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Dust & Grim
By Chuck Wendig
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Thirteen-year-old Molly doesn't know how she got the short end of the stick—being raised by her neglectful father—while Dustin, the older brother she's never met, got their mother and the keys to the family estate. But now the siblings are both orphaned, she's come home for her inheritance, and if Dustin won't welcome her into the family business, then she'll happily take her half in cash.
There's just one problem: the family business is a mortuary for monsters, and Molly's not sure she's ready to deal with mysterious doors, talking wolves, a rogue devourer of magic, and a secret cemetery. It's going to take all of Dustin's stuffy supernatural knowledge and Molly's most heroic cosplay (plus a little help from non-human friends) for the siblings to figure it out and save the day…if only they can get along for five minutes.
Bestselling author Chuck Wendig's middle grade debut is equal parts spooky, funny, and heartfelt—perfect for Halloween and year-round reading!
MOLLY AND THE MYSTERIOUS FAMILY BUSINESS
1. how I met my brother
“OUR FATHER IS DEAD AND I HAVE COME TO DISCUSS MATTERS OF HIS estate.”
The girl, age thirteen, stared across the table at the young man, age eighteen. His hair was raven black, slicked back as if each strand had been pinched by hand and lined up like cooked spaghetti. Hers was a messy scribble of fading color, fire red dipped in lavender. He wore satin pajamas the color of copper patina, swimming with little paisleys; she wore a raggedy gray T-shirt with an X formed of teal lightning bolts, the symbol of her favorite superhero of the Sovereign Super Universe, Zap Girl. (She had declined to wear Zap Girl’s mask to this meeting.) He was scowling. And sweating a little. She was baring her teeth in a smile. His lip was cleft, as if someone had taken a pair of tiny scissors and cut into them the way you might cut through paper or cardboard—long-healed but hard to miss. On her, a pale patch of scar marked her chin like a hyphen—that from a fall five years ago when she’d tried (and tried, and tried, and totally failed) to learn how to skateboard.
They had a few things in common: porcelain skin, a scrutinizing glare, a familiar v-shaped dent above the bridge of each nose that deepened as they stared each other down.
“I’m sorry,” the young man said, his voice snipped as if with nail clippers, “who are you again?”
She rolled her eyes. “Told you. I’m your sister.”
“Molly,” he said, repeating the name she’d given him.
“And you are…?”
The girl watched as the young man, her brother, turned his gaze toward the other man, the large fellow sitting to her right. That man was a lumpy dude stuffed into a cheap blue suit. His body shape was that of hot dogs lashed together and swaddled in deer leather. He ran a mitt through a wave of thick, blond hair as he said:
“Gordo.” He jerked a thumb toward the girl. “I’m her lawyer.”
“And my uncle,” the girl clarified. “Sorry. Our uncle.”
Against the far wall, a window-unit air conditioner hummed and clicked: tick tick tick tick, vmmmm.
The young man stiffened. “I don’t have an uncle. Or a sister.”
“Bad news.” The girl winced. “You do.”
“And my father…”
“Yes, he died.”
The brother seemed flustered. Like he was trying to figure out if he believed this and if he should care. “I suppose I should ask how?”
Molly shrugged. “Looking at his phone while crossing the street. City bus came up and—” She clapped her hands hard against each other. “Goodnight, Steve-o.”
“Ah. I’m… sorry? For your loss.”
Molly’s middle tightened. I won’t be sad, I won’t be sad, I won’t be sad. Steve wasn’t worth getting sad over, she told herself. Instead, she hardened her jaw and said, “Don’t be.”
“Ah. Okay then. And so what is the point of this visit again?”
“Thought you’d never ask.” She thrust her index finger in the air and gave it a lasso whirl. “I get half of this. The house, the property, the funeral… thing, er, business, whatever. Half of all of it.”
“Half of it,” the young man repeated. “Half of all of it.”
“Bingo, dingo. For the money. I need the money.”
His lips cinched tight like a coin purse. “And you need money why?”
“I gotta pay for costuming school and, to do that, I need money. Money that’s rightfully mine.”
Gordo jumped in: “But which is, ahh, tangled up in alla this.”
