Squeak-clink. Squeak-clink. Squeak-clink.
Oh my God. Finley Montgomery rolled over in bed and pulled the pillow over her head. What the hell is that?
It wasn’t loud exactly. In fact, it was faint but unceasing and arrhythmic, like the dripping of a faucet in another room. It was its stuttering relentlessness that made it so annoying.
The unidentifiable noise had leaked into her dream, where Finley had been repeatedly turning a knob on a door that wouldn’t budge. In her dream, her frustration grew as she tried in vain to enter the room, tugging and pulling, twisting the rusty knob. Finally, the sound had woken her, tickling at the edges of her awareness as she came to wakefulness, her irritation lingering.
Sitting up, she looked around the mess of her bedroom—open laptop on her desk, stacks of books, laundry in a basket to be put away, more clothes on the floor, boots in a tumble by the door. She was alone, the door closed. She knew that the sound was inside her, not outside.
“Okay,” she said, drawing in and releasing a breath.
Finley focused on the details of her room, listing off what she saw. The gauzy curtains are billowing in the cool breeze. The wind chimes are tinkling outside. The golden sunlight of an autumn morning is dappling the hardwood floor. She took another deep breath and released it. By staying in the present moment, she could—allegedly—control “the event.” This is what her grandmother—who had a way of making it sound so easy, as if it were just a choice Finley could make—had told her. But it required an unimaginable amount of discipline, of psychic (for lack of a better word) effort.
Not that she was trying to get rid of the sound precisely, not for good. At this point, she understood that if she was hearing something—or seeing something, or whatever—there was a reason. It was just that she was trying to train herself to take in information in a time and place that was appropriate for it. She was trying to learn how to set boundaries so that “this thing” didn’t destroy her life. I let it take too much, her grandmother confided. You can do better than I did.
“Not now,” Finley said firmly. “Later.”
The sound persisted, oblivious to Finley’s desires.
Downstairs, Finley’s grandmother Eloise was moving about the kitchen, making the music of morning—the opening of cabinets, setting of dishes, the gong of a pan on the stove. Then wafted in the scent of coffee, of bacon on the stove.
It was fading as Finley climbed out of bed and stretched high, then bent over to touch her toes. Usually Finley took care of breakfast, thinking it was the least she could do, considering she was living with her grandmother rent free while she finished school. But on important days, Eloise made a point to get up early and cook—which was really just so nice. Finley marveled at how different were her mother and her grandmother.
Squeeak-clink. It was fainter still. But what was it? It wasn’t a sound that was familiar to her. As soon as she put her attention on it, it grew louder again. She made her bed, still breathing deep. I am in control of my awareness, she told herself. My awareness does not control me.
As Finley turned toward the window, she saw the shadow, faint and flickering like a hologram, of a little boy in the corner of the room. He sat playing with a wooden train. She’d been seeing him for a couple of days. He wasn’t any trouble, but she had no idea what he wanted from her yet. Choo-choo, he said quietly, moving the train across the floor. She watched him a moment, but when she took a step closer, he was gone, a trick of light.
The woman in the black dress, as usual, stood by the door to the hallway. Finley knew from her grandmother that the woman was Faith Good, a distant relative on the maternal side. Finley did know what Faith wanted. She wants you to be careful, Eloise had told her. Of course, that’s what everyone wanted from Finley.
The sound wasn’t coming from either of them, was it?
Finley stood another moment, thinking, listening, watching. She yanked her thumb away from her mouth as soon as she was aware that she was biting her nails again. Finally, she walked over the creaking wood floorboards, down the hall to the bathroom. She stripped off her pink tank top and gray sweatpants and stepped into the shower.
Letting the hot water wash over her, she scrubbed herself vigorously, sang loudly—Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah.” She was a bad singer, completely tone deaf. But she didn’t care. All these actions kept her present in her body, in her life. And when she was done, the sound was gone. It worked, she thought gratefully as she grabbed the handle and turned off the water. Steam plumed around her, rising, dissipating. She was getting better at saying when—something her grandmother taught but had never herself learned to do. Later, after her exam, Finley thought, she’d deal with them.
Faith and the little boy were both gone when Finley returned to her room to dress quickly—pulling on soft jeans, a black tee-shirt, Doc Marten lace-up boots. She grabbed her motorcycle helmet off the dresser and her backpack off the floor and pounded down the creaky staircase, jumping the last few steps and listening to the walls rattle in response.
Finley, please! her mother would surely chide. But Eloise let Finley be. Finley and her mother were all hard angles, their edges always knocking up against each other, hurting. But Finley and her grandmother fit together like mated puzzle pieces.
She trailed past the familiar wall of family photographs: Finley and her brother Alfie on horseback—Alfie roaring with laughter as Finley tickled from behind; her mother Amanda’s high school graduation day, a grainy, orange-hued shot in which eighteen-year-old mother looked pale and decidedly not joyful; Finley’s grandfather Alfie and her aunt Emily bent over a book while a golden light shined on them through the window.
Finley always looked the longest at that one as she passed. Grandpa Alfie and Aunt Emily were both so present in Finley’s life, though they had both died long ago—killed in a car accident that Eloise and Finley’s mother, then a teenager, had survived but never really got over. Her grandmother never remarried. Her mother Amanda moved away from The Hollows as soon as she could and never came back to live.
Amanda talked about Grandpa Alfie as if he’d been the one who put the stars in the sky. She talked about Emily less, except to say that Finley was just like her—wild, fearless, creative, headstrong. Finley got the sense that it wasn’t a bad thing necessarily, but it wasn’t exactly a good thing either, since Amanda usually said it in anger or exasperation or just wonder.
Amanda hated that Finley was living in The Hollows, with Eloise—both things Amanda had fled. It is driving her absolutely batshit crazy, thought Finley with only a little bit of malicious glee. She dropped her stuff by the door, but not before kissing her fingers and putting them to a picture of her mother and father Philip on their wedding day. Good morning, guys.
In the kitchen, Eloise stood at the stove, a relic that had been there since Finley was small, and according to Amanda, longer than that. The knobs were worn smooth; the cooktop was so brown around the burners that had no hope of ever being white again. The back left burner no longer lit. Like everything else in the house, it was in need of replacement. But Eloise never replaced anything that wasn’t beyond repair.
“Grandma, you need a new stove,” said Finley for the hundredth time. She caught herself sniffing for gas like her mother always did.
“Why?” said her grandmother, turning off the burner. “It still works. You don’t just get rid of an old thing because you want something new.”
“Yeah,” said Finley, “ya do.”
“Hmm,” said Eloise. “Maybe you do.”
Finley wrapped Eloise up in a hug from behind and squeezed gently. Her grandmother was small but powerful, giving off some kind of electricity even though she was skin and bones. Then Finley gave Eloise a big kiss on the cheek and released her.
“There’s nothing wrong with new things,” Finley said.
Eloise offered a patient smile as she brought the pan to the counter and slid scrambled eggs onto two plates. Finley’s stomach rumbled.
“Did you hear it this morning?” Eloise asked.
Finley nodded quickly as she grabbed the orange juice from the fridge. “Squeak-clink?”
“I thought it was something in the basement,” said Eloise. “But no.”
“Can we talk about it later?” Finley asked.
She could already hear it starting up again. She poured orange juice into cloudy glasses. I am in control of my awareness.
“Sure,” said Eloise. She knew the drill, changed the subject. “Are you ready for your exam?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be.”
Finley sat and Eloise put the plate of eggs, bacon, and fruit in front of her. She caught her grandmother’s eyes lingering on her bare arms. Even though Eloise didn’t say anything—and never had since the first day she discovered that Finley’s arms were sleeves of tattoos—Finley wished she’d worn her hoodie.
When she first got to The Hollows a little more than a year ago, she’d sought to hide the richly colored dragons and fairies, butterflies, graveyards, mysterious-looking women in long gowns, dark shadowy figures of men and ghouls, a witch burning at the stake, a vicious dog on a chain. Each piece of art on her body meant something—was someone or something she’d seen in her visions or dreams. She’d started getting the tattoos when she was sixteen and hadn’t been able to stop.
“Oh, Finley,” Eloise had said that day. “Your beautiful skin.”
“I’m sorry,” she’d said. She wasn’t sure what she was apologizing for—for the tattoos, for hiding them, for shocking her grandmother. “But this is me. This is who I am.”
Eloise had rested a gentle hand up Finley’s arm. Some of the art on Finley’s body, which started at her wrists and snaked up her arms, over her shoulders and down her back, was still just a black outline at that point.
“It’s a work in progress,” said Finley.
“Meaning you’re getting more?” asked Eloise. “When are you going to stop?”
Finley had lifted a defiant chin. “When the outside looks like how I feel on the inside.”
Eloise had seemed to consider this. If anyone could understand how different was Finley’s inner life from her outer life, surely it would be Eloise. Who knew better than a renowned psychic medium that the world of the spirit was altogether other from the world of the body?
“Okay, dear,” Eloise had said. “I understand.”
They hadn’t discussed it much since then, and Finley didn’t seek to hide her tattoos any longer. At home with her mother, she would never even dare wear a tee-shirt—because Amanda had no boundaries whatsoever. Or rather, Amanda didn’t think that Finley deserved to have any. Amanda would stare and harp and moan about what Finley had done to her perfect skin, and how could she mutilate herself like that and what kind of life was she going to have and oh my God, what about your wedding day? Because everything was about Amanda and her anxieties, her need to have control, and her dashed expectations—even and maybe especially Finley’s life.
Eloise sat with her own plate. “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”
Even though the temperatures were still warmish, Finley could feel the icy lick of winter in the air. When the roads got bad, she’d have to put the bike in the garage and borrow her grandmother’s Prius to get around.
“Yes,” said Finley. “Gorgeous.”
Finley’s mood was growing sourer by the second. That was the thing she still needed to figure out. The boundary setting? The pushing off until such time as she could devote her attention to their needs? It was completely exhausting and tended to make her cranky. As if she had to build a wall of stone every day, only to have it knocked down again.
“You’re going to do wonderfully,” said Eloise. Her grandmother grabbed her arm and Finley felt the warmth of her. She was a giver, a recharger. “At everything.”
Finley forced a smile, taking comfort in the fact that her grandmother was almost always right.
* * *
At the door, Finley pulled on her leather jacket and walked outside to her Harley-Davidson Sportster. The purple gas tank gleamed, filling Finley with a familiar tingle of excitement.
No one wanted her to ride a motorcycle—not Amanda, not Eloise, not the woman in the black dress. Not even Jones Cooper, her grandmother’s occasional business partner, approved. At your age, you think the world forgives mistakes, he’d warned grimly. It doesn’t.
Only her father Phil understood her need for speed and the silence she found there. He knew that the single place she was ever alone was on that bike. Eloise and Amanda hated him for helping her buy it; if anything ever happened to her while she was riding it, neither of them would ever forgive him. But he’d helped her anyway—not just because he was a jerk and liked annoying her mother (which he was and he did). But because he got it; he got Finley. Her father never claimed to understand the things she saw. But he knew all about the desire to run away.
She climbed on and with a kick of her foot and a squeeze of the clutch, she brought the motorcycle to life. Just the sound of it—that deep unmistakable rumble—gave her a measure of relief, like the first drag of a cigarette.
She waved to her grandmother and tried to measure her speed up the road. But once she turned the corner out of sight and the empty span stretched out before her, she opened it up. She couldn’t help it. The bike wanted to go fast; it begged her to push faster, faster.
With the wind racing around her and the engine roaring beneath her, the sound of it living inside her body, she was only herself. All the shackles that held her, all the things that frightened and pained her, fell away. She could think; her own voice was clear and true. All the other sounds went quiet and she was free.
* * *
She found a safe spot for her bike in the parking lot of Sacred Heart College, bringing it to a stop as far from the psychology building as possible, in front of a tall, shading tree that was raining leaves in a shower of gold and red. Students and faculty usually parked their vehicles close to the low glass-and-concrete building, one of the newer structures at the college. But Finley tried to leave the roadster far from other cars when she could, afraid that it would get dinged or knocked over. The glittering purple of the gas tank and the fenders seemed to invite damage; she’d already been keyed. There was something about a motorcycle that drew attention, not all of it good. Except on the road, where other drivers often seemed not to see her at all.
Shouldering her backpack, she slipped her phone from her pocket and checked the time. Forty minutes until the exam, more than enough time to get an espresso from the commissary and go over her notes in the classroom.
“I’m ready,” she whispered to herself. “I’ve got this.”
As she drew nearer to the building, she saw two girls she recognized from her abnormal psychology class. They were walking arm-in-arm, laughing at something they were viewing on a smart phone. She lifted a hand in a timid wave, but they didn’t see her, never glancing up from the screen. Lowering her arm awkwardly, she thought with a sting that she hadn’t made any friends in The Hollows, and she probably never would, freak that she was. Meanwhile, her few friends in Seattle were drifting further and further away, and maybe they’d never been real friends in the first place. Maybe they’d just been people with whom it was easy to get into trouble. And once you weren’t looking for trouble, suddenly you weren’t fun anymore. Her sour mood deepened.
When the noise came back it was so loud that it actually startled her, stopping her in her tracks.
Her heart fluttering, she glanced around at the idyllic college campus in autumn, a near-perfect catalog picture of trees and buildings and kids with bright futures carrying backpacks. Nothing dark or odd or out of place. I control my awareness, she said to herself pointlessly. It does not control me.
A swath of gray clouds washed the sun away, and the air grew cooler. Finley kept moving, passing a beat-up landscaping truck parked near the sidewalk. Beside it, an old man in a wide straw hat languidly trimmed stray branches with an enormous pair of clippers. She felt his eyes on her, but his face was in the shadow of his hat brim.
He wasn’t the only one staring. A few feet away stood another man, this one young, tousled, leaned against the wall of the building, smoking a cigarette, pinching it between his thumb and forefinger. Baggy jeans, sweatshirt too big. Looked like he could use a shower. Had she seen him before?
“Nice ride,” he said as she drew nearer.
He had sunken hazel eyes and the determined slouch of the very tall. He must have been over six feet. She did know him, actually. He always sat in the back row of the lecture hall. He had a look about him that she knew too well, heavy lidded and glassy—a stoner like the people she was trying to get away from in Seattle. She could even smell it on him a little, that sweet tang under the tobacco.
“Thanks,” she said, glancing behind her. The roadster was out of sight, but he must have seen her ride in.
“Ready for the exam?” he asked.
The noise had quieted a bit, but she could still hear it. What did it mean? Was she supposed to know why the noise had come back?
She glanced around, but as per usual in The Hollows, there was nothing to see but trees and sky. Not that it was a bad thing, really, the nothingness. She needed a little less excitement in her life, didn’t she? That’s why she’d come here—to get quiet, to study, to learn more about her abilities from Eloise, to figure out what the hell she was going to do with her life. In the absolutely-zero-going-on department, The Hollows seemed happy to oblige.
“Maybe,” she said. “You?”
“I might do okay,” he said.
He offered a smile that managed to be sweet and a little mischievous all at once.
He stuck out a hand. “Jason,” he said.
The sound was gone. She looked around and there was just the landscaper trimming, snip, snip, snip. Finley sensed that the gardener was still staring beneath the wide brim of that hat. She couldn’t see his face really, but she could feel the heat of his gaze.
Dirty old man.
In another life, she’d have flipped him off. But she was trying to invite less trouble into her life. Our choices, even the small ones, all have consequences, her mother always said. Giving some old gardener the finger was probably a fine example of a bad choice.
She was about to go inside instead when she saw them in the distance by the tall oak tree. The Three Sisters—Abigail, Sarah, and Patience, daughters of Faith Good and Finley’s distant relatives on the maternal side (obviously). They had been dancing in the periphery of Finley’s life since she was a little girl, her constant companions, friends, troublemakers, confidantes, and whisperers of secret things. They’d been strangely quiet, in fact mostly absent, since Finley had arrived in The Hollows. Now, here they were. Patience sitting quietly, bent over a book, her dark hair pulled back into a tight bun, collar buttoned up to her chin; Abigail spinning around pointlessly, long skirts and wild auburn hair flouncing, like a child playing a game only she understood; Sarah, pale and blonde, watching her, laughing. As ever, Finley was as pleased to see them as she was wary. What are you up to, girls? And then they were gone.
“I was going to grab some coffee,” she said after a moment of watching. “And go over my notes.”
If he wondered what she was staring at, he didn’t ask.
“Sounds like a plan,” he said. He followed her inside to the small commissary adjacent to the psych building.
The coffee at the commissary wasn’t too bad. She ordered a double shot and sat down at a table by the window, opened her notebook. Jason sat across from her, took out his laptop.
“You’re old school, huh?”
“I guess so,” she said.
She took notes in class, then copied them over when she got home. That’s how her mom had taught her to study. Even though most people had their laptops or tablets in class, tapping all through the lecture, Finley still preferred the black-and-white mottled composition notebook. Things didn’t seem real unless they were written in ink on paper. Words on a screen floated, seemed virtual and insubstantial. Ink sank in and stayed, rooted in the real world.
Finley hadn’t exactly invited Jason to sit, and she was afraid that he was going to keep talking, but he didn’t. In fact, there was something so easy about his energy that she forgot he was there as they read in silence and then walked together to class. He gave her a nod as if to say good luck, and they each went to the seats they had occupied all semester. Then she pushed him out of her head. No boys. She had enough trouble with Rainer, her ex-boyfriend from Seattle who had followed her—unbidden—to The Hollows and was now, annoyingly, tending bar at Jake’s Pub, a cop hangout just off the town square.
* * *
Finley took her exam, losing time and herself as she focused on the pages in front of her. The squeak-clink had receded to just the faintest whisper on the edge of her consciousness, and for a time she forgot about it altogether.
Ink and Bone
Twenty-year-old Finley Montgomery is rarely alone. Visited by people whom others can’t see and haunted by prophetic dreams she has never been able to control or understand, Finley is terrified by the things that happen to her. When Finley’s abilities start to become too strong for her to handle—and even the roar of her motorcycle or another dazzling tattoo can’t drown out the voices—she turns to the only person she knows who can help her: her grandmother Eloise Montgomery, a renowned psychic living in The Hollows, New York.
Merri Gleason is a woman at the end of her tether after a ten-month-long search for her missing daughter, Abbey. With almost every hope exhausted, she resorts to hiring Jones Cooper, a detective who sometimes works with psychic Eloise Montgomery. Merri’s not a believer, but she’s just desperate enough to go down that road, praying that she’s not too late. Time, she knows, is running out.
As a harsh white winter moves into The Hollows, Finley and Eloise are drawn into the investigation, which proves to have much more at stake than even the fate of a missing girl. As Finley digs deeper into the town and its endless layers, she is forced to examine the past, even as she tries to look into the future. Only one thing is clear: The Hollows gets what it wants, no matter what.
- Touchstone |
- 352 pages |
- ISBN 9781501101649 |
- June 2016
Lisa Unger's INK AND BONE
Read an Excerpt
Hear an Excerpt
Reading Group Guide
A missing little girl. A grieving family barely clinging together. A young woman grappling with her special psychic gift. A secluded, mystical town. These elements combine in Ink and Bone, the latest haunting psychological thriller from award-winning, New York Times–bestselling author Lisa Unger.
Although her cold demeanor and canvas of tattoos usually make her an outcast, Finley Montgomery is rarely alone. Visited by specters and prone to visions, Finley is often overwhelmed by her increasingly powerful psychic gifts. To better understand and channel these powers she moves across the country to The Hollows, a woodsy upstate town that’s home to her similarly gifted grandmother, Eloise. As Finley begins to adjust to her new life and better reconcile her psychic powers, she and Eloise are drawn into a kidnapping case that’s been cold for months. With a family desperate for answers and even the smallest clue about their little girl, Finley and Eloise discover just how far some folks in The Hollows will go to keep their secrets.
T see more