Amy Lukavics, whose debut novel Daughters Unto Devils hit shelves last fall, is gearing up to chill your bones with her next tale, The Women in the Walls. Out September 27, The Women in the Walls follows a young girl named Lucy who grew up in a chilly, Victorian mansion, with her cousin Margaret as a sort of sister. But when Lucy’s aunt — essentially the only mother she’s ever had — disappears after walking in the woods, Margaret swears she hears her voice in the walls of the house, and Lucy sees her cousin’s sanity slowly fade away.
Check out EW’s exclusive cover reveal, and an excerpt of The Women in the Walls, below:
Excerpt from The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics
After Margaret chugs the wine, she sets the glass down and goes back to her roast beef. “The truth is that I’ve been thinking a whole lot about my mom,” she says. “And it’s stuff I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want to hear. That’s why I’m not talking to you.”
“What do you mean, stuff I wouldn’t want to hear?”
“Well,” Margaret says. “You act as if she just vanished into thin air, instead of dying painfully, scared and alone.”
Her comment is like a slap to the face, especially after all of the torture my mind has been putting itself through over this very topic. “How do you know she died painfully?” I ask, my voice nearly a whisper. Why would she say that?
Margaret does something startling then: she smiles, an unsettling and icy smirk that, for a brief moment, makes me feel as though I am looking into the face of madness. Suddenly my head feels light.
“Let’s just say I have my ways,” she says after the pause. She wipes her mouth with a napkin and stands, smoothing the back of her satin pajama pants before facing me. “I’m going to bed, now. Maybe we can…hang out tomorrow, or something.”
She hasn’t suggested such a thing in days. I might be happy about the idea if it weren’t for the dreadful pit growing heavy in my stomach. Underneath the table, my feet are tucked nervously against one another. My chest tightens at the sight of her still-present smirk.
“Sure,” I say quietly, desperate for the conversation to end. “Whatever you say, Margaret.”
“Cool.” She gives the top of my head a rough kiss before heading out toward the staircase. “Go to sleep, Lucy. And stop thinking about what happened to my mother. One way or another, death is painful for us all.”
For five full minutes I sit alone at the table, too scared to move, too worried. The notion that Margaret had anything to do with my aunt’s disappearance makes me physically ill. There is no way it could be real. At first I thought she was just acting strange because of grief, but certain things, like the attic and the ruined photographs and that icy smirk, make me feel like there’s something that she’s hiding. Something beyond the disappearance and bigger than her jealousy over how well Penelope and I got along.
I sift through memories in my head, looking for clues suggesting that my cousin is capable of anything sinister: Margaret glaring on as my aunt and I fawned over a gardening book together that my cousin had deemed dull, or Penelope praising me over my studies during dinner, while hardly acknowledging that Margaret had done just as good (if not better) with hers.
There were many instances like that, I know deep down. At the time I was always too happy to notice or care how Margaret felt—whenever I felt bad about it, the same bitter thought would come back to me, sour in my mind: at least she’s got a real mother.
Still, the memories feel stranger now, darker. Is it because there’s truth to my suspicions or is it because I’m completely overcome with paranoia? No, I decide, this is silly, I am just under an considerable amount of stress, and so is Margaret, there’s an explanation for everything that’s happened.
Margaret could never kill anybody.
Maybe just one small cut, my mind whispers frantically as the panic fails to dissipate, go up to your room and let the pressure bleed out of you, just a little bit, just until your hands stop shaking…
I nearly jump out of my skin when somebody enters the room from behind me. I turn with a gasp, only to see the cook standing beside a similarly-featured girl who looks to be around my age. They are both wearing coats that are streaked with rain.
“I’m so sorry to startle you, honey,” Miranda says. “I was just bringing Vanessa through to her room. She arrived earlier than planned.”
Despite my already-growing resentment for Vanessa, I’m at least grateful for the abrupt interruption of silence. It almost feels like someone caught me in the act of something unspeakable, even though there’s no way for them to tell what was going through my head. The leftover shame simmers away slowly inside—nothing happened, you did it, you stopped yourself.
I know deep down that I just got lucky.
I take the girl in, the first peer besides Margaret that I’ve seen in a few years, since we started doing our schooling at home. We hated school and the people in it, but not as much as they hated us. Whenever I started coming close to making a friend, Margaret would get jealous and ruin it somehow, earning herself a reputation for being weird and rude. I soon learned it was easier for everybody if I blocked people out from the start. Eventually we just stopped going altogether. It was better for us, Margaret insisted, and I agreed.
“Hi,” the girl says, and smiles at me. “You must be Lucy, or Margaret. Either way, I’ve heard all about you.”
The girl is stupidly cheerful, causing me to feel validated in my preconceived notions about her. Does she not know the circumstances, the entire reason she’s here in the first place? Why would she grin at me like she’s on fucking vacation?
“It’s raining outside?” I ask blankly, staring at the droplets of water falling from the ends of her dark blonde hair.
“Yeah,” Vanessa says, uncertainty evident in her voice as she takes in my bitter disposition. “It’s been coming down pretty hard for the past hour. The drive was a nightmare.”
I try not to imagine Penelope’s body out there in the rain, and take a minute to stare into the new girl’s face, not caring too much that it might seem rude. “Oh,” I say after a moment. She shifts her weight uncomfortably. “Well, I’m Lucy. Margaret’s gone to bed already. I’m just about to turn in myself.”
“You go on ahead, honey,” Miranda says softly and steps up to pat Vanessa’s hand. I think she can tell how on edge I am. “I can show Vanessa in just fine, you girls chit-chat later.”
Not on your life.
I nod and walk past them, grateful when I realize that Miranda is purposefully lingering behind so that they can walk separately. Knowing I have a minute before they follow, I quickly make my way up to the second floor, past my bedroom to Margaret’s.
“Marg?” I say softly, and knock on the door. No answer.
“I saw the new girl,” I say through the door. “She came early, apparently. She’s way too happy to be here and I’m pretty sure you won’t like her.” I pause, my insides turning when I remember the things my cousin said earlier. “Anyway, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Still no answer.
“Are you asleep already?” I open the door just a crack and peer in. The fireplace in her room is lit, but the bed is empty. I hear footsteps approaching and realize I don’t have enough time to make it back to my room before running into Miranda and Vanessa again. Instead I keep going down the hall, past the empty room where the hallway curves back to go past the library and around to the main staircase again. While waiting for the new girl to get into her room, I glance up the dark stairs up to the third floor. No way, I think, shivering. Margaret’s just in the bathroom, most likely.
But curiosity gets the best of me. I make my way to the top of the staircase, my blood already starting to run cold at the silence. My father’s room, as well as the cook’s quarters, are both down on the first floor. Nobody lives up here.
Still, there are tiny plug-in lights lining the halls, and by their glow I make my way to the back hallway. The carpet is freshly vacuumed as always, and the stillness and silence coming from the dark, empty spare rooms is looming. Vivid wallpaper surrounds me, its Victorian pattern strangely eerie in the shadows, reaching, as if I’m making my way through a tangle of invisible vines that are trying to keep me away from the back end of the house. With every step, it becomes harder to continue forward.
From somewhere in the dark ahead, I hear a sharp, short giggle—Margaret. I take a sharp breath and turn the last corner, my heart leaping at the sight before me.
The small opening in the ceiling that leads to the attic is lit up, the glow from the single bulb inside shining down onto the miniature staircase positioned below.
After a moment of shocked silence, I hear footprints circling the opening, slowly, cautiously, as if she knows that I’m standing down here in the dark.
She giggles again, and I turn on my heel and race back down to my room.