The Haunting of Hill House meets Knives Out in a bid for an inheritance that will leave Helen Vaughan either rich...or dead.
Helen Vaughan doesn't know why she and her mother left their ancestral home at Harrowstone Hall, called Harrow, or why they haven't spoken to their extended family since. So when her grandfather dies, she's shocked to learn that he has left everything—the house, the grounds, and the money—to her. The inheritance comes with one condition: she must stay on the grounds of Harrow for one full year, or she'll be left with nothing.
There is more at stake than money. For as long as she can remember, Harrow has haunted Helen's dreams—and now those dreams have become a waking nightmare. Helen knows that if she is going to survive the year, she needs to uncover the secrets of Harrow. Why is the house built like a labyrinth? What is digging the holes that appear in the woods each night?And why does the house itself seem to be making her sick?
With each twisted revelation, Helen questions what she knows about Harrow, her family, and even herself. She no longer wonders if she wants to leave…but if she can.
Release date: August 9, 2022
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Print pages: 368
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These Fleeting Shadows
Kate Alice Marshall
THE NIGHT HARROW found me, I was digging up a fox’s bones. The ground was hardened with an early frost, and I had to throw all my weight into each hacking strike with the shovel. I should have waited until it thawed, but the bones were ready and we wouldn’t be staying here long. I’d seen the way the neighbors were starting to look at me, and I’d seen the balance in our bank account. Both suggested it was time to move on.
I tossed aside the last shovelful of earth and knelt, brushing aside the rest of the dirt before peeling back the blue tarp. Beneath, the bones shone pale in the darkness, flesh and fur rotted away.
I’d found the fox on the side of the road months ago, mangled and twisted. Now I cradled the skull in my hands and looked into the empty eye sockets. A few stray bits of dirt clung to it, but the bacteria and beetles and worms had taken care of the rest.
I didn’t know what I would use it for yet—what it would want to be and how I would craft that out of wire and river stones and scraps of cloth. Something so beautiful deserved to be transformed, not thrown out like waste. I trailed a finger along the center of the skull, then turned it over in my hands, checking for damage.
I froze. On the roof of the mouth, a spiral wound sharply inward, bisected by a single straight line.
My heart thumped. A thousand times I’d woken with a scream in my throat and that spiral blazing like an afterimage in my mind as I thrashed free of a dream. The dream.
My hand shook. It shouldn’t be here. My dreams were just that—figments of my sleeping mind, the echoes of a childhood I didn’t remember. I rubbed my thumb across the spiral, hoping it was a trick of the light or some smudge of dirt, but it was etched deep in the bone.
The weight of a hand settled onto my shoulder. I didn’t move. Couldn’t. My limbs were pinned in place, my jaw welded shut. I tasted damp earth.
“Harrow waits,” a hoarse male voice croaked by my ear as my fear juddered through me.
Wake up, I thought. You’re dreaming. Wake up. Just wake up.
“Beware the spiral. Find its center. Harrow—”
“Helen!” My stepfather, Simon, burst from the back door and charged toward me across the yard. “Are you okay?”
I lurched forward as whatever force had been holding me released its grip. I spun around. There was nothing there. No man, no reaching hand—nothing except the fox skull in my hands, still bearing that impossible spiral of carved bone.
“Helen?” Simon repeated.
Had I screamed? I must have called for help. “I thought I heard . . . I . . .” I gulped, stopped myself. “I’m fine.”
I’d learned a long time ago not to tell Mom and Simon about the things I saw or heard or dreamed. It only worried them, and there was nothing they could do.
“Where’s Mom?” I asked, forcing my words around my calcified dread. If Simon had come running, why hadn’t she?
“In the living room. She got a phone call,” he said.
A feeling of deep wrongness swept through me. I hurried toward the back door, then straight through the kitchen, following the quiet murmur of my mother’s voice. Mom sat curled against the corner of our rust-colored easy chair in the living room.
“Yeah. No, of course,” she was saying. She had her thumbnail between her teeth, not quite biting it. “I have to go. I’ll talk to you in the morning.”
“Who was that?” I asked.
“That was your uncle Caleb,” she said. She tapped her nail against her teeth. “He finally did it. Dad finally found a way to get me back to Harrow.”
“What did he do?” Simon asked, stepping into the room behind me.
