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A Haunted Mystery

Written by Chris GrabensteinAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Chris Grabenstein


List Price: $6.99


On Sale: May 27, 2008
Pages: 336 | ISBN: 978-0-375-84968-8
Published by : Random House Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books

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On Sale: May 27, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-7393-6703-2
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“A rip-roaring ghost story.”—Booklist, Starred

Zack, his dad, and new stepmother have just moved back to his father’s hometown, not knowing that their new house has a dark history. Fifty years ago, a crazed killer caused an accident at the nearby crossroads that took 40 innocent lives. He died when his car hit a tree in a fiery crash, and his malevolent spirit has inhabited the tree ever since. During a huge storm, lightning hits the tree, releasing the spirit, who decides his evil spree isn’t over . . . and Zack is directly in his sights.

Award-winning thriller author Chris Grabenstein fills his first book for younger readers with the same humorous and spine-tingling storytelling that has made him a fast favorite with adults.


Billy O'Claire was doggy-dog tired.
He'd been trying to fix the toilet in the brandnew house for over six hours and the weather outside was extremely hot and muggy, especially for the Friday before Memorial Day.
Billy was sweating up a storm.  Since nobody lived in the new house yet, they hadn't turned on the air-conditioning. His work shirt was a soppy sheet of wet cotton with full-moon stains oozing down below both armpits.
It was nine p.m.
He tightened one last nut, then gave the trip handle on the toilet a flick. Instead of the customary whoosh of water swirling into the bowl, Billy heard a roaring gurgle. The toilet was working backward. He raised the lid and saw a commode burping up chunks of brown gunk. Leaves. Dirt. Twigs.
Nothing else, thank heaven, because nobody had actually used the toilet yet. This woodsy debris had to be seeping in from a cracked sewer line, and Billy realized they might have to rip up the newly sodded lawn to fix a drainpipe ruptured, most likely, by tree roots.
But that was a Monday-morning kind of problem.
Fortunately, it was Friday night and Billy was finished working for the week. He cranked the shutoff valve behind the toilet and went out to the driveway, where he had parked his pickup, the one with O'Claire's Plumbing painted on the door over where it used to say O'Claire's Painting and, before that, O'Claire's Satellite Television Repair.
Billy sat in the cab and drank half a gallon of water out of a glugging plastic jug and aimed two of the truck's air-conditioning vents up at his armpits.
It felt good. Real good.
He yawned and thought about grabbing a quick nap. Instead, he slammed the transmission into reverse and backed out of the driveway, not realizing that something wicked was lurking a little ways down the road--just waiting for the next doggy-dogtired driver to come along.


A flashing red stoplight hung suspended over the intersection where County Route 13 crossed Connecticut State Highway 31.
A gigantic oak tree stood near one corner, and its highest branch--as thick around as the trunk of any ordinary tree--suddenly started to move. No wind was blowing. No sports car zooming past had sent up a swirling wake. But the massive limb began to bend and rotate. It sensed an easy target approaching and, longing for a little fun, tore against itself--slowly at first, then with gathering speed. When the final strands ripped free, the bough broke off and fell like a two-ton truck, tearing down the blinking beacon.
Then the tree stopped moving.


Billy O'Claire remembered that there used to be a flashing red stoplight hanging over the intersection of 13 and 31. Tonight, however, there wasn't one.
Billy didn't want to stop.  He needed to find a bathroom. Bad. Chugging half a gallon of water straight from the jug will do that to you. And he preferred a bathroom where the toilet didn't gurgle back at him. He pressed down on the gas pedal.
"How dry I am," he crooned off-key. "How wet I'll be, if I don't find . . ."
Suddenly he saw someone standing in the middle of the road.
A cop.
A motorcycle cop--holding up his hand and commanding Billy to stop.
So Billy slammed on his brakes and the pickup skidded sideways. Tires screeched, the truck swerved, and he almost hooked on to the bumper of a car he hadn't even seen coming. He spun around and wound up on the far side of the intersection--backward and straddling a ditch.
Billy wasn't injured, just totally dazed. He could see the taillights of the car he had nearly hit as it zoomed up the highway. Glancing at his rearview mirror, he saw the cop standing next to his motorbike, which was very weird-looking--it had a moonfaced headlight and chrome fenders swooping up over its tires.
It's from the 1950s, Billy thought. An old Harley Softail. Billy liked old motorcycles. Wished he had one right now so he could hightail it out of here before the cop came over and started hassling him. Then Billy realized: The cop's uniform and hat looked old-fashioned, too.
It looks like he's from some black-and-white movie. One of those old monster movies where the police try to capture Godzilla.
The cop marched slowly toward the truck.  Billy strained to see if it was anybody he knew, thinking this was some kind of practical joke. He tried to see the cop's face.
Only the cop didn't have one.
He had a crew cut and mirrored sunglasses and ears but no face!
Billy jerked up on his door handle hard. When it wouldn't budge, he kicked the door open. He screamed once and scrambled out of the truck and ran as fast as he could up the highway.


The police officer didn't care about Billy O'Claire. Didn't chase after him.
His job was done for the night. He had prevented a horrible, possibly fatal, collision.
Something he had tried to do once before.
June 21, 1958.
The day he had died.

From the Hardcover edition.
Chris Grabenstein

About Chris Grabenstein

Chris Grabenstein - The Crossroads
Sometimes a good ghost story creeps its way into existence just like, well, a ghost slipping through a brick wall!
Have you ever been walking your dog, doing the dishes, taking a shower, or mindlessly minding your own business when, all of a sudden, just like that, an idea snuck up behind you and whomped you in the head?
Well, stories have a way of doing that. They can tiptoe up from your subconscious, seize your brain, and demand to be told.
They’re a lot like Frankenstein’s monster: They’re aliiiiive!!
When I’m not writing, I might be washing the dishes while walking my dog (something that requires a great deal of training, by the way), when a great What If? will leap up out of the shadows. I find that’s how most of my stories get started: a big What If? followed by several intriguing And Thens.
For instance, there I was one summer morning up in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts, out for my early morning jog. Fred the dog did not join us on this weekend trip so it was just the chirping birds, the crackled asphalt, a couple pickup trucks, this one cow, and me. The cow eyed me suspiciously as I trotted past her meadow. I don’t blame her. My running jacket is neon yellow, the color of antifreeze. Or Mountain Dew.
Anyway, huffing and puffing along, I passed a makeshift roadside memorial. Not much, really. Just a white wooden cross, its paint chipped and flaking. The simple cross was nailed into the thick bark of a massive oak tree. Some faded artificial flowers were tied to it with frayed ribbon that had long since lost its color.
Usually, you find this kind of roadside memorial at the scene of a tragic traffic accident. So, as I swatted flies and trotted up the deserted country road, the first thought to flit through my brain was: I wonder who died back there? What kind of accident was it?
And then a clever little What If? crept on cat paws into the story telling sector of my brain: What if the ghost of whoever the tree memorializes eternally haunts that particular stretch of road?
Oooh, I thought. Creepy.
But wait–what if the spirit of whoever died back there was trapped inside the tree? Trees have deep roots–usually as deep as the tree is tall. A tree like that could really anchor a soul to the earth.
And what if the person who died in the car wreck didn’t really want to leave right away? After all, it wasn’t as if they had been bedridden and sick for a long time. They died in an accident. That usually means you die before your time, before you’re ready to “shuffle off this mortal coil,” as Shakespeare said.
Okay. I had a pretty big What If? Time to add in a couple And Thens.
And then a boy with a very vivid imagination, the kind of boy who might see faces and demons where other people see gnarly knotholes, moves into a house where the backyard includes a certain tree.
And then the ghost in the tree isn’t the only one haunting this particular stretch of the highway.
And then the boy starts meeting these ghosts.
Real ghosts, not just the imaginary kind he’s used to seeing.
And then–they all want him to do something scary and dangerous!
Well, I think you get the point.
That’s how my first Middle Grades book The Crossroads got its start–during an early morning run along the shoulder of a country road in western Massachusetts. While I was thinking about nothing in particular, a big What If? jumped up out of the weeds and demanded that I tell its story.
It’s the same way my award-winning adult mysteries and thrillers got their starts. What If? And Then. It’s the same way you can think the next time you have a writing assignment of any kind.
I think we all develop our storytelling talent when we’re two or three years old and enthusiastically relate a tale to our parents: “And then, you know what? And then . . . and then . . .”
So, the next time you need to write a story, find yourself a fascinatingly mesmerizing What If? Follow it up with some twisting, turning And Thens. You’ll find that stories will effortlessly pour out of you like the swirling crowd of phantoms haunting the crossroads near this one very creepy tree you can read about in my new book!


Starred review, Booklist, May 1, 2008:
"An absorbing psychological thriller . . . as well as a rip-roaring ghost story."

From the Hardcover edition.

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