First Look: Chapter 7 through 9 of Sweet Nightmare by Tracy Wolff!

“Because everywhere I turn is suddenly filled with ghosts. Hundreds and hundreds of ghosts.”

It’s Friday here at Calder Academy and we’re taking our last peak into the world of Sweet Nightmare

Seeing how Clementine responds to bad news and still puts a smile on her face is such a beautiful representation of her character. These chapters show you a glimpse of her “bounce back” attitude. But…beware! You may be haunted after these chapters. 

To prevent any ghostly attacks (or to find out how to rid yourself of them), preorder Sweet Nightmare for all of Clementine’s tips and tricks! Out May 7, 2024.




  “Congratulations, Caspian!” Aunt Carmen tells him, lifting her tea cup in salute.

“That’s fantastic news!” Uncle Carter jumps up, knocking over his chair in an effort to be the first one to clap Caspian on the back.

The others quickly follow, and it isn’t long before my cousin is preening under all the attention and well-wishes.

I force myself to walk over to him and give him a hug. After all, it’s not his fault I’m reeling. Any more than it’s his fault that my mother won’t so much as glance my way.

She refused to let me apply.

She told me I couldn’t go—that none of us fourth gens could leave the island for college.

She even asked why I couldn’t be more like Caspian and be happy to stay on the island after graduation—take over the academy like we’re meant to do. 

And now I find out that he’s been applying to schools all along? That his parents have been supportive of him?

Anger rips through me as I give Caspian a hug.

He may be a bit of a tool, but I don’t blame him for finding a way off this island and taking it.

My mother, on the other hand? I definitely blame her.

“Congratulations!” I tell my cousin when he finally lets me go.

He beams at me, his bright-blue eyes shining against his copper skin. “Thanks, Clementine! I can’t wait to hear where you’ve been accepted.”

My stomach sinks, because what can I say?

Why didn’t Caspian and I talk about college before now? Why did I just trust my mother when she’s been known to play fast and loose with the truth?

My smile is forced as I try to figure out what to say when Carlotta elbows me out of the way to congratulate Caspian.

I try to calm down, try to tell myself there’s still time to apply anywhere I want to go. I’m not stuck here after I graduate. I can still leave this place in my rearview.

Her control over me is almost over.

It’s that thought that gets me through the rest of the Conclave. It gets me through Caspian’s ridiculously pompous speech and Uncle Christopher’s proud bragging. It even gets me through my mother’s continued refusal to meet my gaze.

But the second the meeting is adjourned, I race for the door.

I’ll confront my mother tomorrow. Tonight, I just need to get far away from her and the rest of my family.

Grandma calls after me as I book it down the hall, but I don’t turn back. If I do, I’ll end up bursting into tears. Tears are emotion, and any emotion is weakness. My mother doesn’t respect weakness. So, to keep the tears from falling, I just keep running.

My phone vibrates just as I make it back to the cottage. Part of me expects it to be my mom demanding that I come talk to her, but it’s all quiet on that front. Instead, it’s Serena.

Serena: I hope Flavia’s carrot cake made it more bearable. I want to hear all of the gory details

Me: It helped, but there’s not enough carrot cake in the world 

Serena: I’m finally going to do it

Me: Do what?

Serena: My first spell

Serena: It’s going to be a full moon tonight. I’ve gathered all the ingredients I need. Once it gets dark, I’m going to cast a circle, channel the moon, and go for it

I send her a celebratory gif.

Me: What kind of spell is it?

Serena: It’s for luck. I still haven’t found a new job, and rent is coming due

Me: Why don’t you just cast a prosperity spell? Then you can take your time finding something

Serena: All the books say not to do that. Prosperity spells always backfire. But I’ve got an interview tomorrow, so I’m hoping the luck will help me get the job

Me: You’ll do great, with or without the spell. Send me pics of the circle you cast!

Serena: I will! Wish me luck!

Me: Always <3 

I think about calling Serena and telling her about what happened with my mom, but she sounds so happy that I don’t want to kill her mood.

