Haunted Holiday is a part of the The Sinister Summer Series collection.
Giant battle robots! Cotton candy betrayal! Blasts from the past! And the ultimate challenge to stay true to themselves and each other await Theo and Alexander in the final book in the tragic series about the Sinister-Winterbottom twins, who must solve one wretched mystery after the next, brought to you by #1 NYT bestselling author Kiersten White.
Trapped in Aunt Saffronia’s spectral house, Theo and Alexander must work together to escape, stop their newfound nemesis Essa and her henchman Edgaren’t, save Wil and their friends, find their parents, and maybe, just maybe, get things back to normal.
Following the clues left behind, the twins find themselves at Siren’s Song Seaside Amusement Park. Old faces and new surprises await them in a park that was built to lure in visitors…and their secrets.
As they get closer to answers, the twins are left with the biggest question of all: Who is Essa really, and why is she so determined to find their parents?
An Excerpt fromHaunted Holiday
Theo and Alexander Sinister-Winterbottom were in an impossible place, trying to solve an impossible problem.
Normally, Theo loved solving things. She imagined their current predicament--a word meaning a difficult situation that was fun to say but wasn’t fun to experience--as a math problem she might get in school.
Car A is being driven sixty-two miles per hour by a man with small, mean eyes and a large, mean mustache, transporting your sister and all your friends to an unknown location. Car B isn’t a car at all, but rather a ghostly aunt, who has transported you and your twin brother to her house, which doesn’t exist in the real world but is somewhere else entirely. How long will it take to figure out a way to escape the spectral house and rescue your sister and friends? Show your work!
Theo paced the confines of Aunt Saffronia’s tiny kitchen, only stepping on the black tiles. Because Theo had a hard time understanding or explaining her emotions, she always felt like she was filled with bees. Sometimes they were quiet and orderly. Sometimes they were busy. Right now, the bees were a frenzied swarm of chaos and noise, making it impossible to focus. She felt trapped, and she hated feeling trapped. Worse, she felt helpless, and she hated feeling helpless. Worst, people she cared about were in trouble, and she couldn’t help them until she figured out how not to be trapped and helpless.
But how could she figure out anything if she was about to explode into a torrent of angry bees? She wished she really could explode into bees, because then at least she could fly away after Edgaren’t and Essa. Essa, especially. A delightful, funny, cool teen girl who had pretended to be their friend and then revealed herself to be their ultimate enemy.
While Theo felt trapped, Alexander felt lost. He sat staring blankly at the postcard on the round kitchen table, which was set for two and only two. A reminder that he’d failed everyone except Theo. Because even though none of this was his fault, Alexander still blamed himself.
If he were an artist, his specialty would be the worst-case scenario--painting every terrible thing that might happen in any given setting. Part of him believed that if he was careful and cautious and always, always anticipated what might go wrong, he could see the wrong headed their way and stop it from happening.
But he hadn’t seen Essa’s betrayal coming. And because he had failed, he’d lost Wil, and Edgar and Quincy and Mina and Lucy and Henry and even poor Mr. Frank. He’d just started trusting himself, but now he didn’t know if he should. After all, he’d liked and trusted Essa, and look where that had gotten them.
Alexander continued staring at the postcard they’d found tucked into the front of the Siren book. But he couldn’t figure out what Wil had discovered on it. There was the stamp, the barcode printed on the postcard, a photo of his mom with little Wil and an unknown woman, and a message to Mina and Lucy’s dad, the uncomfortably named Vlad Blood. But there were no secret words, nothing bolded or italicized, nothing that gave him any hints. It was just a note between old friends.
He had no idea what he was looking at, or even what he was looking for. Possibilities spun in his head until he felt like a dog chasing its tail. But he also hated that thought, since he was afraid of most dogs, a fact that embarrassed him. So now he was embarrassed in addition to being anxious and stressed out and sad.
All he ever wanted to do was keep himself and the people he loved safe, and he couldn’t do that now.
Aunt Saffronia hovered--literally, standing an inch above the black and white tiles--near the strange telephone mounted on the wall. She was their aunt in a rather distant and slightly spooky way, having lived and died long before their mother was born. But it felt weird to call her Great-Great-Aunt Saffronia, or Ghost Aunt Saffronia.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, wringing her hands. “I’m bound to obey Wil’s request, since she’s the one who summoned me. She told me to keep you safe, so safe is how I must keep you.”
