Canto One – A Secret Meeting Awaits
Valerie was on her skateboard on Main Street. She was thrashing. It didn’t matter how dangerous Daddy said it could be. She was a thrasher, and she knew how to ride. If he thought he could forbid her from doing it, well, that was just so boofoo! No. She couldn’t use that word. Not after Danny Murphy told her what it actually meant. Yeesh! Okay, un-cool, then.
She was ten. She was wearing her latex biker shorts. You know, the ones Mom forbid her to wear because they were skin tight. But why did it matter so much? It was not like she actually had a butt to show off. She could ride her skateboard naked and no one would really notice. She did an ollie off the edge of the sidewalk and onto the hot pavement. Summer was ending, but the last day of the Labor Day weekend was still hot. Iowa hot. Eighty degrees in the sun with warm, humid air that boiled you right out of your biker shorts sort of hot. But Valerie wasn’t ready to find out if it was true that no one would notice. She needed to keep them on. They were black with a purple slash of color on the sides. Her favorite thing to wear.
Across the asphalt street her wheels and trucks buzzed as she rode to the south side of Main Street. It was a small Iowa farm town. Only maybe four cars were parked there at any one time, and no one was on the street but her. Still, she wished she could burn her way across right in front of someone’s moving pickup truck and scare them into dropping a bale of hay or two. No one marked her passing by in one of the most boring places in the whole Mr. Boofoo Universe. No. The Mr. Un-Cool Universe. She had to remember not to say that other thing anymore. Especially in front of Mom, even if Mom didn’t have a clue what it really meant.
She was headed for the Ghost House on the south eastern edge of town. The Ghost House was the only remaining haunted house in Norwall, Iowa, and it had collapsed in on itself. It was more a pile of broken boards and garbage than a house, but it was the place where she was headed because, unknown to most of the adults in town, the Ghost House still had a functioning cellar, shored up with railroad ties by her cousin Brent Clarke and the rest of the original Norwall Pirates. The Pirates had been a secret club in the 1970’s, a secret that nearly everyone knew at least one thing about. They had been a liars’ club of young boys who supposedly caught a werewolf once and chased an undead Chinese wizard around town. Liars’ club was more than just a local nickname for it. It was more of a literal definition. But she had been called to attend a secret Pirate meeting. A meeting that shouldn’t exist because there had been no Norwall Pirates since they had graduated high school in 1978.
Mom would have a fit if she knew Valerie was headed to the Ghost House. It was the kind of run-down rattle-trap that all mothers worried about. No decent mother worthy of her official Mom-card would stand for a child of theirs going to such a place, especially not Val’s Mom, the Queen of Worrywarts.
She thrashed her way down Whitten Avenue and then around the corner, zigzagging for two blocks, and then passing Ugly Bill’s Junkyard to the huge pile of broken crap that had been described to her as being the actual place.
She came to a stop, kicked up her board and grabbed it, and looked around, not quite as certain now as she pondered a wilderness of junk, thistles, and burdock leaves. Ugly Bill Pixeley had tons of used car parts and wrecked truck parts from which he salvaged the pieces that he, his brother, and his two idiot sons put together as trucks and other vehicles which he then sold at a huge profit. Pixeley was a talented mechanic and a very crafty self-taught engineer.
“You here for the Pirate meeting?” asked Danny Murphy, pulling up on his bicycle.
“Yeah,” she answered, popping her Bazooka Joe bubble gum. “Mary Philips says it ain’t just gonna be for boys anymore.”
“Yeah. I heard that too. And I’m glad you’re gonna be a Pirate,” Danny said with a sly grin. He was a sophisticated man of twelve… well, not really… but he was a boy older than Valerie by an entire school year, though only about five months in age. Older boys being in the club was one of the main attractions for her. “It will be cool to have the most beautiful little girl ever born in Norwall in our club.”
Valerie blushed and dropped her eyes a little bit at that. Her Uncle Dash had always said that about her since she could remember. But it was one thing to hear it from family, and something else to hear it from somebody she rode the school bus with. Some things get around by word of mouth a lot faster and farther than you ever wish they would.
“Do you know how to get inside?” Valerie asked.
“I can show you a secret entrance … for a kiss?” Danny blushed intensely as he proposed the bargain, a truly dark red that can only be achieved by somebody as boney-skinny, white-skinned Irish, and shy of girls as Danny Murphy was.
“Boys who think like that all grow up to be rapists,” Val shot back at him. “That’s what my Aunt Jennifer says, anyway.”
Danny turned an even darker shade of red-violet. Valerie was suddenly feeling guilty, as if she might possibly have caused his head to explode from embarrassment by her cutting remark about his personal urges. She didn’t dislike him. She just didn’t want to kiss him.
“Aw, I didn’t mean anything by that. I’ll show you the Tunnel of Doom.”
Danny pointed to a large concrete drainage tile that had been rolled up against the side of the Ghost House’s foundation. She could see that if you crawled through the tile, you could enter through a large crack in the brick foundation. Spiders and potentially snakes to crawl through. Ughh! But Valerie was no Shrinking Violet. She pushed Danny out of the way and went in.