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Authors: Kurtis Scaletta

The Tanglewood Terror (9 page)

BOOK: The Tanglewood Terror
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“Will you guys be able to play?” a girl named Mary asked Randy, who was just now catching up to the rest of us on his crutches. Mary was on the pep squad and was probably looking forward to the game as much as the players were.

“They’ll take care of it,” he said. “And if they don’t, we’ll play anyway.”

Coach said the same thing later.

“There’s some guys coming to look at the turf,” Coach said, “so we’ll have to keep this short. But it’s our last practice before the big game, and we have to figure out a new plan for our offense.”

We took the least mushroomy part of the field to practice some new offensive plays. The defense was only in there to scrimmage, a two-hand touch counting as a tackle. On about the eighth make-believe tackle for a loss of yardage made by me, Tom gave me a non-make-believe shove.

“What are you doing, Beauchesne?” Coach shouted at Tom.

“Blocking.”

“The play was over a minute ago. If this were a real game, you’d get a fifteen-yard penalty. Do you think the offense can even net fifteen yards at this point?”

“Well, tell him to stop being a jerk.” He pointed at me. “He won’t let us do anything.”

“He’s not supposed to let you do anything. It’s called
‘defense,’ ” Coach hollered back. Some of the kids laughed, and Tom glowered.

We lined up again. I inched up from my middle linebacker position before the ball snapped, ready to blow past the guard and level the quarterback. Tom got antsy and snapped the ball too hard. The guy playing quarterback this series couldn’t hold on to it, so I plunged past the line and scooped it up.

“Take it easy, man.” I handed the ball to Tom.

“Thanks for nothing, jerk,” he spat out. He got right in my face and whispered, “If you hadn’t broken Randy’s leg, we wouldn’t have to worry about any of this.”

Maybe Tom and Will weren’t ratting on me, but they hadn’t forgiven me either.

He gave me a big shove, and I shoved him back, which we’re not supposed to do, but sometimes you shove first and think later, and this was one of those times.

He tried to shove me again, and I grabbed his arm.

He yanked it loose. “I’m not your little brother, Parrish. You can’t pull that WWE junk on me.”

We’re both big guys and neither of us is easy to shove around, but we shoved each other all over the field. I finally got my shoulder into his chest and sent him backward onto a padding of mushrooms, which was lucky for him. Coach was blowing the whistle the whole time, but it was like a million miles away. I could practically feel steam blasting out of my ears at that point.

“Hit the showers, Parrish!” he shouted. “Chains, you go
sit on the bench until he’s done.” Coach knew better than to send us both in at once.

I left the field, stomping on as many mushrooms as I could on the way. I wanted to crush something to bits, and for now they’d have to do.

The shower cooled me off, and by the time I got dressed, I was sorry. Maybe this time the coach really wouldn’t let me back. I didn’t want to face anybody. The locker room was between the gym and the field. I went out through the gym side rather than walk by Coach and everyone again. I slung the equipment bag over one shoulder, my backpack on the other, and my helmet under my arm.

I struggled a bit with everything as I walked home. I should have left the helmet in the locker room, I decided as the backpack slid off my shoulder and down to my elbow for the eleventh time. Somebody would have put it away for me. I probably didn’t even need it anymore.

“Psst. Pig Boy! Want some help?”

I wheeled around and saw Mandy.

“What are you doing here?”

“I was using the computers at the library. I saw the guys playing football and wanted to see if you were there.”

“I was, but I left early. I thought you had the whole Internet on your phone.”

“Not really. The library has access to all kinds of stuff
you can’t get at from any computer. Newspaper archives. Special collections at other libraries.”

“Ooh … how exciting.” Ms. Weller would have loved her.

“I found some interesting stuff, so there. Getting to a real library was half the reason I split in the first place.”

“You weren’t worried about anyone seeing you?”

“I didn’t talk to anyone. I just sneaked in and found a computer in the corner.”

“I thought you needed a library card to log in.”

“I have ways,” she said.

I could see the players trotting off the field in the distance, Coach clapping his hands and yelling something. The groundskeeper was already at the far end of the field, giving the mushrooms a series of little blasts with his sprayer.

“Hey!” said Mandy.

“Huh!” I’d sort of zoned out.

“I’ll buy a pizza if you get it,” said Mandy. “I have plenty of money, but my face is stapled to telephone poles all over town.”

“All right. I could go for a pizza.” I struggled to get the backpack back on my shoulder—it had slid down to my elbow again.

“Give me that,” said Mandy, taking the helmet.

We walked toward downtown. Mandy turned up her collar to hide her face when we hit Keatston Street, and stayed so close behind me that she kept bumping me with my helmet. I called Dad from Mandy’s phone, but she made me use an app routed through something called a proxy so she wouldn’t show up on our caller ID. Dad picked up.

“Hello?”

“It’s me.”

“How come the caller ID says you’re in Fresno?”

“It’s been acting up lately. I’m calling from the … from Tom’s cell.”

“Okay, ’cause I’d be really ticked if you went off to Cali without me. Hey, I went shopping! Got all kinds of stuff that isn’t made out of mammal.”

“Great, thanks.”

“I know you don’t eat pig, and I went veg in Boston. Of course it’s easy there, because there’s so many awesome restaurants.”

“Well, I’m going for pizza with some of the guys tonight, Dad,” I cut in. Mandy and I were nearly in town. It was only a few minutes’ walk from the school.

“Okay, cool beans. Talk to you later, bud.” He clicked off.

Mandy took the phone and called her mom’s house, getting her little sister. They argued a bit before she hung up, but I guessed that she would tell her parents that Mandy was okay.

“Little sisters,” she said. “They’re almost as bad as
big
sisters. You’re lucky you don’t have one.”

“No, just a brother.” I didn’t remember talking siblings with her, but I must have. “He can be a pain too, but mostly he’s a cool little kid. You’d like him. He likes monsters.”

“Then he’d love my little sister,” she said.

I got a Papa’s pizza for takeout, which Mandy and I took to the empty pavilion at the park. We ate the pizza
fast, since it was already getting cold. We’d settled on hamburger, since I didn’t want sausage and neither of us wanted mushrooms.

“Oh, let me show you what I learned at the library.” She dug in her bag and pulled out a stack of paper, riffled through it, and handed me a page. It was too dark to make anything out, but she fiddled with her phone and turned it into a rectangle of brightness.

“Flashlight app,” she said, handing me the phone. “Read quick. That really drains the battery.”

It was an article from the
Portland Press Herald
, dated October 1932 and featuring an illustration of mushrooms and a few lines of explanation: glowing mushrooms were spreading like wildfire in northern Maine. The mushrooms in the drawings looked like the ones from the magazine except they weren’t in color.

“Guess who drew the picture?” Mandy asked.

“Max Bailey?”

“Yeah. How did you know?”

“I read his bio. I knew he was an illustrator for the newspaper.”

“Well, now you know the mushrooms in that picture were real. They were in Maine, and they looked exactly like ours. But I couldn’t find one more word about them in the Portland paper archives. It was like they lost all interest. Somehow FDR getting elected president was more important.”

“Maybe there was nothing more about them because there was nothing else to report?”

“Max Bailey quit his job just after this illustration appeared. Something must have happened to him.”

“His wife died.”

“That happened years before he quit his job. Something might have happened
here
. He quit his job and moved so he could work on a story he never even
published
. Like he couldn’t even bring himself to write about it. It’s all connected. He saw something or discovered something that changed his life.”

“Like a mushroom monster?”

“Maybe.”

“I don’t really see the point of all this,” I admitted. “Even if Max Bailey did see the exact same fungus and even if it did turn out to be a monster, how does that help us?”

“I’m gathering facts,” she said. “Don’t you watch tape of other teams, Mr. Football? Look at the opponents’ statistics?”

“We don’t do that in middle school,” I said. She had a point, though.

“Well, that’s what I’m doing,” she said. “You can’t have a strategy if you don’t know what you’re up against.” She reached out for the phone. “You’re wasting the battery.”

“Oh, yeah.” I gave it back and she put it to sleep. “Hey, can I ask you something else?”

“I guess.”

“So maybe you left Alden to save us all from the mushroom monster. But why did you get sent to Alden in the first place?”

“First of all, I didn’t leave Alden to ‘save us all from the mushroom monster.’ I left to investigate a peculiar
phenomenon. Second, Alden is an exclusive boarding school. I got
accepted
at Alden because I’m an excellent student.”

“Ha.”

“Ha yourself. Academically, it’s top-notch.”

“Maybe it is, but everybody around here says it’s for girls … well, girls who are in some kind of trouble.” Mom never said so, but I’d heard guys at school making jokes about it. It wasn’t a reform school, but I knew it was really strict for a reason.

“It depends on what you mean by ‘trouble,’ ” she said. “Some of the girls were just dating boys their parents didn’t like. Or they dyed their hair pink and got a nose ring. It’s only trouble because their parents didn’t like it.”

“So your parents didn’t like your boyfriend?” Her hair was normal and she didn’t have any piercings, so I guessed that was it.

“I’ve never had one, so no.”

“So what did you do?”

“What makes you so sure I did something?”

“Because you’re there. And you ran away instead of just telling your parents you hate it there, which makes me think they won’t let you go home.”

“Fine. I’ll tell you what I did. I wrote a story. Huge crime, right?”

“You mean, like, fiction? A made-up story?”

“A made-up story called ‘The Undead School.’ ”

“What happened?”

“It was about how everybody at my school turned into a
zombie, right? It’s not going to win horror novel of the year, but it was okay. I posted it on the Internet as a blog. I put up a new chapter every few days. Some people even said they liked it, but some girls totally freaked out, and there was a big drama at the school.”

“Drama?” I wasn’t following her at all. What was the big deal about writing a story about zombies? Stephen King did a book about zombies, and he was the most famous writer in the state. Dad had a lot of his books.

“It was completely stupid,” she said. “They said it was threatening. Even though I made up the names. Like Esmé Myer became I. Mimi Mine. And Ashlee Grant became Ain’t She Grand. I changed names to protect the not-so-innocent, and it’s not
my
fault people knew who I was talking about.”

“Oh.” I was starting to get it.

“The hero is this girl named Mary Killer,” she continued. “She knows kung fu and stuff. She takes out the zombies one by one.”

“And Mary is based on you?”

“Sort of, yeah. I mean, it’s not a memoir or anything.…”

“So you posted stories on the Internet about you killing other kids.”

“They were zombies,” she said with a sniff. “What was I supposed to do?”

“I don’t know.” I mulled it over for a while. I could see other kids freaking out. I could especially see their parents freaking out.

“Not you, too!” she said.

“I didn’t say anything.”

“You don’t have to. I see the look on your face. It’s the same way my dad looked when he found out I was expelled.”

“They expelled you for that?”

“Yep. Because I quote-unquote
threatened
other students. Zero tolerance for that at my school.” I saw a tear roll along her nose. She took one of the pizza napkins and dabbed at her face. “This is greasy,” she said, looking at the dirty napkin.

I gave her one of my unused napkins, and she wiped the grease and tears off her face.

“Where am I going to sleep tonight?” she asked. “I’m practically homeless.”

“You could go back to Alden and … man up?” I said, using Coach words and wishing I hadn’t.

“You want me to turn myself in?”

“Yeah.” It would also send my dad back to Boston, but I was beginning to think it would be best for Mandy not to be practically homeless. I wouldn’t tell on her, now that we were friends, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t nudge her to turn herself in.

BOOK: The Tanglewood Terror
6.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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