Novel Exceprt: Nightmares and Siblings, “The Puppeteer”

My fascination with dreams and sibling relationships are key motifs in my upcoming New-Adult horror novel, The Puppeteer.   This excerpt is from Chapter 7.


She sat bolt-upright in bed, gasping for breath, wondering if she had screamed aloud.  For a second, Sarah didn’t know where she was.  Her eyes looked for the closer-in dimensions of her old room, the one that had caught fire.

The nightmare faded like smoke in a breath of wind.  She tried to remember where she had been a moment ago, couldn’t call the scene to mind.  Some of the nightmares she remembered; others she forgot almost immediately.

Sighing, Sarah rolled out of bed and padded across the carpet and discarded clothing to the hallway and her private bathroom.  In only the dim moonlight through the window, she opened the faucet, and a gentle waterfall spilt elegantly out of the sleek, square Kohler nozzle.  Sarah splashed water on her face, and hesitated to straighten up and look in the mirror.  She became suddenly sure that she would see behind her in the mirror the dark shape of a man behind the translucent shower curtain … a man with a waxy grinning face, and a straight razor –

He had a straight razor.  The man with the grinning mask for a face.  That was in her dream.

Her throat tight and clenched, she contemplated spending the entire night bent over the sink, her hands on her face until the sun came up, but that was ludicrous.  She breathed deep, stood up, and uncovered her eyes.

In the moonlight, she saw only an empty bathroom behind her.  There was no shape behind the shower curtain.

Sarah sighed.  What was the matter with her?

She saw a vague glow of light from under the bedroom door.  She hesitated to open it.  Stop being a baby!  She ordered herself.

Sarah opened the bathroom door, looking out into the empty hallway.

The light was coming from under Danny’s door.  She tiptoed down the hall, away from the door with the sign that said “JOSH,” and tapped her fingers on the door marked “ROOM CAPACITY IN THE EVENT OF ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE: 1.”

Danny’s voice responded, “Hello?”  Sarah thought he sounded tentative, almost suspicious.

“It’s me,” she loud-whispered, hoping not to wake her parents.  “Can I come in?”

From the other side of the door – “Sure.”

Sarah opened the door and walked into her brother’s small room.  It was a mess, books and clothes cluttering nearly the entire floor, except for two neat little paths through the junk – from the door to his bed, and from the door to his drafting table.  Danny sat at the drafting table, sketching with a charcoal pencil.

“Did I wake you?”  Sarah asked.

“No, I’ve been up.  Why, what’d you do?”

Sarah tensed up for a moment, then let it go.

“Nothing.  Do you mind if I hang out here for a bit?”

Danny sighed and waved in assent, barely looking up from his sketch.  “You need a boyfriend,” he said.

“You need a punch in the balls.”

Sarah squatted on the floor.  She looked around at the posters.  There was Rey, from the new Star Wars movies, on a poster over the bed.  Beth had told Sarah that she looked a little bit like Rey, at which Sarah had been deeply flattered and mildly incredulous.

“Do you believe in haunted houses?” Sarah asked.

Danny glanced at her, his eyebrow cocked.  “No,” he said, in a tone of a suppressed chuckle.

“Me neither,” Sarah said quickly.  “I just feel like sometimes -“

Sarah stopped in mid-sentence as she caught a glance at one of Danny’s pictures.  Not the one he was working on, but one that he had clipped to the side of his drawing table and just within her view. 

Danny had really gotten quite good.  The lines were artfully imprecise, the shadows striking and giving a sense of real depth and graduating contrast between light and dark.  Sketched on 36-inch drawing paper, it depicted a leering face with beady eyes and an ear-to-ear grin.  The face sat on the body of a spindly man in what looked like a jester’s outfit, foppish hair parted over a shining bald pate, cheeks lightly shaded to suggest rosiness.  Danny had drawn the face smooth and free of wrinkles, with a pallor almost like wax.  The figure held in his hands two wooden crosses from which descended long, web-like gossamer strings, which attached to the figure of a man like a marionette.  Compared to his human puppet, the spindly man with the horrid grin towered like a mountain.

Sarah knew that grin.  She had first seen it in a hospital bed next to her, inches from her own, the night of the fire and her first night terror.  And with the weight of that recognition, Sarah’s dream came crashing back.  The straight razor that she vaguely remembered had been in the hands of this creature in the drawing, hovering over her bare belly as she lay half-naked and paralyzed on an operating table surrounded with candles like an alter.

The blood drained out of Sarah’s face.  Her spine suddenly felt like it was crawling with spiders.

“Danny, what’s the deal this drawing?” she asked, trying hard not to stammer.

“Just something from Armageddon Cards,” Danny replied.

Sarah bit her lip.  “Yeah, but what of?”

Danny glanced back, suspicious.  It wasn’t like Sarah to be interested in Armageddon Cards.  At all.  “It’s the Puppeteer,” Danny said.

“What does he do?” Sarah asked, acting casual.

“He can take control of other cards.  Take the cards the other guy played and turn them against him.”  Danny had slipped into a nerdy didactic voice that usually drove Sarah up the wall.  But she didn’t notice.  She simply stared at the picture, her eyes narrow.  The Puppeteer stared back at her.

“Can I have that picture?” Sarah blurted spontaneously.

Danny stopped drawing and full-on looked at his sister.  This was really unlike her.  But at the same time, in a weird way, it made him happy.

“All yours,” he said, and began unclipping the picture from the drawing board.


What do you think of the characters and images in this scene?


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