Read an Excerpt
Monster High: The Ghoul Next Door
By Harrison, Lisi
PoppyCopyright © 2011 Harrison, Lisi All right reserved.
PHARAOH KNOWS BEST
The amber-infused air snapped with anxiety. It crackled with anticipation. It popped with impatience. Still, Cleo refused to rest until the de Nile Palace was fit for a king, even if the staff thought she was a royal pain in the—
“Better?” asked Hasina, lifting the left corner of the papyrus banner she and her husband, Beb, had been summoned to hang.
Cleo cocked her head and took three steps back to get a fresh perspective. Outside, the rain pounded, muting the hollow taps of her strappy platforms against the limestone floor. It was perfect weather for renting movies, snuggling with Boyfriend, and—
STOP! Cleo shook the cozy image from her mind. Deuce was no longer welcome in her thoughts or her screening room. Not since he took Melody Carver to the school dance last night. Besides, she had to stay focused. There would be plenty of time to plot revenge later.
Joining the tips of her thumbs, Cleo stretched out her arms like a film director lining up a shot. “Ummm…” Her latte-colored hands formed a frame through which she could scrutinize the banner’s latest position. It was crucial that she see exactly what her audience would see. Because her audience expected perfection, and he was due home in—Cleo glanced at the carved sundial in the center of the great hall. Ugh! It was completely useless at night.
“Time check!” she called.
Beb pulled an iPhone from his white linen tunic. “Seven minutes.”
It would have been much faster to type her message in seventy-two-point font and print it from her laser printer. But her father had no tolerance for technology. When it came to notes, lists, or birthday cards, it was hieroglyphs or the highway.
Ramses de Nile—or Ram, as Westerners called him—insisted that all under his roof honor their Egyptian heritage by writing with the ancient characters—characters that averaged twenty minutes apiece to perfect. Which is why the sign said WELCOME HOME instead of WELCOME HOME, DAD. For the love of Geb! Who had that kind of time?
Fortunately, the mundane task hadn’t hindered her usual Saturday afternoon plans with Clawdeen, Lala, and Blue, since the three S’s—sunning, spa-ing, and shopping—were no longer options. Tanning in the solarium was out because of the storm. And the other two S’s had been canceled until it became safe for them to go out in public again.
Thanks, Frankie Stein!
Since the previous night’s dance at Merston High (the one that Deuce took Melody Carver to!), Salem police had been searching for a “green monster” (Frankie!) whose head fell off during a massive make-out sesh with Brett Redding. The RAD (Regular Attribute Dodgers) community agreed it was best for all of their kids to stay home, just in case.
Thankfully, her father, a renowned antiques dealer, had been on an archaeological dig and had missed the drama. He was overprotective in the best of times. What if he knew that Cleo had gone along with Frankie’s plan? That she had attended the school’s monster-themed costume ball dressed as a mummy—or, rather, that she had gone dressed as herself? That Blue had let her sea monster scales shine? That Lala had flashed her fangs? That Clawdeen had exposed her werewolf fur? That their goal had been to show the normies that the RADs’ “eccentricities” weren’t something to fear but instead something to celebrate? Cleo shuddered at the thought. If Ram knew half of that, he’d lock her away in some underground tomb and preserve her until the year 2200.
“’S good?” Beb managed to ask through clenched teeth that looked especially ivory against his olive-colored skin.
Was it Cleo’s imagination or did the top left corner still seem slanted? Her chest buckled like an overwrapped corpse. She wanted to be done. She needed to be done. There was still wine to pour; there were appetizers to arrange and the Sharkiat playlist to cue. If she didn’t free up the servants, those tasks would never be completed on time. Sure, Cleo could help, but she’d rather cut off an arm than lend a hand. After all, her father always said, “There are bosses and there are workers. Yet you, my princess, are too precious for either role.” And Cleo wholeheartedly agreed. But no one said she couldn’t supervise.
“Higher on the left.”
“But…” Beb began. Then he quickly thought better of it. Instead, he activated the carpenter’s level app on his iPhone and flipped it horizontal. He watched patiently as the digital bubble bobbed toward a verdict, his cocoa-colored lips mumbling at the screen that held his fate.
“Looks perfect to me,” Hasina insisted, balancing on the gilded arm of an ancient Egyptian throne. “And Beb’s measurements are usually quite accurate.” She widened her dark, kohl-lined eyes for emphasis.
