Clementine DeVore spent ten years trapped in a cellar, pinned down by willow roots, silenced and forgotten. Now she's out and determined to uncover who put her in that cellar and why.
When Clementine was a child, dangerous and inexplicable things started happening in New South Bend. The townsfolk blamed the fiendish people out in the Willows and burned their homes to the ground. But magic kept Clementine alive, walled up in the cellar for ten years, until a boy named Fisher set her free.
Back in the world, Clementine sets out to discover what happened all those years ago. But the truth gets muddled in her dangerous attraction to Fisher, the politics of New South Bend, and the Hollow, a fickle and terrifying place that seems increasingly temperamental ever since Clementine reemerged.
About the Author
Carla Mercer-Meyer is an AudioFile Earphones Award-winning audiobook narrator. She has a strong musical theater background, as she has been performing her entire life. Her performances include Into the Woods; You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown; and many other theatrical productions. Carla resides in Southern California.
Read an Excerpt
THE LAST DAY
When I was little, everything twinkled. Trees and clouds all seemed to shine around the edges. At night, the stars were long tails of light, smeared across the sky like paint. The whole county glowed.
Back then, my life was mostly pieces—tire swings and lemonade, dogwood petals drifting down and going brown in the grass. Cotton dresses, bedsheets flapping on the line. An acre of front porch. A year of hopscotch rhymes.
On the hottest days, I kicked off my shoes and ran out to the middle of the low-water bridge. The air was warm and buzzing. The creek raced along under me, bright as broken glass.
I jumped rope with my cousin, who was older and shiny. Shiny like an opal ring or a ballerina, and Shiny because it was her name. She hooked her pinky in mine and swore how when we were old enough, we’d run away from Hoax County and live in a silver camper on a beach somewhere. We’d be best friends forever.
Later, when everything went dark, I tried to think how the bad thing had started, but the pieces wouldn’t come. No matter how I walked myself back through that last day, there was always a point where time stopped. A sheet seemed to loom in my mind, and no matter how I pressed my nose against it, I couldn’t see past.
There were things I knew. I knew my mama had been making skillet chicken for dinner, because I remembered running out to the garden to pull some onions for the gravy, and how when I crawled down through the vegetable patch, the place under the tomatoes smelled like hay. It was warm and sweet, and for a while, I just sat smelling it, singing the first line of “Farmer in the Dell” over and over because I couldn’t remember the rest, and counting my numbers.
The vine above me had four little tomatoes all hanging in a row, and in the middle, there was a fifth one. It was like the others, except not. Because instead of silkworm green, the fifth was gray—heavy as an elephant and made of stone, growing in the garden like a living thing, and I laughed because it was a miracle.
I was too little to think a miracle could be anything but good.
Later, it seemed that the whole world began and ended with that tomato. Not with the voices of men, or the way every room in the house got hot. But with that one stone marvel in the garden. With the clean white sheet in my head, and a silver needle pinched between someone’s fingers. Hands that reached to close my eyes and a whisper like a spell. Hold still and sleep. Wait till someone comes for you.
But no one came.
In the canning closet, the air got hard to breathe. Jars broke open. Cherries splashed my face and arms, hissing on the bricks, but if it was hot, I couldn’t feel it.
Then everything got quiet and that was worse. The shouting stopped and the fire burned out. I thought I might be the only person left in the world.
Before, I’d never been scared—not of deep water or falling off the swing set, or any of the other things that kids from town cried about. And never of the dark.
Dark was my best time. In summer, when the sun went down and the moths flapped against the screen, I sat in my mama’s lap on the back porch, looking out at the tupelo trees, wearing my blue-fairy nightgown and holding my flannel bear. Mama wound the key in its back and sang along—Oh my darling, oh my darling.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter how dark the world gets. You can be saved by the smallest thing. I played the Clementine song, turning the key again and again, winding up the memory of her voice until the music turned slow and jangly and the flannel bear wore out like a sock.
The closet was in the back corner of the cellar, and I had never liked to go down there. The floor was made of concrete and the air smelled swampy. Spiders lived behind the closet door and in the cracks between the shelves.
Now it was the only place in the whole world I was even really sure of.
The farm where we lived was on a shallow little branch of the Blue Jack Creek, and the water fed the stands of willow trees that grew around the house. Before, my mama had always kept them in their place, but now they stretched out, reaching in the dirt. They pushed until the wall caved in. Roots grew over my body.
The shoulders of my nightgown let go and my elbows poked through the sleeves. My hair got long, snapping its rubber bands. Sometimes I could feel my bones growing.
Every little stitch and seam told me I was changing, leaving behind my old, baby self, but when I tried to think how I must look, the picture wouldn’t come. The more I tried to see it, the harder it was to see anything but that white sheet, and then the voice would rise up in my ear, getting louder, echoing around me. Hold still and sleep.
It was easier to turn toward it, to follow it down into a jumble of dreams—hills and creeks and hollows. Trees to climb, fields going on forever.
I fell headfirst into a sinkhole of pretty things, and the world inside your eyelids is just as big as the one outside.
