Reed Monroe chose Salem University for one reason: the opportunity to study with Victoria McCoy, writer-in-residence and bestselling author of horror fiction. When she learns that a lingering illness is preventing McCoy from teaching any classes, Reed starts a fan club for other McCoy obsessives. Although it only attracts a few members, the club is her passion until she hears about the opportunity of a lifetime: Victoria McCoy is hiring a new assistant. It’s a job that any horror fan would kill for. After she’s hired, Reed learns that the position was open because the last assistant disappeared, and that every one of McCoy’s employees has vanished mysteriously. To survive freshman year, Reed must confront the possibility that her idol might be a murderer. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Diane Hoh including rare photos and never-before-seen documents from the author’s personal collection.
About the Author
Diane Hoh (b. 1937) is a bestselling author of young adult fiction. Born in Warren, Pennsylvania, Hoh began her first novel, Loving That O’Connor Boy (1985), after seeing an ad in a publishing trade magazine requesting submissions for a line of young adult fiction. After contributing novels to two popular series, Cheerleaders and the Girls of Canby Hall, Hoh found great success writing thrillers, beginning with Funhouse (1990), a Point Horror novel that became a national bestseller. Following its success, Hoh created the Nightmare Hall series, whose twenty-nine installments chronicle a university plagued by dark secrets, and the seven-volume Med Center series, about the challenges and mysteries in a Massachusetts hospital. In 1998, Hoh had a runaway hit with Titanic: The Long Night and Remembering the Titanic, a pair of novels about two couples’ escape from the doomed ocean liner. She now lives and writes in Austin.
Read an Excerpt
Book of Horrors
By Diane Hoh
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1994 Diane Hoh
All rights reserved.
"The cat, back arched stiffly, stood beside the fireplace, watching me. Its shiny black coat, glossy as a crow's wings, stood at attention. The amber eyes, narrowed with hatred, never left my face.
"The coppery smell of death hung heavily in the air. It was all around me, stinging my eyes. The cat wrinkled its nose and glared at me with contempt.
"My dear, departed siblings still sat at the table as if ready to dine. But their bodies were stiff as starch, their faces twisted now into masks of agony, their blank eyes staring straight ahead.
"The cat made an angry sound low in its throat. I had taken away its beloved owners, snuffed out their lives as easily as blowing out a pair of candles. They deserved it, of course. Sat there and said, 'What's for dessert?' as if I were their servant. I smiled and said, 'Cherry pie.' I smiled because I knew about the poison in that pie. They didn't. They ate with relish.
"They shouldn't have treated me the way they did. They treated that stupid cat with more kindness and consideration than they ever showed me."
Reed Monroe abruptly stopped reading aloud to the group sitting in front of her. Since she was the only one facing the door, only she noticed that they'd been interrupted. The person responsible for the interruption was tall and broad-shouldered, wearing a white turtleneck sweater under a blood-red Salem University windbreaker. He walked into the small reading room in the basement of the campus library and leaned against the door frame, hands in the pockets of his jeans. He said nothing.
Reed frowned. He always did this! She had asked him repeatedly to come to the fan club meetings with her, and he always shrugged and said, "What for? I'm not a McCoy fan." Then he showed up right in the middle of the meeting and stood at the back, deliberately interrupting the reading. She didn't care how cute Lincoln Stark was, he was a royal pain in the ...
"Hey, Reed, why'd you stop reading? You were just getting to the good part," a slim, attractive girl cried. Debrah Kingsley, dark hair worn in a short pixie cut, half-turned in her folding chair to follow Reed's gaze to the back of the room. "Oh. It's just Link. I wish you'd quit interrupting, Link. Why don't you just join the club and get here when everyone else does?"
Smiling lazily, still not speaking, Lincoln Stark took a seat in the back row, although only the front row of four rows of chairs, aligned side by side, was occupied.
"Go on, Reed," Debrah urged, turning back to Reed, "keep going. I'm dying to know if McCoy let this killer get away with his crime, the way she did in The Wheelchair."