I knew the answer before she spoke.
The house was officially named Harrowstone Hall, but I didn’t think I’d ever heard my mother call it that. It was always Harrow, a name that encompassed the house and the grounds
and the family and everything else bound up with that place.
We’d left when I was seven years old. My mother never gave me a straight answer about why. Sometimes I thought even she didn’t know. All she could tell me was that we had to. It wasn’t safe.
And yet we had returned.
One week after my grandfather died, we sat in the car, idling before the open wrought iron gates of Harrow. Beyond, a single-lane road slithered away among the trees. The house was hidden somewhere in that thicketed wood. I could almost feel it. I could almost hear it, a whisper in the back of my mind, a voice I half remembered.
“We don’t have to do this,” Mom said. She gripped the steering wheel like she was trying to strangle it. “If we turn back now, we’ll be home before nightfall.”
I swallowed, uncertain. I’d gnawed on my lip until the skin was raw, and my body still hummed with unspent energy. I hated sitting still this long, and I’d been in the car for hours already, drowning in the silence of my mother’s stress and my apprehension.
“Helen?” Simon prompted, twisting in his seat.
“It’s your dad’s funeral,” I said, voice hoarse. “Of course we should be there.”
Mom’s eyes met mine in the rearview mirror. People always said we looked alike, but it was mostly the eyes. Vaughan eyes, so dark they were almost black. Hers were framed with a sweep of dark lashes and indifferently smudged eyeliner. My lashes were thinner, lighter, my hair a muted brown, chopped off at jaw-length, in contrast with her rich mahogany waves.
“Your nightmares . . .” Mom began.
“They’re just dreams,” I said, and it felt like lying. “Besides, could you live with yourself if you didn’t go?”
She sighed. “No, you’re right. I have to do this. If only to make absolutely sure he’s really dead.” She gave an unconvincing laugh. “You two. Always taking care of me.”
“Always,” Simon said, his hand on her knee. I nodded. Always. That was our pledge. The three of us against the world.
The car rolled forward. As we drove, the land rose to either side in steep hills until I couldn’t tell if we were descending or if the forest was rising. The trees, hemlock and birch and oak, wove a thick carpet of shadow over everything, the gray veiled sky gleaming between the branches. And then, suddenly, we were out of the trees, spilling from the cleft between the hills, and Harrow stood before us.
I didn’t know when the dreams had started. I couldn’t remember a time before them. I would wake in the night screaming and clawing at my throat, babbling about shadows and about being buried, about a spiral that wound endlessly inward. The dreams always began the same way: damp earth all around me, holding me down as I stared up at a dark looming house.
I would have known it anywhere. The windows were blank eyes, reflecting the overcast sky, and the dark stone drank in the light, swallowing it down. The flower beds lay fallow in preparation for the winter and were already scabbed over with frost, and though I’d expected a crowd of funeral attendees, there was no sign of another living soul.
“Welcome to Harrow,” Mom said drily.
I had gone completely still—an alien state for me. I always had to be moving: my leg jittering under a table, my fingers tapping out random patterns on my thigh. But beneath the gaze of that place, I froze like a rabbit on a road at night, surrendering to the deadly velocity of the thing bearing down on it.
Simon whistled. “So this is where you grew up. The pictures don’t do it justice.”
“They really don’t,” Mom said. Her shoulders tensed, like she was thinking about flooring the gas and peeling out of there.
I knew that if I asked her to, Mom would turn around—but she needed this. I was going to be there for her at her father’s funeral and support her and not make her life any harder than I already had just by existing. I wasn’t a normal kid. I didn’t have friends. Couldn’t be in school. Couldn’t be in one place for too long, or . . . things started to happen. Things we didn’t talk about.
And there was another reason not to leave. Harrow had haunted me since I left its gates ten years ago.
I wanted to know why.
And so I didn’t say anything as she wrenched the parking brake up. We clambered out of the car, all stiff limbs and stumbling. I tilted my head back to look up. The peaks of the house stretched toward the sky, and with my head tilted back, all I could see were gray clouds and those slashes of roof. It left me dizzy, like there was no ground at all, just a sky to fall into.
“Have you ever seen such a spooky old house?” Simon asked. I fell back down to earth and looked at him. He gave me an easy smile. “Gives me the heebie-jeebies for sure.” He was the
sort of guy who could say “spooky” and “heebie-jeebies” without a trace of irony and thought Jumanji was “a bit on the scary side.” I loved him for it.
