JUNCTION 2020 Book One: The Portal is my YA fantasy that released June 2017.
This novel is the first of a 5-part series, with each book written from the viewpoint of one of the five main characters as the story progresses: Mari, Tony, Lauren, Randall, and Stefanie.
The books are as follows:
JUNCTION 2020: Book 1 The Portal
JUNCTION 2020: Book 2 Nightmare Realization
JUNCTION 2020: Book 3 Silent Scream
JUNCTION 2020: Book 4 Future Terrors
JUNCTION 2020: Book 5 Vanishing Fears
JUNCTION 2020: Books 1-5, the complete set
New Year's Eve, 2019.
Mari Stratton attends a New Year's Eve party with her brother Randall and her hearing-impaired friend Lauren. A collecting game begins in the dark fields outside prior to the celebration countdown. When midnight strikes, Mari finds herself and four others propelled by a violent green storm into a confusing landscape of beauty, danger, and mystery.
In this place, ruthless black-cloaked riders on horseback called Shifters comb the countryside hunting them down. Why is this world patterned after the things Mari adores, and why does it feature the hideous things she fears the most?
More importantly--how will she and the others get back to the real world?
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Reviews of Book 1, THE PORTAL:
"The Portal is the first in the Junction 2020 series by Carol Riggs and I loved it! Thoroughly enjoyable, it was a fast paced and highly imaginative young adult fantasy story which I flew through. I'm really looking forward to book two in the series and have no hesitation in recommending The Portal highly." --Brenda Telford, Goodreads Reviewer
"This is the best book from Carol Riggs I have read so far. ... I have to say that it was a really refreshing read and I wish a lot more YA novels would actually build their character relationships in such a way. ... I would recommend this book to anyone who likes adventures that go a little crazy." --Linda Hamonou, Goodreads Reviewer
"The Portal is an exciting fast-paced fantasy with just the right amount of darkness and light." --Kimberly Afe, author of The Headhunters Race
JUNCTION 2020. Book 2: Nightmare Realization
On New Year’s Eve, 2019, Tony Rodriguez thought it would be fun to attend Stefanie Anders’ annual celebration bash. It was pretty awesome—until he and four others accidentally opened up a portal into another dimension and got sucked into it.
They couldn’t have been more wrong.
This time it’s Tony’s turn to visit a landscape created by his subconscious mind. In a gritty urban setting, he and the others must avoid capture by the ruthless sect of black-cloaked people called Shifters—and stay alive long enough to get back to the real world.
Released October 2017.
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JUNCTION 2020. Book 3: Silent Scream
It all started on New Year's Eve, 2019. Despite being hearing impaired, Lauren Carnes was determined to go to Stefanie Anders' party and celebrate the holiday like everyone else. But instead, she and four others got blasted through a portal into another dimension. They ended up with strange triangular marks branded on their forearms.
Worse yet, the whole thing happened again ten days later. Instead of a creepy landscape built by her new friend Mari's dreams and nightmares, they fought to survive in a world built by Tony Rodriguez. In both of these alternate realities, ruthless black-cloaked Shifters tried to capture and exploit them as Mainworlders.
The third time is not a charm. Because on this journey, it's Lauren's fascinating--and dangerously silent--landscape everyone is stuck in.
Released October 2018.
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JUNCTION 2020. Book 4: Future Terrors
It’s Randall’s turn to visit a land created by his dreams and nightmares.
On New Year’s Eve, 2019, Randall Stratton and his sister Mari and three other friends accidentally opened a portal into another dimension. Strange triangular marks were branded onto their forearms.
They now know they’re all doomed to visit their own personal landscapes—alternate worlds built by their sweetest dreams and worst nightmares. This time, all five of them must live through the manifested fears of Randall’s wild, futuristic landscape.
Not only do they have to make it back to the Mainworld, but they have to avoid being captured and exploited by ruthless black-cloaked Shifters—who always seem to be one step ahead of them.
Released May 2019 (paperback May 11, 2019)
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JUNCTION 2020. Book 5: Vanishing Fears
New Year’s Eve, 2019. It was Stefanie Anders’ celebration party that started it all, and she wished she’d gone night skiing instead. But she and five others opened up a portal into another dimension. They’ve been branded with triangular marks on their forearms, and have visited landscapes built by their fond dreams and terrible nightmares.