The young man forced a trim, thin smile. “Let’s begin again. It’s early in the morning. My name is Dustin Ashe. You are Molly—”
“Grim. Molly Grim.”
To the man: “And you’re, ahhh, Gordo, her uncle.”
“Yup.” The big man nibbled a thumbnail. “Your uncle, too.”
“Could you explain how exactly we are all related?”
Molly gave Gordo a look. He gave her a loose, slumpy shrug of his big shoulders, so she took the wheel. “Your mother was Polly Ashe. She married Steven—Steve, Stevie, Steve-o-roonie—Grim. But Steve-o bailed when you were what, like, five? Six?”
Agitated, Dustin used the fingers of his right hand to pluck at the fingers of his left hand—perhaps a kind of soothing gesture. “Yes.”
“Do you remember our mom being pregnant with another kid?”
His eyes roamed the room—though Molly guessed he was really looking inward, at his own memories. “I do,” he said crisply. “But she… she never had the baby. She lost it.” Under his breath came a panicked mumble: “I mean, I always assumed.”
“Wait,” he said. “No. No. You’re—”
“No, just improbable.”
He steepled his fingers and leaned forward. Dubiousness knitted his brow. “You’re saying that she gave you up to him? My—our—father? Gave him a newborn baby and let him”—Dustin walked his fingers across the table like a jaunty little man—“go?”
“That does seem to be the case,” Gordo said, piping back in.
Molly shrugged. “Who knows. Especially since Dad was a real turdbutt.”
Steven Grim had rarely spoken of Molly’s mother, but when he had, he did so the way a religious person might talk about an angel: someone almost supernaturally pure. Of course, to Molly, her mother—their mother, she supposed—was no better than any regular, crummy human. The lady was certainly jerk enough to abandon her own daughter with Steve the slacker.
“What I do know is this,” Molly continued. “Half of all this is mine. So we’re going to have to figure that out. If you want, you can pay me the value in, like, cash money, and then I’ll be out of your hair. Or we can just sell the place—”
The already pale Dustin went paler. White as fireplace ash. “We can’t sell this. This is—” He swallowed whatever it was he was about to say. “This was Mother’s place. You can’t—I can’t—we can’t—”
Molly shrugged. “No, no, it’s cool, you need to think about it.”
“He needs to think about it,” Gordo said. “We understand that.”
“We understand that,” Molly repeated. “In the meantime, I’ll just stay here. It’s a big house. There’s gotta be a guest bedroom.”
Gordo chuckled. “Probably five guest bedrooms.”
Dustin stood up so fast that the chair behind him teetered, then fell to the floor with a clatter. It seemed to startle him further. He had the look about him of a jittery rabbit. Or maybe some kind of polecat? A very nervous polecat who had to pee.
“I need to see proof of this,” he declared, leaning his clenched fists on the table. Was he trembling a little? Molly thought that he was.
Gordo was ready. He spun his alligator-skin briefcase around, popped both latches, and drew out a file. He gave the paper inside it a haphazard spin and it glided across the table, fwipping against Dustin’s knuckles. The young man looked at the paper, then back to Molly, then back to the paper. His eyes flicked between them probably a dozen times. As if he didn’t believe it. Because he probably didn’t.
Oh well. Sorry, brother.
“You can’t stay here. It’s not—I’m not—no.”
Dustin looked like a robot about to short-circuit. He continued, stammering as he spoke: “I—I can’t be responsible for her. She’s young. I—I’m not a caretaker. There’s school—”
“It’s summer,” Molly corrected sweetly.
“And I don’t even know who her caretaker is—”
“She’s emancipated,” Gordo said.
Molly nodded. “Yep. Like, basically an adult.”
“How? She’s too young.”
“Magic.” Gordo wiggled his fingers like a stage magician. At this, Dustin stiffened. “Legal magic, anyway.”
“I’m going to call my lawyer.”
“Great,” Molly said, putting on a sad face that she told herself was just an act. “That’s cool, super cool, that your first instinct after meeting your long-lost sister is to call your lawyer.”
“And let me do more magic and predict the future,” Gordo said. “You’re gonna call that lawyer, and that lawyer’s gonna tell you I got you in a barrel going over a waterfall, Dusty.”
“Dustin. Not Dusty.”
