Last week we announced that Linda DeMeulemeester’sThe Secret of Grim Hill is our Kids Corner Book of the Week and the sponsor of our student reviews and of thousands of great bargains in the Kids Book category:
In the first book of the Grim Hill series, Cat Peters is desperate to get out of dreary Darkmont High, but her mom can’t afford the tuition at Grimoire, the private school nearby. So when she hears that Grimoire is offering a full scholarship to the winners of a Halloween soccer match, Cat jumps at the chance! She doesn’t pay much attention when her little sister, Sookie, and their bookworm neighbor, Jasper, try to tell her there’s something … just not right about the old school on the hill. Could something truly wicked be at work inside the walls of Grimoire?
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
CHAPTER 1 The Wish
PEOPLE ALWAYS SAY, “Be careful what you wish for.” But from that first moment, I didn’t care. I wished I could be anywhere but in my new school, Darkmont High.
It was as if I was in one of those weird dreams. You know the ones where you’re in school standing in front of your locker, but you’re in your underwear. You can’t remember your lock combination. The bell has rung and you’re late for class.
Except for the underwear thing, it wasn’t a dream. After spinning the combination for about the twentieth time, my lock finally clicked, but the hallway had already cleared. When I wrenched my locker open, it clanged against the wall. Okay, the hall wasn’t completely empty. A teacher shook his head at me as he walked past. I blushed, opened my binder, and checked my new schedule. Naturally my first class was up two floors.
“Crap,” I muttered and took off in a hurry.
The gloomy stairwell was so dark I could hardly see, but that didn’t stop me from leaping up the stairs two at a time.
“Hold it right there. No running in the building!” shouted another teacher. When I turned around and saw the dark blue suit and steel-gray hair, I recognized the vice principal, Ms. Sevren, who had registered me the day before. She caught up with me and said, “You must walk in an orderly fashion the rest of the way,” and followed me to make sure that was exactly what I did.
Five more minutes passed before I knocked on the classroom door. Nothing happened, so I swallowed the lump in my throat and knocked even louder. The door opened and a dark-haired girl impatiently waved me in.
“New student?” asked the teacher, who was wearing a lab coat.
“Name?” She didn’t even look up from the board.
“Cat Peters,” I said.
Everyone stared at me. The teacher turned around.
“Cat?” she asked. A few people giggled.
“It’s short for Caitlin.” Nobody in my old school thought my name was funny. Why did we have to move to this stupid town?
“Well … um … Cat, I’m Ms. Dreeble. Find a seat quickly.” She grabbed the registration form from my hand.
I looked for a place to sit, but none of the lab tables had an empty seat.
“Sit down. You’re disrupting the class.” Ms. Dreeble tapped the board with her chalk. Tap … tap … Everyone waited. Sweat collected under my armpits, and I pulled at my beige sweater. A lone stool was in the far corner near a bookcase stacked with Bunsen burners.
The class was so cluttered that I tripped over several book bags as I made my way to the stool. The students giggled again. Miserably, I huddled on my seat and tucked my backpack underneath.
“Who is your homeroom teacher?” Ms. Dreeble said and frowned.
When I didn’t answer, she asked me again.
I’d registered at this new school yesterday, one week past the start of the fall term. I’d had to wait for all my school records to get transferred. Then I missed homeroom this morning because I couldn’t open my locker. I had no idea who my homeroom teacher was.
“I’m not sure,” I muttered.
“Well aren’t you the bright one?” the teacher said and rolled her eyes.
Laughter rattled around the class. My stomach ached and sweat dribbled down my back – my stupid sweater was so hot.
Ms. Dreeble finished writing a list of lab instructions on the board and said, “Class, before you begin today’s science lab, I want you to review these safety rules with your partners.”
The class filled with chatter, and I could smell the faint odor of gas as students turned Bunsen burners on and off. When I walked by other tables in an attempt to find a partner, everyone turned away. Ms. Dreeble didn’t seem to notice or care, so I sat back down on my stool and stared at the only poster in the whole room: a wrinkled, dog-eared chart of the periodic table. I got as far as uranium’s atomic weight when the bell rang.
As I rushed past her, Ms. Dreeble called me back to her desk. The other kids filed out of the classroom.
“You didn’t hand in today’s lab. You’ve lost ten marks on your first day.” Ms. Dreeble’s eyes kept blinking behind her thick glasses. “A poor start, don’t you think … Cat?”
“Tell me about it,” I said under my breath as I walked out the door. I checked my schedule and noticed that Mr. Morrows’s history class was on the same floor, which meant I could get there quickly and find a spot right away. History would go better. It had to.
This time, there were lots of seats to choose from because I’d arrived first. Not too far back and definitely not too close to the front, I selected a desk positioned perfectly in the middle. After I sat down, lots of students poured into the classroom. This place was much more crowded than my old school. I stretched my legs out from under the cramped desk.
“Blue jeans are not allowed,” Mr. Morrows said as he pointed to me. “Only colored denim.”
For the first time, I noticed that none of the other kids wore blue jeans. They wore brown or black ones, or khakis, and some girls even wore skirts. What else could I do wrong?
“Sorry,” I sighed. Money was tight with the move, and I wondered if Mom had enough money left in the budget for new pants. I began to sweat again and pulled off my sweater.
“No, no, this won’t do. You can’t wear that either. Come up here.” Mr. Morrows folded his arms and glared at me, his gray mustache twitching.
“Now what?” I whispered – okay, I said it out loud. I stood up and pulled down my T-shirt, which had gotten a bit too small over the summer.
“Your midriff is showing,” the teacher said in shock.
I quickly checked my front and relaxed a bit. He just meant that some of my stomach showed.
“Take my advice – go home for lunch and change your clothes,” said Mr. Morrows. “Otherwise, a hall monitor will give you detention. Students must obey the dress code – no blue jeans, no short tops.” His mouth made an annoying smacking noise as he tsk-tsked.
I stared at him in disbelief, wondering how he could be so unfair. As soon as the lunch bell rang, I threw my pen and binder into my backpack and rushed out of class ahead of everyone. When I slammed the door, it bounced back open behind me.
“That attitude will get you a suspension, miss!” Mr. Morrows called after me. I didn’t look back.
In my other town, in my old school, I never once got in trouble. It seemed as if the teachers here wouldn’t even give me a chance.
When I finally reached my locker, it only took three tries this time to open it. I grabbed my lunch and headed to the cafeteria. It appeared that no one else went to their locker first because by the time I got to the lunchroom, it was packed.
As I circled the tables, none of the students that I’d seen in my earlier classes acknowledged me or opened up a space for me. My stomach knotted. At the far end of the room, a red-haired girl from my history class sat alone at a small table. She was studying a strange looking flyer that had a creepy sketch of a witch on it. When she didn’t glance up at me, I kept walking.
Suddenly I heard, “Hey, Cat, come sit over here!”
I spotted Jasper Chung doing his homework. Jasper had skipped a grade, which made him twelve, a year younger than me. He wore his hair spiked in last year’s style and sported not-tootrendy black-rimmed glasses. Because he lived next door, he was the only one I’d met in town so far. Still, I hung out with the cool group at my old school – I wasn’t quite ready to sit with a younger boy. Instead, I waved goodbye, deciding to take Mr. Morrows’s advice and go home to change. As I walked through the door, I noticed another girl holding the same odd witch flyer.
Outside in the tiny gray box of a courtyard, I kept thinking about how before we moved, my life had been so much better. “I want to be popular again!” I shouted. A few crows on a tree branch above my head flew away. No one else noticed my complaint.
I couldn’t help but think that it might be different if I could attend the private school where my mom worked. Grimoire School was closer to my house and sat atop the wooded hill, which everyone called Grim Hill, partly because of the name of the school, and partly because it was a dark and creepy place. But the school itself was a beautiful stone building that had been around forever, and it was pretty fancy. Since Grimoire was an all-girls private school, everyone wore a uniform – no one had to worry about wearing the right clothes. Plus, it was expensive to go there, so they could probably afford nicer teachers.
That school sounded exciting and fun. My mom had mentioned that the classrooms were often empty because the students took field trips all the time. What’s more, I loved sports, and the school had amazing athletic facilities. To top it all off, the kids who went there weren’t from this town, so a new person could fit in and not have to worry that she hasn’t known everyone since kindergarten.
If only I could go there … I shook my head. There were only two high schools in town, and that one, Grimoire, cost a fortune. “I wish I could go to Grimoire!” I told the crows. But I knew there was no hope.
One of the crows fluttered by and landed on top of a signpost. Then another crow landed on the sign, and another. Below the three crows was a poster with the same eerie, green-faced witch that I’d seen on those flyers in the cafeteria. When I walked over for a closer look, I noticed that the witch had a sly smile and seemed to be grinning right at me. The poster advertised a Halloween soccer match.
“This can’t be true.” Because I wasn’t exactly having a run of luck since my parents divorced, I tried not to get excited. But my heart beat faster anyway.
Grimoire School was sponsoring the soccer match. Tryouts were next week after school. Athletic scholarships to Grimoire would be awarded to everyone on the winning team. If I made the team and won, I could be attending Grimoire by December!
I’d never heard about anyone winning a scholarship from a single soccer game, but so what? This was my chance! I’d do anything to get away from Darkmont High – anything.
Before I raced home, I hesitated for a second and looked back at the poster.
I swear the crows on top of the sign were laughing at me.
CHAPTER 2 Dark Days at Darkmont
AS I WALKED home to change my clothes, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Grimoire scholarship. What if I didn’t make the team? In the meantime, just in case, I decided to put more effort into fitting in at Darkmont. That meant going back to school and actually trying to make friends, not to mention making an effort to get along better with my teachers. A positive attitude, that’s all I needed. By the time I climbed up the steps to my front porch, I was feeling better.
Our new house wasn’t really new. It was old and drafty with plank wood flooring and big rooms with high ceilings. We used to live in a modern condo with elevators and a big activity room. This place was okay, though. For one thing, my little sister, Sookie, and I didn’t have to worry about being too loud and bothering the neighbors below.
Up in my room, I grabbed a top that fit a lot less snug and wouldn’t ride up. I wasn’t so lucky with pants. I couldn’t find anything in my closet but jeans. There were still a lot of unpacked boxes in Sookie’s closet, so I went to take a look.
Sookie’s room was across the hall from mine.
Her sheets and blankets lay tangled in a knot in the middle of the floor. I heard her hamster, Buddy, skittering on his wheel and noticed that Sookie’s room didn’t look much better than the inside of Buddy’s cage. I checked his water bottle and brushed the cedar chips out of his seed dish. At least she always made sure her hamster had food and water. Suddenly, the bird in Sookie’s cuckoo clock let me know that it was already past lunch hour. Walking home from Darkmont had taken a lot longer than I’d realized.
I rushed out of Sookie’s room, slid down the wide oak banister, hurried out of the house, and ran down the tree-lined street, crunching through the fallen gold- and crimson-colored leaves. Stopping for a second, I glanced up past the woods to the top of Grim Hill.
Grimoire School looked like a castle against the pale blue sky. It would be so much faster to climb that hill every day than walk more than a mile across town to Darkmont High. I wouldn’t have to wake up until the last minute, which would be great because I’m not exactly a morning person.
I shook my head. What I had to do was focus on making life at Darkmont better … somehow. I hurried back to school.
When I finally got there, my teacher sent me to the office because I was really late after lunch. But this time, I didn’t slam any doors or stomp off.
Instead, I apologized and went promptly to the vice principal.
“That’s one demerit for tardiness,” said Ms. Sevren. “And while we’re at it, one demerit for wearing pants that don’t fit the dress code – you’ve had time to realize we have a ‘no blue jeans’ policy.”
This seemed completely unfair, but I didn’t let myself get angry. Instead, I smiled and said sorry.
“Remember, um … Caitlin,” Ms. Sevren began.
This made me flinch because someone calling me “Caitlin” instead of “Cat” always means something serious.
“Five demerit points equals a full week of detention,” warned Ms. Sevren. She stared over her glasses at me until I gulped and returned to class.
By the time the last bell of the day sounded, no one in the entire school had said a single word to me. It was as if I were invisible when I stood by my locker. I slung my bag over my shoulder and walked home.
The next morning, I was determined my day would go better. For starters, the night before, Mom had helped me dig through a bunch of boxes, and I found a pair of white capris. I wore a black T-shirt that sat below my belly button – the outfit totally complied with the dress code. I arrived early and went straight to the student recreation room to check which teams or clubs I could join.
“Sorry, we don’t have a soccer, basketball, or volleyball team,” said the adviser.
“What about field hockey … or a swim team?” I asked.
She shook her head. “Sorry.”
“Is there a school choir or band?” I asked.
“Not enough students signed up, so those activities were canceled.” She smiled apologetically. “We’re looking for lunch monitors and library helpers.”
“I’ll think about it,” I said unconvincingly. Okay, so I couldn’t meet other students by joining any activities. Maybe if I acted super friendly, people would talk to me.
When I walked down the hall, I smiled at everyone. Perhaps I was overdoing it a bit, because I got some strange looks.
In science, I tried hard to have a positive attitude, but things were only getting worse. Still no one volunteered to be my lab partner, so once again I was stuck on the stool at the back of the class. And then Ms. Dreeble announced, “Sorry class, but the photocopier and projector are broken. You’ll have to copy all the notes off the board.” She began to scribble, and chalk dust filled the air. She covered blackboard after blackboard with tiny notes. I had to keep getting up from my seat to read the board.
“For goodness’ sakes, Cat,” said Ms. Dreeble. “Stop hopping up and down. You’re disrupting the class. Find a seat closer to the board if you need to see better.”
There weren’t any seats closer to the board, so I had no choice but to stay on the same stool and finish copying all the notes until my eyes ached from the strain and my hand cramped from all the writing. “Positive attitude,” I kept chanting to myself right up until the class was over.
During history, Mr. Morrows announced, “Our field trips have been canceled, and there’s no money to upgrade our video machine to a DVD player. That’s what I’d planned for all the movies, so we’ll have to stick to extra readings.”
Everyone sighed and opened their workbooks.
“Where’s your workbook, Cat?” He came up beside me and checked over my shoulder.
No one had said anything about a workbook. Shuffling through my pile of books, I discovered a sheet of paper that listed all the extra materials I was supposed to have bought for this term.
“You’re going to lose even more marks today,” Mr. Morrows said as he walked away.
It was getting more difficult to stay positive, but I didn’t crack. This time, I didn’t mutter or sigh, and at lunch I kept my cheerful smile. But I made sure I didn’t smile at every single person, only every other person.
It worked! At one table, maybe the cutest guy at Darkmont – I think his name was Zach – waved for me to join his group. My heart beat in relief. This was more like my old life.
Saying hi to everyone, I walked toward the table. But the second I started to slide into the empty seat, a girl came out of nowhere and sat down. She’d been right behind me. Zach had been waving at her – not me.
Everyone at the table giggled as I crouched beside her with my tray in my hand. I turned quickly to leave, lost my footing, and watched in horror as my tray tipped and a plate and glass smashed to the floor, shattering. Of course, ketchup and grape juice spattered all down my white pants. Everyone in the lunchroom began pounding the tables and laughing while I backed away. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted my neighbor, Jasper, who wasn’t laughing. Instead, he winced in sympathy, but his pity didn’t help.
When I ran outside into the courtyard, a wind was blowing drifts of crunchy dry leaves into little tornadoes. A half-torn poster fluttered by and stuck to the ketchup on my capris. Just great. I pulled the flyer off and turned it over. The witch’s face now dripped with ketchup blood. Her wicked smile stared up at me – it seemed as if she had joined the cackles that rattled around the room behind me. That didn’t matter. What mattered was that underneath her creepy face was the notice for Grimoire School soccer tryouts.
Nothing was going to stop me from making the team, winning the scholarship to Grimoire, and getting out of this stupid school! Nothing.
That night at dinner, after I’d replayed my day in gruesome detail, my little sister asked, “You mean, the teachers here think you’re a troublemaker?”
“I think so,” I said feeling miserable.
“Every kid laughed at you when you slipped?” asked Sookie.
I nodded. “And I had to go home and change yet again. And even though I ran both ways to make it back in time, I got one more demerit for wearing jeans.” My voice broke.
Sookie brushed a blond strand of hair from her face and slammed her fork onto her plate. “That’s despicable!”
Sookie had an interesting vocabulary for an eight-year-old.
Mom said, “Cat, I’m sorry you had another rough day. I can see you’re even more determined to try out for the soccer match now, but remember, it’s more than that. You would also have to win the game to get the scholarship.” Then Mom got an odd look on her face. “Grimoire has unbelievable facilities and amazing resources. I can’t begin to list them, but …” She hesitated and didn’t finish what she was going to say. Instead she said, “You know what I always tell you two.”
“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” Sookie chimed.
“Cat?” Mom waited.
I nodded, but I didn’t mean it. I’d given Darkmont a chance. Grimoire had to be a hundred times better. The soccer match was the only thing that mattered. I was going to put all of my eggs in the Grimoire basket.
Later that night, Mom helped me bleach my white pants and promised she’d buy me a few more pairs soon. My alarm was set extra early to give me plenty of time to get to school, and my binder was stuffed with every possible worksheet. In order to make it to the tryouts on Monday, I had to stay detention free for the rest of the week.
All went well until Friday morning when Mom was called into work early.
“You’ll have to take Sookie to school,” Mom said. She grabbed her purse, kissed us goodbye, and hurried out the door before I could say a word.
My little sister crunched her frosty oats, one oat at a time.
“Gulp that down,” I told her. “My school begins fifteen minutes earlier than yours.”
She didn’t eat any faster.
“C’mon Sookie, we have to go!” I checked the clock.
“I have to find my hamster ball. I need it for show-and-tell.” Sookie left the table and spent ten minutes rummaging in her room.
“Hurry!” I shouted.
“I can’t find it!” she called down.
I leaped up the stairs – two at a time – to help her. We found the hamster ball under her bed. She grabbed it, and we hurried out of the house and down the street.
After I dropped Sookie off at school, I raced all the way to Darkmont. If I cut through the custodian’s door at the back, I’d make it to my locker before the second bell. We weren’t supposed to go in that way, but I checked to make sure no one was watching.
When I came up out of the basement, I bumped straight into Ms. Sevren.
“That door’s an out-of-bounds area, Caitlin. That means you get two demerits instead of one. That’s five demerit points now.”
My heart banged against my chest.
“You’ve got a week’s detention, beginning today,” said Ms. Sevren.
Detention? How was I going to make it to the Grimoire soccer tryouts now?