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Authors: Jen Klein

Tags: #Young Adult Mystery / Thriller

Jillian Cade

BOOK: Jillian Cade
3.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Copyright © 2015 by Jen Klein

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any

resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Soho Teen

an imprint of

Soho Press, Inc.

853 Broadway

New York, NY 10003

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

ISBN 978-1-61695-434-5

eISBN 978-1-61695-435-2

Interior design by Janine Agro, Soho Press, Inc.

Printed in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1





Jeana and Ellie and Anna



On the rare
occasion that I meet a new guy, he inevitably has one of two reactions: he wants to save me or screw me. Since I'm not up for either, I don't get asked on a lot of second dates.

Technically speaking, none.

This only partially explained why, at eleven thirty on a Saturday night, I was huddled on the floor of a dark hallway between my cousin Norbert and a middle-aged whack job named Paula.

“Is it time?” the whack job whispered.

I didn't know, but it didn't matter. “Four minutes,” I said.

Whack Job Paula gestured around us. “It's a beautiful house, right?”

I glanced up. From where I was squatting, I could barely make out a polished wooden floor and two walls. “Sure.”

“It's a Craftsman,” she said. “Built in 1902.”

“That explains the ghosts.” I used the most official voice I could muster. “Hauntings almost never occur in newer houses.”

Beside me, Norbert nodded. “It's true,” he confirmed. It was shocking that his scrawny neck could hold his head upright, weighted down as it was under a giant set of headphones. I happened to know that the phones were picking up exactly nothing, but Paula didn't need that information.

“Got anything?” I asked Norbert.

He fiddled with the rectangular object at his waist. It was a defunct VCR remote that I had spray-painted black and hot-glued to an old phone cord: also filed under the heading
Paula Doesn't Need to Know
. “Nothing yet. Time check?”

“Three minutes,” I answered.

“It always happens at eleven thirty-four
,” said Paula. “Every night since moving in.” We had been over this several times, but Paula seemed to like the sound of her own voice. “I go to sleep early because I'm a teacher, but then I wake up right at eleven thirty-four.”

God help the children of America.

Paula took a sip from the glass at her side. She had offered some to us earlier, but Norbert and I had both politely explained that we don't drink on the job. Apparently Paula was such a dingdong that it didn't occur to her not to serve alcohol to minors. It was true that, with the right accoutrements, I could pass for older than my seventeen years, but Norbert looked exactly like what he was: a new high school freshman.

“Even though I turn off the light before going to bed, it's always back on. And when I come out here”—Paula's voice lowered like she was telling ghost stories around a Girl Scout campfire instead of on her hallway floor—“I can feel a

I felt Norbert tense up. Two minutes.

“I turn off the hallway light,” Paula continued. “And as I'm heading back toward my room, I hear a scratching. It doesn't come from any one place. I can hear it all around me. It's like something is trying to claw down the divide between dimensions—through the wall between the living and the dead.”

Norbert edged closer to me. I resisted the urge to pinch the back of his neck and scare the crap out of him. An epic Norbert freak-out would be hilarious, but then Paula might realize we were two kids who were conning her and not legitimate paranormal investigators (an oxymoron if there ever was one). “There's a Chumash grave site up the road,” I whispered. “I bet some of their spirits were restless and wandered in this direction. It happens all the time.”

Actually, it happens
But if Paula knew that, I wouldn't have money for frozen pizzas.

I held up a finger. One minute. Very subtly, I reached into my pocket for the battery-operated metronome I had wrapped in tinfoil. I pressed a button on the side and started to slowly turn the volume up from zero. It took a second before the sound registered in my ears.

Paula lifted her head. “What's that?”

“The detection system,” I explained in a low voice. “We're getting something.”

Norbert was statue still. He appeared to be listening just as hard as Paula. I stabbed him in the ribs with my finger. “Ow!” he yelped.

“Ow what?” asked Paula.

I stabbed him again. “My—ow!—my butt fell asleep,” said Norbert. He fiddled with the VCR remote. “Electromagnetic emissions are increasing.”

“So it's real,” breathed Paula. “I'm not crazy.”

“Not at all,” I lied, turning up the metronome.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

We all waited. The hallway lights stayed off. No scratching could be heard. My right foot started to cramp in a big way. I tried to flex, but that only seemed to make it worse. The muscle in my arch tightened, and I felt my toes curling downward. I shifted, attempting to straighten my leg, and accidentally kneed Norbert in the hip. A deafening electronic scream blasted from his pants.

Paula jumped; Norbert horror-movie shrieked; and I leapt to my feet, momentarily forgetting about my arch cramp. With my right foot trying to turn itself into a fist, I lost my balance and staggered into the wall, then fell back down onto Norbert's lap. Thankfully, my ass must have landed on the key-chain alarm he inexplicably carries, because the sound died immediately.

Paula broke the silence. “What the hell?”

Norbert opened his mouth, but I jumped in before he could screw it up. “The spirits are aware of our presence,” I said, clambering off my cousin and neglecting to mention the obvious: that everything in a half-mile radius was now aware of our presence. I grabbed my right toes and pulled them up toward my shin. My foot muscle relaxed, and I breathed a sigh of relief. “And now that we're aware of them, they should be easy to get rid of.”

“Really?” asked Paula.

“You need to vacate by tomorrow morning,” I instructed her. “We require thirty-six hours to make your house uninhabitable to all ghosts and spirits. You can return Monday evening to a beautiful California Craftsman that is yours and yours alone.” I extended a hand and pulled Norbert to his feet. “Please remit the remainder of your payment online to Umbra Investigations.”

