Dagger Hill

Dagger Hill Devon TaylorTitle: Dagger Hill
Author: Devon Taylor
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Publication Date: August 17, 2021

Summary (from Goodreads):

Stranger Things meets One of Us Is Lying in this creepy paranormal mystery about four friends who find themselves hunted by a malevolent presence in their sleepy hometown.

It knows your fear...

Summer, 1989. Four best friends—Gabe, Kimberly, Charlie, and Sonya—are preparing for their last summer together before senior year, after which they’ll all be splitting up to start college in different parts of the country. They make a promise to always find their way back to each other, no matter how far away from their sleepy Pennsylvania hometown they get.

But their plans are destroyed when a plane crashes right on top of their favorite hangout outside of town—and right on top of them.

In the catastrophic aftermath of the incident, Gabe, Sonya and Charlie are plagued by eerie visions and messages from an unknown watcher. They soon realize that the plane crash was no accident, and now they are being hunted by a sinister presence. And everyone is still searching for Kimberly, who has been missing ever since Gabe saw somebody wearing a gas mask carry her out of the woods the day the sky fell down on them...

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THE BELL DINGS, and I swirl away from the counter with a hot pot of coffee in my hand. With the empty one, I scoop up Mr. Halvorson’s short stack and eggs. I carry it down the line, swirl again, and bring the plate in for a landing. Mr. Halvorson doesn’t notice until the glassy thunk against the countertop. He lowers his paper, offers me a toothless smile as I top off his mug.

