From master storyteller Mary Downing Hahn, a chilling ghost story rich in secrets and surprises, in the tradition of her most successful spine-tingling novels.
Known for her spooky stories of ghosts and secrets, Mary Downing Hahn weaves a tale of two children who live near a decaying Victorian mansion, bound to the place by a mysterious set of rules. Only by connecting with the new girl who moves into the old Willis place can Diana and little brother George be free—but making contact with this girl would be a violation of the rules. The pursuit of friendship is at the heart of this haunting novel, and brilliant plot twists make The Old Willis Place an irresistible page turner.
The Diary of Lissa Morrison
Dear Diary, Is this how you start? I never kept a diary before, so I’m not sure. Up till now I thought my life was too boring to think about, let alone write about, but that’s changing. This is the second day Dad and I have spent here, and already strange things are happening. First of all, the old Willis House is the creepiest place you ever saw. It’s got to be haunted. Dad says the old lady who owned it was really eccentric, maybe even crazy. Anyway, she died in the house—in the front parlor where she slept because she got too old to climb the steps to her bedroom. She lay there dead for a week before anyone found her. Ugh. It seems like the perfect setup for a ghost, don’t you think? She died there—all alone. Think about it. I can almost see her, can’t you? A weird old lady, white hair, a scary face, roaming around from room to room, up and down the steps, watching, waiting—oooh, I’m scaring myself. Do you believe in ghosts, Dear Diary?
Dad definitely doesn’t. I talked to him after dinner about Miss Willis—that’s the old lady’s name—and I asked him if he thought she haunted the house. He laughed. I hate it when he laughs at me. Like he thinks I’m silly. Or dumb maybe. If my mother was here, I know she wouldn’t laugh—but she died when I was so little I can hardly remember her. Someday I’ll write more about how much I miss her, but I don’t want to make myself feel sad. So I will just say I wish she was here right now and we were sitting close together reading a book or something.
I know this sounds odd, Dear Diary, so don’t tell anyone, but I’d love to see a ghost—just to know for sure they exist. I wouldn’t be scared. At least, I don’t think I’d be. How could a ghost actually hurt you? They’re just ectoplasm or something, not solid.
Maybe it’s because of my mother; maybe that’s why I wonder so much about what happens when you die and where you go and if you can stay on earth for a while. I’d really like to know. Now here’s something else to tell you, something different. Not supernatural but scarier in a way because it’s real. The first day we came to the farm, there was someone in the woods spying on us. Kids maybe. I’m sure of it. I could feel them watching me. I swear my scalp prickled. I had the same feeling while we were eating dinner last night—they were back, spying again. I told Dad, but he says it’s my imagination. I’m in a new place, I’m not used to woods all around, I hear birds and squirrels and think they’re people. The way he talks, you’d think I didn’t have an ounce of sense. Maybe I should give Dad some of my spare imagination. It might help him finish that book so he can get a better job and we can live in a house with a yard and neighbors and I can go to school and have friends— instead of spies in the woods.
But that’s not all—someone stole my bike last night. Dad can’t blame that on birds or squirrels! We searched all over, but there’s not a sign of it. My beautiful new blue bike is really and truly gone. Dad called the police and they came out and talked to us. They said teenagers sometimes sneak onto the property and most likely that’s who took my bike. When I told them I thought someone was spying on us, one of the policemen said it must have been the same kids who stole my bike. They live in a development just across the highway from the farm. The police have had trouble with them trespassing before. The other policeman shook his head.
“Funny things happen out here,” he said. “None of the caretakers stay long. Place gives them the jitters, they say. Some of them claim it’s haunted by the old lady who used to live here. Her and the poor—” The first policeman coughed and said, “We’d better get going, Novak. We’ve got other business.” I had the funniest feeling he didn’t want us to hear what Officer Novak was about to say. In case you haven’t noticed, that’s how it always is with adults—just when someone starts telling the interesting stuff, someone else shuts him up. I glanced at Dad, hoping he’d ask Jim what he was talking about, but he was watching MacDuff chase a squirrel. Officer Novak jingled his keys and looked at me. “Don’t go too far from the trailer,” he said. “There’s no telling who might be hanging out in the woods. And stay away from the old house.” “I hear there’s a bunch of snakes in the cellar,” the first policeman said. “And the floorboards are rotten in some of the rooms.” The two of them got in the police car.
“Keep your eye out,” the first one told Dad. “If you see anytthing suspicious, give us a call.” Officer Novak looked at me as if something was worrying him, but all he said was, “That’s a real nice dog you’ve got.” We watched them drive away. I was hoping they’d turn their lights and the siren on, but they didn’ttttt. I guess they only do that in movies.
So now Dad thinks I might have been right about kids hiding in the woods, spying and stealing stuff. Three hundred acres—there must be a ton of hiding places on this farm. I’m going to look for them. If I find them, I’ll tell them to give my bike back—or else they’ll end up in jail or juvenile detention. They can’t scare me. And neither can Miss Willis.
Well, I’ve written so much my hand hurts, so I think I’ll stop and read in bed for a while. It sure is dark outside. Not a streetlight. Not a house light. Not even a headlight going past.
Your Friend, Lissa
Copyright © 2004 by Mary Downing Hahn.
"Hahn is a master at . . . suspense. . . . Kids will love this; it's just the right mix of chilling and thrilling."
"The young characters . . . are sympathetic and believable. . . . Spooky, but with an underlying sweetness."
"Hahn's sure hand at haunting is evident . . . creepy and enjoyable . . . it'll need no ghostly assistance to fly off the shelves."
* "Masterfully constructed . . . taut, spooky, and fast-paced with amazingly credible, memorable characters . . . riveting . . . a story of friendship and redemption."
—School Library Journal, starred review
"A mystery intertwined with a ghost story . . . a delicate message of guilt, forgiveness, loyalty, and friendship . . . a satisfying ending."
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