Authors: Philippa Dowding
THE BALLAD OF PETE FOURNETTE
looked over at his family in the booth. The Chicken Truck Man sat nearby, quietly sipping coffee. The waitress hummed over the coffee pot, wiping glasses.
It all seemed pretty normal. Or at least what passed as normal on this weird night.
But there was nothing normal about the photograph on the wall.
What were Pete Fournette and his dog doing in a one-hundred-year-old photograph?
It didn't make any sense. Pete Fournette was wearing the peaked hat, the silk scarf, even the leather gloves that Myles just saw him wearing back on the road. Myles backed away from the picture. He backed up toward the booth until he slowly sat down beside his sister. Bea glanced up at him and did a double-take.
“What's the matter with
? You look like you've seen a ghost!”
Myles shook his head. “I'm â¦ I'm really not sure,” he answered. “There's a picture, with a dog â¦ over thereâ¦.”
“Oh!” Myles's mother suddenly came to life. “Thanks for reminding me, Myles! I'm so tired, I almost forgot! Waitress! Excuse me!” she called. She lifted her hand, and the waitress hurried over with the coffee pot.
“More coffee?” the waitress asked, smiling and chewing her gum.
“I almost forgot to tell you!” Myles's mother said. “We met a man, back on the road. An old man, looking for his dog.”
There's a picture of him on the wall
, Myles wanted to add, but didn't.
“I didn't actually see the dog, but my son did. What was his name, again?”
“Courage,” Myles said, not looking up.
“Yes, Courage, that's right. Then a little further down the road, an old man stopped us and asked if we'd seen the dog. And the old man's name was â¦”
“Pete Fournette?” the waitress answered in a whisper. Her face was white. She placed the coffee pot on the table then sat down hard. Myles had the feeling she had to sit down suddenly. It was either sit down or fall down.
“Yes, that's right. You know him?” Myles's mother asked.
The lady nodded and whistled softly through her teeth. “That's a name I haven't heard in a while â¦ a LONG while. It's a name I thought I wouldn't hear again, to tell you the truth.” She looked slowly at each of them. Then she took a deep breath.
“What is it?” Myles's mother searched the waitress's face. The waitress looked un-comfortable and shifted her weight on the creaky old seat.
“Well, it's like this â¦” but she hesitated.
“Just tell them, Loretta!” the Chicken Truck Man at the counter said so loudly that everyone jumped.
“Tell us what?” Myles's mother looked a little worried now. The waitress, Loretta, looked nervous. “Well â¦”
Clearly, there was something
with Pete Fournette.
Mr. Chicken Truck Man got up and walked over to the booth. He wore a broken old baseball cap and greasy overalls. He leaned into their faces and whispered, “What Loretta here doesn't want to tell you is, there IS no Pete Fournette. Not strictly speaking. That old coot and his dog have been dead for over one hundred years.”
Dead? DEAD? One hundred years?
Myles's mother blinked at Mr. Chicken Truck Man. “What? What â¦ what does THAT mean? He's not dead, he's out there looking for his dog.”
But Myles slowly knew what Mr. Chicken Truck Man meant. He couldn't bring himself to say it â¦ but he knew all the same.
April 1908. It made perfect sense. Or was starting to.
Loretta drew in close to them. Just as though on cue, a flash of lightning lit up the rain outside the diner, followed by a boom of thunder. It was almost theatrically spooky. Myles gulped.
“This old diner used to be a roadhouse,” Loretta said. “It was the first and oldest gas station on this part of the highway. Well, back then they called it a gas depot. It's been here a long, long time. Pete and his dog used to go for a Sunday drive and come in here all the time.” Loretta paused. The family stared at the waitress.
Mr. Chicken Truck Man finished the story for her. “Now Pete Fournette comes out on rainy nights at this time of year. He stops lonely travellers and asks for help finding his dog,” he said, just to make sure they got the point.
“No one has ever seen his dog, though. I've never heard of that before,” Loretta added thoughtfully, looking at Myles.
“Well, what do you mean?” Myles's mother was shaking her head back and forth, like the words just didn't make any sense.
And they didn't. They just didn't. Except they really kind of did.
“Pete Fournette and his dog are dead, Mom. These people are saying that they're
,” Bea piped up. Myles was suddenly thankful that his sister was so logical about everything. Saying it out loud made it sound crazy â¦ but true.
It had to be true. What else would explain the gentle glowing of the dog, or how odd the old man looked? How faraway his voice sounded? Or how he was so out of place, and not wet in the rain? Or the picture from 1908?
It all made perfect sense to Myles.
“Bea's right. They're
, Mom,” he said, quietly.
?” His mother was doing an excellent impression of someone who just couldn't make sense of what she was being told. As though Mr. Chicken Truck Man and Loretta had just told her that she was living on Mars, or that she was about to sprout a second head.