The front porch light comes on, and the moths immediately flock to it. A second later, Eva sticks her head out the door. “You coming in?” she asks. Then she takes one look at my face and says, “Uh-oh. Bad Conclave?”

“Bad everything,” I answer, heading inside.

She’s watching Wednesday on Netflix, and there’s a half-eaten bowl of M&M’s on the coffee table. “Apparently I’m not the only one who had a bad day.”

“Guys are dicks,” she answers.

“So are mothers.” I flop face down on the blue velvet sofa that takes up most of our sitting area and bury my face in one of the bright-purple pillows.

“And English teachers.”

She settles down at the end of the sofa, and a few seconds later, I hear her rattling the bowl of M&M’s next to my ear. “Chocolate makes everything better.”

“I’m not so sure it can fix this,” I groan. But I reach out and take a few anyway. “What’d Amari do?”

She snorts. “Cheated on me with a mermaid.”

“What an asshole!”

“It’s not like it was true love or anything,” she says with a shrug. “But I did like the big jerk.”

The leopard shifter does have a reputation for being a fuck boy, unfortunately. “How did you find out?”

“She was in the theater, bragging to her friends about their hookup and how I ‘didn’t have a clue.’ She didn’t know I was painting sets backstage.” She picks through the candy bowl until she has a handful of green M&M’s, then starts popping them in her mouth one by one. “For a minute, I really wished I had access to my magic.”

“I can punch her for you,” I offer. “I know it’s not the same, but it could be satisfying.”

Eva shrugs again. “She’s not worth it. Though I did think about punching Amari when I confronted him and he tried blaming it on me.”

“On you? Why?”

“Because I don’t ‘understand him.’ And because he thinks with his dick, obviously.” She reaches for the bowl of M&M’s again and this time starts picking out all the orange ones. “Now tell me what happened to you?”

“Caspian got into U of S.”

“What? I thought you couldn’t—”

“Apparently that rule only applies to me. Caspian is free to do whatever he wants.”

“Wow. That’s not cool.” She hands the bowl back to me. “So what’d your mom say?”

“Nothing. She wouldn’t even look at me.” I flop back down on the sofa.

Eva looks concerned. “Why not? You need to talk to her and—”

“Aguilar paired me up with Jude for a class project,” I interrupt.

Her eyes go wide. “Holy shit.” Then she stands up.

“Where are you going?”

“M&M’s aren’t going to cut it for this.” She opens the pantry and coos, “Oh, hi, Squeaky! Good to see you’re okay. We missed you yesterday.”

I roll my eyes. “I can’t believe you named the mouse.”

“Hey, mice need love, too.”

Seconds later, she’s back with a bag of our favorite dill pickle chips.

“Where’d you get those?” I ask, making grabby hands.

“I have my ways. I was keeping them for an emergency, and this is definitely an emergency.” She opens the bag of chips before handing it to me. “Now spill.”

So I do, telling her everything that happened in class today. She stares at me in rapt silence until the end.

“I can’t believe she wouldn’t change your partner,” she says when I’m finally finished. “Everyone knows not to pair you with Jude.”

“I am so unbelievably screwed.” I shove another chip in my mouth as a knock sounds at the door. “If it’s my mom, tell her I’m dead,” I snark as I toss the furry blanket over my head.

I need time to figure out what I’m going to say to her. Right now, I feel like I can’t even be rational when it comes to all her lies.

“It’s not,” Eva says, going to answer it.

I raise my brows. “So you’ve got x-ray vision now?”

“No. But I did call in reinforcements.” She throws the door open and reveals Luis standing there, carrying Korean face masks in one hand and a bottle of cyanide-green nail polish in the other.

“Green?” Eva asks, brows arched.

“You’ve heard of fuck-me red? This is fuck-you green, perfect for breakups.” He hands it to her, then turns to me. “You look awful. Tell me everything.”

“I can’t do it again,” I say, shoving a handful of chips in my mouth so I don’t have to talk.

He turns to Eva. “What did Jude do?”

“How do you know it’s Jude?” I squawk.

