Cat Scratch Cleaver – Addison Moore, Bellamy Bloom

I’s cold, dark, and by the looks of those purple welts in the sky, it’s going to pour at any moment. “I don’t get why we had to come all the way out to the shore at midnight.” I pull my sweatshirt on as Hezzy, Roxy, and I huddle in a circle on the sand. “It’s the middle of summer, but it feels like winter. ‘Midnight knows no season,’ my father always says.” Hezzy scoffs. “New rule. No one brings up their parents, especially not you, Leeny. This is serious. And if you’re not going to take it that way, we can just go back.” The whites of Roxy’s eyes glint in the night. “Who goes first?” Her voice quivers. Roxy always pretends she’s brave for Hezzy. I’m so sick of it. Hezzy looks my way and bleeds a dark smile.

“No way.” The words sputter from me. “Yes.” Hezzy’s voice is tight as the wind blows her hair into the sky. “We’re all taking turns tonight, so it doesn’t even matter.” A thick silence crops up. “Fine, you big crybaby. I’ll go first.” “I’ll do it,” I hear myself say. I guess I like to pretend I’m brave for Hezzy, too.

And the last thing I want is for her to call me a crybaby for the next two years. Besides, I can lie about what I see. I can make up anything. I can scare the pants off both Hezzy and Roxy from ever wanting to try something like this again. And yet a part of me is curious as to what lies on the other side as well. I wouldn’t be on the sand at this late hour if I weren’t. After all, it was my fascination with the afterlife that got the ball rolling. “Lie down,” Roxy instructs as she helps me onto one of the beach towels we dragged out with us. “Close your eyes,” she says, and before I do, I see Hezzy placing her own towel over my face. “Hey.

” I push her off. “What are you doing? I’m going to hold my breath, remember?” Hezzy rolls her eyes. “People don’t die by holding their breath. You’ll pass out at best. Once you pass out, I’ll hold this over you for a few extra seconds. Long enough for you to get a glimpse.” Her lips curve as she looks to Roxy. “And then we’ll wake you right up.” Roxy nods. “I swear, I will stomp on your chest if I have to.

You’re not staying on the other side. You’re just going for a little visit.” “Fine. But don’t press that thing against me so tight,” I say, flicking the towel in Hezzy’s hand. “It freaks me out.” “Whatever.” I close my eyes and hold my breath as Hezzy lands the towel gently over my face. My life blinks before my eyes. Not in the way they say. But I can’t help thinking of my parents, my sister.

Thank God this isn’t real. But I can’t shake this dark feeling. I hold my breath until my lungs feel as if they’re about to burst and I take a quick, hot gasp of air from the towel. I try to push it from my face and it’s pressed down over my nose and mouth even harder. “Not yet,” I hear one of them say. “Knock it off,” I mumble as I struggle to free myself from it, but one of them pins down my hands over my head. I scream. I fight. My entire body writhes as I try to get out from under their stronghold. Can’t breathe.

Help me. I don’t want to die. My entire life plays out like a movie, quick and in snatches. Please stop! My hands break free and they pin them down again. The towel presses so hard over my face it feels like fire. My mind fades in and out until I succumb to utter darkness. And then I’m floating, rising above the scene. I see Roxy holding me down. Hezzy with both hands pressed over my face, her body right over mine as she bears all her weight into the effort. I rise higher into the night.

My poor body, I muse as I soar into the black sky as it turns navy, then purple as the stars brighten all around me. A white light sits up ahead and I’m flying now, soaring. This is unstoppable. Inevitable. It’s really happening now. But I want to go back. I’d give anything to go back. I didn’t do this. I didn’t want this. Hezzy and Roxy did this.

And I won’t let them get away with murder. Present Day MY NAME İS BİZZY BAKER, and I can read minds. Not every mind, not every time, but it happens, and believe me when I say, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Like now for instance. Look at that tramp. The older brunette next to me snarls at the scene before us. I see that come hither look she’s giving my husband. And what’s worse? The entire world sees it, too. I know she’s slept with him. How else could she have possibly gotten the job? It’s safe to say the casting couch is very much alive.

