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Authors: Kurtis Scaletta

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BOOK: The Tanglewood Terror
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“I can’t,” she said. “I hate that place so much.”

“It can’t be that bad. It’s not like they can … cane you, or whatever.”

“No, but Mrs. Bearish will take my phone, and they’ll stick me in the RC, and then I won’t even have access to the outside world. That’s torture for me. Disconnecting somebody from
everything
. I don’t have any friends there, and it gets lonely.”

I was going to ask what an RC was, but the question got shoved aside. “Mrs. Bearish?”

“This great big bear of a woman at the school.”

“I think you mean Parrish. That’s my mom.”

“Really?” She looked at me. “Oh, yeah. Your name is on your uniform. E. Parrish.”

“That’s me.”

“We call her that because she’s like our Mama Bear, you know? Looking out for everyone?” She saw I wasn’t buying it. “I’m sorry. Girls are snarky and awful.”

“Forget it.”

“Okay, I am too, obviously,” she said. “I didn’t mean anything when I wrote that story. It seemed funny while I was writing it. I didn’t think it would actually scare anyone.” She sighed. “So I guess I can’t spend the night at your house?”

“Ha. You definitely don’t want that. Mrs. Bearish will be there.” I thought hard. “Maybe we can figure something else out.”

“Oh, I’ll be all right,” she said. “There are some empty houses around. There’s usually a key under the garden gnome.”

“Wait, I got it.” I snapped my fingers. “It wouldn’t exactly be breaking and entering.”

“What are you supposed to be?” the guy at the front door of the haunted house asked me.

“Huh?”

“She’s a football player. I figured you were in a costume too. It’s half price if you are.”

Mandy was wearing my uniform over her street clothes, the helmet hiding her face.

“Here.” Mandy reached through the face mask on the helmet to take off her Harry Potter glasses and put them on me. Everything went blurry. “I’m a jock, and he’s a nerd.”

The guy gave us a thumbs-up and the discount.

Mandy took her glasses back as soon as we were in so both of us could actually see. We stopped to look at the three bears eating Goldilocks.

“Truly horrible,” Mandy said with a shudder.

“They really want to scare people,” I told her.

“Or at least gross us out,” she said. I felt proud of Tanglewood for having a good enough haunted house to even gross out a big horror fan like Mandy. We went past the bears and the headless horseman.

“What’s this?” Mandy asked when we got to the
WELCOME TO KEATSTON
sign.

“It was the town that was here before Tanglewood, back in colonial days. It disappeared in seventeen-something.”

Another group of people came by. I nudged Mandy out of the way so they could see.

“Lame,” one of them said as they passed. They were obviously from out of town and didn’t know the story behind it.

“The whole town disappeared?” Mandy asked in a whisper.

“Yeah, and so will we.” I slipped through the curtain, and Mandy followed.

“What the heck?” She was stunned to find another room hidden by the curtains. I knew the room was here because I’d sat in here and watched films or listened to some old guy talk about artifacts half a dozen times.

“This is the old Keatston Meetinghouse,” I explained. “The big part is where they had meetings—that’s what they called church—and this is where the preacher guy lived. It’s the only building that survived.”

“Were they Puritans?” Mandy asked.

“It was later than that, but they acted like Puritans,” I told her, remembering one of my school visits. “There was like a Puritan revival.”

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “We learned about that in history.”

The room was crammed full of all the museum cases that were usually on display: table-sized clear plastic boxes full of old stuff. We squeezed between two cases, me trying to suck
in my gut so I could fit. We finally found a padded bench where we could sit down. We sat with our backs to the cases and our feet on the wall.

“I figured you could hang out here,” I told her. “I didn’t think about it being crammed full of stuff.”

“It’s that much easier to hide,” she said. She swiveled around to look at the cases. “I’m going to live in a museum, just like Claudia Kincaid.”

“Who?”

“Never mind. So what did you mean when you said everyone disappeared?”

I told her about the fire with no ashes, the people of Keatston vanishing off the face of the earth.

“This was the only building left standing, and they never found bodies or graves or anything. They did find people’s belongings. That’s what’s in all those cases: dishes and clothes, some letters, stuff like that. It’s sad to see it.”

There was a battered gray leather ball, now flat and torn and shriveled up like a raisin. The tour guide would point it out: “Whoever made that ball must have kept it hidden, because the town fathers would not have approved of such games.” I always wondered what kind of secret sports those kids played. There were other taboo items in the cases—a tiny chess set and a pack of playing cards, a paintbrush with its bristles long gone, and a disintegrating copy of
Gulliver’s Travels
. I thought mostly about the ball, because I couldn’t have lived without some kind of sports. I wouldn’t have been able to be me.

“It’s sad to see it,” I repeated.

“Hm,” she said. She grabbed her phone, maybe to see what the Internet knew about Keatston. I was sitting in an uncomfortable position, but the room was dark and peaceful. I closed my eyes and dozed off for a while.

I woke up cramped and sore. I wondered what time it was, and whether or not Mom or Dad had started calling all of my friends to find me.

Mandy was gone. I felt around and found my sports bag. She’d put my uniform and pads back into it and set the helmet right next to it. Had she made another escape? No, her backpack was sitting right next to my stuff.

I turned and tried to make out anything in the darkness. I saw a faint light bobbing near the doorway and felt my way there, scraping and gouging myself against several museum cases on the way.

“Mandy?”

“Yeah. Look at this.” She had her phone turned back on flashlight mode, the light dimmer than it was earlier. The battery was probably on its last gasp.

“What time is it?” I asked her.

“It’s only nine-thirty. They shut down half an hour ago. Look.” She directed the faint flashlight beam at something on the wall.

It was the famous picture of Keatston, showing the town swallowed up by fire. It’s kind of cartoonish but not comical. In fact, I bet the picture gave every kid who ever saw it nightmares: rings of red and blue flames radiate from the Meetinghouse, the colors faded over time but still visible.
Everything else is uncolored—the square rustic buildings consumed by the blaze, the tiny people with their arms waving and their mouths little O’s of fright. The Meetinghouse itself is at the center of the inferno but untouched by fire. There’s a window at the side and a boy looking out, his eyes wide. He isn’t screaming but he looks scared. It’s the same window we were just sitting under.

“Who drew it?” she asked.

“Nobody knows, and it’s not exactly a drawing.” I told her what I remembered from the tours—that the picture was a block print, meaning the artist did it backward in wood, cutting away everything but the lines to make a giant stamp. He’d coated the stamp with ink and pressed it on the paper, then colored in the fire with watercolors handmade from berries. Maybe he’d used the brush that was now lying in one of the cases.

“You know, those don’t look like flames,” she said. “They look like mushroom caps.”

I looked again, and sure, they did look like the conical mushroom caps, but they also looked like soft-serve ice cream or gnome hats, depending on how you looked at them. It probably wasn’t easy to carve super-realistic-looking fire.

“They keep coming back,” she said in a whisper. A centipede with very cold feet ran along my spine.

“We need more evidence,” I said, using her own words from earlier. “Let’s gather facts.” I searched the picture for some clues. Why couldn’t the words say something useful, like “Ye Olde Toade Stooles,” instead of that stuff about the seeds of redemption?

“They are mushrooms,” she said. “I’m sure of it.” Her light flickered and dimmed. “Uh-oh. I need an outlet so I can charge up my phone.”

“And use the flashlight to find an outlet to charge it up?”

“Exactly,” she said. “Oh, but I left the cord in my bag in the other room.”

“Maybe we can find a light switch?” I stretched my hands out and took baby steps until I found the wall, then started groping around.

“No. Somebody might see the lights through the windows.”

“Good point.” I gave up my search.

“There’s some jack-o’-lanterns by the headless horseman,” she said. “I bet they have little lights in them.”

“Oh, good thinking.”

“Can you please go get one?” she asked.

“Me? Why me?”

“Because it was my idea.”

“Fine.” I found my way through the curtains to the haunted house, crashing into the make-believe welcome sign. I reached out in front of me until I found the canvas wall of the maze and went left. The pumpkins were that way, in the corner. I took a few small steps, scared that I might trip and bring down some of the walls.

I heard a noise behind me and pictured the witch in the maze with me, following me, ready to reach out and tousle my hair. That ice-footed centipede was back, and he’d brought a bunch of friends to line-dance.

Stop freaking yourself out, Parrish, I told myself. Get a grip.

I accidentally kicked something soft and heavy, probably
one of the pumpkins. I stooped down and found it rolled over sideways. I took off the top and felt around inside its pulpy orange skull until I grabbed a pumpkin light about the size of a quarter. I ran my finger along the surface and flicked a switch. My prize for all this was a little halo of light about a foot in diameter.

A moment later the building was filled with light. Somebody had flipped on the overheads.

“I heard something down that way,” someone shouted. It sounded like Officer Withers. He came to the school sometimes, telling us to say no to drugs.

“Stop! Who’s that?” another voice shouted. I peeked around the wall and saw another policeman down the corridor, waving his flashlight at the black curtain leading to the back room. He must have heard Mandy.

Even though I thought Mandy should go back to her school, I thought it should be her decision, and for some reason I felt stupidly heroic. I picked up the slightly damaged pumpkin, stepped out into the corridor, and hurled it with all my might.

The officers jumped back as the pumpkin smashed to the floor and spattered their shoes. Before they looked up again, I was headed down the maze the other way. I took a wrong turn and ended up in the room with the three bears. I threw myself behind the display, watching two sets of feet run past me. The taxidermy bears reeked of wet dog and old rug.

The wood-and-fabric wall behind me had a flap for a door, maybe so the haunted house actors could get around. I slipped through and found myself in the make-believe graveyard.

“You see anything up there?” Officer Withers hollered to the other cop.

“No, and the front door’s barred shut. He must be hiding in here somewhere.”

“Go secure the back entrance,” said Officer Withers. “I’ll flush him out.”

“Make sure he doesn’t have any more pumpkins,” the other cop said.

If they caught me, I’d be in a lot of trouble because of that pumpkin. So it was best that they didn’t catch me. I’d have to get out the back door before that other cop got there.

I jumped out into the corridor right in front of him.

“You!”

I froze. He would have grabbed me, but one of the maze walls came crashing down on top of him. He stumbled into the opposite wall, knocking that one down and flattening some tombstones.

The cop was sandwiched between the two rectangles of wood and fabric, and Mandy was sitting on that canvas-and-cop sandwich like a sprig of parsley.

“Go!” she shouted.

“No, you go! You’re the one who’s wanted.”

Officer Withers appeared in the graveyard, having shoved some of the walls out of the way. He didn’t have his gun out, but his right hand was hovering near the grip.

“Stop right there!” he hollered.

“You go!” I yelled again at Mandy, and tackled the policeman.

BOOK: The Tanglewood Terror
11.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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