When best-selling author Eli Gray hops into a rideshare after leaving her latest event celebrating the seventh book in her widely-beloved Maginaria series, she’s catapulted into a nightmare beyond anything she ever could have plotted.
This modern remix of Stephen King’s classic, Misery, takes on contemporary themes of convention culture, #MeToo, and more, resulting in a book that is more than mere homage—one that will chill its readers with brand new horrors.
We’re thrilled to be including Number One Fan as one of the two books included in our August/September Creepy Crate, which is filled with Stephen King goodies and references. Subscribe today for your chance to receive a copy of Number One Fan ahead of its August 30 premiere and over $90 of everyday terrors!
Read on for an excerpt of Number One Fan, then subscribe to Creepy Crate for your copy.
A rumbling sound. Flashes of bright light. A thin jet of icy air. A roll of nausea, then another.
Eli Grey had brief moments of something approaching being awake, but she couldn’t make sense of what was happening. She was on a plane—or was it just the memory of a plane? No, she was in a car. She was very hot, and when she could force her eyes open, dust motes swirled past her face into a blurry field of vision. She groaned and went back out.
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When she came to again, she was in a bed and under covers. It was not her bed, and the covers did not feel like that industrial foam-plastic stuff she knew from hotels. Deep breaths brought more strange smells: cleaning fluid, ant bait, an unfamiliar soap. She thought hard.
Did I hook up with someone after a reading? Did I get hammered last night? What’s the last thing I can remember?
But all she remembered was the tiny plane that had flown her across the Southern California desert, and the creases in her hands when she had let go of her death grip on the Naugahyde seats.
Deep breath. Figure it out. You’re okay. You’re alone, for now. Deep breath.
Eli remembered fidgeting in the cramped airplane seat. She had badly wanted another drink. When she thought about the series being almost done, about the eighth book coming out, there was a small panic somewhere inside her. The success of her book series had brought her financial security: a little house and a little money, her debts paid off. When this series ended one day, she knew what she wanted to write next. There was a little thrill in her belly when she wondered whether people would like it as well as the Millicent Michaelson books or not. Her other books out of the series had done well, but not blockbusters.
The craft had bumped and bounced to a stop, and she breathed a long, shaky sigh of relief. They began to taxi around the small airport and she knew her drinking window had closed.
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Airport personnel scurried out to roll one of those old- fashioned staircases to the tiny plane’s door, and Eli emerged, blinded by the sun and taking the heat of the Mojave to the face like the first volley of a pillow fight in hell. Blinking and pulling her sunglasses down, she turned her phone back on.
Back on solid ground and it feels so good! Thank you, Los Angeles!
She attached a selfie in the big gray headphones, with the tiny plane evident in the background. Eli wrote in the caption about her private plane experience; not glamorous like a G6, no flight attendants to bring drinks and no luxurious seating. But it had been only her and the pilot, unable to speak over the roar of the engines. She had also gotten a shot of the city she had taken in the air, added it to the gallery post. Immediately, likes and retweets began to roll in. She muted the notifications and pocketed her phone. She thought about texting her assistant, Joe, who was going to check in with her at SeaTac tomorrow, but decided it could wait. The kid deserved a day off.
On the ground, the pilot had found her and wanted to shake her hand. Eli adjusted her satchel to hang between her shoulders and shook back.
“Thank you for the safe flight. I was pretty nervous about such a small plane.”
“No trouble. I make that run all the time,” the man said through his gingery beard. “I was wondering, though, if you’d sign my wife’s book for her. She’s just crazy about that Millicent.”
Eli grinned broadly. “Sure, I will, of course. Do you have it handy? I’ve got a copy in my satchel—”
“No, no, it’s here in my car. If you’ll just wait a second.” He jogged off, holding up both hands. “Back in one minute.” “No problem,” she called to him. She pulled her phone back out and began to look at her odds of getting a car back to her hotel. Small towns in California had fewer options than San Francisco, which seemed to dream up a new, disruptive transportation solution every two weeks. She checked her favorite rideshare app and was surprised to see a handful of drivers active and nearby. She put in her location and the address of her hotel, and saw that she had correctly guessed it was going to be a while before her ride showed up. She stowed her phone again and spied the pilot jogging back to her.
“Here we go!” He was holding a first-edition paperback copy of The City under the City, her debut novel. She knew it was the first edition on sight, because she had been published the first time by a tiny press with no design budget, and the cover was homely and humble. It gave her a funny twinge in her heart to see it.
“I haven’t seen one of these at a signing in about five years,” she said, smiling and taking the book from him.
“My wife has been a fan of yours since back then,” he said, grinning back. “She used to tell all her friends, her book club ladies, you know, that you were gonna be the next big thing. She says she saw it right away. She wanted me to make sure you knew that she was loyal from the very beginning.”
Eli opened the front cover, noticing how worn this copy of City was. “I can see this one has been well-loved. Are you sure I can’t get her a new copy? I could have it sent to you.”
“No, no. This one is her treasure. She says it’s her proof that she’s your biggest fan. She’d be here herself, but we just had a baby and she’s still lying in. Stitches, you know.”
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Eli nodded, bracing the book gently against her belly and uncapping her good fountain pen, a Montblanc she had picked out to celebrate hitting the bestseller list. “Should I just autograph this, or make it out to her personally?”
“Oh, she’d just die. Please make it out to Adeline, and say something nice. Or clever. Or both, I guess.” He was grinning and Eli could not help but grin back.
Eli wrote carefully, mindful that years of typing were eroding her script into a barely legible scrawl.
To Adeline, my number-one fan, with my thanks and friendship.
Below that, she laid out her practiced author’s signature, tall and wide and cocksure. She had modeled it on all of her heroes’ autographs and hoped it looked like it belonged: Eli Grey.
The pilot smiled again, taking the book back. “She’s gonna be so happy. She didn’t believe me when I said I was gonna be flying you.”
Eli smiled back, but she saw an attendant flagging her down from the edge of the parking lot nearby. “I think my ride is here.”
“Oh! Okay, great! Have a good one!”
She raised a hand to him and began to walk briskly away. And then I was in the car, she thought, her heart pounding at the memory of that ride. Her stomach dropped the way it had when the small plane had banked a turn.
And then I was here. So where is here?
Upon her first deep breath, Eli immediately began to cough like she’d just smoked her first cigarette. She whooped in big breaths, her head pounding with the effort. She found that she could not sit up, or even hold herself up on one arm.
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Once she could breathe, she peeled her dry eyes open and looked around. It was a bedroom, but the extreme gloom and lack of windows told her it had to be a basement. The bed was low, but soft. There was a dresser and a small closet without a door on it. Looking around, she saw that the room had two doors. One she guessed was the bathroom, on the right. On the left, a flight of concrete stairs without a banister led up to a door at the top.
That must be the way out.
With her notice of a bathroom came a sudden and pressing need to pee. She pulled the blankets off herself and realized two things:
The first was that she was wearing someone else’s nightgown. It was a long, pink silky thing, hyperfeminine like something the dame in a detective novel might be wearing when the cops came to tell her that her husband was dead under mysterious circumstances and she had better answer their questions. Eli tried hard to remember what she had been wearing before. It came back slowly as she blinked to clear her head.
Black jeans, cuffed at the ankles. My custom oxfords. Sports bra.
A white undershirt and a white dress shirt over it. My good black blazer. Remember, I was too hot. Wanted to take the blazer off, but didn’t. Why didn’t I?
The second thing she realized was that her right ankle was shackled to the bed with an old-fashioned leg iron, like a handcuff.
Her sense of unreality deepened. Had she woken up in someone else’s life? No, that couldn’t really happen. Was this a dream? No. Surreal, but too real. Where was she? How had she ended up here?
There was a terrible significance to these two alien objects when her mind combined them in just the right way, but she wouldn’t let that thought in. Not yet.
The door she had correctly guessed was the way out opened. She stared up at it, riveted. There, standing in semidarkness, was her driver from the airport.
I know you. The thought drifted across her mind and out to sea. She knew him from somewhere; was it just the airport? Was her short-term memory affected by whatever drug she had been given? He was familiar, but why?
He drove you. That’s why. That’s all it is.
She was piecing it together. She knew how she had gotten here.
“I saw you were awake, and I wanted to come greet you properly this time.”
She peered up at him as he began to descend the staircase, all legs, like a stilt walker. “What the hell is this? Unlock my ankle right now.”
