Authors: Vicki Grant
Tags: #JUV000000, #Young Adult
I had to get into the house instead. Maybe there'd be a phone there. I didn't even try to hide. I just went for it. I ran as fast as I could from the back of the cart to the front of the house. Then I stopped. I stood still. I listened to hear if he'd seen me. No footsteps. Nothing. I finally took another breath. I was okay. I'd made it this far.
I opened the door. It was unlocked. I snuck into the house. It was really peaceful inside. Not just quietâbut peaceful. You knew that the person who lived here never left his clothes on the floor or played air guitar when he thought no one was looking. The place felt like an old lady's house.
I tiptoed into the living room, and I got this weird feeling. It was like I'd been there before. I knew I couldn't have beenâ but why did everything seem so familiar? I looked around. Wooden floor. Wooden chairs. Wooden table. One of those little rugs people make out of rags. A couple of old kerosene lamps. A fireplace.
It hit me. I knew where I'd seen this place before. In the museum. This was exactly like the “Early Colonial” room they have in the “Historic Homes” section. We get dragged there every year. All this place needed was a rope across the door and a tour guide in a long dress and an old-fashioned hat.
I knew there would be no phone in a
place like this, but that didn't stop me from looking. I guess I just couldn't give up my only hope. It was like I had two different brains, each telling me what to do. One was saying, Must find phone! Call for help! The other was going, Don't even bother! The guy lives like it's still 1895. There's no phone here! There's no Kleenex here either. Get out! Run for it!
I just sort of ran around in circles like an idiot. I didn't know who to listen to.
I probably would have run around in circles all afternoonâif I hadn't heard the back door open.
I looked around the living room. There was no place to hide. No big couch. No big curtains. No closet. I didn't know what to do.
Or at least my brain didn't. It was in a complete panic.
My body, though, figured things out pretty fast. It saw the fireplace. Before I knew it, I'd ducked down and squeezed
myself in. I had to curl up like a cinnamon roll to fit.
I just got my left foot tucked in when the guy came barreling into the room. He was wildâcursing and sputtering. He was headed right for the fireplace. The only thing blocking his view was a little wooden table. If he looked down, I was toast.
I scrunched my eyes closed. If I was going to die, I didn't want his ugly face to be the last thing I saw. I braced myself.
Nothing happened. Or at least, nothing happened to
The guy kept cursing. He knocked everything off the mantelpiece. He kicked the little wooden table. I opened my eyes a crack. His knee couldn't have been more than six inches from my face. The guy obviously didn't know I was there.
Black, sooty dust was falling all over me. In my eyes. Up my nose. Down my shirt. Normally I'd be sneezing my face off. It dawned on me that I could start sneezing at any moment.
But I didn't sneeze. My nose didn't even twitch. I guess terror works even better than pills for stopping allergies. Frankly I'd rather take the pills any day.
I watched those big boots of his tromp around the room. He was looking for somethingâbut not very well. You could tell he was not a patient guy. He gave up pretty quick.
“They ain't here!” he said. I realized he wasn't just swearing for the fun of it. He was talking to someone on his cell phone.
“Yeah, I told ya!” he was saying. “I found the kerosene...Yeah, and I found that too. That's not the problem! The problem is I don't have no more matches... Quit giving me a hard time! I needed a smoke, okay? Just tell me where the matches are!”
There was a pause. Then the guy slammed something against the wall. The whole house shookâme included. He banged back into the kitchen.
“WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME THAT BEFORE?!?”
Even over the pounding of my heart, I could hear every word he said.
“Yes, I'm in the kitchen now!...Whaddya mean âthe pantry'? How am I supposed to know what a pantry is!...Just tell me where they are! Look, you worked here. Not me. I don't know where he keeps his matches! You want me to burn the place down, I need the matches!...”
Burn the place down.
I heard the words. I understood the words. But it took a few really, really long seconds before I knew what they meant. He was going to light the log houseâand everyone in itâon fire. That's why he needed the matches. That's why he was talking about kerosene. That was the tragic accident he was planning.
I could hear a chair scraping across the floor and then the guy scrambling around in the kitchen. A couple of dishes broke. You could hear him throwing stuff around. He clearly didn't care what kind
of mess he left behind. After a while the noise stopped. He went, “Yeah, okay, I got 'em.”
The door slammed, and then everything was quiet. He'd gone outside. I could breathe.
I wanted to find a place to hideâa REAL place to hideâand stay there until the guy was gone for good. He wouldn't miss one more kid. He wouldn't even know I was gone. He'd just burn the place down, and then he'd leave. Sooner or later the police would show up. I'd explain everything then. They'd understand.
They'd understand that I was a chicken. That I let my whole class die. That when I had a chance to save them, I saved myself instead.
That would suck.
I thought my life was bad before. Imagine what it would be like if I let Shane die. He'd end up the big hero. Kids who die are always heroes. No one would remember what a jerk he was, how many
people he tortured, how he tortured me every day of my life. They'd forget that. I'd be the live chicken, and Shane would be the dead heroâforever and ever. I'd never live it down.
I had to at least try to do something. No one would blame me if I at least tried.
I got out of the fireplace. I snuck over to the window. I hoped the guy wouldn't be able to see me through the lace curtains.
I kept losing sight of him. The bus was in the way. But I saw a can of something over by the log house. I figured it was the kerosene. My grandmother has some at the cottage in case the power goes out. That stuff's like lighter fluid. If he sprinkled it around, the house would go up in flames like a paper bag. No one inside would have a chance. I started shaking again.
I saw the guy dragging the bus driver toward the log house. A minute later, he was back, carrying Ms. Creaser. She was struggling. He didn't seem to care.
I had to do something. I ran into the kitchen. I needed a weapon. A hammer. A frying pan. Something. I know it sounds dumb, but I had this idea that I could just sneak up behind him and hit him. I actually thought I'd be strong enough to stop him somehow.
I got into the kitchen and I saw something even better than a weapon.
The guy's cell phone.
It was lying on the table beside his cigarettes. I wiped the soot off my hands and dialed. I couldn't believe it. Someone answered.
This lady's voice said, “9-1-1. What is your emergency?” It was just like on TV.
I told herâor at least I tried. I must have sounded nuts. I was terrified the guy was going to come back and murder me. Under the circumstances, it was kind of
hard to think straight. I just blurted out whatever came into my head. I was sure she was going to hang up on me. The story was so crazy. It sounded like some stupid jokeâeven to me. Some guy kidnapped my entire class and was going to light us all on fire? Who'd believe that?
The operator did. Or at least she seemed to. She didn't say, “Yeah, right...” or tell me to quit kidding around. She just kept asking me questions.
“Try to stay calm,” she said. “What is your cell phone number?”
“I don't know,” I said. “It's not mine.”
“That's okay,” she said. “Just tell me your address then.”
“You mean, my home? Where I live?” I said. What was I thinking? What an idiot. Why would she care where I lived?
“No, son,” she said. She didn't laugh or make it sound like I was a moron. “Your address now. Where are you now?”
That was even worse. I had no idea where this stupid farm was. I'd paid absolutely no attention to where we were
going that day. I had other things on my mind. I'd been more concerned about what Shane was going to do to me when we got there.
I tried my best to remember. I tried to remember where the principal said we were going. I'd been so mad he hadn't cancelled the trip that I'd just blanked him out. I tried to picture the permission slip we had to get our parents to sign. Who reads those things? I didn't. I tried to remember what Mr. Benvie called the stupid place.
All I could think of was that guy coming back to terminate me.
“Are you still there?” the operator said.
“Yeah,” I said. “I'm here.”
Where was “here”? Tell her something.
“We're at the end of a dirt road,” I said. “It's off the highway.”
“Which highway, son?” she said.
I didn't know. There's more than one highway?
“Try to think of something you saw along the way,” she said.
Shane's yellow teeth? The metal rim around the bus window? Everyone laughing? That wouldn't help. Before thatâwhat did I see?
“Ah...Ah...Gas stations!...” I said. “Donut shops!...Houses!...Dogs...Trees...” I was desperate. I knew exactly how stupid I sounded.
Then I had a brain wave.
“We're at a farm!” I said. “Pigs...cows, you know. No electricity. No water... Um...um...” I was just throwing stuff out, talking as fast as I could. It was like I was on a game show and the timer was ticking. What else could I tell her about this place?
How could I be so dumb? Of course. “Van Wart!” I said. “Van Wart!”
I caught a glimpse of something moving in the barnyard. The guy was coming back.
“What do you mean, son?” the operator said.
I zipped back into the living room.
“He owns it!” I said.
I could hear the back steps creak.
“What's his first name?” she said.
“I don't know!” I whispered. “Call the school. Call...”
I could have killed myself. I should have thought of that earlier. I should have just told her Gorsebrook Junior High! She could have called. The principal knew where we were. It was too late now. I didn't have time to say anything. The back door had opened.
I closed the cell phone. Hanging up was cutting her off. Who knew if I'd have a chance to call againâbut I couldn't let the guy hear anything.
He was cursing again. “Where did I leave my smokes?” He knocked some stuff around in the kitchen. He gave this satisfied sigh and said, “Ah, there they are.” Then he paused. Something was wrong. I could just tell. It was like the air froze.
“What the...?” he said.
He started walking toward the living room. I looked down and I knew why
he was coming. He was following my footprints.
My sooty footprints.
It happened so fast I didn't have time to think. I just grabbed the first thing I could find and swung. I aimed for the guy's head, but I missed. I hit him in the chest with one of those kerosene lamps.
It was almost as good. It didn't knock him outâbut he went down. For a while, he even stayed down. He was slipping and sliding around on the floor. All that oil and broken glass made it hard for him to get up.
I jumped over him. As I was running out the back door, I had this weird feeling I was going to get in trouble for breaking the lamp. It was probably an antique. It might even have been van Wart's favorite for all I knew. Funny the stuff that goes through your head when someone's trying to kill you.
I ran out into the barnyard. I didn't know what to do next. Should I go to the log building? Untie Ms. Creaser and the bus driver? Let everyone out?
I could already hear the guy banging through the kitchen. There was no way I could get to them before he got to me. I had no time and no choices. I couldn't outrun him. He was a big guy. I jumped into the bus.
I was going to go for it. Get help. It was all I could do.
I'd never driven a bus beforeâI'd never driven anything beforeâbut I couldn't let that stop me. I'd ridden
a bus every school day for the last ten years. I'd seen what the driver did. I could
figure it out. I had to.
I slammed the door behind me. I jumped into the driver's seat. I stretched as far as I could to reach the pedals. The guy was right in front of the bus now. He was just standing there looking at meâ laughing at me!
All of a sudden, I wasn't scared.
No, who am I kidding? I was still scared. But now I was mad too. I couldn't take one more person laughing at me. I was going to ram the guy down! He deserved it. I just had to start up the bus, and he'd be done for.
I leaned down to turn the key. It wasn't there.
I suddenly knew why the guy was laughing. He held up his hand and jangled the key chain at me.
The guy was really strong. I didn't have a chance. He dragged me over to the log house like I was a bag of garbage on my way to the curb. He tied me up beside Ms. Creaser. The rope cut into my
wrists. He made sure of that.
“You okay?” Ms. Creaser said in this little voice.
I shook my head.
“Me neither,” she said.
“That makes three of us,” the bus driver croaked out.
Ms. Creaser and I both jumped.
“You're alive!” I said.
“Yeahâbut not for long.” It was the psycho guy who said that. He was smiling his face off, like he was so witty or something. Or maybe he was just smiling because he loved scaring people. He was certainly having a good time.
He slapped his hand against his face and made his eyes all big. They were really blue. It didn't help. He was still ugly.