Piper Houdini Apprentice of Coney Island

Piper Houdini Apprentice of Coney Island

by Glenn Herdling

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Overview

Piper Houdini Apprentice of Coney Island by Glenn Herdling

When she wasn't being shunted from one foster home to the next, Piper Weiss spent the first twelve years of her life in an orphanage. But everything changes when a dark stranger shows up claiming to be her father. Things get even weirder when Piper is taken to live with her uncle, who happens to be the world-famous magician and escape artist, Harry Houdini. And Houdini is not at all pleased about having a curious twelve-year-old running around his home.


Piper attends school, gets detention on her first day, and meets some friends who will help her unravel the clues to her mysterious past. But something sinister and powerful has been unleashed in New York, an evil force hell-bent on bringing about the apocalypse. Sideshow freaks are being murdered, and it all seems to be leading to a dark ritual started twelve years earlier-the day Piper was born. How can Piper defeat this malevolent entity when she may be the reason for its very existence?


Piper Houdini Apprentice of Coney Island is a young adult novel set in the Roaring Twenties against the hustling and bustling background of New York's Coney Island-a time filled with silent movies, secret speakeasies, and an unscrupulous Spiritualist movement that is the unwitting pawn in a plot to bring about hell on earth. Populated with a cast of actual historical figures-including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Dion Fortune, and Aleister Crowley-this spine-tingling tale will appeal to readers who enjoy urban fantasy and paranormal historical fiction as much as a jaunt on the Wonder Wheel.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504349727
Publisher: Balboa Press
Publication date: 02/18/2016
Pages: 282
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Glenn Herdling, a graduate of Bucknell University and post-graduate of New York University, began his publishing career in 1987 as an editor and writer at Marvel Comics. He was born and raised in New Jersey where he currently works in the financial sector struggling to make insurance documents read like plain English. He has contributed to numerous published works and has written over 80 comic books. Piper Houdini: Apprentice of Coney Island is his first novel.

Read an Excerpt

Piper Houdini

Apprentice of Coney Island


By Glenn Herdling

Balboa Press

Copyright © 2016 Glenn Herdling
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5043-4972-7



CHAPTER 1

The Magician's Niece


The glow from the distant boardwalk bathed the falling snow in a glimmer of neon. Lacey white fronds peppered the trees and gardens but perished where they touched the street, sidewalk, and other lifeless surfaces.

A small figure sloshed across the street, trying to keep pace with the man who clutched her wrist in his gangly fingers. When they reached the other side, the man thrust an ashen hand in front of the girl. She brushed a layer of icy petals from the brim of her hat so she could see him more clearly.

His face was cleanly shaven except for a handlebar mustache that crept across his upper lip, its tips frayed like a rodent's whiskers. A snowflake twinkled in the glow of an electric streetlamp. It grazed the man's protruding brow and disintegrated.

Prying her eyes from the man's burning glare, the girl turned her attention to the building that loomed before them. An odd blend of hope and despair coursed through her frigid body.

Twelve-year-old Piper Weiss had stayed at large houses before, but the time had always come for her to go. Not that she'd been bad or anything. The problem was, strange things always happened around her and she was always sent back to Hollygrove.

Hollygrove was an orphanage — which the children were told was a "bad" word. The people who worked at Hollygrove called it a "foundling home" or a "happiness home." But that didn't fool the kids who had to live there.

The places that always sent her back were foster homes. Piper had been in and out of them for as long as she could remember. She had liked two of them because they had lots of bugs and she liked to catch bugs. Once, when a foster family had taken her in as a baby, they had to fend off a colony of bats that swarmed around her crib every night. There was no sign of how they got in.

Another time she had gotten into all sorts of trouble playing Hide 'n' Seek. The other kids had been unable to find her so the foster parents called the police. The officers searched the home from top to bottom. They finally found her in the attic, hanging by her knees from the rafters — asleep in the middle of the day.

Despite the long wraparound coat that concealed her slight frame and the brimless cloche hat that covered her head, Piper shivered. A cloche hat told everyone that you had short hair. It was only possible to get a close-fitting cloche over your skull if your hair was cropped short and flat.

That's why it looked so awkward on Piper. Her mop of red hair grew all over the place. The hat was pulled well over her big green eyes and Piper had to hold her head at a clumsy angle just to see where she was going. Foreheads were unfashionable for girls in the 1920s.

Not that Piper cared all that much about the latest fashion trends. While wealthy women still continued to wear beautifully embellished silk garments and the masses were reveling in their new-found sophistication of fashionable flapper clothes, Piper's wardrobe consisted mostly of hand-me-downs from the Salvation Army.

The few rags that she owned fit comfortably in the small suitcase that she lugged down the slushy sidewalk. Beneath her wraparound coat, Piper wore a pair of faded blue overalls. She envied the carefree flapper style of the middle class but she didn't think any sort of fashion trend would transform her miraculously into another Coco Chanel.

That's because Piper was small and skinny. She had a thin face and bony knees. The only thing she liked about her appearance was the set of ten evenly-spaced freckles on each cheek that formed two stars if you connected the dots.

Piper gazed at the odd-looking townhouse in front of her. It stuck out like a sore thumb amidst the extravagance of New York's Coney Island.

She stood silently because she didn't know what else to do. The old doubts and fears nagged at her. What sort of place had she been brought to? What kind of people lived here? What sort of grim adventure had she embarked upon this time? Everything was happening so fast that it seemed like a wonderful dream and a horrible nightmare all rolled into one.

The house's dark contours provided a jagged contrast to the bright, snow-feathered lights of the Manhattan skyline in the distance. Piper felt an odd vibe around the building, a mystic vapor, dull, sluggish, and barely discernible.

The house's most prominent feature was the hexagonal skylight that graced its roof. The grille crisscrossed the hexagon in such a way that it looked like a wavy "H." It was by far the brightest window in the house and even the snow would not invade its preternatural glow.

"Welcome to your new home, Piper."

The words spilled like gravel from the throat of the man who had accompanied her all the way from Hollygrove.

It had happened shortly after dinner, when the other kids were either doing their homework or getting ready for bed. Piper had finished her homework early and, as usual, she wasn't interested in going to bed. She had been playing alone on the staircase when there was a knock at the door.

Mrs. Buckley pushed the chair out from under her ample bottom, mumbling something about the front gate being improperly locked. She didn't like visitors at this hour.

The plump caretaker stormed across the reception room floor and threw open the door. The visitor didn't flinch. He wasn't very tall, but his stiff bearing gave the impression that he towered above Mrs. Buckley. His complexion was pallid and his eyes were like two black caves that seemed tortured by even the faintest light.

"I'm here for the girl Piper Weiss." His voice seemed to echo as though it were coming from a sewer. "I am her father."

Mrs. Buckley glared at the man. She knew, of course, that Piper had been brought to Hollygrove more than twelve years ago by a man named Dr. Couney. She had been abandoned beside a drainpipe near his wondrous hospital for premature babies. Only a tattered blanket and a silver padlock engraved with the name "Weiss" had accompanied the orphaned child. Piper had worn the lock around her neck for as long as she could remember.

"You can't just waltz in here and claim custody of a child without the proper paperwork ..." Mrs. Buckley began.

The gaunt man ignored her. A red glow emanated from the dark pits of his eyes as though a fire had been stoked inside them. He held Mrs. Buckley with his fiery gaze and said, "Piper Weiss is my daughter."

"Oh ... of course," Mrs. Buckley stammered, dropping her hands to her sides and walking numbly to her desk. She filled out several forms and handed them to the man who claimed to be Piper's father. Then she leveled her empty eyes at Piper, who had been watching the entire exchange through the baluster posts.

"Go get your things, child," she said without inflection. "Your father is here."

So Piper had gathered up the few possessions that she owned and walked silently out into the snowy twilight with ... whom? Her father? Surely, Mrs. Buckley wouldn't release her into the custody of a stranger if his claim hadn't been true?


"Keep going."

The man's snarl returned Piper to the moment. They stepped across the slick sidewalk and her father pulled open a wrought-iron gate. The rusty hinges squealed like frightened rats.

"And don't touch anything," the man cautioned as they walked up the stone path.

Piper hardly heard him as her attention wandered from the odd-looking house to the flower garden. Somehow, it was in full bloom ... in the middle of winter! Wondering if the ice-blue roses were real or artificial, she reached out to touch one. She slid her fingers along the silky underside of its petals and then jerked her hand back when her index finger snagged a thorn.

"Ouch!" Piper gasped, pressing the injured digit to her lips. "Guess it's real," she giggled.

She pulled the finger from her mouth and a tiny droplet of blood trickled down it. Her father was not amused. In fact, his eyes blazed with demonic fury. And was it her imagination, or did Piper see froth forming at the corners of his mouth?

"I told you not to touch anything!" the man growled. Something had been nagging Piper about her father's appearance.

Something less obvious than the gray pallor of his complexion and the hollowness of his dark eyes. Piper had known kids who'd lived on the streets. They had come to the orphanage with that same look on their faces. It was the look of deep, insatiable hunger.

The hunger consumed the man who claimed to be her father. It transformed him into a monster before her eyes. His front teeth extended into two curved barbs.

Piper could see he was struggling with some sort of inner demon. Every nerve in her body told her to run. But fear, confusion, and downright cold rooted her to the spot.

Perhaps it was self-pity that petrified her. The first rule of being an orphan is that you have to let go of the dream that your parents will show up for you any second. She had allowed herself to fall prey to that fantasy. After all these years, she believed she was about to become part of a real family. And now it was being torn from her in the worst way imaginable.

The twisted figure leaped at Piper like a rabid hyena. She gulped and clenched her eyes. But the agony she anticipated never came.

A tremendous wind whipped around her several times and then lift her in the air. She heard her father roar as she soared past his clawing hands. The gust blew her through the front doors that had somehow swung open from what should have been the hinged side.

Piper landed harshly on a tiled floor. She looked up and found herself staring into the billowing tails of a black tuxedo laced with blood-red trim. The tails of the tux fluttered around the figure of a short, sturdy man. Piper could only make out the back of the man's head, which was peppered with gray curls.

The stranger stood between Piper and her father, his stance bold and challenging.

"What foolishness is this?" he demanded with a baritone voice that pierced the dark chill of night like a knife. He made a peculiar gesture with his right hand and the wind simply dissolved.

The curly-haired man relaxed and softened his tone when next he addressed the intruder.

"Hello, Willie. To what do I owe the honor?"

Piper got to her feet and hid behind the man's tuxedo. She tried to keep an eye on her father while shielding herself from his ravenous stare. The two men obviously knew each other.

Willie? Willie Weiss? That was her father's name?

But if he wasn't dead, where had he been all these years? And why had he brought her to the doorstep of this bizarre individual only to attack her?

Question after question shot through Piper's mind as she continued to watch from behind the expensive cloth of the stranger's garb. Piper's father — Willie — seemed to cower slightly, wiping away a string of saliva and covering his mouth as though he were ashamed.

"Not going to invite me in ... Harry?" he asked, a lugubrious chuckle in his unearthly voice.

"Hardly," said the man called Harry, as though acknowledging a sick joke between them. He swept his hand aside to indicate Piper but never looked back to address the child directly. "And this ... dinner, I presume?"

Piper felt her insides somersault and let out an audible gasp. Were these two men in league with each other? Was this some sort of conspiracy, some organized cult that plotted to make gourmet meals out of young, abandoned orphans? She slid behind the heavy oak door for protection.

"No, dear brother," Willie replied. "This young lady is going to be your house guest for a while. You will take her in — as a favor to me. After all, I do believe you owe me a favor ... or two."

"Maybe so," admitted Harry, running his hand through his hair. He turned to study the girl and Piper thought he looked familiar. "But why would I wish to have a prepubescent street urchin running around stirring up all sorts of trouble in my home?"

"She's not a street urchin, Harry," Willie corrected. "She's a twelve-year-old girl who's lived in an orphanage for most of her life. Twelve years, Harry. Do you remember what happened twelve years ago?"

Piper saw the well-dressed man's body go rigid. Willie seemed to enjoy the discomfort that he was inflicting on his brother.

"Her name is Piper. Piper Weiss." He paused, allowing the name to register.

"She's my daughter." Again, he paused. "Your niece."

Piper felt Willie's crimson gaze turn on her.

"Piper, I'd like you to meet your uncle, Ehrich Weiss ... a.k.a., the legendary Harry Houdini."

Harry peered down at the small, red-haired girl and raised an eyebrow. Piper gasped in sudden recognition. He looked a bit older in person, but it was the same strong face, thick nose, and lofty, domed forehead she had seen in newspapers and handbills. His hair, parted in the middle, had grown white at the temples, but it was dark everywhere else, just like in his pictures.

Harry's thin lips quivered slightly. The man who had appeared so strong and confident only moments ago now stood unnerved by the prospect of this child in his midst.

Piper wasn't thrilled by the idea either. The unwelcome look in Houdini's eyes made her freckles burn like tiny branding irons. For the first time in her life, Piper Weiss wished she were back at Hollygrove.

CHAPTER 2

The Author's Daughter


On the edge of Ashdown Forest in Crowborough, England, stood a redbrick Victorian villa that its original owner had christened Little Windlesham. Its current residents had enlarged the house to include fourteen bedrooms and five reception rooms. It was maintained by a large domestic staff — Rogers the butler, a cook, five maids, two gardeners, and a chauffeur. The Lord of the Manor often referred to the place as "Swindlesham" because of the cost to maintain it.

The enormous billiard room, which ran from the front to the back of the house, doubled as a ballroom but looked more like a museum. A harp and a grand piano were on display at one end and the billiard table at the other.

The Earl of Stafford's portrait decorated the wall above one of the room's huge limestone fireplaces and a stag's head draped with a bandolier parlayed the other. An assortment of animal-skin rugs adorned the polished wood floor, and there were two large casts of dinosaur footprints on display opposite the billiard table.

A door along the back wall led to a room that used to be a nursery. Here, Lady Doyle was holding court, charming her husband's many influential friends as he looked on with pride.

Lady Doyle had originally viewed the new Spiritualism with nervous distrust. She thought that dabbling in the unknown was risky and unnatural. But she had recently developed a talent for automatic writing, a means of communicating with the other world. Spirits would manipulate her pen and she claimed to have no control over what she was writing.

The gardeners were busy showing Lady Doyle's guests where to park their cars. Rogers greeted the guests at the door and guided them across the billiard room into the old nursery.

One of the visitors, an older gentleman dressed in gray dining attire, spotted a small girl sitting on the staircase outside the billiard room. She was stroking a faded downy quilt that was lying across her lap.

"Hello, Billy!" the man said.

The girl on the stairs blushed and gave the visitor a shy smile.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Wallace," she replied.

Her name was Jean Conan Doyle, after her mother. But she liked to be called Billy. She liked it even more when adults indulged her.

Billy was a thirteen-year-old girl who enjoyed spending time with her father. She loved playing on the floor of his study and listening to his pen squeak as he worked.

Seven years earlier, on a trip to Australia, her father had told her that there was no such thing as death. "What people call death really means the passing on to another life," he had said. So from then on, Billy always had this peaceful feeling that death wasn't the end.

It was a wartime tragedy that had converted her father to this belief in Spiritualism. Billy's half-brother Kingsley had died in the Great War. About a year later, her father met a medium who said he could put him in touch with his son.

Billy's father was a rational man and somewhat skeptical. So the medium agreed to be tied to a chair. Yet amazingly, Kingsley somehow came back — and even made physical contact with him!

Unfortunately, the man's obsession with his dead son overwhelmed his concern for the living. Shortly after the Australia trip, an eye doctor was stunned that Billy's father had failed to notice her extremely poor eyesight. He was stunned because Billy's father was not only an ophthalmic specialist himself, he was also the creator of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes and should have noticed that without glasses Billy was as blind as a bat.


Rogers ushered the guests into the old nursery. Billy spotted her father beaming behind his walrus mustache at the far end of the séance table.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was over six feet tall and heavily muscled, a giant of a man made even greater by the dignity of his warm personality. But for all that, he was something of an overgrown boy.

Billy heard her mother's voice bellow from inside the room. "Rogers, tell the household that we are not to be disturbed."

The butler drew the blinds and then bowed to Lady Doyle and her guests. Stepping from the room, he closed the door behind him and took the phone off the hook. Rogers then whisked past Billy to warn the servants in the kitchen not to make a sound.

Clenching her blanket securely to her chest, Billy slid across the billiard room floor in her stocking feet and dropped to her knees. She pressed her ear against the door and continued to stroke the soft, worn quilt.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Piper Houdini by Glenn Herdling. Copyright © 2016 Glenn Herdling. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
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.

Table of Contents

Contents

Prologue, 1,
Chapter 1 The Magician's Niece, 5,
Chapter 2 The Author's Daughter, 12,
Chapter 3 Opening Night, 19,
Chapter 4 The Witch's Son, 36,
Chapter 5 Holiday Hocus-Pocus, 47,
Chapter 6 The Zombie's Brother, 66,
Chapter 7 Detention, 77,
Chapter 8 Bimbo and the Beast, 99,
Chapter 9 A Boy and his Corpse, 125,
Chapter 10 The Awakening, 143,
Chapter 11 The Final Stretch, 145,
Chapter 12 A Symphony of Horror, 155,
Chapter 13 Assault on the Ape Woman, 169,
Chapter 14 Toads and Toadies, 172,
Chapter 15 Requiem for a Mother, 177,
Chapter 16 Fiddles in the Dark, 188,
Chapter 17 Children of the Moon and Stars, 200,
Chapter 18 Family Matters, 207,
Chapter 19 There's a Trick to It, 216,
Chapter 20 Smoke and Mirrors, 226,
Chapter 21 Distortion and Reality, 235,
Chapter 22 Like a Phoenix, 244,
Chapter 23 What Is It?, 259,

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