Except Stefanie. Now it’s her turn.
And the ruthless sect of black-cloaked Shifters have ramped their efforts into high gear. For this is their final chance to capture and exploit a Mainworlder.
This time, Stefanie and the others must work together to survive the most deadly landscape yet—one that disintegrates before their very eyes. If they fail and one of them dies, none of them will return to the real world.
Released September 2019
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The Complete Set of JUNCTION 2020 has all five ebooks in one.
Chapter 1 Excerpt of THE PORTAL (Book 1):New Year's Eve, 2019. Eight o'clock at last.
I snap a checkered cloth over a table, blowing out an impatient exhale as it billows like a sail over uncharted waters before settling into place. I throw on a white flash of napkins, add a hasty clanking of silverware, and return the Parmesan and hot pepper shakers to their proper places next to the wall.
There. My evening shift, done. Another efficient and industrious evening at Aunt Lacey and Uncle Jim’s pizza restaurant, and now it’s Mom’s turn to charm the customers. Too bad Dad isn’t here to see my efforts. I can do more than read romance and adventure novels in the backyard hammock.
I hurry past Uncle Jim in the kitchen, through thick smells of sizzling pepperoni, pungent jalapeños, and steamy detergent. In the cramped employee bathroom, I change into jeans and my favorite powder-blue top. My reflection in the mirror frowns like a grumpy evil twin as I check my make-up. And now, time for this blasted party. I’d rather spend New Year’s Eve with only Lauren and one or two others, but Lauren’s a junior and wants to check out Stefanie Anders’ big “End of the Year Bash.”
Honestly. The things a person does to keep new friends.
I run fingers through my hair, throw on my short leather jacket, and dash out the back door to the car. Mom stands there in her waitress outfit, handing the Chevy keys to Randall like she’s relinquishing control of the known world to a chimpanzee. Randall looks scrubbed and shaved, his brown hair spiked to flawless precision. I roll my eyes. All for Stefanie’s benefit, I bet. He’s been trying to impress her since September—with a total of zero results.
Randall huffs as I climb into the front seat. “And why do I have to drive her there?” he asks Mom with a jerk of his thumb at me. “Showing up with my sister and her deaf friend is gonna put a serious cramp in the party.”
Mom narrows her eyes. “You could always go back inside and keep washing dishes.”
With a growl, Randall hops into the car and revs the engine to life. Cranking the wheel, he spins out of the alley with a spray of gravel. We leave Mom standing off to one side with her arms folded into an incredibly peeved pretzel.
“And for your information,” I tell Randall as he turns onto the street, “Lauren is hearing impaired, not deaf.”
He shrugs. “Same diff. Man, are you that hard up for friends, Mari? Can’t get normal ones?”
Normal. He’s such a jerk. “I don’t see you hanging out with a whole herd of new buddies.”
A muscle on the side of his face twitches. He grunts and has the sense to stay silent.
I select a Jaisha song from the music download menu to cover the bristling silence. Tapping my foot to the steady rhythm and honeyed vocals, I watch leafless maple and oak trees file by my window. School’s been a long, challenging haul for both of us since we’ve moved. New faces, new hallways, new classes, nothing the same. The friends I used to have since third grade are hundreds of miles away. Not how I wanted to spend my sophomore year.
After a few minutes Randall screeches to a halt at Lauren’s duplex. As I reach for the door handle, he hammers out two jolting blasts on the horn. I flinch.
“Think she’ll hear that?” Randall says with a smirk.
“You’re such a brain-challenged speck of nothing.” I turn to see Lauren’s tall, graceful figure darting down the sidewalk. Yes, she heard.
“Hi, Mari,” Lauren says, sliding into the back seat. She adjusts her hearing-aid buds in her ears, where they perch like tiny beige snails.
“Hi. This is my brother Randall,” I say, twisting so Lauren can read my lips. Just in case the helpful snail buds don’t pick up all the sound waves. “He’s a junior, too.”
“Great to meet you, Randall,” Lauren chirps.
He gives a hesitant wave toward the back seat. “Yeah, right,” he mutters.
