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Authors: Kurtis Scaletta

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BOOK: The Tanglewood Terror
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The mushrooms wrapped around both sides of our house, and I followed them to see how far. They’d pushed their way into the front yard but petered out before they reached the sidewalk.

When I looked up, I saw Dad’s car in the driveway, a U-Haul trailer latched to the back.

I went inside and found the basement door ajar. I stood on the top step for a bit, listening. Dad was strumming on a hollow-body electric guitar that wasn’t plugged into anything and singing my favorite song of his, which isn’t an Arkham Hat Shop song or even really by him but one
he used to play for me when I was a little kid. It’s about a nameless horseman riding through the valley, having all these adventures. “Who can the brave young horseman be?” the song asks, but you never find out the answer. Dad also played a song about an octopus and some others I forget, but the one about the horseman was my favorite.

As a little kid, I thought he’d made all those songs up himself. I got into a huge argument with my kindergarten teacher about “Puff the Magic Dragon.” I told her my dad made up that song, and she asked me if his name was Peter, Paul, or Mary.

I waited for Dad to finish, then went down the steps. Brian was sitting next to him, listening. Dad’s little practice area is at the west end of the house, the side facing the woods. There were a few dots of bright green on the wall behind them.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hey back at you.” He strummed once more, good and hard so the strings rang out for a long time. “I guess I should finish hauling stuff in.” He put the guitar gently on its stand and came over to give me a hug, squashing my nose with his shoulder.

“You came home, huh?”

“For a while. Your mother says everything is nuts up here.”

“It is nuts,” I agreed.

“So I’m here to de-nuts-ify it, if I can. Put my job on hold, postponed a couple of gigs.”

“Sorry.” I was the reason Mom called Dad. I knew that. She must have done it after I’d gone to bed.

“Hey, I told you all, call if you need me. Your mom called, and here I am. I came straight home, just like I said I would.”

“How long are you staying?”

“I don’t know. At least until they find that girl, so your mom isn’t working twenty-four-seven.”

“What are you going to do while you’re here?” I was wondering if he’d try to work out of the home or something.

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “Try to help with things, I guess.”

“Did you see the mushrooms?” I asked them, pointing at the wall.

“Huh?” He wheeled around and looked. “I’ll have to do something about those.” He might have been talking about a leaky faucet or a loose doorknob—something he could put off for a few days, or forever.

“They spread really fast,” I told him. “They’ve already taken over the lawn.”

“Yeah, I noticed that. Crazy.” He started up the stairs without giving them another look. I wished he thought it was more urgent. Maybe he didn’t care because he thought he’d head back to Boston in a few days, leaving us to deal with our crazy fungus.

I helped him carry everything else in. There wasn’t that much, just his clothes and his laptop and a few other things. He’d only needed the trailer so his guitars wouldn’t get smashed up in the backseat.

“So—I hear you’re in a spot of trouble,” he said as he dropped the last box in the foyer.

“I guess so. I broke a guy’s leg.” I tried to explain what
had happened, but every time I talked about those guys taking Cassie’s bucket, it sounded less like a good reason for a fight. “It was an accident,” I said at last.

“Did you tell him you were sorry?”

“No,” I admitted.

“That’s okay. I think it’s better this way, legally. You should probably avoid talking to him until this is all settled.”

“Oh.” That didn’t make sense to me, but Dad did work at a law firm now and probably knew what he was talking about.

“We’ll get through this,” he said. “Anyway, I have to get the trailer to Millinocket by seven. Can you make dinner?”

“Sure thing.”

“Thanks, bro.”

A few minutes later he was gone.

Mom called just after he left.

“Dad’s here,” I told her.

“Already? I didn’t think he’d get here today. Well, I’m glad he did. I think it’s going to be a late night for me. I’m glad you boys aren’t alone.”

I didn’t bother telling her we were.

“Any luck finding that girl?” I asked.

“We don’t have a lot to go on,” she admitted. “She just disappeared. But we’re talking to everybody in case somebody knows something.”

“She’ll be fine,” I said.

“You don’t know that, Eric.”

“No, I guess not.”

“If you or Brian ever does something like this …” She trailed off. “Don’t. That’s all. I’ll see you later.” She clicked off.

I wanted to get some fresh mushrooms before it got dark. I emptied the jar and dug up some new ones from the backyard, sawing the edge of the shovel against the tough roots to sever them. I slid the mushrooms sideways into the jar, replaced the cap, and brought the jar back to my room.

“Why do you keep bringing those inside?” Brian stood in my doorway, looking at me accusingly.

“I’m doing a science project on them.”

“Why don’t you do your science project on hedgehogs? You could bring in Digger or Starling and feed her a bug.”

“Maybe next time.” I’m sure grossing out the class would be a great way to win back my popularity.

“Is Dad moving back for good?” he asked me.

“Probably not,” I said. “He said just until they find that runaway girl.” I realized that Mom might not have told Brian about Amanda, but he knew what I was talking about. Everybody in town knew about her.

“Oh.” He turned around and went back to his own room, half slamming the door.

I put some potpies in the oven and did homework at the kitchen table while I waited for them to bake. I could have cooked them in the microwave, but I didn’t like how soggy and white the crust was when I cooked them that way.

I decided to re-create my science notes so I could give my oral report the next day. I got a notebook and wrote down everything I remembered.

1. Honey fungus
.

I’d written down the scientific name for it—carefully, so it was spelled right—but that page was gone, so I’d have to call it the honey fungus. The mushrooms sure didn’t smell like honey, and I was willing to bet they didn’t taste like honey, so they probably got the name from their color in daylight.

2. All one big thing
.

The mushrooms were all connected, underground, connected by those cords. So it was one big organism, and it could get even bigger. Wikipedia said there was one in Oregon that spread out over a mile in every direction.

3. Really old
.

The same fungus in Oregon was at least a thousand years old. I didn’t know how they knew that, but they did. So these things could be alive for a very long time.

4. Bioluminous?

I couldn’t remember the exact word my teacher used. I couldn’t find the reason they lit up in the article, either. It just said they lit up “in the right conditions.”

5. _____core
.

I couldn’t remember the word, but the fungus had a kind of heart. Everything grew out from there.

It wasn’t much information, but it was good stuff. An ancient, giant underground fungus that could light up when it wanted to—that sounded like a sci-fi movie, but it was real. Unless somebody hacked the Wikipedia article just to mess with my head.

I wrote it all down, neatly enough to hand in, and took the notebook up to my room. I put it in my book bag and went to grab the mushroom jar so I wouldn’t forget. It was gone.

“Brian, did you borrow my mushrooms?” I yelled down the hall. He didn’t answer.

I went to his room and tapped on the door.

I could hear him moving around, but he still didn’t answer. I opened the door and saw him shoving something into the top drawer of the bureau.

He looked at me with wide eyes. He looked guilty, then angry.

“I didn’t say you could come in!”

“You didn’t say I couldn’t.”

“Leave me alone.”

He tried to slam the door on me, but I wedged my foot into the frame to brace myself and used my whole forearm to block the door.

“What’s going on?”

“Nothing. Leave me alone!” He put all his weight into
the door, and I went on holding it open. He grunted and strained, but it was no use.

“Whatcha got in the drawer there, Bri?”

“Nothing.”

“It’s not my mushroom jar?”

“No!”

“So it’s okay if I take a look?” I pushed the door open wider and squeezed past Brian into the room. He was still leaning into it with every ounce of his scrawny frame. When I let go, the door suddenly swung away from him. He stumbled into it.

“I’m telling Mom!”

“What, that you’re a klutz?”

I reached for the drawer, and Brian threw himself on my back, wrapped his arm around my neck, and drove his chin into my shoulder blade. It hurt like crazy, and I could barely breathe. Brian had never wrestled, but he must have learned some dirty tricks from somebody. We both fell back onto the bed, me squashing him. The bedsprings squealed under our combined weight.

“Geppupame,” he said.

“Geppupame?”

“Geppupame.”

“Is that like a country in South America?”

“Moe. Geppupame.”

“A rare tropical fish?”

“I said GET OFF OF ME!” He wrenched one of his arms free and pushed, then started punching me.

“Oh! Get off of you. Of course I will.…” I shifted my weight so he could breathe, but not enough so he could get up. “If you let me see what’s in the drawer.”

“NO!”

“What’s the big deal?” I was only teasing him at first, but I was starting to seriously wonder what was in the drawer. “Do you have a gun?” I asked him.

“Don’t be stupid.”

“What then. Drugs?”

“I said. Don’t. Be.
Stupid.
” He emphasized the last word with a sudden surge of effort to free himself, but I was built like a linebacker and he was built like a wimpy little brother. It was futile.

“Did you steal something? Is that it? You shoplifted a video game, didn’t you?”

“No!”

“Oh, I know! One of those grown-up comic books that Mom won’t let you buy.”

“Shut up!” He turned red, and I was sure I’d guessed right.

“That’s it, isn’t it! I want to see it.” I got up and opened the drawer before he could even react, and started riffling through it for contraband. There were no comics, no weapons, and no narcotics. Not even mushrooms. Just random stuff—his SpongeBob wallet, a Celtics keychain I didn’t know he had, some stones he’d found, a souvenir coin from Boston with the Old State House on one side and Paul Revere on the other, his only necktie rumpled beyond usefulness, and a few Arkham Hat Shop CDs.

I picked up a carving I’d never seen before, a colonial man about six inches tall, with a funny hat pulled way down over his brow. He was holding a misshapen ball and was crouched down—looking a bit like the old Patriots logo, actually.

“Did you get this in Boston, or where?” I asked. Brian might have gotten it at one of those little kiosks with cheap stuff for tourists. Not that this looked cheap. It looked old and handmade, but there are machine-made things that look old and handmade.

Brian swore at me.

“Where did you get it?” I asked him again. “It’s neat.”

“I found it in the woods.”

“Is this what you were trying to hide?” I twisted around and saw him sitting on the bed, his face sulky and sore. He didn’t answer.

When I turned back, I noticed the terrarium on top of the bureau. Either Digger or Starling was cowering in the back corner, scrunched up into a ball. The other one was hiding.

So that’s who I was. Somebody who scared hedgehogs for no reason.

“Sorry,” I told the hedgehog. Then I turned to Brian. “Sorry,” I told him. “I needed to make sure you weren’t doing anything, you know, that I needed to know about.” I put the funny little man back into the drawer and shut it.

I heard the oven beeping downstairs. I didn’t know how long it had been going off.

“Dinner is ready,” I said, and left. Brian slammed the
door good and hard behind me, calling me a bully and a jerk and a bunch of other words. I went downstairs and ate my own potpie, which was burned. Half an hour later, I ate his.

When I went upstairs, the mushroom jar was where I’d left it. Either Brian had put it back or I’d somehow overlooked it earlier.

That night I lay there for a while, awake, with mushroom light breaking through the window.

I didn’t know why I’d been so mean to Brian. It didn’t feel that bad at the time, but when I played it back in my head, it didn’t look good.

I needed to get my mind on something else.

So I played out how things might go if I apologized to Randy. What if I ignored Dad’s advice and walked up to the team table at lunch, told Randy I was sorry, and sat down? The other guys would push over and make room for me, maybe somebody would crack a joke, and we’d all laugh. I’d sign Randy’s cast, then we’d all talk about the championship game and how we’d beat the stuffing out of those Blue River Oxen.

BOOK: The Tanglewood Terror
9.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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