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Authors: Christopher Lincoln

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BOOK: The Road to Nevermore
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Millicent had never formally gone to school, although her parents had taught her the classics as well as music and art. During
the twenty-five years Billy had lived in the secrets-closet, he hadn’t aged a bit. He had, however, learned all sorts of things
about the Afterlife, with the help of his skeleton parents. But Dame Biglum felt this kind of information wasn’t terribly
useful.

So she had hired a tutor.

Professor Digby Dabbleton was an older gentleman with a frosty beard and owlish eyes. He was an inventor whose workshop was
jammed with curious things like submersible dinghies, rocket-powered dirigibles, and life-size clockwork men. The children
were quite fond of their instructor and his fascinating devices.

A shadow darted across the deck. Billy looked up to see a gull pass overhead, bound on its own secret journey. He sighed.

“A little patience,” Millicent said. “I have a plan.”

“You do?” Billy’s brows lifted like curious caterpillars.

“Why don’t we ask Mum Biglum if we can sail for just the summer?” Millicent beamed. “We’ll be on holiday anyway.”

The wind caught Billy’s laugh and skipped it around the bay. “That’s brilliant! There’s nothing to do at home except get in
her way. It’s worth a shot.”

“Oh Billy. It would be so grand!” Millicent swung herself up and sat on the rail. “Think how many places we’d explore.”

“Where do you suppose we should go first?”

“Wherever the biggest mysteries are, of course. Egypt, maybe, or China.” Millicent rubbed her forehead. This was her habit
when cooking up plans. “But we’ll promise her that we’ll keep our noses buried in our summer reading. And you can’t go blurting
out the truth everywhere we go!”

It was the job of Billy’s adoptive skeleton parents Lars and Decette Bones to collect and sort lies, secrets, and fibs. The
Boneses were famous for their secret-keeping abilities. Billy, on the other hand, could rarely keep a tittle-tattle to himself.

“You know I’m working on that.” Billy gave her a gentle nudge.

“Shush, Billy.” Millicent dropped to the deck. “Here comes Mum Biglum.”

Dame Biglum thumped over to join them at the rail. Her feet seemed bound on two different bearings, but with the aid of her
silver-capped cane, she banged along with a determined stride. She wore a gray coat and a wide hat with pheasant feathers
trawling off the back.

The old woman was both Billy’s mother—in this life, anyway—and Millicent’s grandmother. But to cut down on confusion, both
children called her “Mum Biglum.”

“Isn’t she wonderful?” Mum Biglum proclaimed, tapping her cane on the ship’s rail. “One of the shipwrights said he’s never
pinned a timber to a finer craft. The crew was most enthusiastic, too.”

“I’d be more excited if
we
were going along,” Billy sighed.

Millicent grabbed her grandmother’s hands. “Could we could go, just for summer holiday? Maybe Professor Dabbleton could come
along, too.”

“We’d study every minute… . Professor Dabbleton would surely assign us loads of reading,” Billy added. “Just think of all
the time we could spend in lessons, and —”

“And out of my sight, and getting into trouble,” Mum Biglum finished for him. “It’s out of the question, my dears.”

Both children slumped.

“Besides,” she continued, “Professor Dabbleton wants to spend his holiday studying in Egypt.”

“Egypt!” they cried in unison.


Alone.
The poor man needs some time to himself,” said Mum Biglum with a thump of her cane. “As for today’s business, our ever-prudent
shipbuilder, Mr. Turnbuckle, told me the
Spurious II
will require several test runs before she’s ready for open sea.”

Billy plopped his forearm onto the railing and then his chin. Millicent frowned.

Mum Biglum’s eyes twinkled. “Soooo … Mr. Turnbuckle has invited you on the first outing. You’ll both have a two-day cruise.”

Billy perked up. “Well, that
is
something!”

“Just the thing to get you two out of your soggy moods.” Mum Biglum slipped an arm around each child.

Billy ran his hand over the hardwood railing. How he loved visiting the
Spurious II
! He remembered discovering the dusty plans for her predecessor, the
Spurious.
The ship’s ancient blueprints had been tucked into a false bottom of the old sea chest he’d slept in so soundly the whole
time he’d lived with his skeleton parents in the secrets-closet. It originally belonged to his great-many-greats grandfather
Glass-Eyed Pete. The earlier
Spurious
was the first vessel he had pirated on, and even on parchment she looked formidable.

Now, several months later, Billy and Millicent were just weeks away from the
Spurious II
’s maiden sail.

Martha Cleansington chuffed up the gangplank like a steam-powered engine, carrying a loaded picnic basket. For years Martha
had been one of the maids at High Manners Manor, but she was now the children’s nanny. She had met Millicent only six months
before, when the girl first arrived at the mansion—the poor orphaned granddaughter of Dame Biglum. Since then, Millicent had
grown to a girl of twelve-and-three-quarters. Yet her pixie face and independent curls still carried the gentle brushstrokes
of childhood.

Billy’s history, on the other hand, was fuzzy to her. The boy had shown up, seemingly out of nowhere. It was odder than a
bell without bongs because, according to the rumors circulating around the manor, he had gone missing twenty-five years earlier.
And the boy hadn’t aged a day. He still looked like a ten-year-old. Martha loved him dearly, so she didn’t obsess on the strangeness.
But still, it was most irregular.

Martha continued on at full power. “Pardon, madam, but Mr. Turnbuckle wishes to have a word about the extra accommodations
he’s working into the plans.”

Dame Biglum nodded. “Well then, Martha, take care these two don’t fall overboard.”

“Don’t worry, madam, I’ll keep my eyes on ’em, tight as a glue pot’s lid.” Martha gathered her pewter-colored skirts and glanced
at the upper deck. “They’re like my own family.”

