Texas Gothic, p.1Rosemary Clement-Moore
ALSO BY ROSEMARY CLEMENT-MOORE
The Splendor Falls
THE MAGGIE QUINN:
GIRL VS. EVIL SERIES
Prom Dates from Hell
Highway to Hell
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2011 by Rosemary Clement-Moore
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Texas gothic / Rosemary Clement-Moore. — 1st ed.
Summary: Seventeen-year-old Amy Goodnight has long been the one who makes her family of witches seem somewhat normal to others, but while spending a summer with her sister caring for their aunt’s farm, Amy becomes the center of weirdness when she becomes tied to a powerful ghost.
[1. Ghosts—Fiction. 2. Witchcraft—Fiction.
3. Farm life—Texas—Fiction. 4. Sisters—Fiction. 5. Texas—Fiction.] I. Title.
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the goat was in the tree again.
I hadn’t even known goats could climb trees. I had been livestock-sitting for three days before I’d figured out how the darned things kept getting out of their pen. Then one day I’d glanced out an upstairs window and seen Taco and Gordita, the ringleaders of the herd, trip-trip-tripping onto one of the low branches extending over the fence that separated their enclosure from the yard around Aunt Hyacinth’s century-old farmhouse.
“Don’t even think about it,” I told Gordita now, facing her across that same fence. I’d just bathed four dogs and then shoveled out the barn. I stank like dirty wet fur and donkey crap, and I was not in the mood to be trifled with.
She stared back at me with a placid, long-lashed eye and bleated, “Mba-a-a-a-a.” Which must translate as “You’re not the boss of me,” because she certainly didn’t trouble herself to get out of the tree.
“Suit yourself,” I said. As long as she was still technically in—or above—her pen, I didn’t have much of an argument. When dealing with nanny goats, you pick your battles.
I suppose Aunt Hyacinth could be forgiven for trusting me to figure out the finer points of goat management for myself. And “for myself” was no exaggeration. Except when my sister, Phin, and I had run into town to get groceries, we hadn’t seen a soul all week. Well, besides Uncle Burt. But you didn’t so much see Aunt Hyacinth’s late husband as sense his presence now and then.
This was Aunt Hyacinth’s first vacation in ten years. The herb farm and the line of organic bath products she produced here had finally reached a point where she could take time off. And she was going to be gone for a month, halfway around the world on a cruise through the Orient, so she’d had a lot of instructions to cover. Even after she’d given Phin and me an exhaustive briefing on the care and feeding of the flora and fauna, even while my mom had waited in the luggage-stuffed van to take her to the airport in San Antonio, Aunt Hy had stood on the porch, hands on her hips, lips pursed in concentration.
“I’m sure I’m forgetting something,” she’d said, scanning the yard for some reminder. Then she laughed and patted my cheek. “Oh, why am I worried? You’re a Goodnight. And if any of us can handle a crisis, Amy, it’s you.”
That was too true. I was the designated grown-up in a family that operated in a different reality than the rest of the world. But if the worst I had to deal with was a herd of goat Houdinis, I’d call myself lucky.
I gathered my dog-washing supplies and trudged toward the limestone ranch house that was the heart of Aunt Hyacinth’s Hill Country homestead. It was a respectable size for an herb farm, though small by ranching standards. Small enough, in fact, to be dwarfed by the surrounding land. To reach the place, you had to take a gravel road through someone else’s pasture to the Goodnight Farm gate, where a second fence of barbed wire and cedar posts surrounded Aunt Hyacinth’s acreage. We often saw our neighbors’ cows grazing through it. I guess the grass really was always greener. A packed dirt road led finally to the sturdy board fence that enclosed the house and yard with its adjoining livestock pens. Sometimes it felt like living inside a giant nesting doll. Ranching life was pretty much all about fences and gates.
The dogs had kept a respectful distance from the goats’ enclosure, but they bounded to join me on my way to the house. Sadie nipped at the heels of my rubber boots while Lila wove figure eights between my legs. Bear, no fool, had already headed for the shade to escape the afternoon sun.
“Get off!” I pushed the girls away from my filthy jeans. “I just washed you, you stupid mutts.”
They dashed to join Bear on the side porch. I clomped up the steps, my arms full of dirty towels, and hooked the screen door with a finger. The dogs tumbled into the mudroom after me, then tried to worm into the house while I toed off my boots.
“Not until you’re dry. Stay!” I managed to block them all except Pumpkin, a very appropriately named Pomeranian, who had asthma and got to come inside whenever he wanted. Which was pretty much all the time.
I closed the door and sighed—a mistake, because the deep breath told me just how much I stank.
Hot shower in T minus five, four, three …
The light over the sink in the kitchen went out. Not a crisis, since it was four in the afternoon. However, the soft hum of the air conditioner cut out at the same instant, which would be a problem very shortly. A big problem, because the only reason I’d agreed to spend my summer on Goodnight
“Phin!” I shouted. I’d lived with my sister for seventeen years, not counting the last one, which she’d spent in the freshman dorm at the University of Texas. I knew exactly who was to blame for the power outage.
No answer, but that didn’t mean anything. Once Phin was immersed in one of her experiments, Godzilla could stroll over from the Gulf of Mexico and she wouldn’t notice unless his radioactive breath threw off her data.
Phin’s experiments were the reason I was currently covered in dog hair, straw dust, and donkey dung. She had eagerly agreed to house-sit because she wanted to do some kind of botanical research for her summer independent study, and, well … where better to do that than an herb farm? But while the Goodnight family might be eccentric by other people’s standards, no one was crazy enough to leave Phin solely in charge of Aunt Hyacinth’s livelihood. She couldn’t always be trusted to feed herself while she was working on a project, let alone the menagerie outside.
I peeled off my filthy socks and headed through the kitchen and living room to the back of the house, where Phin had commandeered Aunt Hyacinth’s workroom as her own. The door was closed, and I gave a cursory knock before I went in, only to stumble on the threshold between the bright afternoon and the startling darkness of the usually sunny space.
Without thinking, I flipped the light switch, but of course nothing happened. All I could see was a glow from Phin’s laptop and, strangely, from under the slate-topped table in the center of the room.
“Hey!” Phin’s voice was muffled, and a moment later her head popped up from behind the Rube Goldberg–type contraption on the table. Her strawberry-blond hair was coming loose from her ponytail, possibly because she was wearing what appeared to be a miner’s headlamp. “I’m doing an experiment.”
“I know.” I shaded my eyes from the light. “The fuse just blew.”
“Did it?” She checked some wires, punched something up on her laptop, then flipped a few switches on the power strip in front of her.
“Oh. Good thing I’m at a stopping spot.”
“Well, thank heaven for that,” I said, but my tone was wasted on her. Sarcasm was always wasted on Phin.
Aunt Hyacinth’s workroom was normally a bright, airy space, part sunroom, part apothecary. Just then, however, it was dark and stuffy, with heavy curtains covering the wall of windows and the glass door that led to the attached greenhouse.
On the huge worktable, Phin had set up her laptop and a bewildering rig that included a camera with some kind of complicated lens apparatus, a light box (which I suppose explained why the room was blacked out as if she were expecting the Luftwaffe), and enough electrical wiring to make me very nervous.
It wasn’t that Phin wasn’t brilliant. The only thing that might keep her from getting a Nobel Prize someday was her field of study. Switzerland didn’t really recognize paranormal research. Neither did most of the world, but that never stopped a Goodnight. Except me, I suppose.
In the dim light, I could see something like electrode leads connected to the leaves of an unidentifiable potted plant. It said a lot about my sister that this was not the strangest thing I’d ever seen her do.
“I don’t think shock treatment was what Aunt Hyacinth meant when she gave you free rein over her plant life.”
“It’s a very low current,” she said. “Just enough to get a baseline.”
Part of me was tempted to ask “A baseline of what?” But the larger part knew that it would result in a half-hour lecture, at least, and I really wanted a shower more than I wanted to know the esoteric principles of horticultural electrocution.
“Did you turn off whatever blew the fuse so I can go flip the breaker?” This was not, after all, my first time at the Goodnight Rodeo.
“Yes,” she said, removing the headlamp and shutting her laptop. “Since I’m stopped anyway, I’m going into town to pick up some supplies.” The list she recited didn’t mean anything to me until she got to “Vanilla Coke,” at which point I perked up.
“From Sonic? Will you get me a cherry limeade?”
“Sure.” She bent to rub Pumpkin’s belly. He’d followed me in and now lay panting on the cool stone floor, already missing the air-conditioning.
I did a cursory check to make sure Phin was appropriately outfitted for the bustling metropolis of Barnett, Texas. She was, in flip-flops, a UT Longhorns tank top, and a pair of baggy cargo shorts that somehow looked cute on her. Her damp, wavy ponytail said she’d already taken a shower.
“How did you have time to get clean and blow the fuse?” I asked, more envious than outraged. We both had, theoretically, an equal amount of work. She took the flora—overseeing the herb farm, tending the greenhouse, plus watering plants around the house—and I took the fauna. But plants were generally pretty obedient, while the livestock seemed to enjoy making my job difficult.
She picked up her wallet and sunglasses from the counter near the door. “You do everything the hard way.”
“Trust me,” I said, with a bit of an edge, “if I could use magic to shovel out the donkey pen, I would.”
“If you could do that,” she countered evenly, “you’d be Mary Poppins. I just meant you didn’t have to bathe the dogs.”
I wrinkled my nose. “Yes, I did.”
Opening one of the cabinets, she got down a canister and put it in my hands. In the light from the door, I read Dry Dog Shampoo. For a mess-free mutt. Under that was the Goodnight Farm logo and the motto So good you’ll think it’s magic.
Aunt Hyacinth had a sense of humor–and a healthy respect for what she could get away with saying on a product label. “This would have been nice to know about two hours ago,” I said, pretty calmly, considering how dirty and wet I was.
Phin shrugged. “Two hours ago I didn’t know you were going to do a Martha Stewart on the barn.”
Point for my sister. Besides, telling me might not have made a difference. I couldn’t get past the fact that things just didn’t feel clean without water. That was just me, though. If the label said something worked like magic, it did. Which was why Goodnight Farm products were so popular, even if people didn’t know why they worked so well.
Aunt Hyacinth had put together a binder of instructions, covering everything from what to do if the well stopped working to how to maintain the digestion spell on the septic system. I grabbed it and followed Phin out the front door.
The dogs, except Pumpkin, who hadn’t budged from the workroom floor, trailed us down the path to the wooden gate. Stepping out of the yard, I felt a subtle change in the atmosphere—almost like a shift in air pressure, but not quite. Over the past twenty-five years, Aunt Hyacinth had woven strong protections around the house and yard, a sort of arcane security system. It wouldn’t physically stop anyone, but it did have a subconscious effect on ill-intentioned trespassers.
A lifetime of living with witches and psychics had made spells a routine part of my life. I knew they worked, but I still preferred to put my trust in a locked door. My relationship with magic was like a president’s kid’s relationship with politics: I didn’t participate, but I couldn’t quite escape it. Especially not here, in the White House of the sovereign nation of Goodnight.
Stella, my not-quite-new Mini Cooper, and Aunt Hyacinth’s antique SUV were parked just outside the board fence. “Do you have your driver’s license?” I called after Phin. “Don’t forget to close the outer gate.”
She gave a typically distracted wave of acknowledgment and climbed behind the wheel of the Trooper, looking out of place in the big, battered vehicle. Along with her fair hair and pale skin, Phin had an elfin delicacy, in the Tolkien sense. It was hard to picture Galadriel driving an SUV.
I might have worried more about her if the sun-heated flagstones weren’t scalding my bare soles. Instead, I hot-footed
phin had used the very last towel in the bathroom.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this until I was stripped down to my underwear, staring into the empty linen cupboard. Even more annoying, I’d done laundry yesterday, and downstairs was a dryer full of clean towels that I hadn’t yet put away. The fact that this was equally my own fault did not help the situation a bit.
I closed the cupboard and took inventory. Fifteen different kinds of Goodnight Farm soap? Check. Running water, right out of an ancient well and smelling slightly of sulfur? Check. But not so much as a washcloth.
My clothes lay in a filthy heap at my feet. I really didn’t want to put them back on, and I couldn’t put on clean ones until I had washed off the dirt and dog slobber. Opening the bathroom door, I started to holler for Phin to bring me a towel … then remembered she’d taken the Trooper into Barnett.
I drummed my fingers on the doorframe. My only choice was to walk downstairs to the laundry room in my undies. Okay, so every curtain in the house was open. But my underwear, covered in cheerful red cherries with bright green leaves, was more modest than many bathing suits. Plus, there was no one within miles of the house.
There was Uncle Burt, though he generally hung out—when I sensed him at all—downstairs, away from the guest room. Even as a ghost, he was quite polite.
Too bad he couldn’t bring me a towel. When I was a kid, I’d made a game of testing the limits of his ability to move things. He was pretty good at turning lights on and off, but I’d never seen a physical object move more than a few inches, and only out of the corner of my eye. I didn’t know if it was a universal rule or just Uncle Burt’s, but my eight-year-old self had figured out that ghosts operate best at the edges of your sight and in the space between blinks.
That was before I realized that most of the world didn’t see magic or ghosts at all. At least, not that they admitted, if they wanted people to take them seriously. I’d learned that lesson the hard way.
Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore / Young Adult / Mystery & Detective / Romance & Love / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes