Read It Forward is thrilled to share this sneak preview of The Grownup, a chilling new short story by Gillian Flynn, the bestselling author of Gone Girl, Dark Places and Sharp Objects.
In The Grownup, a canny young woman is struggling to survive by perpetrating various levels of mostly harmless fraud. On a rainy April morning, she is reading auras at Spiritual Palms when Susan Burke walks in. A keen observer of human behavior, our unnamed narrator immediately diagnoses beautiful, rich Susan as an unhappy woman eager to give her lovely life a drama injection. However, when the “psychic” visits the eerie Victorian home that has been the source of Susan’s terror and grief, she realizes she may not have to pretend to believe in ghosts anymore. Miles, Susan’s teenage stepson, doesn’t help matters with his disturbing manner and grisly imagination. The three are soon locked in a chilling battle to discover where the evil truly lurks and what, if anything, can be done to escape it. The story, which originally appeared as “What Do You Do?” in George R. R. Martin’s Rogues anthology, won an Edgar Award for Best Short Story in 2015.
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But then I spotted Susan’s house. I actually stopped and stared. Then I shivered.
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It was different from the rest.
It lurked. It was the only remaining Victorian house in a long row of boxy new construction, and maybe that’s why it seemed alive, calculating. The mansion’s front was all elaborate, carved stonework, dizzying in its detail: flowers and filigrees, dainty rods and swooping ribbons. Two life-sized angels framed the doorway, their arms reaching upward, their faces fascinated by something I couldn’t see.
I watched the house. It watched me back through long, baleful windows so tall a child could stand in the sill. And one was. I could see the length of his thin body: gray trousers, black sweater, a maroon tie perfectly knotted at the neck. A thicket of dark hair covering his eyes. Then, a sudden blur, and he’d hopped down and disappeared behind the heavy brocade drapes.
The steps to the mansion were steep and long. My heart was thumping by the time I reached the top, passed the awestruck angels, reached the door, and rang the bell. As I waited I read the inscription carved in the stone near my feet.
The carving was in a severe Victorian cursive, the two juicy o’s dissected by a feathery curlicue. It made me want to protect my belly.
Susan opened the door with red eyes.
“Welcome to Carterhook Manor,” she said, fake grandeur. She caught me staring—Susan never looked good when I saw her, but she hadn’t even pretended to brush her hair, and a foul, acrid odor came off her. (Not “despair” or “depression,” just bad breath and body odor.) She shrugged limply. “I’ve finally stopped sleeping.”
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Reprinted from THE GROWNUP. Copyright © 2015 by Gillian Flynn. Published by Crown, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.
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