Return to the Dark House

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By Laurie Faria Stolarz

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Ivy Jensen survived the Dark House once, but can she make it out a second time? Two months have passed since Ivy narrowly escaped the Nightmare Elf’s grip, but the memories of Parker, Natalie, Shayla, Frankie, and Garth continue to haunt her. Their killer is still out there???somewhere. The police trail has gone cold, though, and it’s up to Ivy to piece together the clues to find him. When a cryptic video arrives in her inbox, Ivy soon finds herself back in the spotlight, this time on a twisted scavenger hunt through the dark, ancient halls of a long-forgotten Gothic school building. Ivy’s not alone, either. Taylor Monroe has returned to the scene. But can Taylor be trusted? Or is she another pawn in the Nightmare Elf’s deadly game? Laurie Faria Stolarz crafts a mesmerizing thriller that will leave readers looking over their shoulders.

Excerpt

Copyright © 2015 by Laurie Faria Stolarz
Cover photograph © iStockPhoto (house) and © Jill Wachter (girl)
Cover design by Room39b

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, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.

ISBN 978-1-4847-1930-5

Visit www.hyperionteens.com




Dear Parker,

Years ago, after my parents were killed, my therapist thought it would be a good idea to write them letters—as many as I felt I needed to, for all of the things I wanted to share.

She told me that I should write the letters on special paper, seal them up in envelopes, and then mail them to myself, so that one day, years later, I could open the letters and see how much I’d grown.

The idea seemed stupid to me at the time. I was angry, confused, incapable of perspective, never mind growth. But I really don’t know what else to do here, Parker. And so I’m going to write you letters, starting with this one, but not as a way to track my growth, and not because I think you’re dead.

I’m just hoping to feel connected to you.

It’s been almost two months since the Dark House, and in that time, the FBI has come up with only a few basic theories—or at least only a few they’re willing to share with me. First, that aside from you and Taylor, all of the other contest winners were killed at the amusement park.

I don’t think that’s true. They have yet to uncover a single body. That theory is based solely on my testimony about the movie clips we saw just before my escape. Well, that and the amount of blood discovered at a few of the nightmare rides.

The second theory is that the person in charge has an unlimited supply of money.

I know, not exactly rocket science, right?

Everybody keeps telling me to move on. But how can I move anywhere when you and the others are still missing? I know it may sound dumb, but after my parents’ death, I never really allowed anyone to get too close—not my foster family, not one single friend—for fear that person might get taken from me too. But then I met you, and I broke all my own rules by allowing myself to be vulnerable and letting you in.

The time we spent together was the closest I’d felt to anyone in years. And, just as I’d always feared, you were taken from me too. But I’m going to get you back. And years from now when I open this letter, hopefully you’ll be sitting right beside me, and I can share it with you for real.

Love always,

Ivy




MY BEDROOM DOOR CREAKS OPEN, and the light from the hallway penetrates my room. I see his boot first: black wrinkled leather, soiled at the toe.

My gaze travels up his leg. He’s wearing a bright-red suit, as part of his elf costume, along with a floppy hat and green gloves.

He stares at me in the doorway with his tiny, dark-gray eyes: they’re rimmed with amber-brown; I’d recognize them anywhere. His silver hair is just as I remember it too—thick, shoulder-length, and wavy, tied back in a low ponytail, and with thin strands of black coursing through it.

“Good evening, Princess,” he says. His tongue inches out of his mouth, between his crooked yellow teeth, in the creepiest of grins. He looks around the room—at my soccer banners, my music posters, and all of my touches of pink—before meeting my eyes again. “It’s very nice to see you.”

There’s a cut on his face, just below his eye, extending four inches down his cheek. A trickle of blood runs from it, dripping onto my paisley bedcovers. Did my mom scratch him with her fingernails? Did Dad cut him with something sharp?

“Have you enjoyed the gifts I’ve sent you?” he asks. “The star pendant? The makeup kit?”

My fingers trembling, I reach inside my bag, searching for Taylor’s cell phone. I go to click it on, only to discover that it’s a calculator, not the phone.

The Nightmare Elf pulls a knife from the pocket of his suit and holds it out for show—a six-inch spring spike with a double-action blade. He brings it up to my neck, points the tip into my throat.

“Please,” I whisper, pressing the back of my head against the wall, fighting the urge to swallow.

“Ivy!” Parker shouts. His voice is followed by the sound of glass breaking.

The noise startles me awake. I sit up in bed, out of breath, before realizing where I am.

In my room.

At the hospital.

A clock on the wall ticks. It’s only four in the morning.

I touch my neck and try to swallow. It feels like sharp blades inside my throat. I must be getting sick.

Someone else must be up too. I can hear the sound of glass being swept, can picture the broken pieces entering someone’s skin.

And that’s when I remember.

I push the call button. “I need somebody to come in here!” I shout, despite the fact that my roommate is sleeping only a few feet away. I grab my notebook from beneath my pillow and write down the new clue, hoping I’m not too late.




THE TICKTOCK OF THE WALL CLOCK echoes the ticking deep inside me. My very own personal time bomb, just a sneeze away from going off.

I pinch the skin on my knee, and feel the familiar cramp—a stabbing sensation at the base of my thumb that radiates up my arm, into my elbow, setting my nerves aflame. The cramping is what eventually gets me to stop pinching.

Not the bloodred nail marks in my skin.

Not the black-and-blue blotches over both kneecaps.

Not the shamrock-shaped patch of yellow (a bruise in healing) swimming in a sea of purple skin.

I think I might spontaneously combust if someone doesn’t come in here within the next sixty seconds.

Ticktock, ticktock.

The medication isn’t working. It’s supposed to lighten and dull, but instead it seems to magnify. Everything feels brighter, louder, harsher, sharper.

I’m in one of the private meeting rooms. Sitting among white walls and metal folding chairs, at a laminate table with boogers and gum wads stuck underneath.

Because I started sleeping with knives.

Because Apple and Core, my foster parents, don’t think I’m the safest person to be around.

Not safe for myself.

Not safe for any of my foster siblings.

I can’t say I blame them. I honestly don’t know what safe is anymore. I doubt that it even exists.

I drum my fingers against the table to drown out the ticking. My palm aches. The nubs of my fingers feel tingly.

Finally, there’s a knock on the door. It creaks open. An officer walks in. Detective Thomas, local P.D. A major letdown. “I’d asked to speak with the FBI,” I tell him.

“Nice to see you too.” He nods a hello and takes a seat across from me. There are pouches beneath his eyes from lack of sleep. At least we have one thing in common.

I take my notebook from my lap and open it up to the first page. “There are some things we need to go over.”

After only a couple of seconds of reading, he lets out a heavy sigh. His breath smells like Cheetos. “We’ve been through these details before, Ivy. I thought you had something new.”

“I do, but first we need to review.”

“We’ve already reviewed.” He’s looking at me rather than my notes. “We’ve also explored, dissected, examined, and revisited. Trust me when I say that we’re doing all we can.”

“Well, it isn’t good enough.”

“Ivy.” His voice softens. “Leave the manhunt to us, okay? That’s our job. Your job is to get better and then get out of here.”

“Have you had a psychologist examine the winning contest essays?” I ask him. “Or analyze our personality profiles to determine how the killer chose us?”

“What do you think?”

“That’s why I’m asking.” I start flipping forward and backward through the pages of my notebook, pointing out charts and parallels I’ve drawn.

Detective Thomas indulges me by reading over a chronology I wrote—my summation of what happened on the Dark House amusement park night.

The second worst day of my life.

But then he closes the cover and slides the notebook across the table at me. “Take care of yourself, Ivy. Get some rest and get yourself better. If we find out anything, we’ll let you know.” He gets up to leave.

“No!” I shout, getting up too. I flip the notebook back open and scramble to the page marked Unanswered Questions. “Did you find any of the people who helped set up the amusement park? Or how about the drivers who picked us up from the airport...or Midge?”

“The amusement park had been there for years.” He sighs again. “It was abandoned and then revived for the Dark House weekend. The same goes for the cabin; someone made it look like the real Dark House. The FBI was able to find one of the drivers and he was brought in for questioning, but it seems he never met the suspect in person, only corresponded with him via text messages and e-mail. Those accounts have since been deleted.”

“Okay, so what about all of the creepy voice-overs that were used at the park?” I point to item number seven on the list of unanswered questions. “Do we know the identity of those people?”

“Ivy...”

“It’s a valid question.”

“It’s hard to find someone based solely on a voice—particularly a voice that none of the authorities heard. Need I remind you that all of the audio and visual equipment was gone by the time the officials got to the park? The people who were hired to do those voice-overs probably didn’t even know what they were participating in—what the suspect’s project was, that is.”

“In other words, no one’s contacted those people.”

Detective Thomas holds up his hands, as if he wants to talk me down off an imaginary ledge. If only I could jump.

“Parker is alive,” I snap. “He’s going to star in the sequel. The killer is making another movie. What are you doing to stop him?”

“Get better,” he says again, stepping back from the table.

“Doesn’t anything I say mean anything to you at all?”

“Of course it does. I’m here, aren’t I? You asked to speak to the authorities about a new lead in the case. I come all the way down here, and all you have are recycled clues, not to mention well-covered territory.”

“The killer has a scar.”

The detective’s eyes widen as he studies my face, perhaps waiting for me to take the words back. When I don’t, he grabs a notebook and pen from inside his jacket and sits back down. “How do you know?”

I draw an invisible line down my face with my finger. “I only remembered the scar recently. It’s a diagonal mark that extends from just below his right eye to just above his jawbone.”

“Hold on,” he says, jotting the information down, “I thought you said before that he was wearing a mask during your nightmare ride. Did he take it off?”

I open my mouth to answer, feeling my face flash hot. A sickly sensation churns in my stomach. Acid burns a hole in my throat. I look back up at the clock—ticktock, ticktock—realizing what I’ve done.

Ivy? Did he take the mask off?”

I shake my head, suddenly feeling like I’ve morphed into a little girl, caught for stealing from her mother’s purse.

“Then how do you know about a scar?”

I bring a strand of hair across my eyes, as if it could possibly hide me. I take a deep breath and travel back in my mind to the instant that I remembered the scar—around four this morning, after having just woken up from a nightmare about my parents, about their killer, only he’d been dressed like the Nightmare Elf from the Dark House case. Parker’s voice had called out to me (another Dark House detail). Plus, also in the dream, I’d been searching for Taylor’s cell phone (a third Dark House detail).

“Ivy?”

“I’m sorry,” I say, shaking my head. “I’d been so swept up in the detail of the scar that I hadn’t stopped to question it.”

Thomas’s furry blond eyebrows knit together in confusion; they look like caterpillars mating.

“I did remember a scar,” I tell him. “But it was on the face of my parents’ killer from seven years ago. You’re right. The Nightmare Elf was wearing a mask at the amusement park. He never took it off.” I breathe in and breathe out; there’s tightness in my chest. “All of the nightmares I’ve been having...they’ve been colliding inside my head, bleeding into one other. Sometimes it’s hard to decipher which details go with which case.”

“Don’t worry about it.” He closes up his notebook. “Stress like this can wreak havoc on the brain...distort your sense of reality.”

“But it is real,” I insist. “The scar, I mean. I remember it distinctly. Isn’t there a name for instances like this? Repressed memories or something?”

He gets up once again, not dignifying the question with an answer.

“Not yet,” I bark, grabbing at the ache in my head. “There’s so much more to talk about. Did anyone check out the hardware stores within a twenty-mile radius of the Dark House? Here, I’ve located three of them.” I pull a map from the back pocket of my notebook and open it up; it covers half of the table. “The red X is for the Dark House,” I tell him. “The purple one is for the amusement park. The hardware stores are marked with blue X’s. The green X is for the Horror House, a tiny one-room theater that’s only open at night and only plays scary films. I was thinking that maybe the killer liked to go there.”

“I wasn’t aware that Internet access was allowed at this place.”

“It’s not. I’ve been working on this map since before I got here.”

“What are the orange X’s for?”

“Electronics stores where he might’ve purchased video equipment. Maybe one of the shop owners remembers him. Or maybe the shops use surveillance video. Or what about the real estate agent who sold him the Dark House?”

Detective Thomas stares at me with an amused expression, the corner of his mouth turned upward. “I’m impressed. But, as I’ve said before, you can rest assured that we’ve got all of these angles covered.”

“What about Taylor then?” I persist. “What made her leave the Dark House early?”

“That’s of no concern to you right now.”

“Tell me,” I insist.

“All you need to know where Taylor’s concerned is that she saw something at the Dark House that alarmed her enough to leave. By the time investigators got to the house, they were unable to find that something.”

“What was it? What did she see?”

“Ivy,” he says yet again.

I hate my name. I hate my life. I stand in front of the door so he has no choice but to hear me out. “Why won’t you help me?” A sob gets caught in my throat. “I mean, there has to be some reason.”

“Some reason for what?”

“For why Taylor left. For why you’re keeping key pieces from me. For why the two worst experiences of my life are melting together inside my brain, haunting me while I sleep.”

Ticktock, ticktock. My whole body’s sweating and yet I feel chilled to the bone.

“Step out of the way.” There’s tension on Detective Thomas’s face, scrunched up on his brow.

I secure the knob in both of my hands, behind my back.

“I’m not asking you,” he insists.

“Wait,” I blurt, the answer finally clicking.

Thomas reaches behind me to grab the knob, but I widen my stance so he can’t. “You know you’re only going to buy yourself more time in here, don’t you?” he asks, lowering his voice. “What good will that do you or any of the missing victims?”

“Like you give a shit about any of us!” I shout. “You’ve already written them off as dead.”

“You leave me no other choice.” He goes to knock on the door, but I block his fist with my hand. “The killer knows where I live,” I remind him, referring to the package I received just weeks after the Dark House weekend. It was filled with the winning essays of all of my fellow contest winners. I brought the package to the authorities, but with no postmark and no fingerprints, it was another dead end.

“You’re safe in here,” he says, pulling his fist away. He knocks on the door, right above my head. The sound echoes off the bones of my skull.

“No!” I shout, pushing myself against him—fists and arms and chest and head.

Because he won’t hear me.

Because I have to make him hear me.

Everything that happens next feels like it’s been set to fast forward—like I’m watching it on a TV screen, like it isn’t actually happening to me.

The door whips open and I get pushed to the side. Two nurses grab me from behind. They pull up my hospital gown, exposing my legs. Detective Thomas’s eyes go straight to my knees—all bruised and swollen and purple and yellow—as a needle’s stabbed into my thigh.

His face falls flat—the tension replaced by something else. Surprise? Repulsion? Pity? Remorse?

My slipper has fallen off. My heel catches against a floor tile. A layer of skin scrapes free. It takes me a moment to realize that I’m being dragged through the common room from behind.

People are talking.

Fingers are pointing.

A plastic dish falls to the floor with a clatter.

I’m brought into a room. My head hits something soft. A pillow. Cold sheets. What happened to my notebook? Where is my map?

Ticktock, ticktock. Another clock on yet another wall. But this medicine seems to do the trick, darkening my mind, dulling all of my sharp edges.

Until I can no longer hear the ticking.

Until all of my fight slips away.




NORTHBRIDGE

PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL

INCIDENT REPORT

Date and Time of Incident: 9/13, 3:30 p.m.

Patient Name: Ivy Rose Jensen

Age: 18

DIAGNOSIS


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression, Anxiety Disorder

DESCRIPTION OF INCIDENT

(as reported to Amanda Baker, C.N.P., by Detective Clive Thomas)


Detective Clive Thomas had been in Private Meeting Room Two, per Ivy’s request, to discuss details of the “Dark House” case in which she was involved. When Detective Thomas tried to leave the room, Ivy became hostile and began shouting at him. (Note: the shouting was heard in the common area of the hospital, as confirmed by Brooke Cantor, L.P.N.) Thomas reported that Ivy took hold of the doorknob and tried to keep him from knocking on the door. When he was finally able to knock, she shoved herself into him headfirst, and swung her arms at his face. Thomas reported that Ivy punched his jaw and elbowed his neck. At that time, nurses Dan Leiberman and Jonathan Zakum entered the room to assist.

PATIENT MEDICAL HISTORY/SHORT FORM


Adoptive Mother’s Information

Name:

 

Gail “Apple” Jensen

Occupation:

 

Owner, The Tea Depot and the 24-hour Depot, Boston, MA

Marital Status:

 

Married

Adoptive Father’s Information

Name:

 

Steve “Core” Jensen

Occupation:

 

Owner/General Contractor, Crunch Construction, Singham, MA

Marital Status:

 

Married

Maternal Mother’s Information

Name:

 

Sarah Leiken

Deceased at 41 years old

Cause of Death:

 

Homicide victim

Paternal Father’s Information

Name:

 

Matthew Leiken

Deceased at 44 years old

Cause of Death:

 

Homicide victim

PATIENT’S DEVELOPMENTAL HISTORY


Past medical records for April Leiken (adoptive name, Ivy Jensen) show that April was the product of a full-term pregnancy and unremarkable birth. Neonatal is neither remarkable nor contributory, and developmental milestones for motor skills and speech/language acquisition occurred within average expectancies.

BEHAVIORAL PROBLEMS


(filled out by Gail Jensen, adoptive mother, upon hospital admittance):

Does your child currently have or has he/she ever had (place an X beside all that apply):

Problems with sleeping

X

Appetite change or sudden weight change

X

Irritability or temper outbursts

X

Withdrawal or preference for being alone

X

Frequent complaints of aches or pains

(headaches) X

Recent drop in grades

N/A

(she’s not currently in school)

Phobia or irrational fears

X

Genre:

  • Praise for Welcome to the Dark House
"A fun, scary ride."—SLJ
  • Praise for Welcome to the Dark House
  • "The suspense starts pounding when the teens enter the park and doesn't stop until readers are ready for the sequel."—Kirkus

    On Sale
    Jul 21, 2015
    Page Count
    320 pages
    ISBN-13
    9781484719305

    Laurie Faria Stolarz

    About the Author

    Laurie Faria Stolarz is the author of Welcome to the Dark House, Return to the Dark House, and the Touch series, as well as Project 17; Bleed; and the highly popular Blue Is for Nightmares; White Is for Magic; Silver Is for Secrets; Red Is for Remembrance; and Black Is for Beginnings. Born and raised in Salem, Massachusetts, Stolarz attended Merrimack College and received an MFA in creative writing from Emerson College in Boston. For more information, please visit http://www.LaurieStolarz.com.

    Learn more about this author