When Lange Crawford and her family move to Shady Springs, Pennsylvania, she quickly settles into her new life, which includes a great group of friends, a crush on the songwriter Vaughn, and living in a haunted, 200-year-old farmhouse. Shady Springs also plays host to The Hunt, an infamous murder mystery festival where students solve a—supposedly—fake, gruesome murder scheme during the week of Halloween. During a séance in the farmhouse’s creepy barn a few weeks before The Hunt, Lange and Vaughn hear a ghostly whisper begging for help. The mysterious voice leads them to uncover letters and photos left behind by a murdered girl, Ginny, and they become obsessed with her story and the horrifying threats that led to her murder. When they begin receiving the same threats Ginny did, though, it’s clear that someone is willing to do whatever it takes to halt their snooping. Will they be able to discover how their own past is connected to Ginny’s before they suffer her fate?
|Product dimensions:||5.80(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.00(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Jennifer Walkup is the fiction editor for the Meadowland Review and a creative writing teacher at the Writer’s Circle in New Jersey. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
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By Jennifer Walkup
Luminis BooksCopyright © 2013 Jennifer Walkup
All rights reserved.
If I have to listen to one more debate about decapitation versus stabbing, I may just throw up.
Yet here we are again.
"I'm putting my money on an axe murder downtown. Tons of blood," Stace says, propping her feet on an empty cafeteria chair. "I'm talking in your face gore and guts."
Leaning back, Vaughn drums the edge of the table. "The messier the scene, the more popular it is. Remember that year with the beheaded family? That was awesome."
"Ew, guys, seriously?" I say. "While we're eating?" Even though this kind of talk has been buzzing around Preston Academy all month, it still makes me squeamish.
Kelly grins at me. "Wait, let me give my theory real quick before Lange throws up."
"You better make it quick," I say. "Because if you guys keep it up, I may just have to murder one of you for real."
Laughter bursts around the table as Kelly continues, "I'm betting on some type of serial killer situation." She pushes her headband through her fire-red hair. "Something psychological, and still in motion. Like you have to figure out who's next before you find the killer."
"Totally against the rules. The deed has to be done by nine p.m.," Ben says, expression serious. "And trust me," he says to me. "By the time The Hunt rolls around, you'll be completely into it."
"I doubt that." I nibble the edges of my sandwich. "Unless of course, you guys have managed to land me in the psych ward by then, which at this point is a definite possibility."
Stace giggles. "Never say never, Lange."
"Never," I say in a mock serious voice.
I've only been at Preston Academy of Arts since September, but the one thing I learned quickly is that they take this Hunt thing very seriously. Halloween in general seems pretty important to everyone in Shady Springs, but especially this decades-old tradition of The Hunt, a staged murder in town the night before the holiday. The deed in question is some kind of faked-up murder scheme, usually brutal from what I hear, put on by the seniors for us underclassmen to solve. The winner receives bragging rights, a free day off and a parking spot in senior row for a week. I guess if you put enough creative people in one school, things are bound to get weird.
Vaughn leans across the table, widening his beautiful brown eyes. "You're pretty anti-Halloween for someone who agreed to host a séance."
I grin. Tonight's the Friday the 13th séance at my house, my only contribution to the Halloween festivities. After listening to my friends and everyone else in school talk about The Hunt, and after seeing every store on Main Street decked out in Halloween decorations like a spooky haunted village, I'd had the perfect idea for a freak-out of my own. The fact that the 13th fell on a Friday this October was just icing on the cake.
"That's totally different. I'm all for Halloween creepiness, as long as it's not bloody. But this ax-murderer-decapitation-hunting-down-a-killer stuff is kind of sick, no?"
"Rookie," Stace jokes, rolling her eyes.
"Be nice." Ben wags a finger at her.
"Fine, fine. I'm a murder rookie. I'll admit it." I shrug. "Anyway, for tonight, come whenever you guys want. Kelly and I are setting up after school, right?"
Kelly bobs her head. "Yes! Wait till you see what I borrowed from the Costumes department."
"Awesome. My mom'll be in the house all night, but she knows the barn's off limits."
"You scared?" Vaughn raises an eyebrow.
"Nah. It'll be fun."
I was used to living in our huge, two-hundred year old farmhouse. It's the perfect setting for a séance, not just because it's old, but also because of the brutal murder that took place there years ago. And while nothing too creepy has happened in the four months we've lived there, I don't doubt there could be spirits hanging around. I just hope if there are, they aren't angry about the séance.
"Ha! You should see your face. You're white as, well, a ghost." Vaughn elbows Stace and motions to me. "Twenty bucks says Lange passes out before the séance is over."
"Ha, ha. Very funny."
Stace looks at me sideways. "So possibly contacting real ghosts is fine, but fake murders are scary?"
"Something like that." I laugh.
We're still debating the plausibility of ghosts when the bell rings. Ben and Kelly stand first, arm in arm on their way to toss their garbage. Ben, a concert pianist since he could walk, is the straightest-laced guy in the world. Today he's wearing dark jeans and a white button down shirt, and these fancy brown dress shoes, like he works in an office. But that's totally him. Kelly, who dresses like a gypsy most days, is the total opposite. You'd think they had nothing in common. I mean, Kelly has a nose ring. Ben has a side part. But they're such good friends, I thought they were a couple when I first met everyone early in the summer at the Brew Ha Ha coffee house.
"Wait up, guys!" Stace calls, slinging her patchwork backpack over her shoulder. Ben and Kelly pause, lost in conversation and waiting. When Stace leans over to kiss Vaughn's cheek, I sigh into my ham and cheese.
"Bye, you." Stace says to him before turning to me. "See ya, Lange."
"Later." I half wave.
It would be much easier to crush on Vaughn if Stace didn't seem so happy around him. It's practically the only time she smiles. Her blond ponytail swings as she turns the corner with one last wave.
When she's gone, Vaughn slides down the table to sit across from me. We have Creative Hour right after lunch, so we're here for another period. He shrugs into his denim jacket, covering his Zeppelin shirt, which is a bit ratty, even for him.
He looks at me through lashes that all the mascara in the world will never give me. "So, what's happening Languish?"
I roll my eyes at the name abuse. My name, Lange, is weird enough, thanks to my photographer mom's obsession with the famous photographer Dorothea Lange. But I've never really minded. It's different, like me, and gives a label to what I like to think of as non-conformity, but has probably always just been my not fitting in.
But Vaughn is in a constant state of trying to butcher it into something funny.
I smirk. "Like I haven't heard that one. I thought you were supposed to be creative?"
He throws a balled up napkin at me, missing by a mile.
"Ah, an athlete too, I see."
"Smartass." He tucks his light brown hair behind his ears, a gesture that always makes me think of things I shouldn't, like kissing, and how my fingers would feel all tangled in his hair.
Hiding my face, I rummage through my bag, in search of my favorite number six charcoal pencil, until my cheeks no longer feel warm. Finally, I open my sketchpad, sighing at the blank page. "I have this huge project for Motion Drawing and no idea where to start."
"That sucks," he says, drumming on the table again. "I've totally lost all inspiration lately too."
Vaughn, a musical prodigy who's given me chills with his renditions on the piano and can pretty much rock anything on his guitar, also writes incredible music. But lately, I've overheard him grumbling to Stace about Advanced Song Writing. Losing his poetry, he's been saying. His lyrics are amazing, so I doubt he's lost it, but whatever. Anxiety like this takes place all the time here. Unlike my last school in New Jersey, or even the really snooty one freshman year up in Boston, students at Preston are serious about their art. I close my sketchbook, watching from the corner of my eye as he pulls a Twinkie from his bag. I mock gag.
"What?" He asks, eating half of it with one bite.
"You do know what's in those things, right?" I doodle on the cover of the sketchbook, lines and shapes that eventually resemble a tree. A winter oak, leafless and cold.
"Oh stop it. You know I'm addicted. And they help me think. What are you, a food snob, now? You drink all those lattes like they're going out of style."
