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Authors: Natalie Standiford

The Secret Tree

BOOK: The Secret Tree
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A ghost can live anywhere. Some ghosts live in the water. Some haunt houses or graveyards. Others live in the air. And some ghosts live in the trees.

If a tree has a good, deep hole in its trunk, a ghost can live inside it, feeding on secrets. Secret-keepers are drawn to the tree. They put their secrets in the hole, the ghost eats them, and soon those people are free. Their secrets whisper from the branches of the tree and float away on the wind, gone forever.

Every town has its stories and superstitions. In Catonsville, we have Crazy Ike, the Witch House, the Man-Bat, and the Secret Tree. I stumbled upon the Secret Tree in the woods across from my house last summer. This is what happened.

I’m Minty Fresh. My best friend is Pax A. Punch.

Minty Fresh and Pax A. Punch are not famous yet. But when we’re older and rule roller derby, our names will bring fear to skaters all over the world.

Not that Minty Fresh is a very scary name.

Paz and I have been derby fans since we were eight, when our local roller rink started its own team, the Catonsville Nine. We cheered for them all winter — tough young women in helmets and knee pads, skating hard in competition against the Arbutus Cuties and the powerhouse Baltimore Bombers. We got our own roller skates and practiced tricks and skills.

I struggled to come up with my roller derby name. Minty Fresh didn’t pack a punch like Pax A. Punch. It sounds like a toothpaste. But I hadn’t been able to think of anything better.

“What about Cleo
pain
tra?” Paz suggested. We were skating in front of her house, in the loop that dead-ends our street. “Or Carrie A. Chainsaw?”

I tried them out. “Minty Mortimer, also known as
Cleopaintra
. No. Sorry. It just isn’t me. It has nothing to do with my real name.”

“So?”

She didn’t get it. I wanted to turn myself into a roller derby superstar. My real self, not a made-up person.

She’s lucky: Paz Anita Calderon is great material for a roller derby name.
Paz
means “peace” in Spanish, and
pax
means “peace” in Latin. They’re basically the same word. And
A
is Paz’s real middle initial! It’s like her parents were thinking of roller derby when they named her. Though, knowing her parents, they probably weren’t.

Lennie, Paz’s younger sister, sat on the curb, keeping an eye on their little brothers, Hugo and Robbie, as they tumbled across the Calderons’ front yard like puppies. “I’ve got one for you,” Lennie said. “I. Minty Structable!” Lennie could sit around thinking up roller derby names all day.

“Too awkward,” I said.

“Sheila Beecherbutt?” Lennie tried.

“It’s getting dark,” Paz said. “Let’s do one more leg whip.”

The leg whip is a trick we saw Lemon E. Kickit and Willa Steele do at the last Catonsville Nine bout. Willa stuck out one leg behind her, Lemon grabbed her foot, and Willa kicked it forward, whipping Lemon up the track to score a point. Lemon E. Kickit is a jammer, which means she scores points for her team by passing the other
team’s skaters. The other skaters on the track are blockers, who try to keep the opposing jammer from scoring. The trick is for the jammer to get past the enemy team’s blockers, and the leg whip worked great.

Paz skated ahead of me and stuck out her leg. I grabbed her foot. She kicked me forward. Her long, black braid whipped around her head, but I didn’t whip anywhere. I fell on my butt. Again.

“Great trick,” Lennie said. “What’s it called, the butt bouncer? You should totally do it in the parade.”

“The parade’s two weeks away,” I said. “We’ll have it down by then.” I wasn’t so sure. But I figured if I kept saying it, it might come true.

Paz and I planned to skate in the neighborhood’s annual Fourth of July Parade. We used to decorate our bikes and ride around the block like all the other kids, but this year we were going to blow everyone’s minds with our roller derby routine. If we could ever get it right.

“Let’s go to the rink tomorrow for some real practice,” I said, changing out of my skates.

“Can I skate with you?” Lennie pleaded. “I’m a million times better than either one of you.”

I knew what Paz would say. Lennie was right — she was at least as good a skater as me or Paz. But she was only nine. Ever since Paz turned eleven, she tried to leave Lennie out of everything. Paz said Lennie was too young, which made steam shoot out Lennie’s ears.

“Maybe next year,” Paz said. “I’m thirsty. Go get us some lemonade.”

“Why should I?” Lennie’s jaw jutted out.

“Because I asked you to,” Paz said.

“You didn’t ask me, you ordered me,” Lennie said.

“If you don’t want Mami and Papi to find out about
you know what
,” Paz said, “then you’ll get us some lemonade.”

“Grrr.” Lennie rose to her feet and went inside the house.

“What’s
you know what
?” I asked Paz.

“She put a drink on the side table in the living room,” Paz said. “And it left a ring.”

“Oh.” The Calderon kids weren’t even supposed to
be
in the living room, much less leave rings on the mahogany furniture that had come all the way from the Philippines.

An ominous sound —
pfft pfft pfft
, like the blades of a distant chopper — came around the corner. It could only mean one thing.

The Mean Boys.

The Mean Boys, David Serrano and Troy Rogers, turned the corner on their dirt bikes. They
called
them dirt bikes, but they were just regular bicycles with fat tires and playing cards stuck in the spokes to make that
pfft pfft pfft
sound. They flashed their neon Super Soakers like gangsters.

“Oh Pa-a-a-z.” Troy made kissing noises at her —
smack smack smack
.

“Hide!” Paz ran for Hugo and Robbie. But there wasn’t time to hide.

“Hold it right there!” David shouted. He aimed his squirt gun at me and pulled the trigger. A red spray shot out of the gun.

“Hey!” My white T-shirt was splattered with sticky red juice.

“How about a nice Hawaiian Punch?” David laughed like a maniac. He sprayed Robbie and Hugo red. Troy zeroed in on Paz, yelling, “You can run, but you can’t hide!”

Quick as they’d come, the Mean Boys disappeared down Western Street to Carroll Drive, where they both lived. Paz, Robbie, Hugo, and I were left dripping and sticky.

Lennie came out of the house, balancing four paper cups full of lemonade in her hands. “The Mean Boys?” She handed a cup to Paz. “Your Majesty.”

“Thank you.” Paz took her cup and sipped.

“You’re lucky you missed it, Lennie,” I said.

“Lennie always has such interesting timing,” Paz said. “I bet she knew the Mean Boys were coming.”

I took a lemonade from Lennie and settled on the curb to wait out another sister smackdown. Paz and Lennie had been fighting for as long as I’d known them, and that
was a long time. The Calderons moved to Catonsville from the Philippines before I started first grade. Paz was in my class, and we became instant best friends.

Now we were going into sixth grade. We were about to start middle school together.

Lennie glared at Paz. “It wasn’t my idea to go inside. You ordered me to get you lemonade. I bet you wanted to be alone with your boyfriend, Troy.”

“Don’t make me puke,” Paz said. “You’re the one who likes Troy.”

“You guys, nobody likes Troy.” I was hoping this would stop the argument, but it didn’t work.

I stared into the woods across the street, trying to ignore them. It was that after-dinner hour when the world looks like a black-and-white movie. The grass turned gray, the lemonade white, and the red stain on my T-shirt blackened as the light drained away.

The woods rustled. Some kind of creature moved among the low trees that bordered our street. I could see the leaves shaking, but I couldn’t tell what was hiding in there.

“What are you staring at?” Paz asked me.

“I thought I saw something,” I said.

A branch snapped. I could make out an arm and a small blob that might have been a head. The rest of the creature blended in with the leaves.

Flash!
A light sparked in the woods.

“Hey!” Paz said. “Did someone just take our picture?”

Lennie clutched my arm. “The Man-Bat!”

“Calm down,” Paz said.

“Does the Man-Bat make flashes like that?” I asked Lennie.

“His eyes are yellow-green. He could flash them if he wanted to.”

Lennie was obsessed with the Man-Bat, a giant half man, half bat who supposedly lived in the woods. He was seven feet tall with webbed hands and feet and could fly like a bat. He attacked people and animals. Sometimes he rattled people’s windows, trying to get inside their houses.

Another
flash!
Paz shaded her eyes. “What
is
that?”

I jumped up. “I’m going to find out.”

“Minty, don’t!” Lennie tugged on my arm. “The Man-Bat skins squirrels alive!”

“I’m not a squirrel,” I said. “And I want to know what’s making that flash.”

I took a deep breath and barreled into the woods.

BOOK: The Secret Tree
11.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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