Meeting the girl of your dreams is supposed to be wonderful. But Tanvi isn't Mischa's dream girl; she's the girl he can't stop seeing in his nightmares.
This is the premise that opens Cara Martin's chilling and otherworldly young adult novel Shantallow (Dancing Cat Books). Tanvi and Mischa are connected somehow, and they can't help but fall for one another - even though their love seems bound up in darkness and quickly turns into something problematic and even scary.
When a group takes the couple hostage though, demanding a ransom from Tanvi's wealthy family, the supernatural aspect of Misha and Tanvi's strange bond - and Misha’s nightmares - will be revealed.
We're excited to present an excerpt from Martin's (who also writes under C.K. Kelly Martin) wonderfully dark, surprising, and engrossing novel. Get a glimpse of Misha and Tanvi's beginning, and be sure to pick up Shantallow to find out what happens next.
Excerpt from Shantallow by Cara Martin:
Last August was too hot for words, like the month before it. With three and a half weeks of summer vacation left I was fed up to the teeth of my daytime summer smell of sunscreen and multiple layers of deodorant. My company T-shirt weighed me down as though it was an alpaca sweater, and my arms and legs were so brown I wouldn’t have identified them as mine if I’d seen them in a photo. I’d gotten so lean that I almost didn’t like it, lean like I’d only been pre-puberty.
Between my seasonal landscaping gig and part-time supermarket job I didn’t have much chance to run that summer. If I had, I would’ve been a dead ringer for the hanging skeleton people put up outside their houses at Halloween, except that I’d have been the one in the “Golding Green Thumb” shirt. According to the company dress code, no matter what the weather app said, the company T-shirt had to remain on.
Despite the blistering temperatures, there were no water restrictions in Tealing. The town was far from running dry. Freakishly, the rainstorms weren’t infrequent that summer — it was just that up to that point they’d occurred mainly in the dead of night.
Most mornings the air was already thick with humidity by the time the Golding Green Thumb truck idled at the end of my driveway, and by ten o’clock the sun was ready to fry bacon and eggs on the sidewalks and fatally punish pets whose owners had been stupid enough to leave them locked inside cars. It was no different that very first day I saw Tanvi; my safety glasses were sticky-glued to my face with perspiration and my hearing-protection earmuffs were fixed snugly in place, sending a constant stream of sweat down my neck as I tamed the grass edging the Ghims’ front walkway with a string trimmer.
Heather was down near the end of the driveway, pruning bushes, and Santiago was in the backyard, taking care of the lawn. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky — it was a warm, vibrant blue that would seem like the product of an artist’s imagination come winter. It was also roughly the same blue that had hung over my head the day my dad came home, and occasionally my eyes would still snag on a patch of summer sky and trip backwards in time before I could catch myself.
Showing off on a two-wheeled bike, my legs pumping hard and my stomach full of welcome home cake and grilled hot dog, my dad watching with a squint, a celebratory cigarette tucked between his lips. “Look at that,” he said, tapping ash like he was adding an exclamation point. “Not a baby anymore, huh. Next thing you know I’ll be teaching you to drive stick.” My father smiled toothily, winking as though the two of us were in on a private joke. The men of the family, me five and a half years old and him nearly twenty-six, the best yet to come.
I hit the off switch and inhaled the smell of fresh-cut grass, landing back in the Ghims’ front yard with sweat dripping off my chin, my early-morning shower staler by the minute. I’d just bent to set down the trimmer, my mind switching to thoughts of the water bottles in the truck’s cooler, when someone padded out from the neighbor’s front door.
The shock hit me in the center of the chest first. Then my lungs forgot to breathe and the rest of me forgot to shift my line of vision and pretend I wasn’t staring. I stood frozen on the Ghims’ property, gaping at this strange girl on the neighbor’s grass — a girl I’d never in my life laid eyes on before, but knew just the same.
The girl from my dreams. Not someone who looked vaguely like the teenage girl on the phone only a stone’s throw away from me, the exact girl. I’d have known her anywhere. In the dreams there’d been only fear. The two of us standing in a wooded clearing, breathing raggedly in tandem, clothes disheveled. In the dream it was always night. So dark that I was surprised human eyes could pick up enough to light work, but mine did.
Every time it was the same thing. Terror pinching at the girl’s face, carving into her cheekbones and glowing in her eyes. I was scared too, my eyelids pulsing with it. The clock was running down for us, and we had to run. We’d been running before we’d reached the clearing and we had to run again, faster than we ever had and with no fixed end in sight. Something was coming for us. It was behind us in the woods, and it was quicker than we were and never got tired.
We were losing hope, overwhelmed like in the dreams where your legs won’t obey you and instead feel like lead. This girl and I, we were doomed and we knew it. That was how the dream went. Chased by something I never saw, only sensed.
Each time I woke up as we started moving again, hurling ourselves in between the gnarled trees ahead. A dream with no end and no beginning. No purpose that I could make out.
Standing with one foot on the Ghims’ walkway and the other on the grass, I drew my hand across my brow and then my chin, clearing the sweat from my face as I took in the real-life girl. South Asian. Approximately my age and height, long black hair framing high cheekbones and arresting brown eyes that might have made me stare even if I hadn’t seen her before. A cellphone was kissing one of her ears, and she was in bare feet, layered tank tops — one purple and the other white — and butt-hugging drawstring fleece shorts. I watched her toes claw at the grass, disappearing between the long blades while she frowned heavily at whoever was on the other end of the phone.
It was then that she glanced up and caught me looking. She held the phone away from her ear, bitterness flaring in her eyes as she called out, “Why don’t you go hump someone else with your eyes. I’m trying to have a private conversation.”
My jaw dropped to the ground with a cartoon thud. I turned into the mute caveman I’d been acting like, body and gaze shifting instantly away from her. Keeping my eyes straight ahead, I marched stiffly down the driveway to retrieve a bottle of water from the truck, cursing myself for being so obvious. By the time I’d worked up the courage to face her again, the girl was gone.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I stole glances at the neighbor’s house on and off all day, waiting for her to reappear as I continually recalled her image from my dream and measured it against the real thing. What did it mean to dream of someone you’d never met and then stumble across her in waking life? Had I seen the girl somewhere in Tealing before without realizing it and swept her into my subconscious? She didn’t go to Abbey Hill High School. If I’d spotted her there I would’ve remembered it.
It’s not like I could’ve cross-examined her about where I might have known her from after what had gone down between us. Not like I could’ve confessed I’d seen her in my dreams, either. Confronting her seemed like a bad idea, destined to provoke more hostility. And yet, near the end of the workday, while we were all clearing up and returning tools to the truck, I hopped over the invisible division between the Ghims’ yard and their neighbor’s property.
I trekked up the circular paving stones leading to the neighbor’s front door, my head down and my cheekbones sucked in like I was ready to eat humble pie. My middle finger gently tapped the doorbell, my weight shifting anxiously from my right foot to my left.
A black woman in her forties opened the door, a toddler clasping a hunk of circular cheese standing behind her leg, peeking out at me. “Yes?” the woman said semi-patiently.
“I … uh.” The girl had definitely been South Asian. How did the woman at the door and her kid fit into the picture? “Are you a resident of this household?”
The woman’s head tilted irritably. “Yes, I am. But I’m not interested in buying anything.” She scanned the lettering on my shirt. “We don’t need someone to do our landscaping, thanks.”
“Right. Okay. Sorry for bothering you.” Confused, I turned to go. Needling curiosity swung me around at the last second, the door nearly shut. “Wait. Is there a girl here?” My hand chopped sideways through the air next to my head. “My height. Long dark hair. Wearing shorts and tank tops.”
The door ajar by a mere foot, I watched the corners of the woman’s eyes crinkle, one side of her mouth jerking up before she forced it back down. Really? her expression seemed to say. You’re using your landscaping job to creep on girls?
“I owe her an apology,” I added quickly. “I think she wanted quiet while she was on the phone … and privacy.”
“Mmm.” The woman’s lips drew together. “Well, she’s not here now. She’s not a resident of this household.” The woman cracked a smile as she echoed my ridiculous terminology, the door clicking firmly shut before I had the opportunity to say anything else.
The disappointment tasted like sharp thirst and amputated grass. Santiago had explained the science behind the scent of newly cut lawn on my first day at work. It’s not the nice summer smell that you think it is; it’s a plant’s SOS signal. A release of airborne chemical compounds that mean it’s in trouble and could use some help.
I could’ve used some help on the neighbor’s doorstep too. The girl’s name or some other clue. But like the lawn, I wasn’t getting any; I had no choice but to walk away empty-handed. Whoever the girl was, I must’ve been hard at work while she’d made her exit. When I climbed into the Golding Green Thumb truck that evening I wondered if I’d ever get that close to her again. I’d lived in Tealing for three years, and as far as I could recall I’d never seen her outside of the pictures in my head before. If she didn’t live next door to the Ghims I had no idea where to find her.
The last thing I expected was that I’d spot her again any time soon. Tealing wasn’t a bustling metropolis, but with a population of 137,000 the majority of people who lived there were strangers to me and always would be. However, only fifty-three hours after leaving the Ghims’ place, the girl sped by me in a red sedan while I was out for one of last summer’s infrequent runs. She was curled up in the passenger seat of the car and I was jogging across Nelson Street, away from the lake. Rationally, I couldn’t be positive it was her; it was only a glance into a moving car at night.
A couple of days later I was strolling Tealing’s Midnight Madness with Jeffrey Cope and Arjun Grewal, walking back and forth across Main Street while munching grilled corn on a stick and gravitating between stages featuring old-school cover bands and distinctly wholesome entertainment — little kids doing martial arts demonstrations or girls with ringlets in their hair performing Scottish dance routines. Despite the family atmosphere of Midnight Madness, most of Tealing’s teenage population stopped by for at least a couple of hours. It was a place to be out at night that no one’s parents could be suspicious of — most of them didn’t realize some kids liked to veer away from the crowded downtown Tealing streets and head down to the lake, only a few blocks away, where the minimal lighting offered a chance to hook up with someone or indulge in underage drinking between foot patrols by the police.
An alternate version of me had already left Arjun and Jeffrey behind to swagger down to the lake and dive into trouble. Actually, that alternate version of me wouldn’t have been friends with Arjun and Jeffrey to start with. The friends I would’ve had in their place wouldn’t be on the honor roll; they’d be lucky if they ever graduated high school. They’d jeer at the cops who periodically herded teenagers away from the lake on Midnight Madness night and easily find somewhere else to party, somewhere the cops didn’t care about because it wasn’t frequented by the middle and upper classes. Those guys — my alternate version friends — would think of guys like me, Arjun, Jeffrey, and Justin Chen (who wasn’t with us that night because his grandparents were visiting from China) as pussies.
My eyes rushed through the crowd, my pulse racing. Her. Off to the left near a bakery stall, tossing her long black hair over one shoulder. That day in the Ghims’ yard, I’d seen a mirror image from my dream when I’d first clapped eyes on her. On Main Street, it was the real girl my gaze tripped over — the real flesh and blood girl who made my ribs ache and my mouth burn. I couldn’t keep my eyes pinned to her for more than a few seconds; the crowd was swelling forward and backward, people jostling their way through the fluctuating gaps in the thirty or so feet between us, stealing her away from me.
I tripled my pace and started weaving my way toward her, Arjun and Jeffrey falling back. If I’d known her name, I would’ve shouted for her at the top of my lungs too. It felt like a final chance.
Fast as I was, the Midnight Madness mob was swifter. They swallowed the girl whole and left me standing uselessly in front of the bakery stall alongside half a dozen strangers waiting to buy cupcakes and pastries. My hands wound around the back of my neck as I spun on my heels, scoping for her in all directions and not finding her.
You can’t lose something you’ve never had. You can find something you’ve never had, but you can’t lose it. Only that’s exactly how it felt when the girl vanished from view, and when Arjun and Jeffrey joined me by the stall a minute later I couldn’t jettison the feeling and go back to being the person I’d been before. The girl was written all over me.
Excerpted from Shantallow by Cara Martin, copyright 2019. Reproduced with permission of DCB, an imprint of Cormorant Books Inc.
Cara Martin is the author of several acclaimed novels for young people under the name C.K. Kelly Martin. In 2019 she published Shantallow under the name Cara Martin. Her novel Stricken was released in 2017. A graduate of the Film Studies program at York University, Martin has lived in the Greater Toronto Area and Dublin, Ireland. Within the space of 3500 miles she’s worked a collection of quirky jobs at multiple pubs and video stores, an electricity company, a division of the Irish post office, a London toy-shop, and an advertising analytics company. She’s also been an image editor for a dot-com startup that didn’t survive the 90s, and a credit note clerk for Canada’s largest national distributor of General Merchandise. Cara currently resides in Ottawa, Ontario with her husband and is still afraid of the Child Catcher from the film adaptation of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.