He’s still being a jerk—no surprise. But he might be as confused as I am. Even after four months of knowing Lauren, I sometimes don’t know how to react to her. She doesn’t have that flat, toneless quality to her voice when she talks, probably because she didn’t start losing sounds until she was six. It’s hard to tell how much she hears compared to what she picks up from lip reading and context.
We drive out of town. The silhouette of the Anders’ house looms against the night sky once we reach the final road. Glowing white lights left over from Christmas border every roofline and gable, plunging the rest of the house into dim, unknown spaces. Neighboring fields surround the home’s tidy lawn. The long field grass ripples in the wind, alive and writhing with shadows.
A tingling apprehension grows in my gut as we approach. What if Brad shows up at this party? I’m not charged up about seeing him, not after the way he dumped me for Cherryl DeBarge last month. He spent three whirlwind weeks as my boyfriend, then texted me a brief “it’s not working out” message one night after our movie date. The next day he walked down the school halls with his arm wrapped oh-so-snugly around Cherryl’s tiny waist. So much for me thinking he was into the movie, or into me…
Randall parks on the street at the end of a long line of cars. We walk in the crisp breeze to the house, where a bearded man holding a ruby-tinted drink answers the doorbell.
“Come in!” the man booms over thumping music. “I’m Mr. Anders, father and chaperone extraordinaire. Help yourself to the party!” He ushers us in with an exaggerated wink and a few unsteady steps.
Randall shoots toward a table loaded with potato chips and awesome-smelling appetizers, leaving Lauren and me to drift from room to room. The place is unbelievable. Blank-eyed Greek statues, polished tables, glittering chandeliers. And sure enough, it’s not long before we pass an indoor swimming pool, and I spot Brad at one end. He’s splashing around with the cute and bikini-clad Cherryl, his wet hair plastered to his forehead, a giddy grin on his face.
My stomach gives a major lurch. Out. I need out of here. I drag Lauren away from the pool area, toward a huge living room. Or maybe it’s a family room. A live DJ mixes tunes there, and a gadget near the ceiling showers a constant smattering of glitter over the dancers. The floor sparkles with the stuff.
Lauren elbows me and gives a sly smile. She adjusts her hair to hide her hearing aids, then taps a thin, freckled guy on the shoulder and points at the dance floor. They drift off together.
Interesting. She’s definitely determined, going after what she wants. That’s a bravery I’m not sure I have. Instead, I stand against the wall with my eyes half-closed while the music thrums through me. The extreme bass reverberates clear to the center of my bones. Usually I love to dance, but not right now. My brain is too busy playing Brad and Cherryl in the pool over and over like a stuttering image. Guys. Worthless beasts. Smile and kiss you one minute, discard you like last week’s leftovers the next. Kind of like Dad, now living in newfound bliss in Florida with his ample-chested stockbroker, leaving Mom to flee to Stratton’s Pizzeria to volunteer for waitressing slavery.
My interest in romance novels is beginning to curdle. I know how most romances really end.
I grimace and pluck my phone from my jeans pocket. Only ten-fifteen. On the dance floor Lauren is gazing with dreamy eyes at a new partner, a junior named Tony Rodriguez. I don’t know much about him, but at school he seems like a chick-magnet kind of guy, always laughing with a flock of girls. Carelessly combed black hair, naturally brown skin, and dark romantic eyes. The droolable but dangerous type. I should warn Lauren. Unless she already knows he’s a player and doesn’t care.
Earlier Randall scored a dance with Stefanie—his “perfect” honor roll blonde—but I don’t see him now. Stefanie herself strolls toward me, tucking silky hair behind ears that feature more earrings than a jewelry display rack. Her entourage of preppy girls mimics her hair motions and lethargic sway. I doubt she could be more of a popular rich girl stereotype if she tried.
“Check it out,” Stefanie says, catching sight of me. “If it isn’t the sophomore, come to worm her way into my party with Lauren Carnes. Where is Lauren, anyway?” Amazing, how such a velvety voice can sound so cutting.
“Dancing, of course,” I say with a nod to the dance floor.
With her white-blond hair fanning out like a shampoo commercial, Stefanie turns. Her shapely eyebrows angle downward. “Hmm. Tony Rodriguez…” She saunters away with her minions, keeping the swaying pair in her crosshairs.
