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QUESTIONS

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“No, who is she? I’m not taking another step until I know who is in this field with me. So far my count is three friends who are running away, you, some plants called the old ones, some girl, and myself.” “And someone else.” “Who?” demanded Josh. “Alice,” whispered the corn. Josh’s blood froze. “Alice who? Is this like the girl Alice who disappeared in this field a long time ago?” “Yes.” “I’m outta here.” Josh turned to follow his friends. “I want nothing to do with any ghost. Tell her I don’t want to talk to her and I definitely don’t want to see her.” As he walked towards Andy’s yard, Josh heard the complaints of the corn and the raspy voices of the old ones.


Questions


Mike Anderson

QUESTIONS by Mike Anderson


Questions

Copyright Š 2012 Mike Anderson ISBN 978-1-62141-885-6 Order paperback or E-Book:

https://booklocker.com/books/6625.html Audio Book: https://www.audible.com/pd/QuestionsAudiobook/B007RPQPPU?qid=1420915863&sr=15&ref=a_search_c4_1_5_srTtl All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author. Published by MW Productions The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper. MW Productions 2012 www .ducimerguy.com First Edition


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Thank you to Ronda Y. Foust Dr. Sue Saunders th and a 5 grade class at Washington Elementary, Jacksonville, IL


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BACK STORY #1 “Over here, we can sit over here.” Henry pushed his way through the corn stalks until he came to the cement slab that once had been the base for an oil jack. “No one ever comes out here.” Alice followed him. The rows of tall, green corn swayed in the breeze. Henry stepped into the lower part of the slab and sat down. Alice moved to do the same. “Snake!” Alice jumped from where Henry’s finger pointed landing her on a piece of weatherworn wood. With a splintering sound and a scream, Alice disappeared from sight. “Alice!” yelled Henry. Slithering on his belly, he looked into the hole. Alice was there, about three feet down, wedged tightly against the sides of the hole, her arms stretching upward. “Help me,” squeaked Alice. “I feel myself slipping.”


Questions Henry looked for something to use as a rope. There was nothing except cornstalks. He grabbed a long one and held it down to Alice. “Grab this, I’ll pull you out.” Alice did, but her hands slipped on the stalk leaving her stuck against the smooth walls of the hole. “Alice, I’ll be right back. I’m going to run home and get a rope.” “No!” pleaded Alice. “Don’t leave me. Please!” Henry looked up at the flexible tree branch above him. “Alice, I’m going to climb this tree and use my weight to bend the branch and lower myself into the hole. When I do, grab my legs and climb up my body. OK?” “I’ll try.” Henry quickly climbed the tree and edged out onto the branch. Hanging by his arms, legs down, he was lowered into the hole as the branch bent obligingly. He felt Alice grab his legs and dig her fingers into the cloth of his pants.


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“Now, climb!” he yelled. “I’m going to try to pull myself along the branch.” The tug on his legs grew stronger as Alice pulled her shoulders free of the sides of the hole. Henry moved his aching arms a few inches towards the trunk of the tree. “We’re doing it!” he yelled.


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BACK STORY #2 One day Josh lay in his crib staring at the ceiling and babbling. He turned his head to face the large, leafy philodendron sitting on the table next to him. He continued to babble, but his gaa-gaas and goo-goos were aimed directly at the plant and were broken into segments that sounded like conversation. “Look at Josh,” his mother had remarked. “He’s talking to that plant!” She giggled. “Well, I hope the plant understands him better than I do.” Mr. Jones pulled his briefcase sideways off the table. “Gotta go, see you tonight.” He gave his wife a peck on the cheek, headed out the door, and climbed into the new black Pontiac parked in the graveled driveway of the farm. With a spin of the tires he was


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gone, leaving Mrs. Jones watching her young son talking to the philodendron.

