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House of Hollow
Author: Krystal Sutherland

 


PROLOGUE


   I was ten years old the first time I realized I was strange.

   Around midnight, a woman dressed in white slipped through my bedroom window and cut off a lock of my hair with sewing scissors. I was awake the whole time, tracking her in the dark, so frozen by fear that I couldn’t move, couldn’t scream.

   I watched as she held the curl of my hair to her nose and inhaled. I watched as she put it on her tongue and closed her mouth and savored the taste for a few moments before swallowing. I watched as she bent over me and ran a fingertip along the hook-shaped scar at the base of my throat.

   It was only when she opened my door—bound for the bedrooms of my older sisters, with the scissors still held at her side—that I finally screamed.

   My mother tackled her in the hall. My sisters helped hold her down. The woman was rough and rabid, thrashing against the three of them with a strength we’d later learn was fueled by amphetamines. She bit my mother. She headbutted my middle sister, Vivi, so hard in the face that her nose was crushed and both of her eye sockets were bruised for weeks.

   It was Grey, my eldest sister, who finally subdued her. When she thought my mother wasn’t looking, she bent low over the wild woman’s face and pressed her lips against her mouth. It was a soft kiss right out of a fairy tale, made gruesome by the fact that the woman’s chin was slick with our mother’s blood.

   For a moment, the air smelled sweet and wrong, a mixture of honey and something else, something rotten. Grey pulled back and held the woman’s head in her hands, and then watched her, intently, waiting. My sister’s eyes were so black, they looked like polished river stones. She was fourteen then, and already the most beautiful creature I could imagine. I wanted to peel the skin from her body and wear it draped over mine.

   The woman shuddered beneath Grey’s touch and then just . . . stopped.

   By the time the police arrived, the woman’s eyes were wide and faraway, her limbs so liquid she could no longer stand and had to be carried out, limp as a drunk, by three officers.

   I wonder if Grey already knew then what we were.

 

* * *

 

 

   The woman, the police would later tell us, had read about us on the internet and stalked us for several weeks before the break-in.

   We were famous for a bizarre thing that had happened to us three years earlier, when I was seven, a thing I couldn’t remember and never thought about but that apparently intrigued many other people a great deal.

   I was keyed into our strangeness after that. I watched for it in the years that followed, saw it bloom around us in unexpected ways. There was the man who tried to pull Vivi into his car when she was fifteen because he thought she was an angel; she broke his jaw and knocked out two of his teeth. There was the teacher, the one Grey hated, who was fired after he pressed her against a wall and kissed her neck in front of her whole class. There was the pretty, popular girl who had bullied me, who stood in front of the entire school at assembly and silently began to shave her own head, tears streaming down her face as her dark locks fell in spools at her feet.

   When I found Grey’s eyes through the sea of faces that day, she was staring at me. The bullying had been going on for months, but I’d only told my sisters about it the night before. Grey winked, then returned to the book she was reading, uninterested in the show. Vivi, always less subtle, had her feet up on the back of the chair in front of her and was grinning from ear to ear, her crooked nose wrinkled in delight.

   Dark, dangerous things happened around the Hollow sisters.

   We each had black eyes and hair as white as milk. We each had enchanting four-letter names: Grey, Vivi, Iris. We walked to school together. We ate lunch together. We walked home together. We didn’t have friends, because we didn’t need them. We moved through the corridors like sharks, the other little fish parting around us, whispering behind our backs.

   Everyone knew who we were. Everyone had heard our story. Everyone had their own theory about what had happened to us. My sisters used this to their advantage. They were very good at cultivating their own mystery like gardeners, coaxing the heady intrigue that ripened around them into the shape of their choosing. I simply followed in their wake, quiet and studious, always embarrassed by the attention. Strangeness only bred strangeness, and it felt dangerous to tempt fate, to invite in the darkness that seemed already naturally drawn to us.

   It didn’t occur to me that my sisters would leave school long before I did, until it actually happened. School hadn’t suited either of them. Grey was blisteringly smart but never found anything in the curriculum particularly to her liking. If a class called for her to read and analyze Jane Eyre, she might instead decide Dante’s Inferno was more interesting and write her essay on that. If an art class called for her to sketch a realistic self-portrait, she might instead draw a sunken-eyed monster with blood on its hands. Some teachers loved this; most did not, and before she dropped out, Grey only ever managed mediocre grades. If this bothered her, she never showed it, drifting through classes with the sureness of a person who had been told her future by a clairvoyant and had liked what she’d heard.

   Vivi preferred to cut school as frequently as possible, which relieved the administration, since she was a handful when she did show up. She back-talked teachers, cut slashes in her uniforms to make them more punk, spray-painted graffiti in the bathrooms, and refused to remove her many piercings. The few assignments she handed in during her last year all scored easy As—there just weren’t enough of them to keep her enrolled. Which suited Vivi just fine. Every rock star needed an origin story, and getting kicked out of your £30,000-per-year high school was as good a place to start as any.

   They were both like that even then, both already in possession of an alchemical self-confidence that belonged to much older humans. They didn’t care what other people thought of them. They didn’t care what other people thought was cool (which, of course, made them unbearably cool).

   They left school—and home—within weeks of each other. Grey was seventeen; Vivi was fifteen. They set off into the world, both bound for the glamorous, exotic futures they’d always known they were destined for. Which is how I found myself alone, the only Hollow left, still struggling to thrive in the long shadows they left behind. The quiet, bright one who loved science and geography and had a natural flair for mathematics. The one who wanted desperately, above all else, to be unremarkable.

   Slowly, month by month, year by year, the strangeness that swelled around my sisters began to recede, and for a good long while, my life was what I’d craved ever since I’d seen Grey sedate an intruder with a simple kiss: normal.

   It was, of course, not to last.

 

 

1


   My breath snagged when I saw my sister’s face staring up at me from the floor.

   Grey’s fine, hook-shaped scar was still the first thing you noticed about her, followed by how achingly beautiful she was. The Vogue magazine—her third US cover in as many years—must have arrived in the mail and landed faceup on the hall rug, smack bang, which is where I found it in the silver ghost light of the morning. The words The Secret Keeper hovered in mossy green text beneath her. Her body was angled toward the photographer, her lips parted in a sigh, her black eyes staring at the camera. A pair of antlers emerged from her white hair as though they were her own.

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