We are so excited to bring you this exclusive excerpt from House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland. First, a chat with Krystal Sutherland herself.
What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel?
House of Hollow came from a scrapbook of different ideas that eventually merged together. The first spark came to me when I was out hiking with my sister and I thought, “What if I turned around right now and she was just gone?” If there was no sound, no struggle, no one else around – it was such a horrifying thought.
The story really started to percolate after I visited Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka and saw “ghost doors” scattered around the forest – ruins where every part of a structure had fallen away except the doorframe. They felt at once inviting and dangerous, like fairy circles. I wanted to walk through one, but found myself afraid that if I did I might end up somewhere… else. Those two elements really drew me in and I started to build the story and characters and world around them.
What character in this novel do you most relate to and why?
I suppose I’m most like Iris, who’s quiet and studios and keeps her head down. Vivi and Grey were a lot more fun to write though! They’re dream girls, you know? They’re the women I wanted to be when I was growing up. Vivi is rough and wild and heavily tattooed. Honestly, she’s borderline feral, a ball of walking chaos. Grey is the opposite: The height of glamour and the embodiment of control. I think Grey is the most morally grey (and appropriately named) character in the book.
Why do you feel novels with powerful and unique characters are so popular and have such a voice right now?
I think novels with powerful and unique characters are always going to be popular. You can have the most extravagant, interesting plot but if readers don’t connect with the character, they aren’t going to be invested in your book. My stories always begin with the characters and the relationships they have with those around them.
Please describe the content of your latest book and what can readers expect from it.
House of Hollow is the story of three strange sisters – the Hollow sisters – who went through a mysterious and traumatic event when they were children. They disappeared for a month and then came back with no memory of where they had been or what had happened to them. They also came back slightly different – their hair and eyes changed colour, missing milk teeth grew back and they each had a small hook-shaped cut at the base of their throats.
Ten years later, the youngest sister, Iris, is trying to finish high school and live a normal life – something that is difficult to do in the shadow of her older sisters, both of whom are famous, glamourous and wild. Then the eldest sister, Grey, goes missing again and Iris and her middle sister, Vivi, have to confront and unravel the mystery of what happened to them as children so they can find and save their sister.
It’s a story with glamourous catwalk models, clues hidden in walls and ceilings, doorways that lead to unexpected places, and a character with a terrible secret.
What’s next for you in the bookish world?
I’m working on the draft of my fourth novel for young adults at the moment, another folk horror book about three teenage girls with links to the occult. It’s a lot of fun!
Who is your current favorite writer? Why?
Melissa Albert, author of The Hazel Wood. No one else writes like her, with such force and electricity. I often groan while I’m reading her books, because each page is stuffed with decadent, perfect lines that I stop and linger over.
Any writing advice for aspiring writers?
The best advice I know is from Stephen King: You have to keep showing up. Be at your desk at the same time every day, so the muse knows exactly where to find you. Writing is less about bursts of inspiration and more about sitting down and actually doing the work.
About House of Hollow:
A dark, twisty modern fairytale where three sisters discover they are not exactly all that they seem and evil things really do go bump in the night.
Iris Hollow and her two older sisters are unquestionably strange. Ever since they disappeared on a suburban street in Scotland as children only to return a month a later with no memory of what happened to them, odd, eerie occurrences seem to follow in their wake. And they’re changing. First, their dark hair turned white. Then, their blue eyes slowly turned black. They have insatiable appetites yet never gain weight. People find them disturbingly intoxicating, unbearably beautiful, and inexplicably dangerous.
But now, ten years later, seventeen-year-old Iris Hollow is doing all she can to fit in and graduate high school on time–something her two famously glamourous globe-trotting older sisters, Grey and Vivi, never managed to do. But when Grey goes missing without a trace, leaving behind bizarre clues as to what might have happened, Iris and Vivi are left to trace her last few days. They aren’t the only ones looking for her though. As they brush against the supernatural they realize that the story they’ve been told about their past is unraveling and the world that returned them seemingly unharmed ten years ago, might just be calling them home.
Four years before the events of House of Hollow:
It was raining the night my mother kicked me out of the house.
A summer thunderstorm rolled overhead as I huddled by the front door with my sisters and watched Cate drop my clothes over the bannister.
“She’s not serious, is she?” Vivi was standing with her arms crossed. Though she was only fifteen, she’d somehow convinced a tattoo artist to give her her first ink two weeks ago, a slim dagger that stretched from the crook of her elbow to her wrist.
I thought it was cool. Cate had absolutely lost her shit when she saw it, naturally, but of course Vivi didn’t get kicked out. I was the only one who had to pay for my mistakes.
Iris had her skinny arms looped around my waist. “You can’t go,” she said through her sobs. At thirteen she was all limbs, a twig of a thing, and utterly obsessed with me in a way that Vivi had never been. Iris snuck into my room while I was out. Iris stole my clothes and makeup and wanted to be around me all the time. It was both infuriating and flattering at once.
I was still quite drunk and still trying to process what was happening.
Thirty minutes ago, my life had been excellent. I’d stumbled home from a party where I’d been having a fantastic time, then suddenly I was vomiting in the kitchen and Cate was yelling at me and I snapped.
I snapped and I whispered the thing I knew would hurt her the most. The thing I knew would break her.
I told her the truth.
I regretted it as soon as I said it, because I knew it wouldn’t just destroy my mother, but would destroy my life in this house as well.
It had the desired effect.
Cate Hollow was usually a gentle woman. I had always liked her, though we’d begun to clash more over the last year. My mother was quiet and organised and she preferred her life to be quiet and organised. She wore sensible shoes and sensible clothes and sensible bras.
I was like an exotic zoo animal to her, something colourful and strange. I liked high heels and makeup and going to parties. I liked glitter and feathers and dark liquor.
Tonight was the first time she’d ever hit me. A slap across the face that was so sharp it split my lip. I think it horrified Cate more than it horrified me. That she was capable of such violence. It didn’t surprise me at all. I knew everyone was capable of terrible things, because I had done worse.
“Get the fuck out of my house,” my mother had said to me in a low voice, “and don’t ever, ever come back.”
I thought about making her let me stay, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’d taken enough from her. It was time to go.
When Cate was done shoving my clothes into bags and piling them up by the door, she pulled a fifty pound note from her purse and handed it to me.
“I’m sorry,” I said as she waited by the open door for me to leave. That, too, was the truth. I was sorry. Not for all of it, but sorry, at least, that she had to know what I’d done.
Cate didn’t answer, just closed the door behind me and locked the house.
It was still raining as I headed out into the night with my belongings in two garbage bags.
Iris caught me before I reached the end of the street and clung to me like wisteria.
“Take me with you,” she begged. I wanted to. I wanted to scoop her up and carry her away and give her the life we’d always daydreamed about, but I was just a girl myself. I hadn’t yet finished high school and now it seemed like I never would. What kind of life could I give her with only fifty pounds to my name?
“No, little bird,” I whispered as I held her close. “You have to stay.”
I didn’t have to think about where I would go. I’d been planning on testing an idea for a while. At the Tube station, I Googled most expensive suburbs in London. Knightsbridge, according to the first website I clicked. A thirty minute Underground ride to the south, nestled below Hyde Park.
I’d been to the area a few times before. My Scottish grandparents, when they were alive, liked to walk through the park when they visited London. We spilled over into Knightsbridge sometimes when someone needed to pee or buy a bottle of water. I always wanted to them to take me to Harrods to look at all the expensive things we could never afford, but they refused to take me after I accidentally made a shopkeeper give me a bottle of perfume for free.
I got off the Tube at Knightsbridge and walked along the high street in the rain before I turned right and cut into the residential streets. There were lots of nice terraced houses around the first square, but I wasn’t looking for something nice.
If I was going to do this, I wanted something grand.
Many of the houses were dark, which wouldn’t do. I had no intention of breaking and entering. I needed someone to be home.
I kept walking. I moved on to another square and then the next.
I smiled when I saw it: A freestanding house, six stories with a glossy black door and a cast iron balcony wrapped around its middle. Soft light poured from its many windows. What kind of people lived here? What kind of people could afford such luxury? I had always wondered.
It was time to find out.
I climbed the three stairs up to the front door and rang the buzzer.
A beautiful middle-aged woman answered the door. “Oh my God,” she said when she saw me. My wet hair, my garbage bags. “Are you okay?”
I touched my lip. My fingers came away red. The rain had kept the wound wet and bleeding.
“Can I use your phone?” I asked.
“Wait here,” the woman said as she began to close the door. “I’ll call the police for you.”
Shit. She wasn’t going to invite me in.
I stuck my boot in the door before it shut. “Wait,” I said. I reached out for her through the crack. I had learned through trial and error not to move too quickly. If you shoved your fingers into someone’s mouth, they were likely to bite down. I had puncture scars on my right hand to prove it.
I slipped a finger past the woman’s lips, ran the tip over her wet tongue, watched as her pupils became cavernous.
“I’m a young, vulnerable girl, clearly in need of help,” I said. “You should invite me in.”
The woman nodded slowly. “Yes, come inside out of the rain, you poor thing.”
“Who else lives here?”
“My husband and my daughter.”
“Take me to them.”
“Yes. This way.”
The woman led me down a wide hall, past a kitchen in which an entire wall was devoted to wine storage. The husband and daughter were sitting in the reception room, watching TV.
The man stood as soon as he saw me. Did I really look that bad? “Karen, is everything okay?” I took a step toward him but he flinched and motioned for his daughter. “Dove, come here.”
The daughter was around Iris’s age. Dove was a good name for her. She was sweet and soft, with big gray eyes.
“Karen?” the husband said again. “Karen, what’s wrong with you?”
“She’s fine,” I tried to assure him. She was fine. In fact, she was having a fucking great time. There was a sleepy smile on her face and her eyes were far away.
“I’m fine,” Karen echoed.
“I’m calling the cops,” the husband said.
The storm howled outside. Lightning struck close by, near enough that the accompanying thunder shook the windows of the house. The electricity blinked out and the room was swallowed by darkness. Dove started screaming.
I crossed the space in three strides and planted my lips on the husband’s mouth. The struggle went out of him instantly.
“I can stay,” I whispered. “I can stay as long as I want. You don’t mind.”
“Of course,” he replied. “Of course you should stay. I don’t mind.”
“Daddy?” Dove was yelling. “Daddy?”
“Tell her to calm down,” I whispered. “Tell her everything is fine.”
“I’m here, Dove. Everything is fine. Let’s find some candles.”
Karen and her husband disappeared into the hall.
“Looks like the whole street is out,” I said as I pulled back a curtain and peered out one of the front windows. Dove was staring at me, shaking. “What?”
The girl swallowed. I noticed the fire poker in her hand. She must have lunged for it in the dark. “What did you do to my parents?”
“Dove. Your parents are fine.”
“What are you?”
I laughed. Even I didn’t know the answer to that question. “Come here.”
“Fine. I’ll come to you.” I strode across the room and shoved my fingers into her mouth.
Dove struggled and spat and scratched. “Get away from me, you psycho!” she yelled as she swatted my hand away. “Oh my God. Gross. What is wrong with you?”
I frowned and stepped back. Odd. It very rarely didn’t work.
Then I saw it: The tip of a vertical scar was just visible above Dove’s pyjama shirt.
“Open heart surgery?” I asked.
Dove was breathing heavily. “What?”
“When you were a kid, maybe? Cardiac arrest? Unresponsive for a couple of minutes, then you miraculously came back?”
The girl’s hand went to her scar as if to shield it from me. “How did you know that?”
I sighed. “Just my luck.”
Dove’s parents came back in the room them and began setting lighted candles about the place. It made the room feel like a cathedral. A sparse, modern cathedral decorated by an insanely wealthy monk.
“What did you do to them?” Dove asked as she watched them drift.
“What if I told you I could make people do whatever I want them to do? Except for annoying people like you who’ve died for a little while.”
“I know who you are. You’re one of those Hollow sisters, aren’t you? Those girls who disappeared and came back… weird. I read about you online.”
“Look, your parents don’t mind if I stay and I won’t be here for long. Just until I get on my feet. Okay? Relax – and don’t do anything stupid.”
Dove licked her lips and seemed to be considering her options. If she cracked me across the head with that fire poker, the hold I had over her parents would break and the cops would be here in minutes.
I nodded at the weapon. “Put it down.”
At this I smiled a little and went over to her mother. Karen was busy lighting a fire in the hearth. I stoked her cheek. The woman shuddered beneath my touch. I held Dove’s gaze as I delivered my warning: “You don’t want to find out.”
Dove put the fire poker on the floor.
“Good girl. Now, where’s your kitchen? I’m famished.”
Dove led me to the vast kitchen, where her parents had lit enough candles to illuminate the space. There were two double fridges, both filled with fresh food. “We can’t let all this go to waste now, can we?” I said as I started pulled items out. Slabs of smoked salmon. Baskets of summer berries. Literal wheels of cheese. I set everything out on the bench and started eating with my hands. Like my sisters, I was always hungry. Always.
Dove stood on the other side of the room, watching me as though I was a vulture eating a carcass. “You guys are like super rich, right?” I asked her ten minutes into my feast.
“I guess. My granddad is. My dad works for him. My mom was a model.”
“Hmm,” I said as I rolled up the last piece of salmon around a hunk of white Stilton and shoved it in my mouth. “Well, let’s see her wardrobe.”
We each took a candle and then Dove led me upstairs to her parents’ bedroom.
The suite took up an entire floor and, like the rest of the house, was opulent in a pared back way that only the uber wealthy could achieve. There wasn’t a gilt frame or golden toilet seat in sight. Everything was modern, sparse, vaguely Scandinavian. The luxury, I understood, came from the restraint. Kind of how billionaires were notorious for dressing poorly.
“Where are her clothes?” I asked. Dove pointed through a pair of double doors, which I opened. “Wow,” I breathed.
The wardrobe was a dream, at least the same size as the bedroom itself, a confection box of fabrics and textures.
“Don’t get wax on anything,” Dove said as I thumbed through the evening dresses with the candle held above my head. An emerald green Valentino dripping in sequins. A feather-trimmed Marchesa. An extravagant Carolina Herrera with tiers of navy tulle and floral-lace detailing.
I put my candle down and shimmied out of my damp clothes and let them fall to the hardwood floor. The dress I chose to try on was an eclectic-blue Balenciaga ball gown made of velvet. The fabric fell from my waist and pooled dramatically around my feet.
“Are you going to watch me like a hawk the whole time I’m here?” I asked Dove as she stared at me from the doorway.
“You could be a model,” she said quietly, not taking her eyes off me. “Mum says I’m too short and I have my dad’s bone structure, but you could do it.”
“Hmm,” I said as I surveyed my reflection in the mirror. I knew I was striking and I knew I had the ability to influence people, but I’d never considered marrying those two attributes together into a career.
I ran my fingertip over the half-moon shaped scar at the base of my throat and thought about how hard I had fought for this life. How much I deserved nice things for a change.
Dove was right. I could do this.
I could be beautiful. I could be powerful. I could walk into Harrods and have anything I wanted, not through force but because I had earned the money myself.
“There’s cash in the jewellery box,” Dove said as I admired my reflection. “Usually a few thousand pounds. You should take it. Take the dress too, if you want.”
I sighed as I unzipped the gown and let it fall. “You’re really making it hard for me to enjoy myself.” I put my wet clothes back on and fished a roll of cash out of the jewellery box, right where Dove said it would be. There must have been five grand there, easily.
Dove followed me back down the stairs, all the way to the front door.
“Will my parents be okay? Once you’re gone?”
“Sure. They’ll be back to normal in no time. Don’t call the cops, okay? Your parents won’t remember anything weird and everyone will think you’re crazy.”
I headed back out into the rain. There was candlelight glowing from another grand house across the street. I walked across the road, around the square, and rang the doorbell. This time, an old man answered.
“Goodness,” he said. “You’re bleeding. Are you okay?”
I drew close to him and stroked his cheek.
“I’m a young, vulnerable girl, clearly in need of help,” I said. “You should invite me in.”
The man nodded slowly. “Yes,” he agreed. “Come in out of the rain, you poor thing.”
I smiled as he opened the door wide to welcome me inside.