ANGELA’S HEART BOUNDED. The solid gold ring was carved with African
symbols that looked both geometric and oddly singular, unknowable. Gramma
Marie had been wearing that ring the day she died. She’d motioned for
Angela to come closer, then she’d slipped the slick, warm gold across
Angela’s finger, making her promise to keep it always. This ring had been
Gramma Marie’s goodbye to her, and Angela hadn’t seen it in four years.
It had been stolen. Whatever bastard had broken in through her bedroom
window and stolen this ring had also somehow broken her life, the parts
Now, the ring was back. This was impossible. Angela stared at the ring,
not touching it.
Corey’s voice wavered as he met her confused eyes, his explanation
tumbling out. “I threw the brick and broke your window, Mom. It sounds
dumb now, but there was this girl I liked, right? Her name was Sherita,
and I knew the ring was special to you, and I thought maybe it would be
special to her...” – Corey swallowed, glancing away. His voice became a
monotone, signaling that he had spent time rehearsing this speech. – “It
was just dumb kid stuff. I said I’d let her wear it for a week. But she
said she saw me talking to some girl before the week was over, and she
wouldn’t give it back. I was afraid to tell you I took it. So I threw
the brick and broke the window and knocked your jewelry all over the
floor, and you thought somebody stole it. I said to myself, ‘If she asks
me if I did it, I won’t lie.’ But you never did ask, Mom.”
He looked relieved to be finished, blinking fast.
Angela took the ring and stared at its beautiful symbols, which looked
like shiny golden light-etchings against the sunken surface. A triangle
with a cross in the center, a double wave, a pear shape. Slowly, she slid
the ring onto the bare finger where she had once worn her wedding ring.
It was snug, but not too tight. Perfect fit, like the day it had been
given to her.
Thinking of her grandmother, Angela could nearly smell the rose-scented
talcum powder Gramma Marie had dusted herself with. She felt a shift in
time, as if she were standing before this cellar door with her grandmother
again as she had when she was Corey’s age. Angela had hauled box after
box of preserves down those steps, stacking the jars in the compartments
that had been built for wine. Now, Li’l Angel, you be careful on those
steps. The jars were dusty now, and the preserves inside were surely
dried or rotten, but some of them were still down there exactly where
she’d put them.
Angela felt a single icy fingernail brush the back of her neck, hearkening
to the strange cold-burn she’d felt at the store and in the kitchen.
Something felt very wrong.
“How did you get this ring back?” she whispered.
Corey didn’t look her in the eye. “I wrote letters to see if Sherita was
still staying down there, and she was. I paid her for it with extra money
I made from Sean’s dad, grooming his horses. I was thinking about how
stealing your ring was one thing I wish I could take back. So I did.”
No wonder Corey had been behaving so strangely! He must have lain awake
half the night, wondering how he was going to finally tell her the truth.
And yet, it wasn’t all truth, either. Not yet. Corey spoke quickly when
he was lying, like now.
“And she still had it?” Without meaning to, Angela had shifted into her
Corey shrugged. This time, he looked at her and smiled, trying to imitate
his father’s playfulness, the Hill men’s charm. “Well, it’s a damn nice
ring. Like they say on TV, I cared enough to give the very best. You
know what I’m sayin’?”
Corey knew better than to cuss in front of her, no matter how grown he
thought he was, and she’d told him she would skin him alive the next time
he dropped youknowhatimsayin into a conversation with her, which sounded
as ignorant to her as Jimmie Walker’s Dy-no-mite had sounded to Gramma
Marie. She wanted to slap her son’s face. How many times had she told
the story of her stolen ring as a woeful loss? How many times had she
felt genuine hurt over it, sometimes at the mere sight of Gramma Marie’s
photograph, as if allowing someone to take her ring had been a shameful
act on her part? How dare Corey let all these years go by without saying
Then, Angela’s anger melted, swallowed by relief. Bliss. She breathed in
deeply, feeling lightheaded. Could this be real? Maybe her
secretly-spoken wish was coming true after all. She squeezed her own
fingers, enjoying the solidness and texture of the ring.
“I know you’re mad at me, huh? Well, I’ve been thinkin’ about a
“Corey...” Eyes smarting, Angela cut him off. She cupped his chin in her
palm. “I don’t know if you remember, but not long after you took this
ring, everything fell apart for us. Your daddy and I lived in separate
houses, in separate cities, and we forced you to choose between us. I
think maybe that’s punishment enough. What do you think?”
Now, it was Corey’s turn to be silent. His lips were mashed tightly
together, thinned out. He was fighting tears, she knew.
