Happy Holidays! Sneak Peek from Arthur Grey Book 4

What better way to celebrate the holidays than with a peek at a scene from The Discoveries of Arthur Grey BOOK 4? Not yet seen by anyone else, this is a special little gift just for you!

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In this next book, Arthur and his dog Griffin get to visit his bubbly friend Pernille and her family in Ireland for Christmas. Arthur is expecting a relaxing time, not an eerie one. Here’s part of that chapter:

 
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     The car jerked to a sudden halt, nearly throwing Arthur into the dashboard, and the engine shut down with a final gasping cough. “Welcome to our home, Arthur,” Eliot beamed.
     Arthur shoved open the car door and scrambled out of the seat to heave in a breath of the chilly air. Then he opened his eyes. A few yards ahead, a single-story stone cottage squatted beneath the deep shadows of trees. The four front windows were cheerily lit by tall Christmas-red candles. In one window, a little boy’s face bobbed into view, pressed against the glass for a moment, and then disappeared again.
     Before Arthur could ask who that was, a voice from inside squealed, “It’s a stranger, Nanna! A stranger’s finally come to our light just like ye telt us every Christmas! Are we goin’ to feed him, are we?”
     Arthur raised an eyebrow at Pernille who grinned. “It’s just my little brother,” she explained. “Come on in. He doesn’t bite—not usually, anyway.”
     Griffin sidled cautiously beside Arthur, and they followed Pernille and her dad to the front door.
     “We’re ho—oof!” Mr. Hanly gasped and doubled over to grab at his stomach, which had been bowled into by the little boy. “Home,” he finished with a teary-eyed smile.
     A slamming sound erupted from the kitchen and then a stern-faced woman with a long grey braid came marching toward the door, her finger wagging. “Patrick Sean Andrew Hanly! Givin’ yer da a stomachache is no way to greet him. Get off before the kelpies come and steal yer bold self away!” She whirled on her toes to face Arthur, her hand propelling toward him, and he instinctively ducked.
     But all she did was swat a spot of dirt off his shirt. “I’m Eilish Foley, Pernille’s nanna. Ye must be Arthur then. Pernille’s telt us all about ye. Ye don’t talk much, do ye? Well that’s fine because everyone else in this house talks too much, if ye ask me.” She gave Griffin a scrutinizing, narrow-eyed stare before shaking her head at Arthur. “I’m afraid if yer dog chases the cat he’ll have to go. But come in, come in. Don’t let’s let the cold in.”
     Gorgons and trolls! Griffin’s ears flapped down. I won’t chase any cats—I promise!
     Arthur stepped further into the room and tried to take everything in as fast as he could. They were in a living room that connected directly to the open kitchen. At one end stood a fireplace, but instead of a fire, a potbellied stove had been shoved into the space, a kettle sitting on top of it like a squat black bird. Around the fireplace waited several overstuffed armchairs and a wooden rocker, all spruced with Christmasy cushions. The bright colors of paper chains dangling from the ceiling stood out against the spotless, whitewashed walls.
     When Arthur turned around, he nearly jumped in surprise. Two pairs of eyes were staring at him. One belonged to a tortoiseshell cat sitting on the windowsill right beside him. The other set was narrowed in the pouty face of Pernille’s younger brother.
     The scrawny little boy barely bore any resemblance to Pernille and Mr. Hanly. His hair was black instead of fiery orange, and, even though he only looked to be about eight years old, his large eyes were serious and were such a dusky dark blue that Arthur could hardly make out the irises in them.
     “Nanna,” the boy whined, “he’s no stranger if he’s Perny’s friend. That doesn’t count as a stranger on Christmas Eve—aren’t we ever goin’ to get a stranger visitor?”
     “Oh, get on with ye!” his grandmother huffed. “Go and wash yer hands before ye attract the Morrigan with all yer noise and mortifyin’ manners.”
     Pernille giggled. “Come on, Arthur.” She ushered him to the kitchen sink and then watched him with an amused smile while they waited for her brother to finish before they soaped up their own hands. “Ya look a bit flummoxed, Arthur.”
     “Flummoxed?” He cleared his throat.
“Ya do. But don’t worry. Paddy’s always like that—Ma used to say he’s got the fight of the Irish in him—which he gets from Nanna, for certain.”
     “Yeah. Well, it’s your nanna I might be worried about. I don’t think she likes me.”
     “Oh, don’t worry. She likes ya. She likes everybody who Banshee likes, an’ Banshee likes ya, I can tell.”
     “Banshee?” Arthur stopped rinsing his hands and swung a nervous glance over his shoulder. “Isn’t that a fairy woman who comes when someone’s about to die and warns of their death by screaming and wailing?”
     Pernille laughed. “In most cases it is. But in this case, that’s the name of our cat.”
     Arthur and Griffin had never been to a family dinner before (unless eating silently at an eight-person table with just Gree at the far end counted). They gulped their meal of potato and roast pie between sessions of staring from Pernille to Paddy to Eliot, whose rapid conversation Arthur could hardly understand—even though they insisted they were still speaking English.
     Nanna Eilish only spoke to offer more food and to scold Paddy for standing in his chair or dribbling food out of his mouth and Pernille for talking too loudly.
     Pernille’s grandfather, Cadogan, didn’t speak at all, but smiled and nodded as he chewed, occasionally giving Arthur a knowing wink as if they shared a secret—that Arthur wasn’t aware of. The old man had a ring of tufty hair surrounding his head like a furry white horseshoe, and his forehead was nothing more than rows of wrinkles. But he had rosy cheeks, twinkling blue-grey eyes, and more smile creases than anyone else Arthur had ever met.
     During dinner, the cat wandered beneath the table, occasionally making awful squalling noises that made Arthur understand why it was named Banshee.
     “Is Santa ever goin’ to bring me a Pegasus?” Paddy demanded halfway through dessert. “If he doesn’t bring me one this Christmas, I’m goin’ to lay off bein’ good.”
     His grandmother crossed her arms. “When are ye ever good?”
     “Now, now, Eilish,” Granda spoke up, his voice surprisingly deep for his rickety frame. “He’s a boy. Santa knows boys aren’t meant to be good—they’re meant to get into shenanigans.”
     Nanna’s blue eyes narrowed, and she huffed like an irate dragon. Arthur almost expected smoke to come shooting through her nose. “Cad-oh-gan! Don’t ye dare encourage his mischief! Ye’re a skawly, bold man. And, Patrick, ye boyo, ye listen well now—”
     Granda leaned toward Arthur and chuckled, his eyes crinkling merrily in the corners. “Me wife has a powerful temper,” he whispered behind his hand. “If only our side’d had her during the Roman invasion, eh?”
     “Cad-oh-gan! What kind of blarney are ye blatherin’ at our guest?”
     “Nothin’, love, nothin’ at all.” He winked at Arthur.
     When the dishes had been cleared from the table, Nanna dried her hands and pointed to the front door. “As I always say, ‘a hand without work is a hand gettin’ into trouble.’ So, Pernille, you take along that Arthur boy and his dog and find a knot of fresh ivy and a bit of holly for the windows. Tomorrow’s Christmas Day, ye realize! But don’t ye go wanderin’ far, Pernille Moyra Hanly.” Then she spun on her toes to dictate chores to the others before they could slip away.
     Pernille waited for Arthur to dig his jacket out of his bag, then she led the way outside. “The ivy’s easy,” she said brightly. “It grows on the side of the house so we’ll come back for it after we find our holly.” She paused to turn on her flashlight before beckoning Arthur and Griffin toward the woods. “We always decorate with freshly-cut plants on Christmas Eve—it makes the house smell so grand, but I come here every year to find holly, even when I was only a babby and I used to get distracted looking for fairies and gnomes and I made them a real working doll house to live in only they all escaped.”
     Arthur pictured a small flame-haired Pernille trying to ram screeching fairies into a dollhouse. “I hope there’s a video of that somewhere,” he laughed.
     Her face blush red, she punched his arm before delving in to inspect a dark green shrub at the edge of the woods.
     “Here’s the closest holly but, japers, looks like the birds’ve gotten at these, there aren’t any berries left. Let’s check the ones further in. Oh, do ya know the O’Sallies are visitin’ tomorrow and it’ll be such a class time! I haven’t seen them in donkey’s years…”
     Pernille chattered on while she and Arthur bobbed their flashlights in search of the tell-tale red berries of a holly bush. The farther they wandered from any sign of the house, the more crowded and unkempt the trees seemed to grow, until, finally, Pernille stopped them by a thicket of holly bushes abounding with berries. Arthur used his pocketknife clippers to trim sprigs of holly that Pernille chose, while Griffin sniffed at the tree roots around them.
     Suddenly, Griffin halted, his nose pulsating, and Arthur felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise like a silent alarm. He flung out his arm to stop Pernille.
     For a moment, they all stood as if frozen.
     “What is it?” whispered Pernille, her eyes wide.
     Arthur glanced at Griffin, whose hackles hesitantly lowered. “I heard a noise,” he explained in a whisper. “A branch snapping or something.” He stared into the darkness around them, his heart pounding. Then he let out a gasp.
     Ahead, a faint glow of light flashed through the trees, spooky, like a glowing eye. What’s that? he thought nervously to Griffin.
     Dunno. But it’s probably seen us.
     Then don’t just stand there. Without a word aloud, Arthur gripped his knife tighter and darted forward, Griffin at his side.
     Pernille scrambled after them. “Wait, Arthur, we cannay go far—”
     “Ssh!” he hissed, pointing. “Do you see that? It looks like lights. Do you think someone else is out here?”
     They stopped and stared at the several smudges of light flickering and waving ahead.
     “There wouldn’t be anyone else so far in. The nearest house is the O’Sallies’ an’ they live the other way.”
     Arthur crept forward a few more steps, trying to get a better view of the lights. Then he stopped. “Wait a second. There’s only one light.” Slightly relieved that they weren’t being ambushed, he continued to pick his way between the branches and roots.
     “Oh, I see what ya mean. That’s a metal fence reflecting the light, makin’ it look like multiple lights.”
     They stopped at the looming fence and peered between the iron bars. Beyond it were deep-shadowed headstones sticking out of the unkempt grass.
     “It’s a graveyard,” Arthur whispered.
     “So it is, I nearly forgot it was here. I think it’s a little family plot.” Pernille fidgeted. “And I remember now. I’ve seen that light before. Might be a trick of will-o’-the-wisps tryin’ to get us lost. Ya know about those. They aren’t always friendly an’ they don’t mind if ya never find your way home again, they don’t.”
     Arthur stared into the graveyard, feeling mesmerized by the little flame glowing from deep in the middle of the cemetery, flickering with the gentle breeze. His skin tingled with expectation. “Whose graves are those?”
     “I don’t know. I’ve never been in there.”
     The flame seemed to be floating right above one of the graves. Just one. “We should go see what it is.”
     “Away with ya, Arthur! We’re not goin’ in there.”
     “Why? Do you think there are ghosts?”
     “Oh, Arthur,” Pernille whispered, some of her normal cheer returning. “I don’t believe in ghosts, but seems disrespectful to the dead to go tramping on their resting places, don’t it?” When he didn’t answer her, her voice became more earnest. “Besides, we’re not far from the Burren, ya know.”
     “Boy-run? What’s that?”
     “Not boy-run, dopey. Burren. It’s a big limestone field that looks nearly like ya’re standin’ on the moon. There are some ancient tombs and caves. But all sorts of mean things come up from there at night. Trolls an’ slimy gytrashes an’ black, sharp-fanged coinn iotair, and the like. And it’d be fair to say we don’t want to run into any of those.” She tugged on his arm.
     Griffin looked up at Arthur, his ears twitching. “There’s a mix of smells,” he muttered. “Mostly flowery stuff. But Pernille’s right. I think I smell an animal nearby.”
     The tingly feeling increased, and Arthur shuddered as he stared through the black fence, wondering about that abandoned graveyard. The grass and weeds were so overgrown that it was obvious no one had tended to this place in years. So why was that fire there? What was so different about that one grave? Was there something magical in it? Something unearthly? What if—
     “Arthur?”
     He dragged his eyes from the eerily lone light in the dark graveyard and realized Pernille was pulling him away from the fence. “But…” he started to protest.
     “No, Arthur. We’re goin’ back. Now.”

 

Text © copyright V.K. Finnish 2015
 
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