BY: CAROLE AVILA
Fifteen year-old Adley doesn’t know that something sinister haunts her grandmother’s old mansion, or that it hides in a dark portal beneath her bed. The demonic being—born of a generational curse—kills the first born child in each succeeding family. Adley will die on her sixteenth birthday unless she can find a way to end the evil curse. She meets seventeen year-old Victor Trumillo, a descendant of the original victim, and discovers that only he holds the key to destroying the hideous creature. Victor and Adley want to end the curse and save future lives, but will they succumb to fear just when they may have discovered real love?
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Death House by Carole Avila, Adley Lange is about to turn 16. She and her family move to her late grandmother’s mansion in the high desert of Texas, and Adley soon discovers that not only is the mansion haunted, but the monster that inhabits her bedroom is destined to kill her on her sixteen birthday thanks to an ancient curse. Adley soon befriends the neighbor boy, who turns out to be her only hope at surviving the curse. But time is running out as Adley turns 16 in two days.
Avila really nailed her characters in this one. She does a brilliant job of portraying Adley as a troubled teen trying to convince her parents that there’s really a monster under her bed when she is the only one that can see it. The plot is strong and will keep you turning pages from beginning to end. Death House will get your heart rate up and keep you riveted page after page.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Death House by Carole Avila is both chilling and intriguing. With her first book, Eve’s Amulet, Avila has proven herself to be a consummate storyteller. In Death House, she shows a significant grasp of teenagers and how they think. I loved the fact that Adley, our sixteen-year-old heroine, is terrified of the monster hiding under her bed, but she refuses to acquiesce to her parents’ wishes to change bedrooms since she had to fight so hard to get that one in the first place. The illogical, yet highly believable choices Adley makes shows a depth of understanding that is rare in YA authors. Avila’s characters are not only well-developed and realistic, they are so authentic as to make you wonder if the author is describing someone you know.
While not a fan of horror for the most part, I really enjoyed Death House. Avila did such a good job of developing her characters, it was hard not to fall in love with them, from Adley and her befuddled parents—who can’t figure out their strange, unhappy daughter—to Victor, the boy next door, who sees through Adley’s angry façade to the vulnerable, lonely girl beneath. If you want a book that will pull you in and keep you there from the first paragraph to the last, you can’t go wrong with Death House.
Never, ever sleep with your feet hanging over the edge of the mattress. It’s far safer to scrunch your knees to your chest and tuck your arms and legs under a fortress of blankets. You’ll want to cover every square inch of flesh, especially while you’re sleeping, because the skeleton’s hand creeps up from the farthest shadow under your bed, waiting to strike.
The second it knows you’re lost in the world of dreams, spiny fingers dart like a spider and crawl straight to the bottom of your feet. At first you’ll ignore the slow tickle of pointed bone, thinking the delicate touch too gentle to be anything wicked. But in the span of a single gasp, the feathered brushing becomes the hungry clawing of lacerating talons. Without a shred of mercy, razor sharp nails pierce the tender skin around your ankles. Anguished howls of terror are lodged in your throat, and no one can hear you scream for your life.
Smell the stench of decay grow stronger as an unseen creature hauls your squirming body closer to the edge of the mattress.
There is no hope of escaping the deadly grip, yet you struggle like a tiny mouse caught by its tail and desperately grab at thin air, trying to seize hold of anything that will prevent you from slipping nearer to death.
Finally, you crash to the floor and gnarled limbs drag you under the bed, into dark murky recesses, those rotting places where only evil can survive.
When you go to sleep tonight, look under your bed and see where the darkest spot lies. That’s where it will come from when you’re dreaming in the blackest hours, stretched comfortably under warm blankets with your feet just a little too close to the edge.
Don’t think it won’t come for you, because it will. But only when you think you’re safe.
I can’t believe you didn’t even ask what I wanted to do!”
Fifteen-year-old Adley Lange crossed her arms hard against her chest. The New Mexico desert blurred past her window in a palette of camouflage colors, but Adley only saw red.
“We asked you what you thought about going to Grandma Aggie’s for our vacation.” her mother said.
“I thought you were just asking my opinion!”
Roger and Caroline Lange exchanged a glance across the front seat.
Adley’s frustration level grew. Nothing she said could convince her parents to turn around in the baking desert and return to their Southern California home.
Her father kept his eyes forward on the road. “You told us you didn’t care.”
“That’s because you didn’t say you wanted to stay there for the entire summer.”
The smooth drive over the highway flowed like a black river without a spec of road kill. Wavy lines rose ghost-like from the newly paved road, always staying just ahead of the vehicle. It might have been a pleasant trip through the Southwest desert but, in Adley’s estimation, nothing could improve the lengthy ride.
“Grandma’s house is in the middle of nowhere. There’s nothing to do there.”
Beyond the sagebrush a distant cactus held up its thorny arms, held hostage by its environment. Adley knew exactly how it felt.
“That’s the point of a vacation,” her father said. “We’re getting away from it all.”
Adley sighed and stared out the window at mounds of dried shrubs and grasses. She knew she was flying off the handle again but couldn’t explain why. Over the last few months, maybe even the past year, her parents, teachers–everyone and everything–inexplicably irritated her to no end. She supposed that, with her friends avoiding her the past several months, it didn’t matter where she spent her summer. Her friends had grown distant as Adley’s temper grew volatile, but at least this time she had a really good reason to be upset. Her parents didn’t care about her feelings, and that thought made her mad all over again.
“And you didn’t even go back home for my cell phone,” she blurted out.
“We were four hours into the drive before you realized you had forgotten it,” her father said.
“Honey, please stop shouting,” Caroline said. “My patience is dwindling, and you don’t have to throw a fit every time Dad and I try to talk to you.”
Adley ignored her mother. She pursed her lips until she thought of another argument in favor of returning home, remembering the creepy feelings that gave her goose bumps during their last visit to Grandma Aggie’s mansion. “It’s so gross living in a house that someone died in. It’s probably haunted.”
“Even if the house was haunted,” Roger said, “I don’t think my mother’s ghost will hurt you.”
“I’m sure you’ll love it at Grandma Aggie’s the same way she did,” Caroline added. “She didn’t want to live anywhere else.”
Adley continued to sneer at the breathtaking landscape covering Southern New Mexico and silently questioned her sour attitude even while letting loose another outburst. “I don’t care who wanted to live in it. We’ve been driving for hours.” Each time Adley told herself to be quiet, her parent’s had only to say the smallest thing and it sent her back over the edge. The fits of anger had been going on for months, getting progressively worse, and she had no explanation for her outrageous behavior. And her foul mood didn’t let up. “I want to stop at a mall before we’re imprisoned for the whole summer!”
Roger looked at his wife. She placed her index finger over her lips and gave the slightest shake of her head.
“It’s a shame Aggie fell down the stairs last year,” Caroline said to him.
“That’s what really started the decline in her health,” he said. “I’m sorry I didn’t see her before it happened.”
Adley observed her father’s glassy-eyed profile from the back seat as he quickly glanced out the driver’s side window, unsmiling, and focused on nothing. She had never seen him without a cheerful mask in front of his family, and his regret looked foreign to her.
“You had no way of knowing, Roger. Your mother wasn’t thinking clearly. After all, you couldn’t believe all the crazy things she said–that she was pushed down the stairs while she was alone. I wonder just how much those disturbing letters played a role in her death.”
“There can’t be any truth to them. Those people are insane!” Roger snapped.
Curiosity brought Adley out of her foul mood. The girl leaned forward and set her hands on the back of her father’s seat.
“Who, Dad? What letters, Mom?”
“Nothing you need to be concerned with, honey,” Caroline said.
“You mean it’s none of my business!” Adley crossed her arms and scowled, sliding back into her seat. She glared out the window. Her parents didn’t say a word. “Ignored as usual,” she griped under her breath, at the same time she wondered why she just didn’t shut up.
Even she was getting sick of her own whining. It seemed the closer they got to the desert mansion, the more irritable Adley became. And she really wanted to know what letters her mother was talking about.
“It was strange how she lost her footing like that,” Caroline said to Roger. “Didn’t Aggie say she felt like she’d been poked by sticks? What on earth did she mean?”
“I don’t know,” Roger said. “But I wish she had let me get her some live-in help.”
“But dear, she said she was happy to live her last days at Capilla Manor and didn’t want anyone about.”
“I know.” He sighed. Adley saw the drop in his shoulders. “I had a lot of fond memories growing up there,” he continued. “It’s a beautiful place to live.”
“Sure, Dad, for a corpse,” Adley spat out, and venom saturated her cruel remark before she could take it back.
Roger flinched at the vicious response, and Caroline shouted over the seat behind her. “Adley! How dare you insult Grandma Aggie that way!”
“That was a very unkind thing to say, Deedee,” Roger said.
“I keep telling you I hate that stupid name! Why don’t you ever listen?” she snarled. “Why did you bother naming me ‘Adley’ at all?”
“That is quite enough, young lady!” Caroline said. “May I remind you that you gave yourself that nickname when you were four years old? And by the way, if you don’t have anything nice to say–”
“–don’t say anything at all!” Adley rudely recited in a sing-songy tone.
Caroline whipped her head around and narrowed her gaze at Adley. “Adley Rosalia Lange! That is enough!” she shrieked, her pitch raising several octaves.
It was always trouble on the rare occasion when Caroline resorted to using her daughter’s full name and that formidable parental glare. Adley thought her mother was going to slap her, as angry as she was. And Adley wouldn’t have blamed her. She felt bad for what she just said, but as she started to apologize something told her to keep quiet. The worst part was that Adley loved her grandmother. She didn’t get to see her often but they e-mailed occasionally, and Grandma Aggie often sent Adley cards with a ten dollar bill tucked inside, twenty after she hit her teens.
A minute of silence passed and Adley caught a glimpse of her father looking at her in the rear view mirror. He started to speak to her mother. Adley looked back out the window, covertly sliding the earphone behind her ear so she could listen in on their conversation.
“Adley’s grown more and more difficult these past few months,” her father said.
“She did tell me a couple of weeks ago that it felt like her anger seemed to grow on its own.”
In her peripheral vision, Adley saw her mother look at the back seat. Adley pouted and stared off at the distant mountains.
“She said she didn’t know how to keep her bad moods at bay, but every time I give her suggestions for getting in touch with her feelings she gives me the brush-off,” Caroline said.
Roger kept his voice low. “You’d think she’d be glad to get away from home after having driven all her friends away. She’s so damn belligerent!”
“I hope this trip to Aggie’s makes a difference.” Adley heard the futile wish and genuine sorrow in her mother’s words.
“I hope my job transfer makes a difference. I’d hate to think I took advantage of my seniority and then have it be the wrong thing to have done.”
Caroline patted his arm. “We’re doing the right thing, Roger. I’m sure Adley will love spending more time with us now that you’re telecommuting and I’m not working. Things can’t help but get better when we spend more time together as a family.”
Adley’s daggered eyes nearly razed the scenery as her head rocked slightly to whatever tune came through on her iPad. Her parents kept speaking, but she clamped the headphones in place to shut out her their conversation and their disappointment.
Adley was the first to acknowledge that her parents gave her everything she ever needed and tried to spend quality time with her despite their busy schedules. Her mom had quit her teaching job, and her dad opted to move to another state to make their little family close again. And all Adley did was take her unwarranted anger and frustration out on them. She wished she could explain it, but she didn’t even know what was going on.
At a special meeting, when her parents asked Adley’s school counselor for some input, the man assured the Langes that their daughter was simply rebelling like any other teenager, but Adley knew another issue played into the mix. The problem was that not even she could define what kept her on edge. An underlying tension had showed itself months ago, a dark little voice that so easily convinced her to say mean things to people. She was as puzzled by its effect on her as her parents. Adley wondered if her inexplicable complaining and insensitivity would last through their stay at Capilla Manor.
The off-ramp to Grandma Aggie’s home came into view, tucked in the southwest part of the state amid the foothills of the Little Hatchet Mountains. It took another twenty minutes of driving through desert vistas of mesquite and juniper that dotted the terrain to find the manor hidden behind rolling hills of drought resistant scrub. The weathered mansion sat at the end of a desolate, mile long road.
Adley pulled her headphones off and stared open mouth at the impressive Spanish oasis that opened up at the end of the lengthy driveway. She had seen it before, but the historical feel of the massive estate managed to take her breath away each time she visited. Adley heard her father’s deep exhale. He had to be exhausted by the lengthy drive and frustrated by her outbursts.
“Why did Grandma Aggie build such a big house for just three people?” she asked.
“The original family that built the house had more children and a number of workers who lived on the property,” her father said. “It was built in 1745.”
“No wonder it looks like it’s falling apart,” Adley said.
She had only visited Capilla Manor a few times with her parents. Her father’s busy work schedule made it difficult to see his own mother. Adley didn’t enjoy their last visit, about four years back. Her grandmother was fine, but being in the house bothered her, especially at night. She chalked it up to being younger and less mature, not that she behaved more maturely now.
The vehicle drew closer to the lovely mansion, and its physical deterioration became more apparent.
“I may not know anything about home improvements, but this house is in need of some serious attention.”
One side of Adley’s lip curled up. She was disgusted by the unsightly home she was forced to live in.
“It does need some work,” her mother agreed.
Roger pulled into the red brick circular drive. During Adley’s last visit, the landscaping had been simple but well-manicured. Now the shabby front yard resembled a weed-choked lot, and the thick plastered walls begged for more stucco and paint.
“Dad, you said Grandpa left Grandma Aggie enough money to keep her comfortable and the house in good condition. Why didn’t she take better care of it?”
Roger shut off the engine. “It’s hard to keep up a big place, especially an old one that needs a lot of special care.”
“Uh, yeah. That’s why people with money hire people to take care of their homes.”
“You’ve got a point. She used to do her best to get us to live here, but in the past few years she didn’t seem to want us to come at all. Huh.” Roger tilted his head as if he’d only just considered his mother’s change of heart about his visits to Capilla Manor.
“Well, maybe we can fix it up,” Caroline said. She squeezed her husband’s hand and gave him a loving smile.
Adley slipped out of the back seat and spun in a circle, as if adrift in the sea and only seeing water from every vantage point.
“No sign of life for miles,” she grumbled.
Her parents stretched in the warm sun. “My ancestors worked as miners and built the home with their only lucky strike,” Roger said. “Ten or so years later the mines ran dry, and the town folded, but there was enough money to maintain the property as different families moved in. The house was always handed down to succeeding generations.”
Caroline held her husband’s arm and leaned against his side, gazing at the historical home with an appreciative eye. “It’s easy to understand why Aggie didn’t want to leave. Just look at these mission style arches, recessed windows, and the terra cotta roof.”
Adley saw stucco in need of repair, dirty panes of glass, and broken scalloped tiles overhead.
“Maybe everything will be different once we’re a happy family again,” Roger said.
“I’m sure that things will change for the better now that we’re here.” Caroline said.
Adley rolled her eyes. She thought her mother’s weak smile held more doubt than hope. “Hello? Maybe you can’t see the overgrown tumbleweeds and peeling paint on those broken-down flower boxes under the windows.”
“Only things that need minor repair or cleaning up,” her father said.
A vulture squawked in a nearby mesquite tree and drew the Langes’ attention to the hunched bird. It flapped its wings and made a racket, as if laughing at the family.
Adley whispered to herself, “Welcome to hell.”
She didn’t know how close she was to being right.
© 2014 by Carole Avila