by Zoe Kalo
Genre: YA Paranormal Psychological Suspense
Print Length: 252 Pages
IVE GIRLS. AN ISOLATED CONVENT. A SUPERNATURAL PRESENCE. A DARK SECRET.
SHORTLISTED for the 2017 Dante Rossetti Awards for Young Adult Fiction!
I can't believe it has come to this. The way things have blown out of proportion. I only wanted to contact my dead father. Ask his forgiveness.
Seven months isn't that long, is it?
I'll go through the motions, no need to make friends that I’ll never see again. When you get close to people, you end up getting hurt.
Puerto Rico, 1973
17-year-old Paloma only wanted to hold a séance to contact her dead father. She never thought she would be kicked out of school and end up in an isolated convent. Now, all she wants is to be left alone. But slowly, she develops a bond with a group of girls: kind-hearted Maria, insolent Silvy, pathological liar Adelita, and their charismatic leader Rubia.
At night, the waterfall’s dark music haunts her dreams of drowning…
When Paloma holds another séance, she accidentally awakens an entity that has been dormant for years. The body count begins. Someone doesn’t want the secret out…
Are the ghost and Paloma’s suspicions real—or only part of her growing paranoia and delusions?
If you love the vibes in "The Orphanage," "The Craft" and "Pretty Little Liars," you'll enjoy this mess-with-your-head, YA supernatural/psychological thriller!
The foliage swallowed me. Sodden leaves gave under my shoes. Twisted limbs and giant ferns reached out to scratch my arms, my legs.
“Adelita!” I called, hastening my pace.
Flash of white ahead.
“Adelita!” No response. “Damn it. It’s getting freaking dark!” Voices? I halted, panting.
Then broke into a run again. The mist, carried by the waterfall, clung to my lashes, my cheeks, my lips. I tasted its bitterness on my tongue. Giggling.
“I’m here!” Adelita called.
I slowed my pace. Toward the end of the path, fibrous vines hung from branches like a curtain of snakes. I pushed them aside and staggered forward. Slowly, I looked up.
Against the blackening sky, the monster roared, cradled by twisted, stunted trunks and wisps of fog, looming over me in all its brutal magnificence. Its crystalline waters gushed ferociously, cascading into a murky, swirling pool that spiraled into a descending rock-studded stream gurgling with white iridescent foam.
A cloud of spray enveloped me, cold and impersonal like the wings of some giant bat. Had it not been for one of the vines, I would have fallen to my knees. Cold water, sucking me down, searing my throat, my eyes. Can’t see, can’t breathe; his hands grab me; blackness, like tar, steals its way down my lungs, spreading its web and filling every corner, every crevice; utter agony before oblivion settles--
The sight of Adelita, standing at the edge of the pool, shook me out of my trance. She was very still, her skirt puffing from the thundering falls.
“Step back!” I shouted.
Slowly, Adelita lifted her arm and pointed to the center of the waterfall. “She’s in there.”
“Who?” When she didn’t answer, I answered for her. “The ghost? Your invisible friend?”
Adelita lowered her arm. She seemed to have fallen into one of her sudden spells.
“Is that who you were speaking to?” I said urgently.
She was silent.
“Adelita,” I coaxed. She was about ten yards from me. I took one step toward her, my toes curling. “Please… step back.”
“She wants to speak to us,” Adelita said, moving closer to the edge.
“What’s wrong with you? Stop!”
She turned her head to look at me. When she smiled, her teeth looked unnaturally white, as if the iridescence of the foamy water reflected on them.
I edged a little closer and extended my hand. “Please.” I clenched my teeth. “I can’t come any closer,” I said, stressing each word. I squeezed my eyes shut, willing reality to go away, willing it all to be a nightmare. But when I opened my eyes, Adelita’s toes stood just over the edge. For an instant, as if suspended, she seemed to sway, before she opened her wings like an angel about to take flight.
“No!” I sprang forward and seized her arm. She twisted, lost her balance and clutched at my gold chain—“No!”—The gold snapped. I grabbed her shirt and jerked her toward me. We staggered in a drunken embrace before stumbling to the ground. My hand groped wildly around my neck, but my pendant, the most precious object I possessed, was gone. I searched for it on my hands and knees, my flesh sinking into the cold, wet earth.
Then I stood and stared hard at her.
Smudged with dirt, she sagged against a moss-covered boulder. “It’s in there,” she said, her gaze lowered, pointing to the water.
“How do you know?”
“I saw it fall,” she said.
A jolt of nausea hit me and I held my stomach. “That can’t be.”
I stared at the swirling pool and thought I saw it twinkling in the depths. I squeezed my eyes shut—for an eternity, it seemed—before I spun and grabbed Adelita and shook her violently. “You’re lying! That’s what you do. You lie.” I kept shaking her. I wanted to hurt her, hurt her. That was the only way to ease my pain.
She started whimpering, in a manner not unlike my sister Sara. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she kept saying.
I shoved her away and reeled backwards. I felt breathless, delirious.
I glanced one more time at the swirling pool, before I grasped her muddy hand and we headed back. She didn’t resist, an obedient, repentant little child.
By the time we got back to the graveyard, it was already dark. The lamp post cast an iridescent glow on the white roses and tombstones.
To my dismay, Madre Estela had just stepped out of the garden gate and was marching in our direction. With the light behind her, her face was a black mask. But her chin was high and her stride purposeful.
As if out of habit, she went for Adelita first. “What are you doing here? You haven’t done any of your chores.”
I stepped forward and shielded Adelita with my arm. “This isn’t her fault,” I said quickly. “I told her to come and help me.”
She bared her teeth. “Help do what?” she said, her eyes sweeping over our dirt-covered hair and clothes.
“We heard voices coming from there,” I said, gesturing. “We thought one of the girls had gotten lost, so we decided to take a look.”
This made her pause, but only for an instant—before her hand came down, hard and brutal. I staggered backwards, more from shock than pain. No one had ever slapped me before. I touched my burning cheek and just stared at her.
“Voices here, voices there,” she said, disgusted, as if she couldn’t stand to hear more of it. “There are no voices, do you understand? No voices,” she repeated, as if she were trying to convince herself of the fact. “You should know better than listen to Adelita’s lies.”
Adelita didn’t even flinch when Madre Estela twisted her ear. I thought she was going to wrench it off her head right in front of my eyes.
“Pick up the things and go change immediately, both of you,” she ordered, “before you catch pneumonia.”
Before we went inside, I glanced back at Madre Estela. The vegetation rose up behind her, dark and menacing. Her eyes seemed strangely unfocused. She was clutching her wooden cross and murmuring a prayer. A gust of wind rattled the branches.
A certified bookworm, Zoe Kalo has always been obsessed with books and reading. Reading led to writing—compulsively. No surprise that at 16, she wrote her first novel, which her classmates read and passed around secretly. The pleasure of writing and sharing her fantasy worlds has stayed with her, so now she wants to pass her stories to you with no secrecy—but with lots of mystery…
She’s had the good fortune of living on 3 continents, learning 4 languages, and experiencing a multicultural life. She holds a BA in Creative Writing and an MA in Comparative Literature. She lives in Belgium with her husband and two evil cats.
What was your inspiration for Chameleon?
Like Paloma, I was partly educated in a convent school run by Catholic nuns. The convent was also an orphanage for girls, and actually some of the girls—Ramona and Sylvy—were based on real people. Adelita and Rubia were pure creations of my imagination. I did attempt to do a séance in one of the classrooms once, an act that made me end up in Madre Superiora’s office…but I didn’t get kicked out…nor experienced a ghost.
Some of the scenes in the book depict the nuns in a very negative way. Can you comment on that?
Some of the nuns are nice, others…not so nice. That’s just the way it was. Except for Madre Superiora, all of the nuns in my book are based on real nuns. Madre Estela, Madre Julia, Madre Margarita were all real. Yes, Madre Julia with her giant wooden spoon, real. It may seem hard to believe, and certainly it would be tough to believe nuns can behave like that nowadays. But remember the story takes place in 1970s Puerto Rico. Catholic nuns were very strict back then, their disciplining methods cruel, but this was considered normal.
How long did it take you to complete the book?
On and off, about two years. But the story and characters simmered in my mind for years before then.
Did you have to do a lot of research?
I did a tremendous amount of research on psychopaths and psychopathy, and a fair amount on natural drugs found in tropical forests, though I ended up using only a tiny fraction of the material. I also consulted a police officer for the parts about police procedural and interrogation.
You like to use mimic writing, don’t you?
Yes, I do! I used it in Daughter of the Sun when the protagonist was drugged, and also in this book in the climax with Paloma. The writing becomes erratic and stream of consciousness because it reflects and mimics the altered mind of the character. No commas, no punctuation, one run-on sentence after another. I love using this literary technique but sometimes it can be confusing for the reader, so trying to find a balance can be very challenging.