. And as the breath leaks from him in one final exhale, I feel it, the thread of insanity, the demon beneath his flesh, squirming at my nearness, gnashing its horrible teeth. I know precisely how to recognize it—I brought it here. And I will send it back.
The room seems to waver, contracting once as if birthing the evil from the atmosphere. Then it is over, the vestiges of spirit vanishing like the dew evaporating from the grass in the rays of dawn.
I push myself to standing, bones aching, and hobble to the window, to that pane of glass as perfectly round as the moon outside, and I am struck with a coldness in the gut, as if I’ve stepped into someone else’s shoes. Is this what my ancestors saw looking out this window? Tonight I peer out at another world from the one I strode through this afternoon—the front yard is empty, the grass a dusky greenish-gray beneath the towering oak, and the earth is no longer sodden with spilled blood. But my heart hammers against my breastbone, and I see Helen’s red scarf in my mind’s eye, hear her screams in my ears, and the snap of her spine, see the way it appeared as though every bone in her body was being crunched to dust, blood spurting from the ruptured shell of her chest.
Then the scene returns to normal—quiet, gray-green, empty.
But it isn’t really empty. I feel the energy there, lingering in the shadow of the porch, waiting for the next soul to be lured by the force that emanates from this place.
For every slight, there must come a balancing blow. Every dark deed done must be repaid in blood.
The girl, that unfortunate girl, red scarf billowing behind her, screaming, screaming … Helen saw the madness of this world, the evil that must be quelled. Everyone does.
But never soon enough.