"Dying to know?" Jude Noble, the large, blond boy sitting beside Debrah said with a chuckle. "That's pretty funny, Debrah. And no, the killer doesn't get away this time." Ray Morrissey and Tom Sweeney, sitting on the other side of Jude, nodded agreement.
Debrah turned on Jude angrily. "Jude! Why'd you tell me? If there's anything I can't stand, it's someone who gives away the end of a book or a movie."
"Well, you should have read it for yourself," Jude said nonchalantly, leaning back in his chair. "You're not even supposed to be in this club if you haven't read all of Victoria McCoy's best-selling horror novels. I thought that was one of the requirements."
"So I bent the rules a little," Reed said, shrugging. "It's not like we're exactly overrun with people dying to join our fan club, right? Cat's Play is the only McCoy novel Debrah hadn't read, so it's no big deal, right?" Reed leaned her tall, slender form against the bookstand. She shook her long, straight, dark hair and sighed heavily. "At this point, I'd take someone who hadn't read a single McCoy novel, just to get this club off the ground. I can't believe that this is the first and only Victoria McCoy fan club at the very university where she's writer-in-residence! Unreal!"
"Maybe that's because not enough people know who McCoy is," Link called out from the back row.
His remark shocked the group into total silence. To them, that was like saying that not many people knew who the president of the United States was.
Reed, her sharply angled cheekbones the color of cranberries, left the podium at the front of the room and in half a dozen rapid strides, was standing opposite Link. And she wasn't smiling.
"Most people know who Victoria McCoy is," she said sharply. "Even the ones who don't read books very much have seen the movies made from her novels. Every single book is a best-seller. Every single movie is a hit. It's not that people don't know about her. It's that they don't know about our club yet, that's all."
Link shrugged. "I was just kidding."
Reed flushed angrily. "I told you before, we're just getting this fan club off the ground. Word hasn't spread around campus yet, but it will. There must be lots of McCoy fans at Salem. There must be other people who came here strictly because of her, like I did."
"And I'm grateful to her for that," Link said, turning on the smile that had drawn her to him in the first place. "If it weren't for her, you'd be at some other school. But," he went on, "being grateful doesn't include joining the Victoria McCoy fan club. And if you don't stop picking on me, I'm not going to tell you my news."
Skepticism filled Reed's narrow face. "What news?"
Link cocked his head toward the other members at the front of the room. "Not so loud. I don't think you want everyone to hear this."
Reed glanced up front. Lilith Askew, a small girl with a halo of short, golden waves was arguing with Jude about the reading. Debrah seemed to be taking Lilith's part in the argument, while the three guys had joined forces.
"They're not paying any attention to us," she said. "So what's your news?"
Link leaned back in his seat, his arms across the backs of companion chairs. "Somebody is going to be needing a new assistant, I heard by the campus grapevine. Somebody you're very interested in, Reed. In fact," he made a face of distaste, "somebody you're obsessed with."
Reed dropped into the chair beside Link. "You're kidding!" she breathed. "Link, if you're jerking me around, I'll ..."
"Scout's honor. Carl Nordstrum was working for your hero, the famous author Victoria McCoy. But he didn't show up yesterday or today. I heard he left school. Seems to me she's going to be looking for new help. And who knows more about her work than you do?"
Reed searched Link's strong, square face, looking for any sign that he might be teasing her. He knew better than anyone else how she felt about Victoria McCoy. He knew how bitterly disappointed she'd been when she arrived on the beautiful, rolling campus of Salem University only to learn that the author wouldn't be conducting any classes or seminars because of a recent illness. He knew, but he hadn't understood it. He thought her "obsession" with the author was silly. So why was he telling her this now? He had to know she'd be applying for that job faster than he could say, as he often did, "Can we please talk about something besides Victoria McCoy?"
Her skepticism turned to suspicion. "Link, if you're telling me the truth, why are you telling me? You know I'd kill to work for McCoy. And if I get the chance, I'll be busier than I am now. And then you'll get mad."
Link tapped his temple with a finger. "I'm always thinking, Reed, always thinking. Seems to me if what you want is to get to know McCoy, and I'm the one who makes that possible, you be grateful, right?" He sent her a mock leer. "Very grateful."
Reed laughed. "Dream on. But," she added seriously, "I think it's pretty neat that you're telling me." She tilted her head and smiled. "I didn't know you could be this generous."
He winced. "Ouch. Yeah, well," glancing toward the front of the room again, "the minute the word gets out, the rest of your sick crew here is going to trample you in the rush to get to McCoy's house. So I thought I'd give you the edge by telling you first."
"Thanks, Link. I really appreciate it."
He shrugged. "I just hope I'm not sorry. You spend so much time reading, I don't see you half as much as I'd like to. Maybe I just made the worst mistake of my life."
Reed leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "No. No, you didn't. I promise."
The group up front, still arguing, had drifted to the back of the room.
"Hey," Jude complained mildly, "is this a meeting or a make-out session? Reed, if you're abdicating your responsibilities, I'll take over. I should have been president of this fan club, anyway. I'm the one who's going to take McCoy's place in the literary world one day."
Lilith moved forward to take a seat on the other side of Link, gifting him as she did so with a brilliant smile.
Ease off, Lilith, Reed thought, annoyed. He's with me. As if you didn't know it.
Not that she blamed Lilith. Link drove her nuts sometimes, but he was funny and sweet and smart. Not exactly ugly, either, although his light brown hair could use a trim. And now he'd proved that he was generous, as well.
Lilith couldn't have him.
"I was just taking a break," Reed said, standing up. "I'll finish our reading now. Then I've got to get going. I ... I have a test in psych tomorrow. Got to hit the books."
She had to get to McCoy before the others found out about Carl dumping the job they all wanted.
"Come sit up here with me," Lilith told Link, taking his elbow and leading him to a seat in the front row. "I'll fill you in on what Reed's already read."
"Love your decorations," Link said as he followed Lilith. His eyes were on the black crepe paper strung across the radiators, the plastic skull with a burning candle inside, perched on Reed's podium, a pair of fake bloody hands hanging from the light fixture overhead.
Reed flushed at his comment. The macabre touches had been Jude's idea, enthusiastically applauded by Tom and Ray. Reed had made a gagging gesture when she saw them, but Jude had insisted that McCoy, should she ever hear about their fan club and surprise them with a visit, would "love it."
"Maybe I should talk to my fishing club about decorating our club room," Link added with an amused grin.
Jude laughed and said, "Yeah, you could always hang a couple of dead fish in the doorway of the Anglers' meeting room. Of course, the room wouldn't smell too great, but you're all fishermen. You should be used to it."
Reed strode to the podium to finish her reading. Read fast, she told herself, and get this meeting over with. You have important business to attend to!
As they all sat back down, Link told Lilith teasingly, "What Reed was reading sounded mildly interesting."
If Reed hadn't been so grateful to him for his monumental news, she'd have been insulted. Mildly interesting? McCoy's work? That was like calling Mount Everest a hill.
Well, what could she expect from someone who had once tried to read The Adventures of Superman and never made it past the first page because, he said, he couldn't "sit still that long."
"Whew," Debrah declared when Reed had raced through the rest of the chapter, "that's too much! Poison?" She shivered and looked to Link for confirmation that the story had been horrifying.
He laughed and shrugged.
"She was desperate," Reed said stiffly. "Her siblings treated her like dirt." Then she felt foolish for defending a character in a book and added, "This book sold in the millions. It's considered one of McCoy's best." It was also a personal favorite of Reed's.
"Seems to me," Link said, "that if you're all so fascinated with this McCoy, you shouldn't have waited until second semester to start your fan club. People have already joined other stuff. You're too late."
"We didn't have time first semester," Reed said. "And I already told you, Link, when I got to Salem, I figured there already was a fan club. By the time I found out that there wasn't, I was swamped with classwork ... why am I explaining all of this to you? I've got to get going. Meeting dismissed."
She closed the book briskly, then glanced down at the back cover of the book in her hands. An attractive woman with dark hair waving softly around her face smiled up at Reed from the back cover. She looked perfectly healthy. Hard to believe, looking at the photo, that McCoy had been sick and was just now recovering. But then, the book was not a new one.
Link had gotten up to walk over to the podium. He took the book from Reed's hands, leafing casually through the pages. "I still say," he mused, "that you don't look like the kind of person who would be hung up on all this blood and guts stuff."
They'd had this discussion before. And she was too excited about his news to take offense this time. "I'm not hung up on it," she said as she took the book back, thrusting it into her backpack. "McCoy is a great writer, that's all. You'd know that if you ever tried any of her stuff."
But Link wasn't really exaggerating. She was pretty hung up on McCoy's work. Had been for years. She loved it. All of it.
"Don't have much time for reading."
"Oh, that's right, you're too busy fishing."
He wasn't offended. "Right. And you shouldn't curl your upper lip in a sneer like that. Ruins that gorgeous face."
Oh, brother. She almost laughed. Aloud, she said, "Gotta go. Walk me out?"
"In Cat's Play," Debrah was still arguing with Jude about the book as they all walked to the door of the small room, "the killer, Caroline, shouldn't have hidden the bodies in the basement. That's such a cliché. Why couldn't she have done something more original, like maybe stashing them in the hayloft of the barn?"
Jude groaned. "Oh, man, talk about a cliché! That's been done a zillion times. I think she should have put them in the woodshed beside the garage. It was summer. No one would have been going out there to get wood."
"You can't store dead bodies outside in the summertime," Reed pointed out. "The heat."
Ray and Tom nodded.
"She should have put them in that freezer on the back porch," Ray said. "That would be a lot colder than the basement."
Link suddenly laughed aloud. When everyone looked at him, he apologized. "I'm sorry, but listening to all of you talk about dead bodies ... I mean, you all look so normal, but...."
"Are you saying we're not normal?" Reed snapped. "Because we like well-written horror books? Lots of people do. And may I just point out that you sat through the reading of that last chapter? You didn't look very bored to me."
"Personally," Jude said calmly before Link could answer, "normal is one thing I've never had any desire to be. Boring! Besides, if I were normal, I wouldn't stand a chance of ever being as famous a horror writer as McCoy is, and that is my goal."
Everyone in the group already knew that Jude Noble had aspirations of one day following in Victoria McCoy's footsteps. To that end, he wore his blond hair almost to his shoulders, sometimes affected an English accent, and marched around campus wearing a long black raincoat because, he said, he hadn't been able to find a long, black cape, which was what he'd really wanted. He actually looked terrific in the raincoat, Reed had decided, probably because he was large enough to carry off the long garment. A shorter person would have been lost in its flowing folds.
"Think they make any money, these writers?" Link asked Jude, his voice friendly.
"If I didn't think so, I wouldn't be planning on entering the field. I'm not real keen on starving. That business about living in a garret in New York City, eating tomato soup made from ketchup, never seemed romantic to me. The way McCoy's books have sold, she must have pots of money. I plan to do the same."
When everyone was out in the hall, Reed switched off the lights and closed the door. But her mind had already left the fan club, the meeting, the library. It was focusing instead on what her first move should be. She knew, of course, where McCoy lived.
But should she go there? Now? If she waited until morning, someone else could beat her to the punch. Disaster.
The rumor was that the writer was a very private person. Interrupting her quiet evening at home might be a tactical error. Making the author angry could cost her the job. Also disaster.
"Well, I don't blame Caroline," Debrah was saying. "Her sister and brother had it coming to them. After all she'd done for them, and they were so ungrateful!"
Excerpted from Nightmare Hall by Diane Hoh. Copyright © 1994 Diane Hoh. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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