May 30, 2023

Read An Excerpt From 'Holly Horror' by Michelle Jabès Corpora

We are excited to share an excerpt from Michelle Jabès Corpora’s newly released YA novel Holly Horror, which is rich with mystery, thrills, and supernatural activity, giving a beloved classic character a bold new reimagining with a dark twist.

After her parents’ painful divorce, Evie Archer hopes that moving to Ravenglass, Massachusetts, is the fresh start that her family needs. But Evie quickly realizes that her new home—known by locals as the Horror House—carries its own dark past after learning about Holly Hobbie, who mysteriously vanished in her bedroom one night.

But traces of Holly linger in the Horror House and slowly begin to take over Evie’s life. A strange shadow follows her everywhere she goes, and Evie starts to lose sight of what’s real and what isn’t the more she learns about The Lost Girl.

Can Evie find out what happened the night of Holly’s disappearance? Or is history doomed to repeat itself in the Horror House?

Chapter 2

Holly Hobbie. The Lost Girl of Ravenglass.Evie had first heard the story when she was a little girl, just old enough to be curious about the things her mother talked about behind closed doors. Holly was Mom’s and Aunt Martha’s cousin—​her mother, Elizabeth Hobbie, was their aunt, and Holly her only child. When they were young, Martha and Lynne had sometimes come to Ravenglass for Christmas. Aunt Martha was older by five years, but Lynne and Holly had been close in age.

But that all ended forty years ago, when Holly was just fifteen years old.

Since then, Mom had never returned to this place. Not once.

Eventually, after Great-​Aunt Elizabeth and Great-​Uncle Dan moved away, Aunt Martha came and never left.

Evie looked at the room with new eyes.

In all the years of her life, the few times Holly had come up in conversation between Aunt Martha and her mother, or anyone else, no one ever referred to Holly in the past tense. Since she was never found, and a body never recovered, Holly seemed to exist in a nebulous place between life and death.

Like Schrödinger’s cat, she thought. It was something that her science teacher had told her about once—​a thought experiment about a cat inside a box that is simultaneously alive and dead.

She set her duffel down on the bed and was about to head back downstairs when she heard something.

A soft, rhythmic sound.

It was coming from the closet.

Evie’s heart thrummed, but she moved toward the door. It was already ajar. She pulled it open with a jerk and stepped back. A pair of flashing eyes looked out at her from the darkness within.Evie sighed with relief. It was just a cat.

“Hello, you. Come on out now. Oh, what have you got there?”

After a moment, the cat padded out of the closet. It was an orange tabby, its long fur matted in parts, a notch missing from one ear. When it saw Evie, it dropped something small and wet at her feet.

It was a dead mole, eyeless and torn almost in two. The cat, its mouth covered in blood, sat with its tail curled primly, and began to bathe itself with its neat pink tongue.

Evie drew back, repulsed. But the cat only purred, winding around her ankles. “Gross,” she said, looking around for something to pick up the bloody bundle. But all the cleaning supplies were still packed. “Don’t go anywhere,” she told the cat.

Downstairs, Mom had finished wiping down the table and countertops and had started to separate the boxes into piles for each room. “These are yours,” she told Evie, pointing to a small mountain. “You can start taking them up.”

Evie opened her mouth to say that there was a stray cat living in her room but decided against it. Her mother had never let them have pets in New York, and Evie wasn’t about to let her kick this one out on day one. “Okay,” Evie said, reaching for a roll of paper towels. “I just need to—”

“On second thought, don’t worry about the boxes right now. The sun’s going down and none of us have eaten dinner yet. Can you pick something up for us from that little place down the street? I think it’s only, like, half a mile away or so.”

Evie shrugged. “Sure,” she said. The best thing about growing up in New York was that parents got used to the idea of sending their kids out into the world without supervision. Evie had started riding the subway alone when she was only twelve. Walking down the street in a small town was nothing compared with downtown Manhattan during rush hour.

“Take your phone with you,” her mother said, pressing two twenty-​dollar bills into her hand. “And don’t get me anything spicy.”

The neon sign for Birdie’s Diner glowed like a beacon at the edge of town. Above the name, written in curling red letters, the outline of a yellow bird flicked back and forth—​first at rest, and then with its wings outstretched, ready to fly.

The diner reminded Evie of a boxcar, abandoned by some old freight train, left to sink its wheels into the earth and never move again. The golden stripes above and below its windows were freshly painted, but its silver roof was tarnished like an old spoon. Half a dozen cars were parked in front, and Evie was greeted by a wave of heat and friendly noise as she walked inside.

Above the red vinyl booths brimming with customers, a froth of multicolored paper lanterns hung, illuminating the diner with a warm, muted light. A long white counter dominated the place, with little silver-​and-​red stools lined up in front of it. Alongside the chatter, an oldies radio station played on unseen speakers, adding to the sense of bygone nostalgia. Behind the counter, a stout, pink-​cheeked woman in a sauce-​spattered apron bustled about, calling out orders to the cooks in the kitchen and the waitresses flitting from table to table in canary-​yellow uniforms. Her raven-​black hair was pulled into a bun at the nape of her neck with a pencil stuck in it. The little name tag pinned to her apron said BIRDIE.

“Order up!” Birdie called, slinging two bowls of steaming food onto a tray. “Two kimchi bokkeumbap for table four!”

The savory, spicy smell that wafted past Evie’s nose as the waitress carried it away made her mouth water. She walked up to the woman a little timidly, and said, “Excuse me.”

Birdie turned her dark eyes on Evie and cocked her head to the side. “You’re new,” she said. It wasn’t a question.

“Oh, yes. I’m Evelyn Archer—​Evie. My family just moved into Hobbie House this afternoon. We’re starved, so we thought—”

“Hobbie House?” Birdie said, her eyebrows rising. She turned toward the end of the counter, where Evie realized an elderly woman was sitting at a small table next to the kitchen. She wore a floral housedress and cardigan, and looked like a smaller, older version of Birdie herself. “Umma!” Birdie shouted, followed by a string of Korean that Evie didn’t understand.

The elderly woman glanced over somewhat vaguely and nodded before turning back to stare out the window in front of her.

“Mama Bird used to know the people who lived there,” Birdie said to Evie. “They would come here to eat back when she ran this place.” A pained look passed over her face. “She won’t remember that, though. Dementia.” The clatter of a plate landing behind her on the pass broke her out of her thoughts. “So, you want to eat? How many people?”

“Three . . .”

“Ten minutes,” Birdie said. She scribbled something on a little notepad and slapped it on the pass between her and the kitchen.

“B­but don’t I have to order?” Evie stammered. “Isn’t there a menu?”

“No menu,” Birdie said, waving her hand as if swatting a fly. “I’ll give you something, you’ll like it. Okay?” Before Evie could reply, Birdie had already turned away to grab takeout bags for another customer who had just walked in.

“Um . . . okay,” Evie said to no one in particular, and moved over to lean against one of the stools at the counter. She looked around. Most of the customers were couples or families, all except for one girl who sat in a booth by herself, typing furiously on her laptop. She looked about Evie’s age and was the kind of girl she expected to see back in New York, not here. She wore a black knitted cap, and the short, curly hair that spilled out from under it was seafoam green. She seemed to be oblivious to everything around her. After a moment, she stopped and turned her face until she was looking straight at Evie with large, round eyes.

Evie looked away quickly—​she’d been staring. She was studying some interesting-​looking wooden masks on the wall when she felt someone slip next to her.

“Hey,” a voice said. “Farmgirl.”

Evie turned to see the girl standing next to her, sipping at a glass of some kind of pink milkshake from a straw. “What?” Evie said.

“New here, huh?” the girl said.

Evie rolled her eyes. “I know this is a small town, but you’ve got to have some random people show up sometimes, don’t you?”

The girl shook her head. “Not in the fall. Summer people, yes. But they stop coming after Labor Day.”

“Well, I’m not a farmgirl, anyway. We just moved here from New York City.”

“Nah,” the girl replied. “You look like you should be holding a newborn lamb or standing in a field of wheat.”

Evie glanced down at her chunky brown sweater and floral blouse and sighed. “It’s the freckles, isn’t it?”

“Hey, it’s not a bad thing. Who doesn’t love lambs?” She took a long sip from her drink.

“What are you drinking?”

“It’s Korean strawberry milk. Want some?” She held it out for Evie.

Evie laughed awkwardly. “You don’t even know me.”

The girl shrugged and stuck out her hand. “Tina Sànchez, and you?”

Evie shook it. “Evie Archer. Nice to meet you.”

Tina pointed the drink toward her again. “How about now?”

Who is this girl? Evie thought, but she couldn’t help but smile. She leaned forward and took a sip of the drink. It was sweet and creamy, touched with the tartness of fresh strawberries. “Wow, it’s really good,” she said.

“I’m addicted to them,” Tina said, staring into the glass. “Be careful or you will be, too. So, where’s your new place? Edgewood? The Glade?”

“No,” Evie said, still relishing the taste in her mouth. “We just moved into Hobbie House.”

Tina froze midsip. She set the glass down on the counter and stared at Evie in a way that made her squirm. “No way,” she breathed. “You moved into Horror House?”

Evie winced.

“Wait—​the psychic, right? Madame Martha. Are you her niece?”

“I am,” Evie said warily. “You know Aunt Martha?”

Tina raised an eyebrow. “I’m the police chief’s daughter. I know everybody. And all their skeletons.” She took Evie by the wrist and pulled her back to the empty booth.

“But, I have to—” Evie protested.

“Sit,” Tina commanded.

Evie sat.

“You know about that house, right?” Tina asked in a low voice.

“About Holly? Yeah, I mean, I know what my mom told me, which isn’t much. Just that Holly disappeared from her bedroom back in the eighties and was never found.”

Tina’s jaw dropped. “Are you seriously telling me you never did a deep internet search on this? You are a farmgirl.” She pulled her laptop toward her.

What if I don’t want to know? Evie thought, but she said nothing.

A minute later, Tina turned the laptop to face Evie. “There, it was right in the Boston Globe archives.”

Warily, Evie lowered her eyes to the screen and began to read. It was a scanned copy of the front page of the paper from December 19, 1982. A single headline dominated the front page: “Hope Fades as Months Pass since Teen’s Mysterious Disappearance.”

Ravenglass, Mass. It has been more than eight weeks since fifteen­year-​old Holly Hobbie—​known by many as the Lost Girl of Ravenglass—​vanished from inside her home, a story that has captivated the nation ever since. What could have been a standard missing-​person case quickly garnered national attention when details of Holly’s disappearance and the history surrounding her house were revealed.Holly’s parents, Elizabeth and Daniel Hobbie, who had reported a disturbance in their home that evening, told authorities that their daughter had been in her bedroom when she screamed. When they reached the bedroom, they added, Holly was not there, nor was she anywhere in the house. Despite claims from Mr. and Mrs. Hobbie that Holly could not have left the house without their knowledge, Ravenglass police chief Richard Dixon told reporters at the time that they were exploring all possible avenues, including the possibility that Holly ran away from home. Many expected her to reappear within twenty-​four hours. However, those hopes faded quickly as days passed with no sign of the missing girl.Holly’s parents were under investigation for a brief time, dragging the two into the national spotlight, but without evidence, the investigation was dropped.Holly Hobbie’s disappearance raised suspicions, and a touch of fear, for some residents of Ravenglass who are familiar with the local legend tied to that very house. First built in the mid-nineteenth century, the house is a historic landmark that had a story of its own long before the Hobbies lived there.According to legend, the original occupant of the home in the 1850s was discovered inside the home, dead from a shotgun wound. His murder was never solved, and his only child—​a young girl colloquially called the Patchwork Girl for the dress she had always worn—​disappeared the same day, never to be found.There has been no further investigation into Holly’s whereabouts. She is remembered by her family and friends as an Honor Roll student who loved animals and considered herself an amateur local historian . . .

“Order up for Evie Archer!” Birdie called from the counter.

“I’ve got to go,” Evie said to Tina, standing. “My mom is waiting.”

Tina sighed. “Fine, but you’re not getting away from me that easily. Will you be going to RHS on Monday?”

“Yeah, sophomore year.” Evie wasn’t thrilled to be starting at Ravenglass High nearly a month after the school year had started—​being the “new girl” was hard enough without it being so obvious.

“Oh, awesome!” Tina replied. “I’ll see you there. We have a lot to talk about.”