“Come here, baby,” she said, reaching up to him, and he leaned against her
in a hug, as he hadn’t in far too long. Angela felt her heart pounding
from the simple pleasure of embracing a child who rarely gave her the
opportunity anymore. “When you stole this ring, you were being a selfish,
thoughtless little boy. But getting it back to me – saving your money,
writing a letter to that girl, using your head – that was the work of a
young man. That makes me proud of you, Corey. That lets me know you’re
doing all right despite everything we’ve put you through. I’m glad, and I
thank you with all my heart.”
“It ain’t all that, Mom,” Corey said. She heard moisture in his nose.
“Yes, it is. I love this ring. And I love you.”
Corey exhaled, and his breath warmed her neck. He gave her a tight
squeeze before releasing her. Then, his gaze was dead-on. “Mom, did
Gramma Marie tell you stuff about the ring? Like, those symbols. Did she
tell you what they mean?”
“It’s West African, she told me. She got it from her grandmother, and I
forget how far it goes back before that. At least another generation. I
guess she thought it was a good-luck charm.”
He lowered his voice. “But what about the symbols? She never told you
anything about them? Like…if they’re supposed to have powers or something
“You know,” Corey said sheepishly. “If they could...make things happen?”
Angela didn’t have the heart to ridicule him. The guests’ speculations
about Gramma Marie must have fired up his imagination, and how would he
know any better? Corey had only been four when Gramma Marie died, and he
barely remembered her. This was the first time he’d asked about his
great-grandmother with real interest, as if he wanted something from her
“What kind of things, Corey?” she said. “I don’t understand.”
Corey’s gaze shifted away, then back again. His sigh seemed to harbor
real sadness. “Nothin’. Forget it.”
“Well, hold on. Gramma Marie held onto a lot of old folks’ superstitions,
so she might have mentioned something about the ring,” Angela said
quickly. One of Corey’s major complaints about her was that she didn’t
take his concerns as seriously as Tariq did. “I’ll have to sleep on it,
OK? Ask me tomorrow. When it’s not so crazy.”
“Yeah, a’ight,” Corey said. His face brightened slightly. “Things are
good with you and Dad this summer, right? I hear ya’ll sneakin’ around at
night, those floors creaking. Ya’ll ain’t fooling nobody. Thought you
Angela laughed, rubbing his short, wiry hair. “Don’t get your hopes up,
but we’re trying.”
“Cool. Guess we all make mistakes, huh? Some small and some big.”
Corey’s eyes were unusually solemn and wistful now. He pressed his hand
to his abdomen, like a pregnant woman feeling her baby kick. “And you
just gotta’ try to fix them, right?”
“Corey, you look awful. Are you sure you’re all right? You don’t have to
help with the fireworks if you want to go lie down. I’ll explain it to
Angela saw uncertainty on her son’s face – or, more precisely, what she
saw looked more like he could not choose one facial expression. First he
looked nearly stricken, then sharply annoyed, then resigned. Corey rarely
allowed his emotions to surface so baldly in front of her, and watching
his face reminded her of studying her mother’s warring emotions as a
child, trying to guess which version of Dominique Toussaint would emerge
“I’m fine, dag,” Corey said impatiently.
“Then do me a favor and go to the cellar and bring some sodas up, OK?
They’re stacked in the corner. Bring up a couple of cases. And you might
as well bring the fireworks up, too.”
His eyes flickered to the cellar door and back. She thought she heard the
thckk as Corey sucked his teeth. Gramma Marie would have knocked her
across the room for making a sound like that, but she and Corey had just
had a rare nice talk, an actual conversation, so she ignored it.
“I have to go to Sean’s,” Corey said. “I don’t have time for the Fourth
of July, Mom.”
“Take that up with Tariq, but I we
both know what he’ll say. I tried to talk you guys out of a big
light-show, but your dad’s looking forward to it,” Angela said. “Now go
get the sodas, please.”
Corey didn’t answer. What was wrong with him today? Angela watched him
prop open the cellar door and stare down a moment before he descended the
stairs in silence. Now, Li’l Angel, you be careful—
She was about to call after him to flip on the light-switch when he
suddenly leaned back to gaze at her from beyond the narrow doorway. He
seemed glad to see she was still there. All at once, his tentative
expression shed itself of everything except the unrestrained love he’d
shown her when he was four and five. So loving he almost looked
feverish. Little Corey. God, she missed that sweet, happy young kid.
And he was here again, smiling at her like a photograph from easier days.
“I’m gonna’ take care of you good, Mom,” he said with an exaggerated
wink. “You wait.”
Angela never forgot that smile from Corey.
If she had glanced at her watch, she would have noticed that it was 7:15
p.m. Exactly five minutes before the party would be over.
2003 by Tananarive Due
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THE GOOD HOUSE:
"When it comes to suspense,
Tananarive Due has no equal.
THE GOOD HOUSE,
as packed with thrills as it is well-written,
is another winner!"
- Valerie Wilson Wesley, author of The Tamara Hayle Mysteries
"Long one of the reigning icons of
suspense, with THE GOOD HOUSE
Tananarive completes the near impossible: she outdoes even herself.
With characters as vivid as the person standing next to you, and tension
builds moment by carefully crafted moment, Tananarive delivers a novel that
haunting as it is humanistic. Long time fans can look forward to a welcome
return. New readers are in for a great beginning."
-John Ridley, screenwriter and author of
Those Who Walk in Darkness
and A Conversation with the Mann
"A subtle tale of terror. Tananarive
Due is a powerful storyteller
with a rich social agenda."
- Graham Joyce, British Fantasy Award winner and author of The Facts of Life
"In The Good House, acclaimed
novelist Tananarive Due enters classic Stephen King
territory. Her novel, set in a small Northern town, centers on a haunted
a deadly curse. But don't let the comparison scare you: This dark,
skillfully written page-turner is a novel only Tananarive Due could write.
Early in the Twentieth Century, a powerful voodoo priestess followed her
spirit from New Orleans to a small town in Washington State. But in pride
and anger, Marie Toussaint unleashed a new--and very different--spirit.
Now, ignorant of both her heritage and the curse, Angela Toussaint returns
to her dead Grandmother Marie's house, seeking to heal her fractured
with her son and her husband. But the malicious spirit wishes only the
of the Toussaints; and as it did in her grandmother's day, it inflicts
and destruction upon the isolated town. Soon Angela has lost almost everyone
loves; and she must somehow uncover the secrets of her unknown heritage if
to have a prayer of saving her true love--and her own soul."
- Cynthia Ward, Amazon.com
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Author Questions & Answers:
THE GOOD HOUSE:
Q: Why did you write The
A: I’ve always wanted to
write a traditional “haunted house” story. People tell me about their
personal haunting experiences, and I’ve always been fascinated by it,
even though I’ve never experienced it myself. The haunted house is only
part of this book, though – it’s also a cautionary tale about the
consequences of abusing magic. I also wanted to write a book to honor
my grandmother, who died in 2000. My grandmother wore a ring from Ghana
like the one in the book, although her ring was not related to vodou.
anything else described in the book real?
A: Yes and no. The major
elements of this story – the supernatural entity, the real-life tragedy
of teen suicide, and a shocking murder – are based on true-life
incidents involving people I know, or stories I read about that were
purportedly true. Some of the house’s “haunting” manifestations are
also from personal accounts.
That said, there’s
nothing true about it at all. Everything has been changed to fit the
story, so The Good House is not meant to be a literal representation of
any true-life event. Even the Bed-and-Breakfast I based the house on
isn’t really supposed to be haunted, although the owner told me a creepy
story after the fact. Because I write about the supernatural, people
volunteer their creepy stories, so I’ve heard it all: ghost sightings,
possession, levitation, prophetic dreams. You’d be surprised at how
many everyday people have had experiences they cannot explain.
Q: What is the scariest
story you’ve heard?
A: It was a story about a
shaman who encountered an entity she was not prepared for during a
ceremony. There are some details in my book inspired by that story, but
I’ll leave it at that. It’s a scary experience. But I’m just as
disturbed by the horror stories in the newspaper, or tragedies from
life. A friend of mine had a teenage son who shot himself, and I’m
still haunted by that awful event. A couple of stories from my local
news also ended up in The Good House: One was about a Village Voice
editor who disappeared during a day hike on Mt. Rainier, near Seattle.
In the Pacific Northwest, you get accustomed to hearing about
disappearances. Another was a story about a man who drowned his son.
Stories of vanishings scare me, and stories about violence against
children. I think that’s why children factor so much in my books,
because I consider the corruption of children, or the harming of
children, to be the worst horror.
Q: What is
the hardest thing about trying to write a scary book?
A: It’s hard to guess what
will scare people. My only choice is to try to create characters with
deep psychological realism, which Stephen King does so brilliantly, and
then write about the things that scare me. Hopefully, enough of the
universal human experience translates to the reader; the better I know
myself, the better I can speak to the readers.
Movies usually make
the mistake of relying on special effects instead of character. Special
effects are only scary if we care about the characters – and even then,
what we don’t see is usually much scarier than what we do see. That’s
why there’s a lot of mystery in The Good House. My characters are
fighting against an entity they don’t completely understand, and which
takes many forms. It’s a terrifying adversary.
Q: Have you ever had an
experience with the Unknown?
A: I’ve had some
experiences I could choose to see in a metaphysical way – dreams that
might have been visits or somehow significant – but I haven’t
encountered anything that has made me drop my jaw and say This can’t be
real. Although, again, I know people who say they have had those
experiences. I’m not sure I would look forward to having a moment like
that. I prefer to write about it. The real-life house I based the Good
House on isn’t supposed to be haunted, which was fine with me when I
spent the night there. A friend from Trinidad once told me that if I’d
ever experienced Evil, I wouldn’t write about it, and I have a feeling
Publishers Weekly wrote that your book “deals with a rare theme in the
horror genre—the contemporary black experience in America.” Is that what
you set out to do?
A: I hadn’t really looked
at it that way, but I think it was inevitable, since a couple of key
plot elements are sparked by my characters’ reactions to racial
tensions. But the book is not about race. Sacajawea, the town’s
setting, is Main Street U.S.A. There are black characters and white
characters, so I hope the book will appeal to readers who already know
my work—many of whom, but not all, are black—as well as to all people
who like supernatural thrillers. I really intended The Good House to
appeal to a broad readership.
Q: Why did
you write a book set in a small town?
A: The small-town horror
story is its own sub-genre, and I wanted to enter that literary
conversation as a writer. More importantly, I got married five years
ago and ended up living in a small town so my husband and I could live
near his daughter, who was twelve at the time. We live ten minutes away
from her. I love my husband and stepdaughter, but the move was a very
big adjustment for a Miami girl like me. I miss my family, and I miss
the cosmopolitan nature of big-city life. By the time we leave, we’ll
have lived in Longview, Washington – a city of about 30,000 – for six
years. Longview itself isn’t really that tiny, but it’s the biggest
town for miles. The Good House gave me an opportunity to vent my
city-girl fears: fear of the wilderness, fear of vanishing, fear of
isolation. Writing the book also helped me learn to appreciate the
community I was living in much more.
Sacajawea a real town?
A: No. Sacajawea is mostly
based on Cathlamet, a very small town about a half-hour’s drive from
Longview on State Route Four. That’s where the house is, and that’s
where I got some of the broader descriptions of “Sacajawea.” But I
didn’t want to use a real town because I wanted to have more freedom as
a fiction writer.
Q: Who are
the characters based on?
A: I cast The Good House as
a movie while I was writing it, as I often do, so the major characters,
in my mind, were film stars. But most of the supporting characters are
literally based on people I’ve met since I’ve been living in the Pacific
Northwest. I wanted to the book to have a ring of familiarity to people
who actually live in this area.
books are page-turners, but they always seem to have a message
underneath. Is that deliberate?
A: Absolutely! No writer
ever wants to make the “message” the most obvious part of the story, but
that’s what usually comes to me first – what is the book about? On one
level, it’s about a multi-generational curse; on a deeper level, it’s
about the importance of strong family ties and the airing of family
secrets to create healing in the newer generations.
For example, often
family members with a history of sexual abuse will try to hide long-ago
events from their children or grandchildren, believing they’re
protecting them—but ironically, that history is present whether or not
it’s openly discussed. That history is in the air that they breathe.
Secrets often rob us of our remedies against the family issues that get
passed on quietly from one generation to the next. The “demon” in this
story could represent any of those issues we all have to contend with in
our own families.
Q: Which of
your books do you think is the scariest?
A: I set out to make The
Good House the scariest book I’d ever written. My other supernatural
suspense novels have kept away from outright Evil, but this time I was
ready to make my characters face an otherworldly force that could not be
bargained with, reasoned with or pleaded with.
Q: Do you
ever scare yourself?
A: I’ve found that when I
reread The Good House, I often dream about it. I think I must have
really captured a lot of the stuff still in the “junk room” of my
unconscious while I was writing this book, so I feel it on a very deep
level when I read it, even though I know what’s going to happen next.
So, yes, it scares me—but in a good way!
Q: Do you
consider yourself a horror writer?
A: I consider myself a
writer who loves to write horror. I’ve also written a historical novel
and a nonfiction civil rights memoir, so I don’t think I fit comfortably
into an easy category. Categories are useful in bookstores, but I try
to write good books, period.
Q: What are
you working on next?
A: It’s a ghost story about
a contemporary R&B singer whose life is changed drastically by her
encounters with a ghost. I’ve very excited about it, but it’s still in
the very early stages. This is another book that was inspired by a
story a stranger told me about his experiences with the supernatural. I
may not have a lot of my own stories, but I make the best use I can of
the stories other people tell me.
Q: Are any
of your books going to be made into a movie?
A: This summer, Fox
Searchlight optioned my second novel, My Soul to Keep (the prequel to
The Living Blood). A director/screenwriter has already been chosen, and
Blair Underwood will star as the male lead, an immortal named Dawit.
I’m very excited. Hopefully, The Good House will be next! There has
been interest in Hollywood already.
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