Authors: Gary Paulsen
CALL ME FRANCIS TUCKET
THE WINTER ROOM
THE VOYAGE OF THE
THE BOY WHO OWNED THE SCHOOL
HOW TO EAT FRIED WORMS
are designed especially to entertain and enlighten young people. Patricia Reilly Giff, consultant to this series, received her bachelor’s degree from Marymount College and a master’s degree in history from St. John’s University. She holds a Professional Diploma in Reading and a Doctorate of Humane Letters from Hofstra University. She was a teacher and reading consultant for many years, and is the author of numerous books for young readers.
For a complete listing of all Yearling titles,
write to Dell Readers Service,
P.O. Box 1045, South Holland, IL 60473.
Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers
a division of
Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.
New York, New York 10036
Copyright © 1997 by Gary Paulsen
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law.
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are registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries.
Duncan—Dunc—Culpepper and his best friend for life, Amos Binder, were cleaning Mrs. Weatherby’s garage. Actually Dunc was cleaning. Amos was stretched out on a broken lawn chair reading his favorite comic,
The Adventures of Lightning Man
Dunc had finished labeling all Mr. Weatherby’s power tools and was arranging them in alphabetical order on a corkboard. He put the last one in place. “We could probably get this done a lot faster if you would help,” he said.
Amos kept reading. The look on his face
was serious. “I can’t believe it. The worst possible thing has just happened.”
“After all,” Dunc went on, “it was you who crashed through Mrs. Weatherby’s picket fence and ruined her prize begonias.”
Amos frowned and snapped the book shut. “He quit.”
“What are you talking about? Who quit?”
“Lightning Man. He’s getting out of the superhero business for good.”
Dunc took a long look at him. “Sometimes I worry about you.”
Amos sighed. “He says he’s hanging up the old tights for good. He’s taking his wonder dog, Hercules, to a small town somewhere and disappearing from crime fighting forever.”
“Amos, Lightning Man isn’t real. He’s a comic-book character. Besides, they always put stuff like that at the end of the book so you’ll buy the next one to see what happened.”
Amos brightened. “You think?”
“I’m sure of it. Now about this mess …”
“Oh yeah. Thanks for helping me. Mrs.
Weatherby was really mad about her flowers. I decided cleaning her garage was the least I could do.”
“Considering she was about to call the police on you, I’d say you made the right choice.” Dunc picked up a piece of trash. “You never did explain what you were doing in her yard that day.”
“I wasn’t supposed to be in her yard. My mom sent me to the store for a loaf of bread. I took the long way because my uncle Alfred was visiting. You remember him, the one who picks his toes through his socks?”
“I had just turned the corner when I saw Wendy Van Gilder.”
“You ran through Mrs. Weatherby’s fence because of Wendy Van Gilder?”
“Sort of. Everything was fine until Wendy started waving at me. At least I think she was waving. There’s an outside chance she was swatting a fly. Anyway, since she’s Melissa Hansen’s newest best friend, I figured Melissa sent her over to give me a message, you know maybe ask me to go to the mall with her or something.”
Dunc knew all about Amos’s crush on Melissa Hansen. She was Amos’s one and only true love. He adored the ground she walked on. Unfortunately for Amos, Melissa paid as much attention to him as she did to the ground she walked on. Actually, she probably paid more attention to the ground.
“Anyway,” Amos continued, “I had to look cool because I knew she’d report everything to Melissa. So I turned to show her my best profile, smiled, and waved back. The only problem was, when I let go of the handlebars, my bike turned and crashed through the fence.”
“Was that when you ruined the prize begonias?”
“Not yet. I came off my bike on the other side of the fence and landed in the roses. Man, those thorns were sharp.” Amos winced, thinking about it. “My bike kept going. It bounced off the porch and did a back flip into the begonias. Took the heads off every single one of those suckers. Luckily, it didn’t do any permanent damage to my bike.”
“Did Wendy give you a message from Melissa?”
“She didn’t get a chance. By the time Mrs. Weatherby finally quit chasing me around the yard with her broom, Wendy had already left.”
“That’s too bad.”
“Yeah. But I’m hoping Wendy will go ahead and tell Melissa about my smile and everything.” Amos sighed dreamily. “Melissa will probably call me later.”
Dunc looked at his watch. “It’s getting late. I promised my dad I’d deliver some real-estate papers for him to the old Grogan place. We’ll have to finish up here tomorrow.”
“Since when is anybody living in that scary old place?”
Dunc shrugged. “The guy’s name is Professor Brainard. He just moved in a few days ago. My dad hasn’t actually met him yet. He makes most of his deals over the phone. The professor’s buying up a lot of real estate around town and everybody is wondering what he’s up to.”
Amos picked up his bike. “Are you sure we have to go out there?”
Dunc reached for his backpack and pulled out a large manila envelope. “Yup. That’s the address. Why?”
“Danny Johnson told Brian Watson that he and Benny Rodriguez saw some weird things going on out there a couple of weeks ago.”
“What kind of things?”
“Brian said they told him they saw colored lights and smoke coming from inside the house and then stuff started flying around in front of the windows.”
Dunc slid on his backpack. “Brian Watson also said he once played quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Come on.”
Amos sighed. “Okay. But if anything happens …”
“Nothing’s going to happen, Amos. Trust me.”
Dunc rode his bike through the ancient wrought-iron gate and down the long tree-lined gravel road to the old Grogan mansion. He stopped in front of the fenced-in yard and waited for Amos to catch up.
Amos pedaled up and leaned his bike against the iron bars of the fence. Vines had woven in and out of the bars like large green snakes, and weeds had completely overrun the yard and flower gardens.
Two hideous gargoyles with long forked tongues jutted out from the wall at the second story. Amos shuddered. “Who in their
right mind would want to live in a place like this?”
Dunc shrugged. “Maybe they’re planning on fixing it up.” He pulled the brown envelope out of his backpack and started down the walk.
Before he could take two steps the front door swung open and a pudgy little man stepped out. He was dressed in a suit, which he had barely managed to button around his middle.
“It’s Mayor Dudley,” Dunc whispered.
The little man walked past them without a word. He stared straight ahead and continued until he reached his car. Then he got in and drove away.
“That was strange.” Dunc frowned. “The mayor is usually a lot friendlier than that.”
“I guess he had something on his mind. Come on, let’s get your dad’s papers delivered so we can get out of here.”
There wasn’t a doorbell so Dunc raised the large brass knocker and let it fall. Almost immediately the massive wooden door creaked opened. A black cat brushed past their legs and a large man with a bored expression
on his long face looked down at them through half-closed eyes. “What you want?”
“Are you Professor Brainard?” Dunc asked.
“I’m Moose, his, uh, assistant. What you want him for?”
“I have something for the professor. Is he home?”
“I’ll give it to him.” The man thrust a muscular arm toward the envelope.
Dunc took a step back. “My dad said to deliver it to him personally.”
The man studied them a few seconds and then opened the door. “Okay. You can come in.” The door slammed shut behind them. “Don’t touch nothin’ while I find out if the professor wants to see you.” He left.
Amos stuck his elbow in Dunc’s ribs. “What’s all this stuff about personal delivery? I thought we just wanted to deliver the papers and get out of here.”
Dunc looked around the large musty-smelling room. Sheets were draped over the furniture and crates marked
were stacked around the room. “I wanted to get a
look inside the house. Something about this place is beginning to bother me. I can’t quite put my finger on it—”