“Uh-huh. Point is, we’re prepared to sue. Forget Molly’s financial claim on this home, property, and business. You denying her a simple bed? A place to rest her weary head? Oof. Not gonna look nice in the courts, Dusty.”
“It’ll be a huge disruption for you. Not to mention… costly. Lawyers, court fees, the loss of business. They might even have to send inspectors out, go over this place with a fine-tooth comb, a black light, a no-stone-left-unturned attitude. I mean, double oof. All because you couldn’t give your little sister a place to stay while we sort out the finicky bits.”
Something went out of Dustin then. Like the soul gone suddenly from a dead pet. “Fine. Yes. There’s a—a room upstairs. I can—I can have it ready in a tiff. A jiff, I mean. Just, just… give me a bit.”
With that, he spun heel-to-toe and whirled out of the room.
“Well, that was fun,” Molly said.
“MY BROTHER SUCKS,” MOLLY SAID MINUTES LATER AS SHE STOOD IN THE driveway (also: the parking lot) with Uncle Gordo. She grunted as she hauled a steamer trunk out of the back of a broad-chested Cadillac. The trunk, onto which she’d painted in hot pink the word kosupure, thudded onto the gravel, kicking up some summer dust. “You could help, you know.”
“I am helping. I’m helping with the law.” He shrugged, then feigned a dramatic wince. “Besides. Bad hips. Sorry.”
“Uh-huh.” She hoisted her backpack out next, slung it over her shoulders. “Anyway. Wow, that Dusty dude—like, hello, judgy much? A total Judgy McJudgypants! What a jerk. I mean, the first time I meet my brother, he’s just a big snoot about everything.”
“Reminds me of your dad,” Gordo said with no small bitterness. “He always judged me. And he had no room to judge, lemme tell you. But it’s early in the process, relax. We did surprise him, and we’re asking a lot. A lot a lot.”
“Dustin thinks I’m trash. He lives in this big old house and I’m just road garbage to him. Like a dead possum.”
“You’re not a possum.”
“I didn’t say I was a possum, I just said—”
“I get it,” Gordo said, obviously tired of her. “Do you want him to respect you, or do you want the money?”
I want him to like me. That, an uninvited thought. A trespasser traipsing around her brain. Molly scowled. “So what’s the play here?”
“The play? The play is we wait. He’ll relent. He has to. Your dad owned half of this place.” At this, Gordo twitched visibly. “When your mother inherited it from her family or whatever, she put Stevie’s name on the deed, too. That’s his name over there—” He pointed to the wooden sign hanging in front of the house: ASHE AND GRIM SOLEMNITIES.
“Our name on the sign.”
Gordo grinned. “That’s the attitude I like to hear. Forget your dad. This is about you. About us.”
“You didn’t like my father very much, did you?”
A visible tension seized him. “Not a fan, no. He got himself into scrapes, but he always turned up heads, like a bad penny. I had to fight tooth and nail for everything. Him? Luck seemed to fall into his lap. Blessed little Stevie.”
“You’re not wrong, Unc.” It was like with rent. Steve-o-roonie was always, always, always late with the rent. But by the time the landlord—an old dude who had the body of a broken broomstick—came around to make a fuss, her father seemed to find the money. Someone “owed” him, or he “found” an old baseball card he could sell, or he won just enough on a scratch-off lottery ticket. Every time. Though he never managed to find extra cash when Molly needed something, like new X-Acto blades or EVA foam. Only way she afforded any of it—the gear, the makeup, the hair dye—was usually to sell his stuff to the pawnshop. Which he’d then buy back. And which she’d steal and resell again.
“I’m never wrong.”
“I don’t miss him,” she added suddenly. But she wondered if she really meant that? A little part of her did miss him. He was fun, and funny. He’d seemed to love her, maybe. He’d just loved himself more.
Well, whatever. Like Uncle Gordo said, Forget your dad.
Boom. Done. Forgotten.