The woman had a point.
Sixteen years ago, Ram commissioned Beb to build a house that would have impressive “curb appeal” by Western standards and “royal palace appeal” by Egyptian standards. Months later, 32 Radcliffe Way did just that.
White and pigeon-gray, the multilevel exterior had the new-money patina of a suburban McMansion. The front door opened into a cramped wood-paneled foyer. Its walls were beige, dimly lit, and boring. How else could the family keep pizza delivery boys and nosy cookie-selling Girl Scouts from becoming suspicious? But on the other side of that fake foyer was a second door—the real door, which gave access to their true home. Where the style dial had been set to palatial.
The main hall was three stories high and capped with a lofty glass pyramid. When it wasn’t raining, natural light soaked the interior like melted butter on a hot pita. When rain did fall, the rhythmic tapping lulled the inhabitants like an ambient symphony score. Colorful hieroglyphs tagged the limestone walls. Carved alabaster pots detailed the burial spots of their ancestors. And a Beb-made river, filled with water from the Nile, snaked through every room in the palace. On special occasions, Hasina would adorn the stream with glittering tea lights. Otherwise it held blue Egyptian water lilies. Tonight it had both.
“Five minutes,” Beb announced.
“Hang it up!” Cleo decided with a sudden clap of her hands. Chisisi, the most timid of the family’s seven cats, darted up the towering date palm that grew in the middle of the room.
“Sorry, Chi,” Cleo cooed. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
A quiet chime echoed through the hall. It wasn’t Cleo who had scared Chisisi after all. It was—
“He’s home!” Hasina shouted as she saw the crisp image of her boss in the security monitor by the real door.
“Hurry!” Cleo snapped.
Hasina pressed her corner of the banner to the column with stick-or-else urgency and then eyed her husband, prompting him to do the same. But they were too late.
“Sir!” Hasina’s dark cheeks turned the color of ripe plums. She quickly stepped off the gold arm of the throne and brushed away any prints her gladiator sandals might have left behind. Without another word, she and Beb escaped to the kitchen. Seconds later, high-speed vocals exploded from the built-in speakers. With Mariah Carey’s multi-octave range and Alvin and the Chipmunks’ sound, Sharkiat rocked the palace with “Ya Helilah Ya Helilah.”
“Daddy!” Cleo squealed, sounding both crisp and mushy, like a melted M&M. “Welcome home! How was your trip? Do you like my banner? I made it myself.” She stood proudly between the columns and waited for his response. Even though she was on the mature side of fifteen (thanks to mummification), she still craved her father’s approval. And sometimes that could be harder to get than lash extensions in a desert sandstorm.
But not tonight. Tonight, Ram pushed past his assistant, Manu, and headed straight for his daughter, his arms open to I-love-you- this -much proportions.
“Sir!” Manu called, his smooth voice jagged with concern. “Your coat!”
“Princess!” Ram said, pulling Cleo into his soggy black trench and squeezing hard. Torrents of rain couldn’t wash away the stale smells of an international flight and a chauffeur-driven Bentley filled with cigar smoke, or the heady musk scent of his skin. Not that Cleo minded. He could have smelled like the cats’ litter box after a long drink of Nile water and she would have kept hugging him.
Gripping her shoulders, he created some distance between them and studied Cleo intensely. His lavish attention made her squirm.
Is my Herve Leger bandage dress too snug? My purple eyeliner too thick? My glitter mascara too garish? The brown henna stars on my cheekbones too small?
Cleo giggled nervously. “What?”
“Are you okay?” He sighed, exhaling the sweet smell of tobacco. There was something unfamiliar behind his dark, almond-shaped eyes. It was soft. Searching. Maybe even scared. In most people it would be perceived as anxiety. But in her father it looked foreign. Like some buried emotion exhumed on his archaeological dig.
Cleo smiled up at him. “Of course I’m okay. Why?”
A soft bell clanged from the dining area. The appetizers were ready. Chisisi scurried down the date palm. Bastet, Akins, Ebonee, Ufa, Usi, and Miu-Miu padded out from under the chaise and toward the hearty spread. Cleo grinned warmly at the predictability of it all. But not Ram. Worry hardened his face like a Dead Sea clay mask.
“The news is everywhere.” He rubbed his temples, his salt-and-pepper hair saltier than usual. “What was that Frankie girl thinking? How could the Steins have let this happen? They’ve put our entire community in danger.”
“So you heard?” Cleo asked. But what she really wanted to know was how much he had heard.
Ram pulled a rolled-up Salem News from his inside pocket and smacked it against his palm, putting a sharp end to their tender moment. “Did Viktor forget to add a brain to that daughter of his? Because I can’t for the life of Geb figure out why—”
The appetizer bell rang again.
Suddenly, the urge to defend Frankie welled inside Cleo. Or maybe that urge was a need to defend herself? “It’s not like anyone knows her name. And at school she wears all of that normie makeup, so no one recognized her. Maybe she was trying to grab the ka by the horns,” Cleo suggested, rocking nervously in her strappy platforms. “You know, to change things.”
“What kinds of things? She was created a month ago. What gives her the right to change anything?” he asked, lifting his gaze toward the WELCOME HOME banner. Finally! But his sharp features showed no signs of appreciation.
How do you know so much about Frankie? Cleo couldn’t help wondering. Because, seriously! She had friends whose parents didn’t venture farther than San Francisco. Yet they remained wonderfully oblivious to the house parties and late-night joyrides that went on in their absence. Meanwhile, her dad goes digging for artifacts on the other side of the planet and returns more dialed in than a radio station during a ticket giveaway. It was total ka!
“What’s with your generation?” he continued, ignoring her question. “You have no appreciation for the past. No respect for heritage or tradition. All you want to do is—”
“Sir?” Manu interrupted, his bald head glistening with raindrops. He clutched the handle of an aluminum briefcase with such intensity that his dark knuckles had turned gray. “Where would you like this?”
While considering his answer, Ram stroked the travel-day stubble blooming on his face. After a moment, he glanced at Cleo and then gestured toward the grand double doors at the far end of the hall. Firmly gripping his daughter’s elbow, he led her across the airy foyer with well-rehearsed grace, and they stepped into the throne room.
A family of falcons flapped out and headed for the date palm. The birds’ pointed wings echoed throughout the palace like flags snapping in the wind.
Lit by flaming alabaster oil lamps, the hammered copper walls reflected a soft amber glow. A smooth woven reed aisle, polished by thousands of years of barefoot ancestors, led to the riser upon which their thrones sat. Cleo slid onto the purple velvet seat cushion and rested her palms on the jewel-encrusted golden armrests. Instinctively, her chin jutted forward and her eyelids lowered to half-mast. Now, with her vision slightly obscured, everything came to her in bits and pieces. She was suddenly a queen, taking dainty sips of her kingdom instead of swallowing it in one big gulp: the black-and-emerald scarab above the doorway… the bulrushes along the snaking Nile… the two ebony sarcophagi that flanked the entrance.
The sights, smells, and sounds of her kingdom banished the tension of the last couple of days and made her feel safe, especially now that its ruler had returned. Breathing became less labored, and her skin tingled with entitlement. Oh, how right royal felt.
Once they were settled, Manu gently lowered the briefcase onto the copper table between the thrones and then stepped back to await further instruction.
Open it, Ram conveyed with a mere flick of his wrist.
Manu clicked open the case, lifted the velvet-lined top, and took a long step backward.
“Behold,” Ram said. “I found it in Aunt Nefertiti’s tomb.” He twisted his emerald thumb ring with quiet confidence.
Cleo leaned over the armrest and gasped. She immediately began taking a mental inventory of the bounty that lay glistening before her.
- A lapis necklace fashioned in the shape of a falcon, its widespread wings meant to rest on the collarbones of Egypt’s most admired women
- Hammered cuffs joined by a ruby-and-emerald eye of Horus
- A solid-gold vulture-shaped crown, which was so weighted down with shiny jewels that Cleo could see her wide, desire-filled eyes mirrored in every colored stone
- A gold spiral ring with a gum ball–sized gray moonstone that practically glowed in the dark
- Pear-shaped jade earrings wrapped in gold wire that made Angelina Jolie’s 2009 Oscar emeralds look like hair baubles
- A gold collar necklace with pearls and peacock feathers hanging off the bottom
- A ruby-eyed snake cuff meant to wind up the arm, from wrist to bicep
- A thick white business card jammed haphazardly beside the other contents of the case
“Wait!” Cleo leaned closer and snatched up the card. “What’s this?” she asked, even though she knew. Who wouldn’t? The ubiquitous silver logo embossed across the top of the card was a five-letter word for “major opportunity.”
“Golden,” she whispered in awe. Quaking, Cleo read the words on the card, and the stacked bangles on her arm shook in time with the jubilant Egyptian music. “Where did you get this?” she asked.
Eyes still forward, Ram grinned smugly. “Spectacular, isn’t it? How do you feel about your past now? Do you have any idea what these are worth? Not just in dollars, but in history? The ring alone—”
“Dad!” Cleo jumped to her feet. The throne was no longer wide enough to contain her excitement. She rubbed her thumb over the embossed letters one at a time—V… O… G… U… E…“How did you get her business card?”
As Ram quickly turned to face his daughter, his raw disappointment was suddenly exposed. “What’s so special about this Anna Winter?” he snapped, shutting the briefcase. Manu stepped forward to remove it, but Ram waved him away.
“Win-tour, Dad!” Cleo insisted. “She’s the editor in chief of Vogue. Did you really meet her? Did you talk to her? Were her sunglasses off or on? What did she say? Tell me everything.”
Ram finally wriggled out of his black trench coat. Manu hurried to retrieve it and then quickly offered him a cigar. As if delighting in his daughter’s squirmy anticipation, Ram took several measured puffs before indulging her.
“She sat beside me in first class on the flight from Cairo to JFK.” He released a stinky cloud of smoke from his tight lips. “She saw the article about my dig on the front page of Business Today Egypt and started going on and on about her newfound love of Cairo couture… whatever that is.” He rolled his eyes. “She wants to dedicate a whole issue to it.”
From his post behind the throne, Manu shook his head. He looked just as offended as Ram.
“She actually said ‘Cairo couture’?” Cleo beamed. Egypt was finally in vogue!
“That woman said a lot of things.” He clapped twice. Beb and Hasina hurried from the kitchen balancing platters of food on the flats of their hands. Bastet, Akins, Chisisi, Ebonee, Ufa, Usi, and Miu-Miu scampered hungrily behind them.
Cleo sat. “Like what?” she pressed. “What else did she say?”
“Something about a photo shoot for her younger magazine.”
Hasina lowered a bronze platter in front of him. Ram reached for a pita triangle and dipped it in a swirl of hummus.
“What?” Cleo gasped, waving away Beb’s tray of cheese and lamb sambouseks. The only app she wanted was called Teen Vogue, and it was available on iTunes for $1.99.
“Something about models riding camels in the Oregon sand dunes wearing my sister’s jewels and the latest in Cairo couture.”
Cleo shifted on her throne. First she crossed her right leg over her left, then her left over her right. She shook her ankle, sat on her hands, and tapped her fingers on the plush armrest. Despite her father’s intolerance for fidgeting, she couldn’t help herself. Every cell, nerve, muscle, ligament, and tendon in her body was prodding her to run outside, Spider-Man up the palace walls, and shout the golden news from the rooftops. If only it were safe to leave the house.
Thanks again, Frankie Stein!
“The whole thing is exploitative, if you ask me,” Manu mumbled.
Ram nodded in agreement.
Cleo shot the servant a shut-up-now-or-I’m-going-to-cover-your-bald-head-in-goose-liver-and-call-the-cats glare. He cleared his throat and lowered his round, liquid brown eyes.
“I want in!” Cleo insisted, batting her lashes.
“In on what?” Ram stubbed out his cigar in an ankh-shaped dish of baba ghanoush. Hasina swooped in and removed it immediately. “I didn’t agree to anything.”
“But that didn’t stop Anna Winter from organizing the entire shoot in the time it took to taxi from the runway to the gate. She even picked a date,” Manu offered.
Ram shrugged, as if he cared too little to remember. “October fourteenth.”
“I’m totally free that day.” Cleo jumped to her feet and speed-clapped.
Her father glanced over his shoulder and flashed Manu the same cats-on-your-bald-head warning. “That Anna Winter acts more entitled than a queen, for Geb’s sake. I don’t want to work with—”
“You don’t have to do a thing. I’ll work with her.” Cleo was so excited that she didn’t even try to correct their mispronunciation again. This must happen. It was destiny.