“How can they be â¦
Myles knew he had to tell her. He drew up his courage and blurted it out. “There's a really old picture over there on the wall, Mom. It's Pete Fournette and his dog. It says April 1908 on the bottom.” Myles pointed at the picture in the hallway, but his mother just stared at him. Now he felt like maybe he should have kept that fact to himself. He suddenly felt a tiny bit sorry for his mother. The look on her face was a strange mixture of horror and exhaustion. She looked like she might just burst into crazy laughter at any second.
Myles didn't think he could handle that.
Luckily, Loretta finished the story, speaking quickly. “Pete Fournette was a rich old man who lived around here. One rainy spring night in 1912, his beloved dog, Courage, ran off. Old Pete went out to find him. He was walking beside the highway, then â¦ he disappeared. No one ever saw him again, although they looked and looked. His dog came home the next day, just fine.”
“So why did I see the dog, too?” Myles asked.
“I don't know, like I said, that's a first,” Loretta said quietly.
“So, we just saw â¦ a
?” Myles's mother was finally catching on.
Mr. Chicken Truck Man and Loretta both nodded silently. Then Loretta got up and walked through the swinging doors into the kitchen. They heard her rattle around for a few moments, then she walked back out holding an old book. She blew dust off the cover then sat down in the booth.
“I know it's weird. But people do see old Pete's ghost now and then. This is a log of all the people who have seen Pete over the years.” Loretta opened it, and Myles, Bea, and his mother all crowded forward to look at the pages. There were names and dates on each page, and signatures of people.
James McReady of Tottenham swears right and true that he saw old Pete Fournette walking the highway on this rainy night, April 4th, 1914 â¦
Evelyn Williams and her daughter Kate, of Wickhurst, saw old Pete Fournette on this rainy night, April 18th, 1916 â¦
Jane, Efrieda, and Benjamin Norland of Hillsburgh, saw and talked to old Pete Fournette plain and clear on this rainy night of April 7th, 1918. (Pete was offered a ride in the wagon, but refused it and strode off into the night.)
On and on the entries went. Bea was fascinated and read slowly through all the pages. Myles had enough after Jane, Efrieda, and Benjamin Norland of Hillsburgh. He got the picture.
Pete and his dog Courage were long dead.
had seen them both.
Myles noticed that his mother had stopped reading, too. Instead she was drumming her nails on the table, a bad habit when she was nervous. Loretta spoke up.
“This is just our old log. If the local library was open down the highway, you could go ask Mrs. Cody, the librarian, to show you the archives. They're more accurate and have photos and more information. Mrs. Cody tells the story of Pete Fournette on her summer ghost walks. The local kids all know the story off by heart â¦ he's a pretty well-known ghost around here. We used to get people in here all the time saying they saw him. Not so many lately, though. You're the first in a while.”
“The last entry was 1998, to be exact,” Bea piped up. She'd finished reading the logbook and was pointing at the last page.
Joe & Tara Donne, Toronto, April 2nd, 1998. Driving in the rain with the kids, when out of the blue a man appears. We slammed on the brakes. The man asked if we saw his dog and floated away over the fields â¦
“There are almost fifty entries in here,” Bea said.
“It's fifty-two, actually,” Loretta nodded. Myles's mother didn't budge. She was staring into the middle distance, clutching her coffee cup.
Myles felt a shiver deep inside. He KNEW something was wrong with that old man. But Courage? Courage seemed more real, somehow.
“If you want to know more, check with Mrs. Cody. Tomorrow. At the library,” Loretta said helpfully. “She'll want to take your pictures for the archives and get your full names and more information.”
“No thanks, we've seen enough,” their mother said quietly. “We really just want to go home.”
“Can you sign our logbook?” Loretta asked brightly.
“No, sorry. We've got to get going. Just say â¦” Myles's mother looked at her children for a moment. “Just say that a very tired family on a long, long drive saw Pete Fournette tonight.”
“And his dog,” Myles added quickly.
His mother nodded and said wearily, “Yes, and his dog.” Then she paid their bill, gathered up sack-of-potatoes Norman, and they left.
When the door slammed behind Myles and his family, Mr. Chicken Truck Man sighed.
“I gotta get those chickens to the farm, Loretta. I'm late. But I wonder â¦ I wonder if old Pete will ever find peace?”
Loretta looked sadly out the window into the rainy night. “I hope so, but he's a restless ghost. He's been around a long time.”
She hesitated. “Still, they saw the dog. Maybe that counts for something. Maybe this time Pete will find what he's looking for,” she whispered.
The Chicken Truck Man paid his bill and left. Loretta stared after him, looking out at the rainy night for a long while. She had written one word in the book where Myles's family name should have been:
CHICKEN ALL OVER
, Bea, sleeping Norman, and their mother all sat in the car. In a fit of sisterly love, Bea had told Myles he could sit in the front seat. Within seconds he remembered that the back seat was roomier, which was probably why Bea wanted it.
