Home Sweet Horror (Scary Tales Series #1)by James Preller, Iacopo Bruno (Illustrator)
Welcome. Have a seat. Let us tell you a story. But be warned. Home Sweet Horror isn’t just any tale. This is a Scary Tale.
Meet Liam Finn, who’s just moved into a new home with his father and sister. But this old house that seems empty, isn’t . . . Bloody Mary is here. Called back from the dead by a game, she’s just/i>/i>
Welcome. Have a seat. Let us tell you a story. But be warned. Home Sweet Horror isn’t just any tale. This is a Scary Tale.
Meet Liam Finn, who’s just moved into a new home with his father and sister. But this old house that seems empty, isn’t . . . Bloody Mary is here. Called back from the dead by a game, she’s just dying to talk.
“Preller (the Jigsaw Jones mysteries) serves up gasp-worthy scenes and chilling twists in this illustrated chapter book that launches the Scary Tales series. . . .Just enough chills to keep burgeoning readers flipping pages.” Publishers Weekly
“The thrills and chills are delightfully spine-tingling in this truly terrifying tale. A great choice for reluctant readers.” School Library Journal
Read an Excerpt
Home Sweet Horror
By James Preller, Iacopo Bruno
Feiwel and FriendsCopyright © 2013 James Preller
All rights reserved.
THE HOUSE ON THE HILL
"Wake up, Liam. We're here," Mr. Finn whispered from the driver's seat. "Our new home."
The eight-year-old boy rubbed his eyes, groggy from the long drive. He looked out the car window, blinking into the dark. "What time is it?"
"Around midnight," his father said. "You three have been crashed out for hours."
Liam became aware of the warm body pressed against him. His hand fell on the sleeping dog's neck. On the other side of the dog, Liam's older sister, Kelly, slept with her head pitched forward. Even in sleep, Kelly's hand clutched her necklace. It was once her mother's ring, a parting gift that Kelly wore on a chain around her neck.
"Let her rest," Mr. Finn said, as if reading Liam's mind. "I've been enjoying the peace and quiet."
Kelly had been against the move. She'd crossed her arms and vowed, "Nuh-uh, I'm not going. I like it here in Hopeville." She'd argued, threw tantrums, said horrible things. But Mr. Finn decided that it was time for a fresh start, and that was that. Their mother would have wanted it this way.
Liam felt his chest tighten at the thought. Even after eighteen months, her memory caused his heart to swell and his breath to grow short and shallow, like the early signs of an asthma attack. He fingered the inhaler in his pocket. Breathe in, breathe out, he told himself. Breathe in, breathe out.
The road was quiet, with dim streetlights and a few darkened homes across the way. Each house was set apart on high, rolling lots, not as crowded as Liam's old neighborhood. He looked back at the battered old house on the hill. It was big, larger than he'd imagined from the photographs. The two windows on the second floor — with half-drawn shades like lazy yellow eyelids — reminded Liam of watchful eyes. He imagined that the house looked down upon them out of those eyes. Looming, waiting, watching. The front door's brass knocker looked like a nose.
The dog, Doolin, rose stiffly on ancient legs. She stretched, sniffed, and whined softly in the dark of night.
"What's the matter, girl? You need to do your business?"
Liam opened the door. He stepped into a bath of warm, late-summer air. He beckoned to the dog. "Come on, girl. Let's check out the new place," Liam urged.
The dog did not budge. Instead, she backed away, pressing into Kelly.
Liam's sister stirred, grumbled. "Shut up, Liam, will ya? I'm trying to sleep."
She pushed the dog away.
Mr. Finn popped the trunk, moved around to the back of the car. The big moving van with all their belongings would be arriving tomorrow. "Don't expect a palace," Mr. Finn called out brightly. He pulled out three sleeping bags, pillows, a flashlight. "It'll be fun, like a camping trip. Just remember, guys. This place needs a lot of work."
A flicker of light caught Liam's eye. He glanced up at the house. And a zipper of fear ran down his spine. Just darkness, silence, and an empty road. It was nothing, he told himself. But the sudden flash appeared again, a flicker of light from one of the windows. On, then off. Liam glanced at his father. Mr. Finn didn't see it.
