We were lost because the Reefer
Mary Celeste no longer had a navigator aboard, and Chinooki had apparently
destroyed the radio and all the other electronic equipment on board as
well. Kooky and I tried to keep her on
the course we had been following, but two of us were simply not enough people
to manage a ship of the size of the Mary. We quickly lost our way in a thick fog and we
were going in an unknown direction at too high a rate of speed. We knew how to use a compass and we might
even have been able to wait for the stars if our minds hadn’t been turned to
Jell-O pudding by the mermaid’s singing.
“She killed all of our crew, didn’t she?” said Kooky.
“She did. You know,
Chuck warned us about her. We should’ve
“You are right, Captain.
I realize that now. But at the
time, it was like I was under a spell or something. She had power over me.”
“Yes, she did. Over
all of us, apparently.”
“I am so sorry, Captain.
I’ve caused the death of us all, haven’t I?”
“None of us should ever have let someone else take control
of our lives. We should’ve realized the
danger from the start. You can’t blame
It was right after that conversation that Kooky spotted
Chinooki sitting on a distant rock.
“I am going to make her pay, Captain. She is going to regret coming on board the Reefer Mary Celeste.”
Kooky was at the wheel, and he steered the entire ship
directly towards the rock where Chinooki was sitting.
“What are you going to do?” I asked.
“I’ll ram her! I will
run her over!”
“Kooky, she’s singing right now. Do you think maybe she wants us to do exactly
what you are doing?”
“Maybe so. Maybe
not. But I have ta!”
the strangest thing is that I let him do it.
I let him ram the Mary
bow-first into the rock. It tore through
most of the front end of the ship, separating her at mid-ship into two parts,
both of which sank to the bottom. I
remember swimming in the ocean with shark fins in the water near the
horizon. I remember hearing Kooky call
out and a sudden thrashing, and I wondered if it were the sharks or the mermaid
herself who claimed him. I never saw him
again. I never saw any of them
again. I blacked out, and don’t remember
anything before awakening on the sand of the Evil Island’s shore.
Canto Nineteen – The
Log Book of the Reefer Mary Celeste
It would be two days before anything more could happen in
the quest to understand about the Captain.
Valerie finally found the time to visit Mary Philips’ house while Pidney
was also there. None of the other
Pirates proved available. Danny had a
4-H meeting to attend in the old Norwall School House, and Ray Zeffer also was
in 4-H. 4-H Club was the center of
farm-boy life in small farm towns in Iowa.
Both the boys and the girls had their own division of the club. Heart, head, hands, and health, the 4-H’s were
an international organization that encouraged youth development and prosperity
through projects and learning goals. 4-H
was to farmers what Boy Scouts were to the Army, Navy, and Marines…
indoctrination into the secret cult of the tillers of the earth. Technically, the three Pirates meeting in the
basement of the Philips’ house were supposed to be at the meeting too, at least
Pidney was. The Norwall Pirates were
also technically a 4-H softball team, so there were definite ties to things
that couldn’t be ignored for long.
Still, this secret meeting was temporarily more important.
“I’m glad creepy old Doble couldn’t come,” Pidney said. “I don’t trust him around you girls. He doesn’t go to 4-H meetings any more, but
he apparently has more important things to do with himself anyway.”
“We have to consider him a Pirate, though,” said Mary. “He is the only remaining member of the
“Yeah, whatever.” Pid
was frowning until he looked at Valerie.
Then he smiled. “But I’m sure
glad you could come, Val.”
Valerie smiled her thanks at the big Polack. He could be kinda dense at times, but Valerie
was deeply in love with him anyway.
“I have the log book here,” Mary said, “and we can pick up
reading where we left off.”
“About the mermaid?” said Pid.
“Yes, about the mermaid.”
“Chinooki,” reminded Val.
“Let me turn to the book mark,” said Mary.