“Please.” He waves a dismissive hand. “The last time you looked like this was when I first got to the island and that boy had just broken your heart. It took forever to mend you, so tell me what that jerk did this time so I can go kick his ass.” 

I put the chips away before I’m tempted to eat the entire bag. Then I say, sulkily, “He never actually broke my heart.”

“Oh, please.” He rolls his eyes. “You cried yourself to sleep every night for six months.”

“Because I’d just lost my two best friends. Jude ditched me for no reason, and Carolina—” I break off because I don’t want to think about her right now.

Luis sighs as he settles himself on the couch and pulls me in for a hug. “I didn’t mean to bring her up. I’m just saying, you’ve got two new best friends who are totally willing to kick Jude Abernathy-Lee’s ass if we need to. Right, Eva?”

“I mean, I’m willing to try,” she agrees doubtfully.  “But I don’t know how well it’s going to go. That boy is tough as hell.”

“True.” Luis contemplates for a second, then holds up the packets in his hands. “How about face masks, then? Looking good is the best revenge.”

I laugh, exactly as he intended. Then I say, “Only if I get the watermelon one.”

“Please, do you think you’re dealing with an amateur here?” He snorts. “They’re all watermelon.”

“Okay, then.” I hold out my hand for one. Because Luis is right. I do have two new best friends, which is a rare thing to find here. While neither of them will ever replace Carolina, they don’t have to. Because they really are the best, just the way they are.

Even before Luis—in typical guy fashion—says, “I still think we can take Jude.”

Eva considers it. “Maybe if we pepper spray him first?”

“You know what they say, baby.” Luis makes a little clicking noise with the corner of his mouth. “First the face, then the mace.”

“Literally nobody says that,” I tell him when I finally stop laughing.

“Not where you’re from,” he says slyly.

I roll my eyes at him, lean back on the couch, rest my head on his shoulder, and kick my feet up just as the next episode of Wednesday comes on the TV.

Tomorrow’s going to suck, but that’s Tomorrow Clementine’s problem. Because tonight, it’s all about us, and that’s more than enough.





  “So what happens if you call in sick to chrickler duty?” Luis asks the next day at lunch as we make our way down to what is very definitely a dungeon. He insisted on accompanying me today because “yesterday was rough.”

He isn’t wrong.

“I have to say, after your mom’s bad behavior, I think she should have to do it instead.”

“No shit,” I agree. I stopped by her office this morning to talk to her before my first class. I figured I’d be calmer before I had to take on the chricklers and Jude in the same afternoon—but she blew me off. Told me she’d try to make time for us to “chat” after school.

Also, that damn storm that was brewing yesterday is moving in fast—which means the chricklers should be in extra nasty moods today. I’m a little terrified that I’m going to be longing for yesterday’s level of roughness before the next hour is over.

“I think you should let me go in with you,” Luis suggests for the fourteenth time today as we continue down the hallway. “It’s clear you need help.”

“Yeah, but if my mother catches you helping me—” I start, but Luis cuts me off.

“It’s not like I’m going to tell anyone,” he says, making a face at me. “And it’s not like your mother is going to be setting so much as a toe down here any time soon. No one has to know.”

“Yeah, until one of the chricklers takes a chunk out of you.”

He rolls his eyes. “Claudia seems good at keeping secrets.”

“You really want to test that theory?” I shoot back as I pull out my phone to turn on the flashlight. Before I swipe it on, I fire off another text to Serena, asking how the spell and the interview went. I really hope she gets the job.

“I can’t believe your uncle didn’t replace the lightb—” Luis breaks off as I stop dead. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” My stomach clenches a little, but I ignore it. Just like I ignore the fact that the closer we get to the end of this hallway, the more I notice a strange glow coming from the vestibule at the end.

“Your face doesn’t look like it’s nothing.” He glances at me, concerned.

“It’s probably just the storm. No big deal.”

But then a low, rasping moan creeps its way around the corner and stops me in my tracks.

“What?” Luis demands, skidding to a halt beside me. “What did you see?”

