The Gray Hunter’s Revenge
1 HOUSE OF HORRORS JOE
THE HOUSE STOOD HIGH ON a hill, surrounded by the skeletons of trees. Dozens of crows perched on the trees’ branches, filling the silence with their harsh squawking. Frank and I stood next to the car, where he’d parked it after driving through the tall, wrought-iron gates. Gates that had been kept closed for as long as anyone can remember. Closed and locked, until today.
As an amateur detective, I’ve been up against some crazy stuff in my time. Ruthless criminals. Fiery explosions. Killer sharks—to name a few. But Cliffside Manor was a whole new level of terrifying. I mean, sure, it was just a house. But the things that had supposedly happened inside that house,
well . . . They were things that would keep even the bravest soul up at night.
I couldn’t wait to get inside!
“You ready?” Frank asked, a chill, late-autumn breeze ruffling his dark brown hair.
I zipped my coat against the cold and glanced back up at the house. It was constructed of stone bricks that were almost black with age, and it sported a chimney on each side—one of them crumbling. Two large bay windows looked out across the estate like unblinking eyes, dark and forbidding. “I was born ready,” I replied with a grin.
We started to walk toward the house, passing a dozen other parked cars on the way. “Looks like we’re not the only ones coming to the estate sale,” Frank observed.
I snorted. “Are you kidding me? I’m surprised the entire county isn’t here. Who in their right mind would pass up the chance to go inside the hundred-year-old, super-scary, super-haunted house?”
“Not Joe Hardy,” Frank muttered, smirking.
“Darn right, not Joe Hardy!” I said. “Not only that, I might get to buy something belonging to one of the greatest horror writers of all time—Nathan Foxwood!”
Frank’s smile fell. “It’s awful about the car accident,” he said. “I know you really liked his books.”
“Yeah,” I replied, kicking a rock across the long driveway. “I did.” Nathan Foxwood’s books weren’t as popular now, but back in the day, he was one of the most famous authors
in the world. A handful of his books had even been made into movies. When I was little, there was always a tattered Nathan Foxwood paperback on my dad’s nightstand—usually with some kind of scary picture on the front, and a portrait of the author himself on the back. He was a wolfish-looking guy—with dark hair and a short beard, and piercing eyes that seemed to bore right into you. Once I found out I was supposedly too young to read them, I promptly “borrowed” one from Dad’s bedroom and hid in the closet to binge-read it with a flashlight. From then on, I was hooked.
A few years ago, the news spread that Mr. Foxwood and his wife were buying the abandoned estate on the outskirts of town—the infamous Cliffside Manor. No one could understand why he’d want to live in such a terrible place—but I could. Nathan Foxwood’s books were always full of the scariest things imaginable, so I figured maybe he was just trying to get some new material firsthand. I had always hoped to run into him in downtown Bayport and get to meet one of my idols, but it never happened.
And now, it was too late.
Just three days ago, sometime in the middle of the night, Mr. Foxwood came tearing down the hill from the manor in his car, lost control, and careened right off the side of the cliff that bordered the estate. The car burned at the bottom of the ravine for hours before anyone found out.
Rumors had been swirling ever since that Mr. Foxwood had been working on a new novel since he’d moved into
town—a book about Cliffside Manor itself, and its dark history. If that were true, it was a shame that he’d never get to finish it. I’d been waiting years for a new Nathan Foxwood novel!
“Still,” Frank said with a wary look around the place. “I’m not entirely sure this is a good idea. The last time you and I got close to something belonging to one of our favorite authors, we got framed for theft.”
“Oh,” I said, my shoulders slumping. “That.” Frank was talking about when he and I got caught up in a bad situation with an old adversary who had it in for us. We had gone to check out an original copy of one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes manuscripts at the Bayport Museum and noticed that there were some pages missing. Imagine our surprise when those missing pages started turning up in our car and lockers at school! Things were pretty hairy for a while, but thankfully, it was all right in the end, and our names were cleared of any wrongdoing.
“Look, Frank,” I continued. “I know that was bad, but the whole mess is behind us now! C’mon, don’t ruin this with your worrying. Nothing bad is going to happen at Cliffside Manor!”
In the next moment, a strong breeze swept through the trees, causing a large acorn to come plummeting down from above and plonk Frank right on the top of the head.
“Yow!” he said, wincing. He rubbed the spot and sighed. “?‘Nothing bad,’ eh? Famous last words.”
As Frank and I approached the house, we saw a large group of people milling around near the front entrance. “Is that a reporter?” Frank asked, eyeballing a woman on the edge of the crowd holding a notepad and a camera bag. She was tall, with deep brown skin, and had twists of black hair cascading down her back.
“Might be,” I said.
“Well, try to control yourself this time, will you?”
I rolled my eyes. I flirt with one reporter who then goes and gets us in trouble with the police, and now I’ll never hear the end of it. As we reached the crowd, the wind picked up suddenly, and I watched as the reporter’s notepad went flying out of her hands and landed at my feet.
I picked up the notepad and threw a backward glance at Frank, and shrugged. “I was totally planning on controlling myself, bro,” I said. “But it looks like the universe has other ideas.” I strolled over to the young woman and handed back the notepad.
“Thanks,” she said with a wide smile. “Seems like the weather is conspiring to be as creepy as this house.”
“Totally,” I agreed. “Are you here to cover the estate sale?”
She nodded. “Aisha Best. I’m a reporter with the Bayport Bugle. I’m actually hoping to snag an interview with Heather Foxwood—the writer’s wife. I’ve heard that she’s got quite the story about what went on in there before her husband died. No one’s been able to get ahold of her since the
accident, so I’m trying to get an exclusive.” Aisha quirked her head at me. “What brings you here to the sale, Mr. . . . ?”
I sneaked a look back at Frank, who was standing a few feet away with his arms crossed, looking less than thrilled. “Umm,” I said, biting my lip. “Oh, I’m just a fan, that’s all. Looking to pick up some memorabilia.”
Aisha raised an eyebrow and looked like she was about to ask more questions, when the front door of the manor opened. Everyone in the crowd went quiet instantly.
A wiry guy with a shaved head and copper-colored skin poked his head out of the door, his eyes roving the scene through black-rimmed glasses. He was also wearing a bow tie that seemed to be decorated with other tiny bow ties—which I thought was a little weird, but hey, it’s fashion, who am I to talk? After checking his wristwatch and adjusting the bow tie, he stepped out of the house and opened his arms in welcome.
“Hello, everyone,” he said loudly, “and thank you for coming to the estate sale here at Cliffside Manor. My name is Adam Parker, and I’m the late Mr. Foxwood’s assistant. I’m sure you’re all eager to come in out of the cold, so please step inside the house and I’ll explain how all this works.”
Frank and I filed in behind the rest of the crowd as they trooped though the front door. I elbowed my brother in excitement as we climbed up the stone stairs at the entryway. “We’re going in! Hardly anyone has been inside this place in decades!”
Frank nodded, his eyes flashing with curiosity. “The place is probably like a time capsule. There might be boxes of hundred-year-old newspapers just sitting around in a basement somewhere!”
I snorted. “Bro, need I remind you that we are about to enter Cliffside Manor? As in, the most haunted house on this side of the Mississippi? And you’re revving your engines over some pile of dusty newspapers?”
“Hey,” Frank retorted. “At least newspapers are real. What do you expect, for some phantasm to come sailing through the walls and take a selfie with you?”
“No,” I said, annoyed. Of course, when he said it that way, being so excited about the haunted aspect of the manor did seem a little silly. “Anyway,” I continued as we crossed the threshold into the house, “ghosts or no ghosts, you’ve got to admit—this house has seen its share of sinister stuff.”
Frank nodded, and I saw his eyes flick around nervously as we stepped into the front room. Legend had it that the people who’d first owned the house, a wealthy, aristocratic family, had unknowingly built it on a piece of land belonging to a solitary man who lived in a cabin in the woods nearby. The man, who hunted deer and rabbits for food, was furious that this family had taken over and spoiled his land, but he had no legal leg to stand on and therefore wasn’t taken seriously by the family or anyone in town. The story goes that one particular night, when a raucous dinner party filled the forest with noise and light all night, the man broke into the
house carrying an ax—and left no one inside alive. Once the horrific scene was discovered, the local police pursued him into the dark forest, where he supposedly threw himself over the cliff’s edge. His body was never found.
No one wanted to live in the manor after that. Gossip hung around the place like a cloud of smoke—people claimed to see the figure of the man, who they named the Gray Hunter, lurking in the shadows of the house, frightening off anyone who dared to enter. Of course, plenty of people think the whole story was nothing more than an urban legend meant to be told around a campfire, but still—just looking at the house gave you the willies.
As we entered the foyer, what I found there did nothing to dispel the idea that the place was, like, 100 percent haunted. Heavy velvet curtains covered every window, and the only light that pierced the gloom came from a dusty chandelier above our heads. Where there weren’t creepy oil paintings of little girls and long-dead rich guys in old-fashioned clothing, the walls were covered in peeling, olive-colored wallpaper. The whole place smelled of mold, overlaid with a cloying vanilla scent that must have been sprayed around in an attempt to mask the stench of rot. It was quiet except for the ticking of a hulking grandfather clock and the wind moaning through the rafters, a sound that sent shivers down my spine.
It. Was. Awesome!
I glanced over at Frank to see if he was enjoying this as
much as I was. “Isn’t this great?” I asked him. “It’s so creepy! I can totally imagine a Nathan Foxwood book about this place.”
“The atmosphere is pretty cool,” Frank admitted, studying the room. But then he wrinkled his nose. “I could do without the smell, though.”
The guy called Adam had climbed halfway up the staircase to the second floor and was trying to get everyone’s attention. “Welcome to Cliffside Manor,” he said over the murmuring of the crowd. “All the items for sale by the Foxwood estate are clearly marked with labels and suggested prices. If you are interested in purchasing an item, simply pick it up and bring it down to this room to complete the sale.” He gestured toward a table where several people sat with open laptops and a cash box. “If an item is too large to lift, you can ask one of the assistants here to mark it sold on your behalf. Please be courteous to other customers—there are a lot of you here today, and I realize that people can sometimes get a little carried away at these events. Just remember, an armoire is not worth a broken arm.” Adam waggled his eyebrows and paused as some of the guests tittered.
“Ugh,” said Frank. “Puns.”
“And finally . . .” Adam’s voice trailed off. He looked unsure of what to say next, but finally cleared his throat and continued. “Just be careful. As you all probably know, this is a very old house, and things can happen unexpectedly in places like these.” He clapped his hands once, as if trying to clear the
air of mystery that surrounded his words. “Well! I won’t take up any more of your time. Good hunting, everyone!”
That Adam guy wasn’t kidding about people getting carried away! The moment he stopped talking, people in the crowd immediately shot off in different directions, all of them vying to get to the most valuable items before anyone else could. “Well,” said Frank, “I’m not really interested in getting into a fistfight over a writing desk, but I would like to pick up a few books. So I’m going to check out the study. I heard that Nathan Foxwood had a ton of true-crime books in his collection—I’d like to snag a few if they aren’t too expensive. Where are you off to?”
I rubbed my hands together in anticipation. “I’d like to buy something if I can, but I want to do a little exploring first. Get away from the crowd and take it all in. How often do you get to just walk around a place like this?”
Frank nodded and said he’d meet back up with me in the main room in half an hour. With most of the shoppers milling around the first floor, I thought I’d get away from the pack and head upstairs. I loped up the steps two at a time until I reached the landing, where two murky hallways led away from the balcony that looked down on the foyer below. So I did what I always did when I faced a choice like this—I turned left.
The second floor of the house was no less creepy than the first—and being alone up there only increased the freaky factor tenfold. Everything was covered with a thick layer of
dust, and cobwebs lurked invisibly in the air, only to be discovered by my face when I walked straight into one.
After recovering from that unpleasant, creepy-crawly sensation, I have to admit—I was starting to get a little freaked out. I kept getting this weird feeling that someone was watching me, but whenever I turned around, there was no one there.
Get ahold of yourself, Hardy! I thought. I mean, wasn’t this what I wanted? A real-life haunted house experience? For all I knew, Nathan Foxwood himself had walked down these halls, getting inspiration for whatever he’d been working on before he died. I wonder if this place freaked him out too.
As if in answer, somewhere up ahead there was an earsplitting scream.