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Break My Heart 1,000 Times
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 15, 2013. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Living in the aftermath of the Event means that seeing the dead is now a part of life, but Veronica wishes that the ghosts would just move on. Instead, the ghosts aren't disappearing-they're gaining power.
When Veronica and her friend, Kirk, decide to investigate why, they stumble upon a more sinister plot than they ever could have imagined. One of Veronica's high school teachers is crippled by the fact that his dead daughter has never returned as a ghost, and he's haunted by the possibility that she's waiting to reappear within a fresh body. Veronica seems like the perfect host. And even if he's wrong, what's the harm in creating one more ghost?
From critically acclaimed Generation Dead author Daniel Waters, comes a delectably creepy and suspenseful thriller. Break My Heart 1,000 Times will leave readers with the chills. Or is that a ghost reading over the page? Adapted as the feature film I Still See You starring Bella Thorne.
Copyright © 2012 by Daniel Waters
All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Hyperion, 114 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10011-5690.
I walk through walls. I whisper at the window when I watch her leave our home. I flicker at the edges of my own memory.
She sleeps now, her breath ruffling the edge of her pillowcase. I don’t know if it is my presence at the foot of her bed that causes her to roll over. Her arm, suddenly free of her comforter cocoon, stretches back over her head, and her pretty face, framed by long auburn hair, turns toward the ceiling.
She looks so much like Mary, I feel the familiar ache that is like death but deeper. I reach toward her, intending only to stroke her cheek, but she whimpers and I wonder what walks through her dreams.
Her alarm sounds, playing a song recorded many years after my death, a song I like. I fall through the floor as her eyes begin to flutter.
Her mother is already in the kitchen, rattling pans, brewing coffee, pouring orange juice. She pauses every three heartbeats to look back at the kitchen table, where the rest of her family will soon sit, her face wrung and lined with worry, as though she feels there is never enough time. And she is right, of course. There never is. She doesn’t see me standing in the archway, as it takes effort by me to be seen. For all I know, it may take effort to see also. She lifts her eyes toward the ceiling through which I just fell, hearing the padding of her daughter’s feet as she rises to shut off the alarm. I wait until I hear the screech and groan of plumbing above as she runs hot water for her shower.
I pass through the kitchen wall. Inside the cavity there is an ancient bottle cap and the skeleton of a mouse, its tiny spirit long fled. There are wires, and when I pass through them I tingle and hum and the light in the kitchen dims and then flares.
I enter the living room, so different now than when I was alive. Two recliners, a long sun-blanched sofa, and a huge television with a dusty screen. I peer into the dark mirror of the television, but I’m not reflected at all, not until I lean forward and brush my “hand” across the dull surface, where lingering static renders it visible briefly as a white blur that waves and recedes. I look down and see that I have disrupted the clock on the DVR again; a quartet of zeroes blinks on and off at me.
Her energy guides me upstairs to her like a beacon, and I can see puffs of steam curling out from under the bathroom door. I pass through the unlocked door; I’m pulled to the place of my death as though drawn by a magnet. I pass through steam and shower curtain, and she is there, and I would blush if I still had the ability to do so.
Averting my eyes, I look in the tub, where water swirls down the drain. As I watch, the water turns to blood, and then the swirling blood overwhelms the drain and rises to her ankles and continues to fill and oh no I remember I remember.…
I remember. What a strange thing for one such as me to think. Strange because I am no more than a memory myself. A memory that no one other than myself holds any longer.
There are others like me but not like me. Others who appear and fade, but for them consciousness has not returned, they exist as memory alone. Or do they? The wall between the worlds of life and afterlife was always permeable, even before the holes began to appear in its foundation.
The blood recedes and turns to water yet again. She’s noticed none of this. She has her eyes closed against the possibility of trickling shampoo, and I watch her flesh stipple as I stand there, my invisible spirit bisected by the plastic curtain. My presence brings a subtle chill. I can still have an effect on the tangible universe.
I step back from the shower and wait by the sink. I prepare. What is easiest is to find a moment in time gone by and hold on to that moment. With effort and energy, the memory of a memory may become visible again. Time is not entirely linear. She shuts the water off, and the towel slung over the curtain rod slips.
I make the effort. The curtain draws back, and she sees me.
Veronica didn’t fear the ghosts every waking moment, the way some people did. Ghosts were an established fact of her life since the Event; there was just no avoiding them. But the one place she did not want them at all was in the bathroom. The bathroom, in her mind, should be a permanent ghost-free zone. So when she got out of the shower at 6:49 that Tuesday morning before school and saw a ghost standing in front of the mirror that would not reflect his image, she shrieked. She clutched her towel and rushed past him to her bedroom.
She sat on the edge of her bed and steadied her breathing. She dried her body and wondered if the ghost had left yet. Sometimes they stayed around for as long as fifteen minutes, but usually they were there and gone in the time it took to snap a photograph. She hoped it was the latter. She’d left her clothes in the bathroom, and it was too much effort to pick out another outfit. Now dry, she wrapped herself in her towel, deciding she’d give the bathroom another try.
He was already gone. Why did it have to be a boy? she thought. He looked like he was about her age. He’d been shaving or combing his hair, she thought, and then she decided he must have been combing his hair, because he’d been wearing a shirt, and who shaves with his shirt on?
There were pockets of warm moist air in the cramped bathroom, but the mirror above the sink was clear. She stepped in front of the mirror and got goose bumps. There was a definite chill where the ghost had been standing. She shuddered. How many people had stood in front of this sink over the past seventy years?
Too many, she thought, plugging in her hair dryer. She wouldn’t have been surprised if there were an endless parade of ghosts traipsing through the house and the acre of grass and gardens outside. Ghosts walking up the carpeted stairs in twos and threes, ghosts staring out a window that is no longer there, ghosts wedged in the breakfast nook, sitting in front of invisible tea sets. Sometimes they left an aroma; even now she thought she could smell a hint of cologne, a subtle, faded smell; woodsy, not at all like the body sprays jocks in her class applied by the gallon.
It was a nice smell, she decided. She wished she hadn’t been so startled and that she’d actually taken the time to look at the boy; but all she’d had time to notice was his blond hair, which had just begun to curl over his collar. Maybe he’s cute, she thought.
“How morbid,” she said to her reflection, which she then shot with a blast of hot air from the dryer. There were more than enough cute boys in her class at Montcrief High to choose from, all of them with heartbeats and pulses and modern wardrobes. James, for example. He’d asked her to go out with him this weekend, and she hadn’t answered him yet. James, James. She would let him wonder about it through homeroom and then let him know she was free on Friday, in the English class they shared. So many boys, so many choices, but she felt as though she didn’t really know what made one more attractive than another. Sure, looks—that was the obvious category—but what beyond that made her want to say yes or no?
She switched off the hair dryer and heard her mother’s voice drifting up the stairs.
“Veronica. It’s almost time. I have breakfast for you.”
“Thanks, Ma,” she called back, and dressed.
Veronica normally wore very little makeup, just some foundation to smooth her freckles out, but she did like perfume. Today she stepped out into the hallway to spray her wrists and dab her neck, not wanting to cover the scent that the ghost had brought with him, even though it had dissipated considerably.
She walked into the kitchen and hugged her mother, who was washing the frying pan. Her mom leaned in to her but kept scrubbing. Scrub, scrub, scrub, with vigor, the eggs having been scorched in the pan. Veronica looked at her father, who sat in his usual place at their small kitchen table, reading the newspaper. She turned to the clock, which read 7:13.
“Are you okay, Mom?” Veronica said.
“I’m fine, honey,” she said, and sniffed. “Just a cold.”
It was more than just a cold, Veronica knew. Her father didn’t look up from his newspaper.
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure,” her mother said, her voice as brittle as the icicles that hung from the dormer above the kitchen window. “Did you hurt yourself upstairs? I thought I heard you cry out.”
Veronica licked her lips. She noticed the worry lines around her mother’s eyes and the gray streaks in hair that she’d stopped bothering to color.
“There’s a ghost in the upstairs bathroom.”
She could feel a new tension in her mother’s shoulders, where a moment ago there was only resignation.
“Oh, Veronica,” her mother said, and dropped the soapy pan into the sink. Thin strips of fried egg clung to the curves. She turned and looked at her husband, silently thumbing through the newspaper. Always the business section first, then the local news. The sports section would go unread, always.
Veronica watched him as well, hoping for a show of sympathy. He did not look up. “I’m sorry, Mom,” she said.
“The ghosts, the ghosts,” her mother said. Water and soap were dripping from her fingers onto her dark slacks and the old linoleum floor, which Dad was supposed to have replaced years ago. “Always the ghosts.”
“I was startled, that’s all,” Veronica said, feeling her mother disconnecting. She talked fast before her mom’s attention floated away like the bubbles dripping from her cracked and bitten nails. “A teenage boy. He was combing his hair, which was long and feathered—sort of like those pictures of Dad when he was a kid.”
There was a brief flicker of movement as her father turned the page. Her mother just stared at him with no real focus in her eyes.
“He must have been pretty vain,” Veronica said, hoping for a reaction but getting none. “He wasn’t scary or anything.”
