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A Midsummer Nigh's Scream

 


 

The course of true love never did run smooth;

 

But either it was different in blood …

 

—William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

 


 

PART ONE

 

 

 

ONE NIGHT IN THE WOODS

 

ONE HAND ON THE WHEEL, one hand around Darlene’s shoulders, Tony pounded the gas pedal, and the van roared over the bumps and pits of the narrow dirt road. Leaning against the window on Darlene’s right, Sue gritted her teeth and absorbed every jolt and jerk in silence. Tony was driving too fast, trying to impress Darlene, and Sue had to fight down her fear.

The van was roaring through thick woods, and the overhanging trees blocked the evening light, making Sue feel as if the world had gone black-and-white.

In the backseat, Randy, Brian, and Cindy were singing a children’s song, “Teddy Bear’s Picnic.” Singing and laughing at the same time. Darlene shook her head. Sue covered her ears.

Sue was the shy one in the group of friends. She appeared on edge with them, as if she’d love to be somewhere else.

The van hit a big stone, and the six kids flew up from their seats, their heads thumping the ceiling. The wheel spun wildly in Tony’s hand. Sue and Cindy screamed as they veered toward the trees. Laughing, Tony swung the car back onto the road.

“Man, this van can really rock and roll,” Randy said from the backseat.

“Like really,” Tony said. He tightened his arm around Darlene, pulling her closer.

Sue gripped her door handle tightly. She frowned at Tony. It was obvious she wished Tony would stop trying to wow Darlene and drive a little slower. The sky had grown even darker.

Cindy sat between Brian and Randy in the back. She was sweet-looking, with wavy blond hair down to her shoulders. She wore a ruffled peasant blouse that showed plenty of skin. Randy had short blond hair and looked about twelve, even with the cigarette dangling from his mouth.

Darlene was smoking, too. She had a dark ponytail, her hair mostly hidden under a polka-dot bandanna. The bandanna flapped in the wind from Tony’s open window. Darlene always wore the same black leather jacket and black denim jeans. She liked to look tough.

Tony’s dark hair was ruffled by the wind as the van sped through the trees. He had a lean, serious face, but his eyes crinkled at the sides, as if he were always enjoying a private joke.

“How about some music?” Randy asked.

Tony uttered an annoyed sigh. “I already told you, the radio is busted. This is my cousin’s van and—”

That’s when the car hit something in the road and spun rapidly out of control. Jerked to one side, the six teens heard a hard thud and then the clang of metal against rock.

“Whoooaaaa!” Tony uttered a wide-eyed cry.

The car lurched forward, then shot back hard with a squeal.

Silence.

Sue gazed out the window, her face revealing her fear. “Did we hit a deer?”

“Just a rock,” Tony said, and then added, “I think.”



The three in the backseat sat in stunned silence.

Tony tried to gun the engine. Nothing. He turned the key in the ignition, but the van refused to respond.

“Come on. Come on. Go!” It was easy to see that Tony was the most impatient of the group. No—impatient wasn’t the right word. He was hot-headed, ready to explode for any reason.

Several more tries to start the van. Sue shut her eyes. Darlene tapped the dashboard nervously.

“Go go go,” Randy urged the van from the backseat.

They were deep in the woods in the middle of nowhere. It was miles to the lake lodge where they were heading.

Tony let out an exasperated cry. He slammed the wheel with both hands. “I don’t believe this.”

He shoved open the driver’s door and jumped outside. Everyone started talking at once. The air in the van grew steamy and hot. They all piled out.

Tall trees rose up on both sides of the narrow dirt road.

Brian put a hand on Sue’s shoulder. “Hey, Sue, we’ll be okay.”

Sue forced a smile, but everyone could see her trembling.

“Nice night for a walk,” Darlene said, rolling her eyes. “I love walking miles and miles in a dark forest, don’t you?”

No one answered her.

Tony was peering under the hood. He slammed his fist on the fender and cursed. “Too dark. I can’t see a thing.”

“Since when do you know how to fix a car?” Randy said.

“Since when do I need your opinion?” Tony shot back. He bumped up against Randy, fists clenched.

Randy raised both hands in surrender and backed off.

The discussion of what to do didn’t take long. Stay overnight in the van? Or walk and try to find a house or cabin with someone who could help them start it up again? The unanimous decision was to look for help.

And so they left everything in the van and, huddling close together, started off along the path through the trees. The only sounds were the soft thuds of their shoes on the dirt and the endless shrill chirp of crickets all around.

“What kind of a nut would live in the middle of a forest?” Darlene complained. “We’ll be walking forever.”

“Unless we’re attacked by wolves,” Randy joked.

“Not funny, man.” Tony moved to confront Randy again. Randy raised his hands in surrender and backed off.

“There may be a bigger road or a highway up ahead,” Cindy said. She was the optimist in the group.

How long did they crunch through the trees? An hour? More? It was hard to keep track of the time. Tony kept his arm around Darlene as they led the way. Brian was big and brawny. He kept mopping sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand as he trudged along.

Cindy was the first to cry out. “Wow! Look.”

The house came into view, black against the charcoal sky, as if it had magically popped up from nowhere.

Sue gasped in surprise and squeezed Brian’s hand. The six friends stared at the house, rising like a dark fortress in front of them.

“Welcome to Dracula’s Castle,” Darlene murmured.

It did look more like a castle than a house. Dark towers rose up on both sides of a long sloping roof. Were those bats flapping in the evening sky, circling the twin towers?

They trotted toward the house eagerly, although it didn’t appear inviting. No lights. The windows were as dark as the night, and as the six teens drew nearer, they could see that bars covered every one.

“Looks like a prison,” Randy muttered.

“Who would live in a creepy place like this?” Darlene asked.

“A rich person,” Tony said. “A rich person who will help us get going again.”

“Maybe a rich person who doesn’t want any guests,” Brian said.

But pounding on the tall, wooden slab of a front door didn’t bring anyone to open it. Tony ran along the side of the house, peering into the barred windows. “I don’t think anyone is home,” he reported.

“Hey, look,” Darlene called to him. “The door…”

She pushed the thick door open. Everyone stepped up behind Darlene. She crept over the threshold. “Anyone home? Hey—anyone here?” She had a sharp, tough voice. She sounded hard, even when she was trying to be sweet.

No reply.

A few seconds later, they stood in the front entryway. Sue fumbled on the wall, found a light switch, and clicked it. She uttered a cry of surprise as bright ceiling lights flashed on high above their heads.

“Nice!” Tony declared, gazing around. Beyond the hall stood a huge front room, filled with old-fashioned armchairs and couches.

Darlene shook her head. “Is this the Ritz? The guy who owns this place has got to be a millionaire!”

“Anyone here?” Randy shouted. His voice rang through the empty rooms.

They moved through the front room, into a large library with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, through another hallway, into a long dining room, turning on lights as they went.

Cindy tossed back her blond hair and squinted down the length of the oak dining-room table. “This room … it’s bigger than the lunchroom at school,” she stammered. She slid out a heavy, tall-backed chair and sat down at the table. “Somebody serve me dinner. I’ll have pheasant under glass.”

Sue raised her eyes to the ceiling. She was surprised to see two old-fashioned-looking swords—like pirate swords—crisscrossed high above the table. They were suspended in the air on thin cords, halfway between the table and the high ceiling.

“Far out,” she murmured. “This is the strangest house. Why are those swords over the table?” She pulled out a chair and sat down next to Cindy.

Darlene and Tony lingered near the door. They wrapped their arms around each other. Tony pressed Darlene against the wall. Darlene held the back of Tony’s head with both hands and kissed him and kissed him, long wet kisses.

“Hey, break it up, sex maniacs,” Randy called to them. “Did you forget we’re not moving in here? We came to find help, remember?”

Tony edged Darlene out of his way and came storming toward Randy. “I’m tired of you being in my business,” he growled. “You’ve been on my back the whole trip.”

Randy didn’t retreat this time. “Man, I don’t know what your problem is. I was just saying—”

He didn’t get to finish. Tony took a swing at him.

Randy ducked and the punch sailed over his head. “Hey, cool it, man. We have to—”

The others cried out as Tony’s next punch caught Randy in the pit of his stomach. Brian dove forward to pull Tony back.

Randy folded up, grabbing his middle and groaning. He staggered back into the long serving cabinet. The impact of his body against the dark wood cabinet sent it thudding into the wall.

A shadow moved over the dining-room table. Overhead, the dangling swords started to swing. One of them slipped from its cord and sailed straight down.

Cindy opened her mouth in a shrill squeal. “Noooooo!”

The sword came slicing down.

They all heard a squisssh.

Cindy’s scream cut off with a gurgle.

“Oh my god. Oh my god!” Sue shrieked. The room rang with shrill cries of horror.

Eyes bulging, Cindy raised a bloody stump. Her hand had been cut off cleanly at the wrist. It sat in front of her on the tabletop, thumb and fingers outstretched. Like a small white crab.


 

ANOTHER ACCIDENT?

 

“OH MY GOD … OH MY GOD…”

Bright-red blood began to spurt from Cindy’s open wrist. It squirted high in the air, splashing onto the table.

Cindy screamed and screamed, waving the stump in front of her. Sue turned and tried to hug her. Blood splattered the front of her skirt and top.

Grunting and groaning like a hurt animal, Cindy toppled off the chair and collapsed to the floor. Silent now, she didn’t move.

The others rushed to her. Only Darlene held back, her face suddenly pale, her features tight with fear. “Get something to wrap around her arm,” Tony said. “We have to stop the bleeding.”

“Too late,” Sue told him. She was on her knees, leaning over Cindy. Cindy’s eyes were wide and glassy. Her mouth hung open. She wasn’t breathing. “Too late. I … I think she’s dead.”

“Noooo!” The cries rang through the enormous room. “She can’t be!”

“Oh my god. No. Please, no.”

“We have to get help,” Randy said. “We’ve got to call the police. Call an ambulance.”

“There has to be a phone,” Brian said. “Did anyone see a phone?”

“Maybe in the kitchen?” Sue suggested. Cindy’s blood was darkening on the front of Sue’s clothes.

They stumbled to the kitchen door at the far end of the dining room. Tony got there first. “Yes!” he cried. “A wall phone.”

He lifted the receiver and put it to his ear. His face appeared to collapse. “No dial tone. It’s dead.” He studied the phone. “Hey—the cord has been cut!”

They all stared at the dangling phone cord.

“S-someone doesn’t want us to call for help,” Darlene choked out. She swallowed hard. “Th-that sword that dropped on Cindy’s hand—maybe it wasn’t an accident. Maybe someone dropped the sword on her. What if the killer is still in the house?”

“That’s crazy!” Tony cried. “Don’t talk crazy ideas. Keep it calm, hear? It had to be an accident.”

“We have to do something,” Darlene whispered. She lit a cigarette with a trembling hand. “We can’t stay in here arguing with each other. There’s a dead body in the dining room. There has to be a way to reach the police.”

Tony pointed to the kitchen window, thick bars outside the glass like all the other windows. “Very dark out there,” he said. “And nothing but woods for miles. I don’t want to go out till morning.”

“I … I really don’t like this,” Sue stammered. Her whole body trembled.

“Who does?” Darlene said, taking a deep drag of her cigarette.

Tony walked over and put his arms around her. She lowered her head to his shoulder.

“We need to think,” Randy said. “I’m like in shock. It’s hard to think straight.” He rubbed the front of his t-shirt. “Maybe it’s because I’m starving.”

“I’m hungry, too,” Brian said. “We haven’t eaten anything since this morning, and—”

“How can you think about food when Cindy is lying in there dead?” Sue demanded. She wrapped her arms around her chest as if shielding herself from danger.

Brian put a hand on her shoulder. “I think Randy is right. We’ll all think more clearly if we have something to eat.”

“Who says there’s any food in this creepy old house?” Tony asked, scowling at Randy.

Randy shrugged. “We can look—can’t we?”

He bent down and started sliding kitchen drawers open. Tony moved quickly across the kitchen. He grabbed Randy by the shoulders and tried to pull him back. “Don’t touch anything, Randy. What if Darlene is right? This whole house could be a trap. We can’t just make sandwiches and pretend we’re not in danger.”

Randy pulled free of Tony. He tugged open another cabinet door. “But I’m hungry, man. And when I’m hungry, I’m hungry.”

“We’re all hungry,” Brian said. “Tony, we’ll think better if we grab a bite. We’ll be able to make a plan.”

“I don’t like this,” Darlene said. “We need to plan how to protect ourselves in case—”

“Found something!” Randy shouted. He pulled out a loaf of bread. He raised it for the others to see. He turned to the counter. “Look. A toaster. I’ll make toast. See what’s in the fridge. Any butter? Jelly?”

He walked toward a silver toaster on the counter. Tony blocked his path. “I’m warning you, man…”

“And I’m warning you, man,” Randy grunted. They had a short staring contest.

Finally, Tony backed off. “Okay, whatever you say. Make your toast.”

Randy slid two slices of bread into the toaster. He started to push the lever down.

He gasped at the loud, electronic buzz. A bright flash of light burst from the toaster.

Darlene let out a shriek. Sue and Brian stumbled back against the counter.

Randy’s whole body jerked wildly as a jagged bolt of white electricity crackled up his arm, then around his shoulder and head.

The electricity roared as it swept over him. Randy’s body jolted and thrashed. He opened his mouth in a shriek of pain and horror. But his cry was drowned out by the crackling, roaring electrical charge from the toaster.


 

A BAD FALL

 

THE WHITE-HOT JAGGED BOLTS OF current shot around his head, his shoulders, his whole body. Randy’s face started to burn. The roar of the powerful jolts grew deafening.

His arms flew straight up. Trapped inside the burning, crackling power charges, Randy started to do a wild dance. His arms swung above his head. His legs bent and kicked. The pain of the electrical jolts forced him to dance … dance …

Then his screams stopped. His eyes closed. His head tilted back at an impossible angle. His eyes bulged, staring blankly at the ceiling.

The others gaped in helpless horror. They knew Randy was dead. The electrical shock had killed him. But it kept him dancing. Jolt after jolt. His arms flailing, his legs bobbing and bending. A crazy, horrifying dance.

A dance of the dead.

Finally, he collapsed to the floor.

He didn’t move. Darlene’s sobs broke the silence. Tony moved to hold her, but she knelt down beside Randy and held him by the shoulders. His mouth hung open. His face was burned black.

Tony banged his fists on the wall angrily. Brian stared wide-eyed, as if he’d gone into a trance.

“I warned him. You heard me,” Tony said. “You all heard me.” He was trying to sound tough, but his voice cracked.

“Too late for warnings,” Sue murmured.

“We’ve got to get it together,” Tony said, shaking his head. “We’ve got to think. Think…”

“We’ve got to get out of this house before … before someone kills us all,” Brian said.

Darlene set Randy’s charred head down gently. Then she climbed to her feet. “Brian is right. Let’s go. Let’s just get out.”

She spun toward the kitchen door and strode over to it. Sue watched her struggle with the door handle. “Locked,” Darlene reported. “We’re locked in.”

“Try the front door,” Sue said. She led the way back through the dining room. Past Cindy dead on the floor, her pale hand still sitting on the table. Through the library and front room. Back to the tall front door.

Tony grabbed the door handle. Pushed, then pulled. Angrily, he set his shoulder against it and tried to force it.

“Locked,” he finally admitted, breathing hard. “Someone must have locked it. We’re … trapped in here.”

“Who is doing this to us?” Brian cried, pressing his hands to the sides of his face. “What crazy maniac wants to kill us all?”

Tony frowned at Brian. “Get it together, man. If you lose your cool now, you’ll never get out of here.”

“But … but…” Brian sputtered. “The doors are locked and the windows are barred.”

“Upstairs,” Darlene said. “Maybe we can climb out an upstairs window.”

Their shoes thudded on the hardwood floors as they made their way to the bottom of a steep stairway. The four teens gazed up into the darkness at the top. They hesitated.

“Are you sure you want to go up there?” Brian asked. “It’s so dark, man.”

“We have no choice,” Darlene said, pushing the two boys aside, “if we want to get out of this house alive.” She raised her foot to the first step. “Follow me.”

They watched her run quickly up the wooden stairs. They were steep. There was no banister. And each step squeaked when she climbed onto it.

She turned back to the three at the bottom. “What are you waiting for? Come on!”

She raised her shoe to the next stair—and stumbled. They all screamed as Darlene fell. There was no step beneath her. The top boards were missing. It was an open hole.

Darlene uttered a shrill wail as her body sank into the hole. She fell quickly. She raised her arms to stop herself, but she wasn’t quick enough. Her scream was cut off by a sickening craaack.

The sound of her neck breaking.

Her eyes went wide. Her face froze. Her body plummeted into the hole, and on the way down, her chin caught the stair edge. The fall broke her neck—and she died instantly.

At the bottom of the stairs, Tony and Brian were screaming, staring up at Darlene’s head.

Sue turned away from the scene of horror. She pointed at a strange man who suddenly appeared behind them. He was very short and had a wild nest of black hair on his head and a heavy black beard that cast his face in shadow.

“Stop it!” Sue shrieked at him. “Why don’t you stop it? Stop it! Stop it!


 

CURSED

 

THE MOVIE SCREEN WENT WHITE. My friend Delia Jacobs and I sat staring at it, blinking at the sudden bright light. I tried to swallow but my throat was too dry.

“That … was so horrible,” I said in a whisper. I pressed my hands against my cheeks. My palms felt cold and wet against my hot face. I could feel the blood pulsing at my temples.

“Claire, I totally don’t believe it,” Delia said. “But it really happened, didn’t it? Those poor kids. Trying to make a movie and … and…” Her voice faded.

Delia gripped the arms of the leather chair. She shuddered. “We actually watched those three young actors die. I think I’m going to be sick. Really.”

“Me, too.”

We were sitting in the front row of my family’s basement screening room. It’s a pretty awesome room—six rows of soft, comfortable chairs, a huge LED screen, a theater-quality sound system, and in the corner, an antique popcorn cart on two wheels that actually makes the best popcorn ever.

But we didn’t make popcorn today. Delia and I knew what we were going to watch was truly horrifying. And real.

My dad begged us not to watch it. He said it would give us nightmares. “I know you’re curious,” he said. “But sometimes it’s better not to know the reality.”

Dad is an avoider. He likes to see the bright side of things. He has a way of pushing aside the unpleasant. I’m a lot like him. But this time I didn’t agree.

Delia and I decided we had to see that film. We had to know what we were getting involved in.

Let me explain.

Delia and I have always dreamed about acting in movies, and our dream has come true. This summer we are going to be in the remake of Mayhem Manor. That’s why we just sat through the original Mayhem Manor film from 1960.

Or, at least, what exists of it.

The film ended when Darlene fell into that open stair and broke her neck. That was the last scene they shot. Because of the three horrible accidents—and the three deaths—the movie was never finished.

It was a horror movie that turned into real horror.

Three young actors lost their lives while the camera rolled. Books have been written about the tragic accidents that stopped the film. Some people believed that Mayhem Manor was cursed. It became a dark Hollywood legend.

My mom and dad run WoodCast Studios in Burbank. They make one or two movies a year. Dad decided to green-light a new version of the old horror film. Sixty years had passed since the original Mayhem Manor. He knew a remake of a cursed film would get a lot of press, a lot of attention.

Delia and I were desperate to be in it. As I said, we both totally want to be actors. We both auditioned …

… and the rest is movie history.

Okay, okay. I exaggerate. But, you never know.

“Did you watch it?” A voice from behind us. My dad walked to the front of the screening room.

“Yeah. We did,” I said. “Where were you? You were going to watch it with us.”

He shrugged. He looked tired. “We had a problem on the set of Please Don’t, that comedy we’re doing. So what else is new? I had to stay late.”

I told you Dad is an avoider. I knew he wouldn’t watch it with us.

He rubbed his smooth cheeks. “I owe you girls an apology. I should never have given you the footage. It’s too upsetting and—”

“Too late,” Delia murmured. “My stomach is already acting like a wave machine at Six Flags.”

“I know I’m going to have nightmares tonight,” I said.

“I warned you,” Dad said. “Maybe if you keep telling yourself it happened sixty years ago…”

“How did it happen?” Delia asked. She suddenly looked very pale. “Did someone like deliberately kill those actors?”

Dad shook his head. “It was a big mystery. A mystery that was never really solved. The L.A. police … the FBI … private investigators … they all decided the deaths were accidental. Three horrible accidents.”

My stomach churned again. “I feel sick. Really.”

“I’m so sorry,” Dad said. “But I guess you have to know the truth. You’re going back into that house to film our remake. So you need to know what happened there.”

Delia and I gazed at the blank screen on the wall. I kept hearing those awful screams in my ears. Not acting. Real screams.

“If either of you wants to quit…” Dad started.

“No way!” Delia and I said in unison.

“You’re right. We have to keep telling ourselves it was sixty years ago,” Delia said. “It’s history, right?” She was trying to be positive, but her voice trembled.

“We’re so psyched to be in this movie,” I said. “We’ve both waited so long. It’s our dream, you know. We can’t wait to start. Right, Delia?”

Delia nodded. “Can’t wait.”

It’s true. I couldn’t wait for rehearsals to start. My first movie. What could be more exciting?

Now if only I could get those three kids to stop screaming in my ears.


PART TWO

 

 

 

STRANGE IMPULSES

 

A WEEK AFTER DELIA AND I watched the footage of the old film, I went to Ross Harper’s party hoping to find Jake Castellano. Like the song says, I had lovin’ on my mind.

Ross lives in an enormous mansion with a swimming pool the size of Lake Tahoe, on Loma Vista in Beverly Hills, which is a short drive from my house. Of course, my dad had to drive Delia and me to the party because of the screwed-up California driving laws.

Delia and I are almost seventeen, which means we can drive anywhere we want to—until curfew time at eleven at night. Which makes no sense. How are we supposed to get home if we can’t drive after eleven? I mean, a lot of my friends don’t go out till eleven.

Hey, but no complaints from me. Any pool party at Ross’s house is worth walking to, especially if his parents are away.

Delia sat in the backseat of Dad’s BMW. She had her phone in one hand and drummed her fingers on the seat with the other. I could hear the tinny beats of music escaping from the earbuds in her ears.

Did I mention that Delia and I are like this (two fingers close together)? I don’t think you could call her my BFF, but she’s definitely my Best Friend For Now.

That’s because her mother keeps talking about leaving L.A., getting away from the lunatics, she says. Mrs. Jacobs and her new boyfriend aren’t in the movie business, and if you don’t work in movies in L.A., where are you?

Delia doesn’t get along with either of them. The new boyfriend grooms dogs at home, and Delia hates dogs because she is allergic to all the fur. So she sleeps at my house whenever she can. Actually, she lives at my house and just goes home to change her clothes.

Dad seemed preoccupied as he drove. He kept his eyes on the twisting road and crinkled his face, as if he had unpleasant thoughts running through his mind. I guessed he was thinking about going back to work tomorrow.

I didn’t want to think about movies tonight. I wanted to think about Ross Harper’s party. His parties can be way wild.

When Ross’s parents are away, some kids get pretty messed up, mostly on beer and wine and smoking things. And we all know why couples slink off to the pool house across the terrace. You don’t need to guess. I mean, it’s a three-bedroom pool house!

Well, tonight I wanted to find Jake Castellano and get him alone somehow, away from Shawn O’Reilly, his hulking shadow, and just spill my guts. Tell him how I feel about him. The whole sweaty hands, heart-fluttering thing.

Oh, wow. I don’t want to be living some douchy kind of teen romance. But I wouldn’t mind some romance. With Jake, that is. We’ve been bumping up against each other most of our lives, so he thinks of me as—wait for it—a friend. Is that the worst word in the English language?

Delia didn’t want to come along. She doesn’t like Ross Harper. Delia says she hates rich people like Ross.

Delia’s father made piles of money in real estate in the Valley. But I guess that doesn’t count to her since he ran off with some kind of countess and left her and her mother in their house on Melrose.

When I told Delia that Shawn would probably be at the party, her dark eyes flashed and her whole expression changed. She’s been crushing on Shawn for weeks now. She says he hasn’t noticed. Which means Shawn is basically plant life, because Delia is the hottest girl at Beverly Hills Academy. Ask anyone.

I don’t really understand what she sees in Shawn. He’s a big goofy teddy bear. And my idea of a good time isn’t hanging out at the beach, watching Shawn draped over a board in his wet suit, waiting for the next good wave.

Anyway, my dad dropped us off at the gate in front of Ross’s house. Yes, there’s a tall iron fence around the property. Through the bars of the gate, I gazed up at the house, bathed in white light.

I pressed the button on the intercom. The gate buzzed and started to swing open. As Delia and I walked up the wide driveway, we could hear music and kids talking and laughing around the pool on the other side of the house.

It was a perfect L.A. night. The air was soft and warm and smelled sweet from the hibiscus beds along the drive. The huge house glowed. Like a movie set, I thought.

As a maid showed us through the house to the terrace in back, I felt kind of tingly. You know. Like this could be an important party.

Was I tense much? You think?

Well, I’d had Jake on my mind all day. Crazy. He was like furniture. I mean, he’d been in my life forever. Our families are so close. Our parents are business partners—they run the WoodCast movie studio together—and we live next door to each other.

I’m not sure when I started to think about Jake differently. But I was definitely thinking about him. And tonight …

Who knew what tonight would bring?

Do I have to describe the party scene to you? You’ve seen parties, right? Maybe not on a terrace as big as the Burbank airport. I saw at least two dozen kids around the pool, mostly from our school, but a few I didn’t recognize.

They were standing in small groups or sprawled on the white wicker pool chairs, beer bottles in their hands, so I figured Ross’s parents weren’t home. Kids were talking loudly over the dance music that boomed from the speakers on poles around the pool.

Some kids were in the blue sparkly water, mostly standing in the shallow end with their drinks on the edge of the deck. I waved to Ross, who had his arm around a tall redheaded girl I’d never seen before. I didn’t see Jake or Shawn.

Delia had a short blue-and-white camisole shift over her swimsuit. She just pulled it off and tossed it over a chair. She kicked off her sandals and slid them under the chair. She has a great body, and I actually saw heads turn to stare at her as she made her way to the others, rocking her blue bikini.

I wore white tennis shorts and a tank top. I didn’t plan to swim tonight. Hey, I’m all right in a bikini. I’m not a total knockout like Delia, but I’m okay in a cute way. Some people say I look like Cameron Diaz. But, you know, younger. Not so slutty.

Couples were dancing on the side of the deck. They had green and blue lightsticks raised above their heads and they were jumping to the throbbing beats, like a crazy rave.

I stepped close to the pool and actually gasped when I saw Annalee Franklin doing slow laps in the clear water. I gasped because I thought she was totally naked.

That would be bold, even for Annalee. But as she swam closer, I saw her bikini. It was two strings. Literally. Two strings.

She gazed up at me with her green cat-eyes. She probably saw my mouth hanging open. “Hey, Claire,” she called, paddling gently, water running off her smooth black hair. “Shooting starts tomorrow. We’re going to be seeing a lot more of each other.”

“I’m seeing a lot of you now!” I replied. I knew she couldn’t hear me over the music and the splash of the water. Annalee’s mother was some kind of beauty queen in China before the family moved here. And Annalee has the same perfect skin, cheekbones to die for, and fabulous smile.

“I’ll be seeing you on the set,” she said. She ducked under the surface, then resumed her slow swim. Were kids along the deck staring at her? Duh.

“Don’t judge her,” a voice said. I turned to see Delia grinning at me.

“Don’t judge her?”

“She’s needy,” Delia said.

“For sure. She needs a swimsuit,” I said.

Delia gave me a shove. “Prude.”

That kind of stunned me. “Huh? Really? Am I a prude?”

But Delia took off without answering. I raised my eyes and saw where she was hurrying. Shawn and Jake had just stepped out from the house.

My mouth suddenly felt dry. I watched Delia run up to the two guys as I crossed to the wet bar at the other end of the pool. Ross turned to greet me with a glass in his hand. “Hey.” We slapped knuckles. “Claire, what are you drinking?”

“Nothing yet,” I said. I nodded at the glass in his hand. “What’s that?”

“Red Bull and Stoli.”

I blinked. “Any good?”

He handed it to me. I took a sip. Awful.

I grabbed a Diet Coke and tapped the can against his glass, like we were toasting. I took a long drink.

Ross and I were kind of a couple for about an hour in tenth grade. But he decided it was more fun to play World of Warcraft with his buddies and get wrecked from his parents’ liquor cabinet than hang with me.

No big whoop.

“When is your birthday party?” Ross asked. “Some kids were talking about it.”

“June twenty-first,” I said. “That’s the summer solstice. Midsummer night. It’s going to be crazy huge. At the movie studio. That’s the longest night of the year, and the party’s going to rock all night. Are you going to be in town?”

He shrugged. “Hope so.” He took a long drink. Some of it spilled down his chin. “I hear you’re in that … that horror movie.”

I nodded. “Yeah. Delia, too. And Annalee. And Jake is working as a PA or something. I’m so excited. My parents finally gave in and said I could be in a movie. We’ve been rehearsing. We start filming this week.”

He raised his eyes to me. “Aren’t you scared? Filming in that haunted house?”

I opened my mouth to answer, but he waved to someone and took off toward the pool. I took another long drink from the Coke can.

Claire, you came to this party to talk to Jake, and you’re going to do it.

I turned to go find him. The billowing light from the pool made the whole terrace shimmer blue and white. Kind of magical. Like we were all underwater.

“Think fast!”

The cry made me duck, and a red Nerf football sailed over my head. It bounced once on the deck, then splashed into the pool.

Jake ran up, laughing, and grabbed me by the shoulders.

Is he going to kiss me?

Of course not. What was I thinking?

“Nice catch,” he said.

I grinned back at him. “Were you trying to knock me into the pool?”

He nodded. “Maybe.”

“Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it.”

This was a thrilling conversation.

Jake is tall and good-looking, with a slender, serious face, unbrushed brown hair, blue eyes, and a knockout smile. He’s one of these guys—you know the type—who breeze through life and never seem to be trying too hard.

I swallowed hard. Courage time, Claire. We were standing right under a music speaker. I took his arm and led him past the jumping couples with their flashing lightsticks, toward the pool house. “I … wanted to talk to you.”

That wasn’t the swimming pool pump pounding like that. That was my heart beating.

“Hey, I wanted to talk to you, too,” he said.

Wow.

“You go first,” I said.

“No. You.”

“No. You.” I shoved him. “Go ahead. What do you want to talk about?”

“Well…” We stood in the shadow of the pool house wall. He glanced back toward the crowd. “You see … I just wondered…”

This was definitely weird. Jake and I never had trouble talking to each other. We were like brother and sister, right?

“Yes? Spit it out, Jake.”

“I wondered if Delia ever mentions me. I mean—”

“You what?” I kind of lost it there. I squeaked the words.

“I think Delia likes me,” Jake said. “But I don’t really catch any signals. Know what I mean? I mean, she’s so totally smoking. You and she are like best friends. So I just wondered … Does she talk about me at all?”

Whoa. I replied through clenched teeth. “Why don’t you ask Delia yourself?”

His eyes went wide. He saw that I was pissed off. “Is … is there a problem here?”

“No,” I insisted. “How could there be a problem?”

He gazed at me for a long moment. Then he shrugged, as if dismissing the whole conversation. “What did you want to tell me, Claire?”

“Uh … nothing. Just … I’ll see you at the studio. You’re a PA on the set, right?”

“I’m supposed to be an intern. For Zack Fox, the film editor.” His sandy brown hair fell over his forehead. I wanted to brush it back with my hand. Suddenly, his expression changed. “But I’m thinking maybe I’ll quit.”

“Huh? Why?” I could feel my heart sink into my stomach. I was really looking forward to seeing him there every day.

“Because … you know. What happened back then. I … I can’t believe your father let you and Delia audition,” he said.

I stared hard at him. I’d never seen him like this before. Jake literally moonwalked through life. He never stressed over anything. But now he seemed genuinely frightened. “Jake, you mean—”

“That old house. Where they’re filming. You don’t want to be in that house, Claire. It isn’t a joke. It’s … dangerous.”

He suddenly looked ten years old. His intense expression made me laugh.

“Seriously. Don’t laugh. I think you should quit, too.”

“Jake, we’ve been rehearsing in the house for a week. No dead people. No ghosts. It’s all good.”

“Three kids died in that house.”

“Stop, Jake. Delia and I have been waiting for an opportunity like this forever. And we get to work with Lana deLurean and Jeremy Dane.”

He shrugged. “Whatever floats your boat.”

My fantasy night with Jake wasn’t working out. He’d spoiled everything.

I turned and started to jog toward the pool house. “Later, Jake,” I called to him. “Thanks for the advice. Glad you care so much.”

I wanted to find Delia and go home. I searched for her around the pool, but she wasn’t there. Did she wander down to the tennis courts with Shawn?

I turned back toward the house—and saw Jake with Annalee. She had a towel tied around her waist and was wringing out her wet hair. The two of them laughed about something. Then Annalee gave Jake a hug. She smoothed her wet hand down his cheek. He grinned back at her.

She was totally coming on to him.

And he was loving it.

I turned away and spotted Ross standing by himself by the pool house wall.

You ever just have an impulse? Maybe you’re hurt or confused or angry and you have a sudden impulse to do something crazy?

“Hey, there you are,” I said. I slid Ross’s glass from his hand and took a long drink. I handed it back to him. Then I pushed him up against the wall, wrapped my hands around his neck, locked my lips on his, and started to kiss him.

Just an impulse. Really.

I turned and looked to see if Jake was watching. But he and Annalee had disappeared. So I pressed my mouth to Ross’s and kissed him again.

I mean, why should the night be a total loss?


 

I SEE GHOSTS

 

“THERE ARE GHOSTS HERE,” I said. “Can’t you just feel them all around?”

And I knew as soon as I said it that Delia would roll her dark eyes and give me that look like, Come on, Claire. Grow up.

Delia gazed all around, pretending to be worried. “Ghosts? Should I be scared?”

We were wandering through the studio, searching for the wardrobe department, but lost as usual. Which made Delia laugh since my parents run the place. But that doesn’t mean I have a map in my head. Sometimes I need a GPS to find the bathroom in the morning. I mean, we don’t all have a brilliant sense of direction, do we?

We were both wearing the new Ray-Bans my dad was passing out to everyone on the set. Some kind of product placement thing. But the midday sun was so bright, I felt kind of dazed, and I kept bumping shoulders with Delia as we made our way through the crowded studio street.

Could I be any more excited about having an actual speaking part in Mayhem Manor? I don’t think so. Like I said, this was my dream.

History lesson: I’ve had the acting bug since I was nine or ten. I’ve taken acting lessons and dance lessons and speech lessons, and I’ve been in every play production at school.

You’d think I’d get a little support from Mom and Dad since they’re in the business. But they had a million reasons why I shouldn’t be an actor. Maybe they were good reasons. I didn’t care and I didn’t listen.

I’ve begged and begged for a chance to audition. It took all these years, but I finally wore them down. They let me try out for Mayhem Manor, and I got the role of Darlene. Now I guess I have something to prove to them. Sure, it’s only a low-budget horror film, but I’m going to rock the part.

Delia has the actress bug, too. Only a little different. She’s had a bunch of modeling jobs. But she says her ambition is to be a tabloid star. I think that was a joke. She has a twisted sense of humor.

It’s kind of a strange friendship. I think a lot of it is based on Delia rolling her eyes and laughing at me. She is very sarcastic, and I guess I’m the bubbly type. Or maybe it’s that I get enthusiastic and she likes to stand aside and make comments.

We’re more different than alike. I always say I’m Urban Outfitters and she’s Juicy Couture. I don’t even like to shop. If you want to know, Old Navy is fine for me.

I’m not exactly what you’d call drab or cute-challenged—but as I said, Delia is a total knockout. You can ask anyone to name the hottest girl at Beverly Hills Academy, and they’d have to be a total freak not to pick Delia.

She has short, perfect black hair with violet streaks on her bangs, huge black eyes, and beautiful red heart-shaped lips. And when the two of us go walking on Rodeo Drive, the tourists all stare at her and try to figure out which movie star she is.

Seriously. Last week a woman parked her Bentley in front of Armani and came hustling up to Delia. She stuck a piece of paper in front of her and asked for her autograph. And when Delia said, “I’m just a high school student,” the woman laughed and pushed the paper in her face until she signed.

Delia and I passed the low, white stucco building with the green double doors. The commissary. A roar of voices poured out the open windows along with the smell of burgers and eggs on the fry grill.

“Why do you say there are ghosts here? I don’t see any ghosts,” Delia said, looking at me over the rims of her Ray-Bans. “I see the dog from that comedy they’re shooting. Remember? We wandered onto the set by mistake?”

Ace, the black-and-white mutt, stood beside the commissary steps. Of course, he had a crowd around him. The dog gets crowds wherever he goes, and you can tell he loves it. He must be the most spoiled dog in Hollywood, which is saying a lot, right?

Four men wearing long red monk robes with hoods, all talking at once, pushed past us as if they didn’t see us and hurried into the commissary.

“I didn’t mean ghost ghosts,” I told Delia. “I meant the ghosts of all the stars who made films here. You know. Back in the day.”

The studio was huge in the ’30s and ’40s. But it was pretty much abandoned, like a ghost town, after those three teenage actors were killed in 1960. My parents and Jake’s parents took it over a few years after I was born. They named it WoodCast Studios. Get it? Combining our names—Woodlawn and Castellano.

“Can’t you feel them?” I said. “All those beautiful people who worked here? I have such a magical feeling. How can you walk around a movie studio and not believe in magic?”

I knew I was risking another roll of her eyes, but I didn’t care. “I mean, come on, Dee. Aren’t we lucky working in a movie studio? The whole point of this place is to make magic happen.”

“I thought the point was to find the costume department,” Delia said.

“Hah.” I gave her a shove and nearly knocked her off her stiletto heels.

I suddenly remembered when we bought those red shoes for her. One of our Saturday-afternoon shopping extravaganzas. We’d started out at some small boutiques in Westwood. But as usual when Delia was in a shopping mood (which is when she’s awake), we ended up closer to home. First Jill Roberts on Beverly, then over to Barneys. And then, sure enough, there were these perfect shoes in Jimmy Choo’s window. Delia spends a gazillion dollars on clothes, I think mainly because her mom is so thrifty and cheap.

“Magic everywhere, huh? I guess you’re a lot more sensitive than me, Claire.”

“You’re just more cynical. I don’t think it’s babyish or crazy to be into magic.”

We stopped to let a long shiny pink Cadillac convertible with enormous sharklike fins roll past. The dark-haired, suntanned driver flashed us a thumbs-up and a white, toothy grin as he passed.

“He’s only a seven,” Delia said. “Too slick.”

Yes, we rate everyone we see. That’s not so terrible, is it?

“When I was five, I had a birthday party at home,” I said. “You weren’t there, were you?”

She shook her head. The sunlight made her black hair gleam. “My parents didn’t move to Beverly Hills till I was seven, remember?”

We turned the corner. Several white-shingled cottages lined the street. They were exec offices. I thought I saw the yellow-and-green costume building at the far end.

“We had this clown at the party,” I continued. “I remember his huge red bow tie, and he had long floppy red shoes, like snorkeling flippers. And he did all these cool tricks with rings and coins and scarves. I mean, they were cool for five-year-olds. We’d probably think they were totally lame now.”

“Probably,” Delia murmured. She snickered. “Did he do balloon animals? I’m a freak for balloon animals.”

“My whole kindergarten class was there,” I said, ignoring her. “They loved the clown. He was a huge hit. And when he left, my parents called me to the door to say good-bye to him. I ran up to him and he leaned down. I remember his floppy bow tie hit me in the face. And he whispered something to me. He whispered, Don’t forget the magic.

Delia stopped walking. She pulled off her shades and squinted hard at me. “Why are you telling me this story? Am I supposed to feel warm and fuzzy or something?”

“It’s just that I never forgot it,” I said. “I was five, right? But all these years, I never forgot what he whispered in my ear. Don’t forget the magic.

Delia startled me by wrapping me in a hug. She let go quickly, grinning, and stepped back. “Claire, did you tell your shrink this story?”

“No,” I said. “I—”

“Good. Because that would bore him to death, too!”

We both laughed. That’s one reason I put up with a lot of crap from Delia. She makes me laugh.

My phone made a doorbell sound. I pulled it out and tilted the screen out of the sun. “A text from Shawn.”

Delia made a gurgling sound.

I read the text: “Want to hang out later?”

“Huh? Shawn is texting you?”

I tucked the phone back into my bag. “Yeah. I didn’t want to tell you. He keeps texting. I told him I’m not interested. Really, Dee. But he’s such a jerk. He doesn’t quit.”

Delia uttered a cry. “He’s texting you—not me? I practically jumped him last night at Ross’s party. Seriously. I don’t get it. The more I come on to him, the more he comes on to you.”

I pulled her into the shade of one of the cottages. “Dee, I’ve been waiting for you to spill. You know. About last night. The party. What happened with you and Shawn?”

She let out a groan. “Nothing happened.”

“Nothing? That’s why you didn’t talk all the way home in the car?”

She shook her head. “It was … weird. I wasn’t exactly like subtle. I mean, after we both had a few beers, I sat on his lap. Do you believe it? I sat in his lap in my bikini and put my hands around his neck.”

I squinted at her. “And?”

“Well … we fooled around for a little while. And then he like lifted me off and stood up and said he had to go home and wax his board.”

“Huh? What does that mean? Wax his board? Is that some kind of sex thing?”

“Shut up, stupid. He really wanted to go home and wax his surfboard. He got a new board yesterday. A triple wingfish with a double concave bottom. He told me all about it. It has a rocker that’s a lot like a shortboard.”

My mouth was hanging open. “You shut up. You were sitting on his lap and he told you all this about his surfboard?”

She nodded.

“So what did you say?” I asked.

Delia shrugged. “What could I say? I said, ‘Gnarly, dude.’ Then I went to find you to see how you were doing with Jake.”

“We both struck out big-time.” I sighed. “Everything is screwed up. You sit in Shawn’s lap, and he keeps texting me. I try to tell Jake how I feel about him, and he only wants to ask me about you. What are we doing wrong?”

“Living,” she replied.

That was more bitter than usual.

I studied her. She could have any guy at Beverly Hills Academy. Why was she so nuts over Shawn, a big hulk who only cared about waxing his board?

Delia sighed. We both sighed. It was a sighing festival.

I tried to think of something to take her mind off Shawn. But she was staring back to the end of the row of cottages.

I squeezed her arm. “What’s wrong?”

“Speaking of ghosts,” she whispered. “Look over there.”


 

THE URGE TO KILL

 

I SAW LANA DELUREAN WALKING toward us in a red miniskirt and powder-blue camisole top. Her blond hair caught the sunlight. When she walked, her whole body wiggled, as if her bones somehow weren’t connected.

Lana is one of the stars of Mayhem Manor, and she’s beautiful in a pale, anorexic, arms-like-broom-handles kind of way. She’s got to be at least thirty, but she still plays teen roles. She has a sexy, whispery voice, which she must practice at home, big blue eyes that are probably helped by contacts, and the cheekbones of a runway model.

As she approached, I noticed how tiny she was, much smaller than she appears on screen. She’s a mini-person, I thought, with a maxi-ego.

Maybe I wasn’t being fair.

Lana has had some rough times. I Googled her right after we met for rehearsal. She was a child star. Made a ton of movies before she was twelve. Then she had a hit Disney Channel sitcom called That’s My Girlfriend for two years.

Little girls loved her. They bought her DVDs and grabbed up the skirts and tops in her clothing line so they could look like her. Even Lana Cologne for Kids became humongous. Lots of schools had to ban it because the classrooms totally reeked of it.

Then at fourteen she had some kind of meltdown and disappeared.

I checked IMDb and Wikipedia as well as Google, but no one had the details. She disappeared from TV and movies and department stores, and of course, kids forgot about her practically overnight.

Now, here was Lana deLurean starring in a low-budget horror film for my parents. I guess it was her comeback project, but she sure didn’t seem happy about it. Lana still acted like she was on the cover of People and Us every week, like she was the Tween Queen of Hollywood or Burbank or whatever.

“Who’s that guy with her?” I whispered to Delia.

A tanned young man, bald as a lightbulb, wearing all white—white suit, white shirt, white shoes—trailed closely behind Lana.

“Haven’t you seen him before?” Delia whispered back. “That’s Pablo. Her psychic. She brings him everywhere.”

I didn’t have time to reply. Lana stepped up, peering at us through her red heart-shaped shades. “How’s it going?” she breathed.

What was that powerful lemony scent? Could she possibly be wearing Lana Cologne for Kids?

“Good,” Delia and I said in unison.

Pablo stood close behind Lana, as if making shade for her. He had a sparkly diamond stud in his right nostril. His intense dark eyes moved from Delia to me, as if he was studying us, reading our minds.

“I’m sorry. Remind me of your names,” Lana said.

The scent was so strong, it burned my nose. I told her our names—for at least the tenth time. We’d been rehearsing together for a week.

“Oh, right.” She smiled at me. Her teeth were bright white, shiny as a car. “Your father is Sy Woodlawn.”

“And my mom is Rita.” Why did I say that?

Lana scratched her skinny arm with perfect long, red fingernails. “It was so neat of your dad to give both of you parts in the picture.”

I felt a stab of anger in my chest. “He didn’t give us parts,” I snapped. “We auditioned for them. Les Bachman gave us the parts.” Les is the director.

She squinted at me like I was speaking a foreign language. Behind her, Pablo picked at his teeth with a finger. A fly landed on his shoulder, ruining the perfect whiteness of his being.

“Are we late for rehearsal?” Lana asked. “I think lunch is over.”

“Simon Ferris, the wardrobe guy, sent us to pick up our costumes,” I said. “But we got turned around.”

Lana laughed. She had a surprising laugh, like a horse whinny. “Your parents run the studio, and you don’t know where the wardrobe department is?”

Pablo chuckled, too. Like Lana had made a great joke.

“I have the worst sense of direction,” I confessed. “I get lost in my own bedroom closet.”

That was supposed to be a joke, but only Delia laughed. And it was an obvious fake laugh.

I don’t know why Lana made me feel so uncomfortable. Well … actually, I do know why. It was because she could never say anything honest or be real for one second. Everything she said was an act, like she was posing in front of a camera. Why couldn’t she just relax and be a human?

“It’s so cold in the old mansion,” she said. “I start to shiver as soon as I get on the set. I’ll bet the camera can see my goose bumps.” She hugged herself and made her whole body shiver.

“Claire thinks it stays cold in there because of the ghosts,” Delia said. “You know. The ghosts of the three actors who were killed.”

That got Pablo’s attention. He gazed intently at me. “Ghosts? Do you believe in ghosts?”

I nodded. “Yeah. Kind of.”

That made Lana shiver again. “I don’t like filming in a haunted house. But I guess it will get press. All the reporters will think it’s a great angle. We’ll be on Access Hollywood and everything. And everyone will be talking about how we made a horror film in a place where true horror took place.”

