Friday 27 March 2015

Blog Tour Promo & Giveaway - Four Rubbings by Jennifer L. Hotes

Four Rubbings
Author: Jennifer L. Hotes
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal Thriller
Date Published: August 2013

Book Description:

The night the barrier between the dead and the living is as thin as muslin. Fourteen-year old Josie, haunted by the death of her mother, leads her best friends to an ancient cemetery to rub graves. Convinced she will come away with proof of her mother’s spirit at last, the evening takes an unexpected turn as the teens gravitate four ways into the haunted grounds.

Set against the backdrop of the rainy Pacific Northwest, four graves will be rubbed, touching off a series of events that will rattle their once mundane lives. From the lonely World War II hero to an accused witch, the people buried beneath the stones have stories that need an ending.

The journey to unravel the mysteries leaves the friends wondering if the graves would’ve been better off left alone.

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TYPICAL OF ANY OCTOBER in the Pacific Northwest, the weather tonight is soggy and blah. A steady spray of mist silently soaks my football jersey, an irritating rain we locals call spit. Not worth the trouble of opening an umbrella. Not worth spit. Kind of like me.

It was the perky Mylar balloons that drew me to the far corner of the graveyard after we split up, not some psychic mumbo jumbo like Josie predicted. My English teacher would have called the balloons “garish,” a good college-prep word. Bobbing above the graves, the balloons put a tacky coating on what had to be the children’s cemetery. That’s right. I didn’t need a sign to tell me; pint-sized plots, lamb-adorned headstones, and stuffed animals were a dead giveaway. No pun intended.

I stand under a knotty apple tree; helpless as my brother’s old football jersey gets slowly drenched by the spit. I am such a chump. My brother’s stiff white pants from sixth grade football (when his epic career began) keep sliding down my skinny legs, even with the laces cinched as tight as humanly possible across my waist. And by now, I’m sure the grease paint beneath my eyes is smeared, making me look like a benchwarmer for the losing team. Perfect. His ancient uniform doesn’t fit, but it is the only one I could find without our last name plastered across the back. I don’t want other people to know I’m the lackluster little sister of the nation’s premier college quarterback, Drew Starbaugh. It’s best to fly under the radar when I can.

This dwarf apple tree I stand under knows a thing or two about pretending to be something it’s not. Spindly, misshapen branches reach out every which way but make a horrible umbrella for the pint-sized graves below. Dotted with buds that might bring a little cheer in April, I know the branches will be stripped clean in the next good downpour. The cursed blossoms remind me of all the bones buried under my feet, tiny bones that never got the chance to grow. I swear I can feel tiny bones poking into the soles of my shoes.

If this was my cemetery, I’d chainsaw the apple tree to the ground or, better yet, take an axe to its trunk. Then I’d hire a chainsaw artist to carve a chubby bear out of the stump. Now that would be an improvement. This place is depressing, and reading the tombstones makes me feel worse.

Born: February 2003; Died: July 2003.
Born: October 2010; Died: December 2011.

The baby graves go on and on. My mouth dries up like I have been sucking the Mr. Thirsty straw at the dentist’s office too long, and as I squat down I see stuffed animals, baby rattles, Matchbox cars, and teething rings; toys that were bought and never used rest on graves in various states of decay. Some are sun bleached, others are black with mold, and a few are brand-spanking new. The new ones make me feel the worst.

A couple feet to my right is a rectangle of rust-colored mud. Grass hasn’t had time to grow on this newest grave in the children’s cemetery. No tombstone has been carved and placed yet to mark this life. But the air is thick with the scent of yellow and white roses that cover the grave.

They must have buried their little one in the last day or two, because the carefully placed sympathy cards are sagging but not completely defeated by the damp weather. A line of perfect tiny toys sits upright across the dirt patch as if standing guard over the new resident. Stuffed sentinels. Now I understand what Josie said about letting a grave pick you. But this one has nothing to rub; it’s a patch of mud.

