Halloween is just weeks away, and we're getting ready by reading lots and lots of spooky stories! To help YOU get in the spirit, too, we're sharing an excerpt from some of our spookiest and witchiest books every week. Last week, we shared the first chapter of The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol (you can read that here!), so this week, it's time for something darker.
In Shadow House #3, Poppy, Dash, Azumi, and Dylan may have made it out of Shadow House--but the grounds are a whole new nightmare. Someone they thought was a friend is hunting them, and there's no place that's safe now that they've woken the shadow creature. If they want to survive, they'll have to figure out once and for all what the house wants from them, and what-or who-they'll need to leave behind in order to escape . . . or risk being trapped within Shadow House forever.
Read the first two chapters RIGHT HERE, and then visit scholastic.com/shadowhouse for more scares on the forums and on the app!
Shadow House #3: No Way Out by Dan Poblocki
Copyright © by Scholastic Inc.
On the edge of the starlit meadow, Azumi’s thoughts throbbed in her head in time with her footsteps. My fault Marcus is dead. My fault Moriko’s gone. My fault we trusted the monster, my fault, my fault, my fault my fault—
Something snagged Azumi’s sneaker, and she tripped forward, the tall grass padding her fall.
Poppy and Dash continued on, unaware that Azumi was sprawled behind them. They marched quickly and quietly, parallel to the dark woods several yards to their right.
She tried to call out, but her voice was stuck in her throat. Would calling them even help? Everything here was out to destroy them. What was the point?
Larkspur House glared down at her from atop the hill to her left, and Azumi shuddered. Something inside its dark windows wished to keep her there forever. If the hallways could change shape, the wallpaper turn into toxic tendrils, and the greenhouse contain acres of forest, what was stopping Larkspur from catapulting its bricks and glass and metal spikes far into the meadow and pounding her flat?
No. She had to concentrate. She had to stick to the plan, do what Poppy and Dash said.
They were even farther away now—focused and determined to make it quickly back to the driveway and the safety of Hardscrabble Road. Dash limped a little, and Poppy tended to him every few steps. So why hadn’t she noticed that Azumi wasn’t with them?
Azumi pressed her lips together and was about to stand when something rustled the grass by her feet. Turning back, she noticed the shadow of the thing that had tripped her only a few inches away. Instinct made her scramble aside. But when the breeze rustled the grass, showing Azumi what looked like matted and faded blue hair glistening in the starlight, panic whooshed into her head like a harsh gust of wind, and she froze, wide-eyed, her chest heaving.
Blue hair . . .
Moriko? she tried to say, but her voice wouldn’t come past her lips.
You can’t be . . . You’re dead . . .
This . . . isn’t . . . real.
A trick . . . Just like how the creature had dressed as you, like a costume . . .
She forced herself to her feet. From up the hill, Larkspur House loomed. Azumi could feel it grinning at her—another version of that same creature that had pretended to be her sister.
But the house is only a costume too . . . , she thought.
Wood and brick and stone and . . . blood . . .
Azumi shook her head violently, scattering the cobwebs of anxiety that her brain kept constructing around her thoughts. She steeled herself, pushing her fear to the edges of her imagination, then peered at the dark mass that was hidden by the long grass.
It’s happening again . . . You’re not really here . . .
Wake up, Azumi . . . Wake up . . . !
A harsh breeze parted the grass, finally revealing the thing that Azumi had tripped over. Her eyes grew wide with horror. It was a body. Pieces of dirty clothing formed the shape of a torso, arms, legs. She knew these clothes. It was Moriko!
Not again . . . please! I don’t want to see . . .
The wind caught several pieces of blue hair and lifted them from her sister’s withered skull. They rose up like gossamer strands before rushing forward and clinging to Azumi’s face. Her vision swirled as she screamed, her voice shattering the quiet night. As she inhaled, the hairs seemed to creep into her throat and up her nostrils, choking her. She scratched at her face, grabbing at the sharp strands, but she was blinded by a stinging sensation in her eyes. She could hear something scrabbling through the grass near her feet, and she imagined her sister’s hand clawing its way toward her ankle, while some- where in the woods the monster heard her and came rushing back to finish its job.
Hands clasped her shoulders and spun her around. She was too shocked to cry out.
Poppy was standing behind her, Dash at her side.
“Azumi! What’s wrong?”
Azumi blinked, still gagging, but all of a sudden her face was clear, the hair gone. Carefully, she licked at her lips. The blue hair had only been another trick—the house, the shadow creature was still playing with her. Or maybe it was her own mind . . .
Azumi leapt forward and threw her arms around Poppy, pulling her away from the spot where her sister’s body was lying. “It’s M-Moriko,” Azumi sputtered. “She’s come back.” But when she pointed toward the grass, there was no body. Instead, she saw that the thing she’d tripped over was merely a long tree branch, bleached by the sun.
Her skin flashed cold.
“This branch wasn’t here,” said Azumi. “It was my sister. She grabbed at my foot. I swear! She wanted to kill me—”
“It wasn’t real,” said Poppy.
“Shh,” said Dash. “Keep your voices down.” He glanced over Azumi’s shoulder toward the edge of woods. Marcus was back there somewhere, lying beneath the tree where the creature had tossed him. “It could be following us.”
“I’m . . . I’m sorry . . .” Azumi covered her face, hiding tears. “It scared me.”
“I’m sure it did.” Poppy sighed. “But it was fake.” She rubbed Azumi’s back. “We’ve got to stay strong. Don’t let the house in your head.”
“Too late for that,” said Azumi. “I don’t know how to get it out of my head.”
