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Authors: Bryce Clark

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BOOK: Red Shirt Kids
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01

MIKE SMITH STOOD
in his bedroom. It was empty except for a few packed moving boxes in one corner. Mike was eleven and looked more like his dad each day, with his light blond hair and blue eyes. On this day he wore a New England Patriots T-shirt and blue shorts. As usual, he had scrapes on his knees and a film of dust over his hair and face. Mike played hard.

Mike ran his hand over a tiny hole in the wall near his closet. He’d fired a BB gun at the wall about a year ago, and the BB had made a mark. His mother had been upset, and Mike had been grounded for a week. Mike looked at that hole now with wistful nostalgia. It was the last time he would ever see it again.

This was the only bedroom Mike had ever had in his life, and he didn’t want to leave it. Mike knew that his dad had gotten a better job and that they’d be moving into a bigger house in New Hampshire, but he would miss his Boston school, and his friends, and his bedroom.

Mike turned as the door opened.

Laura, Mike’s mom, smiled at him from the doorway. “Come on, Mike, the truck’s almost loaded.”

“Okay,” said Mike glumly.

“Hey, you’re going to love it up there. It’s going to be great. We’ll have a bigger house, a backyard, and there will be lots of kids in the neighborhood. You’ll make new friends,” said Laura.

“Yeah, right.” Mike shoved his hands into his pockets. He took one last look around and said a silent goodbye as he followed Laura out the door.

Amy, Mike’s sister, sat on the bare floor in the front entryway of their house. Packed moving boxes were stacked all around, and movers lifted them outside to the moving truck. Amy drew with a charcoal pencil on a sketchpad.

Amy was twelve and somewhat of a tomboy, though today she was wearing a pink tank top that her mother insisted upon her wearing at least once a month. Amy was very pretty. It wasn’t a matter of opinion or even a compliment; it was just a fact. She had the natural beauty that would make Hollywood actresses envious. Of course, Amy wasn’t aware of her looks—and even if she had been, she couldn’t have cared less.

Mike and Laura came down the stairs. “Amy, come on, let’s get moving,” said Laura.

Amy didn’t look up. “I’m almost done,” she said, focusing on her drawing, which depicted a man sitting at a desk. Mike thought the drawing was beautiful, although he would never say so out loud.

Mike leaned against the wall and watched. He knew what was going to happen. His mom was going to look at the picture and declare Amy a genius. As usual.

“Come on, let me see what you’ve drawn,” said Laura, reaching down for the drawing.

Amy shyly handed over the drawing to Laura, who looked at the sketch with the eyes of an experienced artist. A man sat in an office, his back to the door, working at a computer. “This is amazing!” exclaimed Laura. “The materialist angst of the faceless proletariat captured in a single mundane activity.” Mike didn’t know what proletariats were, but he was fairly certain Amy had just been declared a genius. He gave himself props for predicting the future.

Amy nodded and smiled. Her mother’s pride was obvious, and Amy basked in the compliment.

Mike rolled his eyes, trying not to be jealous.

Laura looked across the entryway at the door to a home office. Laura held Amy’s drawing up and saw that it was exactly the same as what she now saw before her—her husband, David, sitting at his computer, his desk surrounded by packed moving boxes. Laura stepped forward. “You have to see this.”

David turned from the computer and adjusted his glasses. “What?”

Laura handed him the drawing, and he looked it over. “Is this me?”

“Of course it’s you,” said Laura. “But see the symbolism in it.”

“Amy drew this?” asked David.

“Our daughter is a genius.” Laura beamed, and Mike shook his head. He was definitely jealous.

“Are the movers here, yet?”

“No. But you should get off the computer. We need to get going.”

Outside, in front of a two-story brownstone townhouse, the family piled into a Volvo SUV as movers slid the door of a yellow moving truck closed. Laura started the Volvo and drove away.

Inside the SUV, Laura drove while David rode shotgun. Amy sat in the middle row, and Mike sprawled himself across the third-row seat. Amy drew on her sketchpad.

As they pulled down the street, Mike turned in his seatbelt, getting one last view of his old home. Mike knew his life was about to change. But he had no idea just how much.

02

THE SKY WAS
dark when the Volvo SUV took the Falton, New Hampshire, exit and wound its way through town, passing Main Street and Hardy’s Hardware store. Some of the lamps on the street were missing, and dark shadows twisted across the Volvo’s path.

The SUV took a turn and began to climb a hill. At the top of the hill was a cul-de-sac. Laura maneuvered the SUV around it and up to a sprawling, three-story Victorian mansion.

The moving truck was already parked, ready for unloading the next day. Laura and David got out of the SUV as Mike and Amy shuffled out behind them.

They all stood on the driveway, staring up at their enormous new home illuminated by two hulking porch lights. David walked up the wooden stairs and slid a key into the lock. The door opened with a puff of dust and a creak. Everyone fell in line behind David as he entered.

The family entered the spacious foyer and looked around. A den was off to the right, and a long hallway extended toward the back of the house. A massive spiral staircase led up to the second and third floors. A bulky chandelier with sparkling lights came to life as David flipped the light switch on the wall.

Mike looked up and saw a skylight at the top of the staircase. Moonlight filtered through the glass, refracting the light into distinct rays that danced upon the carpeted floor. “Cool,” was his assessment. A grandfather clock sat to the right, and tasteful carpets, benches, paintings, and plants were placed in their optimal decorative locations. Amy jumped as the grandfather clock suddenly chimed ten o’clock.

“Well, let’s get up to our rooms. The furniture in those rooms has already been moved in,” said Laura, heading for the stairs.

The door creaked open to a darkened bedroom. Mike slipped inside and flipped on the lights. An array of new, unfamiliar furniture filled the room. There was a bunk bed—but instead of a lower bunk, there was a desk and chair with bookshelves. On the wall were Celtics and Red Sox posters. A computer sat on the desk.

Laura peeked in. “Do you like it?” Mike nodded and picked up his baseball glove, which rested on top of a dark dresser. “It’s okay,” he said.

“Okay? That’s it?” asked Laura, disappointed.

“Yeah, this stuff is cool. But this isn’t my room.”

“Your father and I tried to make this just like your room at home—I mean, back in Boston. Oh, Mikey, it’s going to take some time to adjust, but I want you to know we made this move for you and Amy.” Laura put an arm around Mike.

“Really?” Mike doubted that was true. His parents hadn’t even asked him if he wanted to move. They just announced it. Adults could just do whatever they wanted. Mike couldn’t wait for that.

“Yes. Now look, we’ll get the rest of the furniture set up tomorrow, and you can explore the backyard. It really is quite big.”

“I know. I came here before, remember?”

“Yes. But now it’s yours.” Laura tousled his hair. “Get some sleep. We have a long weekend ahead of us, moving in, and then school starts Monday.”

“Don’t remind me.”

“It’s a great school, Michael, and you’ll make lots of friends.”

“We’ll see,” Mike said as Laura left, closing the door to a crack. Mike ran his hand over the wall by the door. It was pristine white and completely smooth. Mike looked around and saw a pencil on his desk. He picked it up and made a small mark on the wall. “Now it’s mine,” he said.

03

MIKE LAID ON
the top bunk; moonlight peeked in through the curtains. His hands were behind his head, and his eyes were closed. His door creaked open, and Amy tiptoed inside. “Mike,” she whispered.

Mike’s eyes opened, and he shot up in bed. “What!”

Amy stifled a laugh. “Wow, you scare really easily. Come on, I want to show you something.”

Mike rubbed his eyes, swung his legs over the side off the bed, and dropped to the floor. He followed Amy into the hallway.

They headed toward the staircase, which led to the third floor. Amy wore a white nightgown, and Michael had on a Red Sox T-shirt and boxer shorts. They climbed the spiral staircase, Amy lighting the way with a pen flashlight. “Check it out,” said Amy, pointing to the right. There was a door in the ceiling with a cord hanging down.

“This is what you wanted to show me? Oh, wow, it’s amazing,” droned Mike. “Why’d you wake me up? It took me forever to fall asleep.”

Amy ignored the remark. “Do you even know what it is?”

“Yeah, it looks like a door in the ceiling. So what?”

“Watch this.” Amy grabbed the cord and pulled down some folding stairs.

“Okay, that is pretty cool. What’s up there?” asked Mike.

“That’s why we’re going, stupid.”

“I am not stupid!” exclaimed Mike, raising his voice.

“Shhh. Quiet down. I’m sorry, I forgot you’re a genius. Come on. Don’t be a wuss.” Amy started up the stairs, and Mike followed behind.

Emerging from the well of stairs into the attic, Amy saw that the attic ceiling was sloped on either side. There was a path down the center of the floor surrounded by piles of ancient items stacked high. Moonlight glittered through two small windows on opposite ends, making the room almost bright.

Amy moved the flashlight over the room as Mike joined her on the top step. They moved slowly past old chairs, a sofa, a broken mirror, dusty books, old records, rolled carpets, and odd shapes draped with sheets. Amy pulled back a sheet revealing an antique writing desk; another sheet exposed a love seat. Amy continued her search, pulling sheets off of really old stuff. Dust flew everywhere. Amy coughed, waving her hands in front of her face to clear the air.

Mike started to yank the white linen sheets, as well. An old record player held little interest for him, and he wasn’t thrilled to find a wheelchair. But then he pulled back a third sheet, and his eyes widened with excitement. “Cool.”

“What is it?” Amy walked over from across the room, and they looked down on a huge oak chest with a thick gold padlock on it.

Amy shined her light on the lock, which was in the shape of a shield flanked by crossed swords. On the shield were intricate engravings. On the upper left side was the Scottish flag, the Cross of St. Andrew against a shaded background. On the upper right was the Royal Scottish flag, a shaded etching of the Rampant Lion. Taking up the bulk of the shield was a lion’s head in a roar. The key, if they had it, would fit in the lion’s mouth.

“What is that stuff?” wondered Mike aloud.

“Like some European flag or something,” said Amy.

“How do you know?”

“I’ve seen it in a book, I guess.”

“The lion’s head is cool.”

“Yeah, I guess it’s pretty cool.”

Mike tried to open the heavy lock. He pulled hard, but it wouldn’t budge. The lock clanged against the side of the chest as Mike let go. “Did you see a key anywhere?”

They searched, lifting sheets, opening other chests and cabinets, and looking under cushions and antiques, but they didn’t find one single key.

“Whoever heard of a lock without a key? Whose stuff is this, anyway?” asked Mike.

“Gee, I wonder. I’m guessing it’s whoever lived here before us, don’t ya think?” Amy’s comment was laced with sarcasm. Mike pretended not to notice.

“Yeah. I guess that makes sense.”

Amy rolled her eyes. “I’m glad you agree. Come on, we can look this stuff over tomorrow.” They climbed back down the stairs and folded them up, accordion style, back into the ceiling.

Mike lay in bed with his hands behind his head, staring up at the ceiling. He couldn’t stop thinking about the antique chest and what could possibly be inside. He made a promise to himself that he would find out.

04

MIKE WOKE UP
to a loud knock at the front door. The knock echoed through the foyer, and the sound floated to his room. He jumped out of bed, flew down the stairs, and barely beat Amy to the front door. Mike threw open the door. Standing on the doorstep were a woman his mom’s age and a chunky eleven-year-old. The boy wore red shorts and a blue T-shirt. He stood shyly behind his mother.

“Hello,” said Laura, joining Mike and Amy at the door.

The woman carried a stack of fliers. “Hi! I’m Kathy Mayfield, and this is my son, Sam.”

Laura turned to Mike and Amy. “These are my kids, Mike and Amy. I’m Laura.”

Sam waved halfheartedly. Mike thought Sam looked like he might be pretty shy, so he waved back at him.

“Hey,” said Mike.

“Hey,” said Sam.

But Sam’s focus was completely on Amy. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. Mike rolled his eyes.

“Hi Sam,” Laura smiled.

“We just wanted to come by and give you a real ‘welcome to the neighborhood’ greeting,” Kathy said as her eyes scanned the interior of the house. “I love what you’ve done with the house.”

“Thank you,” replied Laura.

“You know, Mike,” said Kathy, looking down at Mike. “Sam’s father grew up in this house.”

“Really?” asked Mike.

“Right, of course. Mayfield—I knew I recognized that name. The woman we bought the house from was a Mayfield,” said Amy.

“I knew that too,” said Mike.

“Whatever,” Amy replied.

“Hey guys, come on,” Laura chided.

“Yes, well, Sam’s grandma is who you bought the house from,” said Kathy.

Mike nodded. He’d noticed that Kathy didn’t refer to Sam’s father as
her
husband, or his grandmother as
her
mother-in-law. Strange, he thought. But he quickly forgot it; he couldn’t understand adults, anyway. Then Mike remembered the chest they found the night before. “Hey, is that her stuff up in the attic?”

Kathy’s smile faltered. “What stuff is in the attic?”

“You’ve been in the attic?” asked Laura.

“What’s the big deal? We went up there last night. There’s a lot of cool old stuff,” Mike stated.

Sam touched his hand to his chest. “Really? Like wha—” Kathy put a hand on Sam’s shoulder before he could finish talking.

“Oh, I’m sure it’s just some old junk. I wouldn’t worry about it,” said Kathy.

“We should give the stuff back to you,” said Laura.

“No!” Kathy exclaimed a bit too forcefully. Mike and Amy looked up at her in confusion.

Kathy shook her head. “What I mean is, we just wanted to drop this by.” She handed Laura a dark blue flyer. “Someone’s been stealing lights all over town,” Kathy said, quickly changing the subject.

“What?” asked Amy. “Why would someone want to steal the town’s lights?”

“Maybe they ran out of light bulbs,” said Mike.

Amy rolled her eyes at Mike. “Seriously?”

“What? It’s possible,” said Mike.

“I’m pretty sure they could buy light bulbs at the store,” said Amy, challenging Mike’s thought process.

Laura sighed. “Kids, please don’t argue in front of our new friends.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” said Kathy. “I’m sure Sam would bicker if he had a sister.”

“What if they want the town to be covered in darkness?” offered Sam softly.

Everyone fell silent and looked at Sam. He continued, “You know, whoever is taking the lights. What if they just want it to be totally dark? So they could do bad stuff.”

Kathy put a hand on Sam’s head. “Well, whoever it is, he’s stealing it all—street lights, neon signs, everything. He got our porch lights last week.”

“That’s crazy,” said Laura. “Are you sure you don’t want to come in?”

“Oh, no, no, we’ve gotta run. So nice to meet you,” said Kathy, taking a few steps backwards. “And don’t worry about that stuff in the attic.”

“Oh, okay, and thanks,” said Laura.

Mike grabbed the flyer from his mom and looked down at it. It read, “WHO IS STEALING OUR LIGHTS?”
Well, at least this town is interesting,
he thought.
Plus, there’s still the mystery of the chest in the attic.
Mike felt happy for the first time in weeks.

BOOK: Red Shirt Kids
6.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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