The light came from the window on the right. Maybe my bedroom, Liam guessed. It felt to Liam as if the house's great eye had opened and shut. A wink. As if to say, I know a secret.
"There's no one inside?" Liam asked.
"Don't be a dweeb," Kelly grumbled. She climbed out of the car, unfolding her long limbs. "I seriously doubt that anybody besides us would live in a dump like this."
Liam ignored Kelly's comment. The death of their mother had changed his sister. Nowadays, she seemed angry all the time. Liam missed his sister, the good times they used to share. These days she shut herself off, spending hours alone in her room. Maybe things would get better in the new place.
Ed Finn put a strong arm around his son's shoulders. "This old house has been empty for two years," he said. "It's a fixer-upper. That's why I got such a great price."CHAPTER 2
A MOAN, A WHISPER
From the first day, Liam heard noises. The groan of floorboards. The hiss of radiators. The clatter of wind pounding the shutters.
CREAK and SCREECH, RASP and WHEEZE and BANG.
And Liam sometimes thought he heard a muffled voice. A moan, a whispered something that caused him to turn up the television, loud.
His dad said it was the typical noises that come with an old, unfamiliar house. "You'll get used to it," he told Liam. "It's what gives the place — I don't know — character. Yeah, that's the word. Character."
Liam didn't see it that way. He sensed that the house was trying to speak. As if it had something to say. A message. But who could he tell? No one would believe him. "Liam and his overactive imagination," they'd explain. He was, everyone said, a dreamy boy. Still, Liam was unable to make out the exact message. What was the house trying to tell him? Who else had lived in this place, moving like shadows through the walls?
Who had lived here before?
A door slammed shut.
No answer. Kelly was outside, her long hair pulled back in an athletic ponytail, shooting baskets at a rusted rim in the driveway. He could hear Kelly dribbling on the cement, hear as the ball rattled against the backboard. An engine's dull hum told Liam that Mr. Finn was riding the John Deere over the lawn. Cutting the grass, trying to tame the shaggy yard.
Liam was alone in the house.
Next Liam heard ... water? He moved cautiously toward the hallway bathroom, the one he shared with his sister. He put his ear to the door. The shower was running.
Liam knocked. No answer. He called out, "Kelly?" No answer came. He scratched roughly at his red, uncombed hair and made a decision. He turned the knob, gently pushed open the door. The room was filled with smoke. No, not smoke. Steam. So thick it was impossible to see. Liam reached into the empty shower stall, shut off the hot water.
The mirror was fogged up. As the steam leaked out through the open door, the mirror returned to normal. Clean and clear — except for a few cloudy lines. At first, Liam didn't understand what he was seeing. Because the letters in the mirror were reversed.
The message read:
Mine? Liam gasped.
Another door opened somewhere. Liam poked his head around the corner, looked downstairs. It was his father. Mr. Finn wiped his hands on his jeans, stomped his work boots. Liam trailed his father into the kitchen. The big man stood, one hand leaning on the counter, listening to his cell phone with a frown on his face.
He shook his head, hung up.
"Who was that?" Liam asked.
"I don't get it." Mr. Finn looked at Liam. "Doesn't anybody want to work in this town? That's the third carpenter who turned me down cold."
"Maybe you don't pay enough," Liam joked.
"I pay plenty," Mr. Finn grumbled. "It's just these local guys ... I don't know what's wrong with 'em." Mr. Finn pulled bologna and a loaf of white bread from the fridge. "You hungry?"
Liam said he was.
He wanted to tell his father how it felt the very first time he stepped into the house. That shivery feeling. A sense that something wasn't right. But not today. His father was too stressed already. He had a new job at the plant, a new house, two kids to worry about, and no wife.
Liam decided to keep his fears to himself.CHAPTER 3
NOISES IN THE BASEMENT
Liam stood in the hallway off the kitchen, peering into the basement. The stairs were ancient wooden boards nailed across empty space. One false step and it was a long drop to the cement floor below. The basement gave off a smell of decay, of things gone rotten. A place where mice had crawled off to die. Home to cobwebs and spiders, trapped flies and ruined toys.
Liam flicked the switch on the wall. Nothing happened.
At the bottom of the stairs, he could scarcely make out a bare bulb that hung from the ceiling. It had a pull string. Maybe that would do the trick.
But an inner voice made Liam cautious. He remembered his father's warning during breakfast. "I'll be gone most of the day," he said. "I know you like to explore, Liam. And that's fine. Up to a point. But stay out of the attic, and don't go into the basement. I don't trust those old stairs. And that old furnace needs to be replaced. It's an accident waiting to happen."
When Liam stepped back to shut the basement door, a metallic sound came to his ears.
CLANG CLANG CLANG.
The sound came from ... down there.
"Hello?" he bleated.
Again, in a stronger voice, "Anybody down there?"
Liam wiped his hands on his pants. He looked around. Puffed on his inhaler and thought about things. Breathe in, breathe out. Kelly was upstairs in her room. Still asleep, most likely. Or texting, texting, texting — like always. His father away on errands: groceries, the lumber yard, who knows where?
All Liam really knew was that he was alone.
In the house.
Or alone with the house.
CLANG, CLANG. CLANG-CLANG-CLANG.
The sounds echoed up in rhythm, like a voice calling to him, a song in the dark.
Come, Liam. Come.
Doolin stood protectively at Liam's side. GRRRR, she growled. A warning sound, low, from deep inside the animal's chest. GRRRR, GRRRR.
The metallic noises came louder now, more urgent. Clearer. They were calling to Liam. Come, come.
Transfixed, Liam took one cautious step down the stairs. There was no railing, nothing to grip. He shifted his weight from his left foot to his right. There, CREAK, the old board held strong. Some fluttery something brushed across Liam's face, like the shadowy hand of a ghost.
No, it was only a cobweb, a spider's trap.
"Come on, girl," Liam called to his dog. "Let's explore together."
The dog sank to the floor, head on her paws. She growled, a rolling rumble of fear and warning.
"What's the matter? Too dark for you?" Liam asked, honey in his voice. "You've never been bothered by stairs before."
The dog whined.
"Come," Liam ordered, his voice deeper. The sound of command.
Doolin inched away.
Liam shrugged, moved down another step, and another. Halfway down, he could bend at the waist to peer into the vast, dank basement. It was filled with crowded shelves, boxes, and broken furniture.
CLANG, CLANG, CLANG,
banged the noises. It was something in the far back corner, a heavy, black shape. The furnace, perhaps. That was the source of the sounds. At last Liam reached the lightbulb, pulled on the string. There was a burst of wild electrical light and — POP! — the bare bulb shattered into pieces.
It startled Liam. He sensed a shape drifting through the basement, soundless and black, moving toward him. He turned and ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time, landing heavily with each step. CRASH! — a board cracked and Liam fell, slamming his shin hard against the wood. He grabbed the top step, catching himself before he fell. He wheezed, felt dizzy, woozy. Liam's left leg dangled in the air, kicking at nothingness. He felt a thin, skeletal grip around his ankle. Like a claw pulling, dragging him down. Liam yanked his leg free, lifted himself up, gasping for air, and scrambled to the top of the stairs. He crawled into the kitchen, into the light. He slammed the door shut behind him and twisted the lock, heart thundering.
BOOM-BOOM, BOOM-BOOM, BOOM-BOOM.
His back against the door, Liam sat on the floor, legs splayed. He took a puff from his inhaler. And another. Breathe in, he reminded himself. Breathe out.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Down below, through the door, he swore he heard the sound ... of laughter.CHAPTER 4
A STRANGER'S WARNING
An hour later, Kelly came down and planted herself on the living room couch. Her nose was in a book, a tender love story about killer zombies.
"Do you think there's anything creepy about this house?" Liam asked.
Kelly rolled her eyes. "Creepy? Yeah, you."
"Come on, Kelly. You know what I mean."
Kelly put down the book. "There's lots of things that are creepy about this house, Liam. Everything is so old and musty and gross. Even the phone is like a million years old. A rotary phone? Really? What's up with that?"
"Dad says it's a fixer-upper," Liam countered.
"Ha!" Kelly scoffed.
"Can a house be ... alive?" Liam ventured. "Like with, I don't know, a spirit or something?"
"Oh, please, just shoot me now," Kelly groaned. She turned her attention back to the book.
The phone rang.
"Get it," Kelly snapped.
"I'm not your slave. You answer it," Liam replied.
No one moved.
After the fifth ring, the machine picked up.
A man's voice spoke. "Hello, Mr. Finn, this is Harry Christiansen. You called about some repair work. Look, I don't know how to say this except ... you really need to get out of that house. It's a bad place, pure evil. Nothing good can come of it. Just take your kids and don't look back. I mean, thanks for the call. I really do appreciate the offer for work in these tough times. But please, don't call back."
He hung up.
Kelly closed the book. She stared at Liam, a question in her eyes. They played the message over again.
"What a creepster," Kelly concluded.
"You don't believe him?" Liam asked.
"I just wonder," Liam said.
"Yeah?" Kelly asked.
"Like, who lived here before us," Liam said. "And what happened to them?"CHAPTER 5
THE NIGHT MESSAGE
Liam lay on his bed, the blankets tossed aside except for one thin sheet. The night air was sweltering. Liam felt like bread warming in a toaster. He rose to plug an old fan they'd found in the closet into the wall socket. It made a horrible clatter — loose screws and rattling metal. Liam unplugged it. No way could he sleep through that racket.
He collapsed back into bed. Liam turned over his pillow again and again, searching hopelessly for a cool side.
He thought of his mother. She'd been gone for almost two years. Liam was in first grade when she died. At the time, he felt so lost and confused. Kelly reacted differently. She got mad — angry that her mother left, angry over the long illness. And though Liam's father tried his best, he grew withdrawn. On many mornings, Liam found his father sitting at the breakfast nook, food uneaten, staring into space.
Everyone crawled into their own shells. And burrowed deep, like turtles in mud.
It had been a long, sad year — but eventually Mr. Finn emerged from his gloom, like a new bud shooting forth after a cold, hard winter. "We're moving to Upstate New York," he announced one night. "I got an offer for a job as a foreman in a new chemical plant. They promise better hours, more pay. It's too good to pass up."
And so here they were. Somewhere in the gray middle of nowhere, called Upstate New York.
Liam shifted in his bed, stared out the bedroom window into the night sky. It was crowded with stars. Little pinpricks of wonder, lit at an impossible distance from home.
I wish I may, I wish I might. His lips moved soundlessly.
Liam drifted off to sleep.
He half awoke, groggy at first, to the sensation of cool air across his face. He lifted his head and saw the fan's blades, rotating in a blur. But something was different. What was it? Silence. The old fan worked noiselessly.
Had his father turned it on while he slept?
Then the noises started, ever so faintly, like a quivering whisper. Like a voice from far away. Wwwaaan, it trembled. waaaannnnchu. waaaantt ... chuuu.
The words pulsed from the fan. It was trying to speak, Liam was sure of it. "Want you ... want you ... gooooone."
Want you gone.
Liam leaped out of bed. The fan moved slowly, like a head swiveling from side to side, repeating "GOOONE, GOOONE, GOOONE," over and over in vibrating, eerie tones.
Liam moved to flick the switch to OFF. But it was already set to that position. Liam next tried to pull the plug out of the wall socket.
But it was resting on the rug.
Yet the fan churned ceaselessly on.
"WANT YOU GONE," it said. Over and over again.
"Shut up," Liam cried. "Shut up!"
* * *
Mr. Finn never got the full story. The next morning, he found the old fan in the garbage on the side of the house.
"How'd this get here?" he wondered. "Liam, you know?"
Liam shrugged, looked away. "Beats me," he replied.
Excerpted from Home Sweet Horror by James Preller, Iacopo Bruno. Copyright © 2013 James Preller. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
JAMES PRELLER is the author of Six Innings, Bystander, and the Jigsaw Jones series. He lives in Delmar, New York, with his wife, three kids, two black cats, and a not-so-scary dog. You can visit him on the Web at jamespreller.com.
IACOPO BRUNO is a graphic artist and illustrator who lives in Italy. You can visit him at iacopobruno.blogspot.com.
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