After Paula had poured herself another glass of booze and toddled back to bed, we headed for my GTO. Norbert plopped into the passenger seat and chucked our fake ghost-hunting equipment onto the seat behind us. “That was wild,” he said.

“That was crap,” I answered.


I gave him a look. “You do know none of it was real, right?”

“Skeptic,” said Norbert. It was what he
said. It drove me nuts.

“Paula's got bats in her belfry.” I fired up the engine and pulled out onto the road.

“That's not very nice.”

“I mean it,” I said. “Actual bats.”


“Remember when I went up to the attic to measure the ‘EMFs'?” I made air quotes with one set of fingers.

. . .

“Bat poo everywhere.”

“The correct term for it is guano,” my cousin said.

“Whatever. I'll have an exterminator come out tomorrow while she's gone.”

“Then what about the lights?”

My cousin might be brilliant with technology; he might be an awesome (fake) paranormal investigator's assistant; he might be one of the only three family members I can stand to be around; but he doesn't know when to stop asking questions.

“Did you see any lights turn on? No. That's because Paula is a drunk. She forgets to turn them off when she's staggering down the hallway to her bed every night, and then she's surprised when she wakes up to pee and the lights are on. It's not ghosts. It's alcoholism.”

Norbert sighed. “Sad.”

“Stupid,” I clarified.

Luckily, the Los Angeles freeways tend to be pretty empty at midnight, so the drive back to the Valley was quick. Thirty-five minutes later, I was rolling down Norbert's quiet street.

“You want a ride on Monday?” I asked him.

He looked surprised. “Really? You'll drive me?”

I shrugged. “What, did you want to be dropped off by Mommy on your first day of high school?”

Norbert shook his head so hard that his brown ringlets danced. “No,” he said. “It's just really nice of you.”

I pulled up in front of his darkened house and turned to look at him. It wasn't something we ever discussed, but I had to assume that when Norbert had moved to California he hadn't been happy about it. He had been in the dead center of middle school at the time, hardly when you want to get yanked away from your friends and hauled across the country. It wasn't Norbert's fault that his cousin's family had melted down and his own family had ridden to the rescue.

“Sometimes I'm nice,” I told him.

Norbert snorted. “Yeah, but I'm the only one who knows it.”

I scooped up his alarm key chain from where it had fallen onto the seat and tossed it at him. “Be ready when I honk. I just scored a big case that starts on Monday.”

“Really?” His eyes went round and happy. “Big like werewolves and vampires and ghosts?”

Norbert kills me.

“No. Big like piles of cash.”

“What's it about?” he asked.

“Same as always,” I said. “Someone who believes in a bunch of crap that isn't true.”

I was baiting him. Sometimes he's an intuitive old soul who puts up with my edges and walls. Other times, he's a little kid, fascinated by imaginary things that go bump in the night. Norbert opened the door and slid out into the darkness. Sure enough, he hesitated next to my car for a moment. His voice floated back through the open window. “Every myth has to start somewhere. Every legend carries a touch of truth.”

I was a fraud—just the way my dad taught me to be—and yet he still wouldn't listen to logic.

“People have always been afraid of the dark,” he continued. “Don't you think there's a reason for that? If this many believe—”

I couldn't take it anymore. “Do you know how many people used to believe the world was flat?”

“Oh, you still buy into that ‘round' theory?” He dipped his head to grin at me.

“I'm out,” I said, jerking the gear into reverse.

“Bye, Jillian.”

I watched his dark shape trot away, grateful that Aggie and Edmund were already asleep in their world of matching dishes and mall-bought clothing. I didn't judge my aunt and uncle for their normal life. In fact I adored them for it, but the downside was that they were always so focused on trying to feed me or to set me up with “nice boys” or to convince me I needed highlights in my superstraight, superblack hair. I knew their attempts at parenting me were an expression of love. But every bowl of soup, every introduction to a tennis pro or youth group leader or Trader Joe's bag boy—it was all a big, horrible reminder that I didn't have parents of my own.

Not anymore.

Norbert and company live nearby, so it was only a few minutes before I was picking my way through the overgrown backyard behind the house where I grew up. Even though I still showered there, it hadn't been
in over a year. It was a museum, enshrining the trappings of a family that had ceased to exist.

My true home was over the garage: a tiny apartment at the top of splintered wooden steps.

That being said, when you have a father who lives a lie and taught you to do the same, no place feels like home. The ground beneath your feet is unstable. Every day is an earthquake day.

My dad traffics in bullshit. He built a tarnished empire out of selling snake oil to the stupid, the superstitious, and the desperate. Yet he still has legions of loyal followers who attended his lectures on the occult or signed up for Skype-chats about the paranormal. They continue to buy the books he sells through Echo Press, a crummy little publishing company run by his sketchy friend, Ernie.

Early on, Dad positioned himself as an expert on all things paranormal, and people bought into it, so he put himself on the front lines.

Umbra Investigations: my family curse and my financial salvation.

Dad had been carrying out these “investigations” since before I was born. When I was little, he occasionally brought me along while he drove around LA, taking photos of purportedly haunted locations for his website. Sometimes he let me press the camera buttons; other times, he posed me beside abandoned houses or gravestones. My mom didn't like it, but Dad said it was part of my heritage. Now he was out gallivanting around the world in search of yet more fraudulent magical artifacts to hawk to his followers.

His followers, I might add, who were more important than his only child.

The largest part of me looked down on everyone involved—on him for being such a blatant shyster and on the people who so eagerly paid money to lap up his fictions—but there was a sliver of me that understood those he duped. After all, if your greatest wish is to find something to believe in, something bigger than yourself, something that allows the world to make sense
. . .
well, maybe you're open to craziness. Maybe you cling to it.

BOOK: Jillian Cade
3.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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