Ghostbusters

Sneak Peek: Ghostbusters by Nancy Holder

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Ghostbusters by Nancy Holder

After Dr. Erin Gilbert is disgraced at a job interview for her belief in ghosts, she is roped into investigating a haunting by her former colleague, Abby Yates and Abby’s new co-worker, Jillian Holtzmann. The three scientists soon discover that some specters do far more than go bump in the night.

MTA employee, Patty Tolan, finds that New York City’s subway tunnels are becoming a hive of ghostly apparitions. She calls on Erin, Abbey, and Jillian to investigate, revealing that paranormal activity across New York City is swiftly becoming a disaster of near-biblical proportions

Together, these four would-be paranormal investigators are determined to find out what’s going on, save their city, and maybe make a profit while they’re at it. The team must stop a mysterious evil known only as Rowan from destroying the barrier between this life and the next and turning Manhattan into a literal hellscape.

The official novelization for a new generation of Ghostbusters is available now. Please enjoy this excerpt.

1

It was a dark and stormy night. Perfect for a tour of one of the most haunted houses in America, the dread Aldridge Mansion, a Victorian brownstone steeped in shocking scandal and even better, bloody mass murder. A dark jewel of Manhattan’s West Village, the historical estate loomed in deep shadows. Cue the lightning, the thunder, the terrifying howl of a wolf hunting down a hapless but leggy Gypsy maiden—

Okay . . . not so much.

Actually, it wasn’t dark and stormy at all. A crisp autumn day blazed away in New York City, bursting with the blue skies and puffy white clouds that made the locals shrug and say, “Hey, it’s really not so bad here, despite the overcrowding, high rents, and crooked politicians. It could be worse—we could be living in New Jersey.

On a glorious day like this, folks with a yen for the macabre could go out to the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage in a national park greenbelt in the Bronx and get a fright and a tan for what, five bucks? But luckily for Garrett and his impressive student loan debt, Aldridge Mansion’s terrible reputation— and truly fi ne collection of period pieces—had drawn a sizable crowd for the last scheduled ghost tour of the afternoon. Garrett was their tour guide. They were grouped together in the elegant parlor, eyes wide, palms sweaty, hopeful and eager. Time to get to work.

Time to scare the pants off them.

Just like they wanted him to.

Tour Guide Garrett cleared his throat.

“The Aldridge Mansion is the only nineteenth- century home in New York City preserved both inside and out,” he said in what he liked to think of as his Sleepy Hollow voice. He gestured to the original Aesthetic Movement settee and Clara Driscoll– designed Tiffany lamp, the neoclassical slate fi replace and the double- decker bookcases brimming with leather- bound volumes, including an original On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. When he wasn’t brooding over his dismal rate of pay and the dead-end job’s lack of health benefits, he had to admit that the mansion’s sumptuous decor stirred him to his roots.

“This clock was on the Titanic. Sir Aldridge preserved it when he brought it with him into his lifeboat. That’s his portrait.” He pointed to the fi ne- looking fellow hanging above the fireplace mantelpiece.

“Over here you can imagine Sir Aldridge entertaining his wealthy guests.”

One pretty twenty- something tourist glanced anxiously at the trio of headless mannequins in capes and a sailor’s suit arranged beside a long table as he led them past. Her face noticeably paled and she looked seriously creeped out. Maybe she was a believer? Sometimes tourists showed him the photo graphs they’d taken during the tour that featured blips of light: “spirit orbs” or blurs, proof in their minds that the dead walked in Aldridge Mansion. He always acted surprised and intrigued, but seriously? The rooms were dimly illuminated night and day by period lamps and ornate wall sconces, and blurring in the snapshots was caused by using a flash too far from the subject. But of course he never told them any of that. Why ruin the fun?

Besides, gullible out-of-towners were generous tippers. And the tour guide biz was all about the gratuities.

Garrett led the throng down an extremely creaky hall at a merry clip. On every step, the ancient floorboards bowed ever so slightly underfoot, springing back sluggishly, bowing again. The overall effect hinted at imminent collapse. He smiled to himself as he heard a few gasps behind him.

