Spin a Black Yarn
Del Rey, 2023
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Five harrowing novellas of horror and speculative fiction from the singular mind of the New York Times bestselling author of Bird Box
A sister insists to her little brother that "Half the House Is Haunted" by a strange presence. But is it the house that's haunted--or their childhoods?
In "Argyle," a dying man confesses to homicides he never committed, and he reveals long-kept secrets far more sinister than murder.
A tourist takes the ultimate trip to outer space in "The Jupiter Drop," but the real journey is into his own dark past.
In "Doug and Judy Buy the House Washer™," a trendy married couple buys the latest home gadget only to find themselves trapped by their possessions, their history... and each other.
And in "Egorov," a wealthy old cretin murders a young man, not knowing the victim was a triplet. The two surviving brothers stage a savage faux-haunting--playing the ghost of their slain brother--with the aim of driving the old murderer mad.
8 AND 6
Half the house is haunted, Robin. Don't ask me which half! Don't you ever ask that again! I'll tell Mommy about the rat if you do. You think I won't, little brother? Didn't I tell Daddy about the fight? Didn't I tell him you roughed up that ninny at school? I didn't leave any of it out, either. Nope. The way you moved that ninny's nose. The way you made him sob. So don't fiddle with me, Robin! And don't you dare demand. Half the house is haunted, I say, and so haunted half the house is!
* * *
Stephanie is trying to scare me again. It's all she does. Daddy says it's getting worse. He said that very thing at dinner. He said, Stephanie is so hard on Robin. She is! Mommy asked for an example. Daddy didn't have one and I was too scared to raise my hand. I could have told them she used to hide under the bed. I could have told them how later she placed that dead kid under the bed, dressed as her, so that I thought it was Stephanie down there. Then the real Stephanie leapt from out of the closet. She laughed so hard it made her look different. Then she demanded I help bury the kid again in the East Kent cemetery. I refused and she told me it was phony anyway and then she told Daddy about the fight I got in at school. I fight a lot at school. And I'm darn good at it too! If Stephanie isn't careful, I'm gonna fight her next. But what if what she says is true? What if half the house is haunted? And what if she knows which half?
What would I do without her?
* * *
You always think in such simple terms, Robin. You're such a simpleton. Do you know that word? You should. You are that word. You hear "half" and you say front or back, side or side. You don't even consider top or bottom. You don't consider it's every other step. Follow me. Right now, dammit. This step? Maybe haunted. This step? Maybe not. What's wrong? Are you really leaving me up here alone? Are you really going to run downstairs where there's nobody, when that might be the haunted half? Oh, Robin. You are much too simple for a puzzle like this. You think in lines. I think in depth. Yes, in depth. Maybe it's the outline of the house that's haunted and not the inner house, you see? Maybe you should find the center of the house and wait there while the haunting goes on, for the rest of your life, wait in the center of the house, Robin, where it might be safe, and... and it might not!
* * *
Stephanie is so terrible! She leads me around the house like a little dog. Mommy and Daddy are off doctoring and Stephanie is supposed to take care of me. I can take care of myself! Just not in every way. I can't make lunch, I know. I'm not allowed to use the stove. The oven is so big, Stephanie and me could squeeze inside together. The cupboards are too high. Even Stephanie steps on chairs to get the oatmeal down. I can get up on my bed, of course, but Stephanie has made me so scared I don't even want to take a nap. She tells me my bedroom might be part of the haunted half. I ask her if it is. Does she know? She won't tell! She's terrible. All she wants to do is scare me. That's all!
Where is she hiding now? Every curtain is a hiding place. She told me that once. She said even the middle of the hall is a hiding place for some things.
I want to go outside. I can't stand it inside anymore. I'm always just waiting for Stephanie to scare me.
I can't stand how terrible she is!
* * *
You think the outside is safe, Robin? Why? Because there are no walls? No ceiling? No floor? Do you see how simple this is? You think the sun will help you? You think the open air is your friend?
I was in the library, Robin. I searched Mommy and Daddy's thesaurus for simple. I found many words and they all apply to you just perfectly, just perfectly so!
Ordinary, common, plain, artless. Just four there, already a biography. Homely, average, feeble. But my favorite? Oh, Robin, my favorite word for you is credent.
Now, get back inside, credent! Who said the outside isn't the haunted half?
* * *
Mommy and Daddy are back and they asked Stephanie how I was. She told them I was tolerable. Mommy patted her on the head when she used that word and Daddy said,
I see you've been in the library, Steph. Continue to do that.
They encourage her. Always. And they asked me if I was feeling well, and Daddy placed his hand on my forehead and told me I should get some rest because I was "running hot." But I didn't want to be upstairs alone, I don't want to be anywhere alone in the house!
But Mommy and Daddy made me. They tucked me in. They turned the bedroom light off but left the light on in the hall.
I want it off.
But I don't want it off.
I want it off.
But I don't.
Is this what Stephanie means when she says half the house is haunted?
* * *
Robin, can you hear me? I'll stand watch in the hall. I'll tell you if something is coming. Can you see my shadow on the wall? Good. That's me. If you see any other shadow on the wall, it's not me. So don't speak to any shadow you see on the hall wall unless it's mine. Don't cry, Robin. Rest, like Daddy said. And don't be such a drama! We have a roof over our heads. Some do not. Some people sleep outside, under bridges, in cars, in graveyards.
Oh, they most certainly do!
They're called lamias and they like the smell of graves. Some of them wear it like cologne.
Yes. Just like Daddy's, only it smells of the grave, Robin.
That sweet ol' scent of the grave!
* * *
I can see Stephanie's shadow in the hall. It's longer than her, but I know it's her. She's trying to scare me again. She's making shapes with her fingers. Mommy calls them shadow puppets. She's trying to make birds or bugs and sometimes horns.
Stop it, Stephanie!
But I don't want her to leave me, I don't want to be alone up here! I told Daddy I didn't want to be alone, and he looked at me angry. He made a clucking sound with his tongue and shook his head no. Daddy does that and it's the end of the talk. So I stopped talking. And he left. And Stephanie is all I have.
She makes horns. And she raises her hands so her fingers look longer and the horns stretch up the whole wall.
I want to say I hate Stephanie, but Mommy and Daddy told us there's one word we're never allowed to use and it's that one. They told us there's "no coming back from hate." As if hate is a place! Mommy said someone could visit there and get stuck without a ride home.
So maybe I don't hate Stephanie. But I hate the shapes she's making in the hall, and I hate what she says and does. One night I counted and I think Stephanie has tried to scare me in every single room in the house. All nineteen of them. She calls me a liar when I say this, tells me she hasn't even used half of them, but there were some times I heard her before she had a chance to scare me. One time on the third floor, I heard her in the last room, heard her breathing real hard and I stopped and listened and I almost hated her then.
She's stopped making shadows. She's gone.
Is she in the room with me now? Did I miss that? Is Stephanie hiding in my room?
Is she waiting for me to fall asleep?
Is she standing next to my bed?
* * *
You're so easy! All you had to do was watch my shadow to know where I was. But that's too simple for you, isn't it? You think you're so smart, so you take your eye off things, thinking they'll be the same when you look back.
Don't tell me what to do. I'm your big sister and I can scare you all I want.
Remember the snake I found in the garden and drowned in the pool? That snake is still growing, Robin. It's ten times the size it was when it died, and it grows twice as big each day. Pretty soon you'll be able to see it sticking out of the water because it'll be too big to fit. And when it gets huge, it'll come back here for you. Because you're the one who was scared of the snake in the garden. You're the one who pointed it out to me.
The snake knows you now, Robin. Knows you're the reason it drowned.
Copyright © 2023 by Josh Malerman
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