Graveyard Slot #2
Michelle Schusterman; Illustrated by Stephanie Olesh
Kat didn’t believe in ghosts—until she became a teenage ghostbuster. . .
After a couple months at home dealing with her mother's upcoming wedding and trying on itchy bridesmaid dresses, Kat is more than happy to head off on another ghost-hunting and ghostbusting adventure with her dad—especially since the cast and crew of Passport to Paranormal are headed to Brazil and Argentina, and her new friends Jamie and Haley will be joining them. But the ghosts in South America are just as spooky and unpredictable as the ghosts they encountered in Europe, and once again Kat finds herself involved in some mysteries that she might not be able to unravel.
Excerpt from Graveyard Slot #2
Chapter 1: The Bridesmaid of Frankenstein
All the celebrity gossip you need (and then some)!
What’s Next for P2P ? by Shelly Mathers
Fright TV’s Passport to Paranormal had a close encounter of the crazy kind last week while shooting an episode in an abandoned Brussels prison. Filming was interrupted when former host Emily Rosinski burst in, attacking her old flame (and the show’s psychic medium) Sam Sumners. And if the most obsessive fans are to be believed, the show was dealing with a rather nasty spirit they picked up in Rotterdam. Unfortunately, viewers didn’t get to see a lot of the action in last night’s episode (although the show enjoyed its highest-ever ratings, thanks to all the buzz). But many fans are getting their behind-the-scenes fix on a blog run by host Jack Sinclair’s daughter, Kat. Are her creepy photos and spooky stories fact or fiction? This reporter doesn’t care, so long as it’s entertaining.
Pirate ghosts and knife-wielding stalkers are nothing compared to the nightmare that is shopping for bridesmaid dresses. Those things are the worst kind of villain. That empire-waist halter looks so pretty and innocent on the hanger, luring you into a false sense of security—until you’re locked in a dressing room together with no escape route. Then it turns on you, strangling your neck with its scratchy lace and digging its beads into your flesh, cinching too tight around your waist but hanging all loose in the chest like it’s mocking you. Hey, I look great on that bridal-magazine model! Maybe I’m not the monster here.
My mom dragged me to five different dress shops last week. Her soon-to-be-stepdaughter Elena paraded around in poofy flower-girl dresses and screamed like a vampire’s victim until the attendants let her try on the sparkly tiaras and necklaces locked up in glass cases, while I fought countless satin monstrosities. And my mom, a professional photographer, documented every grim moment with her camera. Flash! A-line Abomination. Flash! Evil Empire Waist. Flash! The Bustier of Despair. It was Nightmare on Chiffon Street, starring Kat Sinclair.
The worst part? I never even agreed to be in the wedding.
When Mom tried to ask if I’d be a bridesmaid over the phone a few weeks before, I changed the subject. She never asked again. Instead, she acted like I agreed to do it. That’s how my mom operated: She pretended everyone was totally on board with whatever she did and left it to them to say otherwise. That way she could do whatever she wanted without worrying about other people’s feelings, and somehow they were the ones stuck feeling guilty when they finally spoke up.
And I fell for it every time. There I was, boarding a plane to Miami with my dad after two weeks in Chelsea, Ohio, and I still hadn’t told Mom I’d rather be the bride of Frankenstein than a bridesmaid at her wedding.
“Window or aisle?” Dad asked, cramming his massive duffel bag into the overhead bin. I responded by ducking under his arm and flopping down next to the window. Our seats were right over the wing, which made me miss Grandma. (Her favorite episode of The Twilight Zone was about a guy who kept seeing a gremlin on the wing of the plane during his flight. We’d binge-watched a few seasons last weekend.)
After tucking my backpack under the seat in front of me, I pulled my iPod out of my pocket and started untangling the headphones. Two-and-a-half-hour flight to Miami; almost eight hours of horror movies to choose from. Of course, after Miami came a nine-hour flight to Brazil. But I figured I’d sleep at least a few hours since it was an overnight flight. Not too much, though—ghost hunters didn’t exactly keep normal sleeping schedules.
While the flight attendants went over the usual safety stuff, Dad distractedly scrolled through e-mails on his phone. I wondered how he felt about returning to hosting Passport to Paranormal. He really loved the job, but I knew he still felt guilty about what happened back in Brussels. Like it was his fault the show’s first host showed up and attacked me.