The front door opened, and a man in a black suit stepped out. His hair was peppered with gray, and his beard had patches of white at the jaw, but all the lines on his face only made his smile look warmer. Uncle Caleb, Mom’s older brother.
“You made it,” he said. “I wasn’t sure you would.”
“It’s not that long a drive,” Mom said. Her fingertips brushed the back of my elbow, just a soft touch to say I’m here. You’re here.
“You know what I mean,” he said gently. He stepped forward. They didn’t hug. They did an odd sort of forearm clasp–cheek kiss combination that was smooth and practiced but still intensely uncomfortable. I fixed a smile on my face and prepared to stumble my way through this ritual, but Caleb put out his hand instead. “Helen. I’m Caleb.”
“I know.” When I shook his hand, something in his firm, friendly grip eased the tension in my shoulders.
“I wondered if you’d remember me,” he said.
“I don’t. Remember you,” I said. “But I’ve seen pictures.” Was that rude? I couldn’t tell. I didn’t exactly have a lot of practice talking to people.
“Well, it’s very good to see you again,” he said, gracefully ignoring my fumbling. His expression was friendly and open.
It wouldn’t last, I reminded myself. It never did.
“And, um. This is my—this is Simon,” Mom said, gesturing. Simon stepped forward. He and Caleb shook hands, nodded at each other, and stepped back. And then we were done with introductions, and there seemed to be nothing else to say.
Caleb cleared his throat. “We’ve got rooms made up if you want to claim a couple before things get started.”
“No,” Mom said immediately. “We’re staying in town. Heading home in the morning.”
“At the Starlight?” Caleb asked skeptically. “You’d be a lot more comfortable here.”
“I’m not spending another night under this roof,” Mom said. “I’m here to pay my respects. Then we’re gone. You can’t ask anything more of me, Caleb. You can’t.”
“I won’t,” he said reassuringly, hands upheld in surrender. “But it’s been a long time, Rachel. It might be time to make peace.”
“When has this family ever been able to let something go?” Mom asked.
He rubbed the back of his head. “Fair point. Change isn’t easy. But it’s possible. At least I have to believe so.”
“We’ll see,” she said tightly.
A young man in a suit vest trotted down the steps. For a moment, I thought he must be family, but then he spoke in a deferential tone. “Ma’am, I’ll take your car around back for you,” he said. Right. This place had help. We didn’t even have a functioning dishwasher.
“Hold on!” I said. I scrambled back to the car and grabbed my backpack, a green canvas bag that had been scuffed, ripped, and patched over the years. It didn’t exactly go with the subdued blue dress and pumps I’d chosen for the funeral, but I didn’t go anywhere without it.
I slipped my hand inside, feeling for the bundle of cloth nestled there and the skull wrapped protectively within it. It was like an anchor, a tiny piece of me that I could be certain of.
I walked back over to Mom, wobbling when my foot landed wrong. I was remembering why I never wore heels. This place better not be haunted. If a ghost chased me down a long shadowy corridor, I was going to break an ankle.
“Everyone’s inside,” Caleb said as the car pulled away. “But you can take a moment if you need it.”
“Better just get it over with,” Mom said. Her fingers knotted together. “Ready to meet the family?” she asked me.
“Too late to back out now. That guy stole our car,” I said with false bravado. Mom chuckled. And then she leaned close to me and dropped her voice.
“Be careful,” she said. “Our family is not like other families. They will test you, and if they find you wanting, they will make you miserable. If you give them any power over you, any at all, they will carve you up to fit whatever mold they’ve made for you. Don’t let them.”
They were words she’d said to me before. Not all at once, but in bits and pieces—when I asked why we didn’t talk to her parents, why I’d never met my cousins. But now there was a frantic edge to them, as if she were realizing this was her last chance to warn me.
“We’re not staying,” I reminded her. “Besides, I don’t care what these people think of me. I’m here for you.”
She nodded, but she looked troubled. Her hand on my shoulder gripped hard enough to send little jolts of pain into the joint. Caleb gestured, motioning us to follow. I ignored my fear, every instinct screaming at me to run. I walked forward.
Harrow drew us in.
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