Molly looked around to take stock of her new—temporary—home. The house here loomed over everything. A pointy-headed Victorian with narrow shoulders, it had the presence of a surly vicar or a grumpy bishop. Beyond that was a wooden outbuilding—a black barn with an Amish hex over the doors—its style out of sync with the house. Beyond that were the rolling hills of this part of Pennsylvania, and beyond those waited a sprawling dark forest of pine and oak. Oh, cool, creepy woods, Molly thought. She told herself: Remind me never to go there. Behind them, the driveway snaked through swaying meadows of tall grass and blotchy wildflowers, leading to a ribbon of country road.
It was all very remote. Molly had grown up in the city, a bustling, busy place. This was quiet. Too quiet. A weird thought struck her: If something were to happen to me out here, would anyone even know? She shivered at the thought.
Something moved out on the country road just then, catching Molly’s eye. Sunlight glinted off a vehicle, a pickup truck, boxy and old. It turned off the road and bounded down the serpentine driveway, dipping and bumping into every divot, ditch, and pothole that Molly and Gordo had also hit on their approach. It roared up to the house, lurching as the driver applied the brakes at the last second. A cloud of dust came in behind it, like a filthy ghost.
“Who’s this?” Molly asked. “Dustin’s lawyer?”
“Don’t think so. Looks like Vivacia Sims,” Gordo answered. The Black woman who stepped out of the truck wore a corduroy blazer over a white tee. She was tall and thin. Severe in every way—like whoever had drawn her had done so with an X-Acto knife, not a pen or a brush.
The lady didn’t give them one look before hurrying up to the house with long, confident strides. The door slammed shut behind her.
“And who exactly is Vivacia Sims?”
“She helps run this place. You saw him—Dustin is young. Too young to really”—he flapped a rubbery hand in the air—“manage anything. So she does it. She was a friend of your mother’s.”
“You know a lot.”
Grumpily, he said, “I do my homework. I’m a real lawyer, you know.”
“Who just so happens to have his face on bus-depot posters. And on late-night infomercials.” She affected his New Yorker cadence, one she did not herself share: “If you’ve been the victim of a messenger-bike accident—”
“Now who’s being judgy?”
“Fine. Sorry.” She shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot.
“Besides, I’ve met Vivacia. Been some years, but she was a cold fish back then, and I’m guessing she’s one now, too.”
“We need to worry about her?”
Her uncle shrugged. “We need to worry about everything. I did my homework, like I said, but there’s some stuff that doesn’t line up here. This is a funeral home, but they don’t seem to do a lot of business. They got a license for a cemetery service and a cemetery—but you see one anywhere? ’Cause I sure don’t. And there was some paperwork wrapped up in Orphans’ Court proceedings that I couldn’t get unsealed by the county seat.”
“So it’s just weird.”
“And is that bad for my getting a piece of all this?”
He seemed to think about it. “We’ll see. This is a pretty open-and-shut case.” His tone, though, told Molly that he wasn’t confident on that point, which made her nervous. Up until now, he’d assured her everything was hunky-dory. “But while you’re here… do a little detective work.”
“Yeah. Snoop around. You’re nosy.”
“I’m not nosy.”
“I caught you going through my office desk a week ago while I took a whiz.”
“Fine, I’m nosy.”
The two of them met when her father died. There was a reading of a will, which left Molly basically nothing at all—and that’s when Gordo showed up, said he was her father’s brother. He told her that Steve didn’t have much to give, no, but her mother? Polly Ashe? That was a different story. When Polly died unbeknownst to Molly, that triggered what she owed to Steve—but Steve, for whatever reason, chose not to claim it. Gordo said he could help Molly with that claim. With that, he helped get her emancipated and then started her on the path of, in his words, “getting what’s yours.”
They sold what few possessions Steve-o-polis had, which helped pay for her motel room and a storage unit not far from Gordo’s office. She’d never seen where her uncle lived—Gordo was pretty private about that for some reason. But it had been easy to snoop through his office. He drank a lot of coffee, which meant he took a lot of pee breaks—and whenever he did, she went through his stuff.
Just then, the door to the house opened anew. There, framed half by shadow, stood Dustin. Behind him, even deeper in the darkness of the house, stood the woman. Vivacia.
Dustin waved Molly over. “I have the room ready,” he called.
Oh boy. Her stomach gave a lurch. This she would have to do by herself. She’d tried on the car ride over to get Gordo to stay at the house with her, but he’d said it wouldn’t seem right—and besides, she could snoop a lot more if he wasn’t there. So, off he’d go. Leaving her here. Alone.
“Go get ’em, kid,” Gordo said, his eyes shining.
3. quatresomething tessewhoozit
THE WALK THROUGH THE HOUSE WAS HASTY. DUSTIN MOVED LIKE A MAN on a mission: a monorail silently and urgently gliding along. He walked in a curious way, his hands clasped at his middle and his shoulders pinched forward, his head leading the way in front of his feet. And he moved fast, walking on the balls of his feet. The old floorboards did not groan beneath him, and in fact, they seemed to barely register his presence at all.
Molly did not see hide nor hair of the woman, Vivacia, who had disappeared by the time Molly got up the front steps. She did note that everything in the house seemed to have its particular place—the rooms were meticulous in their arrangement. Old photos on the walls seemed to hang perfectly level, and there wasn’t a speck of dust to be found, nor the smell of must and mold one might expect in a home of this age. In fact, the place was a panoply of smells: here, rose; there, lilac; past the kitchen, a whiff of pineapple; and then on the steps, a most curious and intensely strong smell, that of fresh soap. Basic, run-of-the-mill soap. But the scent was so strong that it formed almost a full sense reaction, as if she were standing there, washing her hands, instead of climbing an old wooden staircase.
Then the scent was lost to another mundane, more expected odor: that of basic orange oil slicking the wood.
At the top of the stairs, Dustin turned sharply into the room at his right. Molly followed.
And then she did a double take.
The walls were—
Well, they were an assault to her eyeballs, for one. The room’s wallpaper was made up of four-petaled shapes intersecting like chains, their gilded lines cast against a royal blue so deep you could swim in it. And they went on and on in every direction, each four-petal flower about the size of a cup lid. Almost 3D, even though it was clearly two-dimensional. It was dizzying. Like a camera lens that couldn’t find its focus, her eyes couldn’t get ahold of any one part of it. A buzzing arose in the back of her head. Her stomach boiled with sudden queasiness.
“Quatrefoil tessellation,” Dustin said, unprovoked.
She blinked. “What?”
“The walls. The pattern. Tessellated quatrefoil. More Edwardian than Victorian, I confess.”
“I saw the look on your face. It can be a bit much.”
“Yeah. It is. Do you have another room I can sleep in?”
Dustin hesitated. “No.”
The bed was a narrow thing, with a white frame whose bedposts were topped with brass fleur-de-lis. “I kinda toss and turn at night,” she said. “I’m afraid I’m going to impale myself on those.”
“You could get a motel,” he said with a bit of a sniff.
Defiant, she thrust out her chin. “No. I’ll stay here. And I don’t have any money anyway, remember?”
“What’s the smell?” It hit her suddenly. It was fruity and rich. And strange. One she’d never encountered before.
At that, he seemed to momentarily loosen up. “Lilikoi. Passion fruit.” A small smile found his face. “It’s a Hawaiian fruit. Well, not Hawaiian specifically, but I associate it with that.”
“You don’t seem like a Hawaii kinda guy.”
A flinch. “I am. I’m quite taken with it.”
“So you’ve been there?”
“Then why are you taken with it?”
“I just am,” he said, his tone as sharp as a poke from one of those fleur-de-lis. “I’m fond of the idea. I don’t have to explain it. Never mind. The rules of the house are simple: You are not to interfere with funerary business; the funeral parlor at the back of the house is off-limits; you are not to interact with any of our clients; you are not to eat any of the food out of the refrigerator, especially any of the fruits and vegetables—I use them for smoothies and such; you are to stay in your room after ten PM except to use the bathroom across the hall, and this is because the floorboards are very creaky and groany and I will be awakened by their complaining.”
Here, he paused, only to continue before Molly could reply. “You are not to change the décor in any way; I have chosen it all quite deliberately. I don’t care for popular music, so none of that; no flushing anything down the toilet except for toilet paper and one’s… expected biological leavings; the cellar is off-limits; the forest is off-limits; the attic is off-limits; do not feed any of the stray cats, not anything, not ever; no scented candles; actually, no candles at all; you are not to bother Vivacia or myself; and you are not to interfere with funerary business.”
Molly huffed. What a load of junk. “You said that last part twice,” she grumbled.
“Because it is the most important part.”
“You don’t like me,” Molly said plainly. And I don’t care.
“It’s not—it’s not that. I don’t know you. You’re an intruder—”
“I don’t mean it like that, but you are a trespasser of sorts.”
“A trespasser. Ouch.” Okay, maybe I care a little.
A New York Times Bestseller
An Amazon Best Children’s Book of 2021 and Best Book of October 2021
A TXLA 2023 Lone Star Reading List Selection
- "A clever, heartwarming tale of funerary rites, ghosts, and the undying power of family."—Holly Black, Newbery Honor-winning author of Doll Bones and The Cruel Prince
- "Wildly inventive, totally hilarious, and unexpectedly moving."—Lev Grossman, bestselling author of The Silver Arrow and The Magicians
- "A one-of-a-kind delight—mysterious, exciting, inventive, sometimes scary and always funny, Dust & Grim reads like a rollicking ghosts and monsters story, which it is. But just as important, it’s a compelling and tender story about family. Sibling duo Molly and Dustin will find their way into readers’ hearts as surely as they find their way into each other’s."—Trenton Lee Stewart, bestselling author of The Mysterious Benedict Society
- "Sucks you in with a wise-cracking zaniness that soon spirals into a delightful rampaging chaos of swarming vampires, thorny wolves, walking trees, and eldritch horrors. And yet even as the dangers for Molly and Dustin increase and the wise-cracks keep flying, the importance of family both lost and found grounds their story with a profound sense of heart."—Paolo Bacigalupi, bestselling author of The Windup Girl, Ship Breaker, and Zombie Baseball Beatdown
- "Spookily charming, bewitchingly creepy, full of hope, heart, and horror, Dust & Grim is the sort of book you gobble up in one sweet and salty bite."—Delilah S. Dawson, author of Star Wars: PHASMA and Mine
- "Every line of Dust & Grim is packed with a laugh, a sharp observation, or something radically cool, and sometimes all three at once. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Wendig is a welcome new voice in middle-grade fiction, and we are lucky to have him."—Greg van Eekhout, author of Weird Kid, COG, and Voyage of the Dogs
- "Siblings Molly and Dustin Grim are the most unlikely of heroes, and for that reason they are among the greatest. The fact that they must save the world from within a secret monster mortuary is only the first of many surprises that bestselling tale-spinner Chuck Wendig has created for this full-of-heart debut about trust, friendship, and the importance of having the perfect costume for every occasion. A fantastic, spooky adventure!"—Fran Wilde, Nebula Award winning author of Updraft and Riverland
- * "Playing to strengths demonstrated in his many comics and tales for older audiences, not only is Wendig a dab hand at concocting extremely creepy critters, but here he also pulls together a secondary cast of quarrelsome but supportive allies for the beleaguered teens."—Kirkus, starred review
- * "Wendig charges onto the middle-grade scene with a monstrously fun tale of family and funerary arts.... [The] easy writing style is a perfect vehicle for the humor and rapidly paced shenanigans that propel the narrative.... Monstrously fun.... A sure pick for those enamored by Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Tahereh Mafi’s Whichwood."—Booklist, starred review
- * "Wendig thrills, enchants, and amuses in equal measure.... Peppered with nail-biting action scenes, the well-paced storytelling is as heart-felt as it is heart-racing, and readers who appreciate word play will love the snark-filled banter and witty narrative voice.... The ideal read-next for fans of Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, this is also perfect for readers who embrace the weirdness of family."—BCCB, starred review
- * "A spooky, heartfelt, darkly funny adventure.... The importance of relationships, regardless of blood relation, runs deep and gives an endearing core to this perfect Halloween read."—Shelf Awareness, starred review
- "The supernatural realm meets a cosplayer teen in this...blend of horror, spooky, funny, pop culture, cosplay, and sibling rivalry."—School Library Journal
- "Packed with pop-culture references and creepy beings, the novel is written from Molly’s sarcastic-beyond-her-years viewpoint and subtly threaded with life lessons that together create an engaging narrative."—Publishers Weekly
- On Sale
- Oct 19, 2021
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers