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From Bad to Cursed
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Alexis is thrilled when her sister joins a club; new friends are just what Kasey needs. It’s strange, though, to see how fast the girls in The Sunshine Club go from dorky and antisocial to gorgeous and popular. Soon Alexis learns that the girls have pledged an oath to a seemingly benevolent spirit named Aralt. Worried that Kasey’s in over her head again, Alexis and her best friend Megan decide to investigate by joining the club themselves. At first, their connection with Aralt seems harmless. Alexis trades in her pink hair and punky clothes for a mainstream look, and quickly finds herself reveling in her newfound elegance and success.
Instead of fighting off the supernatural, Alexis can hardly remember why she joined in the first place. Surely it wasn’t to destroy Aralt…why would she hurt someone who has given her so much, and asked for so little in return?
For Juli, George, and Alexandra
Text copyright © 2011 by Katie Alender
All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Hyperion, 114 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10011-5690.
My sincerest thanks to the many people who have made it possible for this book to exist, either by direct assistance, encouragement, or just putting up with me in general (which, I begin to suspect, is actually quite a lot of work).
Agent/therapist/cheerleader/friend Matthew Elblonk, and the entire crew at DeFiore and Company;
The one and only Arianne Lewin;
Abby Ranger, Stephanie Owens Lurie, Hallie Patterson, Laura Schreiber, Marci Senders, Ann Dye, and all of the wonderful people at Disney-Hyperion, whose dedication, insight, and hard work I witness with awe and gratitude;
My family, most especially my husband, but also the many parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, and sundry other relations who are so supportive;
My dear friends, who happily for me are too numerous to name;
My dog show cronies and everyone at Soapbox;
The author friends, book bloggers, blog readers, Twitter followers, Facebook fans, sister Debutantes, and Backspace folks who have made this journey so much fun and have occasionally been credited with saving my sanity (and by “occasionally” I mean “on a weekly basis”);
Librarians, teachers, booksellers, and all of the people who make it their business to champion a love of books and reading;
And, finally, to all of the amazing readers who make me laugh and think, and whose sweetness and intelligence never fail to make my job easier and my days brighter.
I’m absolutely humbled by your generosity and kindness. Group hug!
AT FIRST GLANCE, the town houses in Silver Sage Acres are as white and identical as an endless row of bared teeth. Looking down the single road that winds through the community is like holding a mirror up to another mirror and watching the world curve away into infinity.
If you search hard enough, you can find landmarks, even though the place is engineered not to have any. The ficus tree with the one branch that sticks out sideways. A thick splotch of paint (white, of course) on the asphalt from the can that rolled off the back of a contractor’s truck. Each discrepancy is a little scar on the landscape, in constant danger of being buffed away by the all- powerful homeowners’ association.
Every few hundred feet is a turnout with a colony of mailboxes and a row of guest parking spaces, because heaven forbid your guests should park in your driveway, much less on the street. And that’s just one of the billion rules: No dogs bigger than twenty-five pounds. No decorative items in the windows. And trash cans are like Cinderella—only allowed out for a few hours at a time. After that, the citations start piling up.
But for all its artificial cosmetic appeal, the development feels like it was built to last only until somebody came along with a better idea. When it’s rainy, the gutters get so full of water that you have to take a four-foot leap to keep from getting your shoes soaked. When it’s breezy, the street becomes one big wind tunnel, freezing you to the bone and pelting your eyes with an asteroid belt of grit and crushed leaves.
We’ve lived in #29 for a year and only know one other family, the Munyons in #27, who pay me five dollars a day to feed their cat when they go on vacation.
Really, though, it could be worse.
One thing about a place this locked down—there are no surprises.
Twenty-nine Silver Sage Acres Road is everything our old house wasn’t:
Modern. Sterile. Generic. Efficient. Compact. Controlled.
Most importantly, it’s completely devoid of murderous ghosts.
And that suits my family fine.
GRIMY PATCHES OF MUD, drops of dried blood, a sprinkling of gravel, and a full-body sheen of sweat that plastered his long-sleeved tee to his back…and I was still tempted to fling myself into Carter Blume’s arms and declare my undying devotion.
Not that I ever would. In my opinion, the L-word deserves better than to be tossed out on a sweaty August Saturday afternoon like some sort of emotional Frisbee.
Furthermore, I’m not the flinging type. And even freshly laundered and not bloody, Carter wasn’t the sort of guy to invite girlfriend-flingage.
I did fling the car door open, but that’s different. He stepped out, wincing as he put weight on his left leg. As we walked to my front door, pebbles skittered to the ground, dislodged from his knee or his thigh or wherever they’d ended up when he ate it on our hike.
“It’s your own fault,” I teased, pulling out my key chain. “Holding back your fellow racers and then running off ahead is very bad karma.”
“Is it?” he asked. “I almost forgot, in the thirty-five seconds since you last brought it up.”
I opened the door, and Carter hesitated at the welcome mat like a well-trained dog. “I don’t want to get the floors dirty.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I mop on Sundays anyway.”
He cocked his head. “I thought you mopped on Wednesdays.”
The main part of the town house was basically one big, echoing room that held the kitchen, dinner table, and family room. A hallway extended to the left, bending around a corner to conceal the bedrooms.
“Come on,” I said, heading for the pantry, where the first-aid kit lived.
Carter trailed behind me into the kitchen and stood still, afraid to touch anything. I wet a washrag and wiped the dirt and blood from the palms of his hands, which he’d used (semi-unsuccessfully) to keep himself from skidding down the mountain.
“You didn’t answer me,” he said, voice low. “You mop twice a week, don’t you?”
“This is going to sting,” I said, plying his hands with a layer of antiseptic spray.
He flinched and then held his palms steady. “Don’t distract me when I’m making fun of your OCD.”
“It’s not OCD,” I said. “I just like things clean.”
“I’m not clean.”
“No,” I said. “But for you…I’ll make an exception.”
He leaned down, using his wrists to pull me close. I pressed up on my toes to meet him halfway, then we kissed.
The only way to describe kissing Carter is this: it’s like being on a roller coaster in a pitch-black room, and you’re going downhill, and for a few moments you’re weightless, and you want to throw your hands in the air and scream.
After a minute, a thought popped into my head, and I pulled away. “You’ll need to pretreat those bloodstains and wash everything in cold water.”
Carter gazed into my eyes and brushed a strand of my pink hair away from my face. “You’re insane.”
“You might need to use a toothbrush to get the mud out. I keep extra old ones around, if you don’t have any.”
He gave me a crooked smile. “All I want in the world is to be close to you, and all you want is to clean my dirty clothes.”
“It’s the twenty-first century,” I said, pulling his face down toward mine. “I want it all.”
And we were kissing again, the edge of the tile countertop pressing a cold line into my back. Carter rested his hand against my shoulder.
“Oh, no!” he said, jerking away. “I’m sorry.”
“No big deal,” I said, glancing down to see two tiny spots of blood on my Surrey Eagles T-shirt. “Not like it’s an heirloom or anything.”
He leaned down so his mouth was deliciously close to my ear. “You’re going to want to pretreat that,” he whispered. His breath sent a ripple of chills down my spine. “And wash it in warm water.”
“Cold water! You’re not even listening!” I slipped out of his grip, as much as I would have enjoyed prolonging the moment. My parents didn’t mind him being at the house when they weren’t there, but only because they trusted us not to spend hours in the kitchen making out.
“I can only learn so much in one day,” he said. “Such as, cheaters never win.”
“Cheaters go flying face-first down a hill,” I said. “And end up with gravel stuck in all sorts of exotic places.”
I took in the whole picture of him, new tennis shoes scratched, knees mottled, shorts muddy, shirt stained and stretched.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he said. “How can a man with pebbles embedded in his butt be so irresistible?”
Sun shone through the kitchen window, casting a glow on his summer-tanned skin and making the curls in his blond hair look like strands of gold.
I smiled at him, not wanting to interrupt this perfect moment.
“It’s going to be a good year,” he said.
“The best year,” I said. And I believed it. I had a boyfriend who was going to be Student Council president, the perfect best friend, and I even got along with my parents. In that moment, it seemed like nothing could possibly go wrong.
He reached a hand out to me, and I took it. As we melted closer, something caught my eye, a change in the light somewhere in the room.
I glanced up and then slammed back against the refrigerator, like I’d seen a ghost.
It wasn’t a ghost—but it was close enough.
My little sister, Kasey, stood at the end of the hall in a baggy black T-shirt and sweatpants, her hair in a long braid. Her once-round baby face was thin, and sharp shadows underlined her cheekbones. Her eyes were rimmed by faint gray half-moons.
In half a heartbeat, I was across the room, crashing into her. We tumbled to the floor, our limbs tangled underneath us.
“Lexi!” she sputtered. “Wait!”
“Don’t move,” I said, grabbing both of her wrists in my hands.
“Be careful!” Carter said, rushing over to us. “I’ll call the police!”
“LEXI, STOP!” Kasey’s screech cut a hole in the chaos. In the sudden silence, I realized she wasn’t struggling.
“What are you doing here?” I demanded. “Did you run away?”
“Run away? No, Lexi,” she said. “I’m home. I’m just home.”
NINE MISSED CALLS.
I lobbed my useless cell phone at the couch. “It was on vibrate.”
Mom’s hands were pressed against her forehead like she was fending off a headache. “Your father and I were gone for twenty minutes, max. We had to sign some papers at the school.”
About thirty seconds after I self-defensed my sister into submission, my parents came tra-la-laing through the front door to find me still sitting on her. High jinks ensued.
I tried to apologize to Kasey, but she slunk off into her room.
“But honestly,” I said. “She’s at Harmony Valley for ten months and you had no clue she’d be coming home three weeks early?”
Mom did a palms-up shrug. “Honey, we didn’t know for sure. I didn’t want to get your hopes up.”
“Hopes,” I repeated.
The flatness of my voice made my mother cringe. “Alexis…you’re happy about this, right? Not the—the tackling part, but—Kasey coming home?”
We both caught the pause before my answer. “Of course,” I said. “Mom, I was surprised. I get back from hiking with Carter, thinking the house is empty, and Kasey comes trotting out, all, ‘Oh, hey, remember me, your sister from the mental hospital?’ I thought she escaped.”
Mom shuffled through the stack of papers in her hand, her faux-casual attitude giving away how upset she really was. “I just really want this to work for her. I want her to make friends, and find her way around school, and—what if she doesn’t?”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “She will.”
Kasey being home meant she was going to Surrey High, where I’d spent two years building up and then dissolving a variety of enemies and alliances.
She wasn’t just a freshman; she was Alexis Warren’s little sister.
And that meant it was my job to make sure she didn’t crash and burn.
Even though Mom didn’t mean to make me feel responsible for Kasey, we all knew that my reputation preceded her. I’d mellowed way out, but there were still a lot of people who would never see me as more than the rebellious punk I’d once been.
Cyrus Davenport was one of them.
“Oh”—he sneered at me over the cheese tray on the snack table—“Alexis. I didn’t know Cecilia invited you.”
“Hey, Cyrus,” I said. “How’s UCLA?”
“I assumed you’d be in juvie by now,” he said, pursing his lips and turning away.
“Okay…good to see you, too,” I said to the air where he’d been standing. The low buzz of the Davenports’ first-week-of-school party closed in around me.
“So Cyrus is still a drama queen,” Megan said, appearing at my side. “Nice to see college doesn’t always change people.”
Kasey stood a few feet away, clutching a bottle of water in her hands like a security blanket. She was wearing stiff, brand-new jeans and a shirt she’d borrowed from our mother, this gold silky blouse that made her look about forty. “Why does that boy hate you?”
Carter slipped his arm around my waist. “I’m a little curious, myself.”
“It’s one of Alexis’s bad girl moments,” Megan said. “I’m sure you guys wouldn’t be interested.”
Carter lowered his chin. A smile played on his lips. “What did you do, you monster?”
I glanced at my sister, whose eyes were as round as quarters, not sure if I wanted her to hear this story. “Well…two years ago—you were still at All Saints, Carter—I was going through one of my…phases. I hacked into the drama club website and switched some casting decisions for The Sound of Music. I mean, their password was password. They were asking for it.”
“And Cyrus got the part of…”
“Fräulein Maria,” Megan said.
“Turns out it was the one role he always wanted,” I said. “He’s hated me ever since.”
Carter pulled me closer. “Know what I always wanted? A girlfriend who was a junior.”
“Aww,” I said. “I always wanted a seventy- to three-hundred-millimeter zoom lens. With macro.”
He gazed into my eyes.
Even though we’d been a couple for almost five months—since the April prom night when we officially admitted our feelings for each other—a battalion of happy butterflies still launched in my stomach when he looked at me like that. He wrapped his hands around mine, and it was like we were in our own little world, not a single angry thespian in sight.
“You two are gross. I’m going to mingle.” Megan gave her dark shoulder-length hair a shake and scanned the crowd. “Want to come with me, Kasey?”
“What?” Kasey asked, choking on a mouthful of water. “No, thank you.”
“Yes you do,” Megan said, herding her away. “Because the alternative is staying here with Edward and Bella.”
When we were alone, Carter’s expression darkened with concern. “Everything okay with her?”
I nodded. “She still flinches whenever I walk into a room, but she accepted my apology.”
His hand rested lightly against my lower back, almost like he was trying to prop me up. “I’m surprised she came.”
“Me too.” In fact, I’d only asked her because I was sure she’d say no.
But then she said yes, and the night became less about having a good time and more about making sure nothing disastrous happened to her.
I began to get the feeling that having a good time in general was about to get a lot more complicated.
As things began to wind down, Carter got stuck in a conversation about Student Council elections and I got up to find Megan. I found her in the kitchen—alone.
I tapped her on the shoulder. “Where’s my sister?”
“Oh, I’m not sure,” Megan said, like it was no big deal.
I looked around, panic rising inside me.
“Lex,” Megan said, putting a hand on my arm, “she’s not a two-year-old lost at Disneyland.”
“But she’s never been to a party like this before.” I knew most of the kids there, but not all of them. A couple were even in college. What if somebody spiked my sister’s drink? Lured her away from the crowd?
Seeing my face, Megan relented. “All right,” she said. “Commence Operation Find Kasey.”
We wove through the house, finally ending up in the hallway in front of a closed bedroom door. Sloppily taped on it was a handwritten sign that said, BAGS IN HERE.
“You check that room,” Megan said. “I think there are some people in the garage. I’ll go look out there.”
I opened the door.
The room was dark, but it wasn’t empty. Three kids—none of them my sister with her golden ponytail—sat on the floor, with flickering candles scattered around. My pulse perked up at the sight—we Warrens weren’t big decorative flame (or any kind of flame) folks anymore. Watching your house burn to ashes sort of reduces the appeal.
On the floor between them was a Ouija board.
“You know, those aren’t toys,” I said, trying to keep my voice as light as possible.
“Oh, really?” replied a voice I knew. “Because I bought it at a toy store.”
As my eyes adjusted to the light, I saw Lydia Small in the central position. Her long dyed-black hair was in a deliberately messy updo, and her brand-new eyebrow ring glinted in the candlelight. Her fingertips rested lightly on the planchette, a little wooden piece that moved around the board, and the other two girls had their fingers on either side of hers.
Lydia and I were friends for freshman and part of sophomore years. But lately things were pretty strained. She couldn’t get over the fact that I could possibly prefer to hang with anyone besides her and the rest of the pretentious, black-clad Doom Squad. And I couldn’t get over the fact that she was insufferably annoying.
“Hurry, ghost of the Ouija board,” she said in an oogie-boogie voice, “tell us something interesting before scaredy-cat Alexis runs away.”
The other two giggled. I stood with my back to the wall.
“What was that?” Lydia said, lowering her ear to the board. “What did you say?” Then she looked up. “The ghost wants to know if you’ve always been boring, or if it’s something that happened when you started hanging out with clones—hold on, I’ll answer.”
I sighed. “Grow up, Lydia.”
She leaned down to talk to the board. “The answer is B,” she said. “Clones.”
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “I should try harder to be unique…like you and the other fifty people at school exactly like you.”
The door opened, letting a slope of light fall across the room.
“Lexi?” my sister’s voice asked. Her hand groped the wall and flipped the light switch, blinding us all and bringing forth groans of protest from the girls on the floor.
The light popped off again. Kasey stepped in, with Megan behind her.
“What is this, a Losers Anonymous meeting? You guys are totally killing the mood,” Lydia said, getting to her feet. “I’m going to get something to eat.” Her minions followed her out.
Kasey stood motionless, staring down at the Ouija board. After a second, her body gave a little jolt and she looked up. “Megan said you were looking for me?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“I am,” she said. “Just tired.”
I knelt, grabbed a candle, and blew it out, then reached for another. “I can’t believe they would leave these burning.”
“Um…Lexi? You should maybe…see this.…”
While I’d been focused on the candles, Kasey’s eyes were locked on the board itself.
I looked down and froze.
The planchette was moving.
