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Update or Die Preview


Chapter 1

 

I received the first text on the last day Xia was alive.

Xia was graceful. I wasn’t. I could trip over air. And maybe that’s what happened that afternoon in high school when I fell in front of everyone. It hurt, but that wasn’t the worst of it. The fall was enough to jar the phone out of my pocket. It slid across the pavement, skittering in a flash of silver, hitting Trevor’s shoe. Jasmine pulled at my elbow.

“Are you okay?” The bangles on her wrist jangled in my ear. “Get up,” Jazzy whispered, glancing around us. “Come on.”

By the time I’d scrambled to my feet, everyone was watching like people do when passing a car wreck. Now my knees hurt. And worse, Trevor had my phone. And even worse, he was laughing.

“What’s this?” He’d scooped up the phone, now scrolling through it, giggling to himself. Alex smirked over his shoulder. Matt and Yesenia pushed in to see what was so interesting.

“A flip phone? Damn, girl.” Trevor looked down at me. “I haven’t seen one of these since I was…uh…five.” He snorted, typing with his thumbs. “You need to update, girl.”

My silver flip phone was a castoff from my dad. It was fine for what I needed, which was next to nothing.

“Give it back.” I limped up to him and put out my hand, palm scraped and bleeding.

Yesenia, his girlfriend, winced and curled her lip.

Grinning, Trevor huffed a laugh and turned his back. I reached around him to grab it back but he held it up high, forcing me to move around him in a circle, around and around. He kept it just out of reach, always laughing, always cruel. I hated his high-pitched giggle. I hated him. This spectacle was what he wanted, and I stood back for a moment, trying to figure what to do next.

A blast of light hit my eyes; he’d taken a picture of me standing there looking stupid.

“Trevor. Stop.” I turned my head, yellow spots blotting my eyes.

Flash—another picture. Another flash.

“There.” He laughed, tapping the phone, “I’ve sent the picture to myself.” Half blinded, I reached around him again, trying for the phone. “And one to Alex,” he giggled, “and one to—”

Xia slapped the phone from his hand as she walked by. It slid across the pavement into the grass.

“Enough of that,” she said to no one in particular, pushing us apart as she walked between us. “You’re blocking the sidewalk.” Her high heels clicked on the cement as she continued down the sidewalk.

“Thanks,” I called after her and she lifted her hand in a wave without turning around.

Meanwhile, Jasmine’s brother Carl had scooped my phone out of the grass before Trevor could get to it. He’d probably been watching me and his sister.

Trevor approached him, smirking. “Hey bro, pass it here,” like he expected everyone to do what he said.

Carl held his arm straight out and flashed the camera close up in Trevor’s face. Trevor winced, blinded.

“Like that?” Carl said. “Oh wait,” the camera flashed again. “We need another. Work the camera, Trev. The camera loves you…”

Flash again—another picture of Trevor with his eyes squinting. Carl laughed and handed the phone to me. I dropped it in my jacket pocket, clinking against my Swiss Army knife and shop keys.

Carl glared at Trevor, who seemed to decide the phone wasn’t worth a fight. “Send that around school if he ever bothers you again.”

“Yeah,” I told him, eyes still on Trevor. “I will.”

Jazzy took my arm. “Come on, we’ll walk you to work.” Jazzy’s name fit her. In a stream of people wearing moody blacks and grays, she stood out in her colorful clothing and jewelry that sparkled like stars.

A voice behind me said, “Do you think he’s cute?” It was Yesenia talking about Carl. “I think he’s cute.”

Yesenia had said it loudly to embarrass him, but she wasn’t wrong. Carl was good-looking and tall, his hair longish, and built like an athlete though he didn’t do sports. He would have been popular if he didn’t hate the world.

I limped down the walk beside Jazzy with Carl lagging behind us.

“I hate Trevor,” I hissed under my breath. “And I hate phones. So I have a flip phone. Big freaking deal.”

I pulled the phone out of my pocket and examined the case. A little more scratched, but I didn’t care. It still worked. I thrust it back into my pocket and turned to Jazzy.

“What does he even care what I do,” I asked her.

Jazzy shrugged.

“And just to make today worse, now Crawley says I’ve got to do tutoring or fail his computer lab.”

She didn’t look surprised.

“Stupid computer lab. I’m so bad at it. Which makes me hate it even more—”

Carl let out a laugh. “It’s over. Relax.”

“And it’s not your phone that’s the problem.” Jazzy kicked at the leaves on the sidewalk. “It’s Trevor. What did he get out of that?”

“Attention, I guess.” I shrugged. We’d had this conversation before, wondering why Trevor did the cruel things he did and why he chose me. “I don’t know. There’s some payoff, in his twisted mind.”

We took a turn off the sidewalk onto a path through the woods. It wasn’t a well-worn path, all grown over with grass and weeds, but it was a shortcut to my shop and their house. 

“Karma. He’s building up a lot of bad karma,” Jazzy sighed. Her brother rolled his eyes. Karma took patience I didn’t have. “I really have trouble seeing the good in him.”

“People aren’t good,” her brother mumbled, walking beside me. “Get over it.”

“Drew is.” Jazzy grinned at me. “Right, Drew?”

“Sure,” I joked back, playing along. “I’m so good, I’m bad,” though I thought she was trying too hard to be cheerful.

“See?” Jazzy teased her brother. “Not everyone.”

Carl’s expression didn’t change. He just made a huffing sound in his throat and turned to me. “Is your phone broken?”

“I doubt it. It’s lasted this long.”

Jazzy laughed, which annoyed Carl further. “He’s good at that sort of thing, Drew,” she said. “He fixed my phone.”

I glanced up at Carl. “It’s just a phone. I’m sure it’s fine,” but I handed it to him anyway.

He checked it out and decreed it in working condition, though neither one of them could understand why I kept the old thing. And when I thought about it, I did hold on to old things, things that Dad gave me, or reminded me of happy times. Perhaps that was why I loved our antique shop so much. It endured, while people didn’t.

We walked on without talking, leaves crunching under our feet. Autumn was in full bloom, the red and orange colors brilliant against the sky, a carpet of yellow under the quiet green of the pines.

“I don’t want to go home,” Jazzy said out of nowhere.

Carl glanced at his sister. “You have to anyway.”

I knew what she was trying to avoid and said, “You can come to the shop and help me if you want.”

She paused, considering it.

Carl shrugged. “Do what you want.” But his tone said there would be consequences.

Jazzy made a sour face. “Thanks anyway. I’d better not.” She kicked at the fallen leaves as if they annoyed her. “Do you ever wonder about your mother, Drew?”

“Jazzy…” Carl warned.

I’d been right. She’d been trying to avoid her mother. I shrugged my shoulders. “Nope.”

“Really?”

“There’s nothing to wonder about. I never knew her. There’s nothing to miss.”

“I wish I had nothing to miss,” Jazzy said.

Carl just looked stoic and said nothing.

Should I want to know about my mother? I wondered. For what? To go through what Jazzy and Carl did? No thanks. I liked my personal life just the way it was.

By the time we reached the antique shop, I was in a much better mood. I watched my friends continue down the block as I fished in my pocket for the shop keys. 

The flag printed with the word “Antiques” drooped, listless in the dry air, and Dad had flipped the CLOSED sign to face outward on the door. For as long as I’d been alive, this place had been my home. The odd, purple-painted shop sat back from the street like an amethyst in a rough setting. Long, wood-framed windows reflected street life outside and combined it with the antiques inside, capturing a space somewhere between both worlds.

My silver cell phone pinged, probably my dad. I flipped it open to the text and stopped dead.

 

Update. I’m watching.

 

“What?” I said out loud. What did that even mean? The sender, without out a number, just a string of zeros. Jazzy would want to see this.

“Hey!” I called to them, but they were already out of sight. Never mind. Stupid Trevor wasn’t worth my time. It had to be him, the creep. I wished karma would catch up with him sooner rather than later.

I opened the phone again to reread the text. It had disappeared.

 


 

 

Chapter 2

 

Our antique shop was in the old part of an even older Maine town, the part that had been missed by the Great Lac-du-Loup Fire of 1901. In summer and autumn, tourists frequented our shop. During the winter and mud season, the locals supported each other. The town had grown up along the banks of a wide river that flowed into the Atlantic and had been famous for its salmon, granite and lumber. But that was long ago and now the town’s people often struggle to find work.

Our 1890s Victorian house held our store in the front, kitchen in the back, bedrooms upstairs, and storage in the basement. Large storefront windows reached almost to the ground, reflecting like a wavy mirror as I approached the door.

Jazzy liked the old shop and often came to see the new curiosities we’d found. Carl couldn’t care less. But I loved the place, loved living among the antiques and objects so strange that no one remembered what they were anymore.

After Trevor’s stupidity today, I hoped no customers would come in. I just wanted to sit on the old couch that would never sell and escape into my book. Dad had found a vintage copy of Sherlock Holmes’ The Hound of the Baskervilles and now I was reading the series.

A man caught my eye from down the street, a potential customer. I hurried to fit my key in the lock and pushed open the shop door.

Shop bells jingled overhead as I entered, flipping on the dim overhead lights. Sunlight streamed through the large glass windows and reflected off swirling dust in the air. It beamed against shiny brass fixtures and brightened silver-backed mirrors, and always felt slightly magical to me.

My reading would have to wait. The customer followed me in and wandered to the back of the store as I checked for a note from Dad at the front desk.

Be back around 6:00, he’d scribbled on the notepad.

Fine. Right to the point as usual. Love you too, Dad.

I pushed open the swinging half-door to the counter and it bounced behind me on its hinges as I dropped my backpack under the counter. I brought the computer to life, ready for the afternoon’s customers.

Classical music drifted through the store as the man browsed, moving gradually closer, perhaps being polite and giving me time to settle in. When I rested my arms on the counter and smiled, he came right up, gave me a quick nod and leaned over the glass jewelry case attached to one side of the counter.

I recognized him; Vivian’s father, a reserved amiable man. I’d known him for years as a customer only since I wasn’t part of Vivian’s crowd at school.

“Hello Mr. Granby,” I greeted him. I wiped a spot of dust off the jewelry case.

He nodded, focusing on the jewelry case.

“Let me know if I can help.”

Mr. Granby looked over at me. “Something for my daughter.” He drummed his fingers on the case. “A necklace, perhaps.”

I scanned our selection of jewelry with him, thinking of Vivian, imagining her style, and found nothing that would appeal to her. Mr. Granby seemed to feel the same.

“One minute,” I said. “I’ll be right back.” Mr. Granby nodded again, and I left the counter to pass through the shop door to the kitchen. The kitchen had four doors in total. One led to the shop, the second to the side driveway, and a third to the second story. The fourth door led to the cellar, where we kept antiques for restoration or until we had the room upstairs.

Flipping on the light switch, I hurried down the stairs and located a small box behind a partially varnished dresser. I never knew what oddities I would find in a carton Dad had packed away. Perhaps it held something for Vivian.

Mr. Granby was still there, waiting as I carried the box into the shop.

“I haven’t had time to look through this yet.” I placed the box on the counter and pulled the crisscrossed top open. “But we might find something for Viv here.” 

Mr. Granby joined me across the counter as I lifted the first item from the box. I unfolded the tissue paper, smoothing the crinkled edges, revealing a necklace of red, carved roses with time-faded green leaves.

Mr. Granby held it up while I read the note Dad had attached. “Celluloid, costume jewelry, 1930s.” I turned to Mr. Granby. “Around the time costume jewelry first became popular.”

“Yes.” He leaned in a little, holding the necklace up to the natural light of the windows. “The same plastic they used to make cinema films in the past. And billiard balls.” He laughed to himself and added, “Long ago, when playing billiards, if you hit a perfect shot, the billiard balls would explode. Celluloid is combustible.”

I set it aside, carefully. This wasn’t the piece for Vivian.

“Oh,” I said, unwrapping the next package, “a bug,” and grinned, holding a jeweled black wasp with small pearls on the antennas. “Victorian bug brooch, blue tiger eye,” I read from Dad’s note.

“Not for Viv, I think,” Mr. Granby gave a quiet laugh. She didn’t seem like a bug jewelry type person to me either.

“Did you know Victorian ladies used to wear real bugs on their clothing?” I wrapped the piece back in tissue. “Some even had caged fireflies pinned in their hair or little lizards that changed color with their clothing.”

The old man chuckled. “They were very brave, those Victorian women. Much braver than Viv would be.”

The next few items from the mystery box were normal: a cameo, a diamond ring, Bakelite costume jewelry from the 1920s and ‘30s, a filigree locket.

Mr. Granby seemed interested in an amber pendant though, shaped in a teardrop and ringed with silver. It was an unusual color for amber called “egg yolk,” yellow with little touches of white and orange.

“Baltic amber,” I read, turning over the tag. “Silver art deco setting from the 1930s.” The pendant hung from a string of amber beads, unusual but striking in appearance.

The last package was a true curiosity. It held two rings. One was for a man, a curved tube of gold, laced through with braided human hair. A little gruesome, I thought, and turned over the label.

“Victorian mourning ring,” I read to Mr. Granby. To think this was the hair of someone long deceased seemed a little grisly, but I guess no worse than keeping human ashes in an urn on the mantle. Mr. Granby and I looked at each other and said “No.”

The second ring, also gold, was for a woman. Its hinged outer edge opened outward, leaving a space inside for a small lock of hair. Dad had labeled it “1853 Victorian mourning ring/wedding ring/poison ring,” which said a lot about his views on marriage.

Mr. Granby chuckled and decided on the amber pendant. As I was advising him on how to tell real amber from fake, the door chimed and Alex swaggered into the shop, edgy in his counter-culture rebel uniform.

I rang up Mr. Granby’s sale, polished the amber and placed it in a velvet pouch. He slid the package into his pocket and quietly left the store while Alex prowled around in the back. When he vanished behind a bookcase, I moved from the counter to head him off.

Trevor’s friend, Alex, was a creep, would always be a creep, and would stay a creep until the end of time, if I didn’t kill him first. He was also a tall, good-looking creep, but at the moment he stood hunched over, shoulders in tight, as if trying to make himself look smaller. He had only one reason to be in the store and it wasn’t his appreciation of antiques.

He moved to the side, behind a tall stack of barrister bookcases, which meant I had to go back and find him. In school, I stayed away from Alex but here, well, it was my store and I was protective of the things in it. I stalked back and around the vintage furniture to where he appeared to be examining a small statue.

“What’s the snake doing to the turtle?” He smirked at me, holding a brass statue of a snake wrapped around a tortoise, the Chinese symbol of the protector of the north. The statue was named the Dark Warrior, Zhenwu, because the word tortoise was an insult in Chinese.

I didn’t want to explain that to Alex; he was such a tortoise. I laughed to myself, which confused Alex, and he put the statue back, pushing past me down the aisle.

“What’s this?” he called, staring up at the grandfather clock.

“A clock.” Elliot grandfather clock, circa 1895, quarter chiming, made of oak, but he didn’t need to know that.

“And this?”

“A desk.” Orion school desk, 1887, with cast iron legs.

“How about this?”

I wasn’t going to play that game and turned it around on him. “What’s this?” I pointed to a picture. It was a 1940s ad for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway—a lady sitting on a train with a cat who just had kittens. Odd, but I liked it.

“Kittens on a couch.”

He was hopeless. “What’s this?” I pointed to a wooden box.

“A wood box.” He grinned.

I opened it. Inside sat a gold-colored metal disk, about a foot wide with notches in it. I turned on the machine and the disk spun like a record but sounded like an ethereal music box from a magical world.

“It’s an 1890s Symphonium Sublime Harmony Musical Box. Kind of like a record player. You can change disks the same way you would a record,” if he knew what a record player was. I was hoping it might interest him. It was a peace offering. Maybe we could find something in common. I didn’t need more enemies.

But instead, he shrugged, turning his palms up. “Guess you know a lot.”

“I do.” Forget making peace.

“But not about phones.”

“I don’t.”

“Or computers.”

I wasn’t going on the defensive again.

“What do you want, Alex.” It wasn’t a question.

“I can’t just come to your shop?”

“That’s not why you’re here, Alex, to look at antiques.”

“That is why I’m here, Drew. To look at antiques.”

“Fine, Alex. Welcome to the shop. Let me know if you need help. And you do need help.”

“You know what? I don’t need this.” He stormed ahead of me, past the counter and out the door, slamming it behind him. I felt bad for about a second.

Uh-oh, I thought, dashing to the counter. I’d left the jewelry out. Panicked, I checked every piece left by the register, then ran to the door, but he was long gone.

“Damn it, Alex!”

The men’s mourning ring was missing. How could I have been so stupid, so aware of him and still so gullible? Dad was going to kill me. I wrapped the jewelry back up, nestled the packets into the box and carried it back down to the basement, hoping Dad might forget about it. I doubted I’d ever see the ring again, but I was wrong.

 

 

 

 

The journey continues!


Update or Die is also currently an Amazon eBook, on Barnes & Noble, and Google Books. Thank you for your love of reading and for sharing this adventure with me. Update or Die can be found here! For those who love non-virtual books, we have also soft-cover copies available.

Please feel free to contact us at WolfPrintsBooks@gmail.com

Drew’s journey will continue in Rule of Three, coming in December 2024.

 

In the meantime, check out Elizabeth’s story in Stairs to Nowhere (Drew makes an appearance).

In a violent fit of psychosis, a World War II soldier murders his lieutenant. Eighty years later, a young home nurse finds a body walled in under the stairs of her patient’s house. Who is the mummified person within the mysterious stairs to nowhere? Elizabeth is driven by strange visions to find out. Are they delusions, or are they memories…

Let’s find out! Stairs to Nowhere will be released on December 30, 2023.


 

Also coming in February 2024…

Same Stream Twice

A psychologist returns to Maine from Florida after a shooting in her office left her deaf and traumatized. Then she finds a book made of human skin in a house she’s restoring. Strange accidents follow as she tries to bring herself back from trauma, and it all seems to relate back to the distant—and not-so-distant—past.

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