Canto Eight – Strange Sounds from the Martin House
The Martin house on Elizabeth Avenue was a very square and Republican sort of Victorian-style house. It was Methodist plain and practical. Yet, there was a very unfortunate aura of trouble hanging over it now. It had been super respectable in the old days as the Campbell house, but now it seemed more like the brooding sort of place where murderers might live. Val and Danny watched it from the safety of the hollyhock stand in the neighbors’ yard.
“Do ya think anybody is in there?” Valerie whispered.
“Yeah. The car is out back by the shed, and it’s too early in the day for the bar to be doing much business. The old Vicar ain’t there. But Billy’s dad and aunt will both be there.” The Vicar was what everybody at the bar called Victor Martin. A vicar was a British preacher or something, and everybody told their troubles to Victor Martin at the bar… that explained the name as far as Valerie knew. And the names sounded almost the same. Iowans weren’t really that clever about nicknames.
“Yeah, he would be there. I don’t know where in the house, though. I’m not ready to go knock on the windows anywhere.”
“Knock on the windows? Really?”
“We aren’t going to the front door and knocking, are we? That’s what the old witch wants.”
“Do you think you could lift me up high enough to look in the side windows on the West side?”
“Yeah, maybe. But that would be like spying or something.”
“Well, isn’t that the kind of thing Pirates do?”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
They walked over to the window on the West side of the house. Both of them were hunched over when they walked and extremely careful about being quiet, as if walking in that silly manner somehow made them harder to see or hear as they trampled the lawn in broad daylight.
“Okay,” said Danny, “You sit on my shoulders and I’ll lift you up so you can see.” Danny got down on all fours and Valerie put one leg on each side of his head. He wobbled like a scarecrow in the wind as he strained to lift her up. His hands gripped her thighs tightly, but if he had wobbled too far in one direction, then he would’ve merely succeeded in dropping her to the ground head-first.
“Careful, there, Buckaroo. You’re gonna drop me.”
“I got you, Val. I will never let you fall.”
After almost falling at least two more times, Val finally got a look into the first-story sitting room. Richard Martin, in all his raggedy glory, was lying on the couch watching TV. He had on a stained and dirty-looking T-shirt, boxer shorts, and he had an open can of beer balanced on his ample stomach. He was a blonde man with a very ugly face, and he looked rather drowsy as he watched what seemed to be the Phil Donahue Show.
Suddenly there was a loud banging sound coming from somewhere below, possibly in the basement.
“Damn that stupid brat!” Richard cried out suddenly. “He’s beating up the damn house again! Kelly! Stop that kid from breaking stuff!”
“He’s your bratty kid. You stop him, stoopid!”
“I locked him up in the basement again to keep him outta our hair! But maybe you gotta go down there with your old broom and swat him around a little.”
“Well, if he’s in the basement, he can’t hurt much. Everything in the basement belongs to either Billy or Vic.”
“You have a point. We don’t care that much about Victor’s stuff, do we?”
“I don’t. But he’s your son. You can do the explaining later.”
Then they all heard a power saw grinding through wood, both the residents who were supposed to be there and the Pirates who were spying.
“Good gawd, Richard. That little creep might be gonna cut us all up and eat us some night.”
“I know he ain’t supposed to use that saw, but it belongs to Vic. So, we’ll let him get it away from the brat.”
The sounds of a hammer and nails came next. Valerie looked down near Danny’s feet and noticed the grimy cellar window was open a crack.
“What’s going on?” asked Danny in a hoarse whisper.
“Billy is locked in the basement, and he is building something to take revenge on his family.” Valerie almost didn’t believe it herself. Billy was the kind of kid who would curl up in a ball and mew like a kitten if you just looked at him too long at a time. Valerie never took him for an ax murderer before. But you never knew about those quiet and meek ones. You never knew what they were really thinking.
“I see you didn’t take my advice.”
Valerie fell on her head and briefly saw stars. It was possible Danny had dropped her.
“Oh, no! You made me kill the most beautiful little girl ever born in Norwall!” Danny cried.
“Pick her up and bring her with you. Follow me.”
As Valerie shook her head to shake the cobwebs and sand out of her ears, Danny fumbled around picking her up from the ground and soon had her on her feet.
“Quickly now, before those two horrible harpies come out to see about all the ruckus in their yard. You are both trespassing.”
To Valerie’s utter horror, Danny was following the old witch Mazie Haire, and dragging her, wobbly-legged, toward the witch’s own Gingerbread House.