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Darla Decker Breaks the Case: Darla Decker Diaries, #5

Darla Decker Breaks the Case: Darla Decker Diaries, #5

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Darla Decker Breaks the Case: Darla Decker Diaries, #5

267 pages
3 hours
Oct 2, 2017


Three best friends, thirty-two cats, one amazing mystery—I just hope I don't cause too much trouble before 9th grade.

"Darla Decker has to be one of my favorite young adult protagonists." ~ AvidEye

It's the summer before high school, and secrets are turning Darla Decker's life upside down. With her parents' increasing distance and her brother's eagerness to escape, life is tense at home.

Even Darla, Reggie, and Nate's first training weekend as Camp Wakonda counselors is tougher than they imagined. But when she and her best friends uncover a shocking connection between Reggie's grandmother and Shiloh Farms' resident demon-bus-driving cat lady, the trio dives into a mystery that's been decades in the making.

Will Darla, Nate, and Reggie's friendship survive the turbulent days leading to ninth grade, or will it fade like so many other relationships into the past?

EVOLVED PUBLISHING PRESENTS a frank and funny look at the path to adulthood, in the fifth book of the "Darla Decker Diaries" series, which takes us on a journey of love, loss, and the nitty-gritty of growing up as seen through Darla Decker's eyes. [DRM-Free]

"...the spirit of the 'Darla Decker Diaries' is universal. That growing up is amazing and awful. Beautiful and heart-wrenching at every turn. It's something that is frightening for all of us but we also all have it within ourselves to get through it. With a little help from our friends." ~ C. Clark, Author


  • Book 1: "Darla Decker Hates to Wait"
  • Book 2: "Darla Decker Takes the Cake"
  • Book 3: "Darla Decker Shakes the State"
  • Book 4: "Darla Decker Plays It Straight"
  • Book 5: "Darla Decker Breaks the Case"


  • The "NorthWatch" Series by Cagey Magee
  • The "Chosen" Series by Jeff Altabef
  • The "Dirt and Stars" Series by Kevin Killiany
  • The "Stormbourne Chronicles" Series by Karissa Laurel
  • The "Essence of Ohr" Series by Parris Sheets


Oct 2, 2017

About the author

Jessica McHugh is an author of speculative fiction that spans genres, from horror and alternate history, to epic fantasy and young adult. A member of the Horror Writers Association and a 2013 Pulp Ark nominee, she has devoted herself to novels, short stories, poetry, and playwriting.

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Darla Decker Diaries – Book 5

Copyright © 2017 Jessica McHugh


ISBN (EPUB Version): 1622532589

ISBN-13 (EPUB Version): 978-1-62253-258-2


Editor: Whitney Smyth

Cover Artist: Kris Norris

Interior Designer: Lane Diamond



At the end of this novel of approximately 52,553 words, you will find two Special Sneak Previews: 1) WARDEN’S REIGN by Parris Sheets, the first book in the critically-acclaimed, multiple award-winning Essence of Ohr series of YA Fantasy adventures, and; 2) CASS AND WAT by Cagey Magee, the award-winning first book in the NorthWatch series of YA Coming-of-Age Mystery/Thrillers. We think you’ll enjoy these books, too, and provide these previews as a FREE extra service, which you should in no way consider a part of the price you paid for this book. We hope you will both appreciate and enjoy the opportunity. Thank you.


eBook License Notes:

You may not use, reproduce or transmit in any manner, any part of this book without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations used in critical articles and reviews, or in accordance with federal Fair Use laws. All rights are reserved.

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only; it may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, please return to your eBook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.



This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or the author has used them fictitiously.

Books by Jessica McHugh



Book 1: Darla Decker Hates to Wait

Book 2: Darla Decker Takes the Cake

Book 3: Darla Decker Shakes the State

Book 4: Darla Decker Plays It Straight

Book 5: Darla Decker Breaks the Case


Other Titles

Danny Marble & the Application for Non-Scary Things

From the Herald’s Wearied Eye


Rabbits in the Garden

The Sky: The World

The Tales of Dominhydor


We’re pleased to offer you not one, but two Special Sneak Previews at the end of this book.


In the first preview, you’ll enjoy the First Chapter of Parris Sheets’ WARDEN’S REIGN, the first book in the critically-acclaimed, multiple award-winning Essence of Ohr series of YA Fantasy adventures.





ESSENCE OF OHR Series at Evolved Publishing

In the second preview, you’ll enjoy the First 2 Chapters of Cagey Magee’s CASS AND WAT, the award-winning first book in the NorthWatch series of YA Coming-of-Age Mystery/Thrillers.





The NorthWatch Series at Evolved Publishing

Table of Contents


Books by Jessica McHugh




Chapter 1 – All Sewn Up

Chapter 2 – Trash Bash

Chapter 3 – Rickrolled

Chapter 4 – Crucifixion

Chapter 5 – All Aboard the CIT Train

Chapter 6 – Don’t Let the Sugarbugs Bite

Chapter 7 – Summer School

Chapter 8 – Boxed Out

Chapter 9 – The Heir

Chapter 10 – Fake Fire #1

Chapter 11 – Fake Fire #2

Chapter 12 – Deal or No Deal

Chapter 13 – Sneaky Petey

Chapter 14 – Playstuff

Chapter 15 – Celebrity

Chapter 16 – Flashes of the Past

Chapter 17 – Cabin in the Woods

Chapter 18 – True Love Is....

Chapter 19 – Morning Breath

Chapter 20 – Omissions

Chapter 21 – Reunion

Chapter 22 – The Last Case


About the Author

More from Jessica McHugh

More from Evolved Publishing

Special Sneak Preview: WARDEN’S REIGN by Parris Sheets

Special Sneak Preview: CASS AND WAT by Cagey Magee


For Sandy, who knew these same forests and streams, and with whom I’ve shared a lifetime of firelight.

Chapter 1 – All Sewn Up

Darla, you ripped my grandma’s Muffin!

Reggie Faraday snatched the stuffed cat from Darla’s hands and inspected the white fluff protruding from its busted belly seam.

It was an accident. Darla pouted her lip as Nate Young peered over her shoulder.

He pointed to the cat’s tag with a jubilant hoot. Who cares what it was! It’s says ‘Number One, Muffin.’ You guys, it’s the first Mrs. Marchio cat! We finally found it!

Ssh! Reggie pressed her finger to her lips, and then poked the fluff back into Muffin’s stomach. I don’t know why you guys are flipping out. This belongs to my grandma, not Mrs. Marchio. It’s just a coincidence.

Nate’s blinked in disbelief. But it has the same numbered tag.

Other animals have numbered tags.

Darla chirped, But—

Reggie waggled a finger in Darla’s face. You listen to me, Darla Decker. This has nothing to do with your crazy Shiloh Farms cat lady. I don’t want this Muffin thing giving you any weird ideas.

Darla scrunched her nose, slightly annoyed that Reggie had a point. Just because her grandmother owned a stuffed toy resembling real cats kept by a reclusive ex-bus driver in Darla’s neighborhood, it didn’t necessarily mean they were connected. It was a compelling argument, however.

Even so, Darla held up her hands in surrender. Fine. I won’t mention Marchio again, and I won’t get any weird ideas. I wouldn’t want your grandma to find out you were snooping anyway.

Breath shot from Reggie’s flared nostrils. "You were the one snooping. I was getting you a tampon, and— Her gaze abruptly dropped, and her eyes widened. With her hand clamped to her mouth, she said, Darla, your pants."

A spot the size of a wilting grape had blossomed on the thigh of Darla’s sweatpants. Reggie winced, Nate chuckled, and Darla squeezed her legs together before waddling, red-cheeked, to Grandma Helen’s bathroom.


Framed flowers adorned every wall. Whether painted, photographed, or pieced together from dried petals, the bathroom was homage to all things floral—though it smelled decidedly more like coconut.

She set her phone aside and stared into the blue and yellow tampon box on Grandma Helen’s rose pink vanity. The plastic sheaths crinkled when she plucked a tampon from the pack, the pearlescent violet color reminding her of freshly dyed eggs on Easter morning. The similarity summoned a smile, even a bit of comfort, in the moments before Darla shimmied off her stained sweatpants. She gagged as she peeled off the soggy overnight pad, balled it up in an excessive amount of toilet paper, and screwed it deep into the trashcan. She dried her stained pants as best she could, washed her hands, and stood with the tampon in her fist as she unfolded the instructions. Widening her stance, she laid the unnerving anatomical illustrations on her bridged underwear.

Before using, see back page for information regarding Toxic Shock Syndrome—

Toxic Shock Syndrome?

Darla briefly remembered learning about tampon toxicity in health class, but she didn’t recall such a frightening name. She turned over the instructions like the tampon might explode in her hand if she didn’t read fast enough. Exhaling a shuddering breath at the word warning in bold capital letters, she scrutinized the symptoms of TSS and how to prevent the syndrome by using the minimum tampon absorbency for the grams of her menstrual flow.

She furrowed her brow at the stains on her pants, and then tossed her gaze to the trashcan. How many grams had she bled? There was a scale in Grandma Helen’s bathroom; should she remove the pad and weigh it?

She scrunched her face and shook her head. The tampons were labeled regular, and she assumed—hoped, actually—that her period was regular, too.

Satisfied she wouldn’t contract TSS tonight, she flipped over the instructions and honed in on the second scariest phrase: Insertion of the Tampon.

She held the tampon as directed and squatted awkwardly over Grandma Helen’s floral bathmat with one foot planted on the edge of the tub. Just as she was about to brave insertion, Darla’s phone vibrated on the sink. She flinched, dropping the tampon onto her underwear. She pinched it by the grooved rings on the outer barrel and waddled across the Faraday’s bathroom like she’d shoved the tampon in the wrong place.

She fumbled with the phone and opened the message from Reggie, which contained an emoji of a cat with hearts in its eyes and the phrase, R U OK?

She huffed and typed, Out in a sec. Back on the bathmat, she assumed the strangely powerful position again. Exhaling her tension in a forceful burst, Darla pushed the plunger until it was flush with the end of the applicator barrel and she could no longer feel the tampon inside her. Looking between her legs, Darla gently tugged the dangling tampon string like ringing a victory bell, grinning even as she toddled to the sink to wash her hands.

Someone rapped on the door, and Darla quickly pulled up her pants, wincing at the feeling of cold blood spots as her underwear pressed against her skin.

She opened the door for Reggie, who held up some pajamas pants fragrant with the freshness of dryer-sheets. With gleeful gratitude, Darla accepted the clothes and shut the door. She pulled on the clean pants and after pocketing a few more tampons, set the box under the sink, where she spotted a travel-sized sewing kit.

With a brilliant idea and her first tampon in place, Darla faced the mirror and shot the woman in the reflection a confident wink.


Reggie was hunched in her grandmother’s chair like the furniture might suddenly spring to life and snitch on them. Nate spun away from a picture of Grandma Helen and her deceased husband, Colten, with the stuffed cat clutched to his chest.

Reggie sprang up at her entrance and Nate stopped pacing, his head cocked at the sewing kit. I’m not an expert on female anatomy, he said, but you don’t need a needle to get tampons in, do you?

I thought we could fix the rip, Darla replied. Then there’s no way your grandma will know you were—

When Reggie’s eyeballs whirled around in her sockets, Darla bit her lip.

"She won’t know I was snooping around her room, she corrected. Snatching the cat from Nate, she held up the kit and said, Now let’s sew up this kitty."

She touted the kit like a drum major’s baton as she marched down the hall. Glancing behind her at Matty’s room, she spotted strange bright purple symbols glowing on his walls.

What the—

Reggie shushed her. It’s just Matty being Matty.

Mrs. Faraday was dozing on the couch with her hand in a bowl of popcorn, so the trio slipped past her on tiptoes and down into the basement. The moment Darla’s feet hit the cold concrete, however, she danced in celebration and leapt onto the couch. Flipping open the sewing kit on her knee, she selected white thread to match the kitty’s belly. She licked the frayed end of the thread and, after a few bumbling attempts, skewered the eye of the needle. Once she’d stitched up half of the rip, Darla cleared her throat. So... she began cautiously, if it isn’t Marchio’s—

You said you wouldn’t mention her, Reggie said flatly.

Okay. If it isn’t connected to the lady with numbered cats that look like this one, Darla continued, what is it?

How would I know? Reggie said. It’s probably something my Grandpa Colt won at a carnival.

Darla nodded. You’re probably right.

You could be wrong, Nate chimed. Call me crazy, but this tag looks like it was hand-stitched. It’s crooked and frayed. Would a carnival give away a prize like that?

The last Fairmount Day carnival I went to raffled off boxes of cake mix and mashed potatoes. Why not give away a ratty handmade cat? Reggie said as she tapped her foot. Come on, Darla. I don’t want my mom to catch us.

As if touched by the hand of a trickster god, the basement light suddenly switched off. Darla’s stitch went astray, and the needle pricked her finger.

The light flipped on again, and Matty snickered from where he crouched on the basement steps. The smile dashed from his face when he zeroed in on the stuffed cat in Darla’s hands, and he tilted his head.

What are you guys doing?

None of your business, Reggie answered. Go on, back to your weird blacklight cave before I tell Mom you’re bugging us.

Matt descended the stairs with large, confident, tin-soldier strides. "First off, my blacklight cave is awesome. Second, Nate is technically my guest. Third.... He tapped his chin and shrugged. I still want to know."

Darla flashed Reggie a sympathetic look, and she grunted.

Fine. Just be quiet, she said to her brother.

Darla’s finger throbbed from the needle poke. She pinched out a droplet of blood before popping it in her mouth, indifferent to Nate’s gagging.

What are you, a vampire? he asked.

Hey, I lost a lot of blood today.

He gagged louder and clasped his throat as Matt ambled over.

What are you guys talking about?

Tell him, Decker, Nate said, scrunching his nose.

She shrugged and said matter-of-factly, I’m a vampire.

Matt pouted his bottom lip and tugged on Muffin’s ear. I still don’t think Grandma’s stuffed cat will help you much.

All eyes shot to Matty, and he flinched in confusion. Why are you looking at me like I pantsed the President?

You’ve seen this cat before? Darla asked.

Once, he said, snatching it from Darla’s hands. He held it by a loose thread and swung it like a pendulum. I was looking for scissors to cut out my D&D guy, and Grandma told me to look in her drawer. The cat was in there, too.

Reggie lifted her chin and smiled. Okay. Now tell them Grandpa gave it to her.

Matt shook his head, his lips pursed. That’s not what she told me.

Darla grabbed Muffin from Matt and tied off the last stitch. Tossing it back, she said, Did she ever mention a cat lady?

Or Shiloh Farms? Nate added. Maybe a demon bus?

Nothing like that, he said. She said she got it when she was little.

Each member of the trio sighed like the eighth-grader-to-be had proven all of their points, but they quickly realized they’d learned nothing.

Wait, you think this is connected to that lady in your neighborhood? Matt asked, squishing the cat.

No, Reggie replied quickly. It’s just a dumb cat named Muffin.

Matt waggled his finger at the tag. It does look like those cats with the numbered nametags, though.

Reggie tried to grab it back, but Matt dashed away before she could.

Darla’s pulse throbbed in her sore fingertip. She resumed sucking on it as she watched Reggie chase her little brother around the basement. Nate shushed them, but once the Faraday’s dog, Pepper, detected their excitement and began barking, there was no point. He laughed as the siblings made an obstacle course of the basement, scattering puzzles and PlayStation games as they skidded around the perimeter of the room. Pepper’s claws clacked on the concrete and caught on the rug, and she issued high-pitched yaps as she chased the siblings in this, one of her favorite games.

What is going on here? Mrs. Faraday began cantering down the stairs, and Matt chucked Muffin at Darla.

She dropped the cat to the floor and kicked it under the couch before Mrs. Faraday and her merlot-stained lips reached the bottom.

Darla’s bones frosted over. She stared at Reggie and Nate and said dryly, It’s Red Light, Green Light. Sorry if we got too loud. We’ll keep it down.

She narrowed her eyes and readjusted her grip on the railing. Shouldn’t you all be getting to bed?

Matt nodded and gestured for Nate. He trailed Mrs. Faraday up the stairs, but Reggie latched onto her brother before he could hit the first step.

You better keep quiet about this. Got it?

He pulled free, and a smile melted over his lips as he called up the stairs. Hey, Mom? Can I have a snack before bed?

Sure, hun. What do you want?

I don’t know why, Matt started with a sneer, but I have a weird craving for muffins.

Reggie fired a middle finger at him, which he mimicked and then placed against his lips as his focus shifted to Darla and he said, Shhh!

The secret was safe with Matty, which built and whirled a globe of sunshine around in Darla’s tummy. It must have showed on her face, because Reggie screwed up her own in annoyance.

Reggie waited an hour for the lights to blink out before starting upstairs to return the stuffed cat to Grandma Helen’s drawer. Holding the pilfered object to her chest with both hands, her shadow appeared to be clutching its breasts.

Darla laughed, and Reggie shot her a sneer before scuttling up into the dark. While she waited for her friend to return, she plucked her diary from her overnight bag and stuck her pen to the page.


Dear Diary,

There is a cotton torpedo in my hoo-ha, there’s a string tickling my inner thigh, there’s a girl snoring like a warthog in a wood chipper next to me, and all I can think about is Mrs. Marchio.

I just wrote so many weird things.

Why do I have a feeling things are going to get even weirder after middle school?


Darla tapped the page with her pen as her head whirled with the imagery from her tour of the high school a few weeks earlier, but while she remembered the taller lockers, student-made murals, and sports plaques, she couldn’t remember how many floors there were, or where the main office was. She couldn’t remember the difference between the gyms, or if the stage was bigger than the one

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