Published by: HarperVoyager
Publication date: April 9th 2015
Genres: Paranormal, Young Adult
Something is wrong with Esmé.
Kicked out of school in New York, she’s sent to live with her grandmother in a small Appalachian town. But something is wrong with the grandmother Ez hasn’t seen for years; she leaves at midnight, carrying a big black bag. Something is wrong with her grandmother’s house, a decrepit mansion full of stray cats, stairs that lead to nowhere, beds that unmake themselves. Something is wrong in the town where a kid disappears every year, where a whistle sounds at night but no train arrives.
And something is wrong with the cute and friendly neighbor Ez’s age with black curls and ice-blue eyes: He’s dead.
April 9, 2015
On the train, I closed my eyes and didn’t look back.
My sister had bought me a ticket on the Keystone to Pennsylvania—a daylong trip from Penn Station. I slept mostly. We passed into New Jersey, following the water, steely and gray. I didn’t talk to anyone, or move when the conductor came through, calling for lunch reservations. I wasn’t hungry. When the train stopped after Elizabethtown, at the most desolate, busted place I could imagine, I stood. This was the stop. I knew it.
After all, I had been here before.
When our parents died, the Firecracker was fifteen—my age now—too young to take care of me herself. I tried to imagine my sister like me, in school, wearing toe shoes around her neck, her long hair in a ponytail. I couldn’t picture it, not really. I was five then, and we moved in with our grandmother, our mother’s mother, for three years until my sister was legal, could get a job, get a place for us back in the city where we belonged, she said.
I knew the blandness, the brokenness of this place where I had been, I had been once and escaped already. Wellstone.
The conductor called the name of the town—but I was the only one who got out. The train huffed away, and I was left.
Outside on the platform, under an overhang, I sat on a bench.
Wellstone was a punishment, like my grandmother was a punishment. My sister had used both of them as idle threats for years. If I didn’t do better in school, if I didn’t come home on time, if I didn’t stop talking back, she would send me here, to Wellstone, where there were no malls or coffee shops or stores that stayed open past five o’clock or kids my own age or anything to do.
My grandmother didn’t have internet. She didn’t have a computer. She didn’t have cable. She lived in an old, rambling mansion that was falling down. It wasn’t safe, I remembered. Once, my foot had fallen through a stair. Rain had fallen through the ceiling. The Firecracker had cried a lot.
But in New York, my sister had made plans, secretly and instantly. There were three weeks left of school, and she had arranged for me to be transferred. The school in Wellstone had emailed a schedule. They were expecting me.
Grandma was the last resort for me.
I didn’t even know if I would know her face. She was quiet and terrifying, I remembered that. She kept cats with no tails who roamed freely in and out of the house. There was a barn I wasn’t allowed to go into. There was a big black bag she carried that I wasn’t allowed to see in.
My grandmother had worked the night shift, as a nurse or something. She had cooked strange things, nearly inedible things, bubbling stews and simmering broths, which she left hissing on the stove all day. The house smelled of herbs and dried flowers and dust and spice and boiling chickens. She kept the bones. The cats played with them.
On the train platform, I shivered. I checked for reception on my phone. I waited. And I waited. I had started to fall asleep when I heard a car. I sat up and reached for my suitcases.
My grandmother came around the corner of the station. I hadn’t seen her for seven years.
She was smaller than I remembered, and she wore glasses, the kind with a beaded chain. She walked heavily and slowly, as though it hurt her. She stepped up to the platform and looked across.
I didn’t run to her. I didn’t shout. I decided to stay very still. I decided to look like it didn’t matter; I didn’t care.
She turned, and without a word to me, began to walk back to her car.
“Grandma?” I said, but my voice felt thick. I wasn’t sure she had heard me. By the time I had gathered up my bags, the car was starting. “Grandma, no!” I left the suitcases and ran to the parking lot.
Her car, a station wagon, was just disappearing up the road.
I dialed my phone. “Grandma left me,” I said when my sister picked up.
“Why are you calling me at work?”
“She left me.”
“Where?” the Firecracker said.
“At the train station.”
“Well, was your train late?”
“I’m sure it’s a mistake,” my sister said. “A misunderstanding.” I remembered her raging about our grandmother, about her strangeness, her habits. Eccentric was the word the Firecracker used, which, as a child, I had thought was electric; I kept waiting for our grandmother to light up like a Christmas tree. “You know where she lives,” my sister said.
“No, I don’t.”
“Well, you have the address. And you remember the house.”
“Yes,” I said.
I could never forget the house.
Also the author of three books of poetry: WAIT (University of Wisconsin Press, 2011), OHIO VIOLENCE (University of North Texas Press, 2009), and LOT OF MY SISTER (Kent State University Press, 2001), she has worked as an actor, an artist’s model, a high school teacher, and a professor. She holds a Ph.D. in English from Ohio University, and is an avid urban explorer.