Read Wax Online

Authors: Gina Damico


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Copyright © 2016 by Gina Damico


All rights reserved. For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to
[email protected]
or to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016.


Cover photo © by Steve Gardner

Cover design by Lisa Vega


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Damico, Gina, author.

Title: Wax / Gina Damico.

Description: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. | Summary: Seventeen-year-old Poppy stumbles into a secret workshop at the infamous Grosholtz Candle Factory and soon, a wax boy called Dud is helping her uncover an evil plot that threatens her hometown of Paraffin, Vermont.

Identifiers: LCCN 2015035202 | ISBN 9780544633155 (hardback)

Subjects: | CYAC: Wax figures—Fiction. | Supernatural—Fiction. | Mystery and detective stories. | Humorous stories. | BISAC: JUVENILE FICTION / Humorous Stories. | JUVENILE FICTION / Mysteries & Detective Stories.

Classification: LCC PZ7.D1838 Wax 2016 | DDC [Fic]—dc23 LC record available at


eISBN 978-0-544-63318-6

For the CCE.

Sex, murder, comedy . . .
all in a night's work.


Here is what you'd find in the Acknowledgments Wing of my wax museum:

A shrine to my agent, Tina Wexler: confidante, hilarious-story trader, doodler of a magnifying glass named Grandpa. Thank you for being a wonderful friend and a wonderful agent, in that order.

An altar to my editor, Julie Tibbott: When I got the idea for this book, my very next thought was,
This is something Julie will totally dig.
Thank you for liking weird things. And
Jesus Christ Superstar. 

A family diorama: These poor souls, predicted to have left me long ago, stuck around through hell, high water, and painful revisions. Only the strong have endured, and to them, I say thank you.

A collection of stately busts of those working tirelessly behind the scenes: Betsy Groban, Julia Richardson, Lisa DiSarro, Hayley Gonnason, Ruth Homberg, Helen Seachrist, Amy Carlisle, and all the other rock stars at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Katie O'Connor at Audible; Roxane Eduard at Curtis Brown; Berni Barta at ICM; Maxine Bartow, copyeditor extraordinaire; and Lisa Vega and Steve Gardner for that gorgeous, creeptastic cover.

A series of commemorative candles lit to honor those who champion my books and all books: librarians, teachers, booksellers, bloggers, and word-of-mouthers, plus an especially fragrant one for Dodie Ownes.

And finally, a mirror. That's YOU, dear reader! Thank you for lending me your eyeballs for a while (or ears, if you are listening to the audiobook). No matter which organs you use to consume this story: I hope you enjoy. 

Thanks for visiting the Acknowledgments Wing! No refunds.


And apples and oranges. Cranberries and peaches. Ginger and cinnamon, coconut and honeysuckle. Roses, lilies, lavender, and freshly cut grass. Chocolate chip cookies, banana splits, vanilla beans, and snickerdoodles.

It smelled of Citrus Dreams, Tahiti Sunsets, The Night Before Christmas, and New Car Leather. Babbling Brooks, Sun-Kissed Linens, Ocean Breezes, and Stolen Midnights.

Spice and musk and tea and rum. Love and home and peace and America.

The town of Paraffin smelled of everything.


At the same time.

the time.

Each scent layered one on top of the other, mixing and mingling, fusing and swelling into an odorous abomination that could knock an unsuspecting sniffer off his feet​—​a gag-inducing whiff that attacked the nostrils with a ruthless barrage of cinnamon-and-death-scented stink.

Other than that, Paraffin was a lovely place to visit.

Its population numbered 1,014. The streets were tree-lined, the lampposts adorned with Star-Spangled Banners. The town square overlooked a little blue lake, where human-hating geese assembled to peck at bread and discuss their plans for world domination. Across the lake rose Mount Cerumen, a postcard-perfect background for the fireworks that exploded over the waterfront every Wednesday night in the summertime. Main Street featured country shops stocked to brimming with farmhouse tchotchkes, animal-themed coffee sets, and wooden signs with painted homespun sayings like “If You Want Breakfast in Bed, Sleep in the Kitchen” and “When I Get the Urge to Clean, I Lie Down Until It Passes!” plus enough chocolate, cheese, and pure Vermont maple syrup to sustain the populace well into the apocalypse.

But these and any other regional attractions paled in comparison with the ever-present behemoth across the lake. Nestled in the foothills of Mount Cerumen sat Paraffin's bread and butter, the
cash cow with which no amount of cow-shaped dairy creamers could compete: the Grosholtz Candle Factory.

The building was a strange amalgamation, a mutant hybrid from two vastly different eras: the front, a modern retail experience comprising clean lines, bright colors, and welcoming customer service; the back, a soaring candelabra of a structure, a castle straight out of Transylvania, with spires looming so high that in the dead of winter they cast eerie, spiky shadows onto Paraffin's sidewalks.

It had been there for as long as anyone could remember. Its provenance was murky; spotty record-keeping at the time had all but doomed its origins to the frustrated conjectures of local historians. To have the archives tell it, the entire enterprise seemed to have popped up overnight. And while the layers of architectural schizophrenia suggested that it had changed hands more than once, the names of the owners of those hands were lost to the icy Vermont winds.

But no one really cared where it came from. Whatever its past, the Grosholtz Candle Factory had grown from its humble beginnings into a wax-poured juggernaut of industry, posting annual sales of half a billion dollars and growing. Convinced that happiness was only a twenty-dollar hunk of wax away, candle enthusiasts came from all over the world to gape at the groaning shelves of merchandise, watch the children's barnyard animal show, peruse the candle museum, make their own candles and wax hand molds, and, of course, take the factory tour.

The tourists​—​a special brand of sightseers, happy to endure a multiple-hour car ride as long as there were tasteful wicker basket displays at the end of it​—​
the conglomerated smell. As if on a pilgrimage, they'd walk through the store's swishing automatic doors, close their eyes, and inhale deeply, dragging every note of sage and sandalwood and Santa's Sleigh down to the bottommost pocket of their lungs.

Those who lived in Paraffin year-round thought these people were bonkers. Every morning at sunrise that ubiquitous funk would waft down from the factory, skate across the pond, and wriggle between each and every molecule of clean mountain air. Some townspeople claimed that they could no longer smell it. Those townspeople were lying.

Though probably with good reason. Because with the stench came a small, barely quantifiable feeling of unease that no one in town could put a finger on. With its spectral architecture, the factory had a certain quality​—​something out of a dark and twisted fairy tale, perhaps. Although additions had been made to bring it up to modern standards, the wooden structures of the original remained, tucked away from the tour buses, snaking up the side of the mountain like the legs of a prowling spider. Over the years, urban legends had bubbled up, stories about malevolent spirits and dark presences. With the smokestacks puffing late into the night, the entire framework seemed to breathe, savoring the scents of its own making.

But other than the weirdness, the smell, and the blatant tourist-trappiness of it all, Paraffiners had nothing but love for the Grosholtz Candle Factory. It created jobs and kept the economy afloat at a time when many other small manufacturing towns in the area had perished. And with candles stuffed into the nooks and crannies of every home, no one was left in the dark when the occasional nor'easter knocked the power out.

Yes, the town of Paraffin was a happy place. The grass was green; the streets were clean. The residents were good, wholesome cheese-loving people. They worked hard, they loved their kids, and they greeted every day with a smile. They said hello to one another in passing, and they watered their neighbors' plants while they were away. They had no reason to distrust their fellow citizens or suspect that they were up to anything heinous, no reason at all.

Until, one day, they did.


Pick a fight with a computer

herself on live television in front of thirty million Americans, but convincing the CVS touchscreen to reverse its stance on her bungled self-checkout transaction​—​
was pure torture.

“Help is on the way!” the computer chirped.

“I don't
help,” Poppy told it. “I
you to take my coupon.”

The pharmacist leaned out over her pharmacy battlements. “You need some help, hon?”

“I'm told it's already on the way.”

The pharmacist came to her aid, a woman with limp hair and glasses that in all likelihood had been swiped from the nearby rotating eyewear display. She must have been a recent transplant; Poppy had never seen her around town before. The name tag on her blue polo shirt said

“Hi, Jean!” Poppy said. Politeness went a long way in the art of savings.

“Hi there. What seems to be the problem?”

“Sorry to pull you away from your drugs. It's my coupon.” Poppy showed her the crumpled-up coupon smelling of receipt ink and old gum that had been trawling around the bottom of her bag since her mother imparted it two weeks earlier. “It didn't work.”

“Well, let's give it another try.” She took the coupon from Poppy and smoothed it between her hands, as if Poppy had not done this half a dozen times by now.

Only twenty minutes were left before she had to get back to school for rehearsal, but Poppy remained patient​—​albeit less than thrilled to have to sit through yet another round of Let the Adult Fix the Thing That the Idiot Teenager Broke. “The machine told me to scan my coupons,” she explained, “so I did. Then it beeped. Then it scolded me. Then it stopped talking altogether and decided to have an existential crisis instead.”

“Sorry about that. These things can be finicky sometimes.”
put a hand on her chin and looked from the screen to Poppy. “Did you wave it across the scanner in a fluid mo​—”

She froze. Her mascara-laden lids began to blink rapidly. “Wait a sec. Are you . . .”

Oh, crapnugget.

“Yes,” Poppy said through the tiny hole her mouth had formed. “Yes, I am.” Immediately she looked down at the floor and rubbed the scar at the edge of her hairline, her default reaction whenever someone recognized her. It wasn't her favorite reflex; she'd prefer to strike a heroic stance and burst out of the nearest plate-glass window in an epic display of bravado and fearlessness. But some bug in her internal programming wouldn't allow it.

put a hand to her mouth, which Poppy could tell was twitching at the edges. “Oh, my.”

“Please, just​—”

“Poor thing.” Despite the woman's best efforts to be polite, her eyes crinkled in that way that suggested there was a laugh coming, a bombastic chortle barreling its way up her throat with no regard for tact or civility or the feelings of an emotionally fractured seventeen-year-old. “How are you holding up, dear?”

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