By D.J. MacHale
Simon & Schuster, 2010
$17.99, ages 10 and up, 352 pages
Marshall Seaver is being chased by a ghoul from his imagination and unless he can find his missing buddy Cooper, he may be forced on a journey no living being should ever take.
In this heart-pounding thriller by the author of the Pendragon series,16-year-old "Marsh" discovers his sketch of a gravedigger has come to life and wants him dead, and already may have done something sinister to best friend Cooper.
Marsh's only chance to save himself and Cooper is to convince Cooper's snippy sister Sydney to help him on a dangerous search for Cooper around her family's lakeside home, as forces of good and evil converge in this first book of a trilogy.
The nightmare all started as school let out for the summer. Marsh was looking forward to hanging out with Cooper, but then a series of unfortunate decisions he and others made shattered his plans and catapulted him into a week-long ghost story.
First Marsh had a row with Cooper, who was starting to hang out with a bad crowd and seemed to be growing up without him. Cooper had always been a wild guy, but now he was getting into serious trouble. He'd just been caught by police for scalping tickets and Sydney's boyfriend, a bully around school, seemed to have it in for him.
Then Marsh and his dad got into an argument. His dad was worried Marsh was becoming too much of a loner, and Marsh didn't want to hear it. He liked the way he was and stormed up to his bedroom. Looking for an outlet for his anger, he smashed a golden orb given to him by his late mother. As the orb broke open, blood splattered everywhere.
Or did it? Before Marsh could show the mess to his dad, it vanished as if it never happened.
Marsh assumed he must have imagined the blood. After all things don't just disappear. Maybe his mind was playing tricks on him because he was feeling guilty about ruining something of mom's. He'd not only broken the orb but when he threw it, he shattered the glass on a framed photograph his mom took just before she died. In the photograph was a temple she died inside when an earthquake hit.
But soon things get too creepy to ignore. When Marsh's dad goes out of town to Las Vegas on a business trip, Marsh is left alone in the house, only to discover he's not really alone.
Late at night, he's jarred awake by the sound of a voice saying, "Morpheus." Then as he tries to calm himself by playing loud music, he hears someone pound on his bedroom wall and walk away, only to open the door and find no one there. Soon a strange silence fills the house, followed by eerie dripping sounds.
He follows the dripping water into the kitchen and is terrified when a pale white face stares back at him from outside the kitchen window. He wonders if his mind is messing with him. Was it really someone creeping around outside his house or just a plastic grocery bag rolling by in the wind?
The next day, more inexplicable things happen.
Marshall's cat Winston knocks over a container of Ovaltine, and a rogue puff of air blows the powder into a symbol of rings, only to see it disappear. Then he gets a call from school and is lured into a creepy gym where he comes face-to-face with Gravedigger and is nearly skewered by shattering glass.
How could that be? Still not convinced the ghoul could be real, Marsh goes home and finds himself lured again, this time into the scariest illusion yet and barely escapes with his life. Fleeing from his house, which he now thinks is haunted, Marsh decides his only hope to get away from Gravedigger is to find Coop. His best friend would believe him, right?
Though tempted to call his dad, Marsh knows his dad couldn't get home fast enough to save him and races off in the rain to Coop's house.
Coop's sister Sydney is the only one there and Marsh begs her to let him stay the night and call Coop at the family's lake house, but Sydney, who resents her brother, slams the door on him. It isn't until Coop falls apart that Sydney begins to lower her guard a little. While on the phone with her parents, Sydney learns that Cooper has gone missing and starts to think Marsh may not be making everything up.
But Coop isn't just missing and when Sydney and Marsh arrive at the lake, Marsh discovers he's not the only one who sees Gravedigger and other eerie apparitions. As the two embark on a terrifying search for Coop, danger lurks at every turn. First Marsh nearly drowns and then the two of them barely escape a bloody death by following a light that Marsh thinks could lead them to Coop.
This is one of those books that makes you want to pull an all-nighter just to find out what's creeping up next. Scary but never too graphic, the first book in MacHale's haunting new series will have your adrenaline pumping so fast that by book's end, you'll feel as if you've been on the run too.