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Jearl's books

A Dance with Dragons
The Death Factory
The Footprints of God: A Novel
Winter of the World
The Hunger Games
Catching Fire
A Game of Thrones
A Storm of Swords
Cross My Heart
Girl Missing
Spandau Phoenix
A Feast for Crows
Odd Apocalypse
A Clash of Kings
Fall of Giants
The Art of Racing in the Rain

Jearl Rugh's favorite books

The Collective

A science fiction story about the girl next door

The Collective

When Seneca witnesses a team of “men” abduct her family and then discovers she’s a hybrid human/shape-shifter, she faces a choice: if she hides until the shifters give up hunting for her, she may never find her family, but, if she surrenders to the aliens, she may not possess the warrior grit to rescue those she loves.

Now out for submission, follow my Newsletter for representation and publication progress.

Below is chapter 1. If you wish to reed further, go to BookCountry or writeon/amazon for more chapters. 


THEY'RE GONE I'M SURE, but grounded just means an unforeseen delay. It’s time to bounce.

     Already dressed, I throw my blankets back, tiptoe to the window and unlatch it. With freedom only a step away, I hold my breath and give the window an upward tug. It makes no sound, so I unfasten the screen. The cool breeze whips my hair back over my shoulders and coats my tongue with a welcome mist of salty air.

     Before I step into the night, I rest my hand on the high school football poster taped to the wall above my desk. My room is dark, but I know right where Kirk stands. With my fingers tracing the outline of his adorable face, I swallow the tears in the back of my throat and whisper, “I hope you waited for me.”

     Once my feet light on the back lawn, sure my escape has gone unnoticed so far, I turn toward the south side of the house. The quickest way to the boy who I want to call me his girlfriend would be to jump the back fence, but that means I’d have to cross the creek bed running about a hundred feet behind my house. In mid-August it’s dry, but it’s also home to all sorts of flitting, slithering and crawling pests that give me more shivers than the scene I watched this afternoon of the vampire’s blood scourge. If I run that way, I could well be brutalized by a bug. The alternative puts me on our driveway. My parents’ room sits on top of the garage but, even though Dad caught me once, the chance of one of them glancing out the window while I race by tonight is slim.

     When I reach our wooden gate—the final barrier between me and Kirk—my heart synchs tight. I want to believe it’s anticipation of what might happen at the beach—my future could well be written in the next few minutes—but the reality is the ring of steel against steel as Dad hammered a nail into my window frame is not such a distant memory. What a disaster. With the hallway outside my bedroom door being a minefield of creaky boards, for two weeks last spring, until I replaced his nail with a stubby one I cut with his hacksaw, I couldn’t take my night walks.

     Now, I inhale a deep calming breath and release it while I gather my hair into a makeshift ponytail, and then pull my hoodie over my head. With the stealth of a cat burglar, I lift the gate latch and step through the opening. Dressed in black from head to toe, I’m as exposed on the driveway beneath the security light as a criminal under a helicopter’s search beam, so I jog to the street and take a quick glance in both directions. With the exception of Mrs. Johnson, the widow next door who makes the sweetest chocolate chip cookies, the dark windows on the block indicate the other neighbors have gone to bed. The lights against her closed drapes, though, cast shifting shadows from her television. Assured she poses no threat to my covert activity, I take my usual route to the right. Once I put Mrs. Johnson’s overgrown rhododendron, loaded with large lavender flowers, between me and my parent’s bedroom window, the pressure eases in my chest.

     We don’t have sidewalks in my neighborhood so I’m forced to the edge of the street. Pushed by a western breeze that cuts a slight chill through my sweatshirt, the clouds hurry across the sky. So, with the moon peeking through those wisps of gray, creating fleeting shadows at my feet, wherever trees provide escape from the moon’s glow, I duck for cover.

As I approach the end of the block, three doors from my house, the rumble of an engine around the corner to my right disturbs the constant drone of the ocean’s roar. I don’t fear the vehicle or its occupants, there’s very little crime here in Ocean Shores, Washington, but I just can’t afford to be discovered by one of our neighbors. Not tonight. Not with my first kiss waiting on Kirk’s lips.

     I slip behind a broad-trunked tree in the front yard of the corner house and watch until the whine of the engine materializes into an unfamiliar white minivan. It makes a left at the corner seconds later, while, with the tree as cover, I circle around to keep it between me and whoever’s eyes might be watching from the vehicle.

     After it passes, I step from my hiding place to head for the beach party, but as my feet hit the pavement again, the van’s brake lights catch my eyes. It stopped in front of my driveway. Tucked behind the tree again, I shake my head, unhappy about another disgusting interruption in my romantic destiny.

     I peek around the trunk just as three men step out of the van. This just doesn’t make sense. It’s after eleven thirty and my parents don’t entertain at this time on any night let alone a Friday. My dad’s a scientist and Mom’s a branch manager at a bank. After a week of long hours, they need their rest. Besides, they went to bed already.