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“Thanks, Kimberly,” he says. “Too bad I can’t take you home with me. You’re a helluva better waitress than the old ball and chain, if you know what I mean.” And then he winks. I can’t think of an adequate response that won’t get me fired, so I just smile and say, “Let me know if you need anything else, Mr. Halvorson.” I retreat. Quickly. Dropping the coffeepot back into its cradle, I take a second to stretch and check the clock over the kitchen window. Only five more minutes to go. Breakfast rush is the busiest shift, but it’s also the fastest. It forces me to get out of bed at a decent hour even though there’s no school, and I have the whole afternoon to do as I please. It’s not the greatest gig in the world—especially when you have people like “Handsy Halvorson” to deal with—but this’ll probably be my last summer doing it. After that? Not a single goddamn clue. “Hey, Kimberly.” I smell a stale cigar before I see Harry Kunz, owner of this fine establishment known as the King Street Diner. He’s getting up there in age, has to walk with a cane to keep his bad hip from giving out, and the lenses of his bifocals are so thick they make his eyes look as if they’re inflating out of his skull. He should be scary—not just because he’s my boss—but he’s one of the kindest people in Windale. “Hey, Harry,” I say. I try to smile, but the muscle groups required to do so are all worn out. I’m not sure they were working properly this morning to begin with. I’ve been off all morning, feeling drowsy and cold even as fine droplets of sweat slither down my back. Bad dreams. Night sweats. Waking in a fit, tangled in my bedsheets, struggling to breathe. I’m one of the Almost Nobodies, a moniker we picked up somewhere in middle school when we were already too attached to each other to make different friends. But even among our little group, I’m kind of known as the downer, the black cloud that sometimes hovers over the sunshiny day. Sonya is always quick to defend me, calls me a realist, which is only sometimes true. Other times, I’m just . . . sad. For no reason. My body feels like it’s full of sand, my brain feels like it’s turned into the scrambled eggs that Mr. Halvorson is currently sucking up like spaghetti. Today is one of those days. In fact, today might be worse than one of those days. “Yous doin’ okay, hun?” Harry asks. I already forgot he was standing there. I blink a few times. “Um. Yeah. You know. Just trying to shake off the last of the school year. Those final exams are killer.” “Yeah” is all he says, watching me with those buggy eyes. “How about you take off early?” “That’s okay, Harry,” I say. “Really. I’ve only got a few minutes left anyway.” “Except you and I both know it won’t just be a few minutes.” Harry raises his eyebrows, leans toward me. “Right? Yous’ll get sucked into grabbing a few more tables because you’re a good worker and you’re trying to help out, and your friends’ll be waiting outside for the next half hour while you finish up. Am I right or am I right?” That drags a dusty laugh out of me. And before I can protest further, Harry presses a wad of cash into my hand—today’s tips. “Are you sure?” I ask. I glance over his shoulder at Mr. Halvorson, who’s only half preoccupied with his breakfast. He likes to eat slow. Harry follows my gaze, chuckling. “I’m sure,” he says. “Get out of here. You look like you could use an extra few minutes to yourself. I’ll go see if old Handsy has a thing for mostly blind old coots.” He waggles his eyebrows, and like some kind of magic, I feel myself laughing again. “Thanks, Harry,” I say, trying to hold on to that bubbly feeling. It fades too quickly. Outside, the day is thick and muggy, alive with insects and people tooling around the Triangle. The King Street Diner is on the northwestern corner of these intersections of King, Spruce, and Main. Lining each side are rows of local businesses and official buildings. Sid’s Comic Emporium, Miles of Styles hair salon, East Capital Bank, the police station, the library, The Stuck Pig, and the Sunrise movie theater, to name a few. In the middle is a small, triangular courtyard, dotted with a few trees and boxy hedges and some benches that sit around a simple fountain. The fountain, for some reason, is in the shape of a circle. I cross King Street to the courtyard and do a quick turn on the sidewalk opposite the diner. I’m scanning for my friends—Charlie sidling in from whichever direction, Sonya on her bike, Gabe in the Chevelle he recently inherited from his dad. The Chevelle is here, parked in front of the police station, but the chief’s patrol car is missing, and so are my friends. It’s strange to be out here on my own, waiting for them—normally, I’m the holdup. Looking around, I spot Mrs. Rapaport and her boom box perched on one of the courtyard benches. Mrs. Rapaport is a bizarre combination of town gossip and town witch. At least, that’s what Charlie and I think. Sonya has too much faith in science to think that far outside the box, and Gabe has remained mostly silent on the subject over the years but has more recently taken an unspoken allegiance with Sonya. Of course. Mrs. Rapaport looks as if she should be feeding bread crumbs to pigeons out of a brown paper bag. But there’s no bag and no pigeons. She has silver hair that gets a dye treatment regularly from Maureen Newcomb at Miles of Styles—it’s supposed to be brown, but today her roots catch the sunlight. She sits with her pale, papery hands folded neatly in her lap, rocking forward slowly, then settling back against the bench. An old, stretched afghan is draped over her shoulders despite the heat. And the boom box plays long, uninterrupted hours of static. Mrs. Rapaport watches the Triangle with milky eyes and a contented smile. I struggled for a long time to find a good way to describe Mrs. Rapaport. (I guess, because both of my parents are writers, I picked up a talent for it myself, scribbling notes and poems in the margins of the books I read.) Until a couple of months ago, when this movie Teen Witch came out, and I realized that maybe Windale has its very own version of Madame Serena. “Morning, Mrs. Rapaport,” I say, idling on one of the small pathways cutting across the courtyard. I fidget with my hair—it’s frizzed and frayed from work—slide my favorite blue scrunchie out, let the hair fall around my shoulders in sandy blond waves until I feel like it’s stifling me, and then gather it all up again, lock it in place with the scrunchie. “You don’t have to worry, dear,” Mrs. Rapaport says. There’s a bray of something that sounds like a distant, fuzzy talk show on her boom box, then it’s back to the steady white noise. That’s a funny way of saying good morning, I think. I have to clamp my mouth shut to keep it from spilling out. “Worry about what?” I ask instead. But her words are kind of chilling. I live with a constant knot of anxiety in my gut, pulled taut by nagging fears and self-consciousness, and weighed down by a thick, dark cloud of dread. I’ve said a thousand good mornings to Advance Reader's Edition 23 this woman, but nothing really beyond that. My friends don’t even know how desperate my mind can get, why would Mrs. Rapaport? “The sleep is safe,” she says. Her head swivels around, tilts back so her faded eyes can look at mine. “Whatever you do, don’t wake up.” Another sputter of half-coherent garble from the boom box, loud enough this time to startle me. “But I am awake,” I say, my voice barely there. Mrs. Rapaport looks away. “For now.” The boom box cuts to a crystal-clear snippet of music, somebody playing saxophone. I recognize it immediately as “In Your Arms” by Richard Elliot. The song at the end of Teen Witch.