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The Favorite Child: a gripping psychological thriller

The Favorite Child: a gripping psychological thriller PDF

Author: Cathryn Grant

Publisher: Inkubator Books


Publish Date: August 12, 2022

ISBN-10: 1915275903

Pages: 300

File Type: Epub

Language: English

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Book Preface

lames ripped across the night sky. They seemed driven to consume the surrounding atmosphere as completely as the pale green three-story home they were devouring. The sound was like ten thousand insects gnawing on wood and plaster. Teeth and jaws crunching through rooms imagined and brought to life in the Victorian era, restored to their original beauty forty years ago, and meticulously maintained every year since. Gone with the lick of a one-thousand-degree Fahrenheit tongue of fire.

The odor of smoke suggested a pleasant bonfire, not the death raging through the house, filling pale pink lungs, asphyxiating peacefully sleeping bodies.

It burned freely for an hour before the shriek of fire trucks pierced the chilly night air of the northern California coast. Far too much time had passed before the emergency call was placed, but there were other things that had to be taken care of first. The story needed to be believable and airtight for the police.

The moonlight poured through the bedroom window. It woke me from a dream that was already slipping through my fingers as my eyes opened. I was glad to escape it, but something about the way the light filled our bedroom gave me the feeling I might have stepped into another dream.

It was always this way when Michael and I stayed at my parents’ home. The bed was familiar but not; the room was our own, but not … and the house where I’d grown up was such a part of me that it appeared frequently in my dreams whether I was sleeping under its eaves or at our home in Mountain View.

I got out of bed. My throat was dry, my tongue tacky against the roof of my mouth. I placed my hand on my round belly. I passed a soundless word of comfort to our baby girl curled inside my womb, her sleep undisturbed at the moment. My bare feet brushed the cool wood floor as I walked to the door and opened it. I moved along the silent hallway and down the curving staircase to the first floor.

In the kitchen, I filled a glass with water and took a small sip, hoping that would tell me whether I was awake or dreaming, even now. My body was moving, my thoughts were coherent, but the feelings from the dream gave me the sense I was still in another place. Wind seemed to be cutting through the thin fabric of my nightgown. Strands of hair had plastered themselves across my face, clinging to my skin for dear life. I was scared. But I had no idea why.

Dreams in my parents’ home often featured my older brother and sisters, probably because when I was sleeping there, they were also home visiting. It was as if we all reverted to our former selves when we came home, and that childhood world recreated itself in my dreams. Jake telling us girls how life worked, the shifting alliances among us, the jealousy that ate at our roots but was never to be talked about. Never. The Ledger family didn’t indulge in petty emotions like jealousy. Shunning that kind of self-pity kept our family strong.

I carried my glass of water to the living room, taking small sips as I passed through the cold rooms. Everything was so quiet. Even my breath was difficult to hear. Was I walking in my sleep? But if I was, would I be having that thought? Would I be aware of cool water running across my tongue and down my throat?

I went to the bay window that looked out across the flower garden, then to the wild growth of beach grasses and junipers and Monterey pines that stood between the house and the edge of the cliff, with the dark waves of the seemingly endless Pacific Ocean beyond.

Perched near the edge of the cliff was a gazebo. Inside, clearly visible in the moonlight, was a woman wearing a white dress with straps crisscrossing the back. My sister, Sunday, had worn a dress like that to dinner the evening before. As I watched, she rushed out of the small, round structure. Another figure stumbled after her, grasping at the back of her dress, but she broke free and ran. The other one wore dark clothing and a jacket with a hood, impossible to tell if it was male or female. They chased after her, caught the skirt of her dress, and pulled her close. The two began wrestling with each other.

The glass of water started to slide out of my hand as I realized the one wearing the dress was dangerously close to the edge of the cliff.

I cried out, hardly realizing I was shouting, forgetting they couldn’t possibly hear me. “No! Stop!” I slammed the glass on the windowsill, splashing water on my hand. Were they trying to hurt Sunday or the opposite? Then Sunday seemed to collapse, or disappear completely, as if she’d gone over the edge of the cliff.

I turned and raced out of the living room, through the foyer, and out the front door. I ran along the path that wound through the garden and began thrashing through the wild grasses and across rough ground, trying to get to the cliff. There was a path, but the moonlight didn’t touch the ground enough for me to see where it was with all the wild growth. Small stones cut my feet, and long, waving beach grass grabbed at my legs and the hem of my nightgown, slowing my progress.

Finally, after what seemed like half an hour, but was only a few minutes, I reached the open space around the gazebo. The building was empty. Sunday and the other person were nowhere in sight.

I moved carefully, stepping closer to the edge of the cliff. The cold was more intense now that I’d stopped moving. The wind was stronger, coming right off the open ocean. It tugged at me as if to pull me closer, pushing me to lose my balance.

Looking over the edge made my stomach collapse into a thick liquid that felt like raw egg. One moment, I wanted to jump off, to know what it felt like; the next, I was certain someone would shove me over, and I would be crushed on the rocks below.

As I looked down, I shivered. I felt my body sway. I expected to see a white dress fanned across the rocks around Sunday’s broken body. There was nothing but darkness and a streak of moonlight across boulders dark with water. Could she have fallen where the moonlight wasn’t touching the rocks? Should I climb down the narrow trail that led to the strip of sand and rocks? Should I get Michael?

There was no longer any doubt I was awake, but had I been walking in my sleep when I saw Sunday and the other person? Still dreaming a dream that seemed so familiar? In that half-awake state where the mind creates nonsense stories? No one was here now. The other figure had disappeared as cleanly as Sunday. I continued staring down at the rocks, willing my eyes to see through the darkness, straining to find anything that told me she’d fallen, half-sobbing in fear that she had.

Why, when I looked over these sharp-edged cliffs, did I always expect to see a body on the rocks below? There was always a compulsion to look down, and always that expectation. Where did it come from? I hated it, and I couldn’t get rid of it. I moved back.

It was a dream. I was sure of it. The violent struggle, Sunday’s disappearance as if she’d been pushed over. I was alone out here. Hadn’t I dreamed something like this before? Many times? I hated the edge of that cliff. Hated the sheer drop. Hated how we’d grown up with that threat of sudden death just a few hundred yards from our play yard.

I made my way back to the house and up the front steps. Inside, I climbed the stairs to the second floor and went to Sunday’s bedroom. Slowly, I turned the knob and opened the door a few inches. Sunday’s body was clearly visible, curled up under the comforter. I opened the door wider and saw her blonde- and brown-streaked hair spread across the pillow. I whispered her name, but she didn’t move. Her white dress was on the floor. I considered tiptoeing inside and touching it to feel if it was cold from the night air. Was she truly asleep? If she was, I didn’t want to wake her from a pleasant dream. I closed the door carefully and walked down the hall to my room.

As I pulled my own comforter over my shoulders, I was sure I’d been awake the entire time. But at the same time, it still felt like the kind of vivid dream that clings to your brain long after you wake. Sunday was not lying dead at the base of the cliff. She was sleeping peacefully in her bed. I wondered how long I’d stood at the edge, looking down at the rocks and the crashing surf.

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