THE GIRL IN THE CELLAR
The voices came from a long way off, and at first, they didn’t mean anything. They were just mutters in some broke-down cellar, and I had long since stopped being Clementine in the canning closet.
In my dreams, I was Clementine running through the grass. I was alone, or else with a boy. I couldn’t see his face, but I knew him from some other time, or maybe I’d only just invented him. We raced across an open meadow, toward a tree covered in blue and purple flowers, which meant it wasn’t real, but I ran to it anyway.
Or I might have been someplace else. Maybe sitting in my own living room, listening to the TV and stitching pictures on a quilt square with my mama’s embroidery thread, or standing on a lawn somewhere, watching crowds and colored lights—a party of white tablecloths and paper lanterns. I just couldn’t remember if it was a place I’d been to once, or a life happening far away, or something I was only now making up. I’d been living on dreams so long it was hard to know if any one of the fifteen things happening inside my head was real.
Then someone spoke, closer than any of the ghost-people at the party, than any of the voices in my dreams.
Nothing down here but dry rot and trash.
A boy’s voice, with an accent thicker than was common for Hoax County. Almost thick enough to cut.
He sounded bored with the trash and with the dry rot. Bored with the whole business—maybe even with himself—and hoarse like he’d been shouting.
Also, though, he sounded real.
In the moldy dark of the closet, I opened my mouth. The sheet and the sharp, warning voice were there at once, ordering me quiet, saying wait and sleep, but I’d already been waiting for so long. I was done with that. On the other side of the door were real people and I was going to make them hear me.
I tried to shout, but it was no good. My throat was too dry to make words. My arms wouldn’t move to pound on the wall. I stood in the dark, with roots tangled in my hair, bits of glass sticking to my skin, still holding the windup bear. The flannel was squishy with groundwater, and I squeezed hard, digging my fingers into the clockwork. The song came whining out, broken from how many times I’d played it. It only clanked one line, Oh my darling, oh my darling, before grinding to a stop.
I could hear feet kicking around through junk and broken glass, too many to be just one person. Then they stopped, and the whole place got so still it hurt my ears.
The breathless silence went on so long I thought I would nearly go crazy, and then the first boy spoke again, close to the wall. “Did you hear that?”
Someone answered from farther off, and I could hear the way the words rode up and down, saying no. Saying what are you talking about and I don’t hear anything and let’s leave, let’s leave.
The roots had all grown over me, twisting around my arms and between my fingers, and the sweetest sound in my life was the ripping noise when I pulled my wrist free.
I wrenched the bear’s key a half turn, a full turn. Then the clockwork caught, singing out its broken song, tinkling in the dark.
Oh my darling Clementine, thou art lost and gone forever, dreadful sorry Clementine.
And I waited.
“I’m telling you,” said the first voice, close to the wall. “There’s something in there.”
Yes. Yes, there’s something—here, I’m here. Please come find me, I’m here!
But no one answered. I could feel myself sinking, running out of hope. Already half-willing to let go, to fall straight back down into dreams.
Then came the dry shush-shush of someone running their hands over the wall, feeling along the bricks.
“Check this out. I think there used to be a door. Here—Cody, help me get it clear.”
There was a scraping noise like chalk on a driveway, and I told myself it wasn’t how it sounded, it wasn’t someone pulling out the bricks, because if I let myself believe in rescue and it turned out I was wrong, I would sink right down in the cold black dirt and die of the despair.
But the scraping got louder. The voice in my ear had stopped telling me to wait.
There was a crash, a burst of light against my eyelids, and the bricks fell away in a storm of noise and dust. My heart beat harder, and now he was in the canning closet with me.
“Oh my God,” he said, and then his hands were on mine, so warm they nearly hurt. He grabbed my wrists, peeling back the willow roots, yanking so hard my whole body jerked.
I tried to help him, but I could barely move. He was touching my face, steadying my head as he unwound the roots in my hair, tearing me away from the wall.
Then I was falling. I knew I should catch myself, but my bones felt loose and unstrung. It had been an age since I’d taken a single step, and my legs wouldn’t move. My eyes wouldn’t open.
“Jesus,” he said, catching me around the waist. “Would one of you help me? Get her arms!”
No one came to get my arms, though, and he dragged me out himself. I could smell his shirt and his hair, like leaves and summer and fresh air.
He went stumbling back with his arms around me and we fell hard on the floor. The bump when we landed seemed to knock something loose. My fingers spread wide and then made fists. My arms and legs began to tingle. When I turned my head, he seemed to glow against my eyelids, and I knew he must be the hero of the story, just like in all the books.
This is ever-after, I thought. This is the happily, the end. This is the prince who saved me.
I lay in his lap with his knees digging into my back and waited for him to kiss me and break the spell. Instead, he scraped his thumb across my mouth, wiping away the dirt. The rush of fresh air was almost too much to take. I coughed on it, trying to remember how to breathe without choking.
“Holy hell,” someone said from over in the corner. “Holy everloving hell. Fisher, what have you done?”