Josh would babble to the philodendron most of his waking hours, ignoring his parents when they entered his room. Only when he was gently prodded or picked up would he offer his shining brown eyes to them and grace them with a smile. With a wistful glance toward his green friend, he would be carried from the room. His parents noticed, but they didn’t talk about it anymore. They were just happy their child was happy and babbled constantly, showing, they were sure, great intelligence. One day the plant was taken from his room for a new home on the old farmhouse’s windowsill. Josh was heartbroken. He cried and cried. After three long, crying-filled days his mother said, “Maybe he misses having the plant in his room. He did talk to it a lot. I think I’ll put another in his room to keep him company.” “Rubbish,” stated Josh’s father. “But I can’t sleep at night with him crying. I can’t get any work done anymore because I’m


Questions so tired. I’m willing to try anything. Move the old plant back or get him a new plant.” He picked up his briefcase and headed out the door to the Pontiac. The philodendron remained in its new home on the windowsill. Josh and the fern that his mother placed on the philodendron’s old wooden table often had conversations long into the night.

When Josh turned six, having no brothers or sisters, he began to wander the farm by himself, always saying hello to the trees and corn and soybeans and especially the hollyhocks that grew near the old machine shed. His grandmother had shown him how to make little people using a clothespin and the sweet-smelling flowers of the hollyhocks. Josh had been very excited with the flower people. He carried them into his room and tried to talk to them, but they didn’t answer. The hollyhock bush later told him the flower people were dead once they were pulled from the bush. He never made another flower person. The hollyhock was a favorite of his and had always been friendly. Josh loved the farm and always felt much more comfortable in the company of plants than the cousins and


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children of his parent’s friends. Josh would ask them to play hideand-go-seek. He would run and hide in the hollyhock bush and stay long after everyone was called in for dessert.

At age twelve, the black Pontiac carried him and his family to their new home in town.


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CHAPTER 1 The New School The fern giggled when Josh returned from the bathroom. “You’re going to comb that hair aren’t you? You’ll make a great impression at your new school. You look like a bush after a storm.” “Maybe,” said Josh. “I feel like a bush after a storm. You know: uprooted and out of my pot.” “If you don’t count the time you got mad at me and put me in the closet, look how many times you’ve moved me. I came out OK, didn’t I? You’ll be fine.” “Why did we have to move? We were happy on the farm! They didn’t even ask my opinion!” The fern shrugged its shoulders, but only Josh would notice. “Looks like you’re just one of us. People pick you up and move you


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around. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got perfect east sun or a warm, moist breeze by the humidifier, plants just get moved.” “Yeah, I guess kids and plants are a lot alike.” The fern chuckled. “You know since we’re so much alike, why don’t you take me into that shower with you? It sounds like a great rain to clean the dust off my leaves.” “Maybe next time,” said Josh. He pulled open his room door and went to the breakfast table. Fifteen minutes and a bowl of corn flakes later, Josh was out the door and walking to school in a light fog.

The corn leaves hung like giant fingers drooping through the light fog. Josh pushed angrily at the leaves only to have them fly back and swat his face. “Just walk across this cornfield and you will be at school. Crossing a cornfield won’t be a problem, will it?” His dad had said. “We would take you, but we have to be at work before school starts.”An ear of corn fell to the ground when he pushed the stalk out of the way. His eye stung. Josh stopped, mopping the sweat from his forehead.


Questions “No, Dad, no problem at all.” What else could he have said? A small wind blew. The cornstalks whispered something in reply, talking about him. He didn’t catch the comment, which irritated him even more. He roughly snatched a stalk and bent it down until the top touched the ground. The stalk snapped. The smell of corn filled the air. The whispering never stopped. “No…problem…at… all!” He stomped on the stalk to emphasize each word. “You don’t mind going alone do you? You’re a big boy now,” Mom had said. He squashed another stalk. “He did it again,” murmured the corn. Josh wasn’t listening. “Don’t mind at all, Mom. I do it every day. And don’t call me a ‘big boy’.”Another stalk yielded to the weight of his foot. He opened the top button of his flannel shirt. Twenty minutes later Josh emerged from the field sweating and tired. The corn whispered its goodbye or maybe good riddance. Josh was too angry to care.


