When terrifying hallucinations of shadow people send fourteen-year-old Melinda Johnson to a mental hospital, her picture-perfect family starts to unravel, and problems swept under the rug pile up. Has karma finally caught up with the Johnsons? Or are the shadow people to blame?

Age Rating: 18+

 

Gripped by Elizabeth Gordon is now available to read on the Galatea app! Read the first two chapters below, or download Galatea for the full experience.

 


 

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Subgenres:

New Adult, Mystery & Suspense, Thrillers, Paranormal, Contemporary, Fantasy, First Contact, Suspense

 

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Chapter 1

Summary

When terrifying hallucinations of shadow people send fourteen-year-old Melinda Johnson to a mental hospital, her picture-perfect family starts to unravel, and problems swept under the rug pile up. Has karma finally caught up with the Johnsons? Or are the shadow people to blame?

Age Rating: 18+

Original Author: Elizabeth Gordon

MELINDA

When Melinda woke in the night, it was so late that it was early.

The whispering had started again; that was what awoke her.

Though she didn’t know what the whispers said, she knew they meant business.

Bad business.

Melinda had first heard the whispers at school. She went to the quietest place she knew: the single stall bathroom by the theater, where she’d sometimes take her lunch.

Even there, in her quiet place, Melinda couldn’t make out what the whispers said. They were always just a bit too muffled to understand.

The voices sounded human. She knew that much. But their tones were also sharp and hard, like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Melinda had left the bathroom.

Soon after, she started seeing Dr. Mulligan. She took his advice. She would play loud pop hits on her headphones or stand by the chattiest girls.

She tried to pretend the whispers were white noise.

This worked out alright for a while, except when the whispers came in the middle of the night. Alone in her bedroom, Melinda knew the noise was anything but white.

Melinda opened her eyes. From her four poster-bed, she gazed out at the moonlit bedroom.

The delicate white canopy of the bed rippled around her in the early spring breeze. The mirror on her vanity reflected the shifting leaves outside her window.

The room was beautiful. It could have been featured in Better Homes and Gardens magazine. But tonight, its inhabitant paid no attention to her surroundings.

Just…the whispers.

The sound continued, becoming so loud that Melinda couldn’t hear her own beating heart or ragged breath.

The rosebuds on the wallpaper curved so frightfully that they seemed to resemble snakes.

Melinda gazed into her empty fireplace as if it were the mouth of hell itself.

Then she saw the shadows shift.

It was as if a blaze of shadows had come to life in the dormant fireplace.

The whispers became louder still, and the cold, dark fire grew larger, until it was pouring shadow smoke.

Melinda retreated into her feather pillows, but the smoke continued to come, billowing around her bedroom. The dark clouds blocked her view of the vanity mirror…and then the entire vanity.

The smoke darkened with every second. It was no longer one cloud, but several, all floating closer to Melinda.

Coming nearer, they became thin and tall. Less like smoke and more like…

Figures.

Melinda blinked, and when her eyes opened, the five figures approaching her were practically human.

Their shadowy silhouettes were ever shifting, but their movements were undeniably human as they drifted toward Melinda.

All ten shadow hands reached out for poor Melinda as she sat helpless in her bed, the whispers now deafening in her ears.

Where fingers would have been, the shadow people just had wisps of smoke.

Just before they touched her, she screamed. It was a scream that would wake her whole family, but Melinda wasn’t worried about that.

She was too worried for her own life.

As the scream ripped through the air, Melinda covered her eyes with her nail-bitten fingers and felt a warm release between her legs.

All at once, the whispers stopped. Melinda opened her eyes to find the shadow people had disappeared.

“Phew!” she cried.

But the girl had hardly a moment to enjoy the peace when her bedroom door swung open and five real people rushed inside.

“Darling, what happened?” Melinda’s mother demanded as she hurried toward the bed.

“You woke us up,” her older brother Jacob grumbled.

“Your imaginary friends after you again?” her sister Libby asked from the doorway.

Melinda’s father and her oldest sister Rosie were silent.

Melinda’s cheeks burned in the night.

“It was nothing. I’m sorry,” she replied. “Just a bad dream.”

Her mother pressed her hand to Melinda’s clammy forehead.

She sniffed.

“Oh, darling!” she said. “What is that…smell?”

Melinda’s stomach clenched as she realized what it was…

This was another nightmare. And it was about to come true.

“Did you…?”

“Melinda wet the bed!” her brother yelled, pointing at the wet spot on the sheets beneath his sister. He started laughing.

