by Carey Blankenship (@careyfblankensh)
Editor: Adah Beatrice (@theadahbeatrice)
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Two years ago, 12-year-old Rilee came back from death and brought back anxiety disorder, the ability to see ghosts, and Bob, her shadow dog. Afraid to take risks that might leave her six feet under permanently, the two live life in the safety of Rilee’s room, with video games as comfort. When Rilee learns she’ll be sent to a school specializing in anxiety, she makes a deal. At her parents’ work conference, if she proves her anxiety doesn’t control her, she won’t be enrolled. So, she’ll have to make a friend for the first time in years, in America’s most haunted hotel.
Luckily, professional ghost hunter Emerson keeps Rilee and Bob from being swarmed by ghosts on their first day. As another 12-year-old who came back from death, Emerson uses her connection to ghosts to help them pass on. Now, she’s recruited Rilee as her partner, in exchange for being Rilee’s “friend” for the get-out-of-school deal.
But when something sinister stalks the girls, Rilee must decide if she can face her biggest boss yet. Leave the safety of her solitude and stare death in the face, again, or risk losing the cute girl who’s quickly becoming more than just part of the deal.
THE REVIVED GIRLS’ GUIDE TO BATTLING GHOSTS is a 60,000-word Middle Grade Horror. It is perfect for fans of City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab and Coraline by Neil Gaiman.
As this is an #ownvoices story, Rilee’s adventures are based on my own Generalized Anxiety Disorder. While I can’t see ghosts myself, I do spend my free time binging shows like Ghost Adventures, screaming my way through horror video games, and writing stories that keep kids up at night. Pretty diabolical for a Marketing Account Manager at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt!
First Five Pages
Game Over, Already?
I have one week to make a friend at one of the most haunted hotels in America. With anxiety disorder and zero friends in my inventory, this is more challenging than any of the final bosses I’ve faced in my favorite video games.
While my parents check us in at The Crescent Hotel, I scan the crowd of faces, scoping the map for my player two. Preferably my age. And maybe even someone…like me.
A few folks hang out by the giant front desk, pointing at the beams and details in the ceiling of the historical hotel. They don’t seem to know about the dead woman a few feet from them, panting as if it’s taking all her energy to keep upright.
The group of people standing at the back of the lobby, laughing over drinks, probably wouldn’t be having a good time if they could hear the moans of the three ghosts mingling with them. Just like the people sitting wide-eyed, listening to a tour guide’s tall tales, who don’t even know right beside them is a ghost in brown overalls and boots.
Sometimes, it’s hard to tell a dead person from someone who is alive. Ghosts are always a bit off though. A splash of blood, old clothing. The easiest way to solve the puzzle is by watching how everyone else interacts with them.
A shiver races down my spine. I knew this place was haunted, but I hoped it wouldn’t be that bad—that maybe all the ghosts would be hiding out in the rooms, away from me. And then I could sneak in and out of this place within the week, with full health and maybe a new sidekick.
This is exactly what I was most afraid of. Last night, as I was trying to sleep before we headed out on our 12-hour road-trip, my anxiety conjured the most awful possibilities, day-dreaming about how ghosts would be around every corner. I’d escaped death once. I didn’t want to do it again.
And now those worst nightmares are a reality. A pinching in my chest blossoms, clamping down on my lungs and heart with tight fingers. It’s getting hard to breathe, which makes the panic in me explode. Not good, not good.
Right on cue, Bob whimpers. “Not good, not good. What we do? Something. Run? Hide? I like hiding.”
Bob trembles beside me, his cold fur brushing against my leg and making me shiver again. Even though he could easily fight any of these ghosts since he stands as tall as my waist, he would never even dare look at them funny. And I guess he’s technically one of them, in a way. A dog filled with swirling mist, somewhat solid but mostly just air. A passenger from the other side.
And right now, I agree with Bob. I would love nothing more than to hide or run away but doing either of those things means game over. “Where are we going to hide in a hotel lobby? Under the coffee table? My parents might call off the whole plan, remember?”
Beside me, Bob shifts from his usually smoky, see-through dog to an actual Newfoundland. Full and fluffy and real, fear transforming his very matter like it always does. This is our first time being out of my house in two years, of course he’s afraid. I’m terrified.
He says, “Too risky. Too scary. There are so many, many ghosts. Rilee, I don’t like this. Not good, not good.”
Soon enough, he’ll be heavy like concrete. I’m going to have to hoist him up onto my back and carry him around like the dead weight he is. Imagine making a friend when you look like you’re carrying something heavy on your back, but no one else sees what it is because it’s an invisible dog.
Not only do I have to stay in this horrible place for a whole week while my parents do their work conference, but I’m also here on a quest. If I come out with a new friend, then I don’t have to go to a specialized school for kids with mental health disorders. Do I need it? Probably. Do I want it? No way. I want to stay in my room forever.
The dead woman leaning against the front desk slowly starts to turn, her black eyes sweeping across my family, no expression on her face. But then her gaze lands on me, and then Bob, like I knew it would. He’s like that person who doesn’t crouch while trying to sneak around enemy territory. She knows I can see her now, especially when I don’t look away quickly enough.
Great. Even worse. I’ve notified the enemies that I’m in the area. Any moment now they’ll all know someone who can see them is here. And then they’ll all be doing their ghostly thing, begging me to help them. Like they always do.
My heart is pounding in my ears now, making it hard to strategize.
“Oh no, oh no. This is bad, Rilee. Bad, bad, bad. She saw us. She knows.”
“Shhhh. Maybe she won’t alert the others, and we can just casually walk around her, right?”
Even as I say it, the pinching in my chest gets worse. That’s just wishful thinking. As much as I need Bob next to me, his very existence is like a giant, neon sign telling the ghosts Hey, look right here! An anxious girl who can see ghosts is ready to be scared!
The woman at the front desk starts to shuffle towards us, walking with a limp. Her left half leans ahead of her right, the leg dragging behind her like a heavy piece of furniture. Every lumbering movement she makes has my stomach swirling. And though her mouth is wide open, all she can manage is a mix of moans and groans, drool dripping down her chin.
It’s enough noise to catch the interest of the man sitting on the couch, who looks up, head titled like he’s a dog whose squeaky toy just got stepped on.
“Rileeeeeeeee,” Bob whimpers, pressing up against me and making my entire right leg numb. I’m about to look like this ghost lady walking towards me.
We have to move. Now.
Dodging around the woman now reaching for me with a trembling hand, I race up to my parents talking to a hotel worker. The hotel keys are in Dad’s hands. If Bob and I can get out of this maze of ghosts and safely in our hotel room, then we’ll be fine. We have to be fine. And I can get rid of the goosebumps scaling my arms.
“Dad.” I yank on his elbow, never mind he was mid-sentence. “I need the keycard to our room.” Dad peers down at me with his brown eyes, tan skin wrinkled in a frown. But we’re desperate here. About to die with zero lives left against a boss kind of desperate.
Mom gives me that expression, narrowed green eyes and pursed lips. “Rilee, remember, this trip isn’t about staying in the room. You have to prove to us your anxiety doesn’t control you.” She brushes a strand of my short blonde hair out of my face.
“I know. I will.” That comes out rushed and sharp, but it’s not like she’s trying to dodge a bunch of dead people in a haunted hotel. “But—”
A moan sounds behind me, and I squeak as I jump out of the way of the dead woman’s grip again. Unfortunately, I almost crash into the hotel worker, narrowly avoiding him by catching myself on the hotel desk instead. Making a scene. As usual.
Bob yelps and cries where he’s frozen a few feet away, trembling so hard his body is glitching in and out, like a video game malfunction. “Okay, Rilee? Okay? Be careful!”
Nobody looks in his direction, despite all the noise he’s making. Except for the other ghosts, of course, who begin slowly shuffling towards me, about to have me surrounded with no way out.
“I just need to get into our hotel room, now!” I yelp and then realize how demanding that sounded. “Please,” I add, hoping to make them think I’m totally cool, calm, and collected. The opposite of a girl who needs to go to that specialized school.
“Please, please, please!” Bob joins in.
Mom and Dad share a look before Mom hands Dad her wallet, leaning down to look me right in the eye. “I’ll take you up now, because I know you’ll prove to me you can handle this later, okay? I know it must be a lot for you, leaving the house for the first time. But I believe in you, Rilee. Now, let’s go. Dad will finish checking us in.”
Heat creeps up my cheeks and down my neck. Already I’m making my parents doubt my promise. It’s a miracle they haven’t packed me up in a box with some bubble wrap and overnight shipped me to the school.
But I can fix this later, maybe walk by myself to the kid activities the hotel has planned while the adults work this week. Right now, the mission is to get away from the ghosts. That’s the first step in this quest. Well, actually, the first step is picking up Bob. I rush over to him, try to make it look like I’m tying my shoe as I hoist him up on my back.
Mom wraps her arm around my shoulders and wordlessly leads me through the crowds. Cool, calm, and collected, Rilee, I remind myself.
The male ghost who was sitting on the couch has caught up to me. I barely have time to spin away from his reaching hands, ripping myself out of Mom’s grip, but luckily my years of playing video games help my real-life ability to dodge. Not today, ghost. I’m out of here.