Title: Off the Deep End
Series: Harperville Horrors, Book One
Author: Lizzie Strong
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 10/19/2021
Heat Level: 1 - No Sex
Pairing: Male/Female, Female/Female
Genre: Young Adult Horror, LGBTQIA+, Cthulhu, small town, high school, detective, horror, paranormal activity
Harperville used to be a small, quiet town until the storm clouds rolled in over Rainbow Cove.
Days and events begin to mix up, lunchrooms turn to warzones, carved-up cultists are fished out of the water from the dock, and at the center of the madness is Queenie Lowe. A high school senior whose only wish is to get out of this place. Her world is flipped upside down when she meets her new neighbor, the mysteriously charming Lulu.
As Harperville descends into chaos, Detective Levi Earlington fights to make sense of a case that is unsolvable without help from the others on the force. Despite his best efforts, he has only one lead: the badge of Queenie’s dead father that no one will talk about. Queenie and Levi battle the horrors of Harperville to find who is truly behind it all… Even if it costs them their sanity.
Off the Deep End
Lizzie Strong © 2021
All Rights Reserved
“I just need a few photos for her missing person’s file.”
In a tiny house on a miniscule yard, at the end of a dead cul-de-sac, sat a detective with the missing girl’s grandmother. Levi Earlington perched himself on top of a dusty knitted blanket, feet crossed, hands full of photos of the girl. His locs were tucked neatly behind him and his button-down pressed expertly, even down to the seams. His clean suit covered up the bruises along his knuckles and hands. Multiple victim’s blood lingered underneath his nails. Levi raced to find any person left in this world who could help him find Queenie.
Estelle Lowe sobbed silently over a box as she dug through more Polaroid images. Her aged fingers trembled as she plucked out a larger photo at the bottom of the box. She gasped, a weary smile upon her lips as she stared at the photo. Levi could see through the back side of the photo that Queenie Louise Lowe was once a beautiful, young girl. No more than seventeen, with box dyed hair that hinted at a rainbow underneath thick black tresses, and a fake pink heart jewel upon her right cheek. Estelle tenderly handed the photo to him.
“She was such a good girl,” Estelle confessed in one breath.
“Ma’am, we’re going to find her, I promise,” Levi cleared his throat, raw from shouting into the storm.
Estelle’s face warmed, her lips curling as she closed the box over hundreds of other Polaroids. It was a shoe box with scrap booking paper expertly wrapped and tucked over it with a plastic jewel on top. It closed with a satin ribbon and a tag hung off the side: “To Gran, to remind you when I can’t.”
Levi placed the small Polaroids over the large photo on his lap. Queenie had been missing for more than twenty-four hours.
However, Levi did not have the heart to tell Estelle that he personally knew Queenie wasn’t dead, not yet. The truth would break the old woman’s heart. She smelled of baked goods, the kind that takes strong knuckles to knead.
Estelle clapped her hands against her thighs and pushed herself up to her feet. Levi’s mouth dropped open an inch to speak up but stopped. She shuffled around him in staggered steps toward the kitchen. He spun to observe her in the miniature kitchen just inches from the living room. She groaned as she bent to open the stove and retrieve the tray out of it. The air flooded with the scent of fresh cookies.
Levi leaned toward the back of the couch. “Ma’am, we will find her.”
“I know you will try, dear, which is why I’m going to send you with these cookies. Nourishment for the troops.” She gingerly placed the tray on top of the oven and twisted the knobs off. “You know, the only thing I seem to remember these days are my recipes. And Queenie. Such a sweet girl. Shame really.”
“Ma’am?” Levi clutched the photos to his chest. His hands and legs trembled.
Darkness swam in her old amber eyes as Estelle dropped a ball of dough onto the countertop. Her expression hardened like stone, her lips thin and her skin paled to the point of being nearly translucent.
Estelle kneaded soft balls of butter into the dough. “She’s gone off the deep-end, you know?” Her voice wavered, cracking at the end. Her right eye twitched. Estelle broke her porcelain composure to show cracks within her stony expression. Her eyes stormed with dark flecks of charcoal; the left side of her face drooped much like a stroke. Her features contorted, unable to match on both sides. Her jowls wiggled with effort as she fought for control of her own muscles.
Levi lurched toward her, tangling his feet in the couch. He toppled to the floor with a thud and the room darkened around him. The scent of baked goods tainted with sour milk in his nose. He turned his head. All the hair on his body stood up.
His chin scuffed the floor when he peered under the couch. Blood pooled upon the fake wood flooring. The fabric of the couch dripped thick, viscous liquid. Fingers broke through the underside of the furniture and broken nails and pieces of skin dangled from the couch, all pointed to the back. There, shoved behind the couch, broken into pieces, Estelle Lowe gazed directly at him with her skin strewn aside. Her jaw dropped with a terrifying click of her bones against the floor.
A scream broke through the silence in the tiny house, on a miniscule yard, in a dead cul-de-sac, waking up even the beasts slumbering below the surface. Detective Levi scrambled to his feet, alone in the house with fresh cookies on the stove and no grandmother in sight. Footsteps over warped wooden floorboards sounded from the back of the house.
Queenie Lowe slinked out of the shadows. Her finger raised to her lips as she headed for the front door. “Detective, shh, she’s taking a nap.”
Levi bolted after Queenie. The door swung open before him, and he tumbled out into the fog alone. The blood on the bottom of his shoes colored the gray concrete around him. Everything in Harperville cast in shadows and fog. His body trembled and fear gnawed at every neuron in his brain. Harperville used to be such a quiet town. That is…until the storm clouds rolled in over Rainbow Cove.