“What if you sent us back and we promised to be really, really careful?” Theo asked. “Alexander’s super careful!”
Aunt Saffronia shook her head mournfully. “That would be a promise I know you cannot keep. If I take you back to the manor, back to Wil and your friends, you will not be safe.”
“Can you give us a hint?” Alexander asked. “A way we can get around what Wil asked you to do?”
Their only answer was another sad, ghostly sigh.
“That’s okay.” Alexander could tell Aunt Saffronia wasn’t happy about it. Even when he was miserable, he was still sensitive to the emotions of those he cared about. “It must be hard, being bound by other people’s rules.”
She nodded, a thoughtful tilt to her head. “It is. No one has ever wondered how I feel about it before.”
“I’m sorry,” Alexander said.
“I’m sorry, too,” Theo grumbled. “I know this isn’t your fault.” She wasn’t good at understanding her own emotions, much less other people’s, but she understood this. She hated following arbitrary rules, too. Aunt Saffronia wasn’t even a kid anymore, much less alive, so it was totally unfair that she still had to do what other people told her to.
Theo slouched into a chair beside Alexander and glared at their pile of stuff. Alexander had taken everything out of his suitcase. Next to his neatly folded clothes were six of the books they’d stolen back from Edgaren’t. They didn’t have time to read all of them, so Alexander had set them aside. The Sinister family book and the postcard were their focus, since one was theirs and the other had led Wil to a breakthrough. If only she’d told them what she discovered before Aunt Saffronia whisked them away from Essa’s trap!
“I still can’t believe Essa is working with Edgaren’t,” Alexander said. It made him so, so sad.
“I can’t believe it, either,” Theo said. It made her so, so mad.
“Can you tell us more about Essa, or what they’re doing?” Alexander asked their aunt.
Aunt Saffronia shook her head once more. “The more you know, the closer you are to danger. I’ve already put you in too much danger as it is.” As though she couldn’t bear to be near them without helping, Aunt Saffronia left. Or rather, disappeared. One moment she was there in her flowing white dress next to the marigold-colored wall, and the next moment she wasn’t.
“It’s too much,” Alexander said, despairing. “It’s all too much. I don’t know why Essa took them, or who she is, or why Edgaren’t is working for her, or why she told us the same things Aunt Saffronia did--that we needed time, and to look closer, and to stick together. Or why she’s looking for our parents. Or where our parents are. Or what Wil found in this postcard that solved everything. Or how we’ll get out of here. Or how to get back to Wil and the others if we ever do get out of here.”
Theo scowled at the postcard. “Wil’s an actual genius. I don’t think we’ll be able to figure out whatever she discovered without her.”
Aunt Saffronia was suddenly beside them again. “Children need to eat at regular intervals.” She set two bowls of ice cream on the table.
“Thanks for listening when we told you that,” Alexander said. He smiled up at her. She looked at a point somewhere over his shoulder, but she smiled, too.
“Anyone can listen and learn and change, if you give them the chance.”
“And if they want to,” Theo added. Deciding it was your responsibility or right to change someone led to people like Dr. Jay braindyeing a camp full of kids. “So thank you for listening and learning and also getting us ice cream.” Theo dug into hers with gusto.
“Yeah,” Alexander agreed. “And I know you can’t help us, but I appreciate that you’re still supporting us however you can.”
This time Aunt Saffronia looked right at him, her big, watery, colorless eyes somehow icy and warm at once. “Hope is a hard thing to come by as a ghost, but you kids fill me with it.” She bent down and kissed him on top of the head, then patted Theo’s wild hair, before floating out of the kitchen.
“Okay, I vote we give up on the postcard for now.” Theo liked feeling confident, and staring at the same few infuriating details for hours at a time wasn’t good for her confidence. Sometimes the best way to solve a problem was to give up--at least temporarily. If she gave her brain something else to do, it might figure things out on its own in the meantime.
“Agreed.” Alexander was frustrated, too. He’d taken all the letters of the note Marina Siren had written and tried rearranging them. But so far all he’d gotten was nonsense. He tried looking at only the first words of each sentence, and then only the first letters of each line. Nothing stood out to him. He doubted there was a secret message contained in the brief note, which read:
Dearest Vladdy-Poo, I know we’re not supposed to see each other, but we couldn’t resist this once. Thinking of you, wishing you were here--but at night, of course. And remember, all our secrets are safe here with me. XOXO Marina Siren.
“I think this really is just a note to a friend,” Alexander said. “But we know it means there are secrets wherever the Siren family is.”
“I wish Mom were here. She always knew what to do.” Theo tipped her head back and ran her fingers through her hair, making it stick up as though she had been electrocuted in Essa’s terrible lightning-powered trap.
“Dad always knew, too,” Alexander said. Then he slapped his forehead. “Break it down into pieces!”
“You want to break something?” Theo perked up. She loved breaking things. Her favorite activity at science camp had been the shattering room. But thinking of science camp made her think of Essa again. Theo perked down.
“No, not that. Whenever we have word problems that we can’t solve, Dad helps us break them down into parts, right? Or when we help him build his battle robots. He doesn’t build a whole robot at once.”
“He tackles it piece by piece!” Theo’s perk returned.
“We’ve been looking at the problem as a whole: how do we get out of here and save everyone we care about and find our parents. But that’s overwhelming--it’s too much at once. Let’s break it down into parts.”
“Right! First, we need to figure out how to get out of here.” Theo resumed pacing, but this time it was to help herself think. If her body was moving, it helped her brain move, too. “If we were building a robot with Dad--”
“Or solving a word problem--”
“--he’d have us look at what we’re solving first so we know our overall goal.”
Alexander pointed at the books. “We’re trying to solve where our parents and our friends’ parents went this summer, and how they’re all connected. And before we do that, we’re trying to figure out what Wil saw on this postcard so we can find the Siren family and their secrets. And before we do that, we’re trying to rescue Wil and our friends from Essa and find out why she’s trying to find our parents, too. And before we do that, we’re trying to get out of Aunt Saffronia’s house.”
“Okay, good. So we know our problems to solve, and the order to solve them in. And our first step is escaping. Let’s list what we have to work with.”
Alexander ticked things off on his fingers. “We have the books from each of the families, including ours. We have Mom’s letter to us. We have the postcard from the Siren book, where Wil saw a clue.”
“We also have the objects we’ve found.” Theo took off her timer and set it in the center of the table. Alexander added his magnifying glass and Wil’s toothless key. They were all made of fancy, elaborate bronze metal. Like a matched set, even though they’d gotten each item in a different place. “And we know these three things are important, because Edgaren’t and Essa want them.”
“Correct. Do we have any resources we can use in Aunt Saffronia’s house?” Alexander asked.
Theo looked around the kitchen. “The fridge. We have food and aren’t going to starve while we figure this out. Our beds, and those dolls in the bedroom.”
Alexander had learned to be braver, but even he had his limit. “I don’t want to use the creepy dolls.”
Theo firmly agreed. “No dolls. We also have the table and chairs, but we can’t use them to bust our way out of here. The windows aren’t real, and there’s no door.” Theo had tried running out of the kitchen, but as soon as she stepped through the doorway, she found herself right back in the middle of the tile floor. Another time it might have been fun, but today it was super aggravating.
Alexander frowned, deep in thought. “If this is all we have to work with, how do we use any of it to get back to the real world?”
“You forgot two resources,” Theo said.
Alexander looked up, puzzled. “What are they?”
Theo sat once more and took his hand. “Us. We’re Theo and Alexander Sinister-Winterbottom. We’re brave and careful, and we’re kind, helpful friends, and we’re great at figuring out mysteries.”
Alexander smiled at last, Theo’s confidence in them melting away his despair. He might not have been able to protect everyone, but he and Theo would be able to save them, together. He was sure of it. “We’re the most important part of the equation.”
“Exactly.” Theo’s bees calmed down. Whatever was ahead of them, however long it took, she knew: they were going to solve every problem that came their way, together. “You can always call on me for help.”
“That’s it!” Alexander shouted. “Theo, you’re a genius!”
“I am a genius!” Theo agreed. Then she paused. “But how, exactly?”
Alexander’s smile was so bright it practically glowed. “Thanks to you, I know how we’re getting out of here. What’s my favorite thing?”
“Safely prepared food.”
Alexander laughed. “Second-favorite thing.”
“Clearly defined rules so you know exactly how to follow them.”
“Matching socks. The Magnificent English Confectionary Challenge. Puzzles. Reading on rainy days. Me. Warm cookies. When you wake up just a few minutes before your alarm, so you get to snuggle in and--”