THE CURSE

Dreamcatchers can’t ward off nightmares if your nightmare is your reality?

Moving to a small town is the last thing Melanie wanted, but her entire family, even her identical twin, Emily, assures her it’s the best thing for her family. But Melanie knows it’s just another form of punishment, because that’s all her family does to her—punishes her.

Emily just wants her sister back, wants to recover their twin bond after she broke her sister’s trust. But something evil is waiting in their new house… When Melanie falls into the clutches of an ancient darkness, Emily is the only one who can save her. Will their bond be strong enough to break the curse? Or will Emily lose her sister forever?

CHAPTER ONE

MEL

The vast, open desert whizzed by as the car made its way down the road. The desert spread all around us, stretching past the horizon, leaving nothing for me to focus on. A heavy weight settled on my chest and my lungs tightened. Open spaces always had a suffocating effect on me. Being alone did, too.

It all reminded me too much of Dad’s death and the turmoil that had changed our family dynamic afterward—the unbearable emptiness, the hollowness and the ache of not having him around anymore. That was what I felt now, staring out the window. After Dad’s accident, Mom sank into a deep depression, and I relived that moment every single day. At night, the gruesome images flashed through my mind as I tried to sleep, the crumpled car, the blood, Dad flung halfway through the windshield, his lifeless body on the hood of the car. Of course, perfect Emily wasn’t as affected by it as I was, and I resented my twin sister for not experiencing the pain on the same level I did.

I sighed and turned my attention back to the music blaring into my ears from my iPod, which I now realized had played through my library almost three times since we started our trek to nowhere.

King William, population 252, would be increasing by four more.

Even though I’d never been to a small town like this before, I hated them. They creeped me out, thanks to the horror movies I watched with Vee and Cass; they always seemed to play off in a creepy small town.

Leave it to Keith to take on a surgical position in a small town in Virginia to punish me. I didn’t understand why Mom had married him; I hated the guy with every ounce of my being.

He’d pushed himself into our family and they expected me to just accept him.

He was strict, and I didn’t do well with strict.

He’d been married to Mom almost three years, and he was the complete opposite of my father.

I missed Dad. A lot. He was the only one who had understood me and loved me for who I was.

Now, it seemed I was just getting in the way of Mom’s new perfect life. I couldn’t deny that Keith, with his chubby middle, huge mustache, and lack of height—he was a head shorter than Mom—loved my mother. No, what I resented most about him was that he adored Emily. They’d grown close over the past three years, but he hadn’t put in the same effort with me. At least, it didn’t feel like it. I couldn’t blame him, though. I wasn’t like my twin. Apart from looking exactly alike, we were polar opposites. We had absolutely nothing in common.

She was a straight-A student and excelled at everything she set her mind to. She was good at sports, too. Just an all-around great teenager.

I, on the other hand, earned so much detention and was flunking most of my classes. And I just wanted to be left alone. Sixteen and surly and I didn’t bother to hide it.

Em got it. Mom and Keith, not so much, which was why they irritated the hell out of me.

Em and I, we used to be the best of friends; we had an unbreakable bond. Or so I’d thought. After Dad died, everything changed, and the older we got, the more we drifted apart.

Keith didn’t make it any better. He’d become a wedge between us with his never-ending praise for everything Emily did. Eventually, she planted herself right in his corner, along with Mom, and I was all alone. Our twin-bond hadn’t been the same since.

I hated her. I hated her for betraying me to Mom and Keith, for snitching on me when I snuck out to go to that party with Vee and Cass, my best friends and the only people I could count on. So what if there was alcohol and weed? It was a party, for crying out loud! But no, my goody-two-shoes twin couldn’t let me have any fun, so she blabbed. Keith showed up and dragged me out of the party. Beyond humiliating.

After the night of the party, I had to endure punishment in various forms—I was grounded; I wasn’t allowed to see Vee and Cass; they took away my phone—but the worst punishment was Keith lecturing me on what a huge disappointment I was to him and my mother and asking me why I couldn’t be more like Emily. At first, Mom was on my side and argued with him, but then they started marriage counseling and she stopped arguing with him, and whatever Keith said was the law.

Keith didn’t get me. He never would. Sometimes I wondered if Mom ever understood me. Dad was the only one who had truly known me, and once upon a time Emily had as well, but that was over.

My friends were all I had left, but of course, Keith had found a way to change that too. 

I must have fallen asleep, because when I opened my eyes I found Mom standing beside the open car door, her hand gently shaking my shoulder to wake me up.

I pulled out my earbuds. “What?” I said groggily. I stretched my arms above my head.

“Are you coming?” Her beautiful smile lit up her face. Her blue doe eyes resembled mine and her curly, dark blonde hair hugged her oval face. My mother was a stunning woman.