I frown. No telling what Stefanie will do. I eye Lauren and Tony, who dance with soft smiles on their faces. No telling what Tony will do to my new friend’s heart, either. I hurry over to Lauren as the song ends, hoping to snag her into a trip to the snack table, but Mr. Anders’ voice booms out from the speakers before I can say anything. His words sound a little slurred. Apparently, he keeps his own stash of special punch somewhere.
“Listen up, everyone! Outside we’re starting a New Year’s Eve hunt before the midnight countdown. We’ve hidden dozens of golden ping-pong balls in the yard and fields beyond. The more you find, the better prizes you win. An extra prize goes to the one who collects the most. Anyone who’s interested, meet me out on the back deck.”
“Sounds fun,” Tony says, a daredevil gleam flashing in his eyes. “It’s pitch black out there. You two ladies gonna try that with me?”
Lauren gives him a euphoric smile. “Sure, Tony.”
My eyebrows arch. I’m surprised he included me in the invitation. That makes him seem more friendly than flirty, not fitting the player vibe I pegged for him. “Well, I don’t—”
A smooth voice breaks in as Stefanie saunters over in a bright red jacket. “There you are, Tony-kins. Want to escort me outside for the hunt? We’ll leave Miss Stratton and her deaf friend to enjoy the music and munchies.”
Tony’s face slides into instant bewilderment. “What—Lauren’s deaf?” He cranes his neck to stare back at her while Stefanie leads him away by the arm.
Pink flushes Lauren’s face, and her gaze drops to her feet.
Not cool, Stefanie. She’s not usually rude about Lauren’s impairment, so I assume she’s laying claim to Tony to make a statement against bringing me, the lowly sophomore, to the party. I touch Lauren’s arm to draw her focus upward. “Come on, do you want to do the hunt with me?”
She presses her mouth into a thin line for a moment. “Okay.”
We set off for the back deck. An hour later, we’re gripping flashlights, peering as the beams illuminate a half-rotted stump in the field behind the house. Wavering lights appear like random ghosts in the smudgy darkness, winking out without warning as hunters dart behind bushes and small hilly areas. Abrupt shrieks and peals of laughter echo across the windswept grass.
I shiver. Brrr. Too bad we left our jackets in the house. I’m collecting more goose bumps than ping-pong balls.
“Here’s one,” Lauren says, aiming for a golden gleam by the stump. She deposits a gold-painted ball into her bag.
I point the flashlight at my face so she can see me speak. “Are you ready to go back yet?”
She shakes her head. “We need twenty-five to earn a DVD. Let’s check by those really tall bushes over there.”
“Twenty-five?” I say, my voice cracking. “That’s six more. Aren’t you cold?”
Either not hearing or ignoring me, she strides off, heading farther from the house.
I let out an exasperated breath. Long tentacles of grass whip the legs of my jeans as I follow her. I strain to see. We’ve lost most of the light from the house, and now only the beams of our flashlights show the way. I arrive at the bushes as Lauren disappears around the other side. A small golden orb nestles in the grass near my feet. Aha. Lauren missed that one. I reach under a branch for the ball, and something skitters across my hand. I jerk my hand back, giving a strangled scream.
“Are you okay?” Lauren’s voice asks from the other side.
“I guess.” I aim the flashlight at myself. Nothing there. Just my hand, shaking a little. “I got freaked out,” I call. “Probably a leaf, but I thought it was a spider.”
Lauren’s laugh rings out. “Spiders are little and shy. They won’t hurt you.”
I shudder. No, spiders are disgusting. With their multiple, scrambling legs and those wicked bloodthirsty things they do in their webs. They also bite people all the time, and even if they don’t bite, I don’t want the nasty things crawling on me. How many spiders lurk in this field, anyway, thousands? Millions? With my teeth chattering with more than just the coldness in the air, I snatch up the ping-pong ball and wade through the grass toward Lauren. When I circle the bushes, she isn’t there.
“Lauren—where are you?” A different kind of panic leaps inside me. I can’t even see her flashlight beam. Did she stumble and fall? Darkness crowds around my pathetic swath of battery-operated light, pressing upon my skin like something solid.
“Lauren!” I yell.