It glided from letter to letter, making a light scratching sound against the board.
Megan breathlessly rested her hands on my shoulders, bending down to watch.
“It already said B-E,” Kasey whispered.
The movements seemed feeble, but it was perfectly confident about where it was headed.
“Will do,” I said, trying to figure out how to get the three of us as far from this situation as possible in the smallest amount of time. “Let’s go, you guys.”
“No, Lex, wait,” Megan said, grabbing on to the leg of my jeans. She knelt on the floor.
Kasey was standing with her palms flat against the floral wallpaper. “It’s not my fault,” she whispered. “I didn’t do it.”
“I know, Kase. It’s all right—we’re leaving. Megan,” I said, looking pointedly at my sister. “Come on.”
“Shh,” Megan said, not moving her eyes from the board. “Be careful? Why? Who are you?”
The pointer wobbled and began to move again. Megan grabbed the pad of paper and little wooden pencil from the open box and wrote down each letter.
In spite of my eagerness to go, I found myself watching its progress.
Enough. I tried to tug Megan toward the door, but she leaned forward, her eyes blazing. The bow from the front of her shirt dangled almost to the board. I had a horrible vision of something reaching up and grabbing on to it.
“Elspeth,” she asked, “why do we need to be careful?”
I yanked my arm free and slapped my hand on the planchette, holding it still. Under my palm, it pulled insistently, trying to get away. I turned to look into Megan’s indignant eyes.
“We talked about stuff like this,” I said. “About not doing it, remember?”
“This could be important, Lex,” Megan said. “She’s trying to tell us something.”
“We don’t even know who she is!” I protested. But before we could get into a debate, the door opened with a crash.
Lydia and her followers came back in, smelling vaguely of cigarettes. “Oh, whoa,” one of them said. “It’s dark.”
But my darkness-adjusted eyes could see fine.
And what I saw was: the pointer turning around and around, faster and faster, until it spun in place like a top.
Just as Lydia turned on the light, I backhanded the spinning planchette across the room. It hit the wall with a clatter.
“What are you doing?” Lydia demanded. “That’s not yours!”
“Relax,” I said, relieved that no one else had noticed the spinning.
“They blew out all the candles!” one of the girls whined. “That sucks.”
“Alexis sucks in general,” Lydia said. She looked at Megan, who was still clutching the paper and pencil. “And that’s mine too!”
“Let’s go,” I said, my hand on Kasey’s arm.
We were on our way out when Lydia called to me.
“Hey!” She stared at the pad of paper, which Megan had handed back to her. She looked at us, half-questioning and half-accusatory. “Elspeth? Why did you write that down?”
“Nothing,” I said. “It’s nothing.”
“What’s the matter, Lydia, are you scaaaaared?” one of the girls asked.
Lydia scowled. “Shut up! I’m returning this stupid game. I’m going to get my money back.”
“No you’re not,” the second girl said, laughing. “Look, this piece fell in a candle and melted.”
“Sorry, Elspeth!” the first girl cackled, and they dissolved into a fit of giggling.
I could feel the heat of Lydia’s glare on my back as we closed the door behind us.
Megan checked her phone. “My curfew’s ten thirty. Are you guys staying, or do you want a ride?”
Staying was the last thing I felt like doing. I found Carter at the end of the hall, still surrounded by preps. I heard the words “outreach” and “social consciousness,” but he abandoned the conversation to draw me close to him.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“Megan’s taking us home,” I said. “Kasey’s worn out.”
His brow furrowed. “I can leave now if you need me to.”
“No, don’t worry,” I said. “You stay. Schmooze up some votes.”
Megan stared at the road and tilted her head thoughtfully. “Do you think Elspeth—”
“Megan, no,” I said, trying to use the tightness of my voice to remind her that Kasey was in the backseat. “Seriously.”
“What?” she said, pausing at a stop sign. “There are ghosts everywhere. You know it as well as I do. And so does Kasey.”
“But we don’t have to be their friends!” I said. “Rule one: Don’t be friends with ghosts.”
“She was nice, though.”
“That’s what I thought.” Kasey’s weary voice came from the backseat. “About Sarah.”
Megan was stunned into silence, and I was, too. I’d never heard Kasey mention Sarah—the evil ghost who’d possessed her the previous October, thirteen years after murdering Megan’s mother.
- On Sale
- May 1, 2012
- Page Count
- 448 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers