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Little Girls

Ronald Malfi

  Praise for the work of Ronald Malfi

  December Park

  “A complex and chilling tale of friends, family, and the often

  murderous secrets that hide in the dark. Ronald Malfi takes

  you for a terrifying visit to December Park.”

  —Robert McCammon

  “Some novelists find something that works and stick with it

  for years; others like to jump around, experimenting with

  genres and writing styles. Malfi appears to be one of the latter.

  Although most of his novels fall into the thriller, horror, or SF

  genre, they are stylistically quite different. This one, about a

  group of teenage friends living in a Maryland beach

  community from which some children have gone missing,

  feels a bit like Stephen King crossed with Dennis Lehane—

  specifically, the early portions of King’s It melded with

  Lehane’s Mystic River. But, just as Lehane doesn’t sound very

  much like King, so Malfi doesn’t sound much like either of

  them. He has his own voice, and he’s telling his own story, one

  that begins with some disappearances, segues into murder, and

  ends with a violent confrontation. Malfi is a sort of literary

  version of Mel Blanc (the “man of a thousand voices”), but all

  of his voices are captivating, though none of them are quite

  the same. Horror and crime fans will find much to like here.”


  “Malfi is truly gifted when it comes to writing . . . I am going

  to eagerly devour all the books from Mr. Malfi that I can get

  my chubby fingers on.”

  —Haunted Bookcase

  “Malfi is a master at horror, and his expertise shines through in

  this thriller set in the small town of Harting Farms. Skillfully

  plotted with carefully placed clues, the novel progresses like a

  map leading to the exhilarating ending.”

  —RT Book Reviews

  “An intensely dark tale.”

  —Fresh Fiction

  The Narrows

  “Malfi (Floating Staircase) brings a cinematic vividness to this

  story of a dying small town whose fate manifests as a nightmare

  of supernatural horror. Cross-cutting among the increasingly

  bizarre experiences of several principal characters, Malfi

  constructs a panoramic narrative in which the despair of

  individuals sharpens the sense of horror overwhelming the

  town. This smartly written novel succeeds as both an allegory

  of small-town life and a tale of visceral horror.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “So here is a book that should appeal to most horror

  aficionados: well-drawn characters, horrific creatures,

  gruesome deaths, plenty of blood for you gore hounds, a

  soupçon of mystery and an atmosphere of dread that just oozes

  from the pages.”

  —Dread Central

  Floating Staircase

  “[A] clever, emotionally resonant foray into horror.”


  “Malfi’s lyrical prose and sensitive approach only heighten his

  tale’s emotional impact, and the final turn of events is both

  surprising and expertly set up.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “Mixing elements of both horror and mystery, Malfi has put

  together a page-turner that even when finished leaves you

  wanting more. Powerful and chilling, Floating Staircase is one

  ghost story that horror fans should not miss. Highly



  “Floating Staircase deserves to stand alongside a Stephen King

  or a Dean Koontz—at their best. Floating Staircase is a mature

  horror yarn, but deep down it is also an exploration of

  obsessions and in particular the obsession it takes to be a


  —New York Journal of Books

  “[A] thoughtful, multilayered tale . . .”

  —Rue Morgue

  “This is a super haunted-house ghost story with an interesting

  protagonist and a great final turn-of-the-screw twist.”

  —Midwest Book Review

  “An outstanding achievement in the supernatural horror


  —The Crows Caw

  “A must-read novel that just might garner some Stoker



  “Ronald Malfi . . . has for years been a rising star in the horror

  genre. His lyricism and sense of character stand with the very

  best of the genre, and though I am hesitant to make

  comparisons, one cannot help but think of writers like Peter

  Straub, Chet Williamson, F. Paul Wilson, and Stephen King

  when reading.... The sense of dread and tension are palpable,

  recalling another great writer, Charles L. Grant. His language

  is stirring and evocative.”


  Cradle Lake

  “Malfi deftly maintains the tension and engrossing atmosphere

  of horror by stepping up the pace and frequency of bizarre

  events. . . .”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “Riveting, idiosyncratic horror at its best.”

  —Fresh Fiction

  “This is, very often, a haunting and disturbing read. In places

  genuinely terrifying, it’s also a book concerned with themes of

  hope, redemption, and how your past can poison your


  —Horror Novel Reviews

  “A haunting and terrifying novel of madness and despair.”


  “A tense thriller.”

  —Genre Go Round Reviews

  The Ascent

  “A thrilling edge-of-your-seat ride that should not be

  missed.... If you love thrillers that keep you guessing, this is a


  —Suspense Magazine

  “Malfi delivers a nearly straightforward adventure story of man

  against the elements, with man being the most dangerous

  element of all.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “Malfi, like the great documentarians, really makes us feel as

  though we are there. Another fine effort from this increasingly

  interesting writer.”



  “A genuine page-turner that grabs you from the very first

  word and doesn’t stop cranking until the very last.”

  —House of Horrors

  “An impressive work that leaves the reader eager to see more

  from this talented writer . . . Ronald Malfi’s fast-paced

  plotting, smooth prose, and strong, believable characters make

  Snow one of the best novels to bear the Leisure imprint in

  some time.”

  —Dark Scribe Magazine

  “Some ‘old school’ horror storytelling of the highest degree.”


  “Malfi’s descriptive writing captures the cold and desperate

  scene in a way that will lure new fans to the genre.”

  —Las Vegas Review-Journal

  “Snow is a throwback to some of the best horror writing of the

  late ’70s and early ’80s. . . . Malfi has written a novel that is

  absolutely bril
liant . . . a must-read for every lover of horror

  fiction. Very highly recommended—you really don’t want to

  pass this one by.”

  —Horror World Reviews

  “An impressively atmospheric novel with a wicked streak.”

  —Dread Central

  “An absolutely top-notch horror novel.”

  —Famous Monsters of Filmland

  Shamrock Alley

  “This is a bottom-of-the-ninth, two-out grand-slam home run

  of a book.”

  —Lorenzo Carcaterra, author of Sleepers and Chasers

  “The author’s previous books have garnered him acclaim and a

  small but devoted audience; this one could easily lift him into

  the mainstream.”


  The Mourning House

  “Lyrical prose creates an atmosphere of eerie claustrophobia,

  flawless pacing, and a plot that unfolds into a quietly shattering

  climax. Fans of literary horror will enjoy this compelling,

  haunting story.”

  —Publishers Weekly




  All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.

  Table of Contents

  Praise for the work of Ronald Malfi

  Title Page



  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10


  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25


  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Copyright Page

  For Sam, who holds the key . . .

  Dear, you should not stay so late,

  Twilight is not good for maidens;

  Should not loiter in the glen

  In the haunts of goblin men.


  “Goblin Market”




  Chapter 1

  They had been expecting a woman, Dora Lorton, to greet them upon their arrival, but as Ted finessed the Volvo station wagon up the long driveway toward the house, they could see there was a man on the porch. Tall and gaunt, he had a face like a withered apple core and wore a long black overcoat that looked incongruous in the stirrings of an early summer. The man watched them as Ted pulled the station wagon up beside a dusty gray Cadillac that was parked in front of the porch. For one perplexing instant, Laurie Genarro thought the man on the porch was her father, so newly dead that his orphaned spirit still lingered at the house on Annapolis Road.

  “Glad to see Lurch from The Addams Family has found work,” Ted commented as he shut off the car.

  “It looks like a haunted house,” Susan spoke up from the backseat, a comment that seemed to underscore Laurie’s initial impression of the ghostlike man who stood beneath the partial shade of the porch alcove. Susan was ten and had just begun vocalizing her critical observations to anyone within earshot. “And who’s Lurch?”

  “Ah,” said Ted. “When did popular culture cease being popular?”

  “I’m only ten,” Susan reminded him, closing the Harry Potter book she had been reading for much of the drive down from Connecticut. She had been brooding and sullen for the majority of the trip, having already pitched a fit back in Hartford about having to spend summer vacation away from her friends and in a strange city, all of it because of a grandfather she had never known.

  Who could blame her? Laurie thought now, still staring out the passenger window at the man on the porch. I’d pitch a fit, too. In fact, I just might do it yet.

  Ted cupped his hands around his mouth. “Thank you for flying Genarro Airlines! Please make sure your tray tables are up before debarking.”

  Susan giggled, her mood having changed for the better somewhere along Interstate 95. “Barking!” she cried happily, misinterpreting her father’s comment, then proceeded to bark like a dog. Ted wasted no time barking right along with her.

  Laurie got out of the car and shivered despite the afternoon’s mild temperature. In the wake of her father’s passing, and for no grounded reason, she had expected her old childhood home to look different—empty, perhaps, like the molted skin of a reptile left behind in the dirt, as if the old house had nothing left to do but wither and die just as its master had done. But no, it was still the same house it had always been: the redbrick frame beneath a slouching mansard roof; Italianate cornices of a design suggestive of great pinwheels cleaved in half; a trio of arched windows on either side of the buckling front porch; all of which was capped by a functional belvedere that stood up against the cloudy June sky like the turret of a tiny castle. That’s where it happened, Laurie thought with a chill as her eyes clung to the belvedere. It looked like a tiny bell tower sans bell, but was really a little room with windows on all four sides. Her parents had used it mostly for storage back when they had all still lived here together, before her parents’ separation. Laurie had been forbidden to go up there as a child.

  Trees crowded close to the house and intermittent slashes of sunlight came through the branches and danced along the east wall. The lawn was unruly and thick cords of ivy climbed the brickwork. Many windows on the ground floor stood open, perhaps to air out the old house, and the darkness inside looked cold and bottomless.

  Laurie waved timidly at the man on the porch. She thought she saw his head bow to her. Images of old gothic horrors bombarded her head. Then she looked over her shoulder to where Ted and Susan stood at the edge of a small stone well that rose up nearly a foot from a wild patch of grass and early summer flowers on the front lawn. Yes, I remember the well. Back when she had been a child, the well had been housed beneath a wooden portico where, in the springtime, sparrows nested. She recalled tossing stones into its murky depths and how it sometimes smelled funny in the dead heat of late summer. Now, the wooden portico was gone and the well was nothing but a crumbling stone pit in the earth, covered by a large plank of wood.

  Without waiting for Ted and Susan to catch up, Laurie climbed the creaky steps of the porch, a firm smile already on her face. The ride down to Maryland from Connecticut had exhausted her and the prospect of all that lay ahead in the house and with the lawyer left her empty and unfeeling. She extended one hand to the man in the black overcoat and tried not to let her emotions show. “Hello. I’m Laurie Genarro.”

  A pale hand with very long fingers withdrew from one of the pockets of the overcoat. The hand was cold and smooth in Laurie’s own. “The daughter,” the man said. His face was narrow but large, with a great prognathous jaw, a jutting chin, and the rheumy, downturned eyes of a basset hound. With the exception of a wispy sweep of colorless hair across the forehead, his scalp was bald. Laurie thought him to be in his late sixties.

  “Yes,” Laurie said. “Mr. Brashear was my father.”

  “I’m sorry for your loss.”

  “Thank you.” She withdrew her hand from his, thankful to be rid of the cold, bloodless grasp. “I was expecting Ms. Lorton.. . .”

  “I’m Dora’s brother, Felix Lorton. Dora’s inside, straightening up the place fo
r you and your family. She was uncomfortable returning here alone after . . . well, after what happened. My sister can be foolishly superstitious. I apologize if I’ve frightened you.”

  “Not at all. Don’t be silly.” But he had frightened her, if just a little.

  Across the front yard, Susan squealed with pleasure. Ted had lifted the corner of the plank of wood covering the well, and they were both peering down into it. Susan said something inaudible and Ted put back his head and laughed.

  “My husband and daughter,” Laurie said. She recognized a curious hint of apology in her tone and was quickly embarrassed by it.

  “Splendid,” Felix Lorton said with little emotion. Then he held out a brass key for her.

  “I have my own.” David Cushing, her father’s lawyer, had mailed her a copy of the key along with the paperwork last week.

  “The locks have been changed recently,” said Felix Lorton.

  “Oh.” She extended her hand and opened it, allowing Lorton to drop the key onto her palm. She was silently thankful she didn’t have to touch the older man’s flesh again. It had been like touching the flesh of a corpse.

  “Hi, there!” It was Ted, peering up at them through the slats in the porch railing while sliding his hands into the pockets of his linen trousers. There was the old heartiness in Ted’s voice now. It was something he affected when in the company of a stranger whom he’d had scarce little time to assess. Ted was two years past his fortieth birthday but could pass for nearly a full decade younger. His teeth were white and straight, his skin unblemished and healthy-looking, and his eyes were both youthful and soulful at the same time, a combination many would have deemed otherwise incompatible. He kept himself in good shape, running a few miles every morning before retiring to his home office for the bulk of the afternoon where he worked. He could work for hours upon end in that home office back in Hartford without becoming fidgety or agitated, classical music issuing from the Bose speakers his only companion. Laurie envied his discipline.