Ram searched his daughter’s face for some sort of guidance. Despite her galloping heart, Cleo remained still and in control.
“I know!” she said with a snap of her fingers, as if she’d just thought of it. “I’ll be one of the models.” She looked him in the eye. “That way I can oversee the process from start to finish,” she offered, knowing all too well how her father’s mind worked. Ram might write in hieroglyphs and speak Egyptian, but he thought like Donald Trump. He valued initiative, confidence, and micromanagement more than anything he’d ever exhumed.
As he twirled his emerald thumb ring, his almond-shaped eyes looked distant and thoughtful.
“Please,” Cleo pleaded, dropping to her knees. She bowed until her forehead touched the carpet. It had the same musky sweetness as her Moroccan hair oil. Pleasesayyespleasesayyespleasesayyespleasesayyes….
“I didn’t raise you to be a model,” he said.
Cleo lifted her eyes. “I know that,” she cooed. “You raised me to be a world-class jewelry designer.”
He acknowledged her lifelong dream with a nod but still failed to see the point.
Cleo sat up. “What better way to network”—impress my friends and make Deuce regret the day he ever asked Melody to the dance, she silently added—“than to work with the accessories editor of Teen Vogue?”
“Why do you need to network?” Ram asked, sounding hurt. “I can get you any job you want.”
Cleo wanted to stomp her platform sandals and scream. Instead, she clasped her father’s hand. “Daddy,” she managed to say calmly, “I descended from a queen. Not a princess!”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked, his eyes warming to a more playful temperature.
“It means, I want what I want.” Cleo grinned. “But I can do it myself.”
“Excuse me, Miss Cleo,” Hasina interrupted. “Would you like me to draw your bath?”
The handmaiden nodded and then hurried off.
Ram chuckled. “So much for wanting to do things yourself.”
Cleo couldn’t help smiling. “I asked her to draw the bath, not take it for me.”
“Oh, I see.” He smiled back. “So you want me to confirm the shoot, insist that you get to model, and then stand back and let you do the rest?”
“Exactly.” Cleo kissed her father’s well-preserved forehead.
Tapping his pursed lips, Ram made one last show of considering his daughter’s request. Cleo forced herself not to fidget.
“Maybe this is exactly what your generation needs,” he mused.
“Huh?” This was hardly the response she had been hoping for.
“I bet if Viktor Stein had encouraged his daughter to get more involved in extracurricular activities, she wouldn’t have gotten herself into so much trouble.”
“I totally agree.” Cleo nodded so hard her bangs shook. “Who has time for trouble when they’re busy? I certainly don’t.”
Relief washed over her father’s face. He lifted the business card from Cleo’s fingertips and handed it to Manu. “Make the call.”
Yessss! No matter how stern Ram acted, Cleo had him wrapped.
“Thanks, Daddy!” Cleo covered her father’s cheek with glossy, berry-scented kisses. This was the first significant step on her path to fashion world domination. And the possibilities made her well-preserved heart soar higher than the highest WELCOME HOME banner ever hung.
Spark off, Frankie Stein. There’s a new headline in town.
TO: Clawdeen, Lala, Blue sept 26, 6:34 PM CLEO:IGNORE CURFEW AND SNEAK OVER ASAP. SPECIAL SURPRISE. ^^^^^^^^^^^^ (BTW, LIKE MY NEW SIGN-OFF? IT’S PYRAMIDS.)
TO: Clawdeen, Lala, Blue sept 26, 6:38 PM CLEO:U SHOULD EACH HAVE A SPECIAL SIGN-OFF. CLAWDEEN: ##### FOR CLAW MARKS. LALA: :::::::::::: FOR FANG MARKS. BLUE: @@@@@@@ FOR SCALES. BTW, DID U GET MY LAST TEXT??? COME OVER!
TO: Clawdeen, Lala, Blue sept 26, 6:46 PM CLEO:I’LL HAVE MANU MEET U IN THE RAVINE IF YOU’RE SCARED. TRUST ME. IT’S WORTH IT. ^^^^^^^^^^^^
Excerpted from Monster High: The Ghoul Next Door by Harrison, Lisi Copyright © 2011 by Harrison, Lisi. Excerpted by permission.
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