“That is gold!” Libby shrieked.

Melinda screwed her eyes closed.

She had embarrassed herself in front of her whole family. Not once, but twice. And in a matter of seconds!

Why was life so hard for her?

“Oh, dear,” her mother lamented. “Everybody go back to bed!”

The rest of the family went back to their rooms.

Melinda felt her mother pulling her arm, but she resisted.

“I can change my sheets, Mom,” Melinda whimpered.

But her mother’s grip was so tight that Melinda had no choice but to get out of bed.

Humiliated, she got to her feet in her soggy pajamas.

She risked a glance at the fireplace, which was empty and seemed rather harmless.

“Go clean yourself up,” her mother ordered as she tore the comforter off the bed.

Melinda went to the bathroom and took a fast, hot shower. When she returned, the bed was made, her mother was gone, and she was once again alone in the dark.

LIBBY

Libby smiled at her sister Melinda over her dwindling bowl of cornflakes.

Libby wanted Melinda’s attention, and she knew Melinda was trying not to give it to her.

“Everyone have an amazing day at school,” Libby’s mother announced from the doorway. “And Melinda, we have an appointment with Dr. Mulligan tomorrow morning.”

Her heels clacked down the hallway and out the front door.

Libby turned to her brother Jacob. They shared a look.

Her father folded up his newspaper at the head of the table and poured his mug of coffee into a thermos.

“Bye, Johnsons,” he called as he left for work.

“Bye, Dad,” Melinda replied, staring into her glass of milk.

“Suck-up,” Jacob teased.

Rosie appeared in the doorway. She was the oldest sister; she never ate breakfast.

“Ready to go?” she asked.

On the way out of the house, the Johnson kids collected their cell phones from the blue bowl, where their mother insisted they leave them when they were at home.

Usually Libby fought for the passenger seat, but today she wanted to sit in the back with Melinda.

Rosie put the red Mustang’s top down. Libby’s blonde hair whipped all around as they drove through the neighborhood.

“What were they saying last night?” Libby asked.

“Leave me alone,” Melinda replied.

Libby looked out of her window. She was genuinely curious about her sister’s mysterious visitors, but more for the story she could tell her school friends than actual concern for Melinda’s feelings.

As they neared the school, Libby watched Rosie apply her pink lip gloss in the rearview mirror. She looked perfect, as always.

Libby didn’t bother with any of that girly stuff. It wouldn’t work on the boys anyway.

They pulled into their regular parking spot, where Jackson was already waiting, like he always was.

Libby watched as Jackson leaned into the car to kiss Rosie. She couldn’t help but fall for his chocolate eyes and princely brown curls, just like every other girl in the school.

“Let’s go,” Jacob urged his twin as they got out of the car.

Libby and Jacob followed after Melinda, who walked with her head down. They left Rosie kissing Jackson; none of them said goodbye.

Inside the school, the hallway was crammed with students. Libby and Jacob heard their names shouted and walked over to find their friends among the other junior cliques hanging out by the stairwell.

“Hey, Johnsons,” Marissa said in her singsong voice. She flipped her straightened hair over her shoulder. “Did you hear about prom yet?”

“No,” Libby said.

“They announced the theme! Casino Royale!”

Libby didn’t want to think about prom since she knew no one would ask her. Good thing she was ready with a better topic.

“Who cares about prom?” she countered, and the whole group leaned in to hear. Libby smiled at Jacob.

“Our freak sister wet the bed last night.”

MELINDA

Melinda pouted in study hall.

Just when she thought she couldn’t be any less popular, high school proved her wrong.

Even her normal table of losers had welcomed her with low hisses, imitating the sound of pee.

Now she was alone at a table with Jared.

Jared had autism and seemed to prefer solitude. When Melinda had sat down beside him, he had picked up his textbook and angled away from her.

Melinda sighed. It had been a long day in the ninth grade, to say the least.

She had eaten lunch in the bathroom by the theater.

Melinda knew Jacob and Libby had told everyone at school about last night. She was angry, but the thought of bringing it up to them was unbearably shameful. They would only tease her more.

She had to pretend she didn’t care.

She was so good at pretending that, at times, she thought what she pretended was true.

This ability was useful in many areas of her life, even with the whispers.

If Melinda didn't care about the whispers, then maybe they'd cease to exist. And if they didn't exist, then Melinda could be normal.

Melinda didn’t care about the shadow people, either.

She didn’t care so much that when she looked up and saw a shadow person behind Liz—the star cheerleader—she hardly blinked.

