Determined to learn the truth about an empty lot and its burned down house, Ray, a young boy, soon finds himself facing the little girl who is said to have died in the fire years ago. Now with the answers he has regretted to discover, can he survive the torment bested upon him by the ghost he has awakened?
Whether or not you believe in ghosts, the true-life experience of Arthur M. Mills, Jr. deserves consideration. Find out who Candle Face was, her taunting behavior, and how she made a boy’s childhood into a living nightmare in The Empty Lot Next Door.
Ray (Arthur’s childhood name) and his family have just moved into a small house beside a strange, vacant lot where another house once stood, and where a huge wide hole mysteriously awaits the brave or foolhardy. Ray and his friends consider the empty lot just an exciting playground until Ray hears tales of how the lot’s house burned down years ago, leaving a girl to die in the fire. According to the neighborhood kids, the little girl will come out at night to haunt anyone who dares to jump into the empty lot's hole.
Both frightened and intrigued, Ray decides to test the validity of the tale. When he jumps into the hole to challenge the ghost, nothing happens. But in the night, Ray sees a figure emerge from the hole who makes eye contact with him. Soon, Ray is haunted by Candle Face. She visits his dreams and leaves handprints and other terrifying signs for him even when he is awake.
She was attempting to walk, with a stumbling, unsteady gait towards the fence between my backyard and the empty lot. She (if it was a girl once) was old enough, but seemed to be learning how to walk all over again. She would pick up and flop one foot in front, drag the other till the last second when she managed to pick that up and flop that down, in front.
Her course on all fours had taken less time. I wondered why she was trying to walk away from the tree now and could only conclude she wanted to get a better look—at me. But surely this ‘thing’ couldn’t actually see me. My hopes faded as she got closer. My eyes! As I strained them, I felt as if they were going to pop out. I could not see her eyes, but when she reached the fence I sensed a piercing gaze aimed straight at me. The fence was only ten feet away.
I had not wanted a closer look but could now see her better. The wild, disheveled looking girl was about my age. I could still not make out the face or the color of her long hair or what she might be wearing.
Could this be the little girl whom I’d heard about? Was she the one who had died in the fire and was buried in the hole?”
She looked at me and shook her head up and down. Were my thoughts whispering into her ears? Could she hear me? Her frightful, hoarse laugh seemed like an apt reply.
“The Empty Lot Next Door” is a tale of a haunting based on the actual experiences of the author, Arthur M. Mills, Jr., at about age eleven. After a move out of the projects and into a regular house in a better neighborhood, Ray (Arthur’s nickname) has great expectations for a normal life. The youngest of four brothers in a family faced with financial trouble and emotional distress, Ray instead endures an ordeal so terrifying, so confusing, that years went by before he could tell a soul about it. This is the story of his visits from Candle Face, the girl rumored to have died in the house fire next door, and who relentlessly tormented him.
But this story is much more than a ghost story. It is also a story of the desperation, the pain and the helplessness experienced by children whose parents work long hours away from home, necessarily leaving them to fend for themselves against both real and imagined evils. It’s about sibling abuse, and the scars that such abuse leaves on the victim as well as the abuser. And this is the story of the intense struggle of a child to make sense of the world without communicating his fears and thoughts to the adults in his life since he doesn’t want to add to the family’s problems.
I began to read this book at my usual reading time, right before bed. After the first night of sleeping with the light on, I ended up taking off two afternoons from work to finish it which is all it took because I couldn’t put this book down. The story is related in such a way that I could truly felt the author’s fear, pain and anxiety. As a mother of two teenage boys, I could so hear the eleven-year-old heart and mind in these pages. There are some places where the information is a little jumbled but it even furthers the style to that of a story told by an eleven-year-old. “The Empty Lot Next Door” is gripping, frightening and well-paced. After the last page I cried; not only because the book was over, but because I was so moved by the emotional experience this little boy had to go through.
I would so like to see “The Empty Lot Next Door” become a movie. It’s a thrilling ghost story, but it is also so much more. Since I live in Austin, I have decided to make a trip to the setting to see it for myself, and wonder if I will see Candle Face. I’m taking a friend, just in case.
Discoveries - A Kirkus Review
A ghost story that twists urban legends with the identifiable struggles of a latchkey kid.
