I am excited to welcome author Shirley Reva Vernick, who is sharing a look into her novel, The Black Butterfly.
Penny is furious, and who can blame her? She has to spend Christmas break alone at the Black Butterfly, an old inn at the coldest, bleakest edge of the country—the coast of Maine. This “vacation” is the brainchild of Penny’s flaky mother, who’s on the other side of the country hunting ghosts. Penny most definitely does not believe in spirits. Or love. Or family.
Until, that is, she discovers two very real apparitions which only she can see…and meets George, the strangely alluring son of the inn’s owner…and crashes into some staggering family secrets. If only Ghost Girl didn’t want Penny dead. If only George were the tiniest bit open to believing. If only she could tell her mother. Then maybe this could still be a vacation. But it’s not. It’s a race for her life, her first love, and her sanity.
In this excerpt, Penny has accidentally discovered that her new friend Blue is a ghost.
Exclusive Excerpt: The Black Butterfly
I dropped onto the loveseat and put my head between my knees. My fight-or-flight instinct couldn’t make up its mind. I just sat there in a puddle of useless adrenaline. “Who, what are you? Why are you even here?”
“I died here. A century ago.”
I sat up slowly, trying to comprehend what he was telling me. “So then, you really are a…” I couldn’t say the word. “How…?”
“I was part of a fishing crew,” he said, sitting next to me. “We trolled up and down the Eastern seaboard catching herring. One summer night, we moored at Islemorow on our way to Nova Scotia. I ended up taking my supper right here, at the place that used to stand here. There was a fire, and I didn’t get out in time.”
But he looked so damned real, so alive, so here and now. Could it be true, what he was saying? Did I really just put my hand through the spirit of a person who died a hundred years ago? It made no sense, and yet…
“Huh? Oh, sorry. I mean, God, I’m so sorry. How old were you?”
Yes, he looked twenty-one. So young to die. So pointless. I thought of Arson for Hire, a gruesome novel that described how a body burns in a fire. What that book didn’t describe was how it felt to burn alive. How excruciating was the pain Blue endured? Did he see his eyes melt? Hear his own voice screaming? Feel his brain boil?
Suddenly, I couldn’t get enough oxygen into my lungs. “Hold on for a second,” I panted, waiting either to faint, throw up, or feel better. When the black spots in front of me disappeared, I said, “I’ll just wait right here until I wake up.”
“You think you’re dreaming me?”
I bit my lip.
“Because there’s more, Penny. I want to tell you the rest, but not if it’s going to make you sick.”
I didn’t say anything for a long time. I wanted to hear his story, but at the same time, I didn’t. I didn’t want to believe this was happening. I didn’t want to believe my crazy mother was right.
“Tell me,” I finally said.
He narrowed his eyes and gazed at me doubtfully.
“Really, Blue, I want to know.”
“All right. The thing about the fire, the truth is, I started it. I’m the one who burned down the Legacy Hotel and Resort.”
Oh, God. I didn’t just have a ghost on my hands, I had the ghost of a pyromaniac. Or maybe worse—maybe he was a psychopath or criminally insane. I looked at the fire roaring in the hearth. I started to stand up but felt woozy all over again and had to stay put. Humor him, Penny. Humor him until you can get up and run the hell out of here. “W-well, you, um, must have had some reason for setting the fire.”
He looked at me in amazement. “I didn’t set the fire. It was an accident.”
“Ohhhh,” I said, too relieved to feel very embarrassed. I sank back into the loveseat cushions. “I just…anyway, how did it happen? I mean, how do you know you’re the one?”
“Easy. The fire started in the dining room, and I was the last person in there. Just sitting there enjoying an after-supper cigarette before heading to the parlor to hear the music. Thing is, I had a bad habit of not snuffing out my butts. On the boat, we just threw them overboard, you know? Stupid, stupid carelessness. Cost me my life.”
I pulled my hoodie closer. Clutched my elbows. Groaned. “God.”
“Sorry you asked?” he said.
“It’s not that. It’s… is this what happens after you die?” I asked, although I was pretty sure I didn’t want to hear the answer. “You linger?”
“Not usually. Most people cross over right away. I chose to stay.”
“You chose to stay in the place where you were incinerated?”
“Penny, I’m not the only one who died in that fire. A child—a baby—burned too. Because of me. I will not leave this place until I can make up for taking a life. I will not go until I can help someone, really help someone. Do you understand?”
No, I didn’t. I didn’t understand anything. “So you’ve spent a hundred years just waiting around for someone to save. Jesus, don’t you die of boredom? I mean, sorry, but what do you do with yourself all day?”
“I take walks. Think. Journey sometimes.”
“Journey. So you get to travel.” That part didn’t sound so bad. Less monotonous, anyway.
“Dream journey.” He sat cross-legged and closed his eyes, tapping his knees with splayed fingers. “A different kind of traveling. It takes you farther, deeper. My Finnish grandfather taught me—he fancied himself a bit of a shaman.” He opened his eyes. “You should come with me sometime.”
“God, this is wild.” I moved closer and reached a tentative hand toward him. “Is this okay?” He nodded, so I continued, trying to rest my fingertips on his knee. My hand fell straight through to the loveseat below. “You try touching me now, see if it’ll work that way.”
Blue looked pessimistic, but he did as I asked. First, he put his hand on the top of my head, then play-punched my leg, and finally tried to lift my arm. Nothing worked. I didn’t feel a thing.
“Whoa, wait a minute,” I said. “How did you carry in those logs or light the match or handle the poker, if you’re like this?”
“I don’t understand it myself. I’m fine with things that aren’t alive. But give me a warm body, and I turn to vapor. I can’t even swat a mosquito.” He laughed, but it was a heartbroken laugh. “Imagine trying to help someone when you can’t pick them up, pull them out, carry them, or even hold their hand. That’s part of the reason I’ve been here so long.”
I tried one last time to touch him, but it was no use. That athletic, arrow-straight body was all vapor. I moved back to my side of the loveseat. “You should go,” I said.
His face fell. “I’ve overstayed my welcome.” He uncrossed his legs and started to stand.
“No,” I said, motioning him to sit back down. “You should go wherever you go when you cross over. You’ve tried long enough to help someone. You should leave this place.”
“What a terrible sentence to serve.”
“Until today, the worst part was not knowing when I’d ever have a real person to talk to again. If ever.” His eyes were blazing.
I couldn’t stop watching him, his hands, his high cheeks, his collarbones sticking out from his shirt. His body looked so solid, so firm and solid, but it wasn’t. He really was a ghost. I was sitting here chatting with a man who died before my grandparents were even born. I started to shiver.
“You’re cold,” he said. “I’ll turn up the heat.”
“No, it’s not that. It’s just so bizarre. Why is it I can see you, and the others can’t?”
He cocked his head as if to see me from a different angle. “You have a gift.”
“I’m not sure I want it,” I blurted. “I mean—I didn’t mean it like that.”
“It’s okay, I get it. I’m not sure I’d want to know me if the tables were turned.”
“But…” I wanted to say something, but my words got lost in my spinning head.
“Listen, why don’t you sleep on it? I should get going.”
“Sleep, after this?”
Meet Shirley Reva Vernick!
Shirley Reva Vernick is rapidly becoming the new hot item in young adult fiction. Her first novel, The Blood Lie, won the Simon Wiesenthal Children’s Book Award, was silver medalist for the Sydney Taylor Book Award, and was an ALA 2012 Best Book for Young Adults. Her second novel, Remember Dippy — a feel good adventure about a fourteen-year-old boy shepherding his older autistic cousin through his summer vacation — was released in spring 2013 and won the Dolly Gray Literature Award from the Council For Exceptional Children. This time around, Shirley wanted to let loose with a page-turning coming-of-age romance mixed with ghosts and adventure. Shirley is the creator of the much visited storytelling website storybee.org. She lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.