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Authors: Kurtis Scaletta

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BOOK: The Tanglewood Terror
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“Right there.” I pointed back over my shoulder with my thumb.

“No kidding. Are there more?”

“Lots.”

“They’re cool. I’m going to take some photos.” He took a phone from his pocket and flipped it open. “Hey, show me that piledriver, Undertaker-style.” He held up the phone to get the picture.

I picked up Brian, who hollered and flailed while I demonstrated the pro wrestling move, except for the last part, when you’re supposed to drive the guy’s head into the ground. Even the pro wrestlers don’t do that really; it’s all make-believe. Randy snapped the picture and gave me a thumbs-up. I set Brian down gently, but he was still mad.

“No picking me up without asking!” he hollered, and ran up the path toward home.

“What’s up with him?” Randy wondered.

“Little brothers,” I said.

Mom was gone when I got home, and Brian was in his room with the door shut. Arkham Hat Shop blared through the door. That was Dad’s old band. They were popular in Boston back before I was born, but they broke up when Dad got married and moved to Maine.

Last winter Dad started hanging around in the basement a lot, strumming on his electric guitar and listening to his band’s old CDs. Mom finally asked him if he wanted to give the rock and roll thing another try. She thought he’d get together with some guys on the weekends and jam in the basement, but what Dad did was call up all the other guys from Arkham Hat Shop and talk them into getting the band
back together—in Boston. All the other guys still lived there.

“I wish I could explain this to you,” he told Brian and me. “I know it sounds selfish of me, running off to chase my dream, but I’m doing it for you guys. I want you to know that it’s never too late to follow your own dreams.” He looked at me first, really seriously. “That means you should never give up on football, Eric.”

“All right,” I agreed, but of course I’ll have to give up on football by the time I turn his age. Most pro football players retire by that time.

He turned to Brian. “What’s your dream?” he asked.

Brian didn’t even think about his answer before he blurted it out. “I want pet hedgehogs.”

“Sure thing, kid. We’ll go get some this weekend.”

“Cool!” That was how he got Digger and Starling. He was only eight at the time, and his dream had already come true.

With the curtains pulled in my room, I could still see a faint blue-green shine on the mushrooms. What if there was something seriously wrong in the woods? Maybe there was a chemical spill, or nuclear waste dumped where it shouldn’t be. I set the mushrooms on the dresser and watched them for a while, but they didn’t do anything interesting other than glow.

If we still had Internet access I could look them up, but Mom got rid of it when Dad left. She said we had to cut expenses. The library was open but there was usually a
line to get on the computers. Michelle might know what they were, and I had to go over there anyway to take care of Cassie.

I figured I’d better take Brian with me, since Mom had asked me to spend the day with him. I went and tapped on his door.

“Hey, Bri, want to go to see Cassie?”

He opened the door a crack and looked at me with hurt eyes.

“First say you’re sorry. I don’t like being picked up.”

“I know that now. Sorry. So do you want to go?”

“Can we go to the haunted house after?” There was a haunted house downtown every October, but I wasn’t a big fan.

“Maybe tomorrow,” I said.

“All right,” he agreed.

I glanced at the terrarium, which was a mistake. One of the hedgehogs was still working away at a grub. I would have lost my breakfast, if I’d remembered to eat any.

Tanglewood is built like a spider, with the downtown at the body and a lot of legs spindling off this way and that into the woods. We live at the end of one leg, and Michelle lives at the end of a nearby leg. It’s easier to take a shortcut through the woods than walk up one road and down another.

Brian ran on ahead, nudging rocks and logs.

“Looking for more bugs?”

“It doesn’t hurt to look,” he said.

I had the jar of mushrooms with me. In the light they just looked like ordinary mushrooms, but they had a blue glint when we passed through the shadows of trees.

Michelle is from Boston. She used to be a portrait photographer, but she got tired of taking pictures of people and decided to take pictures of nature instead. She thought she’d run a little farm, because apparently there’s always a market for pictures of cows and pigs and horses, but she way underestimated how much work even one animal is, especially when it’s a pig. So she settled for one pig and hired me to help out. The pig turned out to be camera-shy and
doesn’t even pay her own keep. She is cool to have around, though.

Brian and I wedged through some pine boughs and scooted down a steep bank to Michelle’s place, which was fenced in but the gate was never locked. She had a big field of weeds, big enough to put a football field, with the house and pigsty on one end and the compost heap on the other. The gate was at the compost heap end.

“Pig poop!” Brian shouted. He was right—that’s mostly what the compost heap was made of. We trudged past the heap and through the field to the sty, which was attached to a shed where Cassie slept when it was raining or cold. Now she was basking in the sunlight and lazily cuddling a pink bucket. She got up as soon as she saw us and trotted over.

I scratched her ears, and she made huffy-puffy noises, tilting her head and closing her eyes.

“Can I?” Brian asked.

“Of course.”

He reached out and gently stroked the bristly side of her other ear, laughed, and gave it a good rub. Cassie grunted and stepped closer, startling him a little bit.

“It’s all right,” I told him. “She doesn’t bite or anything.” Sometimes she snorted and got pig slobber on you, but Brian could learn that the fun way.

“Hey!” I heard Michelle’s voice and turned around. She was waving from an upstairs window. “Can you feed her?” she hollered. “I’ve got a lot going on.”

“Yes!” I gave a couple of exaggerated nods, in case she couldn’t hear.

“Come see me when you’re done!” she shouted, then disappeared from the window.

I set the jar down and headed around front, where I found a fresh bag of garbage from Emily’s Café. They save up their food waste for Cassie and drop it off every day. I broke open the bag and filled her food trough. She had her head buried in the mess before the bag was half empty.

Cassie is quick but methodical, first going for the berries, bananas, and apple cores, followed by the half-eaten waffles and pancakes, then turning her snout to the piles of scrambled eggs. She’ll even eat leftover pieces of bacon and sausage, which I don’t like to think about. The restaurant tries to leave them out, but a little bit always ends up in the bag. If Cassie’s still hungry after all that, which she always is, she’ll eat the soggy hash browns soaked in ketchup, but not if there are onions and peppers mixed in.

It’s kind of fascinating to watch her eat. It’s like watching Tom Brady throw a touchdown pass or David Ortiz hit a baseball. She’s perfect at her own sport, which is eating.

“Wow,” said Brian when Cassie left the sty a few minutes later.

I freshened the water in her water trough and brushed her backside. The only thing left to do was shovel poop.

“Gross,” Brian said as I scooped the manure into an old wagon to haul out to the heap.

“It’s honest work,” I told him, which is what Dad used to say whenever we complained about chores. The truth is
that I like doing it. It just feels good to take care of someone. I dragged the wagon across the field to the compost heap. When I got back, Cassie was running alongside the fence, softly booting the bucket like a soccer ball and squealing.

“Is she okay?” Brian asked.

“Yeah, she’s just exercising Babe.” That’s what Michelle called it.

“Babe?” Brian asked.

“The bucket. She thinks of it as her baby. She had a lot of real babies, but they were all taken away from her.” Michelle told me once that Cassie used to be a breeding sow and that she’d had eight litters.

“What happened to them?”

“They got turned into bacon. What do you think?”

“Oh.” Brian got a sad look on his face. I myself was thinking about not eating bacon anymore, but it’s hard to make the connection between a big friendly pig like Cassie and crispy strips of breakfast meat.

I got the jar and went to Michelle’s back door, Brian running to catch up. She opened the door before I even had a chance to knock.

“I’m going to be gone for a week,” she told me as she let us in, “so you’ll have full-time Cassie duty.”

“No problem. Where are you going?”

“Baxter to shoot bears. They’re most active just before hibernation.”

Brian’s eyes got wide, so I softly punched him in the shoulder. “She’s taking pictures,” I told him. “She’d never actually
shoot
a bear.”

“No hitting,” he muttered.

“Sorry.”

Michelle put out a package of cookies, and I grabbed a couple. She poured two cups of milk. Brian dunked his cookie into the milk and held it until it was good and soggy.

“Hey, have you ever seen these?” I pushed the jar across the table. “They look normal now, but they were lit up when I got them. And they were blue instead of yellow.”

“Sure I have,” she said. “I’ve seen ’em in blue, green, and orange. It’s called fox fire.”

“What does it have to do with foxes?” Brian asked.

“Nothing. It means ‘fake fire.’ I think somebody mispronounced a French word and it stuck. They’re not that rare, but they are tough to photograph. The light doesn’t come through. Even if you do it with a slow shutter speed, people think you faked it.”

“Hm.” So they were kind of boring after all.

Michelle must have seen my disappointment and tried to make up for it.

“You know what? I read once that fox fire is where fairies come from.”

“Really?” Brian perked up at the mention of fairies.

“Folks used to see the mysterious light shining in the woods and thought that little creatures must be having big parties out there.”

“Why didn’t they just go see?” I asked her.

“The woods were dark and scary, and since they didn’t know what the blue light was, they assumed it was something bad.”

“That’s, uh …” I was going to say “dumb,” but I’d done the same thing. I’d thought the glow was alien ooze or nuclear waste, and I was afraid to take a closer look until Brian made me. I resolved to be more reasonable from now on.

Michelle saw Brian scowling. “I don’t mean Tinker Bell,” she said. “Their fairies were little demons.”

“Cool,” he said.

The next day there was a ragged line of mushrooms strewn across our back lawn, petering out before they reached the back steps. With their cone-shaped caps tilting this way and that, they looked like skinny gnomes on the march. It was like they’d followed us.

No, I told myself. We must have tracked spores on our shoes and clothes. I remembered the plume of white dust and shuddered. Those spores had been all over me. In any case, it was scientific. It was creepy and weird but scientific.

The Patriots were playing the four o’clock game on TV, and I got bored during the one o’clock game. I went outside and took the mushroomy trail all the way to the clearing. The mushrooms had spread to the edges of the clearing, right up to the stone I’d turned over yesterday. They looked dull and yellow in the sunlight, but I could still see a blue-green glow deep in the shadows of fallen branches.

I didn’t like them, even if Michelle said they were normal.

I kicked at some mushrooms as I strode back through
the yard. I knocked a few caps off, but they were tougher than they looked.

“Can we go to the haunted house now?” Brian asked when I got in.

“Um …” I’d forgotten all about it. “Not now. The Patriots game is about to start.”

“You promised!” he said, which wasn’t true. I said
maybe
we would go. I meant no.

“Oh, take him,” said Mom, who was on her way downstairs with a basket of laundry. “He never gets to do anything
he
wants to do.”

BOOK: The Tanglewood Terror
9.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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