Terrifying? Yes. But hey, it turned out to be great for P2P’s ratings.
Dad pocketed his phone as the flight attendant passed by, checking our seatbelts. When the plane began pulling away from the gate, he turned to me and cleared his throat.
“Kat, there’s something we need to talk about.”
I groaned. “Dad. We did the safety-lecture thing already. No going anywhere by myself. Phone and calling card on me at all times. No more provoking crazy stalkers on the forums—although to be fair, Emily started it—”
“Not about safety,” Dad cut in. “About your . . . involvement with the show.”
“You mean my blog?”
My “behind-the-scenes look at the most haunted show on television” had started out as a way for me to keep up with Grandma and my best friends, Trish and Mark. But then some of the P2P fans found it. And after the whole Emily debacle, I was up to a few thousand followers. Which was pretty cool, but also kind of intimidating.
“I had a call with Thomas Cooper while you were at your mother’s house,” Dad said slowly. “Fright TV’s noticed how popular your blog is with the show’s fans. Especially the, er, younger demographic.”
“You mean kids?”
Dad nodded. “Thomas sees this as an opportunity to attract more young viewers to P2P. Expand our audience.”
“So, what, he wants me to blog more or something?”
“No, he . . .” Dad paused, studying me. “He wants you to be on the show.”
I stared at him. “Like . . . on TV?”
“Yup. What do you think?”
“I don’t want to.”
The words spilled out quickly, even though I’d barely had time to process what Dad was saying. But after enduring a full week of dressing-room “fashion shows,” just the thought of more on-camera time made me want to crawl into a hole and never come out. And this would be on television. If seeing photos of myself on my mom’s Facebook page made me cringe, how could I possibly handle seeing myself on TV? Flash! Ghastly Girl, Coming Soon to a Screen in Your Living Room.
Dad gave me a funny smile. “I thought you might not be wild about the idea. You don’t have to do it,” he added quickly. “But Lidia and I promised we’d at least ask you and Oscar.”
“They want Oscar on the show, too?”
Oscar Bettencourt was the producer’s nephew. We kind of drove each other crazy at first, but eventually we became friends. I imagined what his expression probably looked like when Lidia asked him to be on P2P, and I grinned. Neither of us really liked to admit it, but we were a lot alike. I couldn’t imagine he’d want to be on TV, either.
I braced myself against the back of my seat as the plane picked up speed. “Oscar’ll say no, too.”
“You think so?”
I snorted. “I know so. Tell Mr. Cooper thanks, but no thanks.”
It might have been my imagination, but I thought Dad looked a little relieved. Our plane roared into the sky, and ten minutes later I was watching Jaws devour its first helpless victim and wondering if shark attacks were common on the beaches in Brazil.
After a surprisingly short wait in the customs line, I tucked my passport back into my bag and followed Dad through the crowded international terminal of the Miami airport. The theme music from Jaws was still playing in my head. Da dum . . . Da dum . . . Da dum, da dum . . . Da-dum-da-dum-da-dum-da-dum—
I turned sharply, whacking a bearded guy in the arm with my backpack. “Sorry!” I called after him. A few feet away, Mi Jin Seong dropped her duffel bag, spread her arms wide, and looked at me expectantly.
“Well?” she said, and for a moment I thought she wanted a hug. Then I noticed her shirt and burst out laughing.
“Nothing like seeing my almost naked mother-in-law on a T-shirt,” Dad said wryly as we dragged our suitcases over to Passport to Paranormal’s intern. After giving Mi Jin a quick hug, I pulled my phone out.
“Can I get a picture for my grandma?”
“Oh my God,” Mi Jin said, eyes wide. “Seriously, you’d text a photo of me in an Edie Mills shirt to Edie Mills? Will she think I’m nuts?”
“Are you kidding? She’ll love it.” I took a few steps back and centered her in the screen. Mi Jin was a huge fan of Grandma’s from back in her horror B-movie star days. The poster from Mi Jin’s favorite Edie movie, Vampires of New Jersey, was featured on the front of her T-shirt: a younger version of my grandmother with ridiculously teased-up black hair, deathly pale skin, and an embarrassingly skimpy bikini, standing on a boardwalk with her spike-heeled foot on the chest of a dead surfer. Blood trickled from her mouth, and you could see two tiny holes in the guy’s neck. The tagline at the bottom said: This Summer, the Shore Is Really Going to Suck.
Mi Jin struck a pose just like on the poster, putting her foot on her duffel bag and puckering her lips. I snickered as I texted the photo to Grandma.
KS: told u Mi Jin loves Maribel Mauls!
Dad shook his head, amused. Then he glanced over my shoulder and his face lit up. “There’s Jess!” He hurried over to our gate while I trailed behind with Mi Jin, watching my phone. When Grandma responded, Mi Jin let out a little shriek and flapped her hands.
EM: aw, what a doll! nice to know she appreciates my vampire vixen. unlike some people.
KS: hard to appreciate a villain who uses two cans of hairspray just to go to the beach.
EM: took a whole other can on my butt to stop that bathing suit from riding up.
KS: TOO. MUCH. INFORMATION.
“That woman is my hero,” Mi Jin said fervently as she watched me text. “I rewatched all seventeen of her movies last week. Man, I forgot how great Return to the Asylum is. And The Coven’s Curse, oh my God, remember that scene with the voodoo doll? I can’t even—hey, there’s Lidia! She looks so much better.”
Before I could respond, Mi Jin ran off to hug Lidia Bettencourt. I was relieved to see that P2P’s producer looked much healthier than last time I’d seen her. Being possessed by a nasty pirate really takes it out of you.
I stepped back, pulled my Elapse E-250 camera from my bag, and flipped it on. A few photos of this P2P airport reunion would be nice for my next blog post. I got a great shot of Jess tackle-hugging Dad, as well as Lidia and Sam Sumners laughing at Mi Jin’s shirt. Being on this side of the camera was so much more fun. When I zoomed in on Roland Yeske, he stuck his tongue out just as I pressed the shutter-release button.
“Uh-oh, did you run out of purple suckers?” I teased as he walked over, flipping the camera around so he could see his own bright red tongue in the viewfinder. Roland let out an exaggerated sigh.
“Had to wake up so early to make my first flight, I forgot to bring them,” he told me, pulling a red sucker from his pocket and peeling off the wrapper. “And that shop over there only had strawberry. Give me grape, or give me death.” He popped the sucker into his mouth and shuddered. “Disgusting.”
“But still better than cigarettes,” I pointed out. Roland’s sucker obsession had started after he quit smoking. “Hey, where’s Oscar?”
“Went to get snacks for the flight.” Roland sank into a chair and glowered up at me. “So. Looks like we’re going all Nickelodeon after all.”
“He’s talking about you and Oscar being on the show.” Sam settled into the seat next to Roland. “Hello, Kat,” he added with a smile.
“Hi, Sam,” I said. “I’m not going to be on the show.”
Roland’s eyebrow shot up. “No?”
“No way,” I said forcefully. “I don’t want to be on TV.”
“Sweet.” Roland crunched his sucker. “That means Oscar can’t do it—the network wants you both together. And no offense, but I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of this turning into a kids’ show. Neither was Jess.”
“Adding a few children to the cast wouldn’t necessarily make it a ‘kids’ show,’” Sam said patiently. “Personally, Kat, I was hoping you would accept.”
“You were?” I said in surprise, and he nodded.
“Spirits are often more inclined to communicate with children. Particularly if they’re children as well.”
I knew he was thinking of Levi, Lidia’s twin brother, who had died when they were teenagers. His ghost had spent weeks trying to send me messages that Lidia was in danger when Dad and I first joined the show.
“They can still communicate with her all they want,” Roland said, stretching his arms and yawning. “Just not on camera. Which is for the best—no one’ll ever take what we do seriously if we let Fright TV turn this show into some sort of Haunted Hannah Montana. Again, no offense.”
He gave me a pink-toothed grin, and I crossed my arms. “First of all, saying ‘no offense’ doesn’t magically make what you said not offensive. And second, you’re a parapsychologist. Most people already don’t take what you do seriously.”
“Ouch.” Roland clutched his chest, his expression wounded. “Right in the heart, Kat. This is my life’s work you’re talking about.”
I laughed, although I wasn’t entirely sure he was being sarcastic. That was the thing with Roland. He was constantly mocking everyone, including himself. He talked about ghosts like they were a joke, even though he believed they were real. Parapsychology might have been Roland’s life’s work, but sometimes it seemed like no one took it less seriously than he did.
“Hey, Doctor Pain.”
I turned to find Oscar behind me holding a plastic bag stuffed with chips and candy bars. “Hey! How was . . . um, how was your trip?” I stopped myself just in time from mentioning Oscar’s father in front of Roland and Sam. Lidia might have told them about her brother being in prison for embezzlement, but I didn’t know for sure.
Oscar shrugged. “Fine. Yours?”
There was a pause, and Roland turned to Sam. “What sparkling conversation. Maybe we should put them on camera after all.”
I rolled my eyes, but Oscar looked confused. “Wait, what? Aunt Lidia said we definitely were going to be on the show.”
“You were,” Roland agreed. “But it looks like it’s not going to happen.”
Roland pointed his sucker at me. “Kat doesn’t want to.”
Oscar’s eyes widened as he faced me. “You don’t?”
“You do?” I said in disbelief.
“Uh, yeah?” Oscar squinted at me like I’d sprouted fangs. “We’d be on TV, Kat. On television.”
“Exactly! Why would I want that?”
“Why wouldn’t you?”
Flash! Tutu’d Troll. My stomach churned at the memory of that particular dress. Elena had fallen over in hysterics when I’d walked out of the dressing room, but my mom still took a photo.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we will begin boarding Flight 2278 to Salvador, Brazil, in just a moment. Please have your ticket and ID ready.”
Relieved at the interruption, I knelt down and unzipped the front pocket of my bag to find my ticket. I could feel Oscar still staring at me as everyone around us began to move closer to the gate. As soon as I straightened up, he started in again.
“Why don’t you want to do this?” he asked, following me over to where Jess and Dad had claimed a spot in the line. “How many people get a chance to be on TV, Kat? And did you see that article on Rumorz? Everyone already knows about your blog, the fans would probably love it if—”
“Having a blog is different than being on a television show,” I interrupted. “I don’t want to do it, okay?”
Oscar opened his mouth to argue some more, but Jess beat him to it. “Kat, what if we did a trial to see how you two are on camera? I was thinking we could shoot a mini episode, maybe five or ten minutes, of just you and Oscar, and post it on your blog. It’d be a nice way to test this out with viewers before we actually add you both to the cast.”
I could feel my face growing warm. “I thought you didn’t want a ‘kids’ show’? That’s what Roland said.”
“I didn’t,” Jess said bluntly. “But Lidia and I had a call with Thomas this morning, and the network is dead set on doing this. With both of you.” I must have looked as horrified as I felt, because her expression softened. “I honestly do think you two might be pretty great,” she added. “Thomas made it clear that they aren’t going to start marketing the show to younger viewers, which was my concern. They’re just hoping to expand our audience by getting kids interested, too. It’s not a bad idea.”
“No one’s forcing you, Kat,” Dad added quickly, and I snorted.
“Really? Because it sure feels like I don’t have a choice.”
“You do,” Jess assured me. “Let’s just take this one step at a time, okay? Lidia did a little scouting and found a cemetery not too far from our hotel. We have a few days before our first real investigation—how about I take the two of you to the cemetery to shoot a short video for your blog? No TV, no pressure. Okay?”
Not okay. But I couldn’t say that, because it really was a pretty reasonable request, and I was too embarrassed to admit that even the thought of posting a video of myself online made me queasy. Especially because I wasn’t sure why it bothered me so much. I mean, it wasn’t like I’d be wearing one of those stupid bridesmaid dresses on camera. I’d be dressed like me, and no matter how much my mom sighed at my clothes and fretted over my hair, I liked how I looked just fine. So I just shrugged and said, “Yeah, okay.”
Dad studied me. “Are you sure?”
“Awesome.” Oscar grinned at me, and I tried to smile back. I was relieved when the line finally started to move. As we shuffled forward, I wondered if Oscar was right. Maybe I should be more excited about this. Trish and Mark would freak out if I told them I was going to be on TV. Besides, my grandmother had starred in horror movies. My father hosted a ghost-hunting show. This was in my blood.
That’s what I kept telling myself, anyway.
I crammed my bag into the overhead compartment and found my seat: 27F, next to the window. Glancing around the cabin, I noticed we were all scattered. Dad waved at me from a few rows ahead. Roland and Jess were near the front, while Lidia, Sam, and Mi Jin were several rows back. I saw Oscar kneeling on his seat, watching my row intently. When a guy in a Nirvana shirt started to shove his backpack into the bin over my head, Oscar made his way toward us, squeezing around a woman trying to fit a cat crate under her seat.
“Are you in 27E?” Oscar asked, and the Nirvana guy blinked at him.
“Yeah . . .”
“Would you switch with me so I can sit next to my friend?” Oscar pointed back at his row. “30D. Aisle seat.”
The guy shrugged. “Sure, whatever.”
Oscar slid into the seat next to me, holding out the plastic bag stuffed with snacks. I took a bag of M&Ms and ripped it open. “Thanks.”
“Sure.” He helped himself to a few, eyeing me. “Sorry you got stuck doing this mini-episode thing.”
I smirked. “No, you’re not. If I don’t do it, you can’t, either.”
“True,” Oscar admitted. “But I really thought you’d want to be on the show.”
“And I really thought you wouldn’t.” I popped a handful M&Ms in my mouth. “So . . . how’d things go with your dad?”
Oscar’s expression tightened. “All right, I guess,” he said, tearing open a bag of pretzels. “I did it. I mean, I told him about . . . you know.”
I nodded. Last year, Oscar had gotten expelled for getting in a fight with his best friend, Mark. But he’d never told his dad the reason he’d gotten in the fight in the first place. Oscar had a crush on Mark and told him so. And he’d ended up being bullied—not just by Mark, but by a bunch of other kids, too.
It was something I’d thought about a lot over the last two weeks, when I was hanging out with my own best friends back in Ohio. Every time I tried to imagine one of them turning on me for confiding something that personal, I felt sick and sad.
“What did your dad say?” I asked.
“Not much. I don’t know. Actually, he . . .” Pausing, Oscar stared down at his pretzels. Then he shook his head. “Whatever. The point is, I got it over with. How’d things go with your mom?”
“Oh, fantastic,” I said in a falsely bright voice. “I got to try on bridesmaid dresses with her and her fiancé’s five-year-old daughter. Who, by the way, can scream even louder than Mi Jin.”
Oscar looked up. “Aw, I’m sorry I missed that.”
“What, a screaming kindergartner?”
“No, you wearing a dress,” he said, grinning. “Was it pink? Please tell me it was pink.”
“Nope. She picked purple and green for the wedding theme,” I told him. “No, sorry—‘lavender and mint.’ Every dress I tried on made me look like an Easter egg.”
Oscar laughed. “I’m sure it wasn’t that bad.”
“Trust me, it was worse.” I glanced out the window as our plane slowly backed away from the gate. My reflection stared at me, and I touched the back of my head self-consciously. To the surprise of no one, my mother had not been pleased to see my new haircut. Especially when she found out I’d chopped off my braid myself. Now my hair was barely long enough to pull into a ponytail, which was how I’d been wearing it. Mom had tried to take me to her salon to “at least get something a little more stylish.” But I preferred it exactly like this: short and simple.
It was an argument we’d been having ever since I could remember. She’d make some attempt to, in her words, “girlify” me. I’d hate it. She’d say she was only trying to help. I’d feel guilty. Repeat, repeat, repeat. I’d grown up with a really clear mental image of the girl my mother wanted me to be. Eventually it had turned into a thing—the Thing—that I kind of obsessed over. I was doing my best to leave the Thing behind for real this time. But after six months of pretty much not speaking to my mom at all, spending last week letting her force me into dress after dress had been kind of intense.
“Guess I’ll have to wait for the wedding photos,” Oscar said. “When is it, anyway?”
“April.” But I probably won’t be in the photos. I crammed the last few M&Ms in my mouth and crumpled the bag. Telling my mom I didn’t want to go to her wedding would be a lot easier over the phone. It’d probably be best to get it over with as soon as we got to Salvador, if I was going to do it at all.
I leaned back as the plane accelerated, still staring out the window. I was sitting further back than I had on the last flight, but I could see the tip of the wing. When I squinted, it was easy to imagine a gremlin dancing on the other side of my reflection.