"That's totally different. Twinkies are like cockroaches. Atomic bombs, the apocalypse, whatever, Twinkies will still be here, never breaking down for all eternity. It's fake food, you do know that?" I wrinkle my nose.
He stuffs the rest of it into his mouth and gives me a smirk. "It's delicious." White cream drips from his bottom lip.
"Ew, gross!" Laughing, I grab the leftover stack of napkins and toss them toward him.
"So did you mean what you said before?" He licks his fingers.
I shade the oak's trunk with my charcoal pencil. "Which was ...?"
"About the dead hanging around, ghosts and stuff? You believe in it?"
"I never said I did or I didn't." I think about the cool flashes I sometimes get, when I walk across the empty farmland behind our house. Involuntarily, I shiver. "Who wants to think about spirits lurking around us anyway?"
Vaughn looks at the table, his constant drumming providing a backbeat to our conversation. It's kind of falsely soothing, like one of those white noise machines. "Well, I don't think about it all the time or anything, and not ghosts exactly ... but I do think about what happens. After we die, I mean."
"Well that's morbid." I add a few lonely leaves around the base of the tree. I ignore the thrumming in my chest and wish we could change the subject.
"Even so," he says. "Don't you ever wonder?"
"I guess, but I try to focus on the now. To make life and art count for something while I can. You know?" I'm drawing an abandoned swing from the branch when I notice the absence of Vaughn's drumming.
He stares at me like I've spoken another language.
"What?" I duck my head.
"What you just said ..." He has a thoughtful look on his face, like he's thinking about something totally distant, his eyes burning with emotion I can only wish was for me. "It's deep. Real." He continues to stare, bobbing his head slightly. "It's powerful, really." His eyes widen and he chews on his lower lip.
"Uh, oh. I think I know that look."
He nods. "Yep. You may have just sparked a bit of inspiration. Finally!" He moves fast, lit with sudden energy, rummaging in his bag for a pen and his beat up red notebook.
Writing like a madman, his pen scratches wildly across the page, pinning his notebook to the table with his left fist. He looks adorable when he's in songwriting mode. Eyebrows drawn together over milk chocolate eyes, hair hanging in waves against sharp cheekbones. And that bottom lip, always caught by his top teeth.
No. This is my friend's guy. Maybe not technically her boyfriend, but still.
Yet, the way he looks at me sometimes. Like just now when he had that burst of inspiration? It can't all be wishful thinking, can it?
I should not be thinking this way. We're just friends.
I clear my throat. "Can you guys bring your guitars tonight? I was thinking we can have a campfire after the séance?"
He rolls his eyes. "Anything else? I can bring my drum set too? Perhaps my baby grand?"
"Like you have a baby grand."
"Someday, Auld Lang Syne, someday." He pushes another lock of hair back.
"Come on." He motions to the front of the cafeteria, where the teacher's aides stare at their laptops, ear buds in, totally oblivious. "Let's go bug Stace upstairs." He sticks the folded notebook in his back pocket. "I want to show her this."
My heart deflates the tiniest bit, but that's silly. Of course we should go see Stace. I should want to see Stace. And I do. Really.
I follow him into the hall, with an inane sense of pride welling again when I notice the extra bounce in his step.
Now, I just need to find my inspiration.CHAPTER 2
I may have gone a little overboard.
I'll admit it.
Even though the séance idea started as my way of contributing to the whole Halloween hoopla around school, once we're setting up, I can't stop myself. Maybe it's the artist in me, maybe it's the general mood around town, or maybe it's just after years of hearing Mom spew about this new-age, let's-be-one-with-the-spirits stuff I feel it's in my blood to be able to do this. Whatever the reason, I go for the all-out creep-factor.
