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Authors: Peg Kehret

Nightmare Mountain

BOOK: Nightmare Mountain
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Molly looked up the side of the mountain, and her breath caught in her throat. . . .

An avalanche!

It slid toward her, oozing down over the boulders like thick whipped cream poured from a giant pitcher. She watched as the grove of fir trees, the last of the timberline, was completely buried. In less than a second, the trees disappeared and the slanted rays of the setting sun glistened off the smooth white surface where the trees had been. An enormous slab of ice crashed to the ground beside her.

“Glendon!” She screamed his name but her voice was drowned out by the deafening roar as more ice and snow cascaded toward her.

Glendon screamed. The piercing cry came from behind her and was immediately swallowed by the sound of the avalanche.

If Glendon was back there, he was already buried and Molly knew that she would soon be overcome, too. . . .

“A fast-paced mystery-adventure with a heroine who shows courage and resourcefulness.”


Booklist

Nightmare

Mountain

Peg Kehret

PUFFIN BOOKS

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers,

345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.

Penguin Books Ltd, 27 Wrights Lane, London W8 5TZ, England

Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood, Victoria, Australia

Penguin Books Canada Ltd. 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2

Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road, Auckland 10, New Zealand

Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England

First published in the United States of America by Cobblehill Books,
an affiliate of Dutton Children’s Books,
a division of Penguin Books USA Inc., 1989

Published by Puffin Books,
a member of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 1999

Copyright © Peg Kehret, 1989

All rights reserved

THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS HAS CATALOGED THE COBBLEHILL EDITION AS FOLLOWS
:

Kehret, Peg.

Nightmare mountain / Peg Kehret. p. cm.

Summary: Twelve-year-old Molly’s visit to her aunt and uncle’s llama ranch in the state of Washington leads her into unexpected danger and suspense.

[1. Mystery and detective stories. 2. Ranch life—Washington (State). 3. Llamas—Fiction.] I. Title.

PZ7.K2518Ni 1989 [Fic]—dc19 89-1535 CIP AC

ISBN: 978-1-101-66085-0

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

For Ginny and Bob Bither

One

Dear Mom:

Someone’s trying to kill me. It’s too complicated to explain in a letter but will you cut your trip short so I can come home?

Aunt Karen’s worse and Uncle Phil is staying at the hospital with her, so they can’t help. I think Glendon might be the one who’s after me.

Please hurry.

Love,

Molly

P.S. This is no joke.

Two

Molly wondered what Glendon would be like. She’d seen pictures of him and she knew he was twelve years old, the same as she was, but she didn’t know much else about him.

Although it was six years since her Aunt Karen eloped with Phil Baldwin, Molly had never met Phil or his son. She hoped she would like Glendon. If he was fun to be with, she would have a great time during her month at the llama ranch. If he was a nerd . . . well, Molly wasn’t even going to consider that possibility. Think positive. That’s what her mom always said.

When Molly got off the plane at the Seattle airport, Aunt Karen was waiting. She looked just the way Molly remembered her—tall and slim and smiling.

“This,” Aunt Karen said, when she finally quit hugging Molly, “is your Uncle Phil.”

Molly looked up at the biggest man she’d ever seen. He wore a red-and-black-plaid wool shirt, jeans, and brown leather work boots. He had a thick, bushy beard and he towered over Aunt Karen.

“How do you do,” Molly said, and held out her hand.

“None of that formal how-do-you-do business with me, Molly Neuman,” he said, and he threw his huge arms around Molly, lifted her right off her feet, and gave her a bear hug. His beard prickled the skin on her face but she laughed and hugged him back.

“Put her down,” said Aunt Karen. “She isn’t a baby to be dandled in the air. You’ll embarrass her.”

“What?” roared Uncle Phil. “No female is ever embarrassed when a man wants to hug her. Isn’t that so, Molly?” He winked at her, as he put her back on her feet.

Molly winked back at him and he grinned. She knew she was going to like Uncle Phil.

“Why didn’t you tell me she was beautiful?” Uncle Phil said. “Maybe I could have controlled myself if I had been prepared.”

“Of course she’s beautiful,” Aunt Karen said. “She’s my niece, isn’t she? What did you expect?”

Molly knew she was not beautiful. She was a perfectly ordinary girl with short, straight brown hair, and braces
on her teeth, and a tendency to be pudgier than she’d like. But listening to them talk like that made her feel good.

Molly was disappointed that Glendon wasn’t at the airport.

“He’s in school,” Aunt Karen explained.

They drove north, nearly to the Canadian border, and then headed east. Molly, who had lived in Los Angeles all her life, marveled at all the trees. Everywhere she looked, it was green.

“Our ranch adjoins the North Cascades National Park,” Aunt Karen said. “The original owners intended to build a ski resort but they ran out of money before the project was completed.”

When the paved road ended, they continued on a narrow gravel lane that wound through groves of fir trees as it climbed higher. Molly pointed to white patches in the shaded areas of the forest.

“There’s still snow,” she said.

“The snow stays on Mount Baker all year round,” Uncle Phil said. “You just have to climb higher to get to it in the summer than you do in the winter.”

“Just beyond our ranch,” Aunt Karen said, “the road ends and there’s only a path on up the mountain.”

“A path and our lift,” Uncle Phil added. “There was a ski lift on the property and I’ve adapted it so we can carry supplies to the llamas during the summer months,
when they’re in the upper pasture. Most of the time, my truck will make it up the path but if we get a rainy spell, I have to use the lift.”

“I’ve never seen a ski lift,” Molly said. “I’ve only seen snow once before in my whole life.”

“An underprivileged child,” Uncle Phil said. “But we’ll change that. There’s still plenty of snow above our upper pasture.”

“How deep does it get in winter?” Molly asked.

“Over your head,” Uncle Phil said. “Over my head, too.”

“Aren’t you afraid it will bury your house?”

“The deep snow is farther up the mountain and it causes few problems. Once in awhile, a foolish hiker triggers a minor avalanche but mostly we just enjoy looking at it.”

Molly hadn’t expected to see snow in June. Maybe Glendon could teach her to ski.

The car bumped and bounced the last few miles. At last, they came to a gate across the road and Aunt Karen jumped out and held it open while Uncle Phil drove the car through.

“Our ranch is completely fenced, to keep the llamas in,” Uncle Phil explained. “Even the upper pasture.”

Molly peered out the window, eager for her first glimpse of a llama. “There’s one now,” she said. “There’s a whole bunch of them!”

“Sixty, in all,” Uncle Phil said. “Four more are already in the upper pasture for the summer and Merrylegs is in the barn. She’s expecting her baby any day now so we have her in a pen where we can keep an eye on her.”

“We’ll be moving the rest of these up the mountain to the high pasture this week,” Aunt Karen said. “Perhaps you’d like to help herd them.”

“You bet!” She looked at the llamas’ long, shaggy coats. “Do people buy them for their wool?” she asked.

“It would be much too expensive to have a llama only for the wool,” Aunt Karen said. “Their wool is used for spinning but that isn’t the main reason people buy them.”

“A few are bought for pack animals,” Uncle Phil said, “but most people want them for pets.”

Molly imagined what the manager of her condo in Los Angeles would say if she asked to keep a llama in the courtyard.

It felt good to get out of the car and stretch her legs. The two-story gray house had an old-fashioned front porch, with a railing and a porch swing. The house would make a good collage, Molly thought. She’d use gray flannel for the house and strips of white felt for the porch.

Her hobby was making collages out of fabric scraps. Last year she won first prize at her school’s Craft Show
for a collage of the school library. She’d used dozens of tiny scraps, all in different colors, for the shelves of books.

Aunt Karen opened the front door and led Molly inside. They were welcomed by a big dog, which barked happily and licked their hands.

“This is Buckie,” Aunt Karen said. “He’s part collie and part German shepherd. He’s had obedience training, so if he bothers you, tell him to sit and he’ll mind.”

“He won’t bother me,” Molly said. “I’ve always wanted a dog but our condo rules don’t allow pets.”

For an entire month, she could play with Buckie and brush him and take him for walks. This would be a great vacation!

Uncle Phil carried her bags up the stairs and down the hall to a small room at the back of the house.

“I’ll unpack later,” Molly said. “I want to go see the llamas first, and play with Buckie.”

Uncle Phil laughed. “We’ll give you a quick tour of the ranch before we go back to work,” he said. “Then you can play with Buckie if you want, while we do our chores.”

First they took her to the barn and introduced her to Merrylegs, the llama that was going to have a baby. Merrylegs was a shaggy, gentle creature whose eyes lit up when she saw Uncle Phil. He petted her and talked to her
and Merrylegs responded with a soft, melodic noise.

“Llamas hum when they’re contented,” Uncle Phil said, “the way a cat purrs.”

Molly reached up to pet Merrylegs’ long neck. The gray fur felt thick and coarse.

Next they showed her the shed behind the house where they kept all their garden tools and supplies and then they walked out in the pasture to see the other llamas. These animals weren’t as docile as Merrylegs and Molly couldn’t get close enough to pet any of them, but they watched her carefully and seemed to be as curious about her as she was about them.

“Over there,” Aunt Karen said, pointing to a huge field of pruned fir trees, “are our Christmas trees. Every December, we sell trees, to supplement our income from the llamas. Our customers chop their own, so the trees are always fresh and we never cut down more trees than we sell.”

Molly thought that sounded like lots more fun than choosing a tree in the supermarket parking lot, the way she and Mom always did.

When it was time for Uncle Phil and Aunt Karen to get back to their work, Molly unpacked her things and then decided to play with Buckie.

She didn’t see any dog toys so she got out her collage box. Buckie nudged her knee with his nose.

“Be patient,” Molly said. “I’m getting you a toy.” In
the bottom of the box was a small doll which she had made out of some scraps of corduroy. It had yellow yarn for hair, buttons for eyes, and an old sock for stuffing. She showed the doll to Buckie.

“This is Fifi,” she said, as Buckie sniffed the doll. “Fifi.”

She showed the doll to Buckie several times, each time repeating the name, Fifi, and letting Buckie smell the doll.

Then she shut Buckie out of the bedroom and put Fifi under the bed.

“Where’s Fifi?” she asked Buckie, when she let him back in. “Go find Fifi.”

Buckie caught on quickly and began sniffing everywhere, rushing around the room until he finally caught Fifi’s scent. He poked his head under the bed, grabbed the doll in his mouth, and looked at Molly, wagging his tail triumphantly.

“Good dog,” Molly said, as she took Fifi from him. “Good Buckie.”

Next she took the doll downstairs, put Buckie outside, and hid the doll in the kitchen. When she let Buckie in again he searched until he found the doll. He carried Fifi to Molly and dropped the doll at her feet. Then he stood, looking expectant, as if to say, “Hurry and hide Fifi so I can find it again.”

Molly enjoyed the game as much as Buckie did and
they played it until Glendon got home from school. She knew when he was coming because she heard Uncle Phil holler, “Glendon! There’s a beautiful young lady here to see you.” Molly ran out on the porch. She saw an orange school bus turn around at the end of the lane and head back toward town. Uncle Phil and Aunt Karen joined her and Aunt Karen put her arm around Molly’s shoulders.

A solemn boy trudged toward the house. Molly smiled and waved at him, her eyes shining with excitement.

“Hurry and meet Molly,” Uncle Phil said, when Glendon was nearly to the house.

“We’ve been telling her how glad we are that she’s come,” Aunt Karen said. “I’m tired of being the only female in this house.” She smiled at Molly. “I always wanted a daughter,” she said. “I think I’ll pretend you’re mine, while you’re here.”

Glendon stopped at the bottom of the porch steps. He didn’t smile; he didn’t say he was glad to see her. He just looked at her.

Molly stepped down and stood beside him. She was surprised to see that he was no taller than she was. Since Uncle Phil was so big, she’d expected his son to be tall, too. Glendon’s brown hair was short and straight, like hers, and he also had braces on his teeth.

“Hi, cousin,” Molly said. “We almost look like twins.”

Glendon glared at her, as if she’d insulted him.

Her smile faded and she tried again. “I was sorry you
couldn’t come to the airport,” she said. “When does your school get out?”

“Next week.”

“Mine, too. I had to take my final tests early.”

Glendon didn’t reply.

Maybe he’s shy, Molly thought. Maybe it’s hard for him to talk to people he doesn’t know well. She tried to think of something more to say, to put him at ease.

“You kids have fun getting acquainted,” Uncle Phil said. “I have work to do.” He headed back toward the barn.

“I have to start dinner,” Aunt Karen said. She went in to the kitchen, leaving Molly and Glendon to stare at each other.

“I didn’t mind getting out early,” Molly said. “And my teacher said this trip would be educational.”

No answer. The silence seemed awkward to Molly but Glendon didn’t appear to notice. He went inside, climbed the stairs to his room, and shut the door.

Molly wondered how long it would take for him to relax. She scratched Buckie’s ears, picked up Fifi, and went upstairs to get the tin of cookies she’d brought along.

She sat in her room awhile, petting Buckie, and wishing Glendon would come out of his room. He didn’t. Finally she took the cookies downstairs and gave them to Aunt Karen. “I made them myself,” she said.

“What kind are they?”

“Basically, I used Mom’s chocolate chip cookie recipe.”

“What a treat. I remember her cookies but I seldom have time to bake desserts.”

Molly could understand that. It took her one whole afternoon to bake these. She had intended to make chocolate chip cookies but after the batter was already mixed, she discovered they were out of chocolate chips so she used raisins and a bag of peanut M & Ms instead. She thought the result was better than the original recipe.

Glendon finally came downstairs at dinnertime. Aunt Karen dished up the food on each person’s plate and carried the plates to the table. Molly gulped when she saw the generous servings of green beans and carrots on her plate. She hated vegetables, every kind except corn, but she’d promised her mother that she would eat whatever Aunt Karen and Uncle Phil served. She didn’t want to break her promise at the very first meal.

“We grow all our own vegetables,” Uncle Phil said, as if he could read her mind. “They’re better than what you can buy.”

“Also,” Aunt Karen added, “I have a few food allergies, so our meals tend to be simple.”

Molly tried to look enthusiastic. She was glad to see a hot turkey sandwich on her plate, along with the beans
and carrots. She put a large piece of bread on her fork and a tiny piece of carrot and then dipped both in the turkey gravy. Maybe the flavor of the bread and gravy would camouflage the carrots and she’d be able to eat them without gagging.

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