11-year old Quinn has had some bad experiences lately. She was caught cheating in school, and then one day, her little sister Emma disappeared while walking home from school. She never returned.
When Quinn's best friend Kara has to move away, she goes on one last trip with Kara and her family. They stop over at the first hotel they see, a Victorian inn that instantly gives Quinn the creeps, and she begins to notice strange things happening around them. When Kara's parents, and then brother disappear without a trace, the girls are stranded in a hotel full of strange guests, hallways that twist back in on themselves, and a particularly nasty surprise lucking beneath the floorboards. Will the girls be able to solve the mystery of what happened to Kara's family before it's too late?
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|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.70(d)|
|Age Range:||8 - 12 Years|
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The Inn Between
By Marina Cohen, Sarah Watts
Roaring Brook PressCopyright © 2016 Marina Cohen
All rights reserved.
The sound was faint at first. Quinn had to concentrate hard to hear it. A low, dull hum, like a swarm of bees a million miles away. No one else in the minivan noticed — at least no one said a word — but with each mile that passed, the sound grew louder. Clearer.
Quinn sat beside Kara in the rear seat of the red Caravan. The desert was a whole other planet. Nothing but gravel and rock, spindly creosote, and cacti spreading out on all sides. She imagined hordes of snakes and scorpions crouched under rocks, waiting for darkness before attacking. Good thing they'd be through the Mojave before nightfall.
The knot Quinn had been picking at came loose. She held the bracelet in her hands. It was frayed but strong. Kara had an identical bracelet. She'd made them back in November, the day after everything changed. They'd worn them ever since.
Quinn ran a finger along the intertwining purple and orange pattern. Two colors tightly woven to form a single band. Only now that Kara was moving away, it was like the threads were unraveling. Quinn couldn't let that happen. She reached over and looped her bracelet through Kara's.
"Hey!" said Kara.
"Quit squirming. Help me retie it."
Kara rolled her eyes. Together they managed a loose knot. They made another and pulled the ends tight.
Quinn patted the linked bands. "Forever?"
Kara smiled. "Forever."
Quinn grinned until the corners of her mouth quivered. The thought of Kara moving a thousand miles away stabbed her inside.
She remembered how they'd met on the first day of kindergarten. Quinn was at a table with three other kids. She was coloring a picture of a leaf.
"You're messy," said the boy beside her.
Quinn looked down and saw orange lines streaking outside the bold black border. A moment before, she'd been proud of her work. Now she wanted to hide it. Before she could, a hand reached over and made a few quick strokes with a black crayon. Quinn's coloring was now tucked inside a brand-new border.
The girl with the short black hair looked at Quinn and smiled. They'd been best friends ever since.
"Who's hungry?" asked Mr. Cawston.
"Starving," said Josh. He was twelve — a year older than the girls — but Quinn was just as tall. Kara was a full head shorter.
"You haven't stopped eating since we left Denver," said Mrs. Cawston. "You're like the Grand Canyon."
"More like Area 51," said Kara. "Mysterious and ... alien." She whistled a sci-fi tune.
"What's Area 51?" asked Quinn.
Josh poked his head through the center aisle. "Aliens landed in Roswell, New Mexico, ages ago. It's a big government conspiracy. The military's still holding one captive in Area 51."
Quinn glanced anxiously at the barren landscape. Hills rose and fell like petrified waves. "Weird."
"What's weird," said Kara, "is no one noticed that the alien escaped. And he's sitting right there." She reached over the top of the seat and flicked the back of Josh's head.
"He's definitely strange," said Quinn, giggling.
"I'm not the one wearing boots in the desert," said Josh.
"They're not boots, they're UGGs. All California surfers wear them."
"You don't even surf," said Josh.
Quinn grinned. "Yet."
He swatted her with his tablet. "I may be an alien, but at least I don't look like one."
"Stop bickering," called Mrs. Cawston from the front. "Or I'll contact the mother ship and have you all beamed up."
Quinn looked at the pale, cloudless sky and sighed. Perhaps that's where all the missing people were. Cruising the galaxy on a ginormous alien spaceship. She twisted a lock of frizzy brown hair.