First of all, our house is huge. I don't mean that in a stuck-up, ohmygo dimrich sorta way, like the girls in Boston used to talk. I mean that my mom bought this centuries-old farmhouse that has three times more rooms than we could ever use. We've lived in more states than I can count on one hand, but this is the first time she's gone all out. A professional photographer and all-around art lover, Mom is drawn to the romantic and historic, and for her, this house was it. And with its violent history, which apparently kept people from buying it for years, but which doesn't seem to bother her at all, she was able to get a great deal. Don't get me wrong, it's got tons of potential, and Mom and I have been painting and tearing and building like crazy. Honestly, the creative endeavor has helped us bury all the stuff we aren't talking about.
I tie black velvet across the chair backs, my fingers sliding over the material like a whisper.
But, romantic as an old house can be, when it's mostly empty it has a definite creepiness. Add to the fact that we have about three acres of land, half of which is woods, not to mention a huge, looming barn, two additional horse stables and multiple sheds — all empty — you have a lot to work with if you want to freak yourself out.
Which is exactly what I plan to do to my friends.
And then there's the murder. Much as I pretend it doesn't bother me, of course it does. How could it not? Since most of my friends have lived in Shady Springs their whole lives, everyone knows the basic story. A brutal killing of an entire family. It happened in the main house and then the killer hung himself in the barn.
But that's where the details veer off. Considering no one's stories line up, it's easy to dismiss them as rumors. Facts get muddy over time.
Ben says it was a shotgun, that his grandfather's friend told someone who told someone who swore up and down the gunshots rang out across town. That theory isn't very popular, especially since gunshots can't be heard dozens of miles away.
Kelly calls the killer a slasher. Something about knives or swords or an axe. I've even heard scalding water, pitchforks, and poison. There's various bloody details of all theories, of course, and depending on who's telling, it can get graphic. Like that telephone game, the stories get more and more convoluted as they're passed down. Besides, people always get carried away. I for one, like not knowing the specifics. Makes it easier to live here not knowing just how gruesome it was.
I drape a swathe of black gauze over the table I've set up in the middle of the barn.
There's another thing everyone agrees on: the hanging. The murderer found dangling from the barn's rafters. Days later, already rotting.
So the story goes.
Hence the scene of the séance. I figure why not have it in the scariest place I can. Everyone is scared of my barn. Even smartass Vaughn gets a straight face when we talk about the murders. The energy in here is eerie on the sunniest days. If there's anywhere we'll contact a spirit, it'll be here.
I stand back to admire my work. Five chairs around the small round table, all draped with gauze and velvet. Pillar candles lined up in the center. For some reason, Mom had boxes and boxes of votive candles and holders, and I've placed those all around the barn, on every flat surface. I've even zigzagged some across the thin layer of hay that covers the floor. In the doorways, the same gauze hangs, filtering the light with its shroud-like material. It drapes the barn with an unnatural dimness that's somehow chilling. In each of the old animal stalls, with the decades of decay most apparent there, the wooden slats splintered and dryrotted, I've stuck Kelly's papier-mâché creations — perfectly detailed severed arms and grasping fingers. They're sickening. It's gross, but I've dribbled fake blood down the wood, pooling it in front of each stall in a sticky heap of hay.
Blood. That's the other detail about the murders everyone agrees has to be true. Blood all over the house. But that seems like the kind of detail that would get added to any scary story. What's creepier than blood-stained walls? Floors and tiles splattered with it and a dead family strewn around the rooms, like cut up rag dolls?
I drag the empty supply boxes into the furthest stall, piling them next to a stack of wood pallets. I ball the rest of the gauze in my hands. I'd wanted to hang some from the rafters, but I don't feel like climbing that high.
The book Mom gave me said lighting a séance is one of the most important elements. It sets the mood. Everyone has to be open and serious if we want it to work.
A low groan fills the space above me. It sounds positively human. Warmth buzzes through me, numbing me and throwing me off balance. I stumble, shaking off the heavy sense of déjà vu. I back quickly out of the barn, looking up into the second story rafters as if I expect to see someone dangling. My hands tremble as I let the gauze curtain fall in front of the doorway again, my breath coming in ragged bursts like I've been sprinting.
Excerpted from Second Verse by Jennifer Walkup. Copyright © 2013 Jennifer Walkup. Excerpted by permission of Luminis Books.
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