Evie turned away, her happiness at already having a friend in Ravenglass tempered by what she’d read about Hobbie House. Does it really matter what happened there forty years ago? she wondered. Evie didn’t think so. The past was dead and gone. Evie had no interest in looking back.

She was making her way to the counter when a hand grabbed her by the arm. Evie turned to see Birdie’s elderly mother looking up at her from her chair, her eyes cloudy with cataracts.

“Holly,” she said, her voice a harsh rasp. “I haven’t seen you in so long.” Her grip was remarkably strong.

Evie blinked down at her. “What? No, I’m not—”

“Come closer,” Mama Bird said, motioning.

Evie swallowed and bent down until her ear was next to the old woman’s lips. “I want to tell you a secret, Holly. Can you keep a secret?”

Suddenly the air inside the diner felt hot and close, the friendly chatter too loud. “Yes,” Evie whispered, despite herself.

“Evie Archer!” Birdie’s voice cut through the moment, and Evie stood up straight, her heart pounding.

“I’m sorry,” Evie said to the older woman, pulling away. But Mama Bird would not let go. Her gnarled fingers dug into the meat of Evie’s arm.

“Oh, Umma . . . ,” Birdie said when she caught sight of them. She hurried out from behind the counter and laid a smooth white hand over her mother’s wizened one, whispering in Mama Bird’s ear until the grip on Evie’s arm relaxed. “She doesn’t mean any harm,” Birdie said, patting her mother on the shoulder. “Just gets confused sometimes.” She walked back to the front counter and grabbed a bulging yellow plastic bag. “Better take your food before it gets cold. Gamja hot dogs are best piping hot!”

“Gamja—?” Evie started to say.

“Hot dogs on sticks covered in French fries.” She handed the bag to Evie. “I dare you to eat just one.”

Evie took the bag with a smile. The smell coming from it was making her mouth water. “Thanks,” she said, paying the bill. “I can’t wait to try it.”

“Hurry home now,” Birdie said. “I don’t know what it’s like where you came from, but here in Ravenglass, when night falls—​it falls fast.”

Outside, the day was dying. The last few rays of light burned like embers on the horizon, and a chill wind blew through the trees, making Evie quickly regret leaving the warmth of the diner. She walked briskly back up the street toward the narrow lane to Hobbie House, the heavy bag of food bouncing against her leg.

Her phone buzzed in her pocket, and she pulled it out quickly, hoping it was a message from one of her friends. But it was just her mother, texting to ask if Evie was on her way home. Evie replied, stuck the phone back in her pocket, and sighed.

She could hardly believe that just this morning, she had been saying goodbye to her home in New York, her voice echoing in the once cluttered apartment that was now empty. It was as if a knife had come down and severed her old life, leaving her to stumble into this new one.

Tina’s reaction to the fact that she’d moved into Hobbie House worried her. She’d thought that after forty years, no one would care about the checkered history of the house, but clearly at least some people still did.

More than anything, Evie wanted to be anonymous. To dive under the surface of the world, let the waves pass over her and crash against someone else’s shore. She didn’t want to be that girl.The girl who lives in the Horror House.

The wind picked up, rushing through the trees like a roll of thunder, sending a maelstrom of leaves across her path, along with the heavy smell of flowers and rot. The night had deepened so softly that Evie hadn’t noticed how dark it had become. In New York, it was never dark or quiet. There were always the sounds of cars passing, of people in the street, and the low rumble of the subway passing deep beneath the earth. But here, the darkness was so thick she could almost touch it, the shadows so impenetrable that they could hide almost anything within them. Here, she could hear her every breath, and every snapping twig made her wonder what might be out there, watching her.

She started to walk a little faster.

Finally, she reached the end of the lane and saw Hobbie House, lights blazing in every window. It looked so different lit up in the night, like some ancient creature awoken after a century of slumber.

I’m home, she thought, and the word was strange, like an ill-​fitting coat. Her mother opened the kitchen door, and light spilled out from inside to meet her.

© Michelle Jabes Corpora, 2023. Used with permission of Penguin Workshop, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group

Chapter 2© Michelle Jabes Corpora, 2023. Used with permission of Penguin Workshop, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group