Authors: Lisa Bullard
Copyright Â© 2013 by Lisa Bullard
All rights reserved. For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.
The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:
Turn left at the cow / Lisa Bullard.
Summary: “Thirteen-year-old Trav feels like a fish out of water in rural Minnesota in this coming-of-age mystery about a boy who discovers his dad may have been a bank robber.”âProvided by publisher.
[1. FathersâFiction. 2. Mystery and detective stories. 3. MinnesotaâFiction.] I. Title.
For Vicki Liestman, who once changed my life by
encouraging me to build a (metaphorical) barn
There were so many dead bodies stuffed into Gram's freezer chest that it was kind of like wandering through a cryonics lab. You know, one of those places where they turn rich old guys into Popsicles? Gram had been hearing odd noises from her cellar for a while now, and she was convinced it was this dying freezer she kept there. So my punishment for the day was to clean it out and stuff everything into these jack-o'-lantern leaf bags that Gram had been saving since who knows how many Halloweens ago.
In Grandma Land, even the contents of the freezer were way different than what I was used to. Agreeing on what a freezer should hold seemed to be the only thing my new stepfather and I had in common. But here, instead of meeting up with my best buds Ben and Jerry, I was finding Nemo and his friends, wrapped up in white packages with writing on the outside so you could clue into whichever member of the magical forest had taken a hit and when.
I stuffed “Duck” and then “Venison” and “Walleye” into another one of the pumpkin bags. Man, those packages had been waiting to be set free longer than I had. Maybe the noises Gram had been hearing weren't from the freezer. Maybe they were from the ghosts of all these dead things, plotting up some serious revenge.
By the time I reached the bottom of the frozen graveyard, Gram's cellar was feeling a lot like one of those the-killer-is-in-the-basement places, where the stupid kid always ends up kicking it in slasher movies. Only one big ice-covered box was left. I bent over the side of the freezer chest and tugged at the corner of the box. Not enough leverageâthe thing was iced in place as if it had been Gorilla-Glued.
I hoisted my upper half deep into the chest and yanked again. No go. I leaned way over, hanging on to the edge of the freezer with one hand while I grabbed the box with the other. Then I got my Hulk on and gave one last mighty pull.
That's when Nemo and his friends finally took their revenge. Turned out the stupid box was heavier than I'd realized. I leaned too far and pulled too hard, and then the box broke free and I over-ended into the appliance of death.
As I was falling in, something rolled out of the box into the bottom of the freezer. The last thought I had before I landed on it was that maybe I had some mutant form of jet lag or something. Because I could have sworn it looked exactly like a head.
A frozen human head.
The finale of my Olympic high-diving act into the freezer was the really macho yet graceful way I managed to contort my body so I didn't break my neck. Instead, I back-flopped hard enough that I knocked the wind out of myself. I was desperately trying to suck the air back into my lungs while simultaneously desperately trying not to think about The Thing that was now jabbing into my spine. Or about who might have stored it in the bottom of Gram's freezer.
A head. A frozen human head.
I had a pretty good idea who was responsible for the rest of the inhabitants of the deep freeze. Given the dates written on all of the white packages, it was most likely my dead-before-I-was-born father who had hunted down Bambi and Co. and then bundled them away, where they'd lain forgotten after my dad kicked the bucket himself.
But had he also been the kind of dude to stash human body parts in the backup appliance? Even though I'd spent all of yesterday's trip from California to Minnesota thinking through every question I had about himâall the things I was desperate to know, all the questions I was finally going to convince Gram to answerâI'd never thought to add “Am I the son of a psycho killer?” to the list.
Suddenly I heard an unfamiliar voice ask, “Where is he? Mrs. Stoiska said he was down here.”
I made a weird wheezing sound as my body finally managed to haul in some oxygen. Two faces popped over the edge of the freezer chest and looked down at me.
“Dude!” said Face One. “We found you! You're Travis, right?” The kid sounded way excited; even Gram hadn't been that happy to see me.
“Trav,” I croaked, peering up at him.
“Taking a little nighty-night?” asked Face Two. She didn't seem as pleased to meet me as Face One had; if I hadn't already been glacierized by my time in the freezer chest, I would have been totally iced by the cool dripping off her voice.
Thinking about being iced made me remember the other, unknown occupant of the chest, and I hurriedly hoisted myself to my feet. I scrambled over the side of the freezer and backed away for good measure.
“What were you doing in there?” asked the girl, still really cold. She looked to be about my age, so what was up with her evil fairy act, anyway?
“I was cleaning it out and this box got stuck and turns out it was aâah .Â .Â .” I could hear my voice trailing off. I hadn't had time to think about what strategy the situation called for. Maybe it was better not to clue in the townsfolk until I'd had a chance to weigh the pros and cons of having Hannibal Lecter in the family.
But the girl had already figured out that something was going on, and she peered back into the dimly lit freezer. Then she straightened up and turned to the blond guy. He topped me by a few inches and he was built like a tank. But it was hard to imagine he could be much older than I wasâthirteenâsince he had the kind of bright-eyed look you usually only see on two-year-olds at the ice cream store.
“I think he found your mom's head,” Evil Fairy said to him.
“Really?” said the Jolly Green Giant. “You mean she's been here the whole time?”
“Looks pretty good, too,” said the girl.
“Lemme see,” said the kid.
While they staged the family reunion, I inched my way toward the stairs. Were these the types of aliens who showed up to make crop circles? I wasn't sure, but this Old McDonaldâville town of Gram's was starting to seem like the kind of place where they would order pizza and then eat the delivery guy.
The girl turned to me. “I think you smooshed her nose.”
I made a hands-up gesture to signal to the alien beings that I had come from California in peace.
Evil Fairy said to the giant, “He looks a little freaked, Kenny. Show him the head.”
Kenny reached down into the freezer and, with an easy one-handed scoop, pulled up The Thing.
Once it was out of the freezer, I could tell instantly that it wasn't real. I mean, if it hadn't been for all my thinking about dead things, I probably would have never made the mistake. But okay, so even if it wasn't real, who on earth kept fake human heads in their freezer? And what in the name of Sara Lee was the thing made out of, anyway?
Evil Fairy must have been able to read my mind, because she reached out and scraped a fingernail down the back of the head and then held her finger out toward me.
“Butter,” she said.
“Butter?” I repeated. “Who makes a head out of butter?”
Kenny beamed and laughed a Jolly Green Giant mighty laugh. “My mom was Dairy Princess or something years ago at the state fair, and they carved her head out of butter. She got to take it home, but then at some point she forgot where she stored it, and it turned into one of those family jokes. You know? Where anytime somebody loses something, we're all, like, âMaybe it's gone to be with the butter head.'”
I was still trying to play connect-the-dots with this story when Kenny tucked the butter head under his arm like he was going to run it in for a touchdown.
“I gotta show Mom. She'll be so happy you found it!” And he charged up the stairs and out the door, leaving me alone in the cellar with the ticked-off pixie.
Evil Fairy and I stood in silence until I couldn't take it anymore.
“Kenny seems real nice,” I said. “And it's easy to see that he hangs with you because you're so much fun to have around.”
She tossed her hair and marched toward me until she was standing really close, then she jabbed her hands onto her hips and leaned in.
“I know,” she said, pretty much snarling, “that you're here to find the money your father stole from that bank. But you can just go back to La-La Land empty-handed, because Kenny and I are going to figure out where he hid the bank loot first.”
Then she stomped up the stairs and out the door, leaving me alone with four pumpkin bags full of dead body parts and a whole new set of questions.
Bagging up body parts was my punishment for showing too much initiative.
It doesn't seem fair that initiative turned out to be so punishment-worthy. I mean, that's all Ma ever talked about, how I should get off the couch and show some initiative, make some new friends if I was really that unhappy with our new home and new life. So yesterday, I initiated myself cross-country all the way from Southern California to the town in Minnesota where my dad had grown up and where Gram still lived. A place I'd never been allowed to visit before.
The reality was, I didn't actually have permission to travel the two thousand miles over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house this time, either. But I was counting on the fact that once the deed was done, Ma would secretly be happy to have me out of her newly married hair for a while.
It turned out that those things teachers say about how someday you'll actually use the junk you learn in schoolâtotally true. I took all my geography and persuasive speech and research skills and mixed them up into a math word problem, and I was across two time zones before any of the grownups in my life even knew that I'd left California.
First I had talked Ma into letting me stay home alone while she and Dale took this day trip they'd been yammering about for weeks. Then I jumped into action. I knew Ma's credit card number and every password she'd ever forgotten; it was easy to buy a plane ticket online. She could dock my allowance for the rest of my life if that was what it would take for me to pay her back, but I was going to make this trip. I packed a carryon and dug out the cash I'd been stashing in my sock drawer for months. I knew where Ma kept my birth certificate hidden, too; along with my school ID, the airline website said that was all I would need to get on the plane as a thirteen-year-old unaccompanied minor.
I texted Ma throughout the day to tell her everything was going fine at home. Meanwhile, one cab, one plane, two commuter trains, and one bus later, I was an hour away from Gram's house in Minnesota.
I called Gram, told her where I was, and asked if she'd come pick me up. She said she was leaving right that minute and that I needed to hang up my cell and call my mother immediately.
I probably could have heard Ma across those two time zones even without my phone. But the yelling wasn't anything new. I mean, when I was a little kid, things were great; we were this regular happy family, even though it was just the two of us. And even though it bugged her that I asked all these questions about my dad. She always said she'd tell me everything when I was older. But how old did you have to be to deserve the truth?