The mermaid was a miraculous creature. Kooky actually had very little trouble catching her in the nets he used for catching prawns whenever we were near the island of Tahiti. It was like she wanted to be caught for some strange reason. And we soon discovered that keeping company with Chinooki was something every man aboard desired with a passion. Her singing voice charmed the men to sleep and suggestibility. The mermaid possessed every piece of scrimshaw, every golden ornament, and every valuable jewel on board the ship in very short order.
“Chinooki likes sweet mens,” Chinooki said so often we never stopped to think that it might have a double meaning.
Chuck Jones was the first man to disappear. Kooky later told me that Chinooki told him she ate the sweet man. But she could say practically any scary and awful thing, and then sing a sweet song, and everyone would smile and think she did no wrong. The cabin boy disappeared next, and Bob Clampett swore he saw the kid’s severed foot at the bottom of the oyster stew Cookie served that same night.
“I am becoming alarmed here at this story,” said Pidney. “Is this one of those things where you read the scary story in a book and then it comes true in real life?”
“It can’t be,” said Mary.
“You know full well that Captain Noah Dettbarn was a fool and a liar
long before he ever went to sea. He has a
reputation in this little town, and the old folks all say that telling a lie is the same as telling a Noah.”
Mary continued reading aloud.
Chinooki was a favorite of every sailor aboard. She entertained us constantly with stories and songs. She could play Kooky’s ukulele, too, like a professional. She had us all dancing and singing along without being truly aware of what was going on. Crewmen kept turning up missing. Then, when Kooky started kissing her on the lips at every opportunity, I realized I needed to confront her. I think I owe Kooky for that, because if he hadn’t interrupted her songs with his kisses, I might never have returned to my senses.
“Chinooki,” I said, late one night at the aft rail, “you have to stop doing to us whatever it is that you have been doing to us.”
“Chinooki not know what you are meaning, nice Captain mans.”
“Don’t accuse her without all the facts,” Kooky said.
“The crew likes what Chinooki has been doing for us,” added Bob Clampett.
“Look around, Bob,” I said. “Where exactly is the rest of the crew?”
Bob looked all around the deck. There was a lot of nobody to count. His eyes got big and round. “Good Lord! You are right, Captain! Something is definitely wrong!”
“Ho ho! Sweet Bobs has seen through the glammer! Maybe silly Captain mans too!” said Chinooki. She then wobbled up to Bob using her fish tail to travel upright in the manner of a cobra. She put her silvery arms around his neck and gave him a big old smooch on the lips. Then she bit deeply into the side of his neck. Together they pitched backwards over the ship’s rail and fell into the ocean below. Poor Bob did not even have a chance to scream.
At that point in the story, poor Pidney was so pale, that
Mary stopped reading, apparently afraid the big Polish football hero was about
to pass out from fear.
“Don’t stop now!” Valerie insisted. “This old log book thing is getting really, really good.”
The next day Valerie had a chance to hang out with Pidney
and Mary again, so she took it. She road
into town on the school bus after school with Danny Murphy. They didn’t actually talk about anything the
whole way. Anticipation is often better
than the real thing. And it wasn’t often
that Mary and Pid were both off directly after school. Pidney had no football practice that
afternoon, and Mary canceled whatever school meetings she had planned that day
in order to come back to Norwall with him after school. The four Pirates were supposed to meet in the
Library for Pirate business.
“There’s Mary and Pid,” said Danny pointing as he and Val
stepped off Milo’s school bus.
“Yeah, but who is that?” Valerie asked, pointing at a
mysterious cloaked figure standing behind the tree by the Library door. She was instantly reminded of the cloaked man
she had seen the day they got the Tiki idol.
“Hey, Pidney!” Danny shouted, “who is that near you behind
Pidney was holding the door of his step-dad’s old 70’s
Lincoln Mercury to help Mary get out.
Mary carried a tall stack of books.
They had driven home from the high school in Belle City together.
“What man? Where?” The figure moved out of sight behind the
large fluffy pine tree.
“Look behind the tree!” shouted Valerie.
Pid walked around to where he could see behind the tree. He looked back at Valerie and Danny and shrugged. “Nobody here that I can see,” he said.
“You guys need to see what we found in the high school
library,” said Mary waving them to come towards the Library building.
Valerie looked at Danny.
He shrugged. They both walked
toward the Library.
“I found some old high school yearbooks in the library,”
said Mary. “We can use them to get an
idea what Captain Dettbarn used to look like.
He’s kinda hard to describe any other way.”
“And there’s a book about the ship, Mary Celeste. It tells about the old ghost ship, not the
Captain’s ship, but I still think it is important,” said Pidney.
Valerie and Danny walked across the street from the bus stop
to join the two high school kids.
“Here’s the 1962 Belle City Bronco yearbook,” said Mary,
handing the black-bound thin book of pictures to Valerie. “The Captain is in the Junior Class in that
one. He had a beard then, just like the
one he had on his face the last time I saw him.”
Valerie opened to the page of Junior portraits and ran her
finger over the C’s and D’s until she got to Dettbarn. He was kind of a dumpy fat boy even then,
with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a derfy smile that showed his crooked
teeth. He had a rather ratty looking
beard, which was perfect for a rodent-like face, that, while it didn’t look
like a rat, it did look an awful lot like the face of a woodchuck, or some kind
of short-toothed beaver.
“He’s kinda funny looking,” Val said to herself, but loud
enough for all to hear.
“Now, see here! I
take exception to that remark!” said a cloaked and hatted figure stepping out
of the shadow of the evergreen tree by the door.
“Who…?” croaked Mary, leaping away from the figure and
“Help me…!” squawked Danny as he awkwardly leaped into
Pidney’s arms, the football muscles catching hold of the smaller boy easily.
“Don’t you get mad at me!” said Valerie hotly. “It is not like I was talking to you… whoever
you are!” She lunged toward the
stranger, grabbing his yachting cap and yanking it off his head.
But where the head was supposed to be… nothing at all was there except a pair of thick bifocal glasses hanging in the air like they were weightless in outer space.
Valerie looked at the glasses, and then down at the yearbook
picture still in her other hand. Yes, it
was an updated version of the same style of thick glasses.
“Erm… Captain Dettbarn. It’s you!”
“Uncle Noah?” Mary said.
“What happened to your head?”
“Oh, um… it’s still there, Mary dear. Head-hunters didn’t eat it or anything. I am just the victim of a curse. A curse that makes my body completely
invisible.” He removed the cloak to
reveal a free-standing pair of pants, a short-sleeved red-and-white-striped
shirt, and empty neckerchief, and floating white gloves that didn’t seem to be
properly attached to the invisible dumpy body wearing the sailor’s clothes.
“Er, uh… sir?” asked Pidney, “What is all this purple smoke
coming out from behind the pine tree? It
has a funky smell, like burning sugar or something.”
“Well, I hate to say it, but that is an indicator that the
witchdoctor himself is watching us at the moment from somewhere not too far
away. That purple smoke always seems to
come around right before some evil magic happens.”
“Oh, that’s not good.
Maybe we better go inside the library before anything bad can
happen.” Mary was looking around the
street for signs of the evil witchdoctor.
Pidney put Danny on the ground and both boys headed up the
Public Library steps.
“Um, uh… Pretty girl, can I have my hat back. I want to go in the library in disguise. No sense in scaring the librarian.”
Valerie frowned at the invisible man as she handed him back
the hat and the disembodied gloves placed it back on top of his invisible
go inside the Library,” said Mary. “We
have things to talk about and questions to ask… Lots and lots of questions to
Mom loved to cook.
She could do wondrous things with a casserole. In fact, her Tater Tot casserole was such a
hit that it had spread to households all over the county and people from as far
away as Illinois were writing her letters to get the secret recipe. It wasn’t such a secret. Browned and loose ground beef, Campbell’s
Cream of Mushroom soup, Tater Tots from Ore-Ida, and real cheddar cheese went
into her magical casserole. But friends
of friends and family were practically rabid about wanting to get their hands
on the special secret recipe. They
didn’t realize until she told them that the recipe came from the label of a Campbell’s
soup can to begin with.
So the house smelled wonderful because Uncle Dash and
Valerie’s cousin Stacey were coming to dinner.
Stacy was college age now, and Valerie looked up to
her. She was smart and independent, and
she knew how to dress up like a fashion model whenever there was an excuse to
do it. As Val and Stacy set the table,
the two had a brief moment or two to catch up on cousin stuff.
“I hear the Pirates are re-forming,” Stacy said. “And they tell me you are going to be one of
“Well, yeah… so?”
“Don’t bring it up tonight.
Daddy will get mad. I mean, more
mad than he already is.”
“Uncle Dash is mad?” Valerie was slightly taken by surprise. Uncle Dash was the kind of guy who was always laughing, always joking. Valerie had relied on his sense of humor and mature wisdom her whole life long. She believed he was even wiser than Daddy Kyle. He was a farmer. He had the wisdom of the Earth.
“Your Uncle Dash is mad at me,” said Stacey.
“Why would he be mad at you?”
“I told him a secret today.
One I have to tell everybody sooner or later.”
“Really? Tell me.”
Stacey was obviously biting her own lower lip for some
reason. Why would she do that? It didn’t really make sense to Val. There were tears in her cousin’s eyes.
“I mean it, Stacey. I love you. You cantell me.”
“Well, I…” Before
Stacey could spill it, the adults came into the room.
“Really,” Uncle Dash said with a frown on his face, “We
could sell that sixty acres southwest of town and the big pasture along the
Iowa River. That would give us enough
money to at least bargain for more time… maybe another growing season.”
“But, Dash, that’s all your land. This is my debt. I can’t let you sacrifice from your share. It should be some of my land.” Kyle sat down at the head of the table with a defeated-seeming kerplunk. Valerie knew her dad’s basic onomatopoeias, the sound-words of his soul, and kerplunk was definitely not a good one.
“But it is some of the less-valuable land I am offering to
sell. All of your land is better, and we
should be trying to keep all of it.”
“Yeah, well… I still don’t want you to make sacrifices to
pay my debts.”
Uncle Dash took the seat next to Daddy Kyle where Valerie
would’ve sat if they didn’t have company.
Mom came in carrying a big casserole dish full of
steaming-hot tater-tot casserole. She
proudly set her work of art down in the middle of the dining room table. “Stacey, will you help me get the peas and
the mashed potatoes?” Mom said. Then she
dashed back out to the kitchen.
“You’re my brother, Kyle.
You have to let me help you. And
it is all family land. We have to work
together, even though we divided the farms when Dad died. It is all one large farm, really.”
“Well, yeah, but…”
That conversation died too as Mom and Stacey brought the
rest of the supper to the table, and Mom insisted that everybody sit down and
eat. Valerie said Grace and food was
passed all around. Everybody at the
table had a farmer’s healthy appetite, and soon mouths were too full to
talk. Conversation was suspended for the
more important thing… at least until all were stuffed and satisfied.
“It’s a shame that Patricia couldn’t come with you this
evening, Dash,” Mom said.
“She was sorry to miss it, but she really wasn’t feeling
well. She needed to take some medicine
and go to bed. Which reminds me… Stacey has some new she needs to share with
everyone in the family.”
Stacey looked at her father with a distinctly angry expression.
“Well, you may as well tell them.”
Stacey’s glare at Uncle Dash made Valerie suddenly worried for
her cousin. What could be wrong?
“I’m… not going to college anymore.”
“Oh, Stacey!” Mom said.
The pause was unbearable.
Stunned silence followed.
Uncle Dash’s face was so sad it almost made Valerie burst into tears. Stacey did cry, and that was almost worse.
“How, I mean… who?”
Daddy didn’t know what to say. He
was kinda tongue-tied, right up until the answer hit him square in the
memory. “Not the Toad! Oh, Stacey!”
“His name is Brom, not Toad.
I don’t know why everyone needs to call him that.” Stacey’s tears were replaced almost instantly
“It’s the way he drives.
He reminds everyone of Toad in the Disney movie Wind in the Willows. You
know how recklessly he roars about in that yellow Ford Mustang of his.” Uncle Dash was very direct and
soft-spoken. It was an argument Valerie
had overheard before.
“He also has a big mouth like a frog,” said Valerie timidly.
“Oh, Val…” Stacey
shot her a wounded look. Whose side was
she supposed to be on, anyway?
“Well, I have to say, it isn’t such a big surprise. You have been in love with that boy for a
while now, haven’t you, Stacey?” Daddy Kyle said.
“Yes, I love him with all of my heart.”
“Is he going to do the right thing by you?” Mom asked.
“He’s willing to marry me… if Daddy doesn’t forbid it.”
“Dash, you can’t forbid it,” said Daddy Kyle. “That’s no way to start off a life… for
Stacey or Brom either one.”
“You would take their side, wouldn’t you,” Uncle Dash said
harshly. “You know, as my little brother,
it wouldn’t kill you to take my side once in a while.”
Daddy stared straight at his plate. His mouth was a tense and very straight
line. “Stacey would be good for
Brom. As Mrs. Brown, she’s bound to
settle him down at least a little bit.
Like the way Julie settled me down.
You remember what a wild kid I was, right?”
“We haven’t decided how it’s going to be, yet,” Dash said
calmly. “There is a lot to be decided
“You really can’t decide for her, you know,” Daddy Kyle
Uncle Dash got angry at that. “How would you feel if it were Valerie in
this situation? Maybe with somebody like
that Murphy kid… or Richard Martin’s little rag boy?”
“It’s not the same.
Valerie is still too young to be a mother.”
“And Stacey isn’t?”
“Kyle, Dash, please!” said Mom, “don’t discuss this in front
of the girls. They can hear everything,
and I don’t think it helps anybody to hear you two argue about this.”
It was quiet for a few moments, but a very tense quiet.
“Julie is right, Dash,” Daddy said. “Why don’t you and I go for a drive in your
pickup, and the girls can spend some time together here.”
“We have a lot to talk about, Kyle. But it won’t do a lick of good if you don’t
listen more than you talk.”
The two brothers glared at each other. But they were family, and too much alike not
to smash heads together like a couple of rams in springtime. So they both went out and got in Uncle Dash’s
Chevy pickup and drove on into town.
“Headed for Martin’s Bar and Grill,” said Stacey, blowing a
stray hair out of her eyes to show disgust.
Valerie wordlessly snaked her thin young arms around her
beloved cousin and gave her a distressed and tearful squeeze.
“It will all get worked out for the best,” said Mom in her
most comforting voice.
“I hope so,” Stacey said.
Then after a long pause she repeated, “I hope so.”
So, I just finished reading this book from my leftover pile of classroom reading books that represent my time as a public school reading teacher.
This is book six in the best-selling Charlie Bone series. I didn’t read the previous five books. I have a copy of book one somewhere, but this one is one I picked up for my reading fix last week.
Let me begin by saying, as an obvious Harry Potter imitation, it is a very inventive and enjoyable story.
I read the whole book even though I had difficulty with several things that I have come to recognize as glaring, reader-tripping problems.
Now, to be completely honest about my assessments, Jenny Nimmo, the author of the Charley Bone books, has an impressive resume. She has not only been an English teacher, but she worked for the BBC as well as an editor, director, and other creative endeavors. And her books, unlike mine, are best-seller enough to be picked up by Scholastic Books, a major publisher. She has undoubtedly made a lot more money with her books than I have with mine. And, I confess, I find the story entertaining.
But the story is guilty of writing sins that I am familiar with by having overcome them in my own writing.
Most noticeable is the lack of a sense of a focus character. It is done as a third-person omniscient narrative that goes in and out of different characters’ heads telling what they think and feel. It will go from Charlie Bone’s main-character-thoughts to his nemesis Dagbert Endless’s feelings to the thoughts of the dog that lives in the school and then veers into the bird that is actually Emma, one of Charlie’s female friends with special “gifts of magic” handed down from their common ancestor, the Red King. You end up, as a reader, trying to keep things separate in your awareness about too many characters with too many mental reveals to keep straight. And who all knows what about whom? In one scene a character seems to know already what another character said and did in a previous scene that the knowing character wasn’t present for and hasn’t been told about.
This focus problem is compounded by having too many characters with too little development in the current story. I get it that we are supposed to have met the characters in previous books in the series. But it has to have a more stand-alone quality about it to even work as a separate book. The writer has to keep in mind that readers won’t know everything about every character in previous books because they have either forgotten, or the author has only assumed they would know without being told.
And the scenes and chapters in this book are way too ranging and free-form. A scene that begins in the end of chapter two rambles across to the beginning of chapter three without really concluding and then morphs into another scene entirely when the narrative follows a single character from the conversation in one room into an encounter in the next room. There is a lack of chapter structure to rationalize why those words belong in that chapter rather than the next.
And numerous plot lines are just left hanging at the end of the book, seemingly forgotten rather than set up for the probable sequel. The book does not end with a sense that it is the final end of the saga.
So it is a book that both Hemingway and Dickens would’ve cringed to have written. Never-the-less, I did like this book. The old uncritical critic, you know. I would’ve neither finished reading it, nor written this essay about it if I didn’t find merit in the story. I learned things by reading it. Things to avoid, things to correct when I find them in my own stories, and things that make me go, “Hmmm… I’d like to try that myself.”
Canto Five – Everyone
is Naked Under Their Clothes
The night was typical.
Six nasty old hens pecked Valerie’s hands as she searched under them for
eggs. The last one of those took a
girl-fist to the side of the head. That,
of course, didn’t faze the stupid hen.
Chickens apparently have their brains hidden safely in their butts. But chores always came to an end. Mom was always sympathetic about
chicken-stupidity-caused peck marks, and rubbed salve on them, visible wound or
not. Then it was time to finish any
homework needed, and up to bed. And Val
always slept naked under the quilts and comforters. She slept well because… well, because naked
was good when you were asleep.
Morning came, as mornings do, with a stupid rooster crowing
the sun up. Of course, if hens are
stupid, roosters, having the additional mental handicap of being male, were
stupid times ten. No, stupid times
twenty. Beau the rooster always got it
wrong. The sun was never actually up
until at least a half hour after the stupid rooster claimed it was up. Chicken pot pie. As Valerie pried her eyes open, she imagined
chicken pot pie cooking on Mom’s stove.
Beau-flavored chicken pot pie.
When she got to the bathroom, Daddy Kyle was already in
there shaving. No problem. Once again Valerie marched in naked as the
day she was born, though with considerably more hair on her head. She went straight to the shower, grabbed the
shampoo off the shelf, and twisted the water on to just the right level of warm
she always used. Warm, soapy water all
over your body… piles of foamy shampoo in your longish hair… it was a little
like Eden must have felt to Eve. And Eve
liked being naked too… at least, until the mistake with the snake. Of course, Eden had to end when the water
began to grow cold. Even in the
summertime the well could put out near freezing levels of cold once the water
heater was drained.
Kyle looked at her when she stepped out and grabbed a towel.
“No hot water left for me again, huh, Princess?”
“Sorry, Daddy. I need
a good hot shower in the mornings.”
“Shouldn’t you put on a robe or something, dearest? You come in here every morning completely
naked. You are getting too old for
“Old? Too old for what?”
“When a girl reaches a certain age, she starts to
change. When that happens, well…”
“But, Daddy, you are used to seeing me naked. You changed my diapers while Mommy and I were
still in the hospital after I was born.”
“I know… I know… And
it isn’t that there is anything wrong happening. It’s just…”
“You can’t be getting shy.
I’ve seen you naked too… a lot.”
Kyle’s face reddened.
He was apparently trying hard to stutter on.
“When a girl reaches a certain age… well, she…”
“Yeah, she changes. I
know Dad. Mom told me what to
expect. But honestly, I don’t even
really have boob bumps yet. I look like
a little boy when I’m naked… except I don’t have one of those water hoses to
She was standing with the towel in her hand, looking at him
while she was completely bare and being mildly amused by his extreme
discomfort. He finally sat down on the
closed cover of the commode, completely defeated. She decided to push things a little. She dropped the towel and went to sit on his
knee even though she was a little damp around the edges and quite sincerely
“I love you too, Daddy.”
“No… I mean, yes, I love you… but this is not a good thing
for a big girl to be doing. I worry you
are getting so used to being naked around a man like me… even though I’m your
Daddy… and one day… when boys, um… get curious… the way boys are… and, well…”
“If that’s what worries you, Daddy, no boy besides you has
ever seen me naked. And I won’t let a
yucky thing like that happen… until the time is right.”
“Okay, but promise me the time is not right until you are
“Daaaad! You know
everyone is actually naked under their clothes.
Everyone has a body… so no one should be ashamed of it.” Surely he recognized that bit of wisdom. After all, it is what he’d said to her on the
subject more than once.
“Okay. I trust you
and believe in you. But develop a little
modesty maybe? Put on a robe when you come in here. Or wait till I’m done.”
“Don’t you like me like this?”
“I love you. But you
are getting to an age where you being naked like this around me… well… begins
to get… um, uncomfortable. And your
little wet behind is making my pants wet.
I have work to do today, and now my pants have a wet spot shaped like
“Oh, Daddy!” She
leaned in and kissed him on the cheek.
He put an arm around her shoulders and gave a squeeze.
“I hope we can start getting some better habits going,
Princess. We don’t want to get your mom
mad or anything.”
hopped off his damp lap and padded over to retrieve the towel. She wrapped it around herself and then gave
him one more grin before she barefooted it out of the bathroom and toward her
waiting school clothes. You never knew
anything for certain. Maybe one day she
would just have to go to school naked… to show Daddy that… well, okay… maybe
not to school.
–Discovery Doesn’t Happen Without Risk
Leaving the Ghost House, Valerie waited until Conrad Doble
had left. She didn’t like old King Leer
looking at her. She would’ve been
happier if Pidney had stayed around a bit longer. Not only could he protect her, but she really
liked looking at Pidney’s broad shoulders and cute behind. But Pidney left when Mary left. She didn’t have to worry for too long though
about being alone with Conrad. He left
shortly after Pid and Mary. Danny Murphy
and Ray Zeffer were both still there.
“You wouldn’t mind if we walked you home, huh, Val?” asked
She looked out the cellar doorway where Conrad had just
disappeared. “It would be kinda good to
have two guys around when I have to go back home and that creepazoid is around
“We promised Pidney a long time ago that we would look out
for you,” said Ray.
“I don’t really know you very well, Ray. Why do you wanna help me?”
“We are like second cousins or something,” said Ray. “Grandma says there are connections between
the Zeffers and the Clarkes. Back a
couple of generations maybe.”
“Besides,” said Danny, “You may only be ten years old, but you are so beautiful. We’d do anything for you just because of that.”
“That’s kinda sexist, ain’t it? You know my mom and I are both feminists, right?”
“Maybe,” said Ray, shoving Danny for having been so
stupid. “But it is entirely true.”
She looked at him then… really studied him for a moment. Ray Zeffer, tall and thin, was nice to look at too. He had big brown eyes like a deer… Bambi’s eyes. Those eyes could look soulfully through you like x-ray eyes. He could see Valerie’s heart inside her ribcage. She shivered ever so slightly because of those big Bambi eyes. But those eyes were sad. Something about the way those eyes looked at you told you that something deeply sad and soul-searing had touched Ray. She was fairly sure his mother hadn’t been killed by hunters though.
“Let’s go then. If
you walk me to the north edge of town, that will be good enough.”
“You skated in all the way from the farm?” asked Danny.
“Walked to town,” she answered. “You can’t use the board on the gravel
roads. It is only two miles.”
“That’s still a long way,” said Ray. “But if you don’t mind, we’ll walk you all the way home.”
“I don’t mind. You
are both very sweet to do it.”
***** The walk along the gravel roads had been pleasant. The rocks and sand crunched under your sneakers in a way that was reassuring. Your feet were firmly on the earth when you walked on the gravel. No danger of floating away into some dream world. And the sound the gravel made could warn you of oncoming cars both ahead of you, and behind. Stalking King Leers too. They couldn’t sneak up on you without being heard.
“That farm place there is where I live with Daddy and
Momma,” said Valerie. She looked at Ray.
“We know where you live,” said Danny. “We all three have lived in this town all our
“Oh, yeah, I know that,” said Val sheepishly. She didn’t want to be awkward in front of
“It’s a nice farm,” said Ray. “Your dad must work hard with so many acres
“Yeah, he’s pretty busy in the spring, summer, and fall. He should be in the fields now picking corn,
unless he’s finished all the corn that survived the hail in August.”
“I’d be in the fields now, too,” said Ray sadly, “except my
dad passed away two years ago. We just
rent our land out now, Mom and me.”
Val knew about Ray’s father.
He had passed away in the Summer of ’82 from a heart attack while
driving his tractor in a field down by Dows, Iowa. Maybe that’s why Ray looked so sad all the
“Do you miss it?” asked Danny. “The field work, I mean?”
“Not really. Being a
farmer is a hard job. It’s like you are
never done working.”
“Danny wouldn’t know,” said Valerie with a mocking
grin. “His dad works in an office in
Belle City. He counts beans or
“He’s an accountant,” said Danny frowning fiercely. “Bean-counter is a nick-name for an
accountant. He doesn’t actually count beans!”
“What does he really count, then?” asked Ray.
“Payrolls and prices and ledgers and stuff… I think,” said
Danny. “But I have done field work! You know I walked beans the past two summers,
Val! You walked ‘em too!”
“Ack! I hate walking
up and down the rows with a hoe, pulling button weeds and chopping rogue corn!”
“I like it,” said Valerie laughing. “I pretend some of the weeds are people I
don’t like or who have made fun of me. I
grab ‘em by the throat and yank their little fat heads off, or I chop them in
two with the hoe. Besides, walking beans
is how I got to see Danny naked last summer.”
Danny was seriously blushing now. If Val hadn’t killed him with embarrassment
before, this was sure to do the job now.
“Tell me about it,” said Ray with a chuckle.
Danny was hesitant, but certainly didn’t want Valerie to
tell it. “Well, er… I made a bet with my cousin from Clarion
about who could clear out the thistle patch in his row faster. The loser had to do the next two rows stark
naked, with the winner holding on to the clothes. I didn’t know anybody could chop thistles
“After two rows in the sun with that white skin of his,”
said Valerie, “he was red all over… just like a cherry… even in places a person
should never be sunburned.”
All three of them laughed about it and Danny didn’t even die
of embarrassment. Almost, but not quite.
“We’re here,” said Val at last. “Thank you for walking me home. You are both gentlemen, and very gallant.”
“What does gallant mean?” asked Danny.
“Like a white knight,” said Ray, “protecting the princess
“Are we white knights?” asked Danny, looking directly at
“One white knight and one cherry red jester, I think.”
Danny grinned again. Ray laughed. It was good to hear Ray laugh. Some people simply need to laugh more.