I craned my neck and looked at the creepy house we were parked in front of.

My entire body screamed at me to stay in the car.

Though Keith would probably just drag me to a room. The worst one.

“Please, Melanie, just try.”

I glared at my mother. She was supposed to be in my corner. Not his.

“Okay, suit yourself.” Mom turned and walked toward the house. She disappeared inside.

I remained in the car, staring at the old house. Great. First I get forced to move to a creepy small town, now I had to live in a creepy-ass house too.

It was my worst nightmare.

I sighed. Sitting in the car wasn’t going to make a statement; it wasn’t as if anyone in this family cared about me. So, reluctantly, I got out of the car and trudged to the house.

To my immense relief, the inside of the house didn’t seem as eerie as the outside. The first feature I noticed as I stepped inside was the magnificent wooden staircase that overwhelmed the foyer.

To my left was a room filled with furniture covered in white cloths, and on my right another that looked much the same, one large square a dead giveaway for the dining room table.

I took the first step onto the staircase and it creaked under my weight. The sound made the hair on my arms stand up and I shuddered. Okay, I was wrong. The inside was just as creepy as the outside.

I took a deep breath and rushed up the stairs, following the sound of Mom’s and Em’s voices.

I gaped at the size of the rooms and admitted a tiny rush of relief that I wouldn’t have to share a room with Emily anymore. Even so, I chose the room across from hers. Our bond might be irreparably broken, but there was still that inherent need to be close to her. It was a twin thing.

I moved through the room, trailing my fingers along the wall. My gaze drifted over the bed, the desk, the stylish carpet, and the closed curtains.

I reached the curtains and opened them. Then I tried the light switch, but the light stayed off. “Great,” I muttered.

“Not so bad, right?” Mom’s voice came from behind me.

“The light doesn’t work.”

She walked past me, positioned the desk chair beneath the light, and climbed onto it to wiggle the lightbulb. After a few wiggles, the light flared to life. She stepped off from the chair and squeezed my shoulder as she left, closing the door behind her.

I dropped my backpack to the floor and fell on my bed.

Day one of my shit life in this creepy town had begun.

EMILY

I liked the new house. The quaint town, too. I didn’t share Mel’s aversion to small towns; in fact, I’d always had a fantasy of living somewhere everyone knew each other. A part of me was certain that this move would be the best thing that could happen to Mel, though she was still sulking.

She would be okay. She had to be okay, so we could move on and fix this rift between us.

Mel still hadn’t forgiven me for telling Keith about the party, which had been two freaking years ago! But that was my sister; she could hold a grudge like no one else could.

Of course, I hadn’t planned on breaking her confidence. But then I’d heard there’d be alcohol and drugs and who knew what else. Really, I was just worried about her safety. And it wasn’t like I could have lied straight to Keith’s face. I was never a good liar at the best of times, and the worrying hadn’t helped. So when Keith had realized Mel wasn’t home and questioned me, everything had just rushed out of me. I hadn’t wanted to disappoint Keith or Mom, because I wanted a father again. I was scared that if I disappointed Keith, he would leave, and I didn’t want Mom to be unhappy again. If Mel had just listened to Mom in the first place, I wouldn’t have been put in that position. Now, I regretted the choice I made.

If I knew we would never be the same after that, I would’ve kept my stupid mouth shut and never said a thing.

She was so mad at me. I desperately wished I hadn’t hurt her like that.

In all honesty, I hadn’t thought Keith would drag her ass out of that party. That must have been so humiliating.

According to Mom, he wouldn’t have done it if he didn’t care. But those words didn’t stop Mel from rebelling, and I could sense she felt lost and betrayed.

I heard Mel’s door open and shook my depressing thoughts from my head as our eyes met. I smiled at her, but she looked away and wandered down the hall.

I got up and followed her. “Where are you going?” I called.

“Just to look around,” she snapped. She was always short when she spoke to me now. I missed the way we used to be. Now we were broken.

“Mind if I join you?”

“Do what you want, Em. It’s a free country.”

She was silent as we opened the doors to each room, looked inside, and closed them again.

“Keith said it used to be—”

“I don’t give a shit about what Keith said,” she interrupted, stalking out.

I sighed and shut the door before traipsing after her.

She stopped when she saw a trapdoor in the ceiling.

“Please don’t,” I begged.

“Why, Emmie, you scared?” she teased. She pulled on the latch, and the stairs to the attic came down. She glanced over her shoulder at me as she started to climb up. “Stay, come up. I don’t really care.”

Her words were like a knife twisting in my heart. She was never going to forgive me. It shouldn’t be this way. I gulped as I looked at the stairs. I couldn’t stay down here. What if Mel got hurt? Tentatively, I followed her upstairs.

A light came on as I reached the top.

