Meagan Reads YA Horror: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

As part of my ongoing (and almost done!) reading challenge, I chose this young adult horror novel about a protagonist named Theseus Cassio (who prefers to go by Cas) for the category “a book you heard about because of this challenge.” Following in his father’s footsteps, Cas has become a ghost hunter himself with a plan for revenge to kill the thing that killed his father. Upon arriving in Thunder Bay, Ontario, everything about this hunt is different from the ghosts he’s hunted in the past. Unexpectedly gaining a circle of friends, and a guilty conscience for classmates lost during his hunt, Cas takes on the most powerful specter he’s ever encountered.

The story was reminiscent of early Supernatural seasons, so of course it held my attention. The plot moved at a fast pace that never left me bored and had the right amount of rise and fall. What I appreciated most was that the story didn’t go longer than it had to and finished in a good place. The twists were surprising and left me wanting to continue each time a new one came into play.

Now, while the story was entertaining enough, the characters for the most part were annoying. Their personalities and descriptions relied heavily on stereotypes that sounded like an adult who has no idea what teenagers are actually like. Blake tried to give a couple of characters layers beyond their surface personalities, but the writing didn’t go deep enough to make them stand out as realistic people.

The best parts of this book were the supernatural elements and horror story, which made the audio book worth listening to. However, the narrator really seemed to have a hard time grasping what a teenage girl sounds like, and only seemed to have one mode for the boys: smarmy asshole. Perhaps the narration is part of the problem I had with characterization in this book, but I think that had more to do with Blake’s writing and the narrator didn’t help. Overall, not a terrible book, but not one I feel the need to continue the series.

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But I’m Only Human

Still playing catch up on my 52 week writing challenge, and seeing as the year is quickly coming to an end, I need to get on that. Here’s a story I wrote for the prompt “a story about anger.” I do warn there is violence and references to abuse in this story, so proceed at your own risk.

Franny picked up the pencil and set the number 2 lead point to the coarse, beige paper again. Grey smudges dotted the side of her hand and made some appearances on her nose. Her brows furrowed and she breathed hard through her nose, shallow breaths that held back the tears.

They don’t know me. They don’t matter. They’re not worth my time.

Without realizing what her fingers had formed with the pencil on paper, she drew out figures familiar in size and shape, and they started to dance. She gasped. Not again.

She threw the pencil at the wall like it had bitten her. The unshaded, faceless figures shimmied and swayed, waiting for her maestro fingers to tell them which way to go and what to do. No, no I’m not like that. I’m human. I’m only human.

The figures danced and beckoned, their nonexistent faces leering with sharp teeth in her mind’s eye, taking on the sneers of her classmates. The gaping, laughing maws of her teachers. We could teach them. Show them just what freaks we really are.

Franny’s fingers ran over the paper, searching for the invisible wires making her figures move of their own accord, and felt a jolt of electricity. It sparked the memory of the sting of the boys’ hits against her bare skin when they chased her naked out of the girls’ locker room showers, out in the open cold, in front of everyone.

Her breathing quickened and she picked up another pencil, shading in the details, giving each face the eyes, nose and mouths of all the kids and teachers who’d abused her over the past two years. With each burning memory of pain and humiliation she pressed the lead harder until the figures took on grotesque forms of real-life people. No, not people. Monsters.

We are human. They are not. Humans don’t do the things they do. Humans don’t snarl and cackle and taunt. Monsters do.

Franny started slow, curling her fingers back and forth to watch the two dimensional figures flurry back and forth. Then, she made them collide into one another. They laughed when she laughed. BAM BAM BAM. She made them smash one after another. And all the while the figures laughed. They laughed at their own pain. They laughed at their self-destruction as Franny bid them with her invisible, electric strings.

Soon, blooming roses of red paint spread across the paper, dripping from the figures’ grotesque, smiling mouths, and Franny laughed. Now who’re the freaks?

Outside, a commotion caught her attention. In the courtyard a crowd of people gathered, some crying, some screaming, calling for help, others reached out their hands trying to grab at something at the center of the mass of bodies.

Franny dropped her fingers and the figures on her paper went limp. She got up, afraid to see what was out there. She made her way to the window of the art room, pressed a hand to the glass and stood on tip toes. Someone ran in, frantic, startling Franny out of her reverie.

“What’s going on out there?” she asked the student.

“Where’s the phone?” She didn’t answer Franny’s question.

Franny pointed toward the teacher’s desk. The other student made for the phone and tried to dial, but her hands were shaking. Franny recognized this girl. It was one of the kids who hung around the others—the ones who tormented her.

“You’re one of them,” she said out loud, picking up the pencil she’d thrown earlier and walking back toward the desk where she’d left her art work.

“What?” The girl waved her off as she got a response from the other line. “Yes, please send an ambulance. Two kids are hurt. Bleeding so much.”

She paused as she listened to the other voice on the line and didn’t notice Franny return to her seat. The quiet girl put her pencil to paper again and began gliding the lead point, curving and sketching, scratching marks into the surface.

“I don’t know. They just started running at each other. Like wild animals. Wouldn’t stop. Heads crashed over and over. Please, they’re bleeding so much.” The girl on the phone sobbed.

Franny didn’t look up from her paper. “You’re one of them. You don’t say mean things. You don’t hit me. But you stand there and watch as they do.”

The girl looked to Franny again, impatient. “What are you saying?”

Franny stopped now, dropped her pencil, and stared the girl in the eye, her own glowing with rage. “You’re just as monstrous as they are!”

With that, Franny brought a finger down to the paper in front of her, slicing her nail through the thin surface, and before her eyes, the girl on the phone began to gurgle. A wide, gaping wound appeared in her neck and scarlet liquid dribbled out slow at first and then gushed out like a faucet open all the way.

The phone fell from her hand and Franny could vaguely hear the other voice talking, trying to get the girl’s attention. She calmly walked over, put the phone back on the receiver and knelt down by the girl. “You could have avoided this if you’d just told them to stop.”

The girl reached out a trembling hand, her eyes pleading for mercy. Franny had none. She walked out of the classroom and past the crowd. “I’m only human,” she kept whispering to herself over and over again.

Chaos continued behind her. Chaos she knew she’d caused. And now that she knew her power, she’d find her revenge elsewhere. It was time to go home.