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Surrounded by the sounds of running and shouting, Lincoln School, his new school, lay sprawled across five acres of land. Watching the kids running towards the heavy, drab yellow double doors, Josh booted a stick out of his way. The bell rang. He was alone again, just like in the cornfield. Grass rarely had anything to say and sticks were dead. “Your mom and I both have to go to work. Just go to the office and say you’re the new kid. Tell them we registered you yesterday.” The door of the school slammed with a drab yellow thud. He was alone in a hallway of doors. No whispering here, just a dead silence. A shiny brass sign above a closed door announced the office. He pushed it open. The sounds of a copier noisily counting sheets of paper, a ringing telephone that sounded a bit

like the wild turkeys at his old house, and an air conditioner humming burst through the door like they wanted to fill the silent hallway. The philodendron at the end of the counter coughed once and then laughed. “Excuse me,” Josh squeaked. Nothing. For a moment he wondered if he had actually said anything or just thought he had. These people listened no better than the hollyhock people. Josh


Questions stood on his tiptoes and peeked over the counter top. “Excuse me,” he squeaked a bit louder. A wooden chair squeaked and a gray-haired frown looked down. “Uh, hi, I’m the new kid. My folks registered me yesterday.” This earned a blank stare from the frown. “I’m the new kid: Josh Jones.” Something visibly clicked; the frown smiled. “Hello! I’m Mrs. Peeps. I’ve been expecting you.” The gray-haired smile moved along the top of the counter and emerged from the end, complete with a body. Josh glanced at the philodendron sitting on the counter. It snickered and shrugged as well as a philodendron can. She grabbed his hand like it was trying to get away and led him back into the hallway. She conducted a tour as they went. “Here’s the bathroom. You have to know that don’t you? And here’s a water fountain; the gym’s down that way…” She droned on and on. Her voice echoed, “WAY, way, way,

way…”Josh

looked

at her: gray-haired, rose-smelling, eyeglasses dangling from a gold chain, a flowered dress: Mrs. Peeps. “What kind of a name was Mrs. Peeps? Isn’t that a yellow, marshmallow chicken? And she’s holding my hand!” he thought. The marshmallow chicken smiled at him again and knocked on a


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door. Inching it quietly open, Mrs. Peeps stuck her head into the room and said, “Excuse me, Mrs. Smith.” A woman, who could have been Mrs. Peeps’ twin except she smelled like vanilla, came to the door. “Mrs. Smith, I would like you to meet Josh Jones. He’s your new boy.” “It’s nice to meet you, Josh.” Her voice was gravelly, like she had a sore throat. “Let’s meet your new classmates.” She took his hand. What was it with this school and holding hands? Sixty eyes watched him be led, hand-in-hand, to the front of the class. Sixty eyes watched as Mrs. Smith left him standing alone in the front of the class staring at the sixty eyes staring at him. “Class, this is Josh Jones. He will be joining our class.” The eyes never blinked, this revelation not being unexpected. “Josh, tell us about yourself.” There were eyes everywhere and an African violet on the bookshelf by the window. The class was cluttered as if someone had tried to put more kids in the room than it could possible hold. Apologies were the first things to come to mind: Sorry for wearing overalls? None of the eyes were wearing overalls or a flannel shirt. Sorry there’s nothing interesting about me? Sorry I am a country hick that moved to town?


Questions Mrs. Smith smiled. “Josh, would you like to tell us about your new house?” No. What could possibly be interesting about a house? Mrs. Smith was watching him; sixty eyes were watching him. Josh felt a trickle of sweat run down his back. His grandpa always said that was a good sign; it’s when you didn’t sweat that showed you were in trouble. Josh took a deep breath. “It’s bigger than my old one,” he heard himself blurt. It was a lie. His old house was so big he once got lost in it for three days. He had lived on two oatmeal cookies and the cheese from mousetraps. His cousin Steve and Jetta the cocker spaniel eventually found him in the attic. “He was talking to a plant!” Steve had reported. “It’s bigger?” said Mrs. Smith.“Yeah, and there aren’t any chickens in it either.” Josh honestly didn’t know where the chickens came from. Granted, his family had lived on a farm and used to raise chickens, but none of them, except Grandma’s pet hen Doodle, ever came into the house. The eyes showed a flicker of interest. They were leaning forward. Mrs. Smith rose to the bait. “You had chickens in your house?” she asked.