He said it loud and quick, sounding so scared that for a second, I was sure they’d leave me there, lying in the cellar with all the bricks and broken glass.
“Give me your shirt,” was all Fisher said.
“Are you crazy?” said one of the other boys. I thought there were two, but their voices were enough alike I couldn’t tell them apart. “I’m not messing with that. You do it, Luke.”
“No way I’m letting anything of mine touch anything like her. Fisher, you don’t know what she is.”
Fisher didn’t answer, but there was a shuffling noise above me and this time when he touched my face, it was with a wadded-up cloth. It felt like cotton, warm from the sun, and it smelled like him.
“Who are you?” he said. When he leaned down, I could see him printed on the inside of my eyelids, a bright mess of colors like a paint splotch in the shape of a person. “How did you get here?”
I tried to answer, but my voice felt ruined. I wanted to tell him that I was Clementine DeVore and he was scrubbing my face too hard and this was my cellar and my memory was a clean white sheet and what was he doing here in my cellar, but all that came out was a sigh.
One of his friends spoke then, slow and soft. “Fisher, this is just too freaky.”
“I know,” he said, holding my face between his hands.
“Well, how do you know she ain’t some creep down-hollow?”
Fisher crouched over me, still scrubbing my forehead and my cheeks. “I don’t, so just shut up. God, look at all this soot.”
I tried to turn my head, but he had his palms pressed hard against my cheeks. The shape of him was a warm blur on the inside of my eyes, twinkling with gold.
“Hold still,” he said. “You have to hold still. There’s busted glass everywhere.”
“Look at her eyes,” said one of the other boys under his breath. “If that’s no fiend, I don’t know what is.”
The word was ugly, and the way he said it was worse.
“I’m not deaf,” I said, and my voice was dry and scratchy, more grown-up than the one I remembered, but it was mine. “And I don’t know how your mother raised you, but mine taught me it was rude to go throwing around a word like fiend.”
The three of them got very quiet. I could feel their stillness in the air, the way they had all stopped breathing.
Then Fisher laughed, a short, barking laugh. “Looks like she’s got more manners than you, whatever she is.”
He turned away from me, like he might be about to stand, and when he did, the light around him faded.
“No,” I said, before I could even think about it. “Don’t go. Come back where I can see you.”
“You can’t see me,” Fisher said. “Your eyes are shut.”
But he leaned closer, putting his shirt against my face again, and in one long breath, I was nearly swallowed up by all the things I’d lost. I remembered days spent laughing in the knotweed down by the creek, nights out in the fields and the woods, skimming through the long grass like a ghost, a blanket spread over the ground and Shiny, my Shiny, with her fast, flashy laugh and her finger hooked through mine.
“You smell like a picnic,” I said, struck again by how strange my voice was—like a picture doubling over itself.
“And you smell like mildew.” His voice was rough, but for just a second, I thought I could hear him trying not to smile.
He was checking the lace at the edges of my nightgown, sliding his fingers along the insides of my cuffs. He pulled the collar away from my neck, following it around until he found a lumpy knot of cloth that had been pinned there since the world went dark, a strange weight against my collarbone.
“What are you doing?” I whispered, but he didn’t answer until one of the other boys said it too, sounding small and scared.
“What is that? What’s she got around her neck?”
Fisher tugged at my collar, unfastening the knot. “I don’t know, but it looks like one hell of a trickbag.”
The third boy spoke from farther off, and if I’d thought he sounded scared before, it was nothing compared to how his voice wavered and cracked now. “Then don’t mess with it. You don’t know what kind of craft is on that thing.”
Fisher laughed that short, dog-bark laugh again and put the twist of cloth into my hand, closing my fingers around it. “The kind that can keep a girl shut up in a basement for God knows how long, and she lives.”
“Shit, Fisher! Just—what are we going to do?”
“I’m taking her down to the Blackwood place.”
Right away, the other two began to argue, talking over each other. “No, no way. You can’t go messing with hexers and fiends. It’s no business of Myloria Blackwood’s that we found some crooked girl down in some burned-out house.”
Fisher slid his hands underneath my back. “It’s Myloria’s sister that lived out here, and by my count, that makes it her business. So I’m taking this one down there, and if you’re going to help, then help. If you’re not, you can find your own way home.”
Without another word, he scooped me up, one arm hooked at my knees and the other around my waist. When he lifted me, the shoulder of my nightgown split wider. The air felt damp and cool against my skin.
“Here,” he said, jostling me higher against his chest. “Grab on around my neck.”
“Why don’t they like me?” I whispered, getting my arms up, feeling around for his shoulder. “What’s wrong with me? I never did anything to anyone.”
Fisher was quiet for a second and when he answered, he sounded strange.
“It’s not your fault,” he said. “They’re just nervous about how your eyes are sewed shut.”
THE BLACKWOOD HOUSE
Fisher carried me out of the cellar.
At first, I was so overcome by the rush of sunlight and good air that it was hard to think of much. But even as Fisher reached the top of the stairs and stepped down into the yard, my wonderment was fading and I needed, more than anything, to look around.
I wanted to see the pastures behind the house, speckled blue with morning glories, and my special corner of the garden where I was allowed to dig, and the tupelo tree that shaded the porch, and if the little green birdhouse I’d painted to look like our own house was still hanging in its branches.
I tried again and again to open my eyes, and the harder I tried, the more decidedly I knew that Fisher had been telling me the truth.
“Well, that’s a vexing thing,” I said, and I’d meant it to sound brave, but all that came out was a whisper. “They really are sewed shut.”
“I think once the thread’s out, they’ll be fine,” he told me, but he was quiet a minute before he said it. The way he stopped to pick his words only made me sure that things were very bad. “You’ll be fine. Just hang on. I’m taking you to someone who can figure out who you are and where you come from.”
I wanted to tell him it wasn’t that complicated, that I came from the cellar, from right where he’d found me. That this was my home.
“My aunt Myloria,” was all I said. “That’s what you mean. You’re taking me to Myloria Blackwood.”
He didn’t answer, but hitched me higher in his arms and walked a little faster.
The only way I knew what direction we were headed was by the sun on my face—the patches of shade as we moved in and out of the sycamore trees that grew along the ditch. I could tell by the crunch of his boots that the driveway out to the main road was grown over with weeds.
His arms were warm and he held me tight enough that I could feel him breathing. My face was against his shoulder and he hadn’t put his shirt back on. His skin was slick against my cheek, and even when my neck started to hurt, part of me was perfectly fine to keep smelling the warm, dusty smell of him.
But there was another part that wanted to get down. The way his arm moved when he walked was rubbing the side of my face. My legs ached now. My feet were tingling like they’d been crammed into church shoes for too long.
When we finally stopped, Fisher bent and laid me down on something metal. It was smooth as a piece of hard candy, warm from the sun. I felt around for the edges with my fingertips and understood that I was lying across the hood of a car.
I could hear him nearby, crunching around in the weeds, jingling keys and opening doors. Then he scooped me back up and arranged me in the passenger seat.
As soon as he’d dropped down in the driver’s seat, there was a low rumble, coughing and snarling, getting louder. The engine roared and we lurched forward, then the whole world seemed to fall away and there was only the wind, whipping by with fantastic speed, tearing at my hair. Almost too much air to breathe.
The drive took a long time, or else no time at all. The darkness of the canning closet had made me confused about things like time, like I couldn’t feel it passing or count the minutes anymore.
When Fisher parked and hauled me out of the car, I tried to tell myself that I only liked the feel of him because it was so good to not be walled up in a canning closet, but it was other things, too. He smelled like green and sun and goodness, and there was plenty to like about the way his shoulder fit against the side of my face.
Then he was jostling me higher, pounding on someone’s door.
We’d been waiting long enough for Fisher to start shifting his weight from foot to foot when a voice spoke from somewhere deep inside the house, sweet and strange and familiar. “Who is it?”
“Eric Fisher, ma’am. I’ve got something that you’re going to want to see.”
For a moment, there was nothing. Then the voice called back, “Come on in.”
As soon as Fisher stepped inside, the light behind my eyes got darker. His boots echoed on the floorboards as he made his way through the house, and then someone else was with us.
Her footsteps were light, and she smelled like roses and mint and the warm, dusty smell of attics. “Oh, my word.”
For a second, no one said anything else.
Then the woman let out a long breath and stepped closer. “Who is that?” she said. “What happened to her eyes?”
“Don’t know, but I’m pretty sure she belongs to you. Me and the Maddox boys found her down in the DeVore house. Is there someplace I should set her?”
For one strange second, the woman seemed to disappear. No movement or breath, no sound at all.
Then she spoke from across the room, loud and shrill. “And you saw fit to bring her here?”
Fisher stepped farther into the room and laid me down on something hard, covered in a cloth so rough it felt like a potato sack. “I had to bring her somewhere. What did you want me to do, leave her? Anyway, the Maddox brothers are way too superstitious to go around making trouble. They probably think you’ll witch them or something. They won’t say anything.”
From across the room, Myloria spoke in a whisper. “Eric Fisher, I do not want this creature in my house.”
But her voice seemed to fall apart in the middle. She sounded so afraid that it made me frightened too, and I squeezed my hand tight around the little cloth bag.
Fisher stood over me, resting his hand on the top of my head. “I don’t think it’s got much to do with what you want,” he said, and the rough little tug when his fingers got caught in my hair was like the shiver when a cat licks your hand. I was just so grateful that someone in the world could stand to be near me. “I’m not concerned with what you all are doing out here—that’s your business—but I’m pretty sure she’s one of your people.”
The way he said the last part was as final as goodbye. Suddenly, all I knew was that I didn’t want him to go, and at the same time, I understood he was already walking out, and when he did, I’d be alone with a woman who could barely stand to be in the same room with me.
When he left, the house felt hollow, like the air after a thunderclap. We were alone—so alone that the whole kitchen seemed to echo.
Out in the yard, the car started up, roaring away in a storm of engine noise and gravel. Then, silence. In it, I was suddenly so afraid that I was still in the closet—that I had always been there and would never be anyplace else. I fumbled with my hands, reaching for the bricks, already half-convinced I felt the roots wrapped tight around my wrists. The stillness was so bottomless it made my chest hurt.
Then, Myloria moved closer. I could feel her standing over me, but couldn’t see her edges through my eyelids the way I had with Fisher. When I tried, all I got was a broken clatter, fuzzing at me like a TV, but I couldn’t tell if that meant something special about her or something special about him.
She made a low, unhappy sound—a breathing out. Then she bent over me and began to pick away the glass from around my eyes. Her hands were cool, and very careful, like she was worried I’d try to bite her. Next there was a cold pressure, followed by two hushed snips, soft as whispers. I tried to hold still, but her fingers were tickling my eyelids. They left a nagging itch, deep in my skin, and then I understood. She was pulling out the threads.
The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was a burst of light so warm and red it could have been the sun or someone’s beating heart. I stared up at it, waiting for the room to come clear.
Then I blinked and the light above me was just a water-spotted lampshade made of red paper and dried flowers. In the middle, one flickering bulb swung gently on a plastic cord.
I was lying in a dim little kitchen. The curtains were pulled and only a sliver of light showed between them. At the sink, my aunt Myloria stood with her back to me.
Her hair was so dark it was almost black, arranged in a messy knot on top of her head. She had on a checkered halter top that tied at the neck and a pair of men’s undershorts with an ivy pattern. Her back was bare, so covered in tattoos that her whole skin seemed to be crawling with a tangle of blue-green snakes. Every inch of her was skinny, skinny, skinny.
I braced my hands on the table and sat up. “Myloria?”
She turned. Her collarbone showed and she had shoulders like a skeleton. Her face was beautiful, but in a sharp, unhealthy way, all jaw and cheekbones.
“How do you know my name?” she said, and now her voice was a long way from sweet. “What were you doing in my sister’s house?”
“Don’t you know who I am?” I whispered, gazing around at the peeling wallpaper and the chipped porcelain sink. The faucet was rusting, and underneath, there was a wet-looking rag tied around the bend in the pipe.
Myloria stared back at me—a blank, awful stare. I didn’t know what to do or say. I was dressed in a raggedy nightgown, sitting on a kitchen table, and my elegant, glamorous aunt now just looked used-up and hungry.
“I’m Clementine,” I whispered. “I’m your niece.”
She looked at me like I’d told her I was the president. “How dare you. How dare you come into my house and dishonor my sister. How dare you profane her memory.”
Her voice shook. I understood that people only talked about dishonoring someone’s memory when that person was dead.
The weight of it sat in my chest like a stone. I knew that it should hurt. And it did, but it wasn’t a breathless, skinned-raw hurt. It dug and bit at me. It ached.
I’d spent so many days—years—in a fog of sadness for my mother, knowing with a slow, ugly certainty that she was gone, but I hadn’t really known it in my heart until now.
Myloria stood with her arms around herself. In one hand, she still held a little pair of gold-colored sewing scissors.
“Don’t you remember me?” I whispered, and it sounded pitiful.
But she didn’t have to say a word. It was all there in her eyes. She didn’t.
“Please, you have to. I used to go around with Shiny all the time. I used to sleep over in the summer and make waffles and lemonade in your kitchen!”
“You’re a devil and a liar,” she said in a thin, shaking voice. “But you can’t work your tricks on me. My sister never had any children.”
I didn’t know how to argue. The fact that I was sitting there wasn’t a thing that needed to be argued. I was looking across the kitchen at my own aunt, and still, she was acting like I didn’t exist.
“Where’s Shiny?” I said. “Is Shiny here?”
Myloria only backed away, toward the other side of the room where an ancient round-cornered refrigerator hummed softly and a dark, narrow doorway led out of the kitchen.
I swung myself off the table, keeping my hands out to steady myself.
“Shiny!” I yelled. “Shiny, are you here?”
Myloria stood in the corner by the refrigerator, still clutching the scissors. “Stop! Stop it right now! Don’t you even talk to her!”
I was about to yell again when a voice answered from the dark little hall behind Myloria. “What in the hell is going on?”
A girl was standing in the doorway. She had high, savage cheekbones and a face like a movie star. She looked like Myloria—not Myloria now, but a memory I had. Her hair was dark and glossy, making wild spirals all the way down her back. Her eyes were like two hot black cinders. Everything about her seemed graceful and long-boned, all wrong against the crooked walls and the cracked plaster.
For a long time, she just studied me. Then she said, in the flattest, slowest voice, “My God.”
Her voice was terrible, like someone at the edge of a high cliff staring down into the wondrous nothing.
“Shiny?” I said. But I sounded slow and full of doubt.
The girl in front of me couldn’t be my cousin. My Shiny was eight years old. My Shiny was bossy and bratty, but sweet, too. She made dolls out of cornhusks and set them floating away down the creek in summer and tied grasshoppers and cicadas to strings for me so I could fly them like tiny buzzing kites. My Shiny was a little girl, and I’d missed all the minutes and the years between then and now.
