Sam and Chloe never thought they would spend the summer holidays fighting a battle against the dark past that haunts Kingsholt, a mansion inherited by Chloe's parents. A long time ago the Vikings burnt down the monastery that was built near Kingsholt. A few monks who escaped hid the monastery's treasure and dug a pit in which to bury the slaughtered monks. They swore that if anyone opened up the pit and used it for other purposes a darkness would fall over the area. Nimbus,an obsessive one-time circus hypnotist and acrobat, lives with his wife and two children in a cottage in the woods of Kingsholt. He opens up the pit and uses it for all his rubbish. With death, kidnap and madness ensuing, can Sam and Chloe and their guardian Aidan, bring back the light to Kingsholt?
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|Publisher:||Our Street Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.40(d)|
|Age Range:||3 Months to 17 Years|
About the Author
Susan Holliday is married with three children. When her sister died she and her husband looked after the four children who were left. She now lives alone with her dog Alfie who is waiting for his story to be told!
Read an Excerpt
By Susan Holliday
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2014 Susan Holliday
All rights reserved.
Sam dribbled the football down the narrow corridor and towards the envelope that lay askew on the front door mat. As he picked up the letter his heart beat faster than he liked to admit. It was Chloe's writing all right, but more ragged than it used to be, as if she'd gone backwards since she was twelve. Something has happened, he thought.
He looked inside and drew out two pieces of paper torn from an old exercise book. Was his cousin plunged into dire poverty or something? Or was she just not bothering? He unfolded the letter slowly, half afraid of what he would read.
Kingsholt Monks Lane, Devon
Sorry I haven't replied for ages and sorry I missed your thirteenth birthday. I hope we're still speaking! Wait for the long whinge! I simply don't like being here. Can't put my finger on it but that's how it is. Funny feelings.
Sam pulled a face. What did she mean, funny feelings?
He went back to the letter.
First there's my new school. The kids hate me because I haven't got a Devon accent and because I've inherited a mansion, even if it's crumbling. There's one girl who's a right bully and the others copy – you know how it is.
At home things aren't much better. As you know it's nearly two years since Uncle George was found dead in the woods and Dad and Mum are still trying to work it out. Mum's vague as usual and spends half her time doing up our old house for letting, while a nice lady called Leela helps out here. She has a son called Tyler, about twelve, like me, but he's really big and strong. He has a dog and a cow, of all things and I think he's a bit strange. Dad's never around – we're just that much too far out for him to get to work easily, so he often stays away in the company flat. That leaves Aidan to look after everything. He first met Uncle George on a retreat at Lindisfarne or something. Uncle George asked him to help turn Kingsholt into a sort of Christian Centre for no-go kids. Some chance!
(Three days later)
Sorry about the gap. I've been in what you might call nowhere land. Can't explain it really. Anyway, back to my letter. Where was I? That's right! Aidan. I think he's a bit of a dark horse and for some reason he's crazy about King Alfred. You know, the one who burned the cakes. He spends hours and hours in the library and when he comes out he looks really remote, as if he's living in another world. He's talking about building a chapel in the wood or something but he must be crazy – there's no money about at all.
It's like being in the Dark Ages. Nothing works and animals are all over the place. There's sheep, goats and a bird hospital that was started by Uncle George. Tell you more when I see you. Love to Auntie Jane.
Sam folded up the letter and put it back into the envelope.
It's 1985, he thought, and my cousin says she's in the Dark Ages. It's unbelievable.
He walked over to the window. All right, Cheriton Street, Balham wasn't the most inspiring place and their house was pretty small, but wasn't it better to spend the summer here, than in a crumbling mansion in the middle of nowhere? Besides, this wasn't the Chloe he used to know. She'd always been cheerful and he'd even once, fool that he was, written a poem about her. He must have been out of his mind. Anyway that was ages ago.
Maybe he should show the letter to Mum. She was the only one around who knew Chloe as well as he did. Perhaps she might understand what was going on.
At six-thirty, his mother came swinging through the door calling, 'Hi, Sam! Here I am!' It was her cheery way of saying, I'm sorry I'm later than ever.
She rushed into the small, warm kitchen, pink from hurrying, and dumped her shopping bag on the table. Sam towered over her, pulling a face, and she smiled.
'You've definitely grown today, Sam. You're a tall one for thirteen. And you're not the only one. The girls at school are like Amazons!' She scrabbled into her shopping bag. 'Fish and chips tonight. They say fish is good for your brains!'
She shared out the meal on two plain white plates. 'I forgot to tell you, I was helping with the church garden after school. You've no idea how quickly the weeds move in.'
The meal was rapidly restoring Sam's natural good nature. 'Talking of moving in,' he said, dashing vinegar over his battered cod, 'I had this letter from Chloe. Months of silence and then this.'
Mum put on her gold rimmed glasses. 'Well, at least you've got a letter.'
She read it carefully. 'Odd,' she said. 'But it's none of my business, none at all. It really is up to Dorothy and Jack to do something about the whole set-up. They wouldn't thank me for interfering. Especially as I've hardly heard from them since Uncle George's funeral. Mind you, writing was never their priority.' She shook her head. 'Do you remember what lovely times we used to have by the sea?'
Sam had a vision of green-blue waves and sand and Chloe running along the beach with the sun shining on her thin, brown body, her long fair hair lifting in the wind.
They finished their meal in thoughtful silence, then Sam clattered the plates together and stacked them in the sink. That's how they always worked since Dad had walked out, four years ago: one day he washed up and Mum cooked, the next day he cooked and Mum washed up. And sometimes, like today, she brought in fish and chips because it was getting late and she was tired.
'Ice-cream for seconds,' she said, bringing out a carton from the fridge and cutting off two large slices.
'I don't know if I want to go to Kingsholt in the summer,' said Sam, 'I don't like the sound of it.'
'Don't give up on it yet,' said Mum. 'It's a beautiful place, or was on the day of poor Uncle George's funeral. One of those lovely November days when it still feels like summer.'
'Was it?' he asked. That was when he was in bed with flu, and had this vision of Dad in green pyjamas at the bottom of his bed. Or thought he had.
'I have an old postcard of the mansion somewhere.'
His mother scrabbled in a drawer. 'Here we are. And some writing on the back.' She put on her glasses again.
'Kingsholt is a tall, early Victorian mansion made from local stone, set in a green valley and surrounded by woods and hills. Long ago its hunt balls were famous, its front drive resounded with the life and colour of dogs and horses and brightly dressed huntsmen.'
She looked up and laughed. 'Not a very politically correct postcard but historically true. I remember seeing a print hanging in the hall. There was your father's great-grandfather holding the reins of a handsome Irish Hunter and in the background, dogs and huntsmen crowding together before the porch.'
'I don't know what Chloe's groaning about,' he muttered. 'It sounds good to me. That doesn't mean I want to go, of course.'
His mother put away the postcard. 'After the exams you can sort out what you want to do in the summer. For the moment it's worth putting all you have into your work.'
'Come off it, Mum, you're not at school now.'
Mum smiled. 'You'll be pleased to hear, I'm not just a teacher but a slave as well. Listen to this. I've decided to take on all domestic duties, so you can settle down to your end of term revision. You didn't do so well last term, did you?'
'But I like cooking,' Sam teased, 'and anyway, the exams aren't important.'
He wandered up to his room and read the letter again. Why should he reply yet when Chloe had taken so long to get her fingers round a biro? He put the letter away in his table drawer and opened his maths book. But he couldn't concentrate, so he took out his pens and ink and practised his calligraphy. There were only two of them doing it and he didn't want to let the teacher down. Besides, he enjoyed writing, it soothed him and he was naturally good at it.
He wrote: Dear Chloe, I hate you, I'm not going to have anything more to do with you. Then he tore it up and took out the calligraphy exam question: Make a map of Treasure Island to the following scale.
He had already finished planning the project. He would write in his best italic hand and decorate the map with little drawings of Long John Silver and barrels of rum and a parrot. He would write the title in Roman Capitals.
It was no good. He took Chloe's letter out of the drawer and read it again. Perhaps it wasn't her fault she'd turned into a whingey twelve-year-old. But he wouldn't write back, he thought, not until after the exams. Not because of Mum but because he wouldn't. And he was not going down there in the summer, that was for sure.
Three weeks later, on a sun-filled Saturday morning, another letter came, or rather, a note. The writing was just as bad, as if Chloe was getting at him for liking calligraphy. When Mum brought it to his room with a slavish bow, he was putting the finishing touches to his map of Treasure Island. When he had carefully washed his pens (Dad had always said you have to look after your tools) he slumped down on his bed and held Chloe's cheap, lined paper in his inky hands.
He read carefully
Perhaps my other letter didn't get to you. Or maybe you've given me up. Weird things are happening and I do want you to come in the summer. I have a friend here and he's told me something unbelievable. He says, two years ago, Uncle George killed his daughter, Rosie. He has put up a memorial to her in the wood.
Can we fix the date?
Sam swung his legs over the side of the narrow bed and sat there. The letter filled him with a dark foreboding – the sort of feeling he had had when Mum picked up the note his father had left on the mantlepiece, underneath the clock. First Dad walking out then Chloe going off her head! It was too much!
'Air,' he thought and walked out.
He strode up the hill to the common and immediately felt different. Perhaps Chloe should come here instead. But it wasn't on. There wasn't enough room. He hurried over the common, hoping to come across the gang. But no one was about and his conscience was pricked. They must be revising. It was only two days to the first history paper. Good job he had a photographic memory.