Josh powered up his tablet. He was reading The Time Machine. For the millionth time.
"Do you ever stop reading?" said Quinn.
"You should try it sometime," he sneered.
"I read," said Quinn. When Kara raised her eyebrows she added, "What?"
"Ski brochures don't count," said Josh.
Quinn flicked his upper arm and he yelped. Kara laughed.
Quinn wanted to remind them she hadn't skied all last winter. Plus, she really had started reading — Emma's books. She began twisting her hair again.
"I saw a sign a while back," said Mr. Cawston. "There's a diner coming up."
The journey was passing too quickly. The seventeen-hour car ride was supposed to last a lifetime, but in only a few short hours they'd be at Kara's new home in Santa Monica. Quinn had been excited to spend part of summer vacation there. Now all she thought about was going back to Denver to face school alone. She and Kara had tried their best to convince Kara's parents not to move in the first place.
"You'll get low altitude sickness," said Quinn.
"No such thing," said Mr. Cawston. "Only high altitude sickness. People who move to Denver get that because there's seventeen percent less oxygen."
"Exactly," said Kara. "We're used to having seventeen percent less oxygen. So sucking in seventeen percent more will inflate our lungs like balloons. We'll explode." She puffed her cheeks for effect.
"The sand will bother your skin," said Quinn.
"We'll be covered in festering scabs," said Kara. "I'll probably lose an arm to a rogue shark. And Josh'll be attacked by gangs of nasty sea slugs."
Josh, knee-deep in a bowl of rice puffs, waved a dismissive hand. "Sea slugs are herbivores."
"At the very least," said Quinn, "the humidity will make your hair frizzy." She pointed to her own hair as proof.
Kara nodded fiercely. "Yeah, Mom. You'll look like a troll."
"Hey!" snapped Quinn.
Kara grinned sheepishly.
The plan had failed.
Quinn took a deep breath and wriggled her wrist. The bracelet was uncomfortable. Tying them together was silly. She wasn't sure why she'd done it.
The minivan passed a white metal sign, rust melting down its edges and post. It read: This property has been under claim since 1954. Enter at your own risk. Behind it was an army-green billboard. The same rusty white metal letters announced: Norm's Diner. Next exit.
They left the interstate and bumped along a dirt road. The tires crunched to a halt in front of an old railcar. It sat in the middle of nowhere, like it had detached from a train a thousand years ago and had been gathering dust ever since.
"You can't be serious," said Kara.
Neon-pink tubes ran the length of the car announcing Norm's Diner. More tubes flicked on and off. They moved toward an arrow in the center that pointed to the door.
"It's like that show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives," said Mr. Cawston.
"Definitely qualifies as a dive," said Mrs. Cawston.
Josh opened the side door. It was as though he'd opened an oven.
"Come on, Min. Let's check it out," said Mr. Cawston.
"Okay, girls," said Mrs. Cawston. She pointed to their linked bracelets. "Aren't you going to free yourselves?"
"Nope," said Kara.
Warmth spread over Quinn like melted butter. She squeezed Kara's hand and then dragged her out of the backseat. A cloud of dust exploded where her boots hit the dirt. It curled up her bare legs toward her jean shorts. Kara practically fell into her, sending more dust curling upward from her purple flip-flops to her yellow miniskirt. The temperature soared.
"If I stay in the sun long enough, Norm can serve me," muttered Quinn.
For a moment she stood statue still. Above the diner, the neon lights buzzed and snapped. But beyond that there was something else.
The hum.CHAPTER 2
Quinn cocked her head. The sound came from everywhere. And from nowhere.
"What's wrong?" asked Kara.
"Can't you hear it?"
Mrs. Cawston stopped. "Hear what?"
"That noise," said Quinn.
Kara paused for a moment. "Wind turbines. They have farms of them in the desert."
Kara's dad was at the diner door. "Environmental eyesores. Kill thousands of birds a day. The sound can drive you nuts."
Wind turbines, thought Quinn. That was probably it.