Before she started the engine, Myles's mother cleared her throat. She had something to say.
“Myles, Bea, I don't want to talk about what just happened. In the diner. About the â¦ about Pete Fournette and his dog. We can talk about it, maybe even laugh about it one day years from now. But not tonight. Right now, I have to get us home.”
Bea laughed. “I don't know what you're so worried about, Mom! It's just a trick. Come on, you don't
think that Pete and his dog are
, do you? Frankly, I think they just plant the dog and the spooky old guy out on the highway at this time of year. When someone stops to help, âPete' sends them to the diner so Loretta can sell more coffee and grilled cheese sandwiches.”
“What about the log book?” their mother asked.
“Fake, obviously,” Bea said. She sounded so sure.
“What about the old picture? On the wall?” Myles asked.
“Fake. All fake.”
“But why? Why would they fake it, Bea?” their mother asked. She sounded like she really, really wanted to be convinced by Bea.
Bea shrugged. “For fun? Because they're bored? To make money on tourists in the slow season? Who knows? Goodnight!” Then she laid her head on the back seat next to Norman and within a few moments she was snoring.
It was so unfair. Why did Bea and Norman get to sleep through everything? And trust Bea to come up with a completely sane explanation for a ghost.
But Myles and Bea were very different; they never agreed on anything. The old man was so strange, Myles knew there was something ghostly about him. And the dog
glowing, although there was no point telling anyone since no one would believe him. And the old photograph on the wall was no fake, he was sure of it.
Myles tried hard not to think about what just happened, but he couldn't help it. Bea was wrong. He had a sneaking suspicion his mother didn't believe Bea's explanation, either. Although she might have wanted to.
I don't care what Bea says, that old man was a ghost.
Myles's mother turned the key in the ignition.
That beautiful dog was a ghost, too. Courage.
She turned the key again.
She turned the key one more time and pumped the gas pedal.
But even if they are ghosts, the dog and the old man aren't nearly as scary as the monster out there.
Victor roared to life, with thick black smoke chugging out the back. They rolled away from the diner. Rain hit the top of the car and ran in streams down the windows. A little water leaked in through the back window, it was raining so hard. But then the back window always leaked, a little. The wipers
across the windshield, barely clearing a path through the water. Once in a while, the deep hum of thunder rolled over the fields.
Myles's mother drove very slowly. Too slowly. She drove like someone who was just learning to drive. She gripped the wheel so tightly that Myles could see her white knuckles.
His mom was nervous. She was a good driver, but Myles had never seen her so tense. He suddenly longed for some help.
“Mom, let's call Dad.” It came out of the blue. Myles was mad at his dad, it was true. They were only in this mess because of him. For making them move across the country. But still, it might help to hear Dad's voice. It might make everything seem â¦ more real.
“Oh, Myles, I'd love to call him, but it's three in the morning,” his mother answered. “He's asleep anyway. I don't want to bother him when we're so close. I want to surprise him. Plus, my phone is almost dead. I've only got one more phone call left before it dies for good.”
Myles frowned then pushed that thought away. Wait. His dad didn't
a phone call.
“Mom, can you lock the doors, please?”
Click. Click. Click. Click
He thought about the weird night. On the plus side, he hadn't seen or heard the monster for several hours. Not since before he saw Courage. Maybe it had stopped following them. Maybe it was gone. Myles bit his lip.
Headlights caught up to them. Mr. Chicken Truck Man and his soaked birds pulled past. He waved as he drove by. Water from his tires sprayed all over the windshield, and Myles's mother cursed under her breath.
Then the red lights of the chicken truck disappeared down the road. Mr. Chicken Truck Man had driven by fast, very, very fast.
Victor-the-Volvo rolled along for a while, very slowly. Myles was determined not to look out into the fields. He gave up checking the time. It didn't matter anymore. Nothing mattered. Nobleville didn't really exist, and they'd never get out of the car. They'd drive on this highway foreverâ¦.
Myles woke with a start. The car was slowing down, skidding in the rain.
Then â¦ lights.
There were red lights gleaming on the road up ahead. People stood at the side of the highway in the pouring rain. Victor-the-Volvo skidded to a stop.
“What now?” Myles's mother said under her breath.
A workman in a huge, flapping, yellow rain poncho and a hardhat stood in the middle of the road. Flares lit up the road ahead of him. Myles could see the flashing lights of a police car. His mother lowered the car window, water lashing into her eyes. A huge boom of thunder rolled over the car. She looked up into the workman's face.
“What's the problem?” She had to yell to be heard over the rain and wind.
The workman leaned into the car. Rain smacked across his face and dripped off the end of his nose.
“Bad accident up ahead, ma'am, sorry. You'll have to take a detour,” he yelled.
Myles's mother blinked. “A
? Why?” she yelled back. At that very moment a red-eyed chicken strutted by on the road. The chicken looked at Myles, ruffled its feathers, and walked on.
“The highway is closed up ahead. A farm truck overturned. There are chickens running all over the road, all over the field.”
Another wet chicken blew by the outside of the car and tumbled along the road. It blew on past, caught up in the wind. It had weird red eyes, glowing in the reflection of the car lights. More soaking, red-eyed chickens followed. They looked like tumbleweeds. A few of them flapped or strutted as they blew past the car.
Myles rubbed his own eyes, which he was sure were red and bleary-looking, too.
Tumble-chickens? What can possibly happen next?
His mother was still yelling at the man in the poncho.
“Couldn't we just drive on past? If we were careful?” Myles had never heard his mother's voice sound like that before. Angry? Annoyed? Fed up?
“Sorry, ma'am. Everything is taped off, there's no way to get past. But the detour will take you through those hills over there.” The man pointed at a far-off forest on a hill. The trees looked dark and frightening. Myles got an instant chill down his back.
“Just drive until you see the red detour sign, then turn left. It'll take you fifteen minutes out of your way. Sorry.” The workman spread his soggy hands and shrugged. He was trying to be nice. A policewoman came over to the car.
“Move along, ma'am,” she said. She didn't have a flapping rain poncho like the workman, and she looked soaked to the bone.
“Is the driver okay?” Myles's mother shouted at the policewoman.
“He's okay, not making much sense though. Talking about red eyes, red eyes. You've got to move along now, ma'am,” the policewoman answered.
Myles's mother nodded. She couldn't exactly argue with a police officer. She rolled up her window and brushed back her wet hair. Myles peeked at the wrecked chicken truck blocking the road. His stomach lurched.
“Mom, I think â¦ I think the chicken truck crashed because of me!” It
have been his fault. The policewoman said
. Mr. Chicken Truck Man must have seen â¦
“What's gotten in to you, Myles? Of course it's not your fault. It's just an accident.” His mother looked over at him.
“No, Mom, there's something out there, something following us!” Myles was too upset to say any more, but it did feel better to finally tell his mother a little about what was bothering him.
She didn't understand.
“Myles, the ghost story was weird, okay. Even if Bea is right, even if it was just a trick, it's a pretty scary one. I understand, you're a little anxious. More anxious than normal, maybe. But you didn't cause the accident. There's nothing following us, or I would have seen it. Look, Bea and Norman are sleeping. Just go to sleep. I'll get us there, I promise. Dad's pancakes for breakfast, remember?” She smiled at Myles and put her hand on his. “It'll be okay, we'll take the detour and get back on the highway before you know it. Go to sleep.”
Myles's stomach was a giant knot. There was NO WAY he was going to sleep. Not now. The car started very slowly down the bumpy gravel road.
They were on the detour.
Myles had thought it was dark on the highway, but the back roads were even darker, if that was possible. The trees were too close to the road, and he couldn't see very far ahead or behind the car. It started to rain harder than ever, the wind picked up, thunder rolled, low and ominous. Myles's mom turned the wipers up high. They made a horrible shriek, so she had to turn them back down to the medium setting, the
The detour road wasn't smooth like the highway. It was bumpy gravel, rock, and mud. The road turned to muddy guck beneath the car wheels. He and his mom peered out the car windshield together, into the endless night.
“M â Mom? Can you see anything?” Myles asked quietly.
His mom nodded. “Yes, if I go slowly enough, I can see the road. Don't worry. Check on Bea and Norman for me?”
Myles turned around, and there were his brother and sister, fast asleep. Bea's glasses were crushed into her cheek, and Norman looked like a little angel. Their heads were touching, and Bea had her arm across Norman's knees.
Myles was hit with a pang of worry for his sister and his little brother. They looked so helpless. He wanted to protect them from this rotten night.
Ghosts were one thing. Bea and his mother didn't seem too worried about
Monsters were another. He was the only one who
the truth, knew for sure what was following them, so he was the only one who could protect them.
Suddenly, he was glad his brother and sister were asleep. If he couldn't sleep, at least he could help his mother watch over them. It would be his job to keep them safe.
Then Myles had a terrible thought.
wake up. If he did, that would mean he'd have to pee. And if he had to pee, they'd have to stop. And the last thing Myles wanted was to stop on that scary back road.
But sometimes, when something suddenly occurs to you, it's because a part of you knows it's about to happen.
Myles held his breath â¦
don't wake up, Norman!
But Norman's blue eyes slowly flickered open. He looked at Myles and then opened his eyes wide.
“Haz to pee,” Norman whispered.