Feeling completely deflated, I sit, resting my head in my hands. Then, through my hair, I see him: a marble carving of a beautiful little boy decorates a nearby tombstone. His pudgy hand grasps a stone tree trunk. Itsy bitsy fingers clutch a white bouquet that appears so lifelike I can almost smell the blossoms. His smooth face is frozen in a timeless half smile. Swirly curls frame his face. Dimpled knees peek out of old-fashioned trousers. At his feet rests a white vase filled to bursting with a holiday bouquet. Underneath, a carved plaque reads:

In memory of Ettore Versino
Born: December 20, 2000, Died: October 5, 2002.

Across the bottom of the tombstone lies a fuzzy yellow and black bumblebee outfit. Dead more than a decade, his parents have left a Halloween costume for their son. Do they do this every year?

I shove the costume to the side so I can start my rubbing, but the plush, fluffy fabric makes my fingers itch. I must be allergic to kind gestures. Tears prick at the back of my eyes. Sadness, and something else, something ugly, eats at my stomach as I yank the paper, tape, and graphite free from the helmet. Hot tears and snot crisscross my face and drip onto the paper. My chin quivers as I smooth the warped paper. The paper rips in the middle.

“God, I’ve already ruined it.” I wipe my wet face with my sleeve, take a breath, and try to tape the paper to the white marble. The paper fumbles out of my worthless fingers, and I lose my grip on everything. Down goes the tape, out slips the graphite, and off sloughs the last of my composure.

I force myself to breathe, and I close my eyes. I can’t show up without a rubbing. I clench my teeth and tape the paper to the plaque. I try to draw out some tender thought about the parents Ettore left behind, but all that comes is a quick glimpse of a little green monster named Envy. Before I let myself wad up the paper and slink back to the entry gates, I begin to rub.

The wet graphite leaves sloppy kindergarten smears across the white sheet. By the middle of the rubbing, my touch improves. A shiver ripples down my spine as I reach the bottom of the words. I mangle the deceased date, but I steady myself and try again, making it worse. Of course. The graphite jumps out of my fingers and lands among the baby toys. Fine. Stay there!

I pull the tape free of the tombstone and roll up the paper, desperate to be done and find a friendly face. I jam the supplies inside my wet helmet, which slips out of my hands and rolls away, stopping at the foot of the dwarf apple tree. As I duck down to get it, I spot a shadowy movement through the bushes that surround Ettore’s grave. What I first mistake for a brown squirrel turns out to be someone, I can’t make out who. The person’s hands dart out from the leaves, swift and silent and tidy the fallen toys and straighten the yellow and black costume. I hold my breath and stare. As I stand, I smack my head on the bottom branch of the tree.

“Ugh!” Wet blossoms and dead leaves rain down on me and I shake them off my jersey and pull bits from my hair. I turn back to Ettore’s grave, but the person is gone. If there was someone behind the bushes, they are long gone. I shiver, thinking of the Chinese hungry ghosts and wish I had one of my mother’s blasted joss sticks handy to burn, to ward off bad spirits.

I take one last glance over my shoulder and then run as fast as I can from the children’s cemetery, grateful for the plastic cleats that make me faster than usual. As I near the entrance gates, I make out the faint outline of a figure. I cross my fingers. God, I hope that’s a friend.

About the Author 
Encouraged by her mother-in-law, Elizabeth A. Hotes, who told her to create something and share it with others, Jennifer writes and illustrates to keep her memory alive. 

To date, Jennifer’s favorite medium is pen and ink, but she also loves to paint a wall or canvas.

Her works have been featured at benefit art auctions, adorned the walls of public spaces, graced  homes and enhanced books with vibrant covers and internal illustrations.

Four Rubbings is Jennifer’s first novel, though she’s busy writing the second book in the Stone Witch Weries presently. Four Rubbings is great for readers that enjoyed the Harry Potter series, and has been a fun book club pick across the country. The author loves Skyping into book clubs, so email her and ask – she may just surprise you with a cyber visit!

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