This is the version I’m going to use for now, because it’s 1:30 am and I’m freakin’ exhausted, and the deadline for the hook contest is today. (If you’ve already figured out I’m annoying, be glad I’m not a family member!) I’ll give it a week or so before I re-read, edit out mistakes, decide to re-write it entirely again, query it, or whatever.
However, I’m still iffy about the first two sentences as a hook. The first two paragraphs, even.
The 250 words for the contest are highlighted. 🙂
Maybe it was weird for a sixteen-year-old girl to still be afraid of the dark, but everyone has their phobias. Actually, I was fine with normal darkness–but when you mixed in wind and trees, I’d start to freak out. I blamed my grandma for that.
There was this ghost story she would tell my brother Drew and me when we were kids. Of course, a few years ago I’d stopped believing in ghosts. Or in the story that, to this day, she swore was true. But when the wind came howling up out of the trees, I found my skepticism wavering…
The door of the coffee shop rattled. I looked out the window, then jumped up, slamming my book shut. The clouds were already darkening to lead-gray, streaked with purple and pink at the edges.
The cashier shot me a perky smile from behind the counter. “Leaving already, Nissa?”
I barely heard her as I stuffed the book into my backpack and tossed out the remainder of my hot chocolate. Waving goodbye over my shoulder, I pushed the door open and hurried out into the gusty evening.
The air smelled like pine and chimney smoke. I stuffed my hands into my jacket pockets and quickened my pace, dashing across the street to the empty field in front of the woods. The tall yellow grass lashed against my knees. I already knew I wasn’t setting foot inside the trees with the wind whipping up the branches like this.
I got to the dusty trail that circled the small forest and started left, keeping a nervous eye on the black spaces under the boughs. But only a few steps along, the wind died, cut off as abruptly as if someone had placed a giant glass over the field, stilling the air. I stopped dead too, and stared into the pines, debating.
Walking around added another half hour–twenty minutes if I ran. Either way, night would be complete by the time I got home. I hated the thought of how I’d react if the wind picked up again in full darkness. And I was already cutting it close. If I took too much longer, Ben would have an accident on the carpet and Mom would kill me.
It would take five minutes to cut through the trees at a jog. The full moon shone through a break in the clouds enough to illuminate the narrow path between the trunks. I’d taken this route countless times before, so why hesitate now?
Something felt different tonight, like the motionless air was heavier. Expectant. I paused just inside and wasted another minute peering into the gloom, seeing nothing but pine needles and scattered bushes. The only thing different, I realized, was that I’d been obsessing over Grandma’s tale ever since the wind knocked on the door of the coffee shop. Of course I felt jittery. I rolled my eyes, then went in at a casual walk to spite my fearful mind.
Shadows carpeted the trail. Despite my attempts to push it out of my head, the ghost story replayed itself in Grandma’s voice.
I had just turned eighteen, barely out of high school. Back then there were a lot more trees around town. The little stretch of woods at the bottom of the hill was part of a bigger forest–before the shopping center and the new school took its place. Your neighborhood hadn’t been built yet, but the walking path I used to take was close enough to where you live now.
I found myself jumping at sounds, and sang an annoying song under my breath as a distraction. Still, I imagined Grandma talking.
You could say it was a dark and stormy night. She’d always laughed at this. The wind sounded like a pack of hyenas coming straight from the heart of the trees. It made me nervous, even though I wasn’t a girl anymore. I swore I could hear voices in those gusts, like evil things coming closer, looking for me. I walked faster, trying to control my steps so I didn’t twist an ankle, and also to convince myself it was all in my imagination. Only then, the wind died to a gentle breeze. The voices stopped, and I saw a silvery glow bobbing toward me from a few yards away.
The slightest breath of air whispered through the pine needles, kissing my cheek with icy lips. I came to a halt, suddenly aware of how dim it was under the canopy, the clouds concealing the moon’s light. A burst of panic bloomed in my chest as I realized I’d wandered from the trail. Every tree trunk, rock, and shrub looked exactly the same as I whirled around, trying to find the dirt track.
Grandma’s voice continued unbidden in my mind. I waited a moment to see if it was someone approaching with a lantern, but instead it was only a light: a disembodied, glowing ball floating between the branches. Thin, bright streams, like arms, were growing out of it and reaching for me. My head felt slow and fuzzy, almost a happy feeling, but I held on to enough of my senses to turn tail and race out of there. I didn’t look back, and I never went into the woods again. She would shake a finger at Drew’s laughing face here. And I never will go into any forest, and that’s how you know I tell the truth.
Mom often told us of how Grandma would hide beneath blankets, trembling and whimpering on windy nights, and how Grandpa would have to calm her down. That was the part of the story that always made me wonder whether I shouldn’t have stopped believing.