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Authors: Kurtis Scaletta

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BOOK: The Tanglewood Terror
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Brian jumped up from the table and grabbed one of the cans from me. “I have an idea!” he shouted. He darted out of the room with the can.

“Is there sugar in this stuff?” Mandy asked. “He seems a little hyper.”

“I don’t know,” said Howard. “Check the ingredients.”

Brian came back into the room and set the dripping can in the middle of the table like a centerpiece.

“I opened the safe!” he said. “The combination is fifteen five nineteen thirty-seven.”

“That was it!” Howard pounded the table with her fist, rattling the bowls. “Maggie Dunne beef stew. Fifteen point five ounces in each and every can. I’ve been looking at it every day for years and forgot that it had anything to do with anything.”

I picked up the can and read the banner under the kid’s face: “Since nineteen thirty-seven. Sixty years of goodness!” They reached sixty years of goodness the year I was born. I hoped that they just never got around to updating the label, instead of the can being that old.

“That’s pretty incredible thinking,” Mandy told Brian. “You should switch around the
a
and the
i
in your name.”

“I saw the cans and thought that might be it.” Brian was lit up like a glowing mushroom.

“Good work,” I told him. “Now eat your stew.”

“So what do you do now?” I asked Mandy when we were cleaning up after lunch. Brian had earned his way out of cleaning up and was at the table turning the pages in the magazine, mostly looking at the pictures.

“I’m going to look at the lost manuscripts of Max Bailey,” she said. “What do you think? This is the most incredible thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“I thought you were going to help me with the mushroom problem.”

“I
am
helping,” she said. “It’s all connected, Eric. Max Bailey is what got me interested in it in the first place. The answer might be right there in that safe.”

“Yeah, right.” I handed her the last washed dish to dry.

“Give me a day or two,” she said. “The mushrooms aren’t going anywhere.”

“Yeah they are. They’re going
everywhere.

We finished up and went into the other room. Howard had moved the stacks of papers out of the safe, making a tower that looked ready to capsize.

“I’m afraid these are in no kind of order,” she said, “and I don’t have the eyesight or the patience to straighten this mess out.”

“We can help!” Mandy practically shouted.

“I’d rather you didn’t read any more than you have to,” she said. “My pa asked me to burn it all, and I didn’t. But I never showed any of it to anyone either. That was a compromise I made with myself.”

“We’ll be good,” said Mandy.

The sooner the papers were put together and locked away, the sooner Mandy would get back to the mushroom issue. I decided to help out.

It was more than I bargained for, though. Most of the pages didn’t have titles or page numbers, and they were shuffled together in no particular order. We worked on the floor. I took out the papers that did have titles and numbers at the top, because those were the easiest to deal with. The papers were yellowed at the edges and brittle. They were all short stories, with titles like “The Phantom of Portland” and “The
Stalking Dread.” I knew some of the titles from the book, so not all of these stories were unpublished. The original drafts were still probably a big deal. I didn’t have any paper clips or folders, so I stacked them crisscross style.

Mandy had a slower job but the one she wanted—she had to read the bottoms of untitled, unnumbered pages and then find the tops that came next. She had little stacks of twos and threes slowly coming together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Howard took anything that looked personal—letters and journals and contracts—over to the couch. Sometimes she would mutter to herself or sigh as she read.

“I’m bored,” Brian said after we’d been at it for a while. He’d been sitting by the bookshelf, thumbing through more old magazines. I’d forgotten about him. “Ms. Bailey, can I please drive that quad thing?”

“How old are you?” asked Howard. She’d been reading a wide book with tiny handwriting across the pages. It looked like what I imagined ship logs looked like, but it must have been Max Bailey’s diary.

“Ten,” he lied. “I mean eleven. I just had a birthday and forgot.”

“He’s nine for another month,” I said. I didn’t think Brian should cruise around the woods on the quad by himself.

“What if I take you for a ride?” Howard offered Brian. “I could use some air myself.” She set her book on the coffee table so she could go show him how to use the quad.

“Okay!”

“Look,” Mandy said as soon as they were gone. She shoved a piece of paper at me. It looked like the first page of a story, a title halfway down the page:

THE FUNGAL WRATH

“It’s the long-lost story,” she whispered.

“Yeah,” I whispered back. “I guessed that from the title.”

“Read the first sentence.”

I did, and read it twice more to make sure I wasn’t losing my mind:

At long last, it is time to record the terrible occurrence at the village of Keatston, Maine, which left no survivors and few clues to what happened.

“It’s about Keatston,” I said.

“I told you that the answer was in this safe.”

“We don’t know that yet.” I started to skim the page. “Anyway, it’s just a story.” Max had come up to see the mushrooms and gotten an idea for a story. We knew that. Maybe he had stopped at the museum—was it a museum back then? Well, he would have seen the Meetinghouse, and somebody would have told him about it.

“Find all the pages,” Mandy whispered.

“That’s what I’m doing.” I skipped to the bottom of
the page and saw the beginning of a sentence: “When he approached …”

I shuffled through the pages trying to find one that had something a guy would approach, finding a couple of possibilities. I decided that the guy was approaching “the Royal Governmental Council of the Province of Massachusetts Bay,” and not “a dismal house that reeked of mildew,” or “a turgid wormlike creature with a ring of razor-sharp teeth and a single, fluid, knowing eyeball.” I started looking for the third page, which would finish the sentence “Although they were uncertain of …”

“This is going to take forever,” I said. “Maybe you can find the last page and we’ll work backward and meet in the middle?”

She went through all the pages but shook her head.

“I don’t see anything that looks like a last page,” she said. “Nothing that says ‘The End,’ or even ends halfway down the page.”

“So maybe it isn’t finished?”

“Or maybe the ending is missing.”

I worked quickly, finding page after page until I heard the back door closing and Howard coming through the kitchen. I took as much of the manuscript as I’d put together and shoved it under my shirt, and I jumped up just as she entered the room. I stuck my thumbs in the belt loops on my jeans so I could keep the pages from spilling out. It made me feel like a cowboy.

The quad motor was still roaring in the yard.

“Are you letting him drive?” I asked her.

“I said he could do circles in the yard,” she said. “I figured he deserved a reward for cracking that safe open.”

“I better go check on him. Really, we should get going home anyway. Thanks for lunch.”

“You’re always welcome,” she said.

I hurried outside as best I could with my thumbs in my belt loops, which wasn’t fast at all. I guess you could call it moseying.

We biked home on the highway so we wouldn’t have to pedal through mushrooms. Even then we had to cut through ridges that spliced the road as we got closer to home. When we put our bikes in the garage, I noticed it was beginning to look as bad as the shed, with mushrooms scaling the walls and making their way across the ceiling.

We found Dad in my bedroom with a bucket of stinky water and a stiff brush, scrubbing the wall. The floor was littered with severed mushroom caps.

“Where were you guys?” he said. “I’ve been defungifying the house. There were red ones on the stairs!”

“We had to get our bikes,” said Brian. “And Eric had to fix his tire. He took me to Firelight for lunch and I had a pork sandwich. Eric had chicken because he doesn’t eat pig. I still eat pig but I won’t ever eat Cassie.”

I put my hand on his shoulder to stop him, but I had to give him credit. The kid knew how to fib.

“Can I go play video games?” he asked.

“Sure,” said Dad. Brian ran back downstairs.

“I would have driven you out there,” said Dad. “I went
that way anyway, to get this stuff.” He showed me a yellow can of antifungal powder. “It’s meant for lawns, but it was the best I could do.”

“Do you want me to help?”

“You’re supposed to be taking it easy, you know. And here you’ve already been on a long walk and a bike ride.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“How come your shirt’s tucked in?”

“I don’t know,” I said, looking at my sweatshirt like I hadn’t realized that it was.

“You’re also wearing your dress shoes,” he said.

“I guess so,” I said.

“Get some rest,” he said. “I can finish this later.” He took a minute to sweep up the mushroom caps and left me alone with the smell of something between paint remover and baby powder.

The Max Bailey story was about William Keats, the guy who founded Keatston. He was pretty normal at first, but after his wife died, he started to see the wrong in everything. He saw the wickedness in his friends and stopped hanging out with them. He was a clerk for a Boston shipping company and began to regret plundering the pristine continent for the wealth of the Crown, which was how the story put it, and he wanted to do something holier. So he quit his job and became an emissary for God. I had to look that word up. It meant he was a preacher without a church. He preached outside, like one of those guys you see on street corners in the city.

William Keats believed that America was meant to be holy, but also thought that Boston wasn’t a shining city on the hill anymore like it was supposed to be when the Pilgrims founded it, and he decided to start all over again in the wilderness.

Maine was mostly wilderness back then. It was part of Massachusetts, and Massachusetts was part of England. There was a royal council that presided over the colony, and they were handing out land up in Maine to anyone who wanted
to live there. The French Canadians were acting like Maine was theirs, and the English figured the way to drive them out of the territory was to move a lot of colonists up there to settle it. So William Keats got some other people together who also thought Boston wasn’t shiny enough anymore and asked the council for some land, and they got it.

Sixty-seven people moved with Mr. Keats to Maine, and they built houses and planted potatoes and cabbages and created their holy town in the wilderness. They never called it Keatston themselves, but that’s how the council wrote it up in the charter.

That took six or seven pages for Max Bailey to tell, and I already knew most of it. I have to admit he told it better than the folks at the museum. It was less like history and more like real people doing stuff.

William had a son just before his wife died. The baby was barely mentioned in the first part of the story but got more important after they moved up to Maine. His name was Benjamin. He was a big kid and got in a lot of fistfights with other boys. Townspeople said it was the lack of a mother, and that he was growing up without good graces that a mother gives a child. They were sympathetic but also a little scared of Benjamin.

According to the story, Benjamin got more and more sinister. He got a knife somewhere and started using it on people. The whole story became more like a late-night horror flick. He knifed this kid named Alex, and when his dad tried to punish him for it, Benjamin knifed him too. He didn’t kill either one of them, but I guess nobody wanted to
wait and see if he would. The village threw Ben out, and he lived for a while by raiding the houses on the edge of town, stealing food and stuff. Mr. Keats figured out that the folks were leaving plates of food and blankets out on purpose, where they knew Ben could steal them. So Mr. Keats went into the Meetinghouse one morning and preached and hollered that anyone being nice to Benjamin was a friend of the devil and would pay with an eternity of suffering.

BOOK: The Tanglewood Terror
6.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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