“It’s not what I saw. It’s what I heard.” The sound comes again, lower and more desperate this time, as unease slithers along my skin.

Luis, on the other hand, jumps straight past panic into full-blown terror. “I didn’t hear anything. Did something actually get out?” He squints his eyes, surveying the hallway with his diminished but still excellent wolf vision.

“It’s not the menagerie.” I try to force my feet to start moving again, but they don’t budge.

His eyes widen as he finally figures out why he isn’t hearing—or seeing—what I am. “Oh, fuck.”

I look down at the floor, focus on the cracks running through the cement, and force myself to get my shit together.

“Let’s go,” I tell him.

“Go?” Luis looks wild eyed. “Don’t we need a plan? The last thing I want is for them to hurt you again.”

“They won’t.” I blow out a breath. “And I have a plan.”

“Oh yeah?” His brows go up.

“Get in front of me and run like hell. We’ll take the long way to the chricklers and hope they don’t follow us.”

“That’s it? That’s the whole plan?” he demands.

I nod. “That’s the whole plan.”

“I should have made it clear I meant a good plan.” Still, he starts backing up. “Okay, tell me when to run.”

Another eerie wail makes every one of my pores prickle. The sounds are getting closer.

One more deep breath before I force myself to shout, “Now!”

We book it all the way back down the hallway, but I skid to a stop a few feet before we have to turn because the eerie light is leaking around that corner, too.

“Why are we stopping?” Luis demands. “Shouldn’t we—”

“We need to get to the stairwell.” I grab his arm and start tugging him backward.

“The stairwell? What about the chricklers?”

“They’ll have to wait.” But the second I turn around, I know it’s too late.

“What do we do?” Luis yells.

“I don’t know,” I answer. Because everywhere I turn is suddenly filled with ghosts.

Hundreds and hundreds of ghosts.






  The ghosts hover just a few inches off the floor, and they all have three things in common. They’re all translucent, they all have a strange, misty glow that radiates from inside them, and they all emit a musty smell that reminds me of old, dusty books.

Right now, the hallway smells like a dim, ancient library even though it’s lit up like a fireworks show. 

“Shit, there are a lot today,” I mutter. I try to draw a mental map around them to the stairwell, but it’s so crowded right now that I don’t know how I’m supposed to get past them all unscathed.

Because of Calder Academy’s long and not-so-illustrious past, a lengthy, spectral legacy has remained. One that is distinctly uncomfortable for me, since I’ve been able to see them my entire life.

I don’t know why I can see them when no one else in my family can. And I definitely don’t know why the same spell and equipment that inhibit my manticore magic, that keep me from being able to shift or create venom, don’t also tamp down this weird ability. Maybe it’s not a power at all. Maybe it’s something extra the fates decided to curse me with, as if being born on this damn island wasn’t curse enough.

Whatever it is, it’s led me here, to staring at a sea of the dead. 

I take a few tentative steps, then really wish I hadn’t because hundreds of milky gray eyes turn toward me. Seconds later, they all start slowly floating in my direction—which, I decide, is an invitation to get the hell out of dodge.

I take off at a sprint, with Luis right behind me. I sidestep a couple of giant hoop skirts and a rolling head right off the bat and even manage to juke my way around a conductor waving his cane in the air as he leads a symphony none of us can hear.

Confidence fills me—maybe I’ll actually make it to the end without getting stopped—but then, out of nowhere, something flickers directly in front of me. I have one moment to recognize it as a teenage girl—one with waist-length hair and a septum piercing—and then I’m running straight through her.

Pain slams into me, taking hold of my insides and shaking them until I feel like I’m about to explode. Like the very molecules that make up every part of me are spinning faster and faster, bouncing off each other before hurtling themselves at the inside of my skin. I clamp my teeth together to stop an instinctive whimper from escaping, but I stumble regardless. Luis makes a dive for me, but his hand glances off my shoulder, and I fall flat on my face. What the hell was that? It didn’t feel like a ghost—or at least, not like any ghost I’ve ever touched before.