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Josh heard a chuckle over by the window. Plants knew. He winked at the African violet. Josh smiled. The eyes smiled back. Mrs. Smith’s were confused. “Yeah, we used to live on my Uncle George’s farm. He let Dad and Mom and me live in a chicken coop for free.” The eyes were wide open now, filled with anticipation. A brown-haired boy near the back raised his hand at the exact moment his mouth started working. “Didn’t it stink?” “Well, Mom and Dad and I took baths up at the main house.” “No, the chickens! Didn’t the chickens stink?” said Brown Hair. “Oh, they weren’t too bad, unless it rained. Wet chickens can really stink. And when it gets hot, the white stuff they leave all over the place really smells bad.” Josh smiled as the eyes all made faces and held their noses. “The only bad part about living in the chicken coop was when Uncle George would come around to collect the eggs. He would always lift me up to see if I was sitting on an egg. That was his idea of a joke.” The eyes all laughed. Mrs. Smith stared at him. “Yes, well…have a seat at the desk next to Andy.” Brown Hair waved. A blond girl sitting on


Questions the other side of Andy stared at him as he walked to his new seat; they made a brief bit of eye contact. Josh flumped into the chair. As he sat down he heard her say softly, “Pull-eeze,” and shake her head before she returned her eyes to Mrs. Smith. The rest of the day was okay. Mrs. Smith didn’t ask Josh to speak again, and most of the kids thought the chicken story was neat. He spent lunch making up tales about living with the chickens. Right in the middle of a story he was making up about selling chickens to buy a new bike, the blond girl walked up. She was much taller than she had looked when she was sitting at her desk. “Why are you listening to him?” she bleated. “He’s lying through his teeth. No one lives in a chicken house.” Andy

Lee

stood up, “Are you calling him a liar, Brenda Gaines? You ought to hear all these great stories. And it’s a chicken COOP, not chicken house.” Brenda harrumphed and swirled her long hair, “You believe what you want, An-drew, but I think he’s making it all up.” “Ask him. Just ask him if you don’t believe him. He’ll tell you he’s telling the truth. Right, Josh?”


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Josh smiled weakly. The girl was bigger than he was… and right. Josh shrugged. With another blond swirl, the girl was walking across the lunchroom towards a group of wide-eyed girls.

At 3:30, Mrs. Smith sent the class home and Josh headed for the safety of the cornfield. “Welcome back,” whispered the corn. As he walked, memories of his old school and his old friends slipped out of the corn. Josh became angry again. Soon, four cornstalks lay on the ground, crushed beyond recognition. Two cornstalks later, he emerged into Devonshire Estates. The corn swore at him as he left the field. Josh ignored them. His gaze landed on a young tree, nothing more than a tall stick, in front of a house. Josh grabbed the tree and bent it like the cornstalks. His anger at the unfairness of moving was as tight as the trunk of that tree and just as ready to snap. The topmost


Questions anches brushed the dirt. He began to lower his weight onto the trunk. “Hey, you! Stop that!” The words shot through him like spoiled milk. “I know where you live. Leave that tree alone!” He ran. He ran harder than he had ever run. The trees all gossiped about him. Josh ducked behind a maple. “Don’t hide behind me!” said the maple. Josh watched a much older boy walk across the lawn and go into a house next door to his.


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CHAPTER 2 Lunch “Tongue!” Josh spat. “Why did I have to bring tongue?” The corn chuckled in a rattling sort of way. “We’re all out of bologna and that olive loaf you like so much,” Mom had said. “But Grandma left us a freshly cooked tongue when she dropped by last night.” “I almost had the kids convinced I wasn’t a hick and she sends a tongue sandwich in my lunch!” He took a swing at the closest corn stalk. “Careful, we’re getting old and brittle now,” whispered the corn.