Kara's dad opened the diner door. A bell jingled softly. They followed him inside.
A man sat leaning back in a chair, his feet resting on the counter. Gnarly yellow toenails jabbed out from worn Birkenstock sandals. His jeans were shredded at the ends and his faded floral button-down had seen better days. He was reading a newspaper — Underground Radical. Quinn zeroed in on the enormous headline and froze. Missing Brothers. It had a photo of two boys.
The man lowered the paper. Long silver hair held in place with a tie-dyed headband framed his pockmarked face. "Whad'ya want?"
"I think Norm ran out of flower power," whispered Josh. Mrs. Cawston elbowed him.
"We were hoping for dinner," said Mr. Cawston. "But if you're closed ..."
"We're open." He pointed to one of the booths lining the front of the car.
Mr. and Mrs. Cawston stared at each other for a moment. Then Josh's stomach rumbled. He shrugged, walked to a booth, and slid into the seat. Kara and Quinn followed.
They forgot they were attached and tried to sit on opposite sides of the table. Kara pulled Quinn off balance and she nearly fell. She grabbed the table and steadied herself.
Josh sniggered. "Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb."
Carefully Quinn maneuvered into the seat across from Josh and slid toward the window. Kara followed. Mr. and Mrs. Cawston sat in the booth directly behind.
The man tossed three menus on the table. He glanced at the linked bracelets, frowned, and swaggered back to the counter, where he dug mismatched cutlery from blue plastic baskets.
"Check it out!" said Josh. "Dry as Desert Ribs. Cactus Quesadillas. Chuckwagon Chicken. And look, Dad! Norm's specialty — the Diablo Burger!"
"Doesn't diablo mean devil?" asked Quinn.
"Yeah! It's got pepper Jack cheese, jalapeño rings, and three kinds of hot sauce!"
"Wow," said Quinn. "Eat that and you'll meet el diablo sooner than you think."
"I'll have the Roadhouse Chili," said Kara. "Er, you don't suppose it's made from roadkill, do you?"
Mr. Cawston waved and the man strolled over with a pad of paper and a pen.
"Two Diablo Burgers," said Josh. As though to avoid confusion he added, "Both for me."
The man shook his head. "No Diablo Burgers."
Josh's face collapsed like an undercooked soufflé. He scrambled for his menu.
"Roadhouse Chili, please," said Kara.
Norm shook his head again. "Outta chili, too."
"Taco Salad?" said Quinn. She was met with the same slow shake of the man's head.
"What do you have?" asked Mrs. Cawston, frustration creeping into her tone.
"Grilled cheese," said the man. Everyone waited for more options, but none came.
"That's it?" said Josh.
"'Fraid so," said the man. "Take it or leave it."
"I'll take two," said Josh quickly.
"Make that six," sighed Mr. Cawston.
"Six orders of grilled cheese," the man said, scribbling on his pad of paper as though he might forget.
As they waited, Quinn glanced around. A collection of vintage baseball caps hanging on the wall at one end of the railcar caught her attention. On the opposite wall was a black pay phone. She couldn't remember the last time she'd seen a pay phone.
The man brought the sandwiches. As he passed Quinn her plate, he glanced at her bracelet and scowled.
"Um, Norm?" said Quinn.
He shook his head. "Not Norm."
"If you're not Norm, then who's the diner named after?" asked Kara.
"No one," said the man. "People around here don't speak the names of the dead once they're gone. Not much point in calling a diner a name you eventually can't speak."
"Why don't you?" asked Quinn. "Speak the names?"
"When we die, our spirits linger near the land for several days. Once the soul passes beyond, we give our names back to the desert."
The man-previously-known-as-Norm glanced again at the tied hands, and then walked back toward the counter.
Quinn was curious. She had to know why he seemed so bothered. She waited until everyone had finished eating. Not-Norm returned with the bill and began gathering the plates. Mr. Cawston was busy fishing through his wallet, and Josh and Mrs. Cawston had gone to the bathroom. Quinn motioned at their tied hands. "I guess you think we're weird."
Not-Norm averted his eyes. "Seen weirder."
"We're best friends," said Quinn.
Kara grinned. "Best friends forever."
Not-Norm dropped his chin. "I once dreamed of a two-headed bird. Half the bird was trying to fly, while the other half was bound to the ground."
Quinn looked at Kara, then at their bracelets. She wanted to ask the man more, when Josh interrupted.
"How are Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb gonna go to the bathroom?" He laughed like a drunken mule. Eeyhah. Eeyhah.
"I guess we should try to figure it out," said Kara, dragging Quinn out of the booth.
As they left the diner, Quinn glanced over her shoulder. Not-Norm watched from the counter, a shadow draped over his gaunt face.
The day had deepened. They'd stayed too long in the diner. Soon the snakes and scorpions would be slinking out from under their rocks.
As she got into the car, Quinn noticed a lump of mangled fur along the side of the road. Above, black birds circled. Turkey vultures. She recognized them by their ugly red heads. They swooped, digging their hooked beaks into the fleshy feast. One large vulture came up with something dangling from its beak — an eyeball. Grilled cheese churned in Quinn's stomach as she dove into the backseat. The van began to roll.
The hum was louder now, getting louder by the second. It was like the drone of a jet engine pressing against the walls of Quinn's mind.
An eerie twilight swept the landscape and all the browns shimmered gold. Even the air had a strange amber glow. And everything — the road, the hills, the mountains, and the horizon — melted together with no distinguishing lines to tell them apart.
That was probably why no one noticed the light. Light so powerful, so blinding. Heading straight for them.CHAPTER 3
Quinn meets Emma at their usual spot near the office doors. The November sun is already low on the horizon, setting Emma's auburn hair on fire. The buses are lined up and the parking lot's a zoo. A bitter wind shepherds stray clouds. The musky scent of fall is fading into the woolly-wet smell of winter.
Quinn hugs her arms to her chest. Her cheeks glow scarlet, camouflaging her brown freckles. "I have to stay late."
Emma's forehead crinkles. She scrunches the pink knit cap she's holding in her hands. "What'd you do?"
"Doesn't matter," says Quinn, dropping her chin. Her voice is as thin and wispy as the wind. "I just have to stay."
Kids from Quinn's class rush past. They slow down, their gazes lingering on her. They whisper. They're always whispering.
Emma drops her backpack — the orange one with the huge smiley face. It thunks to the green-tiled floor scuffed with a thousand sneaker skids. "What happened?"
Tears burn at the back of Quinn's eyes. Soon she won't be able to keep them from falling. She shrugs. "It's nothing. Don't make a big deal."
Cold seeps through Quinn's pale gray sweatshirt. It chills her skin, sinking deep into the hollow of her bones. She stares at Emma. Perfect Emma.
Kara approaches. She's hurrying to catch her bus.
"Sorry," mutters Quinn.
Kara stops long enough to cast a withering glare. Then she's off — rushing to make her bus.
"I'll call you," says Quinn.
Emma stares. She waits a moment longer. Then she places her cap on her head and picks up her backpack. She slings it over her shoulder, tucks her hands into her pockets, and with one last look turns and walks away.
The sun is fiercely bright. Quinn squints as she watches Emma head through the chaos of the parking lot and onto the sidewalk.
Suddenly, she wants to call Emma back. She wants to yell, Don't go! but her throat is chalky — she has no voice. A pink cap moves farther and farther away, bobbing and weaving through the crowd, disappearing into the sunset.
Quinn lunges forward, but something holds her back. The light is too bright. It stings her eyes.
Then all color washes from the world. Emma is nothing but a dark silhouette melting into the bright sunset that wraps itself around her like a silken cloak.
Emma! Come back!
Quinn struggles wildly. Her feet break free, and she plunges face-first into the light. It jabs and scratches at her. She shields her eyes with her hands.
Then everything disappears — the school, the parking lot, the houses, the street — they're all gone now. There's nothing but light.
Excerpted from The Inn Between by Marina Cohen, Sarah Watts. Copyright © 2016 Marina Cohen. Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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