But since I've received a LOT of gifts this last year (um, a debut novel and a baby, anyone?), I think I'll GIVE gifts to celebrate. That means two ARCs of ARISE, the sequel to the Internationally Bestselling HEREAFTER, are yours for the taking!
So here's how it will work: one ARC will be given away to someone who just comments, as chosen by Randomizer.org; one ARC will be given to the person with the most "points." You can get a point each by commenting here, following this blog, liking "Tara Hudson" on Facebook, liking "Hereafter" on Facebook, commenting on Facebook, following me on Twitter, and Tweeting about the contest. One "point" for each thing you do - including if you already follow those things!
The contest will last until 8 pm, EST, February 3rd. I'll announce winners the morning of February 4th. Open internationally.
Just to give you a taste of what awaits the two winners, here's the first chapter from ARISE, below!
The entire world had gone dark, and I had no idea why.
No matter how widely I opened my eyes, no matter how many times I craned my neck or spun around in search of even one speck of light, I found none. There was nothing but thick, impenetrable darkness.
Before I’d opened my eyes to all this pitch-black, I had the vague impression that I’d just been someplace warm, familiar. Someplace safe.
But wherever I was now, I didn’t feel safe at all. I felt sightless and trapped. Like I was on the verge of being consumed by the darkness . . . like it was trying to eat me whole.
Although I couldn’t see, I could still hear things: the swish of my long dress as I whirled in useless, searching circles; the hiss of my increasingly panicked breath.
I heard something else, too—some sound I couldn’t quite identify. Not at first.
It started softly, almost muffled. A strange noise echoing out from beneath layers and layers of cotton. But as the sound grew in volume, it also deepened. Slowly, it transformed into something stronger. Something that more closely resembled a continuous thudding.
When the thudding gained a certain steadiness—a rhythm—I sucked in one sharp breath.
I recognized the sound now, and it made me want to scream.
If I were anyone else—anything else—I probably wouldn’t have reacted that way. After all, the rhythmic thudding of a heartbeat usually meant something positive. It meant life.
But for me, an audible heartbeat meant only one thing: someone nearby was dying.
It wouldn’t be me, of course. I hadn’t felt a genuine heartbeat in my chest since the day I drowned, on the night of my eighteenth birthday more than ten years ago.
The sound I heard now was definitely made by a living heart. And I couldn’t fight the horrible suspicion that it belonged to someone I loved.
Joshua Mayhew, for instance. Or even his little sister, Jillian. Both very much alive, and both of whose heartbeats I monitored carefully after I’d worked so hard to protect them.
Hearing that terrible thudding now, I forced myself to calm down and focus more intently on the darkness. I strained and squinted, peering into the dark until, blessedly, weak light began to shimmer along the edges of my vision. I watched each new sliver closely, silently praying that it would reveal the owner of that heart. Selfishly praying that it wouldn’t be Joshua. As I waited impatiently, another realization struck me: I could rely on senses other than sight and hearing. This was strange, considering the fact that ghosts can’t smell, taste, or feel anything outside themselves. At least not very often.
Yet I could smell a sweet, musty decay all around me. It overlay the scent of damp air; and, combined, the scents had an almost disorienting effect. The smells, the heartbeat, the shifting darkness—all of it made me dizzy and uncomfortable.
Thankfully, the light grew brighter, and I could finally see that I stood in a dim room. Across from me, heavily slatted shutters ran from a wood-planked floor up to a beamed ceiling. The shutters blocked most of the light from what could only be the sun, shining outside a wall of windows.
Furniture filled the room: randomly placed chairs and end tables, as well as a low coffee table that flanked a couch. Flung across the couch, in some sort of makeshift slipcover, was a white bedsheet. And flung across the sheet was a person.
At first I thought she might be a child. On closer inspection, I realized the tiny figure was actually closer to my own age. She had curled into a protective ball on the couch, spine pressed to the back cushions and sharp hip bone jutting up in the air. Her head lolled sideways onto one of the couch’s arms, and her dark brown hair cascaded in a tangle to the floor.
Even in the darkness of the room I could see the unhealthy sheen of her skin. Sweat glistened upon her sunken cheeks, and her eyes fluttered behind their closed lids.
Something about the girl’s face gave me an actual chill. Something about her features . . .
I leaned closer for a better look,. and, at that moment, the girl opened her eyes to stare blankly into the room. Her eyes were red rimmed and unfocused, addled by either sleep or some kind of chemical. Probably the latter, judging by the overturned prescription bottle that had spilled a rainbow of pills across the table in front of her.
Under normal circumstances—if anything about this scene could be classified as normal—I would have been worried about this girl. However ineffectively, I would have tried to find someone to help her. I would have grasped at her with my dead, incapable hands.
But these were not normal circumstances.
Because just one sight of the girl’s eyes rooted me to the floor. Those eyes, though bloodshot and bleary, were still a luminous green, shining out from a face I knew very well.