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Jearl's books

A Dance with Dragons
The Death Factory
Gravity
The Footprints of God: A Novel
Winter of the World
The Hunger Games
Catching Fire
Mockingjay
A Game of Thrones
A Storm of Swords
Cross My Heart
Girl Missing
Bloodstream
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 Third Splintering
The Third Splintering
A sci-fi mystery about the girl next door ... or is she?

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Zoe has spent her fifteen years being nothing but average. But when Silone and three other mystical men appear, she unearths a forgotten truth lying dormant since infancy. More freak than anything normal, she’s a half-human, half-extraterrestrial shape-shifter. Now, certain her parents have been abducted, she embarks on a suspense-filled mission, confronting the destiny from which she might never return.


Defying the limitations of imagination, the worlds-colliding suspense thrusts the story forward as the extraordinary characters unpack intricate layers of mystery.

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  • Read below to enter the sci-fi mystery.
  • The Third Splintering


    1


         Kirk invited me—me of all the other girls. By now the party’s probably over but I’m done with the wait. Mom grounding me only imposed an unpredicted delay.

         Already dressed, I throw my blankets back, tiptoe to the window and give it an upward tug. When a cool breeze whips my hair back over my shoulders, I draw a deep breath. A welcome mist of salty sea air coats my tongue. Only a step from freedom, while I unfasten the screen, I blow the growing tension from my lungs.

         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’ve memorized right where Kirk stands. I know where I stand too. On a campus filled with testosterone and estrogen-charged egos, I self-bullied, naming myself “White-noise.” With my inclination for chatter, even when there’s nothing to say, the avatar has stuck. Now, kids I barely know pass me in the hall and call out with a sneer or a snicker, “White-noise.”

         With my fingers tracing the outline of Kirk’s adorable face, I swallow the tears in the back of my throat and whisper, “You waited for me, right?”

         Once my feet touch the back lawn, certain my escape has gone unnoticed, 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. However, that means I’d have to cross the creek bed that runs about a hundred feet behind my house. In mid-August it’s dry but home to all sorts of flitting, slithering and crawling pests that give me more shivers than the video of the vampire’s blood scourge I watched this afternoon. If I run that way, I could well be brutalized by a bug. The alternative puts me on our driveway and my parents’ room sits on top of the garage. But even though Dad caught me sneaking out once, the chance of one of them glancing out the window at the precise moment I race by is slim.

         When I reach our wooden gate—the final barrier between me and Kirk—my heart cinches tight. I want to believe it’s anticipation of what might happen at the beach, but the ring of Dad’s hammer nailing my window shut is not a distant memory. What a disaster. The hallway outside my bedroom door is a minefield of creaky boards. So, 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.

         While I gather my hair into a makeshift ponytail and pull my hoodie over my head, the western breeze cuts a slight chill through my sweatshirt and an unexpected shiver works its way down my back. I inhale and release more calming breaths. Then, 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.

         I jog to the street and take a quick glance to the right. With the exception of Mrs. Johnson, the sweet widow next door, 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 likely poses no threat to my covert activity, since we don’t have sidewalks in my neighborhood I step into the street. Once I put her overgrown rhododendron between me and my parents’ bedroom window, my heart slows easing the pressure in my chest.

         When I reach the last house on the block, three doors from my own, I leave the street to cut through the yard. As I do, the rumble of an approaching engine 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 be discovered by one of our neighbors. Not tonight. Not when my first kiss might be waiting.

    I scramble behind a broad-trunked tree growing near the street and wait until the whine of the engine around the corner turns left—towards me. With the tree as cover, I circle around to keep it between me and whoever’s eyes might be watching from the vehicle.

         Once it passes, I step from my hiding place to continue to the beach party. But as my feet hit the neighbor’s lawn again, the squeal of brakes pierces my ears. I turn and see the vehicle is an unfamiliar white minivan. It comes to a stop in front of my driveway. I tuck behind the tree again and shake my head, not happy about another irritating interruption to my romantic destiny.

         With a deep sigh, I peek around the trunk just as three men step out of the van. This 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 want their rest. Besides, they went to bed already. I know because I waited for them.

         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 Mrs. Johnson’s property in seconds and slide on my belly under the rhododendron. In addition to its large lavender flowers, it’s in full leaf. With my hand, I sweep back some foliage dangling in my face and then scan my eyes from the side gate to the front door. Both are closed and seem undisturbed. Not one of the men is caught in the garage’s floodlight.  

         Before I fully process their disappearance, a powerful, yet silent, flash erupts through my parents’ bedroom window. 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 heavy I’m not sure my knees will support me. I scoot backward out from under the leafy plant anyway, and, once I find my balance, I run toward the driveway. Despite my heart catching in my throat, strangling my voice, I force a scream, “Mom ... Dad.”

         When I come around from behind the van, the driver’s door opens and a fourth man steps out. If I had expected him, I would have run the other way or at the least continued to hide, so this surprise brings me to a complete stop. I want to shriek, but my brain is so knotted in terror I can’t even tremble. So, I just 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 a gun was used upstairs and this looks like a great big black pistol.

         “Zoe,” he says. His voice is flat and detached. “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 bolted 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 say, 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, Zoe.”

         His phrasing seems odd like English is not his first language, but I have no time or desire to give him grammar lessons. Besides, the last thing I’m doing tonight is going anywhere with him.

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

         “These are not matters for your concern. Now, you will be with me.”

         As if the dread that my parents are dead and the uncertainty of where this confrontation is leading 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 panic for my family pales now—if they’re gone they’re gone—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. 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 the hiss of a gun silencer interrupts the night sounds. At the same moment, a flash like lightning lights up the neighborhood.

         I throw myself to the ground and hope to blend with the shadows on the grass. When I stop rolling, I strain for any sound. If there are 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 run to the south side, away from Mrs. Johnson’s door, and around her house.

         As I hit the backyard, I glance over her rear 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 house that has stood next to where I’ve grown stands fifty feet away. From here I realize if the man with the 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 pounding like it wants to escape my chest, glance over my shoulder. The open field behind me offers little cover, but the creepy creek bed pulls at me. I turn and, with the wind in my face, charge through the knee-high dune-grass.

    Once in the taller weeds, I squat 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, from the street on the other side of my neighbor’s house, over the muted thunder of the ocean, the distinct slam of vehicle doors—one ... two—causes my already thrashing heart to crash into my breastbone. There should’ve been a third thud. I turn my head toward the widow’s house, hoping again that my assailant isn’t racing toward me. My brain eases when I see he’s not there, but then, three—the bang of the last door echoes through the neighborhood. They’re ready to chase me down.

         Dread, like a whip of flames, snaps around my guts. I groan. With the cover of the pale rushes and the faint moonlight peering through a veil of clouds, I fear my black clothes have become as brilliant as a movie-theater marquee. I’m neon.