Plenty of legends surround the infamous Boulder House in Whispering Bluffs, Wisconsin, but nobody takes them seriously. Certainly nobody believes that the original owner, Maxwell Cartwright Jr., cursed its construction—or that a murder of crows died upon its completion, turning the land black with their carcasses. If there were truth to any of the local folklore, River Red High wouldn’t offer a field trip there for the graduating class.
Five very different seniors—Violet, Paul, Ashley, Dylan, and Gretchen—volunteer, each for private reasons, none of which have to do with trip itself. When they’re separated from the group, they discover that what lies within Boulder House is far more horrifying than any rumor they’ve heard. To survive, they’ll have to band together and ultimately confront the truths of their darkest selves.
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|Publisher:||Soho Press, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The legend goes like this:
At the tender age of 17, Maxwell Cartwright Jr. lost his mind and turned to evil. His father had struggled for years to make the family farm viable, to squeeze life from the land. Neighbors all around him did this well, coaxing crop after crop from the rich Wisconsin soil. But Maxwell Cartwright Jr.’s father could not do the same, no matter how hard he tried. He resented their success. So much so that he refused to talk to them.
Then one hot, humid day Maxwell Cartwright Jr.’s father set down his plow in the middle of the field. He walked by his son, who was feeding the few scraggly chickens. He walked past his house and his wife, who was sweeping the porch. He walked to the barn, slow and steady, never turning his head. Unaware of the murder of crows in the trees, hundreds of hunched black birds, sitting in branches, looking on silently. He took out his shotgun.
And blew his brains out.
And that’s when, they say, Maxwell Cartwright Jr. turned to evil.
He blamed his neighbors. He blamed the land. He turned, they say, like how meat rots in the sun. He packed his bags, left his mother to the bankrupt farmhouse and the withering acres with the boulder that overlooked the hills of Wisconsin, and disappeared. No one knows where he went.
But they knew when he came back. They say he appeared like smoke one day, right on top of the boulder. Pure white hair, though he was still young, eyes pure black. They say no birds sang that day, that the sky turned dark, that twisters funneled up north, south, east, and west of him. That lightning struck all around him. With his mother long buried and the old farmhouse long succumbed to ruin, they say Maxwell Cartwright Jr. climbed atop a boulder and surveyed the land and cursed it. He made a promise: he would build a House.
A House upon this very spot.
The House would be his vengeance. A price the world would pay for abandoning him. A great and terrible House, crouching in the shadows, collecting souls, exacting revenge for the abuse he believed his family endured.
A House, the legend says, that would always win.
I’m alone in the hallway, which is good because holy crap he’s texting again. And I just saw him. I roll my eyes at no one. I wish my eyeballs could make a groaning sound, too. I wish I could laugh about this with someone else.
I should absolutely break up with him. But that would mean I’d have to hurt his feelings . . . Or make a decision. My mom or dad would say something psychological about this—autonomy, agency, etc.
The thought of my mom and dad knowing makes blood rush to my face, and I actually get a little dizzy. The thought of ANYONE knowing . . .
The bell rings and students stream out of classrooms in twos and threes. I turn to my locker and spin the combination like I just got here.
Ashley Garrett bumps into me and I say, “Sorry?” She looks at me, her face a blank, and then keeps walking.
I’m pretty sure I’m here.
I’m here, right?
My pocket vibrates and I check the screen. Thinking of u. Ugh. Please stop thinking of me. And spell words correctly. I almost find the courage to write that, but then Laurie sidles up to me. “Violet. You will not believe what You-know-who did to me today.”
She thinks she’s clever and wants me to acknowledge it.
I fake-laugh. I guess I can laugh if it makes her feel good. I swallow down my conscience and choke only a little on my inability to handle any sort of conflict.
Laurie’s smile is a bird of prey. “You know. Instead of Stacey Bagley?” She flips her dirty blonde hair behind her shoulders and takes a big breath in.
“Anyway, You-know-who tells me IN FRONT OF JACOB that I have something in my nose.” She snorts and sticks her hands on her hips. “IN FRONT OF JACOB.”
Oh, Laurie. I heard you.
What I say is, “No way!”
She nods up and down, eyes wide and glinting with the sparkle of indignation. Or maybe it’s new eyeliner.
I lean in close. “That is sooo horrible!” I put on a look suitable for “horrible.”
And then Stacey is there. “Hey guys!” Stacey has brunette hair to Laurie’s blonde, but other than that, their hair is exactly the same. Bangs, length, everything. Eerie.
I’ve never once talked about myself with them. Not once. They’ve never noticed.
Laurie’s eyes narrow. “Hey, Stacey.”
I am getting that nervous tickle in my stomach that things are going south. So I do what I always do. I divert. Divert before disaster. Happy happy happy happy. Before either of them can say anything, I say, “Holy schmolies, did you see Gretchen’s outfit today?”
They both lean in. That’s right, Vultures, come taste this road kill. I lay it out for them, the pièce de résistance being these frankly awesome faux-fur boots that somehow make her look even more hardcore cool than she already is.
What I don’t tell them: I love the outfit. I wish I could wear it. I look down at my black A-line skirt and pink sweater. Both from Forever 21. Both boring.
Stacey rolls her eyes. “What a complete freak.”
And then the bell rings for lunch and we start walking.
Gretchen passes. Laurie and Stacey snicker, and I laugh, too. That irritating acid poke of conscience wells up again, but I tell myself that Gretchen probably wants to be talked about anyway, so no harm done right? Probably.
My pocket vibrates again, and I sneak the phone out and look at the screen. Ur not thinking of me?
I sigh. “I’ll meet you at the table,” I say to Laurie and Stacey.
I wonder if they’ll save me a seat.
Ducking into the bathroom, I text back quick, Always thinking of you ☺ I’m not lying. I am always thinking about how to get rid of him.
Vibrate. Text: Meet tonite?
My parents are out of town and he knows it. I tap the phone against my leg and then try, Lots of homework.
Text: U be schoolgirl then.
Honestly, he can’t type out “you”? I should break up with him for that. In the bathroom mirror, I see my brown hair, brown eyes. I’m pretty, I think. Except for my chubby stomach. My wobbly arms. And my nose. And my entire face. And body.
I text back: Should I wear a uniform skirt?
My heart sinks even as I write it. What am I doing? Why,
Violet, why? I should be excited. I used to be. I think.
He did choose me, after all. But I can only think about what a mess this is and how gross I feel.
I practically run out of the bathroom and then smack right into Paul.
If Paul came with a soundtrack, the songs would be sung by angels. Angels who recognize how hot he is, much like themselves. If Paul were a car, it would be made of clouds; it would run on sparkles. If Paul would have me, I would have his babies. Eventually, you know, not right now.
Oh, Paul. Beautiful, beautiful Paul.
Paul says, “Sorry.”
I say, “I know,” and then inhale quickly because what am I saying? I try to bite back the words and my throat does something funny. I cough. Which makes me laugh. So now I am cough-laughing and I can’t catch my breath.
It turns out that Paul’s brown eyes crinkle at the corners when he is confronted with a lunatic. He pats me on the back, and I keep coughing and laughing, feeling hysteria well up through my whole body and shoot out of my eyes.
I choke out, “I’m okay,” and then move to run the eff away from this. But I run into him again because he’s changed trajectory.
Please kill me now.
Something falls to the floor, and Paul bends down quicker than I thought was humanly possible to pick it up. It’s book-shaped, and therefore probably a book (I am a straight-A student and can recognize these things). I am desperately interested to know what this book is so I can read it and then run into him again. And then quote it. While wearing glasses. If he likes glasses.
Paul gives my shoulder one last awkward pat and then turns on a heel and walks away.
There you go, Paul, in your cloudmobile made of angels. I so wish you were coming over tonight instead of . . . sigh.
I shake my head and look around. No one is there, and the hallway feels super empty and hollow, so I hurry to lunch.
After lunch is civics, during which I sign up for a field trip to Boulder House, even though I’ve been there before. The school says seniors who go on the trip don’t have to take finals. I like tests, really, but school feels way too complicated lately. So a sanctioned reason to skip? Yes, please.
Later, in math, I daydream, pretending the class isn’t torture.
Scene: Paul runs into me and drops his book. I bend down to pick it up. It’s a journal about me! Every page has flattering pictures of me . . . drawings, pressed flowers, newspaper clippings of my goings-on. I can see the blush work its way up his cheeks, but I put my hand under his chin and I move in to press his beautiful mouth against mine . . .
“Violet.” Mr. Rhinehart stands over me now, hands on hips. “Care to share with the class?”
My own blush starts from my toes. I shake my head. No, I do not care to share with the class. He really is a jerk. And he’s wearing a sweater vest again. No one with a sweater vest is allowed to be mean. No one.
“Come back to Earth, Bullock. This isn’t your movie.” His lips curl and he walks back to the board. People in the class snicker even though his movie reference is a thousand years old. I die just a little and stare at the clock, wishing I could go back to dreaming. But there’s no going back.
When the bell rings, I walk to my car as slowly as I can. I guess I have to get ready for tonight. I guess I have to find a school skirt. I guess I have no backbone.
I get home and throw my books on the floor by the door. I wonder if my mom—a psychology professor—ever wore a Catholic schoolgirl outfit for my dad, a practicing psychologist. They’d probably say psychological things the whole time: “Betsy, would you care to speak in a loud voice to evince cheering? Please only do so if you feel empowered.” “Yes, Matthew, I would. I am a sexual being and I shall begin cheering to satisfy my id craving in a healthy, consensual way.”
I am grossing myself out.
After an hour, I still can’t find a skirt like the one I’m supposed to wear and probably more importantly, I don’t want to.
A thought rises in my head like the sun, like power . . . I will break up with him tonight. Is that the straightening of my backbone?
I will do it. Yes. I will break up with him tonight.
Later. When the doorbell rings, monkeys dance in my stomach. I will do it. Stay strong, Violet, stay strong. He’s creepy anyway, right? My skin crawls when I think of him. Really, it has from the beginning. I don’t think that’s how it’s supposed to be. It’s not that way when I think of Paul.
I open the door.
He says, “You’ve been a naughty schoolgirl, haven’t you?”
I sigh and my heart sinks. Bye-bye, backbone.