“From now on,” said Dash, “we have to keep closer together. If anyone trips and falls, or even just sees something weird, let everyone know. Immediately. We can’t let the house separate us.”
“Okay,” said Azumi, wiping at her nose.
Poppy stared into the woods, listening. “If it was still coming for us, we’d hear it, wouldn’t we? Crunching through the brush?”
“Unless it’s changed shape again,” said Dash, “and now it looks like someone else.”
Azumi’s skin prickled as the three glanced at one another, suddenly suspicious.
But she could trust them, couldn’t she? They’d been out of her sight for only a few seconds. Not enough time for anything to— “Let me see your eyes,” said Poppy, stepping in front of her.
“Me?” Azumi’s cheeks tingled with hurt. She scowled, then widened her eyes at the other girl. “Brown. Not gold.”
A howling cry rose up from the darkness back near where Marcus had fallen. Azumi slumped her shoulders, trying to shrink down inside herself. Poppy clasped Azumi’s hand, and Dash stepped closer. Their warmth erased some of Azumi’s chill, and she felt grateful that they trusted her, even after she’d fought them so hard about Moriko; that they understood her fear; that she wasn’t alone.
But you are alone . . .
Azumi squeezed her eyes shut again.
The howl echoed across the grounds, and then died away. The silence that followed was even more frightening. There was no way to tell where the monster was now.
“Come on,” said Dash, tugging at the girls’ arms. “We’ve got a long way to go around the house before we reach the driveway. And I don’t think that thing is giving up anytime soon.”
“Neither are we,” said Poppy, unable to control the quaver in her voice.
They moved quickly, almost at a run. They needed to get away from the spot where Azumi had screamed. If the creature had heard her, it would know exactly where they were, as if they’d stuck a pin in a map. They formed a tight line, keeping one another in sight. Dash wondered if it was foolish to think that they could even try to hide. If this entire estate was a thinking, scheming being, what were the chances that it didn’t know exactly where they were? Maybe the house was still toying with them, giving them a little bit of hope—Run! Go! Escape!—so that it could continue to feed off their fear. Wasn’t that how it worked?
The silvery grass ahead began to lose its luster. Dash glanced up and noticed that heavy clouds were closing in, blocking the starlight. Now they’d have to stay closer to the woods, or else risk becoming lost in the gathering darkness. But getting closer to the trees might put them closer to the shadow creature, or the Specials and Dylan.
As he rushed through the darkening field, Dash shuddered, thinking of the clown mask Dylan had been wearing. The warm plastic had moved, as if it was part of Dylan, as if he belonged to the house now.
It was only one of the reasons he’d decided to leave his brother behind.
The house was controlling his brother—like a plant whose roots had twined around another’s. But he was different from the angry ghosts of the orphans who’d once lived here. Dash was sure of it. Poppy had solved the puzzle of how to free the others from the house. When they’d given Randolph a harmonica and Esme her notebook, they’d remembered themselves and faded away, released from the house’s grasp. Even Cyrus’s withered old ghost had found freedom when Poppy had handed him his old journal.
But Poppy had no ideas for freeing Dylan. Cyrus had never taken anything from him that Dash could return. So what did Dylan need in order to be released?
Dash forced the thought from his head. Dylan was already gone. As awful as it was to imagine, Dash knew that he’d have to leave his brother behind and get as far away from Larkspur as his feet would take him.
Azumi grabbed at Dash’s shoulder as she stared into the distance ahead.
“Why are we stopping?” asked Poppy. “What’s wrong?”
“Do you guys see that?” Azumi nodded at the darkness. “Or is the house messing with my head again?”
“See what?” asked Dash. But then he noticed dim silhouettes of shacks or tents throughout the wide meadow about a hundred feet away. Under the cloudy sky, it was impossible to make out any details. “Whoa. What is all this?”
“Look!” Poppy whispered as they drifted closer, pointing at one of the taller shapes. “Is that a . . . a Ferris wheel?”
“It’s a carnival,” said Azumi. “Like the one that comes through my town every fall, right around when school starts. I think I see a carousel.”
“And a fun house,” said Poppy, her voice wavering as she pointed. “I went into one of those in the city once with the other girls from my group home. They tried to scare me in the mirror maze, but my Girl . . . Connie . . . she showed me where to hide from them.”
“And Larkspur is trying to scare us again,” said Dash, clipping the discussion short. “Come on, let’s go around.”
“We’ll have to either go close to the house or into the woods for a bit,” said Azumi. “Neither seems like a very good idea.”
“Wouldn’t it be safer to just go straight through?” asked Poppy. “It looks deserted.”
“Do you really want to trust what it looks like?” asked Dash.
Poppy hugged her chest. “So then, what? Turn around and go the way we came? Head around the other side of the house? What about the . . . the thing? The creature?”
Sounds of breaking branches and crunching brush echoed out of the woods behind them. Then came a low growling noise. The three grabbed hands and huddled together.
“There’s no other way,” said Azumi, shivering as she glanced back at the dim shapes that made up the makeshift carnival. “We’ve got to go through.”
Dash sighed. “But we know it’s a trick.”
“We’ve managed to get past the house’s other tricks,” Poppy said, sounding much more confident than Dash felt.
The image of Marcus came to him, humming his uncle’s tune while bravely confronting the creature back at the edge of the forest. “Not all of us,” he whispered.
But Poppy squeezed his hand and Azumi’s and then began to march forward, pulling everyone along with her.
Want more Shadow House? Visit scholastic.com/shadowhouse to download the app, join the forums, listen to audio excerpts and more! You can also hear author Dan Poblocki talk about writing the spooky series on our podcast episode!