“And so they are,” Dame Biglum said, patting Martha on the shoulder. “Just as you’re part of ours.”

Dame Biglum set off for Mr. Turnbuckle’s dockside office. Martha bravely grasped the railing and clambered up to the next
deck. Her padded bustle swayed like it disagreed with every step. “Billy! Have a care!” she called out. “You’ll split your
melon if you take a tumble.”

Billy was standing on an iron drum wrapped in anchor chain. “Oh Martha,” Billy huffed. “How will I become the saltiest pirate
on seven seas if I can’t even have a good climb?” Then he danced a stout little jig until one foot skidded out from under
him and he landed with a bum-rattling
CLANG
.

Martha pursed her lips. Billy abandoned the drum while Millicent stifled a laugh.

“Off we go, my ducks,” Martha coaxed, gently turning Billy and Millicent toward shore. But the children insisted on “an explore,”
as they liked to say. All sorts of interesting discoveries beckoned from below deck, and the children were much too polite
to refuse a good look. There, they found several new cabins—each just large enough to hold a bed, a sea trunk, and a small
writing table.

“Goodness, children.” Martha stationed her hands on her hips. “You could only sleep one eye at a time in a bed so tiny as
that!”

The children didn’t hear. They were poking their noses into every crack and corner. And, of course, they had to try out a
bed. Billy and Millicent looked like cheery packed herring as they lay shoulder-to-shoulder and smiled.

“Let’s be off for our lunch.” Martha chuckled.

A few minutes later, the children were shoulder-to-shoulder again, this time, on a picnic blanket spread out on the town’s
pebbly beach. Billy and Millicent tore into sausage sandwiches and apple pie.

“It’s nice to see such healthy appetites,” Martha clucked. Then her eyes misted.

Billy and Millicent knew what was wrong at once. Just that morning Martha had learned her uncle was very sick. The children
overheard her talking about it with Mr. Colter, the Biglums’ new coachman. They nestled closer to Martha as they polished
off the rest of their lunch.

Afterward, they strolled cobblestone streets until it was time to collect Dame Biglum.

“Mr. Turnbuckle needs to hire a captain,” the old woman said, taking a hard look at the
Spurious II
. “He’ll give me a list of candidates the next time we meet. I
do
hope we find someone who’s steady. We don’t want mutiny the first week.”

As the children trailed the adults to the carriage, Billy whispered to Millicent, “What about Gramps Pete?”

“What about him?”

“He’s a captain.”

Millicent’s eyes banged open. “Brilliant, Billy!”

“And if he’s in charge, maybe he’d convince Mum Biglum to let
us
go.”

“Even better!”

At the carriage, Billy struggled to hide his excitement as he stowed the picnic basket under the driver’s bench. Mr. Colter
helped Dame Biglum into her seat as the children gathered behind the carriage for a whispered conference.

“How are we going to get word to Gramps Pete?” Millicent asked. “He hasn’t been around much lately.”

Glass-Eyed Pete had been spending a lot more time in the Afterlife. This was no surprise, considering his long ordeal on Earth.
The poor ghost had been trapped there the whole time Billy had been a skeleton. (A lengthy stretch for a spirit to be separated
from the Afterlife.)

“But, you’d think he’d be back by now,” Billy added, “and your parents, too.”

“I know! I haven’t seen them in weeks.” Millicent frowned.

“What do you think is holding them up?”

“I’m not sure, but they’re always complaining about the long lines.”

“My mom and dad say there are plenty of those in the Afterlife,” Billy agreed.

Millicent brightened. “Maybe your parents can help us post a note to Gramps Pete.”

“Good idea. I’m sure Mr. Benders will deliver it.” Billy smiled at the thought of the old skeleton messenger. He’d taught
Billy many things about the Afterlife, whenever he popped by the secrets-closet.

“Let’s sneak off to the secrets-closet tonight.” Millicent smiled.

“What are you two plotting back there?”

The children spun round. Martha stood with hands on hips, but her frown was mostly smile. Martha wasn’t gifted at seeing what
ought
not
be there, like ghosts, so Billy, Millicent, and Dame Biglum never talked to her about such things.

“Nothing important,” Millicent said quickly, before Billy could blurt the truth.

“Hmmm …” She scratched her nose. “Dame Biglum would like to head out.” Martha shooed the children toward their seats. As she
closed the shallow door the carriage lurched forward and clomped up the cobblestone streets, harnesses jingling like a banker’s
pockets.

A pleasant ride brought them back to High Manners Manor. It stood, waiting for them on the cliffs above the village of Houndstooth-on-Codswattle.
The leaves on its ivy exterior rustled together as if they were tiny palms, impatient to see what new adventure was blowing
their way.

Chapter 2
Sleep’s Shadows

As the last toll of midnight was still reverberating, a dust speck floated along a dark hallway. It swirled past portraits
of stately ancestors and through the keyhole of one particular bedroom door.

Inside this bedroom, the tall velvet curtains, hanging like calm sails, were drawn closed. Nearby, a large table was stacked
with books: THE PIRATE WAY, by Black-Heart Bill; SHIVERING TIMBERS, by Evil-Eye Ned; and KNOW YOUR JIBE FROM YOUR JIB, by
Bad-Penmanship Percy. Next to the reading material rested Billy’s note. Like a buccaneer’s dagger it was short and to the
point:

Gramps Pete,

Come quick.

Billy

An unusual bed stood in the middle of the room, its headboard carved like a ship’s stern. The foot of the bed rose to a point
like the prow of a ship.

In the center of the mattress sat Billy’s sea chest. He still preferred sleeping in his old trunk, even though it was a tight
fit. Tonight, he tossed as if adrift in a storm.

BOOK: The Road to Nevermore
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