Whoa.

That was the longest speech I ever heard Lana deLurean give. “Do you really think the mansion is haunted?” I asked her.

Her red lips formed a small O. She stared hard at me. “I … don’t know.” She turned to Pablo. As if he had the answer.

“There are ghosts all around this old studio,” he said, gesturing. “I can feel them. I hear them whispering to me.”

“Hey, that’s just what Claire said!” Delia exclaimed. “Maybe Claire is psychic, too.”

“I’m not really psychic,” Pablo said, rubbing his bald head like he was polishing it. “I can just feel things that others miss. Like vibrations. Messages in the air.”

Lana’s expression turned hard again. I could see her jaw muscles clench. I guessed she didn’t like it when the conversation wasn’t about her. Or maybe she didn’t like to share Pablo.

“We’d better go,” she said. “You know how Les gets when I’m not on the set on time. He has palpitations. Really.”

Les has palpitations when you say good morning to him. He’s totally wired all the time. People are always telling him to try decaf.

Lana turned to me. “I hope you find the costume building. Don’t get lost.” A tight smile crossed her face. “We need you extras. You’re more important than you think.”

Extras? Delia and I have speaking roles.

We watched Lana wriggle off. Pablo glanced back at us, then hurried to keep up with her.

Delia bumped up against me. “Do we hate her?” she said. “Should we kill her?”

Being her is punishment enough,” I said.

And then a voice behind us startled me. “Who do you want to kill? Can I help?”


 

PEOPLE DIED IN THAT HOUSE

 

DELIA AND I BOTH CRIED OUT. I spun around and saw Jake grinning at us.

“Jake? You’re here?” Delia said. Then she remembered. “Oh, right. You’re working on the film, too.”

I could see the hurt expression on his face. Like How could Delia forget about me?

“Actually, I’m interning with Zack Fox,” Jake said.

Zack Fox is the film editor for Mayhem Manor. And he’s my dad’s best friend. Dad arranged for Jake to work with Zack this summer.

“Zack is like all over the new editing software,” Jake said. “He’s going to teach me everything.”

“You want to be a film editor?” Delia asked.

“For sure. I want to learn everything. Hey, you know I’m going to be a film major. My parents already got me some interviews at USC.”

Delia snickered. “Film majors just go to class and watch movies. They don’t have to read any books.” That made me snicker, too.

Jake’s eyes flashed. “You’re looking hot today,” he told Delia.

I brushed a clump of lint off the front of his t-shirt. Just to remind him I was there, too.

“Have you seen Shawn?” Delia asked. “Is he home today?”

“I think he’s visiting his dad in Laguna,” Jake told her. “He went down there after Ross’s party. He texted me this morning. He said the waves were good but it was too crowded.”

Laguna surfers are in their wet suits and in the water before the sun comes up. They’re all total fanatics. Shawn is a fanatic, but he also likes his sleep.

“Is he coming home tonight?” Delia asked.

Jake shrugged. “Beats me. Why are you always asking me about Shawn? How come you don’t ask how I’m doing?”

“How are you doing?” I chimed in, trying to get into the conversation. But Jake only had eyes for Delia.

“I’m kind of worried about Shawn,” she said, frowning. “I think he’s still stressing about his parents splitting up. You know. And his dad moving down to Laguna.”

“Yeah, it’s been tough on him,” Jake said.

I knew Delia wasn’t really that worried. She was just seriously hot for Shawn.

I tugged Jake’s arm. “Dee and I are going to be late for rehearsal. Point us to the wardrobe building. We’re supposed to be on the set.”

Jake’s expression changed. “You shouldn’t go in that old house,” he said. “Seriously. We’re all insane to go in there. I told you last night at the party. Mayhem Manor is totally cursed.”

Delia rolled her eyes. “You and Claire should be a couple. You could compare ghost stories.”

Hint, hint. Yes. WE should be a couple.

“I usually don’t believe in that stuff. But there’s got to be three dead people haunting that place,” Jake said.

“Stop it, Jake. Not funny,” I said.

“Who’s joking? Three people our age died in that house. Do you really think they were all killed by accidents? They’re waiting in there. Waiting to avenge their deaths.”

Jake looked so serious, I had to laugh. “Jake, you sound like a really lame horror movie.”

“Seriously? Seriously? You’re laughing about it?” he said.

I gave him a hard shove. “Lighten up, dude.”

History lesson number two: After the deaths of the three young actors, the film was stopped immediately. And the old mansion was never used again. Not even for exterior shots. No one wanted to go near it. People said it was cursed.

The house just sat in the shadows at the back of the studio, rotting and falling apart. For some reason, it was never torn down. Maybe people were too superstitious to wreck it.

It was my dad who had the idea to do a remake of Mayhem Manor. To make the film again inside the original mansion.

“Think of the publicity,” my parents said. “Remaking a movie in the same house where people were actually killed. What a total winner.”

They talked about it nonstop. Breakfast. Dinner. I mean, they were talking like they had the biggest blockbuster.

When I told them the whole idea creeped me out, they said it creeped them out, too. That’s why it was a good idea.

Now, standing outside the row of exec cottages, I squinted at Jake through my sunglasses. He was so adorable. I just wanted a chance to let him know how I felt. “Jake,” I said, “how are you getting home tonight? You driving home with your parents? Can I have a ride?”

Jake and I live next door to each other on Coldwater Canyon Drive. I told you our families are close. Our parents work together, and they live side by side. It’s no wonder Jake only thinks of me as a sister.

“No, I’m not going home. Zack is taking me to see his editing studio at his house.”

I didn’t give up. “When are you getting back? Do you want to maybe hang later?”

He scratched his head. “I don’t think so. I’m getting back pretty late.”

He had his eye on Delia. She was smoothing lip gloss on her lips. She wasn’t paying any attention to Jake at all.

“Later,” Jake said. “The wardrobe building is right up there.” He pointed. Then he turned and started toward Mayhem Manor.

“Hey, Jake?” He stopped and turned back when I called him. “Do you really think those three kids are haunting Mayhem Manor, waiting for revenge?”

He narrowed his eyes at me. “We’ll soon see, won’t we?”


 

WEARING A DEAD GIRL’S CLOTHES

 

“HE NEVER TOOK HIS EYES OFF YOU,” I told Delia. “Jake never looked at me. I don’t think he even knew I was there.”

Delia shrugged. “I didn’t notice. You sure?”

“Yeah. I’m sure. He stared at you like … like he was hungry.”

Delia laughed. “Hungry? You’re getting weird.”

“I’ve seen him stare at a pizza with the same longing expression. Really.”

“Claire, you think Jake is a cannibal?”

“It’s not a joke,” I snapped. “I’m really kind of nutty about him. I mean, I get all fluttery, like in a bad chick-lit novel. But he doesn’t even look at me. Look. Is my face red? I can


Date: 2015-04-20; view: 680


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