(Bitter Snow #1)
Author: Lauren Sweet
Release Date: December 5, 2013
Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal,
Release Date: December 5, 2013
Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal,
Whatever you do, don’t open the door.
All Gilly Breslin wants for her sixteenth birthday is for her best friend Kai to see her as more than just the girl next door he’s known forever. So when she receives a mysterious, romantic invitation to meet him at midnight, she knows she has to go.
But it’s St. Nicholas’s Eve, the ancient festival of Bellsnichol, when demons roam the dark winter landscape. Tradition demands that everyone in the tiny town of Bremerton stay inside, doors shut tight against evil.
Gilly thinks it’s just a quaint old superstition. She has no idea that a malevolent power has been unleashed in Bremerton—with Kai as its target. But when she answers her door at midnight, her romantic date turns deadly…and she’s drawn into an ancient web of fear and darkness that threatens everything she loves.
At three minutes to midnight, yells and demon howls erupted right outside my house. Feet stomped on the porch—lots of them—and then there was a thunderous knocking on the door.
Damn. It couldn’t be Kai—he would have slipped off alone to meet me. There was no way he’d bring a bunch of half-drunk boys to my birthday celebration. But that didn’t mean he hadn’t been followed.
They howled again, pounding. Someone whose voice I didn’t recognize yelled, “The Demons of the Winter night are here! Let us in, sinner, that we may feed on your wicked soul!”
Oh, crap. That wasn’t in the script—at least, I’d never heard it before. I suddenly realized they could see the lights on, but there was no food or drink on the porch. Was this what they said when there were no offerings? Or when they found someone home alone—someone who didn’t have the protection of people around them? I suddenly felt scared.
They’re just boys, I told myself. Boys I know. It’s only an old tradition. Nothing to be afraid of.
But I was glad the curtains were closed and they couldn’t see me. They didn’t know for sure I was here. If I didn’t answer, they’d get bored and go away.
There was more howling, and then I heard them scrabbling at the windows. I suddenly felt exposed—as if they could sense my presence, somehow. As if they could smell me.
They pounded again, and common sense took over. This was stupid. I wasn’t afraid of a bunch of teenage boys. I walked to the door, put my hands on it the way Mr. Kehrer had, and shouted, “We have no outcasts here. The doors of this town are closed to you. You’ve taken our offerings to feed your hunger. Now begone!”
If they could get untraditional, so could I.
I finished the speech and listened. I heard hoarse, guttural laughter, and something scraped across the door, right under my hands. I almost screamed, but choked it back. Heavy footsteps shook the porch, and then there was a crash, as if someone had tripped over one of the planters. I jumped, but for some reason I didn’t want to take my hands off the door. I listened for sounds that they were moving off, but heard nothing.
I stood there, palms against the door, not knowing what to do. There was no way I was opening the door to look out, and going back across the room to the couch would make me feel too exposed. I felt like I was in a horror movie, in the moment of silence when it looked like the zombies were going away—right before they crashed in all the doors and windows at once. I held my breath.
No more stomping came from inside. Instead, there was another knock on the door, right between my hands. And a voice called out.
Kai! He sounded hoarse, but it was definitely his voice, with the ripple of laughter it always had when he was pretending to be serious, and trying to keep a straight face.
“It’s the Demons of the Winter Ni-ight!” he called in a weird singsong. “Open the door, so we can celebrate with feasting!”
Relief shot through me. My knees suddenly felt weak, the way they do when you’ve been really scared and then suddenly you’re not. I grabbed for the doorknob, fumbling a little, still shaky from adrenalin.
“Coming!” I yelled.
And then I did something I never should have done.
(Bitter Snow #2)
Author: Lauren Sweet
Release Date: December 21, 2013
Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal,
On St. Nicholas’s Eve, the festival of Bellsnichol, Gilly Breslin opened her door to an ancient evil. A demon queen who’s slowly destroying Gilly’s best friend Kai—the only guy she’s ever loved.
But it’s not just Kai. Every guy who falls in love with the Snow Queen turns evil—and every guy who sees her falls in love with her.
Gilly’s only hope is to enlist the secret guardians of Bremerton, who may hold the key to banishing the Snow Queen and her minions. But with the town erupting in violence and the demons’ power increasing as the winter nights grow longer, she’s in a race against time to stop them before it’s too late.
I stood on the snowy walkway, staring in the window. There was a dining table on one side of the room, and on the other Perchta was sitting in a velvet-covered chair, her long blond hair spilling over the back. Kai was standing behind her, brushing her hair, running his hand over the smooth golden fall after each stroke.
Perchta had a folder in her lap—one of the ones Kai used to hold his drawings. She was examining a drawing critically, holding it at various distances and gazing at it. She finally tossed it to the floor.
“Really,” she said, sounding bored. “Is that the best you can do?” I could hear her clearly through the open window.
“I’m working on another one,” Kai said eagerly. “You’ll like it. I just haven’t gotten it quite right yet.”
Perchta caught his hand as it stroked her hair, and ran her fingers down his palm. She still had the glove over her right hand, but the left was bare, and I could see that she had the same long, icicle fingernails she’d had at my house. Not passing as human at the moment, apparently. And Kai didn’t seem weirded out by this at all, which freaked me out even more.
Perchta slowly pressed her icicle nail through the center of Kai’s palm. I had to shove my fist in my mouth to muffle the sound I made. She pulled the nail free and blood welled out. Kai hadn’t flinched or made a sound. Perchta smiled like a cat, and licked the blood. Kai looked dreamy, ecstatic.
Holy God. Was she some kind of vampire?
I didn’t see any fangs, and she wasn’t sucking his blood. Did evil goddesses drink blood?
Or eat body part soup made from screaming bloody hearts?
On cue, Grandfather Winter came in carrying the tray. “Here we are,” he said, with a heavy German accent that made the ‘w’ into a ‘v.’ “Something delicious for you.”
I bit down on my mitten. Don’t eat it! I wanted to scream. At the same time, the smell drifted out the window, and I wanted to dive through it and eat the soup myself.
Kai ran over and unloaded the tray, which Grandfather Winter took back to the kitchen. Then Kai started setting up places at the table like a good little boy. Perchta just lounged in her chair, watching him. The napkins were cloth, and he folded Perchta’s into the shape of a rose, then his own into the shape of an elephant. He’d learned to do that years ago, once he found out that cabin stewards on cruise ships could fold towels into animal shapes. But he’d never given me a rose. A napkin one, or any other kind.
When everything was perfect, Perchta finally deigned to get her princess butt out of her velvet throne and come to the table. Kai held her chair out for her like a waiter in a fancy restaurant, and then sat down himself. He took a handful of goldfish crackers and sprinkled them in his soup. Perchta watched him avidly.
All the fairy tales I’d ever heard came rushing back into my mind, about what happens when you eat fairy food. You’re stuck in the fairy realm, and can never escape. But I couldn’t make myself call out. I kept seeing the old man’s big, powerful hands, squeezing blood from heart-things and wringing a bird’s neck. If he’d yank his own eye out, what would he do to me?
A voice came from behind me, on the walk. Gravelly, with a heavy German accent.
“So. Vat is it we haff here?”
I swung around, terrified, to see Grandfather Winter standing on the pathway.
Winter demons have invaded the tiny town of Bremerton, and sixteen-year-old Gilly Breslin is the only one who can banish them. The only problem is, she doesn’t know how.
Digging through the town’s historical archives, she and her friend Niko piece together clues to an ancient ritual to send the demons back to the dark realm they sprang from.
But the Snow Queen has plans of her own. Her power is greatest at the darkest time of the year, and her evil influence is spreading insidiously through the town, leaving Gilly wondering if there’s anyone left who can be trusted.
The demons must be banished by Twelfth Night, or the town will be lost. But to do it, Gilly may have to sacrifice everything that matters to her—including her soul.
Niko and I dashed to the back of the church sanctuary and slipped through the door into the stairwell. At the far end of the hall was an exit door. A way out. Or a way in. If we didn’t come out soon, Perchta’s demons would come in after us.
Niko dragged me to a stop. “What’s the plan?”
“I know a way out to the roof,” I told him. “There’s a maintenance crawlspace under the steeple. I don’t think anyone’s been there in years, except me and Kai. It’s out of the storm, and you might be able to light the candles and finish the banishing ritual before they find you.”
“And what will you be doing?”
“Climbing across the roof to the bell tower.” In the mother of all blizzards, surrounded by snow demons, with a three-story drop on every side. But the church bell was the culmination of the ritual. Without it, the banishment wouldn’t work.
Just for a second, I saw a “you must be frickin’ nuts” expression flash across Niko’s face. Then he gave me his famous troublemaker’s grin, and said, “Let’s do it.”
“This way,” I said, starting for the stairs to the choir room.
He went to a storage cabinet against the wall. He didn’t bother with keys this time, just kicked the door in and grabbed the tech headsets that were used during church plays and pageants. He tossed one to me and I hooked it over my ear, jamming my ski had down over it to keep it from coming loose. Niko did the same.
Outside, there was no sound except the moaning of the wind. The silence was almost scarier than the crashing.
“Come on,” I said.
Niko was already moving. We headed up the stairs at a run, emerging into the choir rehearsal room. I dashed around the battered piano and raised the sash on the old wooden window. It screeched along its runners.
Snow billowed into the room, borne on frigid wind. “Fire escape,” I said to Niko. “Come on, quick. They’re going to surround the building any minute, thinking we’re trying to get out the back.”
The fire escape was a black metal staircase that spiraled to the ground, with a landing on each floor. We climbed out and shut the window behind us, not wanting to leave evidence of our escape if Perchta’s minions searched the building.
Below, at ground level, I could see a set of glowing eyes—one of the demons, searching for us. I just prayed it wouldn’t occur to them to look up.
There was a metal ladder bolted to the brick wall of the church, leading to the edge of the steep, pitched roof.
I’d done this climb a bunch of times with Kai, including every Bellsnichol since we were ten. So this wasn’t the first time I’d done it in the winter. But I’d never tried it in a raging blizzard.
I went first, to show Niko how it was done. The worst part was getting from the ladder onto the roof. I was exposed to the full force of the wind, and it almost knocked me off the ladder. This wasn’t just any storm—it had a malevolent spirit in it. This blizzard wanted me dead.
There was nothing on the roof to grab onto, no traction—just waves of snow blowing over a slick sheet of old crusted snow. As I tried to pull myself up, my hands broke through the crust and I fell forward with a jerk, chest on the roof, legs scrabbling for a foothold. My hands were trapped, shards of ice cutting into my wrists above my gloves. I could feel a warm trickle of blood.
Wiggling and heaving, I tried to get my knee over the gutter and inch myself up. For a second I thought I wasn’t going to make it, and then I felt Niko behind me, boosting me. I yanked my hands out of their icy handcuffs and scrambled flat on the roof.
It was like being in the Sahara during a sandstorm. Icy grains of snow scoured every millimeter of exposed skin, making my face feel like it was being sandpapered. “Gotta go,” said Niko’s voice in my headset. “They’re spreading out around the building.”
I maneuvered myself around like a crab until I was facing downwards, and kicked the toes of my boots hard into the ice crust. It captured them the way it had my hands, keeping me from sliding headfirst back down the roof.
Niko’s head came over the gutter, and I reached out to him. He leaned forward and we clasped wrists. With me pulling, he managed to scramble out onto the roof. “I hope nobody saw that,” I said into my microphone. There was no way he could have heard me otherwise, over the scream of the wind.
“Me too,” Niko said, his voice quiet in my ear. “But once I start the ritual, they’ll feel the power and realize where we are. I just hope we bought ourselves enough time.”
I was born and raised in New Jersey, and books were a big part of my childhood. When I was about three and a half, I became obsessed with a Little Golden Book about a goat that gets a bucket stuck on its head. Since no one would read me the goat book as often as I wanted, I learned to read it myself—and haven’t stopped reading since. It was only inevitable that I turned to writing, so I could create more of the kind of stories that I like to read!
My favorite genres are mystery, sci-fi and paranormal/fantasy. I’ve always been fascinated by myths and fairy tales, and I love incorporating elements of ancient lore into modern stories. I have a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska Anchorage, and I currently live near Portland, OR, where I am a freelance writer and editor. My other esoteric skills include astrology, figure skating, and the ability to do a perfect split.
Win Gilly’s necklace from Bitter Snow Volume Two: Dark Solstice!
In folklore, iron protects against the influence of evil spirits. Handmade from real horseshoe nails and sterling silver by Connie Pardini of Wirestorm Creations (www.wirestormcreations.com), this necklace is a replica of the one Gilly wears to protect herself from harmful spells and illusions.
Open to US Shipping, retail value of necklace $80