“As you can see, even the wealthy get termites,” he intoned over his shoulder with perfect delivery and timing. They chuckled. They always did. It was fun dissing the rich. But seriously, would the New York Department of Buildings allow anyone inside a structure that wasn’t completely safe?

He paused in front of The Door. It was sectioned into elaborate panels and accessorized with an ornate brass knob, all original, and he thanked his lucky stars that it featured so prominently in the décor. It was one of two focal points of the entire tour.

He slowly turned to face his eager audience. Here was where he gathered in his cash money, tax free. It was decidedly not in the exquisite upstairs bedrooms, where he provided fascinating details on the lavish furnishings, the art, and the architecture. Thanks to an other wise worthless four-year course of study at CCNY in art history, with a minor in drama, he could talk the talk and walk the walk. Nor was it in the cavernous grand ballroom with its intricate parquetry floor, or the period- accurate kitchen, or the rooftop solarium. Not even in the gilded, marbled, mirrored master bath suite. Those were just way- stops, diversions included on the tour to fill out the allotted time, to let anticipation build, and set the mood for the big finish.

The Door.

The imposing barrier encapsulated an unspeakable horror that passing de cades could not erase, the same unspeakable horror that had lured this crowd of wide- eyed thrill seekers away from Manhattan’s more savory sites. It was in fact Garrett’s center stage, and in his fantasies perhaps a stepping- stone to something far more rewarding. Three weeks ago his cousin Lester had shot footage of him delivering a rousing rendition of his spiel in front of The Door. Lester’s building super had mentioned he knew a casting agent who lived in a co-op down the street. Careers had been founded on less.

And for all he knew, someone in this after noon’s group would post the performance on YouTube, and it would go viral, and, and—

And action, Garrett told himself. Putting on his game face, he summoned up the necessary aura of the confidential and the mysterious.

“As you can see, this basement door is sealed shut.” He made a show of trying to turn the brass floral- patterned doorknob, which had never so much as budged during his entire tenure as a tour guide. It was frozen in position, either welded or glued. The basement was strictly off-limits, even to the cleaning staff. Pausing a beat, he searched the goggle- eyed faces, forcefully selling the idea that what he was about to reveal was momentous. Then he spoke.

“One morning, Sir Aldridge awoke, furious when his breakfast wasn’t waiting for him. He called to his servants but none of them responded. Why? Because during the night one by one they had each been stabbed to death in their sleep.”

He let that sink in, right up to the hilt. As if drawn by an invisible magnet, the tourists leaned ever so slightly toward him. That’s how hard they were hanging on to his words. Only one middle- aged man held back. Arms folded across his chest, he smirked as if to say: I ain’t afraid of no ghost. Fine, be that way. The mass murder was a documented fact. Garrett had pored over the old sepia-tone photo graphs of the butchered cook and the eviscerated butler, the partially beheaded scullery maid and the shredded remains of the chauffeur— photos credited to Sir Aldridge himself. They were crimes of anger—no, of insane fury. Worse even than the photos he’d seen of Jack the Ripper’s victims. As if the hand that had wielded the heavy blade wanted to erase the poor souls’ very humanity.

The real details of the crimes were far too brutal for the present crowd, of course. Grossing out the audience was a surefire tip killer. Instead of hanging around after the tour for a nice chat with the friendly guide and the transfer of commensurate compensation, they stampeded for the front doors as if school had just let out.

“It was later discovered they were murdered by his eldest daughter, Gertrude Aldridge.” He pointed to her large oil portrait on the wall. Her dark hair was upswept and she was dressed in an elegant ball gown decorated with rosettes and ribbons on the puffy sleeves and the corsetlike bodice. She wore long white gloves. It had been painted several years before she went lunatic with the knife, and even then she had an expression that could curdle milk.

He often wondered if the artist had asked Gertrude to smile and that bone-chilling grimace was the result. And those eyes! How could a painter stare into those bottomless pits day after day without going mad himself? They blazed with a mixture of fury, hate, and contempt that made tourists avert their gaze. It was like facing down a tigress. Had Gertrude fancied the likeness? Had she directed the pose herself? Why else had the painting been kept and not destroyed? Garrett had walked past the thing five days a week for four years; to him it was just a latenineteenth-century portrait by a pupil of Thomas Eakins of a dead crazy woman.

The atmosphere in the room grew close. He had their full attention.

“According to the old man’s diary, by the time Gertrude had finished her mission her nightgown was so saturated with blood that it had left a two- foot-wide trail up the stairs to her bedroom. To spare the family public humiliation, instead of turning her in to the police, they locked her in the basement and fed her through this slot.” With a flourish he indicated a metal rectangle that had been inset in the thick wood. His intent listeners had questions, of course.

He was leaving great gaping holes in the story. What did Sir Aldridge do with all the bodies? How did he conceal the crimes from the victims’ families and friends? Who cleaned up the incredible mess? How long did Gertrude live in the basement dungeon? Did she wail and scream night and day? Did she die there of natural causes or did she take her own life?

Excellent questions all. The answers to which Garrett withheld until after the official tour ended, when the guests who wanted to know more would be obliged to dip into their billfolds. “Years later,” he said with barely a pause, “when a new owner moved in, they dug out her remains. But after repeatedly hearing strange sounds emanating from the basement, he sealed it shut. That’s right. No one has opened this door since.” While he doubted that was the whole truth of the matter, he’d never been in the basement to test it. “And thank god,” he went on, “ because I can’t imagine what she would look like after all these years. She wasn’t looking too good before.”

He nodded at her looming portrait. The group laughed, but a bit nervously this time. None of them could hold Gertrude’s maniacal gaze.

As if on cue, a silver- plated candlestick— a Paul Revere reproduction— fell off a bookshelf and hit the floor with a clang. The tourists jumped at the sound and let out a unison yelp.

As if on cue.

The last tour guest lingered. She was the twenty- something believer blonde. She had shown no inclination to tip him, hadn’t even touched the clasp of her ridiculously tiny purse, but Garrett didn’t mind in the least. A hottie, she had a head shaped like a lightbulb, which as Garrett had read in Success Secrets of Hollywood, was a big plus on TV. People with lightbulb heads looked way better on the little screen. His own head was relatively normal sized and shaped. On TV it would look like a bowling pin. Head expansion surgery was elective and costly, health insurance

wouldn’t cover it, and he had no health insurance anyway. It was a catch-22 or something and his cross to bear.

“That was amazing,” she said in a breathy voice with a deep southern twang as sweet as pecan pie. “You should be on TV.”

“Well, thanks. That’s the dream, anyway.”

She blinked at him, then nodded rapidly. “Oh yes. You should totally go for it. The tour was great. So scary.”

“Thanks. Do you like to be scared?” he asked, letting an arch tone creep into his voice. The only thing about Aldridge Mansion that scared him was the thought of working there for the rest of his life.

Her big blue eyes glittered. “Oh yes.”

“Why?” he said, moving close enough to get a whiff of the Juicy Fruit she was chewing.

“ Because it’s fun.

“Well, I know a lot of even scarier stories. Some of them have happened to me, right here in this mansion. If you’re not busy maybe you and I—”

“Samantha June, let’s go.” It was the rude dude who had smirked at him during the tour.

The girl—Samantha June—pulled a moue of distaste and gave her hair a toss. “That’s my daddy. We’re going to Central Park.”

“ There’s a couple of ghosts in the park by the boathouse,” he said in his Sleepy Hollow voice. “If you go there at night, sometimes they manifest.”

“That would be so cool,” she said eagerly.

“Yeah. Really cool.”

She cast a glance up at the portrait and shivered a little. “ Unless they look like her.”

“Back in her day they couldn’t fix what she’s got.”

“What she’s got?”

“ Can’t you see it? Those big bags under her eyes and the saggy chin?”

“Uhh, no . . .”

“It’s butt face!”

Samantha June choked hard on her Juicy Fruit.

Garrett tried to pat her on the back, but she moved out of reach. “Are you okay?”

She nodded and gave him a forced little laugh before she resumed chewing. “Maybe you should be more careful,” she said earnestly. “I mean, I know this is all probably just pretend, but it’s not nice to speak ill of the dead . . .”

“In case they’re listening, you mean?”

“Uh- huh.”

“I guess you’re right. There’s no way of telling what they can hear.” He fought the urge to grin like an idiot. Gullible chicks were so totally hot.

Samantha June glanced down at the candlestick, which was still lying on its side on the floor, then at him as if trying to decide if he had made it fall over, or if it had happened spontaneously. The strain of the problem made her frown a little and chew faster.

He would never tell. Those things had a way of winding up on Yelp.

“Was that a true story?” she asked out of the blue. “About the murders?”

“Yes, for sure. In fact, we have to kind of clean it up for the tours. The truth is much more extreme. It didn’t come out until the 1940s, when Sir Aldridge’s personal effects were made public.”

“Like what?” She took a step toward him. From the huskiness in her voice, he knew that delicious little tingly tangly chills were working their way up her prim little backbone. Some people really did love to be scared.

“Well, she took a knife from a drawer in her father’s gun case. It was a Paget hunting knife, actually very rare, and—”

“Samantha June!” her father bellowed. “The tour bus is going to leave!”

“Rats,” she said.

And the spell was broken.

“Coming!” She beamed at Garrett and said, “Well, bye. See you on TV sometime.”

“Maybe so.” He flashed his most winning smile at her, but she missed it, having already turned away. She didn’t even look back as she hurried out the front doors. He was disappointed, but only mildly so. There would be more cute tourists tomorrow, and besides, he had to rush to his second job.

Ol’ Gertie Pants glared down at him. Her expression hadn’t changed of course, but the context had. To Garrett she now looked insanely triumphant, pleased that his flirtation had come to nothing, and she had him all to herself again. As he often did, he wondered what could have happened to Gertrude Aldridge to make her so crazy. So wicked and violent. He wasn’t sure he believed that people were born bad. To flesh out his repertoire as tour guide, he’d learned a lot of legends about evil spirits, curses, hauntings, and they rarely occurred because someone simply had been misunderstood or something trivial like that.

“So what was it, Lady G?” he asked the glowering portrait. “Did someone steal your fave tiara? Or was it your way of getting out of an arranged marriage to some fat, rich old bastard? Were you really in love with the gardener, whose face you turned into mulch?”

Ed Mulgrave, his boss, had already left for the day and he was alone in the cavernous mansion. How many times had Gertrude Aldridge “watched” him shut down for the night? He had lost count.

He picked up the candlestick, made sure the spring mechanism was loaded for next time, and set it back on the mantel. There were four scheduled tours tomorrow. At the same precipitous moment in his spiels the rigged candlestick would “suddenly and inexplicably” fall over—triggered by a concealed bit of spinning wire. Sometimes the cheapest tricks were the most effective.

He checked that the lights upstairs were off and windows locked, alarms set. He did the same for the ground floor. All was secure. He wondered if he should text Lester tonight, see if his super had made contact with that casting agent and given him the video. Or maybe it was it too soon to press the issue? There was a fi ne line between eager and stalker. No doubt about it, Samantha June’s compliments had warmed his ambitious soul.

He grabbed his backpack and was about to head for the front door when something rattled behind him. The mansion was settling. It happened all the time. One of the reasons people thought old buildings were haunted was because of all the noise they made just succumbing to the force of gravity. He turned to look, saw nothing, and started walking.

Another rattle.

He paused. He hoped it wasn’t rats again. They could make a terrible mess that he’d have to clean up in the morning before the first tour. They chewed up anything and everything, and they weren’t house broken. He decided that he really should check. He’d have to let Ed know as soon as possible, maybe text him tonight—

He turned around.

Rattling again.

The sound appeared to be coming from the locked basement door. Rats on the other side of it? His breath caught as he drew closer. The knob was turning. The knob frozen since forever! A chill shot up his spine. Someone on the other side is trying to turn it.

How had someone gotten into the basement? Was it one of the tourists? All the entrances and exits leading down there were sealed tight.

The knob stopped moving.

“What the . . . ?”

Then, without warning, bam!

The Door jolted from a powerful impact on the far side, as if someone large and powerful had crashed a shoulder against it. The suddenness and the violence rocked Garrett back on his heels. Sawdust and plaster rained down from the top of the doorjamb. The wooden center panels

of The Door bowed outward. No human being could do that unless they had a battering ram.

Bam, bam, bam!

And between the jarring crashes, something was thrashing and scraping on the other side as if desperate, furious—

The pack slipped from his hand to the floor. As he turned and ran across the room, the rhythmic bashing continued behind him, echoing through the empty house. The thing wanted out.

Wild to get away, he grabbed the knob of the entrance door. It didn’t move—it was frozen solid like the knob to the basement had been. He tried again, throwing his full weight against it, and the knob suddenly glowed red hot in his grip. Searing pain ripped through his fingers and raced up his arm. With a howl he jerked his hand away.

The frantic noises behind him immediately ceased. In the smothering quiet all he could hear was his own panting. When he glanced back at the basement door, the blood drained from his face and a moan of disbelief escaped his throat.

The Door, sealed shut not a minute ago, hung open.

Wide open.

An icy breeze rushed through it. He could smell the dank, chilly air rising from the basement. Someone had opened The Door that couldn’t be opened.

From the inside . . .

What was racing through his mind was not possible. There had to be another explanation. It had to be a trick, some kind of elaborate practical joke. He looked down at his hand. The palm and underside of his fingers were bright red and they throbbed painfully. No way was he going to try the superheated doorknob a second time. As he hurried back to the living room the rigged candlestick levitated from the floor, hovered for an instant, then flew straight at him, barely missing his head.

The whoosh of air as it hurtled past turned a skeptic into a horrified believer. As unlikely as it seemed, there was no denying the evidence of his five senses. The madwoman’s portrait loomed over him. Don’t look up. Don’t look up. Whatever you do, don’t look up.

Grabbing a heavy chair by the arms, he hammer-tossed it with all his might at the leaded bay window. The chair stopped in midair just short of its target, and instead of shattering the glass so he could crawl out, like a demented boomerang it reversed course and slammed into him squarely, knocking him onto his back.

He rolled onto his hands and knees and scrambled under the only protection in sight: a circular dining table. The table legs screeched on the floor as the heavy piece of furniture slid away from his cowering form, scraping across the room and leaving him completely exposed. A glowing green substance oozed from the walls. It was thick and gooey, and it moved counter to the laws of gravity, spreading up and sideways as well as down the historic and irreplaceable butterfly chintz wall paper. A wave of dizziness swept over him and he thought he was going to faint.

He pushed to his feet and ran in a blind panic, crying, “I have a family!” He whirled left and right.

And then there she was, gliding through The Door. Gertrude Aldridge, mass murderess, hauntress of the dark. Madness blazed in her eyes, evil in her predatory advance. She was floating, gliding toward him, shimmering, transparent . . . and wacko. “Okay, I don’t have a family, but I have roommates!”

He was so frightened he had no idea where he was heading— until he found himself on a narrow wooden staircase. He had never seen the stairs before, and under the mansion’s ground floor there was only one destination. It was the last place he wanted to be.

“Oh no!”

He was in the basement. The floor was cracking; an unnatural green light pulsed and shot upward through the fissures. A lavalike substance burbled. The staircase was coated with it and the ooze dripped, sticking to him. As Garrett spun on his heel to run back upstairs, his foot slipped on the stuff and he started to fall facedown. He caught himself on a tread above with his hands, which plunged them in goo. It was cold and pulpy. Pulling himself free, fingers trailing bubbling strands, he willed his legs into motion. His shoe made a sucking sound as it popped from the slime. He lurched upward, one step, then two.

His foot broke through a termite- weakened tread. As his ankle, then shin, slipped into the void, the rickety staircase trembled and fell to pieces under him. He held on, staring up at the top of the stairs where The Door, once a symbol of the dread unknown, was now his means of survival and escape.

Something was moving in the darkness toward him.

Adrenaline shot through his veins and he shouted in fear, legs windmilling as he fought to pull himself up.

That gum- chewing girl, she was wrong, he thought. Being scared isn’t fun at all.

Shivering violently, but unable to stop himself, he looked over his shoulder.

Glowing. Brilliantly. Hideously. She was reaching for him, reaching—

Garrett screamed and screamed.

Trademark and Copyright © 2016 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.

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