She wished she hadn’t said the last part, because she hadn’t stayed around to watch him fade away. Veronica knew of a ghost at the corner of Case Street, a woman who picks herself off the pavement, and when she stands, she’s smiling. But then the grin goes lopsided and she starts bleeding from different places on her bare arms, and then red blots appear and widen on her blue dress, and finally blood starts running through her blond hair, from the top of her head. She walks three staggering steps toward the sidewalk and then disappears.
The Case Street ghost was almost willfully creepy. The boy in the bathroom didn’t seem to be like that, although it was pretty disturbing that he had been standing right in front of a mirror and had no reflection.
“Mom?” Veronica said. She touched her arm.
“The ghosts are the worst part,” her mother whispered, and Veronica wanted to hug her, but part of her was afraid to.
Her father looked up at them, smiled, like he always did at this time in the morning, and vanished.
The ghosts are the worst part.
Veronica thought about that as the cold February air kissed her cheek. It wasn’t the first time her mother had said it, and Veronica had heard similar sentiments expressed by people her mother’s age and older. Veronica found it incomprehensible that the worst part of the Event—which had taken the lives of anywhere between one and four million people, depending on whose statistics you read—could be a few ghosts. The ghosts, much like the sickness and lingering death, environmental damage, and general chaos that followed, were merely the unfortunate by-products of the horror of the Event itself. The Event had expunged human beings with the nonchalant disdain of a hand wiping away spilled grains of salt, and the ghosts were the worst part? Even the creepiest of ghosts did not seem capable of malevolence. In Veronica’s eyes, the ghosts were, at worst, an irritant, nothing more.
Veronica actually liked seeing her father most mornings. She had been terrified at first, and she’d cried, but in time she decided that the ghostly image of her father at the breakfast table was better than nothing at all. She knew that it wasn’t really “him,” that “he” was like a hologram or a digital recording. He was a pleasant memory rendered visible in the material world by whatever strange alchemy the Event had caused. The memory couldn’t communicate beyond showing up.
But he smiled. Every day that he appeared, he smiled. She and her mother always made certain they were standing just so in front of the sink, because if they stood there, his eyes met theirs and they had the illusion of contact, a brief feeling that he was staring at them from beyond the realm of death. For a moment, he was there. Really there.
But then the moment would pass, and she’d find herself again wishing that she could see him do something, anything, other than sit and read the paper.
“Veronica!” she heard Janine call. “Veronica, wait up.”
She saw Janine hurrying toward her, her slight shoulders stooped and her eyes downcast. Janine was afraid of ghosts—deathly afraid of them. She was one of a tragic, but surprisingly small, group of people who had difficulty coping with the proliferation of ghosts in the post-Event world. Veronica knew it was an effort for Janine to even leave her house, especially when their short walk to school together took them past at least one specter every day.
Janine was wearing a scarf, heavy coat, and a knit Peruvian hat with long tassels, as though the extra insulation could keep out spirits as well as the cold.
“Careful, Janine,” Veronica said, not stopping but slowing her pace a little. “There are some icy spots on the sidewalk.”
Janine’s cheeks were flushed and pink. “Aren’t you cold, Veronica?” she said, her voice as rapid and clipped as her footsteps. “It’s so cold.”
“It isn’t so bad,” Veronica said, but before the words were fully out of her mouth, Janine shivered. Veronica wanted to hug her, knowing there was a part of Janine that could never be warmed by extra layers; but she also knew that a hug wasn’t going to make the ghosts go away. Everyone needed to find a way to cope with their reality, Janine included.
“Is she there yet?” Janine asked. Veronica noticed that Janine was wearing her knit gloves where the fingers were each a different color; they twitched and clenched into nervous rainbow fists. A red pom-pom drooped on the side of her matching hat. Janine had been Veronica’s first friend when she’d moved to town about seven years ago, but she wasn’t the same feisty kid that Veronica had been drawn to. This was a girl who had, soon after they’d met, faced down two older boys who’d thrown rocks at them while they were walking in the woods; but that was before the ghosts leeched all the bravery out of her. Again, Veronica fought the urge to hug her; she was worried that Janine would remain a little girl forever if she didn’t find a way to face her fears.
“I don’t see her,” Veronica replied. “Are you doing anything this weekend?”
“Oh, no,” Janine said, too quickly. “Do you want to come over?”
“I’m working,” Veronica said. She’d tried to get Janine a job at the theater with her, but there was no chance—ghosts were drawn to the Cineplex like moths to a flame, for some reason. Veronica had thought she could attract Janine by telling her that there were always plenty of living people around, too, but instead of being relieved, Janine had been even more horrified. “How can you tell them apart?” she’d said.
Janine made a disappointed noise so soft it was nearly drowned out by the sound of their boots in the snow. There were alternate streets to take to school, but none as direct as the one that took them by Mary Greer. Veronica didn’t want to go the long way, and Janine was more afraid of encountering a new ghost alone than she was passing a familiar one with Veronica. She often tried to get Veronica to leave earlier or later, but Veronica refused. And to her credit, Janine forced herself out the door each morning. It made Veronica hopeful that her lingering spark of bravery might one day be nurtured into a flame.
“I have a date, too,” Veronica said, smiling.
“You always have a date,” Janine said, and nudged Veronica as though to convey that she was only kidding about the “always” part, but Veronica knew that one of Janine’s nervous tics was making frequent, slight physical contact with the few people she was close to, as though to reassure herself that they were really there.
“You’re only saying that because it’s true,” Veronica said, nudging her back. Maybe a hug was too much, but contact couldn’t be a bad thing.
“Who with this time?”
“Janine! You make me sound like an incorrigible flirt!”
“You are an incorrigible flirt.”
Veronica heard the change of tone and knew that Janine was icing over in anticipation of passing the ghost.
“I’m going out with James, if you must know,” she said, hoping to distract her. “Why don’t you come, too? I’m sure James has a friend who would love to go out with you.”
“Oh, no, no,” Janine said. “I couldn’t. I really couldn’t.”
Across the street, Veronica saw Mary Greer ascend the stairs to Mr. Bittner’s house. She seemed to be walking on air, and her thin bare arms and slender legs were unseasonably tanned.
Janine’s breath quickened, and she stumbled into Veronica again, the multicolored fingers fluttering against her sleeve. Veronica knew she needed to say something to distract her.
“I get a birthday this year,” she blurted.
Mary Greer’s knocks were not making any sound on the heavy door of Mr. Bittner’s house. Janine made an inarticulate noise, her fingers pinching and releasing, and then spoke up with a quavering voice.
“Oh, that’s right,” she said. “You get a birthday this year!” Stronger now, happier. Veronica was pleased she’d thought of the right thing to say.
“How old will you be now? Four?”
“Yep, four,” Veronica said. “The joys of being a leap day baby.”
“You should have a p…p…party,” Janine said, her confidence wavering. They had pulled even with the ghost on Mr. Bittner’s porch.
Be strong, Janine, Veronica thought. We’re almost past.
“If I did, would you come?” she said.
“P…probably not,” Janine said, and then the ghost was behind them.
“Why not?” Veronica asked her, still allowing herself to be plucked at and pinched.
“Your house is huh-haunted,” Janine said.
The whole world is haunted now, Janine, Veronica thought, but she kept silent and led Janine up the hill toward school.
August Bittner watched Veronica and her timid friend through the gap in his drapes, tucking his favorite red scarf into his topcoat. They’d barely broken stride to look at his house and the girl floating onto his porch. They didn’t stop, but they looked.
Every school day he saw them watching his home as they made their way toward Jewell City’s Dr. Charles E. Montcrief High School, where he’d been teaching for the past thirty years. Them watching the ghost, him watching them, her watching the door. She didn’t appear every day, and sometimes the children were too late to see her, but on the days that they and Mary were at their appointed spots, a nervous warmth would radiate up from the center of his gut and spread until his extremities tingled. On some days, like this one, he would feel his neck dampen with sweat. And yet he was at his spot just inside the shadow of the heavy curtains on time every day. Despite the guilty feelings it produced, he found that he looked forward to the brief moment of terrible synchronicity.
“She’s our daughter, you know.”
Bittner turned back toward his wife, who was sitting in the shadows at the bottom of the staircase.
“Who?” he said.
“Her. The bold one, walking.”
He removed his leather gloves from the pockets of his coat and pulled them to his wrists until the smooth leather creaked. A pretty girl, Veronica Calder. She was in his history class and she paid attention, unlike most of her classmates. Veronica’s coat looked more stylish than warm, and he wondered why girls her age seemed to be more immune to the elements than the girls he’d known when he was a younger man.
This made him think of the girl on his porch, of her soft ribbed cotton top, the straps of which were no thicker than a pencil. Last February, when the streets were empty because of the thick, gray snow that had washed over their town, changing the terrain to a spectral moonscape, August Bittner had taken a risk and stood outside to look at her. He’d gotten close enough to see the fine hairs on her perfect chestnut-colored skin. They were shiny and golden, as though reflecting the sun, which, on this winter day, was blotted out by a gray and swirling sky. He’d stood and leaned close, intending to kiss her ghostly cheek, but in that moment a shearing blast of crystalline snow had blown through her body, stinging his face and blinding him so that he staggered back into the deep drifts that had gathered on his porch. When he’d cleared his eyes he could see the snow whirling within her body. She’d raised her hand to knock on their door, and he’d lost his nerve, not daring to walk back into his warm house until she disappeared.