Questions Josh had told the corn many things as he walked to school over the last couple of weeks. The corn was a good listener, but October was rapidly approaching. The corn rattled almost as much as it whispered. Sometimes the rattling seemed to make sense, like the corn had a comment it didn’t want to voice. Josh liked the corn and had come to admire its strength and patience. He never bent or hurt a stalk anymore. He would miss the corn after the harvest. Days passed quickly in Mrs. Smith’s class. She didn’t call on Josh much, and he volunteered less. He had been moved near the window and the African violet. The African violet often made comments about the teacher, some of which were not very nice. Mostly it complained about needing water. Josh would sit in the empty seat beside Andy at the lunch table in the gym along with several other boys who all lived in Devonshire Estates. The room was noisy and smelled of whatever was being served by the apron. Today it was fish. Josh didn’t like fish; especially the way the school fixed it. “What a strange place to eat lunch,” Josh mused one day. This exact spot where he sat, minus the table, had been where Brenda had almost taken his head off with a ball in one of Mr.


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Kitch’s gym games of throw-the-ball-as-hard-as-you-can-atsomeone. The place smelled of sweat and old gym shoes and fish. “What ya eating?” asked Andy, his mouth full of peanut butter. “You don’t want to know.” Josh took a bite. “Looks like bologna or liverwurst,” said Brad who lived five houses up the street from Josh. Brad would have had blond hair if his parents ever let it grow past a quarter of an inch long. He was short, but athletic, always ready to hit or throw a ball. He had taken Josh’s head off in the last throw-the-ball-as-hard-as-you-can-atsomeone game. “It’s not,” he replied after taking drink of milk. “Then what is it?” asked Andy as he leaned forward to get a sniff. Josh pulled the sandwich away from his nose. “Hey, I don’t want your boogers all over my sandwich! It’s tongue, OK?” The table went quiet. “Tongue,” said Andy. “Whose tongue?” “Happy’s.” Brad’s eyes popped. “Happy? Like in Sneezy… and Dopey… and Doc?”


Questions “Nah, Happy was my grandma’s cow.” Josh took another bite enjoying their looks of disgust; he would definitely have to tell the corn about this. “You’re eating a cow’s tongue? What’s it taste like?” asked Andy. “A lot like the bologna Brad’s eating. You just put on a bit of ketchup and yum!”

The next day Josh was sitting alone at a lunch table. The thought of tongue had been a bit too much for the guys and they had found a new table without a seat for the tongue sandwich. Brenda and Jerika were eating at the table directly in front of him. Brenda leaned back. “Andy said you were eating tongue. When are you going to stop making up stories? First chickens and now you’re eating body parts.” Josh could smell the unmistakable odor of peanut butter on her breath. “Yeah, so what? It’s better than eating tubers,” Josh retorted.


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“I’m not eating tubers, I’m eating peanut butter. You are so weird.” “Peanuts are tubers, Blondie. If you would pay more attention to school and less to other people’s business you might have picked that up in science.” With a huff, Brenda swirled around and said something to the girls the table. They all giggled. Josh didn’t look to see if they were glancing back at him, instead he took a bite of tongue and thought how glad he was that cows didn’t eat corn or tubers. When she and the girls finished their lunch, Brenda stood up and deliberately knocked Josh’s coat onto the floor. Making sure her foot hooked it, she dragged the jacket to the garbage can in the middle of the gym. The girls all laughed, dumped their lunch remains into the can, and headed outside. With a sigh, Josh went to get his coat. Andy beat him to it and tossed the coat through the air to Josh. “Thanks.” Andy shrugged. “What did you have for lunch? Never mind, I don’t think I really want to know.” Andy grinned. “You want to play some marbles? I just got a new bag.” Together they headed outside.