He circled round and came out on the road again, taking the longer route home. It led him past Mum's church and the little garden she looked after. He went through the gate and up the path that led to the porch. To his surprise, the oak door to the church was half open. Someone must be about. He hadn't sung in the choir since he was ten and he'd given up church when he got into the football team. But he always felt at home in this red brick, Victorian building. He walked up the side aisle, to wherethe white candles were burning and put a10p piece in the little wooden chest. He carefully lit a candle from another and pressed it down over one of the iron spikes. He hadn't done this for months, not since he came to the conclusion that a candle would never show Dad the way home. He couldn't explain why he was moved to do it now. There was no knowing. Or maybe it was because, at that moment, there didn't seem to be anyone else around who would light one for Chloe.CHAPTER 2
He's right, thought Chloe. Aidan's right! There's a darkness in this valley. It's bad enough at school with all the bullying but here —
She leaned against the gate at the top of the long, winding drive and stared down at Kingsholt. She could hardly believe it was hers, or to be more accurate, theirs, – though Mum and Dad were so often away, it seemed as if the big old house only belonged to her.
What has happened, she wondered, for everything to have grown so lonely and neglected, deprived of its old happiness? Even from this distance, she could see how dilapidated the building had become. Tiles were slipping off the roof and one tall chimney sloped dangerously as if it had been pushed over by a gust of wind. The stone lintels were covered in creeping ivy; the windows were grey and dusty, so you couldn't see through them. The pillars under the front porch leaned outwards, as if they were about to collapse, and on one side of the drive a stone saluki dog leaned forward, one leg bent, his feathery tail held high. Chloe imagined there was a taut, strained look to his head, as if he was listening, despite his broken ear, to all the dark rumours that she herself had half-heard.
Everything's gone wrong, she thought, ever since Uncle George was found dead. For once her father had been around to discuss it.
'My brother wasn't old or ill,' he had said, with an unusually bleak gaze. 'Everyone respected him for all his 'rescue' work. We even call him, St George, don't we? Or did.'
Chloe had known Dad was speaking in a chopped up way so he wouldn't show his feelings too much. His blue eyes had looked pale and watery.
'He was good to everyone,' he went on. 'Aidan says as much and if anyone's reliable he is.' He spoke more sharply. 'Aidan has his own thoughts about our brother's death and so have I.'
From that moment rumours grew like creeping ivy.
Chloe stared for a long time at the big house in the valley. Aidan told her there had once been a monastery here and a stone mine that went right back to the Romans. Somewhere, he said, there were underground passages, but no one knew where.
She imagined the valley had not changed very much since old times; the fields and trees and the little stream that ran by the house were full of echoes of the past.
She looked round. The wood where Aidan had found Uncle George was on her left, across a field where a few sheep were grazing. She had avoided going there before but now she somehow wanted to find the place where his body had been found. She stepped off the gate and went through a trail of sunshine and grass, to the edge of the tall pines. As she went deeper into the wood, the trees closed in on her and the air grew thicker and hotter. She could smell something rotten and stopped where the path was blocked by a branch.
Just in front of her was a tree that had been struck by lightning. A few dead leaves clung to its twisted branches, like shrivelled creatures that could not let go. A short inscription was incised in the stripped trunk, so low down it was half hidden by undergrowth. She pushed the brambles aside and stared at the letters:
She remembered what Aidan had once told her when she came with Mum and Dad to look over Kingsholt.
'It's my belief this area is under a curse. It must be or George would never have been killed.'
Maybe Rosie was killed as well.
A deep voice echoed her thoughts. 'Summat dreadful happened here!'
Chloe jumped and turned round. A little way off in the undergrowth a man stood, watching her. He was tall, with black hair tied in a rough ponytail and dark eyes that softened as he examined Chloe. 'Twelve, is it?'
'How do you know?' Chloe bit her lip. Why on earth did she allow herself to reply to a stranger?
'Our Rosie was twelve when George Penfold killed her.'
'Whatever do you mean?' she asked, torn between outrage and curiosity and a desire to run away.
'I won't harm you,' he said softly, answering her thoughts.
Chloe walked quickly down the path.
'Nimbus,' he shouted after her, 'that's who I am.'
But Chloe was thinking of her cousin Sam. She felt guilty because she hadn't written to him for months and now suddenly she longed for him to be with her. Not that Nimbus had done anything wrong. It was just his intense look that frightened her and the way he stared at the bony branches of the tree, as if they pointed to a truth no one else could understand.
She broke into a run. The same thought kept going through her head: if Uncle George really killed Rosie, how could she believe anything again? He had been her kindly uncle, bringing her pocket money or sweets. 'The daughter I never had,' he had once said.
Later that evening, when they were eating in the kitchen, Chloe told her mother how she had met Nimbus and what he had said. Mum dismissed the accusation with a laugh. 'Of course Uncle George didn't kill Rosie. It was an accident. She ran out when he was felling the tree. It's grief speaking, my dear. No parent can get over the death of a child.'
Aidan leaned towards Chloe. 'Keep away from Nimbus,' he said in his deep, even voice. 'He's a bitter man, especially these days. He has a new partner but it hasn't worked out. As you're beginning to understand, there's more to Kingsholt than meets the eye. Terrible things once happened in this valley and history always has its echoes. It's those echoes we must fight if we are ever going to bring peace to this place again. Mind you, there are good corners. The little cottage where Leela and Tyler live has always been untouched by any darkness and let's pray Leela will keep it that way.'
Excerpted from Kingsholt by Susan Holliday. Copyright © 2014 Susan Holliday. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
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