It’s the summer of 1979, and young Ray is thrilled when he and his mother, stepfather and three older brothers finally move out of the projects and into a converted duplex in Austin, Texas. The neighborhood has everything a kid could ask for, including a dirt lot where Ray and his friends build a tree house. Ray’s youngest brother, Richard, has a special gift for storytelling and the pair spend many an afternoon high in the branches, entertaining their friends. Soon Ray learns that a terrible fire destroyed the house that once stood on the empty lot, killing the family inside. Ray’s friends say the remains are still in the lot, buried in a hole that’s guarded by an angry spirit. To prove them wrong, Ray jumps in the hole—with disastrous results. A ghostly burn victim Ray calls Candle Face crawls out of the ground like the demonic girl of the 2004 film The Ring and into his bedroom, enacting a vendetta that’s reminiscent of the 2001 thriller The Grudge. This alone would send shivers down the spine of any kid who has ever chanted “Bloody Mary” in the bathroom mirror, but the horror of the book also lies in the real world. Ray’s overworked parents have little time to notice when Richard, a star student, begins losing interest in his schoolwork, or how Ray is often the victim of his older brothers’ bullying. Between a vengeful spirit and a family in crisis, if Ray is to make it out of his childhood alive, he’ll have to learn how to fight his own battles. Now a soldier facing deployment to Kosovo, a grown-up Ray narrates, offering hindsight and the occasional italicized foreshadowing. In a coming-of-age story that’s well paced and layered with emotion, Mills creates moments of true suspense through guileless prose as he unearths a family tragedy.
A Riveting Read!
"The Empty Lot Next Door" by Arthur M. Mills, Jr., is a remarkable work by a very talented new author. The book is advertised as the true account of a haunting in Austin, Texas. However troubling or even terrifying as the story about Candle Face may be, it's Mills' unflinching honesty about the day-to-day routine of his family life that is most riveting. I found myself wanting to rescue young Ray (as he was called as a child) and his troubled brother Richard from the dreadful emotional poverty and outrageous abuse they had to endure at the hands of distant and clueless parents and seriously out-of-control delinquent older siblings just as much as I wanted to rescue them from whatever evil stalked their young lives (and possibly stalked the entire family). In all fairness to Ray's parents, it's quite evident they struggled to the best of their ability to just keep a roof over everyone's head and certainly they were victimized as surely as their children.
However, throughout the story I was reminded of something I once read about evil:that it thrives best within chaos in dark secluded areas not exposed to light. That would pretty much describe the Mills household and explain why two children felt compelled to endure the unendurable, whether at the hands of ghosts (imagined or real) or very much alive older siblings. It seems hard to imagine that Candle Face or Griffin were solely the result of an overactive greatly troubled imagination; Mills carefully offers up certain alleged proofs, including shared experiences, which certainly lend credence to his belief that these spirits were quite real. Of course, such "proofs" are no longer easily verified but it's not my purpose to question the author's claims anyway and, in fact, I suggest that certain heartbreaking events in his young life support the very real possibility that evil was indeed a too-close partner in his vulnerable life. But the question that intrigues me is "WHY?" I don't believe young Ray was the causative agent that opened his home to evil, although he clearly believes his childish antics caused Candle Face to appear and haunt him. Rather, I believe his fractured home life left a vacuum that was filled by opportunistic evil and there were certain conditions within the home that allowed evil to proliferate. Perhaps it was the Perfect Storm, so to speak.
This fascinating book's strength is that it makes one ponder quite deeply what those conditions may have been and then, in no small measure, take some inventory of one's own life and home. Minimally, after you read "The Empty Lot Next Door" you will want to take greater pains to get into the hearts and minds of your children.
You might also want to keep some Holy Water nearby as well.
A truly amazing story written from the heart of an extremely talented and bravely honest man. I have nothing but respect for this author's first book and hope he will produce more great works. He obviously has both the talent and the necessary understanding of the human condition to do so brilliantly.
I read the excerpt(above) and instantly bought the book. Then I read the whole thing immediately.
A compelling story full of enticing situations, which encourages the reader's imagination to encompass so many possibilities
I've always believed in ghosts and have had an expierence of my own. Wish I could buy your book but being on disability and a very tight fixed income, I am unable too. Keep writing and maybe in your words others will also believe.