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  • Writer's pictureJ.L. DuRona

The First Chapter!

Hi, friends!

As you know, my debut novel, "The Berge Sisters Tour the Neitherswarth," is coming out on September 27th, and I thought it would be fun to share the first chapter with you! I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it!

The Berge Sisters Tour the Neitherswarth

By J.L. DuRona

Chapter One

When Lacey Berge first laid eyes on her great-uncle’s creepy old mansion, she never would’ve guessed that something was staring back.

The structure came into view as her dad’s SUV crested the mountain. It appeared as if from nowhere, emerging like an inanimate specter from the thick white fog that had followed them the entire trip.

Lacey’s dad parked directly in front of the mansion, turned the car off, and gave a whoop of excitement. “We made it! What do you think, kiddo?”

“It’s awesome,” Lacey replied. Her voice was flat, like she was reading a news report.

“Oh, c’mon Lace,” her dad said, “aren’t you the least bit excited? Look at this place! Look at the architecture!”

She couldn’t have cared less about architecture, but she looked anyway. Even through the car’s filmy windshield, she could tell there was something strange about the mansion. It was tall. So tall, in fact, that it looked like it might tip over. It didn’t help that the top was still obscured by the dense mist.

“I haven’t been up here in years,” Lacey’s dad said. “It looks exactly like I remember!”

“So it’s always been this ugly?” Lacey asked.

Her father gave her a playful glare. “Very funny.”

When Lacey’s dad had broken the news that Great-Uncle Frank had passed away, she hadn’t thought much of it. She was in kindergarten the last time she saw him, so why should she care? It wasn’t until her dad dropped the news that he was taking her on a road trip to the dead man’s home in the mountains of Vermont to settle his affairs that her attention was piqued in the worst way. She tried everything she could think of to get out of it—feigning illness, negotiation, begging—but nothing worked. Now here she was, parked in front of that weird towering building, doomed to spend her entire school break in its musty interior.

Lacey’s dad pointed to the mansion. “See those pointed shapes on the windows there? What do you think those are?”

Before Lacey could reply, a monotone voice spoke up from the backseat.

“They’re dormers. They come out like that to keep snow from building up in the winter.”

The voice belonged to Calandra, the most annoying person Lacey knew. The short girl, dressed in an oversized tan army jacket, had spent most of the car ride with her headphones on, her eyes glued to whatever book she was reading, ignoring everything else around her. Now, of course, with an opportunity to show off how smart she was, she had to butt in.

“That’s awesome, Cal!” Lacey’s dad said. He craned his neck and beamed at her. “What sort of style are they?”

“Gothic, originally,” Cal replied, “but they’re used everywhere. And those pillars? The ones with the spirals? Those are Ionic, which is Greek.”

There were a lot of reasons Lacey didn’t want to go on this trip, but Cal was the biggest one. She wasn’t only an expert on houses, she was an expert on everything. She was eleven, only two years younger than Lacey, and already taking high school level classes. Give her a topic, any topic, and she had at least a dozen useless facts about it. It drove Lacey insane.

“You’re a genius, Cal,” Lacey’s dad said. “A total prodigy.”

Lacey tried not to groan. Her dad loved to call Cal a prodigy, or a wunderkind, or some other stupid thing. He was always so proud of her, but Lacey didn’t get why. Cal was his stepdaughter, so it wasn’t like he had anything to do with how smart she was.

“Looks like the mansion uses a lot of different styles,” Lacey’s dad said. He turned around and leaned forward in his seat. “There’s a name for that, right?”

“Yeah,” Lacey replied. “Tacky.”

Her dad smiled but rolled his eyes. “Another magnificent zinger, Lace.”

He looked behind him again. “Hey, Cal, do you know?”

But Cal had already let herself out of the car, closing the door behind her with a click. Once she was far enough away, Lacey tuned to her father. “Explain to me again what I’m doing here?”

Her dad sighed. “Lace, we’ve been over this a million times.”

“I know,” she replied, “you want me and the brainiac to bond, but—”

“Hey,” he interrupted, “don’t be mean.”

“But that’s what she is, Dad. She’s like a brain with feet!”

“Nice image,” her dad said with a scowl. “But seriously, Lace, don’t you think it’s time you made an effort to get to know her?”

Lacey threw her hands into the air. “What’s the point? She’s always in her own little world anyway.”

“The point is she’s your sister,” her father replied, “and you barely speak to each other.”

Lacey wanted to say “she’s not my sister,” but stopped herself. She knew how far she could push her father before he got upset, and that would send him over the edge.

She crossed her arms and watched from the window as Cal wandered the grounds. The small girl bent down and ran her fingers over a terracotta flowerpot, tracing the thorny pattern carved on it. Her headphones began to slide off her head, but she caught them before they could fall. They were a huge, clunky pair with a cherrywood finish and a thick, coiled wire leading to her pocket. Lacey had never seen Cal take them off, as if exposing her ears to the world would mean certain death.

“Cal’s a shy kid,” her dad said, “and being homeschooled means she doesn’t get many opportunities to socialize.”

“No friends, huh? What a shock,” Lacey muttered.

He gave her a stern look. “Lacey Harriet Berge…”


“Just give her a chance. You might have more in common than you think.”

“Yeah, right,” Lacey said.

Her dad sighed and tapped the car’s steering wheel with his fingers. “Well, you’ve got the whole week to prove me wrong.”


Lacey got out of the car before her dad could say anything else. She slammed the door harder than she’d planned, but she couldn’t help it.

He doesn’t get it. You can’t force people to get along!

Now that she was outside, Lacey could get a better look at the house. It spiraled upward like a beanstalk, and she wondered if there were a giant at the top.


Lacey turned to her father. He was standing outside the car, pointing to his phone. “Where’s Cal? Laura wants to talk to her.”

Laura was Cal’s mom, and Lacey’s stepmom by extension. She was an archeologist who specialized in uncovering relics from all over the globe. That meant she traveled a lot. Normally Cal would’ve gone too, along with her fancy tutor, but apparently this trip was too dangerous.

Lacey glanced around briefly and shrugged, but that wasn’t the end of it. Her dad made a face, motioned with his free hand, and mouthed, “go find her.”

I knew it! Dad doesn’t care if the brainiac and I get along. He just wanted a free babysitter!

Lacey groaned and wandered into the fog. Amid the sparse landscape, all she could see were some spruces and scattered leaves. Cal was nowhere to be seen.

“Cal?” she called unenthusiastically. “Cal, where are you?”

Lacey listened for a reply, but there was none. She didn’t expect one anyway, since Cal probably couldn’t hear a bomb going off with those giant headphones on.

She followed the foundation toward the backyard, figuring The Brainiac was in the back, no doubt admiring the trim on the patio or something even more pointless.

The siding on the house was weird, an iridescent mix of blue and purple. It was different each time Lacey looked at it, as if the mansion itself couldn’t decide what color it wanted to be. She would’ve assumed it was a trick of the light, but the sky was bathed in a perpetual overcast.

What a weird place. I wonder if the inside’s as strange as the outside?

Just past the edge of the house, through the lingering fog, Lacey spotted a wrought-iron gate. Vines wrapped themselves around the rusty metal like tentacles. She found an opening between the bars and approached it.

“Cal? You in there?”

She squeezed inside. The ornate pattern on the gate snagged the buckles on her jacket, as if it were trying to keep her out. She forced her way to the other side and found herself in a void of white nothingness. It looked like the fog was devouring the world.

“Hey, Cal, my dad’s looking for you.”

It was too quiet, and it made her uncomfortable. It was like she was in some kind of parallel world where sight and sound were forfeit. She wanted to turn back, but she couldn’t without The Brainiac. Hesitantly, Lacey took a step forward and, through the crunch of leaves, her foot landed on something solid.

What the heck?

It was flat and hard, like brick. Lacey knelt down, used her sleeve to brush at the surface below her, and discovered that it wasn’t brick, but stone, old and faded. As she brushed away the dirt and leaves, she found indentations in the stone and traced her finger through them.

It must be a patio or something.

Finally, as her hand was about to go numb from the cold, Lacey finished her work, revealing a message in the hard surface:

“Kathrine A Fugleberg, beloved wife and daughter, 1793-1834.”

Lacey’s stomach sank as the meaning of the words dawned on her. It wasn’t a patio, a path, or even a flagstone; she was standing on someone’s grave.

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