She nodded, but there was an emptiness in her eyes that filled me with despair. I’d been saved from the dark, only to come home to a world that didn’t even know me. I had no people, no family. Nothing.
Then, with a high, breathless scream, Shiny launched herself across the kitchen and threw her arms around my neck, heedless of the state of my nightgown, or the glass stuck to the front of it, or the way I was covered in soot.
Her hair smelled bright and sticky like hairspray, but she smelled like candy, too, like the times we used to walk into town for saltwater taffy from Spangler’s. Like the memory of a smell, or maybe even the actual thing, and nothing that had happened all morning mattered at all, because her arms were fierce and warm, and her cheek was pressed against mine.
With a shaky breath, she let me go, holding me at arm’s length. “Oh my God, this is real. It’s really real.”
Over in the corner, Myloria only hugged herself tighter, shaking and shaking her head. “Bastiana,” she said. “Go to your room.”
Shiny took her hands off my shoulders and turned to face her. “What is wrong with you? This is your family.”
Myloria stood against the wall, looking like someone had slapped her. “This is some kind of ugly business, baby. We’re looking at the worst kind of craft, and you act like you can’t even see it, like you don’t know the trouble it will bring, people spreading all kinds of lies and gossip, so happy to talk their heads off over any crooked doings in this house.”
Shiny tossed her hair out of her face, looking ferocious. “I’m not an idiot, Myloria, but we are not throwing her out. This is my cousin.”
Myloria drew herself up, tall and frail. “You have no cousin.”
Shiny gave her a scorching look that seemed to last a lifetime. “I have been telling you for ten years that Clementine was real—that she was a real person—and now that she’s right in front of you, you still want to go around acting like I made her up?” She turned her back on Myloria and reached for my hand. “Come on, let’s get you fixed up. And ignore her. She’ll be better in a minute.”
“How do you know?”
Shiny sighed and looked away. “Because she mostly is. And if she isn’t, sometimes I just have to pretend she will be.”
Her hand was so warm it was almost hot, tugging me along. The little cloth bag was still sitting in the middle of the table and I reached for it, not trusting it, but not wanting to let it go, either.
Whereas the kitchen had been shabby, the hall was entirely ruined. It was papered in a striped pattern that might have been nice once, but was now burned black in huge smudges, peeling down in strips. The floor slanted under my bare feet and the paint had blistered up from the baseboards and started to flake off in ragged scales, like a snakeskin.
I followed Shiny through the house, wondering how anyone could live in a place like this. Doorways interrupted the burned walls now and then, but all of them were boarded up.
We turned a corner that led nowhere except to the end of another useless hall. There was a heap of cardboard boxes sitting piled in the corner, and Shiny dug through them. They were full of old clothes, and not old like the shirts at the back of my mama’s closet. They were old like the antique store, or like something straight out of the movies.
Shiny pulled out a rumpled green dress and tossed it at me.
“Most of this stuff used to belong to Grandma Emmaline and hasn’t been in style since about the dust bowl, but it should fit all right,” she said. “But first, you are a pure mess. Before you do anything, you need to get washed.”
The bathroom was at the far end of the house from the kitchen, little and dark, like everything else. There was no window, only a deep, old-fashioned bathtub and a pink toilet. No mirror and no sink. The tub had long-toed animal feet and took up nearly the whole room in a way that tended to suggest it hadn’t always been there. That this had once been a powder room, but someone had dragged the tub in from someplace else and hooked it up where the sink used to be.
The blue-fairy nightgown was impossibly small, stuck to my body like another skin. Both the shoulder seams were out and the lacy hem that used to brush the floor only came down to my knees. Shiny wrestled with the zipper, yanking so hard the plastic teeth tore apart. Then she ducked out of the room and left me to deal with the state I was in.
I ran the faucet and washed. My arms were covered in ash up to the elbows, like I had on smudgy gray gloves. My hair was one big knot, but with no mirror or brush, it was hard to work out the tangles. I wrung it under the faucet until the cherries and the soot washed away and the water ran clear.
There was a towel hanging on the edge of the tub and I dried off, trying not to think too much about how I was a completely different person from the one I’d been. Every time I caught a glimpse of my body, it was like looking at a stranger.
I changed into the green dress, which buttoned down the front and had a bow at the neck like a sailor’s. The top was tight, with barely room to move, and I knew that I was going to need what my mother had always referred to as support garments, if she had to refer to them at all.
When I left the bathroom, Shiny was waiting for me. She led me back to the kitchen, through the crooked door where I’d first seen her, and into a cramped, narrow room. It wasn’t much more than a closet, with a rickety little bed pushed into one corner, and the rest of the place taken up by a giant water-stained dresser.
The walls were plank instead of plaster, and hung all over with wind chimes. They were nailed straight to the bare boards and tacked haphazardly to the ceiling. Among them, Shiny seemed like the only useful thing, and everything else was completely silly.
It was strange and dizzying to stand and look at her, when the last time we’d been face to face, she’d still had messy pigtails and a missing tooth. The way she looked at me, I knew she was feeling the same, like I was something that had been stored away, and now that I was unpacked and out in front of her, she could only stand back and count all the ways that I had changed.
“How is it you remember me, but Myloria can’t?” I said.
Shiny leaned against the dresser, chewing on her thumbnail and scowling. “If I could tell you that, I’d feel a lot better, if you want to know the truth. She’s right about it being craft, for sure. And there are tricks for keeping secrets or messing with someone’s memory, but I’ve never known one strong enough to just paper over a whole person. That’s something more serious than I know about.”
“Then how can you be certain it’s really me at all?” I said, wondering how to ever trust a world where my own aunt could forget me. “I mean, what makes you so sure?”
Shiny laughed, tossing her hair over her shoulders. “Sure that you’re my cousin? I’d have to be crazy to forget. I missed you every day,” she said. “I used to just sit out back in the tire swing and think of your face, like if I forgot a single thing, even an eyelash or a freckle, something bad would happen. I feel like I’ve been waiting for you my whole life.”
The way she said it was so raw and fierce it showed in her face, and I felt a rush of gratitude to know that someone had been waiting for me after all.
She leaned closer. “You still look right, you know. Or at least, how I’d have thought you’d look. Except your hair—now that is really something.”
“What do you mean?”
She turned me by the shoulders, steering me in front of a heavy mirror propped on top of the dresser. For the first time in forever, I looked at myself.
A part inside me wanted to cry or scream, or just do something to show how awful it was to be lost for so long and then come back looking nothing like myself.
At first, I couldn’t do anything but stare—at my hands on the top of the dresser and the wide, unfamiliar shape of my mouth and my cheeks, and my eyes, the way they gazed back at me, full of hurt.
After a minute, though, I began to pick out things I could almost recognize.
I looked less like myself and more like my mother, with her high, smooth forehead and her chin. My nose had grown from a button into the long, straight one common to the Blackwoods, but my mouth was big and soft like a stranger’s, like it belonged to someone else, and no matter how far I tried to open my eyes, they stayed heavy-lidded. Half-closed. The skin around them was dotted with little scars.
What Shiny had spoken was the absolute truth. I looked right, more or less, for someone belonging to the Blackwood family. And also, the strangest thing about me was my hair.
When I was little, it had been a plain dog-brown that promised to darken to mahogany, the same color that Shiny’s was now. Instead, it had gone red. Not an unfortunate carroty red like the O’Radley girls had, or even beauty-parlor red. My hair was the deep, bloody red of cherries, black at the roots and getting brighter as it went, nearly glowing by the time it got to the ends.
“What happened to it?” I said, holding my hands away from myself, like I was marked with something dirty.
Shiny came and put an arm around me. “Hey, hey, don’t act like that. It’s not so bad. It just needs to be brushed out.”
I didn’t know how to say that it wasn’t the color or the tangles making me seem wrong. It was my broken voice and my scarred eyes and my strange new body. And my cheeks and my chin and my grown-up nose. I stared at my reflection, trying to get friendly with the fact that I wasn’t myself anymore.
“Okay,” I said finally, after I’d looked and looked and it had changed nothing. “Okay, you can help me fix my hair.”
Shiny got out a comb and had me sit on the edge of the bed. She settled down next to me, holding a matted handful straight out from my head and clucking to herself. Her nails were painted a deep, sticky purple.
“Well, this is a devilish state of affairs,” she said as she went to work on the tangles. The comb bit at my scalp, yanking my head back, and at first I thought she was talking about my hair.
Then she leaned around me, peering into my face. “You want to tell me where you’ve been this whole time?”
“In my house,” I said. “Buried in the cellar.”
She stopped combing. “All this time? Since you were seven?”
“Well,” she said after a second. “You’re definitely not seven anymore.”
“No,” I said, looking down at the front of the dress. “Definitely not.”
She laughed a breathless little laugh. “I mean, not in your head, either. You’re like a real person.”
It was true. I could feel the difference between now and then, a plant that had outgrown its pot, and now the roots were forcing their way between the cracks.
“I knew things,” I said, trying to put a name to the dreams that weren’t dreams but more of a cross between visions and memories. “Sometimes I lived on old pictures, like looking through a photo album, and sometimes, it was more like I flew out into the real world and floated there. I saw things. I was part of the world, but not in it, if that makes sense.”
Shiny’s face made it plain that it didn’t, but she nodded anyway, frowning to herself. Then she went back to work on my hair.
I held as still as I could and looked around me. The bedroom was impossibly small and like a carpenter’s mistake, growing straight off the side of the main house.
I winced, grabbing at the back of my neck to keep her from combing me bald. “I don’t remember this place.”
Shiny shook her head. “She had it built a few years ago. When I finally just about lost my mind and told her that maybe wandering around at all hours was good enough for her, but I needed a bedroom. So, she went out and paid a bunch of the O’Radleys’ cousins two hundred and forty dollars to build me this.”
The room was decorated with a little rug and had a window at the back, but I couldn’t help thinking it wasn’t a lot bigger than the closet I’d been buried in.
“It doesn’t seem like much,” I said.
