For sixteen-year-old Shaw Huntley, a normal day includes running from two men who want to kill him. Shaw has a dark ability: using only the power of his mind, and visualizing a specific gold and jeweled dagger, he can telekinetically cut or slice objects. If he gets angry enough, he can even cut people. Unfortunately, the two men chasing him murdered his father in search of the physical gold dagger currently in Shaw’s possession—and they will stop at nothing to track him down and obtain it.
When Shaw ends up in Rockpoint, New York, he meets Melody Tufts, a gamer who finds a mysterious triangular symbol on the hilt of Shaw’s dagger. After some investigation, Shaw learns his connection with the dagger and his dark ability were the results of a secret ritual—The Ritual of the Four—performed centuries ago by his ancestors. His dagger is number one in a group of four unique items, each one representative of the four magic elements: fire, water, air, and earth. He also learns there’s a way to reverse the Ritual of the Four forever so he can stop running, settle into a school, and perhaps even begin a romance with Melody. But after the two embark on a dangerous quest to reverse the ritual, decoding clues and unearthing maps, Shaw questions if he wants to toss away his ability—or finally face his foes.
Targeted Age Group:: Young Adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I was inspired by the Harry Potter spell “Sectumsempra.” Using this spell, Harry can slice and wound an enemy. I don’t think I was consciously writing this way, but looking at the finished product, it’s clear that the spell inspired the book. My main character, Shaw, can slice and cut people and objects using only his mind. It’s similar to telekinesis, only Shaw envisions a specific gold and jeweled dagger to cut his enemies. He hates his gift, so the plot grew from there.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Shaw is a geekier version of Anakin Skywalker. He’s following a hero’s journey and he’s a little edgy, but deep down he’s also unsure and lacks confidence. He represses the things that make him mad and internalizes a lot, so his true ability is not known until the end of the book. If I’m lucky enough to write a sequel to The Ritual of the Four, Shaw will definitely battle some of these demons and take on a darker, edgier demeanor.
Melody was partially based on Hermione Granger. Again, probably an even geekier version of Hermione. She’s smart, witty, and a firecracker, but she also has a vulnerable side. She’s brave throughout the story and is the heart and soul of Shaw’s quest.
I am marked for death.
I’m not sure when it will happen. It could be one minute or one month, and when it happens, it won’t be pretty. Not in the particular way they are going to kill me.
Right now, I’m hiding out in one of the few places a guy of sixteen can disappear from the eyes of the world—the top of a Ferris wheel. When I jumped on board, a couple of teenagers were getting a lift in the cart just behind me. A guy and a girl, laughing and snuggling. I’m sure they were hoping to get stuck on top, where I am now, so they could disappear from the world just like I’m trying to do. For once, I was the lucky one this time. I’m stuck up here, hidden, but with a pretty good view of the carnival below.
The autumn carnival in Fairchester, Massachusetts, is a pretty big deal. It’s not like I know this town all that great, because I just got here a month ago, but I did hear from some guys at school that most of the town shows up at the carnival at one point or another. From up here, at the top of the world, I can see why people in Fairchester like their autumn carnival so much. The air is icy, the leaves brown and dying, but smack in the middle are all these neon flashing lights and laughing kids. Game booths with huge stuffed animals. Fat clowns with balloons. The scent of fried dough and cotton candy.
I came here alone but soon had the feeling I wasn’t alone. That’s why I’m hiding out. It’s calm now—they can’t reach me up here if they did follow me to the carnival. And I’m pretty sure they found me, because I can smell the blood laced into the breeze. It comes along with them. It probably comes along with me, too. That’s how they always find me, even when my mother and I change our names and move around the coast. America is not the great hiding place it seems.
The Ferris wheel shifts and vibrates, and I start my decline. My hand shakes on the bar. On the ground, shadowy figures move around, but I don’t freak out because they could be anyone. Maybe some kid’s parents watching the wheel. Maybe some girls making a decision whether to board or try something a little scarier. But the scent of blood grows stronger, and as soon as my cart lands on the bottom, I hop off onto the metal platform, then dash through the back gates. I don’t stop until I’m hidden in a patch of black, between two old trailers.
A thick red hose rests on the ground before me, running toward the giant slide ride. Electricity hums in my ears as I pull out my cell and text my mother: “Come get me.” And then our code word: “lightsaber.” (Quick backstory: Star Wars fan, but please don’t tell anyone). I’m just about to find my way to the street when the smell of blood overpowers me, and my stomach pitches.
“Shaw Huntley,” a familiar male voice says. “We always seem to find each other in the strangest places.”
It takes me a minute to remember that Shaw Huntley is my real name. For the past few years, I’ve used every false name I could think of, from Johnny Ray to Brent Cappo to Frank Mulebottom (Mulebottom was not one of my better ideas). In Fairchester, I go by Lee Greznick.
Okay, so they found me. I already knew they had. My mother is on the way, and she’ll have all our belongings packed and ready to go to the next town, wherever that should be. All I have to do is get out of this now. And to get out of this, all I have to do is remember that I have the same power they have.
The man who chased me down is middle-aged and dangerous, and though it’s dark, I can just make out the long, silvery scars etched into his cheeks and forehead. Not pleasant to look at. Not pleasant to fight. He raises his pointer finger and makes a downward slicing motion. I feel the pain instantly on my forearm. I grab the skin and hold it together, not knowing how far down he cut me. It doesn’t feel too deep. Just a warning slice.
“Don’t make me do it,” I tell him.
He doesn’t respond, so I have no choice. In my mind, I imagine a gold dagger—my gold dagger—jeweled and sharp. I project it from me, using force and pressure, until I’m sure I hit. Through the blackness, I can just make out that he’s slapped his palm to his cheek.
We go back and forth. One cut. A slice. Face and arms. Until the game gets tired and I know what’s coming next. From behind him steps the long silhouette of my cousin, Alexander. We look alike, Alexander and I, tall and broad- shouldered, with messy blond hair. But the similarities end when it comes to our views on what was left behind in our family bloodline.
“Shaw,” he says.
“Alexander,” I return.
This is going to end in a bloodbath—it always does. They want me dead,
they find me, and we slice each other up until I get away. Luckily, even though they’ve marked me for death, I always get away. So far. One of these times I won’t, and like I said, it won’t be pretty. By now, you get the idea of what we do, even if I still don’t fully understand it myself. All I know is that they killed my father for this ability—the ability I have as well.
I’m short on time, so I’ll be quick. Using the power of my mind and visualizing a specific gold dagger, I can stab, scratch, slice, or cut a person. It’s another reason why my mother and I travel so much. If I get angry enough the cutting sometimes comes out without my consent. Sometimes, I can slice someone I care about by mistake. It’s like the werewolf who kills his best friend because he just didn’t know what he was doing. The slicing takes on another form. And that’s why it’s best I don’t get close to anyone. No girlfriends. No buddies. Just me and my mother, who admittedly, keeps a few boxes of Band- Aids around whenever she has to yell at me for something.
“Guess you like the air here in New England,” Alexander says. “You come here a lot.”
I make a mental note to get the hell out of New England.
“You can’t keep running all the time,” he says. “That must get exhausting after a while.”
“You can give us what we’re looking for,” Alexander continues, “and this will all end for you right now.”
“You’re not getting the dagger,” I say. The actual, physical dagger is one of my prized possessions, and I’m sure the thing is priceless.
“We need a few things,” Alexander says. “I’m sure your father must have told you.”
My father didn’t tell me anything. Well, nothing except that I have this ability, and Alexander does, too. “You guys want the dagger,” I say in my best fight voice. “And you’re not getting it.”
Alexander moves toward me. His eyes flash an eerie green. My mother always tells me I’m more powerful than he is, but in these moments, I question it. Without making a motion, Alexander tears the flesh in my neck. It’s deep. A gush of blood soaks into the collar of my sweat jacket. Closing my eyes, I retaliate. Sometimes I wonder if they do this just to provoke me, see how powerful I truly am, how much my father taught me before they murdered him. Whatever. It works. Before I can make a judgment call on right or wrong, the jeweled dagger in my mind propels from me—and I imagine it soaring right into Alexander’s chest.
He stumbles backward, and the scarred man catches him. Alexander breathes into the air, sharp and raspy, then palms his heart. As I start to flee, the scarred man drops Alexander right on the frosty grass and runs after me. I guess killing an enemy is worth more than saving a friend.
He’s behind me, so I pull through the night, dashing around telephone poles and onto the sidewalk, trying to keep him from slicing me worse than I already am. It’s my bad luck, or maybe my good luck, that a group of girls from school are hanging out on the sidewalk, by the entranceway to the carnival.
“Lee!” a girl calls out. I’m not sure what her name is, but she’s got feathery brown hair and perfectly straight teeth. A nine or a ten, for sure. “Come over here with us!”
Obviously, she doesn’t see that I’m bleeding to death.
“Can’t!” I yell back. “Have to go!”
One of the girls she’s with, a sporty redhead, spots the blood on my face or
my neck. I’m not sure which place she sees it, but she’s looking in my general direction with her mouth open. She also takes note that I’m running from someone and grabs hold of her friend’s arm, pointing. From this, I gather that the scarred man is right behind me, fairly close. Quickly, I scan the street for my mother’s car but know it might be another minute or two. She had to grab all our belongings from the hotel, the clothes I left on the floor, and the few things I can’t bear to leave behind, then stuff it all into bags and fly over here.
Now I’m kind of confused about where to go because I need to hide, but I need to stay close to the street so my mother can reach me. The scarred man probably won’t attack while I’m with a bunch of people, so I slip myself into the group of girls from school, just behind the girl with the feathery brown hair. She smiles at me but still looks concerned.
“Drugs?” she asks.
“Are you buying drugs from him?” she says.
The group stares the scarred man down as he stops to face them. In the light,
up close and personal, his hair is black and slicked back, and he’s balding a touch, leaving a big V in the center of his forehead. Yeah, he looks like he could be a drug dealer. Or a mobster.
“Out,” he says to me.
I’m too tall to hide behind these girls, but it’s not really a hiding place I’m after right now.
“You hurt him,” the girl with feathery brown hair says to the scarred man. She sticks her hands on her hips, ready to fight for me, and I don’t even know her name.
In a second, he makes a swiping motion through the air and the girl falls. Her friends must assume he has a knife because they all gasp and shriek and run to her aid. When I look down, her cheek—her pretty cheek—is sliced in an X.
This is what I mean by uncontrollable anger. Before I can tell myself not to, my dagger forms in my mind and zooms through the air at the man. One on one, he’s not quite as powerful as Alexander, so maybe I have a chance here. He’s just as dangerous as Alexander, obviously ruthless, but not as powerful. It’s almost as though, and I’ve suspected this before, Alexander gets his ability from our family bloodline, but this man had to somehow learn the ability.
The scarred man takes a step backward, clutching his shoulder. He stumbles right into the street, where an older black Jetta swerves to avoid striking him, just missing. The black Jetta screeches to a stop right in front of me. My mother is behind the wheel.
“In!” she says like I need to be told.
I really hate leaving the girls behind. Not like this. And I’m never even going to see them again, will never get the chance to apologize for what happened.
With a vague wave, I race around the car and launch myself into the passenger’s seat. In a blur of streetlights, we’re speeding ahead, dodging oncoming traffic, swerving in and out of lanes. My mother, when it comes to protecting me, is a woman possessed.
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