It wasn’t as big as I’d thought it would be, but the attic was spine-chilling.

I hated attics. They always gave me chills. Bad things always happened in attics and basements.

Dust tickled my nose and I sneezed. I glanced around. Everything was covered in a thick layer of dust, from the old mirror in the corner to the mannequin next to it. The window was grimy. Spiderwebs covered the corners. Clouds of dust billowed into the air with every step Mel took. Stacks of boxes and old toys crowded the floor. Mel walked over to one of the boxes and picked up a stack of papers, leafing through the pages.

My skin crawled and goosebumps flushed over my entire body.

Something was wrong with this room.

Mel opened one of the boxes.

“Can we please go?” 

“Go if you want. It’s not like I asked you to come with me. I don’t want you here anyway,” she said as she peered into the box.

“You can’t ignore me forever, Mel. I’m your sister!”

“Wanna bet?” she scoffed.

I was so tired of her miserable attitude, I was tempted to leave. But I didn’t.

She moved another box and gasped. “Oh wow.”

I was curious to see what she found. As I neared her, I saw the outline of something round and big.

She held it up in the dim light. My chest tightened when I realized it was an old dreamcatcher. Bigger than any I had ever seen. For some reason I didn’t share my sister’s admiration. It felt like I was suffocating.

“Mel, please leave that thing alone.”

“It’s just a dreamcatcher, Em. These things are made to keep bad dreams away.”

“Something just doesn’t feel right about that thing.”

“Stop being so superstitious,” she said without breaking her gaze from it. She seemed awed.

“Please,” I begged.

My sister turned away from the dreamcatcher and glared at me over her shoulder.

“Look at my arms.” I thrust my arms into her face, showing her the goosebumps peppering my skin and the hair standing on end. “I can’t breathe. Put it down. Please.”

“Sheesh. Fine, drama queen.”

She put the dreamcatcher down and walked back to the stairs.

I couldn’t stop staring at the damn thing, and the deafening silence of the room started to choke me.

What was it about that stupid dreamcatcher?

Suddenly, the trapdoor swung shut with a loud bang. The light flickered and faded. I was trapped in the dark.

I ran to the exit. “Mel, open up! Please,” I begged.

She laughed as her footsteps receded.

“Mel,” I yelled.

The air in the attic became thicker and thicker. Something in the darkness caught my eye and I spun in its direction, but I couldn’t see anything. My eyes hadn’t adjusted to the darkness, and no light filtered in from the grimy window.

“Come on, Mel! I can’t…” Tears welled up in my eyes as I struggled to breathe.

A movement caught my eye again and my heart kicked up a beat.

“Mel,” I screamed. I could feel a pair of eyes watching me in the darkness.

I screamed her name again as fear gripped at my insides.

I shrieked when a loud thud sounded behind me.

“Mel, open up! It’s not funny.”

I kicked at the trapdoor, but it wouldn’t budge.

The air around me went cold and footsteps rushed toward me.

I screamed until my throat burned from the strain.

After what seemed like forever, the trapdoor finally opened. I rushed down it and into my mother’s arms.

“Emily, honey, what’s going on?” Tears streamed down my face as a sob tore through my chest. 

Mom’s arms tightened around me. “What happened, honey? Are you hurt?” There was a hint of alarm in her voice.

I couldn’t form the words to tell her, so I just shook my head and ran to my room.

Mel’s door was open when I got to my room. I glared at her. “You’re a real bitch, you know?” I hissed and slammed my door. Her laughter drifted to my ears through the crack beneath the door as I sank onto my bed and put my head between my knees.

My heart was still racing in my chest, but at least I could breathe. I inhaled shakily, willing my heart rate to slow. After a few breaths, the fierce pumping decreased, but my chest still felt heavy.

A few hours later, there was a knock on my door and Mom peeked her head in. “I brought you some hot chocolate.” Smiling, she stepped inside and placed the mug on my nightstand.

“What happened today?” she asked, sitting down next to me.

“Can we please drop it? Mel already hates me and I don’t want her to hate me even more.”

My mother sighed and pulled me into an embrace.

“I’m fine. Don’t worry about me,” I said, though I knew I would dream about the attic’s dark corners and the eyes I had felt on me.

“Do you want me to talk to her?”

“What good has that ever done?” I snapped, then shook my head. “I’m sorry. Please just leave it.”

“Okay, sweetheart.” She brushed her lips on my forehead. “Sweet dreams.”

“You too.”

I lay back on my bed and grabbed my tablet, searching for a comedy to watch so I could get rid of the haunted feeling still settled in my chest. I switched the lights off and settled in to watch the movie. My eyes were heavy with exhaustion, but sleep wouldn’t come. The scurrying of footsteps echoed through my head. Sleep was a long time coming.