Crestfall: A Novel of Earth and Fire
Lily St. John McKee
Genre: young adult/paranormal
Publisher: Posterity Press, Inc.
Date of Publication: November 23, 2015
Word Count: 64,425
Cover Artist: Robert L. Wiser
Crestfall is a dark fantasy with a heart of love—for the earth, its creatures and plants, for people who strive, care, and face down fear.
Its young heroine, Aria Andrews, interrupts her medieval history studies to attend her sister’s funeral in a town on the rugged coast of Newfoundland.
Her estranged twin was murdered, and Aria becomes a suspect before setting out to uncover the brutal truth with the help of her brother Fynn, his girlfriend Sophie (a witch), and forthright Bennet Halfnight, a handsome detective.
All three Andrews siblings have possessed unworldly natural powers; Aria uses hers to pursue an old antagonist and confront new ones: shape-shifters and werewolves in this startling romantic novel of beastly gore and human tenderness.
CHAPTER 1: STRANGER THINGS
Myths are truths buried beneath layers of speculation and obscurity. There are those who would disagree, but I have seen enough of the world beneath the veneer of civilization to know better. Legends travel in the same boat as myths. They only differ because they were once thought to be real, but the validity of such things has been shrouded by the passage of several generations.
These thoughts circled in my mind as I waited to go through the long lines at immigration and at the airport car rental. With a long drive ahead, I stopped to stock up on the necessities – food, water, and a couple of books on CD.
In northeastern Canada, an island called Newfoundland breaches the Arctic Circle. Newfoundland is a strange place. The Vikings found it, but did not stay. The Irish, English, Portuguese, Spanish and the French settled the wild land in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is a rough land, full of crags and uneven edges. The climate weeds out those who are unable to withstand colder weather. It takes a sturdy constitution to survive in the vicious winters and cool summers. The temperature rarely climbs above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The water can be an unreal shade of blue, such as one would never see north of the tropics. The forests that line the coast are thick and green in the summer. Coral formations sit just underwater in the coves bordered by the jagged coast. Thousands of years of erosion are lined by watermarks that delineate the different water levels. And this island is where my siblings have decided to live.
I still could not believe that she finally got me to come to Newfoundland. After years of taunting me with her shenanigans, she got herself killed. I was finally free of her. My identical twin and I were as opposite as night and day. Though she and I were not always like that. Something changed when we turned thirteen. She became cruel and careless to herself and others. When we were young she was my best friend. She was the kindest person you could ever meet. Then she began to delight in crushing the hopes of those around her. She would take their opportunities for herself. Sonata was an opportunist from hell. She had the ability to ferret out my dreams, and would systematically demolish them before my eyes.
The worst part was that Mom and Dad were oblivious to her manipulations. Only our brother, Fynn, knew the real Sonata. When I tried to get our parents to see the lies she was spinning, I was punished. When I turned eighteen, I left home and never looked back. The only reason I stayed as long as I did was Fynn. My big brother was a godsend. But when one of Sonata’s friends got her claws into him, I could no longer trust him. So I hardly ever spoke to him in the intervening years while I was studying abroad.
I left to go to college on the opposite side of the ocean. I went to Cambridge and graduated with honors. Afterwards, I decided to stay to pursue a master’s. I was working on my master’s thesis, about the Black Death of 1348-1350, when Fynn called with the news that Sonata was dead. The service was being held in the Crestfall Church, in the town she called home. With everything that she had done, she had no right to be buried on hallowed ground.
Memories of the past flitted through my mind as the miles sped by. Before I knew it, I had entered the outskirts of Crestfall. I had never even heard about this town until Fynn called me. We were raised on the opposite side of Canada in Vancouver. Nevertheless, Crestfall was a beautiful town. The houses were quirky and painted in a riot of colors—one bubblegum pink and another the color of purple hydrangeas. The town itself was close to the ocean, beside a large bay with a rocky headland that made a sheltered anchorage for the dories of solitary fishermen and the trawlers that coursed offshore for the big cod and salmon. Sea gulls were everywhere and the townsfolk were obsessed with puffins. Everywhere I looked stores had “puffins” in their names. Also, on the docks were many boats advertising whale watching tours and trips to see these comical seabirds.
I would have preferred that Sonata be cremated, so that she could never come back. I never could tell with my twin, she might be having a big joke on me, forcing me to come here for her funeral only to show up and mock me. But it was not my call. It was Fynn’s, since our parents’ death in a freak accident had made him our guardian of sorts, even after we became adults.
My car squealed to a stop in front of the church. I paused to straighten my outfit: a black skirt that stopped just short of the knees, knee-high stiletto boots, a black and white V-necked shirt, and a black jean jacket. Finding nothing amiss, I walked up the steps and into the church. This was going to be hard, but I was not grief-stricken. I was sad that my sister was dead. After all, she was my second half, but I only mourned the loss of my childhood half, my womb-mate.
I had not seen Fynn for seven years and it scared me to think about seeing him so soon after Sonata’s death. I would have preferred being invisible and I dreaded the thought of being the focus of every irritated and stunned eye as I walked toward the pew designated for family. But it could not be helped. I had been traveling for so long, I could not remember what I was doing when I got Fynn’s call. I waited until the last minute to book my flight. It was not as if I wanted to come.
The service was almost over—I hadn’t thought I was that late—and my entrance caused a slight commotion as I interrupted the minister’s eulogy.
Head held high, I walked down the aisle searching for Fynn. I found him seated in the front row. He looked stoic as always, but thinner than I remembered. He must not be eating right. I made a mental note to restock his fridge before I left and to create a list of things he should continue to get. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a young woman with black hair, with streaks of pink, purple, green, and blue threaded through it. Her eyes were a strange amber color. I reached Fynn and took a seat next to him. I could hear the whispers from those who had come to mourn. I was unsure whether this had been a good idea.
When the minister did not resume his speech, but rather stood and stared at me, I felt a twinge of unease and said, “apologies.”
“Would you like to say something?” the minister asked.
I thought for a moment and stood. I turned to the congregation and said, “My mother once told me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I nodded as if that was final and sat back down.
The young minister continued to stare at me.
Sighing, I waited for him to regain the ability to speak.
“I thought Mother told that to Sonata,” Fynn whispered to me. It echoed in the now silent church.
“You only thought it was Sonata,” I whispered back.
I saw a muscle in his jaw tick and he nodded. Fynn had changed a bit over the past seven years. He was still tall, but his lanky frame had filled out. His grey eyes held a sadness that hadn’t been there before. I could see the outlines of some of his bones and that scared me. I always remembered him as being strong and healthy looking.
The minister cleared his throat, jerking me out of my reverie. “Into thy hands we commend thy servant Sonata, a sheep of thine own flock, a lamb of thine own fold, a sinner of thine own redeeming. Amen.”
As we walked out of the church to go stand by the gravesite at the far side of the cemetery, Fynn took me aside.
“Aria, it’s great to see you. I’ve missed you.” He looked sincere and my gut twisted with guilt. I hadn’t talked to him since he told me our parents had died in my freshman year of college.
“It’s great to see you too, Fynn.” I struggled to think of something else to say.
We shared a rather awkward hug.
“I’m glad that you could make it. I didn’t think you would come.”
“Thanks. I almost didn’t. I am supposed to be working on my thesis.” I would not lie and say I was glad to be here. I never wanted to be anywhere within a fifty-mile radius of Sonata.
“All the same, it’s great to see you.”
We stood awkwardly until we realized that everyone was waiting for us. I could feel their eyes on me and it was slightly unnerving.
I drove to Fynn’s house after the burial. He lived on a rambling estate, in a mansion with huge bay windows, set back from the road. It was nothing like the house we grew up in. I realized that I did not even know what Fynn did these days. Whatever it was, it paid well.
The door had been left open for mourners to come and go as they pleased. I was awestruck by the extravagance as I entered his foyer. There was crystal, gold and dark wood everywhere. The place looked slightly less extravagant than Versailles. There were waiters carrying trays of champagne and canapés. Seeing the champagne made me cringe.
I found Fynn talking to a tall young man whose broad shoulders tapered to a lean waist. He wore Ralph Lauren black trousers. From the back, the man’s dark brown curls were slightly longer than the current fashion. I immediately had the sense that he was powerful.
“I know,” Fynn was saying as I neared. “We should have told you that Sonata had an identical twin. But I didn’t expect her either. I thought she wouldn’t arrive until tomorrow. It was awkward what she said.”
For a moment I froze. Lord. I probably wasn’t supposed to hear that. I hesitated for just a second until my eyes narrowed,
“Fynn,” I said. “Are you talking about me?”
Fynn looked slightly abashed. “May…uh…er—”
“Yes,” said the man beside Fynn. “We were talking of you.”
I looked the stranger in the eye. His eyes were a strange mixture of brown and grey. I believed he was expecting me to flinch, but I knew better. To hide my shaking hands, I clasped them behind my back. I wouldn’t be undone by him.
“Well, I think it’s safe to assume that it was not good things that were being said about me,” I said.
“No indeed” the man said. “But there is an explanation.”
“Really? I would be happy to hear it.”
“Actually, I believe the explanation lies in your corner.” His eyes raked me over from head to toe. My skin felt like it would like to crawl right back to England.
“I do not have to explain myself to a complete stranger, nor do I have any wish to.” I would not defend my existence to this ass-hat.
“I have a right to know why someone would be so crass as to come late to my girlfriend’s funeral, and then refuse to speak.” The man squared his shoulders, and then looked away.
I wanted to laugh. “Why would you think I have anything, nice or otherwise, to say about Sonata?”
“Because you are an exact replica of her!”
The laughter died in my throat. A replica? Was he serious? Who was this guy?
Fynn, who noted the high color in my cheeks, spoke up. “Aria, why don’t I show you to your room?”
It was my turn to raise an eyebrow. “I’m staying here?” I said it slowly, trying to grasp the meaning of this. I had not been under the same roof with Fynn in years and he assumed that I would stay with him.
“Yes, I think that would the wisest choice, don’t you?”
I got his meaning instantly. He wanted me to stay so that we could talk. Apparently there was more to Sonata’s death than I knew.
“Sure, I would love to stay here.”
As we walked up the stairs, the entire room froze. Everyone and everything in it stopped moving. People stopped in midsentence, in mid-action. Only I was still able to move. I had never experienced this before—someone was freezing time around me! I let out a yelp of surprise and fear. Acting on instinct I dropped to the stairs and placed my hands over my head, expecting an attack that never came.
“Sonata Andrews, back in the flesh.” A derisive voice sounded behind me.
I jumped at the hostility, and turning slowly I beheld a young woman about my age. She was tall and had a willowy build. Her long curly black hair streaked with color hung to her waist in a riot. Her skin was pale and her eyes were a brilliant amber. She was the woman I had spotted in the church earlier.
“You are incorrect,” I said. “I’m Aria. She was my twin.” My eyes kept searching the room. Panic was settling in under the surface of my skin. I tried to keep a cool mask on my face so as not to display how totally weird this all felt—a place and its people frozen in time.
“I don’t believe you.”
“Believe whatever makes you happy.” My voice had no trace of panic, thank God.
“You should,” her voice held a promise of some sort.
“I should what?” I countered, feeling as if she was continuing a conversation that she had started with someone else, perhaps Sonata.
The woman stared at me, her eyes seeing things that only she could comprehend. Most unsettling was the feeling that she was not something I could understand. The ability to manipulate time was foreign to me. I had not ever thought about its existence. That is what most unnerved me.
“What are you?” I asked.
“I’m a witch,” she acknowledged. “What are you?”
“I don’t know,” I said in all honesty. Mom and Dad never explained to me how I was able to do the things that I can do. If they knew, they never said. They kept that information to themselves.
The woman appraised me. “You say that you are Aria Andrews?”
I sighed, “Yes, that is what I said.”
“Sonata knew what she was—a witch. She had figured it out a few years ago.”
“Bully for her.”
“That is not the answer I was expecting.”
“How come you have no idea but your sister knew?” She asked.
“Perhaps because I have not spoken to her in years.”
“I don’t know.” Exasperated, I wanted her to be gone. For her to just disappear and let Fynn show me to my room.
Then she broke the spell and everyone began talking once again. The sudden noise nearly deafened me. I looked around as I saw that conversations were continuing as if the last few minutes hadn’t happened. Stunned I tried to catch up to what had just transpired. It was so unreal…
“You okay, Aria?” Fynn asked.
“Yeah,” I resumed walking up the stairs. “I think.” Still shaken, I was unwilling to divulge what had just happened. The woman had melted back into the crowd.
Fynn nodded and I knew that we would talk about it. We entered one of the suites. I was not surprised, given the grandeur of the rest of the house, to see a walk-in closet, a full bath; there was a small sitting area and a large four-poster bed. Soft colors were mixed with bold accents. It was decorated exactly how I imagined a room of mine would look like if I had the choice. There were pinks mixed with browns and purples and random bold blues. It was beautiful.
Fynn eyed me with a grin. “I thought you would like this.”
“Indeed,” I told him. I wondered if he designed this room for me, but I was afraid to ask.
“I had this room made up for you when I built the place,” Fynn confessed, answering my unasked question. “I wanted to make sure that there would be a space for you if you ever wanted to…” He trailed off and stared uncomfortably at the floor. He probably thought I wouldn’t believe him.
“I’m truly touched,” I said, and I meant it. “Wait, you built this?”
“I bought the land, designed the house and hired a contractor to do the actual building. And of course Sonata was furious when she found out about the room. I tried to cover it up by saying it could be a guest room, but she saw right through it. She tried to burn it.”
“I am glad it survived.” I didn’t tell him I wasn’t staying long. Not right now. I wanted to make sure everything was in order first.
“Look, I wanted to apologize for the things you overheard. Archer is just…well. I don’t really know how to describe him.”
“Was he really in a relationship with Sonata?” The idea of her being steady with anyone seemed laughable.
“Yes, she was sweet and kind with him. The way she always was with men that she wanted something from, or to anger their women.”
“Still pulling the wool over their eyes?”
“Of course. Herding sheep was her favorite pastime,” Fynn said with obvious disgust. I thought of Sonata’s friend, Morgana, who had turned him into the untrustworthy person I left behind.
“What happened to Sonata?”
“I honestly don’t know. The police have been pretty tight lipped about it. I do know that her death was no accident…the police are investigating it as a homicide. I think Sonata was murdered. I think you’d better get ready to be questioned.”
About the Author:
Lily St. John McKee was born November 24, 1987, in Washington, D.C. Finding refuge in books from childhood challenges, she graduated cum laude from Ohio’s Muskingum University in 2011 and earned a master’s degree at Bath Spa University in England. She traveled widely—to Costa Rica, Iceland, Patagonia, Egypt, and Newfoundland, the setting for her novel Crestfall, which she finished in the autumn of 2014.
In the winter Lily McKee fell ill and passed away on March 19, 2015.
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