Although she won’t be considered for the $1,000 prize, our own Associate Editor Stefanie Allison entertains us with the first chapter to her novel-in-progress Witness. Stef has been instrumental in keeping A Word with You Press in cyberspace for a full decade, and is an active ghostwriter, telling tales of the paranormal! Here is
by Stefanie Allison
Jacob scaled the fence. When he hit the ground of the grassy field, he realized it reminded him of someplace on the East Coast.
He pushed that thought to the back of his mind as he began to run through the tall grass. He had to have beat him.
I’m too far away now, he thought. I’m at least two miles out.
Jacob’s relief was short-lived when he looked around. He swung his hazel eyes around.
Where the hell am I?
The field was surrounded by apartments, but each building was a few hundred yards away. He wasn’t sure if anyone would be able to hear him if he called for help.
Why would I want to get their attention? I’m trespassing right now.
Jacob stood still. He was waiting to hear it. He almost wished he could stop his heart for a moment to hear better.
But that defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?
No sign of him. Jacob allowed himself to breathe a little deeper.
But what do I do now? Where do I go?
He heard the rustling before he saw the grass moving out of the corner of his eye. Jacob began to swing his eyes to his right, giving himself time to think about his plan before allowing his body to follow—
“TRY TO GET ME NOW, ASSHOLE!”
Jacob’s mouth dropped open.
“Oh…uh, sorry Mr. Rabbit.”
Wow, screaming at a rabbit? My vegan cousin would be disappointed in me. Well, screw him, he doesn’t pay for my groceries.
Jacob grimaced; he could barely do that for himself.
Jacob stood up straight; did the rabbit just mouth, “eff you”?
He didn’t have time to debate if he’d just met Bugs Bunny; a gust of ice-cold air whipped around him. Jacob could feel it swirling around him like a tornado. Since October in Southern California was really only summer part three, he knew there was only one explanation for this phenomenon.
Oh hell no. No! Does it have GPS or something?!
“You wanna fight me?” Jacob said. “Then fight me! Come on! Come at me, bro!”
He hated himself for sounding like his younger, jock brother.
Jacob rubbed his arms to smooth out the goosebumps and he could see his breath twirling with each gasp. Even several feet away, he could hear it echoing in his ears.
At first when he moved into the house in Palos Verdes, the ticking was soft and slow. Initially, he thought it was the grandfather clock that had long since stopped. Then he wondered if water was dripping somewhere—except the house hadn’t been reattached to water for a few days. Now, in the middle of a dark field, the ticking grew louder the faster the air spun around him.
He began to move further into the field, swiping the waist high grass away as he ran forward. When he allowed himself to look backwards, he could see a circular depression in the grass where the air funnel was pressing down, leaving a path of flattened grass behind it. His lungs were beginning to ache, but Jacob forced himself to keep running. At least he wouldn’t freeze to death.
That is until I die of exhaustion, dehydration, and exposure, he thought. He continued to run but it felt like he wasn’t getting any closer to any of the apartments around him.
He looked around and took a deep breath; he could smell the pungent scent of eucalyptus. As he ran for the trees, he could see that the funnel had no trouble keeping up. His calves were stretched beyond their limits, but he continued.
How much longer do I have to run, though? How much longer can I run?
When he balled his fists, blades of grass caught in his fingers. Six years was almost up. It was almost over for him. It—he—was an unforeseen contingency. But, if he could just get through the next few weeks, he could stop running forever. Figuratively, anyway.
My old P.E. teacher would be impressed by my cross-country skills right now, though.
Jacob stopped in time to prevent himself from smashing into the trunk of the eucalyptus tree. The bark was rolling up like burning paper and he knew if he tried to scale the tree with his bare hands, he’d have no chance of getting to a higher branch. Jacob pulled his shirt off and wrapped it around the trunk before wrapping the ends around his wrists to secure himself. When he was sure his hands wouldn’t slip off of his shirt, he began to walk his way up the tree.
Thank you Mulan for the inspiration, he thought to himself. He wanted to look down to see if the air funnel had stopped at the base or if it was seriously going to follow him up the tree.
Just keep climbing, just keep climbing, climbing, climbing…God, I watch too many Disney movies.
He slapped a branch to test its strength and bits of bark stuck to his sweat-saturated skin. When he was certain it would support his weight, he straddled his legs around it. Once he was secured to the branch, he looked down.
There wasn’t any grass around the diameter of the tree and a few curls of bark settled at the roots; they remained still.
The ticking had stopped. His heartbeat relaxed against his ribcage.
I wonder how long I can hold onto the branch, he thought. I’m safe for now, and maybe when I get down from here, I can think about—
Invisible hands pulled the roots up from the ground, ripping the tree trunk open like old hotel curtains. Jacob put his arm in front of his face to protect himself from the splinters and sap. The gaping fault raced up the trunk and made a sharp turn right, decimating Jacob’s branch. Falling towards earth, he couldn’t hear himself screaming or the sound of the splitting wood.
But he heard the ticking. Oh God, the ticking.
Jacob Hunter is a millennial who became a homeowner in the old-fashioned way: he inherited it. A large, dusty, vacant Victorian-style house overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the South Bay of Los Angeles County seems like the answer to his renting woes. Like most stories you’ve heard, the house is haunted. Like most stories you’ve heard, the ghost isn’t thrilled with the new living tenant. Like most stories you’ve heard, Jacob does not have the finances to simply get up and leave. Unlike most stories you’ve heard, the ghost knows a secret about Jacob that could destroy his life. And keeping a ghost quiet could be the death of Jacob Hunter.
Stefanie Allison is a writer and paranormal investigator based out of Los Angeles, California. She primarily writes novels, poetry, essays, and short stories. She is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, with a Bachelors in English Education. She has investigated alongside such eminent figures in the paranormal field such as Grant Wilson, Nick Groff, Adam Berry, Amy Bruni, John E.L. Tenney, Andrea Perron, Greg and Dana Newkirk, Chip Coffey, and many more. She has completed the NaNoWriMo challenge in 2017, 2018, and 2020. She has been an Associate Editor of A Word with You Press since 2016. She currently resides in the South Bay area of Los Angeles County.