Paul Tremblay has a habit of looking at the world sideways.
His possession thriller A Head Full of Ghosts tilted an image of a dimly lit upstairs hallway to destabilizing effect on the cover of that 2015 horror tale (which none other than Stephen King said “scared the living hell out of me, and I’m pretty hard to scare.”)
His 2016 thriller Disappearance at Devil’s Rock featured the silhouette of a tree borne crooked.
Now, the cover reveal for his new novel The Cabin at the End of the World shows us a skewed wooded landscape with a small shack at the bottom, angled so steeply it’s ready to flip upside down.
Today, EW presents not just the new image, but an extended excerpt from the book, which hits shelves June 26, 2018.
The book keys into our collective fear and obsession with the apocalypse. Doomsday prophecies abound as hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and plagues sweep the world. And yet, true catastrophe most often hits on the small scale, the cruelty and menace of one person versus another.
It’s not always the planet that is at risk. It’s our own little universe.
“The Cabin at the End of the World is my riff on the ‘home invasion’ subgenre of horror/suspense. Hopefully it’s a big, loud, dark riff,” Tremblay tells EW. “The following excerpt picks up halfway through the opening chapter. Wen is the seven-year-old adopted daughter of Andrew and Eric and they are vacationing at a remote cabin on a quiet, northern New Hampshire lake.
“While Wen is catching grasshoppers in the front yard by herself, a stranger named Leonard unexpectedly walks down the gravel driveway. ‘Oh, no,’ right?,” Tremblay says. “Leonard is large, young, friendly, charismatic, and he wins Wen over almost instantly and helps her with the grasshoppers. While sitting on the grass together and talking, Wen tells Leonard that her eighth birthday is only days away. Leonard says he has a present for her…”
See the cover and read the excerpt below.
THE CABIN AT THE END OF THE WORLD
“You know what? I think I have something for you. Nothing too great, but let’s call it an early birthday present.”
Wen knits her brow and folds her arms again. Her dads told her in no uncertain terms to not trust strangers especially if they offer you a gift. She really hasn’t been out here by herself for too long with Leonard, but it’s starting to feel a little long. “What is it? Why do you want to give it to me?”
“I know, it seems weird, and it’s funny, but I thought I might meet you or someone like you today and I was walking down the road out here and I saw this”— he starts fiddling with the breast pocket of his shirt— “and for some reason I thought I should pick it up, even though I never do that kind of thing normally. So I picked it. And now I want you to have it.”
Leonard pulls out a small, droopy flower with a halo of thin white petals.
As uncomfortable as she was a moment ago at the thought of a gift from a stranger, Wen is disappointed and doesn’t try to hide it. She says, “A flower?”
“If you don’t want to keep it, we can put it in the jar with the grasshoppers.”
Wen suddenly feels bad, like she is being mean even though she isn’t trying to be mean. She tries a joke: “They’re called grasshoppers not flower-h oppers.” But she feels worse because that sounds mean for real.
Leonard laughs and says, “True. We probably shouldn’t tamper with their habitat too much.”
Wen almost mock-faints into the grass she’s so relieved. Leonard extends the flower over the grasshopper jar, across the expanse of lawn between them. Wen takes it, careful not to brush his hand accidentally.
He says, “It’s a little squished from being in my pocket, but still mostly in one piece.”
Wen sits up straight and reshapes the curled stem that’s about as long as her pointer finger. The stem feels loose and will probably fall off soon. The middle part of the flower is a little yellow ball. The seven petals are long, skinny, and white. Does he expect her to stick it in her hair or behind her ear or run inside to put it in a glass of water? She has a better idea. She says, “It already looks kinda dead. Can we pull it apart and make a game of it?”
“You can do whatever you want with it.”
“We’ll take turns pulling off a petal and when we do we ask a question the other person has to answer. I’ll go first.” Wen plucks a petal. “How old are you?”
“I am twenty-four and a half years old. The half is still important to me.”
Wen passes the flower back to Leonard and says, “Make sure you only pluck one at a time.”
“I will do my very best with these big mitts.” He follows Wen’s instructions and carefully plucks a petal. He pinches his fingertips tightly together to ensure he only pulls out one. “There.
Phew.” He passes back the flower.
“What’s my question?”
“Right. Sorry. Um . . .”
“The questions should be fast and the answers fast, too.”
“Yes, sorry. Um, what’s your favorite movie?”
“Big Hero Six.”
“I like that one, too.” He says it matter-of-factly, and for the first time since they’ve met, she wonders if he is lying to her.
Leonard passes the flower back. Wen plucks a petal; her hand is quick. She says, “Everyone usually asks what is your favorite food. I want to know what your least favorite food is.”
“That’s easy. Broccoli. I hate it.” Leonard takes the flower and pulls a petal. He quickly looks behind him and back down the driveway again and asks, “What is your first memory?”
Wen isn’t expecting that question. She almost says the question isn’t fair and is too hard, but she doesn’t want to be accused of making up the rules as she goes, which she’s been accused of before with her friends. She’s sensitive about being fair when playing games. “My first memory is being in a big room.” She spreads her arms wide and her notebook slips off her lap and into the grass. “I was very small, maybe even a baby, and there were doctors and nurses looking at me.” She doesn’t tell Leonard all of it, that there were other beds and cribs in the room with her, and the walls were green tiled (she remembers that ugly green vividly) and there were kids crying in the room, and the doctors and nurses were leaning in close to her and had heads as big as moons and they were Chinese like her.
Wen reaches over the jar, almost knocking it over, in a hurry to get the flower back from Leonard before he breaks the rules and asks a follow-u p question. Another petal is plucked away and she rolls it up into a ball between her fingers. “What monster scares you?”
Leonard doesn’t hesitate. “The giant ones like Godzilla. Or the dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park movies. Those movies scared the heck out of me. I used to have nightmares all the time about being eaten or squashed by T. rex.”
Wen has never been afraid of giant monsters but hearing Leonard talk about it and then looking at the trees stretching beyond where she’ll ever reach, and how they bend and wave easy in the breeze, she can understand being afraid of big things.
Leonard’s turn with the flower. He plucks and asks, “How did you get that tiny white scar on your lip?”
“You can see it?”
“Barely. Only a little, when you turn a certain way.”
Wen looks down and pushes out her lips in attempt to see it. Of course it’s there. She sees it whenever she looks in the mirror, and sometimes she wants it to go away, to never be seen again, and sometimes she hopes it’ll be there forever and she traces the slash with a finger like she’s darkening a line with a pencil.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I shouldn’t have asked that. I’m sorry.”
Wen shifts and adjusts her legs, and says, “I’m okay.”
The fissure in her cleft lip went all the way up to her right nostril so the two sets of empty, dark spaces overlapped and became one. Last fall, Wen begged her dads to let her see baby photos, the youngest ones of her that they had, the ones from before the surgeries and before they adopted her. It took some convincing, but her dads eventually acquiesced. They had a set of five pictures of her lying on her back on a white blanket, awake and her balled-u p fists hovering next to her unrecognizable face. Wen was unexpectedly shaken by the photos and convinced she was, for the first time, looking at her real self and this real her was gone, forgotten, banished, or worse, that imperfect unwanted child was hidden, locked away inside of her somewhere. Wen was so upset her hands shook and the tremors spread throughout her body. After her dads consoled her, she calmed down and gave them an oddly formal thank you for letting her look at the photos. She requested they be put away because she would never look at them again. But she did look at them again, and often. Her dads kept the wooden box of photos under their bed and Wen would sneak into their room to look at them whenever she could. There were more photos in the box, including pictures of her dads in China; Daddy Eric looked weird with thin, wispy hair clinging to his head— which he has since shaved bald for as long as she can remember— and Daddy Andrew looked exactly the same with his dark long hair. There were pictures of the three of them in the orphanage, too, with one picture of her dads holding her up between them. She was the size of a loaf of bread and wrapped up tightly in a blanket, only the top of her head and her eyes peeking out at the camera. She would look at the pictures with her dads in them first, and then the photos of just her. The scary the-real-her-was-in-the-baby-photos feeling went away the more she looked.
Yes, that was her little baby head with a shock of unruly black hair perched above the unmolded clay of her face. Wen traced the boundaries of skin and space of her cleft lip in the photos and then manipulated and moved her own lip around, trying to recapture what it must’ve felt like having the disconnect, owning all that empty space. Each time she slid the box back under the bed, she wondered if her biological parents gave her up to the orphanage because of how she looked. Eric and Andrew have always been open about Wen having been born in China and adopted. They have bought her many books, encourage her to learn as much about Chinese culture as she can, and this past January, they enrolled Wen in a Chinese school (in addition to her regular, everyday school) with classes on Saturday mornings to help her learn to read/write Chinese. She rarely asks her dads about her biological parents. Almost nothing is known about them; her dads were told that Wen was left anonymously at the orphanage. Daddy Andrew once speculated that her parents might’ve been too poor to properly care for her and only hoped she could have a better life elsewhere.
She says, “I had what they call a cleft lip when I was a baby. And they fixed it. It took a lot of doctors a long time to fix it.”
“They did an amazing job and your face is beautiful.”
She wishes he wouldn’t say that and so she ignores it. Maybe it’s time to get one or both of her dads. She’s not afraid or worried about Leonard, not exactly, but something is starting to feel off. She brings up one of her dads as though mentioning him is the same as calling him to come out here. “Daddy Andrew has a big scar that starts behind his ear and goes down to his neck. He keeps his hair long so you can’t see it unless he shows it to you.”
“How did he get it?”
“He got hit in the head by accident when he was a kid. Someone was swinging a baseball bat and didn’t see him standing there close by.”
Leonard says, “Ouch.”
Wen thinks about telling him that Daddy Eric shaves his head and sometimes he asks Wen to check his heads for nicks and scars. There are never any scars like hers or Daddy Andrew’s and if she finds a little red cut, it’s always healed up and gone by the next time she looks.
She says, “It’s not fair, you know.”
“What isn’t fair?”
“You can see my scar and I can’t see anything wrong with you.”
“Just because you have a scar doesn’t mean you have something wrong with you, Wen. That’s very important. I— ”
Wen sighs and interrupts. “I know. I know. That’s not what I mean.”
Leonard twists around again and stays twisted around, as though he sees something, but there’s nothing behind him other than the SUV, the driveway, and the trees. Then there’re faint sounds coming from somewhere in the woods beyond, or coming from the road. They both sit quietly and listen, and the sounds grow louder.
Leonard turns back to Wen and says, “I don’t have any scars like you or your dad, but if you could see my heart, you’d see that it’s broken.” He doesn’t have a smile on his face anymore. His face looks sad, like the real kind of sad and he even might start crying.
“Why is it broken?”
The sounds can now be heard plainly and without them having to be quiet. Familiar sounds, feet tramping and stomping their way down the dirt road, like earlier when Leonard showed up. Where did Leonard come from anyway? She should’ve asked. She knows she should’ve. He had to have come from faraway. This time it sounds like a whole bunch of Leonards (or bears? Maybe this time it’s actually bears) are walking down the road.
Wen asks, “Are there more people coming? Are they your friends? Are they nice?”
Leonard says, “Yes, there are more people coming. You are my friend now, Wen. I wouldn’t lie to you about that. Just like I won’t lie to you about them. I don’t know if I’d call them my friends, exactly. I don’t know them very well, but we have an important job to do. The most important job in the history of the world. I hope you can understand that.”
Wen stands up. “I have to go now.” The sounds are closer. They are at the end of the driveway but not quite around the bend and the trees yet. She doesn’t want to see these other people. Maybe if she doesn’t see them, refuses to see them, they’ll go away. They are so loud. Maybe instead of bears it’ll be Leonard’s giant monsters and dinosaurs coming to get them both.
Leonard says, “Before you go inside to get your dads, you have to listen to me. This is important.” Leonard crawls out of his sitting position and onto one knee, and his eyes brim with tears. “Are you listening?”
Wen nods her head and takes a step back. Three people turn the corner onto the driveway: two women and one man. They are dressed in blue jeans and button-d own shirts of different colors; black, red, and white. The taller of the two women has white skin and brown hair, and her white shirt is a different kind of white than Leonard’s. His shirt glows like the moon, whereas hers is dull, washed, almost gray. Wen catalogs the apparent coordination in how Leonard and the three strangers dress as something important to tell her dads. She will tell them everything and they will know why the four of them are all wearing jeans and button-down shirts, and maybe her dads can explain why the three new strangers are carrying strange long-handled tools.
Leonard says, “You are a beautiful person, inside and out. One of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met, Wen. Your family is perfect and beautiful, too. Please know that. This isn’t about you. It’s about everyone.”
None of the tools are scythes but they look like menacing, nightmarish versions of them, with rough scribbles at the ends of the poles instead of smooth crescent blades. All three of the wooden handles are long and thick, perhaps once owning shovel blades or rake heads. The stocky man wearing a red shirt has a flower of rusty hand shovel and/or trowel blades, nailed and screwed to the end of the handle. On the other end of his handle, pointed down by his feet, is a thick, blunt, red block of dented and chipped metal, the head of a well-u sed sledgehammer. Now that he’s closer, his handle looks bigger, thicker, like he’s holding a boat’s oar with the paddle sawed off. Even as Wen walks backward, toward the cabin, she sees the tops of screws and nail heads haphazardly ringing both ends of his wooden handle like fly hairs. The shorter woman wears a black shirt, and at the end of her wooden handle is a pinwheel of raking claws, crooked metal fingers jammed together into a large ragged ball so her tool looks like the most dangerous lollypop in the world. The other woman wears the off-white shirt and at the end of her tool is a single blade head, bent and curled over itself at one end, like a scroll, and then tapering into a right triangle with a sharp point at the other.
Wen’s choppy, unsure backward steps become deep, equally unsure, lunges. She says, “I’m going inside now.” She has to say it to ensure she will enter the cabin and not stand and stare.
Leonard is on his knees with his great and terrible arms outstretched. His face is big and sad in the way all honest faces are sad. He says, “None of what’s going to happen is your fault. You haven’t done anything wrong, but the three of you will have to make some tough decisions. Terrible decisions, I’m afraid. I wish with all of my broken heart you didn’t have to.”
Wen fumbles up the stairs, still going backward, with eyes only for the confusing amalgams of wood and metal the strangers are carrying.
Leonard yells, but he doesn’t sound angry or distressed. He’s yelling to be heard over the expanding distance between them. “Your dads won’t want to let us in, Wen. But they have to. Tell them they have to. We are not here to hurt you. We need your help to save the world. Please.”