“Our daughter,” Madeline whispered.
“That’s what you said about Mary,” he said. “And the others.” These last words were just a whisper, but Madeline always heard him. She could hear things that he never voiced, even. She could hear his thoughts before he thought them.
“And I was right then, too,” she said, her words echoing in the stairwell. He could imagine her voice filling the rooms upstairs, their bedroom, the study. Eva’s room. “You know I was. You felt it. You feel it every day she comes back.”
“Yes,” he agreed.
He’d killed Mary in February, eight years ago. It didn’t seem right that as a ghost she appeared dressed as she had been when she visited him for lessons in the summer. Not right, but he was so happy to see her he didn’t care, not even when her appearance led to whispered rumors that he’d killed her. And in school, it wasn’t just whispering—Mary had been one of the first ghosts in town to make regular appearances, her initial visit coming just a few days after the Event. She had been dead nearly two years by then, but the local paper had run a picture of August, looking appropriately grave and standing on the porch, where she appeared. (The pictures of Mary did not develop well, reducing her to a digitized blur of pale amber light that would not look impressive in the newspaper.) Her reappearance had been an unwelcome reminder of an incident that the town, by now fatigued by the death and horror of the Event, was all too eager to forget.
The teens at Montcrief had longer memories and had lost no time in naming August as Mary’s killer, even though the police eliminated him as a suspect very early on in the investigation. Someone had dropped a typed sheet on his desk just two days after the photo ran, with a poem:
GUS HAS MARY
HANGING FROM A TREE
FIRST COMES BLOOD
THEN COMES MARRIAGE
THEN COMES BITTNER IN A BABY CARRIAGE
Not exactly Robert Frost, but the memory of the poem—which at the time had shocked August, and left him awake at nights fearing the discovery of his many crimes—made him smile today.
“It will be her anniversary soon,” Madeline said.
“I know,” he whispered.
“And you must deliver her. Again.”
He rubbed his forehead with his gloved hand. “Must I?”
“You must, August. Her birthday is the only day it is possible for her to be reborn. How can our little girl be reborn if you do not deliver her?”
He could feel a tear gathering at the corner of his eye.
“Old fool,” his wife said, her voice echoing. “Go hug our daughter. Let her in.”
August wet his lips. He opened the door, but Mary never set foot in their home.
Despite the rumors and rhymes, few bothered to question him about the girl, perhaps because by the time of her appearance in the newspaper, there were dozens of ghosts all over town, each with a story as mysterious as his own ghost’s.
He frowned as he retrieved his briefcase from the floor. That ten-cent philosopher Stephen Pescatelli was one of the few who were suspicious; he had insinuated something in the teachers’ lounge many years ago.
“Mary was a student of yours, wasn’t she, Gus?” he’d said, his eyes dark and rimmed with red in his round face. He had a face like that of a black squirrel’s, its furry cheeks stuffed with nuts. “Why do you think she’s on your doorstep for all eternity?”
This was when Pescatelli was still drinking, before Principal Evans, bless her heart, had staged an intervention in the form of a stern warning: Stop coming into work hungover, or you are done. In the days when he was drinking, Pescatelli was liable to say just about anything to anyone at anytime, and seemed to take special delight in irritating his colleagues, especially August Bittner.
“She used to visit me,” August had said, so surprised by Pescatelli’s aggression he’d revealed more than he’d wanted to regarding his relationship with Mary Greer.
“Really?” Pescatelli had said, leaning forward so that August could smell the beer in his sweat and the cinnamon gum that didn’t quite mask the odor of his breath. “What for?”
“I…tutored her,” he’d said, and lifted his hand to his mouth, feeling wrinkles that hadn’t been there when Mary was alive. “She was not a strong student.”
The despair he’d felt at that moment was not feigned, although he thought that Pescatelli probably expected it was. But it was real. In taking Mary from this life into the next, he’d lost something. She was his forever, but that did not mean he was free from loss.
Each girl had taken a little piece of his soul with him when he’d taken their lives.
“What are you waiting for?” his wife said, and he blinked, as though waking from a nap. “Stop your foolish daydreaming.”
- "Waters not only causes hearts to race, but brains to ponder the possibilities of ghosts." -- Kirkus
- "[The] creepiness in this supernatural thriller [will] keep readers invested." -- Publishers Weekly
- On Sale
- Oct 15, 2013
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers