Home > Shelter (Mickey Bolitar #1)

Shelter (Mickey Bolitar #1)
Author: Harlan Coben

Chapter 1

I WAS WALKING TO SCHOOL, lost in feeling sorry for myself—my dad was dead, my mom in rehab, my girlfriend missing—when I saw the Bat Lady for the first time.

I had heard the rumors, of course. The Bat Lady supposedly lived alone in the dilapidated house on the corner of Hobart Gap Road and Pine. You know the one. I stood in front of it now. The worn yellow paint was shedding like an old dog. The once-solid concrete walk was cracked into quarter-size fragments. The uncut lawn had dandelions tall enough for the adult rides at Six Flags.

The Bat Lady was said to be a hundred years old and only came out at night, and if some poor child hadn’t made it home from a playdate or practice at the Little League field before nightfall—if he or she risked walking home in the dark instead of getting a ride, or was maybe crazy enough to cut through her yard—the Bat Lady got you.

What she supposedly did with you was never made clear. No child had vanished from this town in years. Teenagers, like my girlfriend, Ashley, sure, they could be here one day, holding your hand, looking deep into your eyes, making your heart go boom-boom-boom—and be gone the next. But little kids? Nope. They were safe, even from the Bat Lady.

So I was just about to cross to the other side of the street—even I, a mature teenager entering my sophomore year at a brand-new high school, wanted to avoid that spooky house—when the door creaked open.

I froze.

For a moment, nothing happened. The door was all the way open now, but no one was there. I stopped and waited. Maybe I blinked. I can’t be sure.

But when I looked again, the Bat Lady was there.

She could have been a hundred years old. Or maybe two hundred. I had no idea why they called her Bat Lady. She didn’t look like a bat. Her hair was gray and hippie long, hanging down to her waist. It blew in the wind, obscuring her face. She wore a torn white gown that resembled a bridal costume in an old horror movie or heavy-metal video. Her spine was bent like a question mark.

Slowly Bat Lady raised a hand so pale it was more veinblue than white, and pointed a shaky, bony finger in my direction. I said nothing. She kept pointing until she was sure I was looking. When she saw that I was, Bat Lady’s wrinkled face spread into a smile that sent little icicles down my spine.


I had no idea how she knew my name.

“Your father isn’t dead,” Bat Lady said.

Her words sent a jolt that knocked me back a step.

“He is very much alive.”

But standing there, watching her vanish back into her decrepit cave, I knew what she was telling me wasn’t true.

Because I had seen my father die.

Okay, that was weird.

I stood in front of Bat Lady’s house and waited for her to come back out. No go. I walked over to her door and looked for a doorbell. There was none, so I started pounding on the door. It shook under the onslaught. The wood was so rough it scraped my knuckles like sandpaper. Paint chips fell off as if the door had a bad case of dandruff.

But the Bat Lady did not appear.

So now what? Kick down the door . . . and then what? Find an old lady in a weird white dress and demand she explain her whack-a-doodle rants? Maybe she had gone upstairs. Maybe Bat Lady was now getting ready for her loony day, changing out of her white dress, heading to the shower . . .


Time to go. I didn’t want to miss the first bell anyway. My homeroom teacher, Mr. Hill, was a stickler for punctuality. Plus I still hoped that Ashley would show up today. She had vanished into thin air. Maybe she would just reappear the same way.

I met Ashley three weeks ago at high school orientation for both new kids (Ashley and me, for example) and incoming freshmen, all of whom already knew one another because they went to middle school and elementary school together. No one ever seems to leave this town.

An orientation should consist of visiting your classes, getting a tour of the facilities, and maybe meeting a few classmates. But no, that’s not enough. We had to participate in these moronic, dehumanizing, and totally awkward “team building” exercises.

The first involved the “trust fall.” Ms. Owens, a PE teacher with a smile that looked like it’d been painted on by a drunk clown, started off by trying to fire us up.

“Good morning, everyone!”

A few groans.

Then—and I hate when adults do this—she shouted, “I know you’re more excited than that, so let’s try it again! Good morning, everyone!”

The students yelled “Good morning” louder this time, not because they were excited but because they wanted her to stop.

We were broken down into groups of six—mine featured three incoming freshmen and three upperclassmen who had just moved to town.

“One of you will stand on this pedestal and wear a blindfold!” Ms. Owens exclaimed. Everything she said ended in an exclamation mark. “You will cross your arms and now I want you to pretend that the pedestal is on fire! Oh no!” Ms. Owens put her hands on her cheeks like the kid in Home Alone. “It’s so hot that you’ll have to fall back!”

Someone raised his hand. “Why would we keep our arms crossed if the pedestal was on fire?”

Murmurs of agreement.

Ms. Owens’s painted-on smile didn’t change, but I thought I noticed a twitch in her right eye. “Your arms are tied!”

“They are? No, they’re not.”


“But if we pretend that, why do we need the blindfold? Can’t we just pretend not to see?”

“Or close our eyes?”

Ms. Owens fought for control. “The pedestal is so hot from the fire that you fall backward off of it.”


“Wouldn’t we jump, Ms. Owens?”

“Really. Why would we fall backward? I mean, if it’s that hot.”

Ms. Owens had enough. “Because I say so! You will fall backward! The rest of the group will catch you! Then you’ll switch places until everyone has a turn falling backward!”

We all did this, though some of us were hesitant. I’m six-four and weigh two hundred pounds. The group winced when they saw me. Another girl in my group, an incoming freshman dressed all in black, was on the fat side. I know I should call her something other than fat, something more politically correct, but I’m not sure what without sounding condescending. Large? Chubby? Heavy? I say those without judgment, the same way I might say small, bony, or skinny.

The big girl hesitated before she climbed onto the pedestal. Someone in our group laughed. Then someone else.


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