Her heartbeat hardly quickened.

She stared at Jared’s turned back and wished he was her friend. Melinda wished that she had one friend in the whole world that she could talk to.

But she didn’t.

She looked down at her big thighs and bit her fingernail.

“Hey,” Melinda said suddenly, surprising even herself. She tapped on Jared’s back with her spitty finger, which she immediately regretted. People with autism didn’t like to be touched.

Jared turned his head but said nothing.

“Could you help me with my math homework?” Melinda didn’t even have her homework out. She reached for her textbook in her backpack.

“Algebra 1?” Jared scoffed.

“Well, math isn’t my strong suit.”

Jared looked disturbed by this comment.

Melinda thumped the huge book down on the table.

“I don’t understand…” Jared said.

Melinda turned to him, her eyes narrowed. She was about to explain that she was more of a right-brained person when Jared started speaking again. But his mouth didn’t move, and no sound came out.

It’s almost like she can read my thoughts.

Melinda gulped.

Was she reading his mind?

Jared went on:

I always knew this girl was weird, but this is worse than I thought.

 

Read the full uncensored books on the Galatea iOS app!

Chapter 2

ROSIE

Rosie licked the rainbow sprinkles from the vanilla half of her strawberry swirl cone at the local ice cream stand.

Before she could swallow, Jackson leaned in and kissed her. His mouth was cold and sweet.

“Yuck, vanilla,” he joked. His arm was around her waist, his hand on the bare skin of her midriff. He pinched her.

“Hey!” Rosie cried, pretending to be angry under her thick eyelashes. “You kissed me!”

She wiggled closer to her boyfriend. After all the drama at her house the night before, she needed a sweet distraction.

Jackson smiled out at the busy picnic tables. They sat on a tabletop covered in a red and white checkered cloth.

It was the cool thing to do. Rosie felt cool sitting next to him, and she knew people were watching them.

They sat there for a minute, and Rosie looked up at her boyfriend’s soft brown eyes beneath his dark, curly locks. She licked her cone. It tasted like summer.

Rosie was anticipating the best one of her life. First would come prom, then graduation, and then party after party before everyone left for college. And Jackson would be by her side through all of it.

But thinking of her own bright future couldn't totally distract Rosie from her youngest sister’s declining mental health.

She thought about bringing up her concerns with Jackson, but that was what was so great about their relationship…they didn’t need to talk. They could just be.

“What do you say we get out of here, babe?” Jackson asked.

“I’m not done with my ice cream,” Rosie replied.

“It’s okay, I like you skinny,” he said with a wink, but Rosie still blushed. “There’s somewhere I want to show you.”

Rosie threw away her ice cream cone and got in the passenger seat of Jackson’s dad’s Ferrari. Before he pulled out of the parking spot, he leaned over and kissed her.

“Where are you taking me?” she asked flirtatiously.

“Makeout Point,” he replied.

Rosie’s heart dropped.

“Baby, you know I don’t want to go there,” she began. “I have younger siblings, and they look up to me, and—”

Jackson sighed.

“Fine,” he relented. “My parents are out of town. We can just go back to mine.”

They drove to Jackson’s big, empty house. They made love in the living room, and the soft carpet left an imprint on Rosie’s back.

They didn’t use a condom because Jackson liked it better that way, and he promised again that he’d pull out before he came. It wouldn’t be like last time.

MELINDA

Dr. Mulligan’s office had grey walls.

Melinda stroked the soft fabric of the chair so that she didn’t bite her fingernails.

She knew Dr. Mulligan would write in his notebook if she did.

“Melinda, could you tell me about what happened last night, in your own words?” the doctor asked.

He crossed his ankles. His right sock was falling down, and Melinda could see his shiny shin.

She gulped. She wasn’t supposed to lie to Dr. Mulligan.

But with the medicine he gave her, she was supposed to get better. Whenever she told him she still heard the whispers, she could tell that he got upset.

But then again, when she lied, he asked her questions until she told the truth.

“Well, the whispers woke me up,” Melinda began, “and I got so scared that I wet the bed.”

She bit her lip. It wasn’t a lie, per se.

Dr. Mulligan paused, stroking his white beard.

“Was that all, dear?” he pressed. “Did something else happen? Something more frightening than the whispers?”

Melinda bit her fingernail, then remembered not to and stopped.

“The more you tell me, Melinda, the faster we can make it go away,” Dr. Mulligan said, his blue eyes soft below his bushy white eyebrows.

Melinda gulped again.

“Well, there was something else.” Melinda stared at her hands. “There were shadows in my room…that moved around like people.”

Melinda’s hands started to shake, but she kept going.

“There were five of them, and they tried to attack me.”

When Melinda looked up, Dr. Mulligan’s face was creased with concern.

“That sounds very troubling, indeed,” he said.

Melinda nodded.

“Thank you for your honesty, Melinda. Now I understand, and we’ll be able to work toward a solution together.”

The two smiled at one another.

As Melinda left the room, she hoped that she’d said the right thing. She didn’t want Dr. Mulligan to think she was still sick.

But it felt good to tell him the truth. It felt good that the secret wasn’t all her own.

KAREN

As soon as the receptionist told Karen that Dr. Mulligan was ready for her, she rushed into his office.

She left Melinda in the waiting room and closed the door behind her.

Her heart thumped in her chest as she lowered herself into the chair. She gripped its soft arms, anxious.

“Mrs. Johnson, I’m afraid I have some unfortunate news,” the doctor began.

Karen whimpered, then regained her composure. The doctor was in control.

“What did Melinda tell you?” she asked desperately.

“It seems that we’ve moved from solely auditory hallucinations to visual ones as well.”

“What does that mean?” Karen asked. She wished Dr. Mulligan would just speak English.

“Melinda is seeing things. Things that make her fear for her safety.”

“Oh, God!” Karen cried.

Her head was spinning. Could this disaster be her fault? She thought of the one time when the kids were young, and she had discovered them watching that old horror movie The Shining.

She thought of all the terrifying apps these days where sexual predators could access the data of innocent children…where drugs could be ordered and delivered to an exact location within minutes…

Could Melinda have fallen prey to such depravity? Could that be what led to this?

“I recommend an increase in Melinda’s dose of olanzapine,” Dr. Mulligan concluded.

“Of course,” Karen sighed.

She took solace in the professional advice as Dr. Mulligan wrote out a new script.

“Thank you, Doctor,” Karen said sincerely as he handed her the slip.

“I’d like to see her again in a week,” Dr. Mulligan said.

Karen gave a little smile and exited his office. She made a new appointment at the reception desk and then gestured to her daughter. The pair headed for the car.

As they drove, Karen watched Melinda look out the window. What was going on in that complicated head of hers?

“Can we go out for lunch?” Melinda asked.

“Sorry, honey,” Karen said. “Not today. We’re stopping at the pharmacy, and then I’ll take you back to school.”

“Okay,” Melinda replied.

Disappointing her daughter hurt Karen, but she steeled herself. This was no time to positively reinforce Melinda’s behavior.

ROSIE

Rosie lounged on the couch when she got home from school, thinking about Jackson.

She was wondering why he hadn’t asked her to prom yet.

She wanted to text him—not about that, obviously, just to see what he was up to—but she knew her mom would snap at her for taking her phone from the blue bowl.

Ugh!

Frank Sinatra began to play in the kitchen. Rosie knew her mom was trying to pretend everything was normal.

That’s why she and Jacob were making lasagna, the family favorite. Well, more like Jacob was making it. He was the only good cook in the Johnson household.

“Dinner’s ready!” Karen sang.

“Should I go get Melinda?” Rosie asked as she entered the dining room. The walls were papered with red velvet and gold foil trim. She always found it gaudy.

“Melinda needs her sleep right now, darling,” Karen replied, taking her seat at one end of the table.

As Libby, Jacob, and their dad took their normal places, Karen kept talking.

“Melinda’s new medication will make her sleepy for a few days,” she said, her voice lowering like she was telling a child something sad, “but soon she’ll be good as new!”

Rosie stared at her mom. She felt bad for the woman.

Melinda’s sickness had been hard on the whole family, but Karen took it the worst.

Rosie rested her chin in her hand.

“Rosie! Elbows off the table!” Karen yelled.

“Oh. Right. Sorry.”

Libby rolled her eyes at her.

The lasagna steamed on their plates. The scent wafted up to Rosie as the rest of her family dug in.

This used to be Rosie’s favorite meal, but now it made her sort of nauseous. She couldn’t bear to look down at the hunk of meat and cheese and pasta.

In fact, Rosie tried not to think about it. The heavy scent overwhelmed her, as did the sight of everyone eating.

She shot up from the table and left for the bathroom.

“Excuse me,” she managed.

She didn’t want to make a scene. Not now.

When Rosie was alone in the bathroom, she threw up in the toilet.

 

Read the full uncensored books on the Galatea iOS app!

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