     When the three start across my front yard, that cat burglar comes to mind again. Slinking more like a cat, though, I cling to the shadows on a cautious creep back toward my house. I reach the edge of our property in seconds and, so whoever these men are don’t know I’ve bounced, I slide on my belly under the rhododendron. With my hand, I sweep back some leaves dangling in my face and then roll my eyes from the side gate to the front door. Both are closed and undisturbed, and not one of the men is caught in the garage’s floodlight.  

     Before I can fully process their disappearance, two powerful lights erupt, one just after the other, through my parent’s bedroom window and then another flash bursts in Nathan’s, my younger brother’s, room. Neither makes a sound so it could be a camera flash, but something more disturbing flies into my mind. I’ve never seen real gunfire, but this looks like a movie scene where a gun explodes on the opposite side of a covered window. This unexpected horror tangles a web of panic in my brain so black I’m not sure my knees will support me. I scoot backwards out from under the leafy plant anyway, and, once I’m on my feet, run toward the driveway. Despite my heart catching in my throat, strangling my voice, I force a scream, “Mom ... Dad ... Nate.”

     When I come around from behind the van, the driver’s door opens and a fourth man steps out. This shock brings me to a complete stop. I’m too startled to even tremble so I glare at him. His khaki pants are fastened at the waist with a belt, and a green long-sleeve shirt is tucked under it. He tilts the bill of a beige ball cap so it throws a shadow across his face. In his left hand, he holds something dark. It’s shadowed by his body so I can’t be certain, but I already fear guns were used upstairs and this looks like a great big black-pistol.

     “Aurora,” he says. His voice is flat, not like he’s reassuring me, but emotionless. “You will come with me.”

     I’m not suicidal, but I want to get into my house to see what’s happened to my family. With this fourth man now posing a threat to me, however, panic grabs my ankles with such force my feet may as well be super-glued to the driveway.

In the last few seconds, so many questions have crowded my mind I’m surprised I can find one rational thought. “I don’t know you,” I shout, my throat still tight with a fusion of fear and anger. “I’m not going anywhere with you.”

     “We are looking for you. Come now, Aurora.”

     “Who are you? How do you know my name?” I glance toward the now darkened rooms on the second story of my house. “Did you kill them?”

     “Truth will be revealed when it is time. Now, you will be with me.”

     His phrasing seems odd but the last thing I’m doing tonight is going anywhere with this dude. And, as if this confrontation and the dread that my family is dead aren’t bad enough, either the man at the van grows larger by the second or his pant legs are shrinking. That’s got to be panic eroding my perspective, at least, I hope so, but, when he brings his arm up, the floodlight glances off the gun. The impulse of fear for my family pales as instinct tells me to RUN. I spin around surprised my legs are already in motion.

     I’ve lived in this neighborhood all my life but at the moment my mind whirls at such a desperate pace, I can’t tie enough of this memory together to save myself. Mrs. Johnson’s watching TV and I don’t want to endanger her, but race toward her front door anyway. When I reach the center of her lawn, not more than eight of my strides, behind me I hear the hiss of a gun silencer and, at the same moment, the neighborhood lights up like the flash of a lightning right overhead.

     I throw myself to the ground and hope to blend with shadows on the grass. When I stop rolling, I strain for any sound. If there’re shoes beating the pavement or heavy breathing, the blood surging through my ears blocks it out. Even so, I fear the man stalks only a few feet away. When another flash doesn’t immediately follow, I peek back toward the street. No one lurks. I jump to my feet again, and, since the immediate danger seems to have lifted, run to the south side, away from Mrs. Johnson’s door, and around her house.

     As I hit the backyard, I glance over the fence. There’s one place I can disappear, one place they won’t know about. I really don’t want to go there, but at the moment, I can’t think of anywhere else. I sprint through Mrs. Johnson’s yard, grab the top rail of her four-foot fence and hurl myself over. On the other side, I squat next to the chain-link enclosure and wrap my fingers through the wire. The silhouette of the house that has stood next to where I’ve grown up rises out of the ground fifty feet away. If the man with a gun runs around either corner of the building, he’ll spot me in a second.

     I suck a gasp of air in and, with my heart whacking at my ribs, glance over my shoulder. The open field behind me offers little cover, but the creek bed pulls at me. I turn and, with the wind in my face, charge through the knee-high dune-grass crouched at the waist. Once in the taller weeds, I hunker to my knees aware that life squirms and wriggles everywhere. In fact, a swarm of tiny insects darts around my face. One lands on my cheek very near my left eye, probably searching for tears I’ve been too frightened to cry. As I raise my hand to swipe at it, over the muted thunder of the ocean, the distinct slam of vehicle doors—one ... two—causes my already thrashing heart to slam into my breastbone. There should’ve been a third thud. I turn my head toward the widow’s house, hoping my assailant isn’t racing toward me. Relief calms my brain when I see he’s not there, but then, three—the back door slides shut.

     Now, with the cover of the dry rushes and the pale moonlight peering through a veil of clouds, I fear my black clothes have become as brilliant as a movie-theater marquee. I’m neon.