My mouth is agape just listening in on her private musings. I’m standing behind the counter at the Country Cottage Café, the beachfront eatery attached to the Country Cottage Inn, which I’ve been managing for the last four years. The inn itself is set in coastal Maine, right up against a turquoise blue cove from which it derives its name, Cider Cove, my hometown. It’s a late evening in the middle of a sweltering summer, and the café has been taken over by a local production company filming a movie entitled Cat Scratch Fever, about a young woman who does whatever it takes to climb the corporate ladder, including sleeping her way to the top. And after inadvertently listening in on this poor woman’s thoughts, I’m beginning to think the same is true of Heather Kent, the lead actress currently belting out her lines. I adjust the tray of s’mores bars on the counter in front of me. My best friend, Emmie, who works at the café, actually made them for the cast and crew, but the director thought they would look good in the scene they’re in the middle of shooting. He said they would add a flair of authenticity. And they certainly add something, with their graham cracker cookie base, layered with chocolate, marshmallow frosting, and graham cracker crumble on top. The cast and crew haven’t been able to keep their hands off them.

Lucky for all of us, Emmie made enough to feed all of Maine. The Country Cottage Café is a cozy, pet friendly diner on most days, but this evening it’s been transformed into a cinematic warzone with dozens of people milling around from the production team, ranging from hair, makeup, sound, cameramen, and about a billion others who are all seemingly important to the crew. When I was approached by Peter Olsen, the director, a few weeks ago, I thought it would be fun to have a few shots taken inside the café and around the inn. I had no idea we’d have to shut the café down to the guests of the inn for an entire day. Worse yet, our rival café, Bread and Butter from down the street, has been called in to cater the event. And to add insult to injury, they offered to cater to the guests as well. I couldn’t say no and let my guests go hungry, so the Bread and Butter it is. “Quiet on the set,” Peter calls out before one of his assistants waves the clapperboard in front of the camera and it makes a loud, crisp snap. Bates Barlow, the male lead of this production, takes a step toward Heather, a buxom blonde with large brown eyes, large lips, and large, well, everything in the right place, if you get my drift. “I should kill ya, now that I have the chance.

” He grips her by the arms and gives her a violent rattle. “I should do it with this cleaver and stab you in the back!” He holds the boxy metal blade above her head in a menacing fashion. I glance to the left where my fiancé, homicide detective Jasper Wilder, gives me a knowing nod and I can’t help but make a face. Jasper was the one that told me it might not be the best idea to have this circus take place at the inn. I should have listened to him. Instead, I listened to Georgie Conner, a sweet, zany woman old enough to be my grandmother, whom I just so happen to regard as such. Georgie was once my dad’s mother-in-law. He’s been married and divorced so many times I’ve lost count of where and when that matrimonial disaster happened, but for whatever reason, Georgie has stayed in my life, and I’m glad about it, too. I spot her sitting at a bistro table not far from where Bates Barlow continues to rattle our questionable heroine. Georgie has a mane of wild gray hair—think Einstein, but longer and curlier—sweet baby blue eyes, and a smile that sets off every wrinkle she says she’s earned.

She has a penchant for wearing kaftans, long, flowing dresses, in every wild color imaginable, and she’s a big, fun-loving hippy. She’s seated across from an older man who looks to be her equal in every way, with his wiry gray hair and punch-colored Hawaiian shirt dotted with toucans and palm trees. Georgie essentially begged me to let them shoot here after hearing Peter say the staff could play the part of extras. And that’s exactly why I’m standing behind the counter, pretending to ring up the brunette before me whose mind I just inadvertently pried into. Evidently, she’s Peter’s wife. Georgie snorts at something the man in the Hawaiian shirt says to her, and Peter lets out an egregious moan. Suffice it to say, Peter Olsen is severely high-strung. “And cut!” he shouts, gripping his gray hair at the temples. His face is purple with rage and his eyes bulge as he looks to Georgie. “How many times do I have to tell you? Extras do not have vocal cords!” A tiny laugh bucks through me, and I do my best to swallow it down.

Something soft and furry curls around my ankles, and I glance down to see my adorable black and white tabby, Fish, threading her way between my feet. I’ve had Fish for over a year now. I found her when she was a kitten just up the street outside of my sister’s soap and candle shop, Lather and Light. Bizzy, I don’t like these intruders. She twitches her furry little head to the side. You’re in charge around here. Tell them to take their angry vocal cords and leave. She gives my leg a playful swipe as if to get her point across. Yes, I just read her mind, too. It’s true.

I can hear the animal mind as well. And ten times out of ten, I prefer that to the human variety. Both Fish and Jasper’s red freckled pooch, Sherlock Bones, are behind the counter with me. I’m not sure if Peter Olsen is aware of it, but I don’t think it matters. The camera can’t see them anyway. Besides, there are a zillion people in the kitchen. And now that the cameras aren’t rolling, the entire café has exploded with bodies. Sherlock gives a light bark. All right, Bizzy. You said if I behaved, I’d get bacon.

I was good and quiet. Now let’s get to the bacon. I’m about to reach down and give him a pat when Bates Barlow comes up to the counter. He’s the current heartthrob around these parts. He’s been in a few commercials and low-budget movies, such as this one, but his fame precedes any of his accolades. He’s pretty much a social media sensation and the self-proclaimed crush of just about every girl and woman on the Eastern Seaboard. He’s got short, dark, wavy hair, glowing hazel eyes that look perpetually glossy, and perhaps chemically induced, and there’s a general boyishness about his features. I’ve always preferred my men a bit more rugged, thus my initial attraction to Jasper, but I can see the draw. Speaking of my ruggedly handsome fiancé, I sneak another quick glance to Jasper, who’s currently being verbally accosted by his ex-girlfriend, Camila Ryder. Jasper is tall, with dark hair, electric gray eyes, and a body that’s put together as God intended in exactly the right way with all the right parts.

I take a moment to scowl over at Camila, with her long dark hair and that curvehugging red dress. As soon as she got a whiff of the movie being filmed at the inn, she quickly signed up to be an extra herself. I do my best to try to read her mind—although I really don’t have to. I’m pretty sure all she thinks about is Jasper, my Jasper. That’s the thing about reading minds. It’s not as easy as you would think. I can only hear certain things. And there are certain people I can’t get a read on at all. Once in a while, someone’s mind will clutter up with nothing but white noise, and that’s a sure sign they’re having indecent thoughts at the moment. And if the person whose mind is open for me to hear isn’t standing in front of me, it’s hard to tell if it’s coming from a man or a woman.

At that point, it sounds monotone and sort of muted, and I’m not sure why. I’m not sure about a lot of things that involve my telepathic abnormality. I try my best to zero in on Camila once again, and this time I’m met up with a bunch of white noise. Case in point, she’s having naughty thoughts about my betrothed. And coincidentally, I’m having homicidal thoughts about Camila. I can’t wait to rid the world of that despicable creature. Some people really are better off dead. I blink back. As much as I’d like to claim that thought as my own, it didn’t come from me. I give a quick look around as a chill rides through me.

I haven’t the faintest idea who just let that homicidal thought fly. Fish lets out a hair-raising yowl as she hops to the other side of Sherlock. Bizzy, I have a bad feeling about all this. A mean shiver rides through me as I take a quick survey of all the anxious bodies swirling in the vicinity. I quickly pick up Fish and land a kiss to the tip of her ear before whispering, “I have a bad feeling about this, too.” It’s happening, and not a force in the universe can stop me, the mystery voice strums again. I give another quick glance around and wonder what it is not a force in the universe will be able to stop.

.

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