Shiny let her hair fall over her face and looked away. “‘Not Much’ is kind of the name of every damn day around here. Things are—well, they’re not how you remember.”
But in truth, it seemed that what I mostly remembered were only the recollections of a little girl, overjoyed by dragonflies and Fourth of July sparklers. Every other fact and feature was missing, covered up neatly by that clean white sheet.
“Where does Myloria sleep?” I said finally, because it seemed better to say anything than to let Shiny keep sitting there with her hair in her eyes and her shoulders slumped. Better than to keep dwelling on all the things I’d lost and could not get back.
“Are you kidding?” She started picking at my tangles again. “Myloria doesn’t sleep. All she does is wander around like a crazy person, vague as hell and scared of everything.”
I considered the Myloria I’d known when I was little, tall and proud, full of flash. “She didn’t used to be.”
Shiny shrugged and looked away. “And the dinosaurs didn’t used to be dead. Do you know that your hair is like trying to put a comb through wire? It’s breaking off the teeth.”
She set the comb down, and then there was a strange tickling feeling at the back of my head. She was running the tips of her fingers over my hair, but the knots were so matted and thick I could barely feel it.
When she spoke, her voice was smaller than before, and kind of lost. “It used to be so soft, like a bunny.”
I reached for the dropped comb, touching the gaps where the teeth had snapped off. “Shiny, how long have I been gone, exactly?”
She sighed and took her hand away. “You mean how long has it been since the Coalition for Purity flipped their shit and started burning out all the old families before Myloria or your mama or any of the church people could stop them?”
I nodded, running my finger along the broken comb.
“Pretty near ten years.”
“I thought you were dead,” she said, keeping her chin down, fiddling with the corner of the crazy quilt.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Fiendish:
“…eerily reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird…This beguiling amalgamation of the magical and modern worlds will have readers mesmerized.” --Kirkus (Starred Review)
“Powerful, evocative prose brings to life a world close to overflowing with wild magic, seething prejudice, and base fear.” –Horn Book
"Yovanoff’s best book since The Replacement (2010) finds her conjuring up another sickly sweet modern mythology of seemingly effortless originality. [...] No one since Francesca Lia Block has so consistently sided with the so-called monsters, and this dark-sparkled effort furthers the author’s reputation as one of YA horror’s most unique voices." -Booklist
“…deliciously creepy…The early descriptions of Clementine’s decade-long entrapment in the cellar and her rescue are at turns vivid and horrifying, and become engraved in the reader’s memory.” -VOYA
"Yovanoff creates yet another beautiful but disturbing setting, with elegant prose describing the picturesque countryside in one paragraph and the gut-wrenching stench of hellhounds in the next..." -BCCB
"Yovanoff’s writing is as thrilling and uneasy as the tales she spins. Richly detailed with adolescent “firsts,” ... this horror tale will give teens goosebumps from start to finish." -School Library Journal
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I thought this book was wonderfully creepy. I was a little confused in the first chapter on what was going on but it quickly moved on to explain. I really like the descriptions on what happened/was happening during the Reckoning. The author's descriptions on things in the Hallow and the fiends painted a great image for me on them. Very creeptastic. The characters weren't overly fantastic, but they were well written. Clementine and Fisher's relationship didn't overshadow what the story was about; which I like because I've read some books in the past where the story line got pushed back because of the characters relationship had to be more important than what was going on (some authors didn't mesh it well) and kinda ruin the story for me. So yeah great story for me.
I made the mistake of starting "Fiendish" at bedtime, thinking I would read a few chapters, and then go to sleep. It kept me up, not because of the content, but because I could not put it down. That is the only "complaint" I have about the book. I loved it, I highly recommend it, and I look forward to reading more books by the author!
A little slow to get going, but once it did, very entertaining, interesting, and enchanting. A little disappointed by the end, but still a good read, just not a Yovanoff favorite.
Brenna youvenoff again writes excellent characrters and with imaginative original storytelling creates a world that envelopes the reader.
I love this this book. I had truble leaving this book. It is very captivating. I read it all in an afternoon because I was so interested in what would happen next and what would happen to the charecters.
Fiendishly Good! Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I'd had this book on my TBR list ever since I learned that it was being published. When I got the opportunity to read it, I absolutely jumped at the opportunity to do so. Author Brenna Yovanoff has done a truly amazing job with this story. The world-building and character development are complex. The history alone could fill an entire other book, and I see great potential for a sequel or other standalone book in the same world. I was a little disappointed at the numerous editing errors, as most of them were related to repeated words and erroneous word usage, and all could have been corrected by a visual edit as opposed to a spelling/grammar check program, but truth be told, I just couldn't allow that to affect my rating. I simply enjoyed the book that much. The author did a great job of grabbing my attention and holding it steadfast straight through the last page. The imagery was fantastic. There's a line in the book about a character with such terrible and wonderful power running through him and crackling around him that he might just crack the world. That stayed with me and was truly one of many exciting moments in the story. The reader should have no difficulty imagining the town, its inhabitants, or its magic and history. It's really that well-done. Kudos to the author for a fiendishly good read!