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CHAPTER 3 An Assignment “All right, boys and girls, would you all take out your social studies book, please?” said Mrs. Smith. There was the usual rattle of desks and the shuffle of books. Mrs. Smith patiently waited. “Today we are going to begin the study of our home town: Wagston.” “But, Mrs. Smith, Wagston isn’t in our social studies book. Wagston is way too boring to be in any book anywhere,” said Jerika. Josh turned and looked at her. She gave him a quick smile. The African violet chuckled and said, “Ooooo, I think she likes you.” “I don’t know about the boring part, but you are right that Wagston is not in the book. Please open your book to page 97.”


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Mrs. Smith paused and waited for the pages to quiet down, “Josh, would you please stand and read page 97 to the class?” “Did the chickens teach you to read?” whispered Brenda. His mouth immediately went dry. This was the first time he had spoken at length to the entire class since the “chickens in the house” incident. Clearing his throat, Josh began, “The true history of any community lies within the memories and stories of the people who lived there. No matter how many facts and figures or photographs are examined, the true history of any community is nothing more than a guess without the words of those who lived it.” He paused in case Mrs. Smith wanted someone else to continue the next paragraph. “Continue, Mr. Jones,” she urged. “Therefore, when a student of history wants to understand the history of a place, personal interviews should become the first line of research. Diaries, letters, and newspaper reports would then follow interviews. That is not to say that nothing useful will be learned from facts such as population, but stories and memories allow the facts to become clear and meaningful.”


Questions The page being finished, Josh sat down. Andy gave him a big grin and a thumbs-up. Brenda rolled her eyes and Jerika smiled at him again. “Ooooo…, I think she likes you,” whispered the African violet. “Thank you, Josh. Now, after listening to Josh, does anyone have a guess about how we are going to study our home town?” Mrs. Smith peered around the room looking for someone with a light bulb over his or her head. The class stared anywhere but at her. As it turned out, the class was divided up into groups of three and told to think of ten or more questions to ask if they wanted to find out about the “Wagston of Old”.

Mrs. Smith

always made the groups by drawing ping-pong balls with names on them out of a fishbowl. Since there were 29 students in the class there was always a group with only two people. Josh’s ball came out of the bowl next to last and the last ball was Brenda’s. He put his head into his hands. “Tough luck, Josh,” whispered Andy. Brenda groaned, “Why do I have to be with Chicken Boy? I’ll have to do all the work! He can’t do anything but make up stories.” Would she never let that drop?


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Mrs. Smith scowled at her, “Brenda, Josh is your partner. I suggest you get to the assignment and keep your opinions to yourself.” Josh had talked to the corn many times about Brenda. Her hair had grown another inch or so since their little chat in the lunchroom the first day and was looking more and more like the hair the corn was growing. The corn always seemed to rattle a bit more when Josh mentioned her. Josh was sure the corn didn’t like her anymore than he did. The African violet didn’t really have an opinion about her as it spent most of its time staring out the window dreaming of a tropical island somewhere. Josh pulled his chair to Brenda’s desk and dropped his pencil and paper on the top. “Come on, let’s get this over with as quickly as possible.” He saw Henry + Alice carved into the top of the old wooden desk. Brenda crossed her legs and swirled her hair so she was sitting sideways to him. “So, what do you think we should ask?” Silence. Maybe the African violet would be a better partner; maybe even her desk would have been a better partner. “How about ‘Who were Henry and Alice?’ and ‘Did they ever get married?’ and ‘Where did they liv…’”


Questions “Who are you talking about, Chicken Boy? Who are Henry and Alice?” “There… on your desk.” He tapped the scratches in the wood. “Surely someone as smart as you would have noticed them.” Her head turned towards him. Her body didn’t. “What in the world would they have to do with Wagston? Those names have been there for years. Who cares who they were?” “We’re supposed to be coming up with questions that would let us find about ‘Wagston of Old’. The way the book said to do it was ask the people who have lived here questions about their life. Or weren’t you listening when I read that bit?” “I don’t listen to anything you say, Chicken Boy. You do the questions like you want and I’ll do them like I want, OK?” Brenda pulled a notebook out of her desk and put it on her lap. She slapped it open and began to write. Josh sighed. He was more alone at Brenda’s desk than on the playground. The grass at least listened to him and responded in a civil manner.