Luis reaches down and pulls me up, but I barely take more than a step or two before I come face-to-face with Finnegan, one of the ghosts I’ve known the longest.

“Clementine.” His low rasp fills the hallway, along with the clank of his manacles as he lumbers toward me, dragging his left leg behind him through the mist. One of his eyes is hanging halfway down his cheek, attached through the eye socket by a thin, barely visible silver thread.

As he makes his way to me, I catch a streak of red out of the corner of my eye. 

I turn my head, try to figure out what other student would be foolish enough to risk it down here if they didn’t have to. But before I can figure it out, Finnegan reaches for me and snaps me back to my oh-so-painful reality. 

“Clementine, please,” he mumbles, his dislocated jaw popping and clicking as one translucent hand tries to touch my shoulder. I dodge it just in time and start running. 

“I can’t help you, Finnegan,” I tell him, but as usual, he can’t hear me. 

I don’t slow down, just keep racing toward the stairwell. Something else flickers to my right, and I jerk backward, whirling away so as not to get caught by whatever that is again.

It works, and I even manage to avoid a small group of ghosts dressed in shorts and bathing suits…only to plow through yet another flicker-like being that materializes directly in front of me.

The thing is huge—dressed in what looks, alarmingly, like a spacesuit—and trailing the same kind of shimmery material the teenage girl was. It appears totally different from the usual mist. But before I can even wonder why that is, I run headfirst into what feels like a million fragments of glass.

They slice through me, burrowing beneath my skin, cutting into my flesh, my bones, my heart. They shred every part of me and send the pieces crashing against each other until I can’t breathe, can’t think, can’t stand.

I scream as I start to fall, and I throw my arms out in a futile effort to catch myself. It doesn’t work, and I stumble several more steps before falling to my knees.

Behind me, Luis shouts, “Get up, Clementine!” as he grabs my arm and starts to pull.

The spirits are closing in on me from all directions now—the weird flickers and full-blown ghosts—and there’s nothing I can do to stop them.

Luis positions himself in front of me, trying to protect me as best he can from the unprotectable. He even raises his fists like he’s ready for a fight, though I have no idea what defense he thinks that will be against a bunch of ghosts he can’t even see.

I scramble for purchase as I try to get upright. But then a spectral chest crashes into my shoulder from behind, and a thousand needles prick my skin. Another ghost grabs my arm, sending ice-cold razor blades slicing through me. 

My stomach rolls and pitches at the agony.

I stagger away in a desperate attempt to escape the pain…only to run into another flicker.

And not just any flicker. This one is a small toddler wearing dragon pajamas and carrying an oversize looking glass.

“Hold me!” he wails, his little fingers clutching at my hip. The pain is so intense that it burns straight through my skin to the flesh—and bones—below.

Instinctively, I start to jerk away, but tears are pouring down his little face. He’s no more than three or four, and flicker or not, pain or not, I can’t just leave him like this.

And so I crouch down until our faces are level, ignoring Luis’s startled, “Clementine! What are you doing?”

I know he can’t hear me, can’t feel me, but I reach out a finger to wipe a few of the boy’s tears away anyway. The weird, fiery feeling spreads to my fingertips and my palms.

His only response is to throw his ghostly arms around me and sob harder as he presses his little face into my neck. I can’t feel his weight in my arms, but agony swamps me at the contact anyway, pain flowing over me from all sides. But I don’t let go—how can I when he’s got no one else to hold him?

“What’s wrong? Are you okay?” I say instinctively, even though I know an answer won’t come. 

But he shakes his head, sending new, deeper waves of pain through me, even as he whimpers, “I don’t like snakes.”

“Me either,” I answer with a shudder. But then it dawns on me that he’s not just talking to me—he’s answering me.

Which means he can hear me, even though none of the other spirits have ever been able to.

I only have a second to wonder how that’s possible before he asks, “Why not?” His teary eyes are wide, and his little hands burn my cheeks where he cups them.

“I was bit by one when I was your age, and I haven’t gone near a snake since.” 

He nods like that makes sense before whispering, “Then you should run.”


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