He looked pained as he reached the floor, drawing his long arms up as if threatened. He came toward her with that same hurt expression on his long, horsey features. She took in his face carefully now, studying it just as she had ignored it in the car. He was young, maybe all of thirty-five. Only a few years younger than her, she thought. His face was unremarkable, with dark hair cut short and a deep shadow under his care- fully shaved cheeks. His beard around that, dark and wild but closely clipped. Dry skin, like he exfoliated but never moisturized. Oval glasses in black wire somehow made his face seem more civilized.
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He was incredibly tall. Eli blinked hard, trying to get her sense of proportion to settle right. She was low to the ground; the metal frame was only about six inches off the floor. Even allowing for the extreme angle, she had seen the way he stooped coming through the doorway. She remembered how he had sat in his car, hunched over the wheel like there wasn’t room for him behind it.
His hair, dull, wavy and wild as well, brushed against the acoustic popcorn on the ceiling in the room. Was the room small? His arms and legs seemed terribly long, like a spider’s. He wore dark jeans and indoor shoes, and she saw the bony knobs of his wrists poking out of the sleeves of his flannel shirt, and inches of sock showed between his pants and his shoes. The effect was startling: Abraham Lincoln in lifts, a daddy longlegs in eyeglasses.
He stepped toward the bed, wiry muscle looming over her with elbows cocked, and Eli flinched away involuntarily. His glasses shone in the overhead light, and for just a second she felt like a clam watching a crab scuttle over, ready to rip her apart.
“You are not really in a position to tell me what to do, are you?” His smile was small, almost gentle. A kindergarten teacher reminding you to say please and thank-you.
“What do you want? Do you want money? Let me call my assistant and he can wire you money. I’m not loaded, but—” He looked offended. “I do not want your money,” he scoffed.
Eli struggled against the ankle chain a bit, testing it. The bed frame was made out of joined steel pipes, she could see now. Getting out of this would not be easy.
“We can release you from the lock, if you will just agree to abide by the rules.”
Her breath caught in her throat like a door had slammed.
“We?” She fought rising panic. She was still forcibly holding her mind back from doing the math on what this man almost surely wanted from her. Eli steeled herself.
“I’m not going to play any games with you. I’m not interested in your rules. Just tell me what you want.”
He looked her over. “I can see that you are not in the mood to talk about this now. That is alright. I will come back later.” He turned, climbed the steps and closed the door decorously behind him. She sat staring at the door for several minutes, numbly trying to figure out what had just happened.
He doesn’t want money.
You know what he wants.
Think, godsdamn it.
He had said that he saw she was awake. Looking around the upper corners of the room, she spotted a round black camera above her, pointed down toward the bed.
Okay, so he can see me. Probably watching right now.
He was the driver.
Her real driver must have been the one who sent her that cancellation notice. Brenda. She felt like the stupidest person in the world, the girl in the horror movie who suggests they all split up and walks right into the basement.
Didn’t I notice the driver was a woman? That never happens. But I just got in the car that showed up. Didn’t check the make or the plate. That hardly mattered now. She had gotten into his car. She had assumed, and trusted herself to a stranger. She did it all the time—everyone did. Why not?
Okay. He wasn’t really a driver. He was just a guy who...who what? Who knew where I’d be, and then just showed up and got me? How could he know where I was?
She was hyperventilating.
Am I stuck in some guy’s basement because he knows who I am and tracked me down? Or because this guy just likes to stalk women? Maybe kill women. How many other women have worn this nightgown?
She was shuddering, unable to slow her breathing. Her eyes swept around wildly. She needed something to ground her or she was going to scream.
Her breath caught in her throat like a door had slammed.
Opposite the bed, a large sheet of paper was taped to the wall. On it was a list printed in large bold letters that she could read from where she lay.
YOU ARE NOT REAL; YOU ARE THE PRODUCT OF MY WORK.
YOUR LIFE IS MEANINGLESS IF YOU DO NOT SERVE OTHERS.
YOU WILL BEHAVE WELL AND BE TIDY OR THERE WILL BE CONSEQUENCES.
WE WILL BE VERY HAPPY TOGETHER.
YOU WILL LEAVE THIS ROOM WHEN YOU HAVE A PERFECT UNDERSTANDING OF YOUR PURPOSE.
She stared at it, uncomprehending. She read it again. And again. The words stacked up like a pyramid, immovable proof of the trouble she was in.
Oh fuck. I am so fucked.
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