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He began to write his questions.First he wrote, “On Brenda’s desk someone carved Henry + Alice. This report will try to find out who these people were and what their lives were like.” My questions: 1. Who were Henry and Alice? 2. Did they ever get married? 3. Where did they live? 4. If they did get married, did they have any kids? 5. What’s the funniest thing that ever happened in Wagston? 6. What’s the saddest thing that’s ever happened in Wagston? 7. What’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened in Wagston? 8. Was the cornfield bigger before they built the houses in Devonshire Estates? 9. Who owns the cornfield? 10. Who was Wagston most happy to see leave Wagston? 11. What happened to these people? 12. Who is the most famous person to have ever lived in Wagston?


Questions Eventually Mrs. Smith told everyone to return to his or her seat. The students passed their questions to the front of the row, Mrs. Smith thumbing through each stack as she got it. “Josh, who are Henry and Alice?” she asked. He heard Brenda swallow a laugh on the other side of Andy. “I don’t know, Mrs. Smith. Their names are carved in Brenda’s desk.” “OK,” sighed Mrs. Smith, “but I don’t think you’ll find an answer. Some of these desks have been in this school since it was built just after the turn of the century. Henry and Alice could be dead by now.” Josh shrugged. “This Friday, class, we will be taking a field trip to the Wagston Retirement Village to talk to the people who are staying there. That is when you and your partners will ask your questions about Wagston, and hopefully find out a lot about the history of the town in which we live. With that in mind, you might want to be thinking of a few more questions the people at the retirement village would want to answer. Most of them will like to talk about their lives and their kids and grandchildren.” Mrs. Smith picked up a stack of papers. “Here are the permission slips. Have your folks sign them and bring them back by Thursday. No permission slip, no field trip.”


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“Nobody better ask my grandpa about me!” said Andy. “He only remembers all the stuff I did when I was a little kid, like spitting up and diapers and the time I ran around in the front yard naked.” “What’s your grandpa’s name, Andy?” asked Brenda, a fake sweetness dripping from her lips. “None of your business, Brenda!” snapped Andy. The class laughed.

“Did you hear?” the violet said. “No slip, no go. If I had to spend the day with Brenda, I’d lose the slip.” “The last time I checked, plants aren’t invited. What would I do if I don’t turn in the slip? I still have to do the assignment.” The African violet chuckled, “You could spend the day with me – maybe get me some water. I’m dying here.” The violet faked a cough. “We could do lunch on the lawn.”


Questions On the way home that day, Josh asked the corn if the field had once been bigger. He knew this was silly because corn is harvested every year and must be replanted. There was a lot of rustling of the drying leaves, the heavy ears of corn dipped dangerously towards the ground. Once again he had a feeling that the corn had something more to say than idle chatter, but it only said, “We don’t know.” “Well, how about someone named Henry who hung out with Alice?” asked Josh. Josh heard a movement that wasn’t the wind in the corn: the definite sound of the stalks moving. He stopped and the corn grew quiet. The sound continued for a few minutes and then grew fainter until it disappeared altogether. He wasn’t alone. Josh stood still for several minutes listening as the corn began to talk to him again, whispering more urgently than ever before but too soft to understand.

Sitting in the gym eating at the site of Brenda’s latest ball attack, the boys of Devonshire were eating another nutritious lunch. Andy had the school’s pizza, Dana and Brad had peanut


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butter and jelly, and Josh had another tongue sandwich that he said was bologna. “Why did your mom pick us up late this morning?” Brad asked Andy. “I couldn’t find one of my shoes. She stormed around the house for ten minutes looking for it. I finally found the thing under my bed. I don’t know how it got there. I took them off in the bathroom.” “Probably ghosts,” said Dana. Halloween was coming and everyone was thinking ghosts were the reason for everything. “Probably from the field.” “Josh, how do you get to school? Andy’s mom takes all of us, but we’ve never seen you walking or riding your bike.” “I cut through the cornfield,” