Moon Basin has been haunted for as long as anyone can remember…
We’re thrilled to share the cover and preview an excerpt from To Break a Covenant, the debut novel from author Alison Ames—arriving September 21st from Page Street Publishing.
Moon Basin has been haunted for as long as anyone can remember. It started when an explosion in the mine killed sixteen people. The disaster made it impossible to live in town, with underground fires spewing ash into the sky. But life in New Basin is just as fraught. The ex-mining town relies on its haunted reputation to bring in tourists, but there’s more truth to the rumors than most are willing to admit, and the mine still has a hold on everyone who lives there.
Clem and Nina form a perfect loop—best friends forever, and perhaps something more. Their circle opens up for a strange girl named Lisey with a knack for training crows, and Piper, whose father is fascinated with the mine in a way that’s anything but ordinary. The people of New Basin start experiencing strange phenomena—sleepwalking, night terrors, voices that only they can hear. And no matter how many vans of ghost hunters roll through, nobody can get to the bottom of what’s really going on. Which is why the girls decide to enter the mine themselves.
Alison Ames lives in Colorado with a lot of animals and her almost-wife. She loves birds, comics, and the rule of three. To Break a Covenant is her debut novel. Find her on social media @2furiosa, and if you know (or are) Harry Styles she insists you do so.
We sat on the floor of Piper’s room in tank tops and shorts, all of us covered in a sheen of sweat, pretending we weren’t waiting for Carlisle to come home. We were listening to Pet Sounds, Lisey singing along to “God Only Knows” under her breath as she painted her nails. Her cards were caught between her first and second fingers, bent at the knuckles, and she put the polish brush in her mouth so she could pull one out.
“Hearts,” she said.
She grinned. “I need your turn to last awhile so I can finish this hand.”
Lisey loved her nails, kept them long and perfectly shaped and always polished. She used vitamin-E base coats, top coats, strengthening, hardening. They made her long fingers look even longer, more ethereal, and she painted them pale wispy colors that made her look like she was disappearing from the fingertips up.
She squinted at her pinky, pulled a small wooden stick out from behind her ear, where the cloud of hair had hidden it, and ran it along the side of the nail. She tucked it back into her hair with a satisfied hmm. I pulled cards from the draw pile, cursing the entire suit of clubs, and finally a heart flipped up.
“Baby gets one,” Nina said.
I was opening my mouth to retort when the door slammed downstairs. Piper lifted the needle from the record. The silence only lasted for a moment and then there was a thump-thumpthumpthumpthump, far too fast, far too loud, for someone to be climbing the stairs on two legs. A vision of Carlisle skittering up the stairs on all fours shuddered across my mind. Piper rolled across the floor to her bedside table, was reaching for the lamp’s
cord, and then the door to the room banged open.
“Hi, girls,” said Carlisle, looming huge in the door frame.
Piper froze, her hand outstretched, and settled back onto the floor slowly. “Hey, Dad.” She tried to sound soothing. “It’s late.”
Carlisle was caked with dirt, shedding it onto the carpet with each breath. I got a whiff of something dark and ancient, musty stone and things choked with dying vines.
He smiled. “Piper, my girl. My little girl.” He held out his arms to her.
“Dad, you have to go take a shower. You’re dirty.”
He laughed, and there was something off about it, something not quite right. “Right you are, my dear. Right you are. Where’s your mother?”
The question surprised her. Her eyebrows lifted, her mouth dropped open into a tiny little O, but she gathered herself quickly and her tone stayed even. “She’s not here, Dad. It’s late,” she repeated.
“She’s sleeping in the guest room again, huh?” he said, that same off-kilter cadence in his voice. He almost seemed drugged, his eyes flickering around the room frenetically. Finally he landed on me. “My wife won’t sleep in our bed anymore.”
I recoiled and he saw me flinch.
“Oh, sorry. Secret. It’s fine.” He made a patting motion at the air, like he was stroking a horse. “I need to bring her down.”
I could feel my voice crawling up my throat, willed it to stop, but the words forced their way through my teeth: “Down where, Mr. Wharton?”
“Down,” he said, and smiled. I saw with a sick jolt that his teeth were stained with dirt, too. They looked like tombstones, lined up neatly, grimed with earth, and the grin pulled his lips
back way too far. “Down inside the mine.”
“Dad,” Piper said. “You need to go to sleep.”
He stepped farther into the room. “Are you upset, darling? I’ll bring you, too. You don’t have to be jealous.”
“I’m not jealous, Dad! You’re not thinking clearly. You have to go to sleep.”
“I’ll bring you all down, don’t worry.”
Lisey stepped up to him. “Mr. Wharton,” she said gently. “What do you mean?”
His face cleared as he looked at her, and he almost sounded like himself when he said, “I’m so close to figuring it out.”
Then his eyes glazed back over, his face sagged, and he shot out a hand and grabbed Lisey’s wrist. Her hand closed into a fist and I could see her nail polish smudge from where I was standing.
“All the way down.” He let go of Lisey’s wrist, pivoted on his heel like a robot, and left the room as abruptly as he’d entered it.
There were approximately two seconds of silence as we all looked at each other, Piper crying silent tears. Then we heard Carlisle shout, “JANINE!” and slam his body against the guest room door.
“Fuck,” Piper spat under her breath and darted down the hall. “Dad!” she cried, and then there was a yelp and a thud.
We ran out into the hall to see Piper slumped against the wall, clutching her head, and Carlisle hammering on the door he’d taken the lock out of less than a week ago. “Janine!” he yelled again. “Janine, you’ll be fine, just let me in!”
A string of drool was hanging from his mouth, and it was brown with dirt. I could hear Piper crying, or maybe it was Lisey crying, or maybe it was Nina or me. The grave-smell coming off Carlisle was stronger in the closed-in space of the hall, and he left streaks of dirt on the door as he pounded on it.
“I have to do this!” he wailed. “Janine!”
Piper had gotten up and was yanking on his arm, trying to pull him away from the shuddering door.
“Dad.” She was sobbing. “Dad, she’s not in there, stop.”
Carlisle swung around, a feral, mad light in his eyes, his hand raised. He froze like an animal in headlights, looking at the four of us, and his face went flat and dead. His hand fell to his side like a string had been cut. He shook his head slightly and winced. His hands twitched. The cords in his neck stood out as his jaw clenched. With what seemed like incredible effort, like his voice was coming from deep inside his body, he spoke.
“Cub,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
He turned away from us and walked down the hall to his office, and we could hear the bolt of the house’s one remaining lock shooting home from where we stood.
We wedged ourselves onto the floor between Piper’s bed and the wall like sardines, none of us wanting to be more than even an inch away from the others, but it wasn’t enough. None of us could sleep. I kept waiting for the sound of the office door unlocking, opening slowly, stealthily, the sound of quiet footsteps in the hall, the tickling sound of dried earth as it fell to the floor. By the time the sun started to rise I’d been grinding my teeth for so long that I had a headache all the way into the backs of my eyes.
We stayed in Piper’s bedroom until we heard the bells on the front door jangle, and then we waited another ten minutes, and then we bolted.
Excerpted from To Break a Covenant, copyright © 2021 by Alison Ames.