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  • The Hanging Hill
  • Written by Chris Grabenstein
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  • The Hanging Hill
  • Written by Chris Grabenstein
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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: August 11, 2009
Pages: 336 | ISBN: 978-0-375-85384-5
Published by : Random House Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books
The Hanging Hill Cover

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From the New York Times bestselling author of Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library comes a series of spine-tingling mysteries to keep you up long after the lights go out.
How serious is stage fright? At the Hanging Hill Playhouse, it can kill you.

After narrowly escaping a malevolent spirit in The Crossroads, Zack and Judy are hoping to relax during the rehearsals for a show based on Judy’s bestselling children’s books. Little do they know that the director is planning to raise a horde of evil specters from the dead, and to accomplish this, he needs a human sacrifice . . . and Zack fits the bill perfectly.

This second book featuring the intrepid Zack and his stepmother, Judy, is full of the same humorous and spine-tingling storytelling that has made Chris Grabenstein a fast favorite with young and old alike.

From the Hardcover edition.



There's this thing about ghosts: Once you've seen one, you can basically see them all.

At least the ones that want to be seen.

At the age of eleven, Zack Jennings was learning the rules of the spirit world pretty quickly. He'd only seen his first real-live (make that "real-dead") spook maybe a month or two ago. Now they seemed to be everywhere. When he went to summer camp in the middle of July, he met the boy who'd drowned in the lake.
Back in 1973.

When he hung out at the library, he occasionally saw this pudgy woman reading over people's shoulders because she couldn't flip the pages herself anymore, what with being dead and all.

His mother had always claimed that Zack had a hyperactive imagination, but even he couldn't make this stuff up. The ghosts he saw were as real as electricity, wind, and gravity--things nobody could see but everybody knew were there.

Some called being a Ghost Seer a gift. Well, if it was, Zack figured it was like getting a paisley-and-plaid sweater for Christmas when what you really wanted was an iPod. Seven weeks after learning he could see spirits, Zack was already tired of being special.

Being special could wear a guy out.

On the first Saturday of August, as he stepped into the brightly lit breakfast room of the Marriott extended-stay hotel near North Chester, Connecticut, it happened once again: He saw an apparition lurking near a small table in the far corner of the room.
Zack could tell: This one was a demon.

Zack and his family--his dad, his new stepmom, and his dog--were currently residing at the hotel because their house had burned down when Zack had battled the evil spirit haunting the crossroads nearby. The fire had been Zack's fault, and his allowance would be docked for the damages until he turned twenty-one. After that, Zack's dad would probably do payroll deductions. And now, here Zack was, less than twenty feet away from yet another fiend, who probably wanted to destroy some other part of Zack's life when all Zack wanted to do was grab a bowl of cereal and maybe a banana from the breakfast buffet.

Zack had come down to the lobby on his own.

His dad, who didn't believe in ghosts anyway, had gone into New York City for weekend work at his office.

His stepmom, Judy, an author, was upstairs, busily working on last-minute rewrites to Curiosity Cat, a new musical, based on her children's books, that was about to have its world premiere at a theater called the Hanging Hill Playhouse.

His trusty dog, Zipper, was also upstairs--snoozing between the cushions of a very comfy hotel couch.

There were other people in the breakfast room, the same ones Zack saw most mornings: Divorced Guy, Moving Family, Vacationing Family, Businessman, Other Divorced Guy.

The ghost was new.

Zack could tell that the man sitting at the table in the far corner of the breakfast room was a ghost because he was wearing old-fashioned clothes--the kind convicts in chain gangs sometimes wore in the movies. Old movies.

The ghost was, or had been, a hulking giant with a serious scowl carved into his watermelon-sized head. He wore a denim prison jumpsuit, loosely laced work boots, and a tin hat that looked like an upside-down spaghetti strainer with electrical cables clamped to battery posts where its legs should have been.

He'd shown up sitting in his own chair: a colossal throne made out of thick planks of rough-hewn lumber. Wide, double-holed leather belts were buckled tight across his chest, arms, and legs.

Zack suddenly realized the guy was strapped into an electric chair, the thing they used fifty years ago to execute hard-core criminals on death row in the state penitentiary.

The giant caught Zack staring.

"Pssst! Hey, kid!"

Zack pretended not to see or hear the man.

"I know you can see and hear me, kid."

So much for pretending.

"Come here. Undo these belt buckles!"

Slowly, very slowly, Zack turned his back on the ghost so he could face the breakfast buffet and make like he was picking out a banana. Behind him, he heard the sizzling sputter of sparks. He smelled ozone, like when an electrical outlet short-circuits and scorches the toaster plug. Zack whipped around just in time to see the last zig of a lightning bolt zap and zizz off the big guy's metal cap. Smoke wafted up from his razored scalp.

"Where's the bank?" the man in the chair demanded.

Zack didn't answer.

"Used to be a bank right here. Connecticut Building and Loan. Biggest heist of my career." Watermelon Head grinned. His teeth were the color of coffee beans.

"Happiest day of my life, kid. Good times."

Zack glanced guardedly around the room. Nobody else could see or hear the ghost reminiscing about his bygone days of glory.

"Come on! Undo these straps!"

Now one of the kids in the Moving Family, a girl about six, was gawking at Zack like he was nuts. He didn't blame her. He probably looked pretty crazy: frozen in place, staring across the room at an empty table, mouth hanging open.

"Be a pal, kid! I've been stuck in this chair since 1959."

Zack didn't budge.

"You deaf? I said turn me loose!"

Zack stayed where he was.

"Oh, I get it," the trapped beast snarled. "Some kind of tough guy, hunh?"

Zack shook his head and slid his black-rimmed glasses up the bridge of his nose. He was sort of short and kind of skinny and really didn't look all that tough, even when he took off the glasses.

"Do you know who I am, kid?"

Again, Zack shook his head while the girl, the normal kid, kept gawking at him.
"Folks called me Mad Dog Murphy on account of the fact that I went bonkers here at the bank. Killed six people. Two of 'em kids! So shake a leg and unbuckle these straps! You think I want to spend eternity sitting on my keester on top of Old Sparky?"

Now a second ghost materialized directly across the table from the angry giant lashed into his sizzle seat. A woman. Zack couldn't see her face, just the back of her curly hair.

"Doll face!" Mad Dog Murphy said with a sinister smile. "What're you doin' here?"

The woman didn't say a word.

"What? Forget it, sister! I ain't leaving the kid alone!"

The woman raised both arms and the two ghosts began to disappear slowly. As they faded away, Zack heard Mad Dog Murphy's voice echoing off the walls in some kind of tunnel: "I'll be back, kid! You'll see! I'm comin' back to get you, Zack Jennings!"

All of a sudden, Zack didn't feel so hungry. How did this ghost know his name? None of the others ever did.

He decided maybe he'd skip breakfast, go back to the room, pack his suitcase.
"Are you okay?" asked the girl who had been staring at him.


Now her mother was staring at him, too. "Are you sure?" the mother asked. "You look like you just saw a ghost."

From the Hardcover edition.
Chris Grabenstein

About Chris Grabenstein

Chris Grabenstein - The Hanging Hill
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!

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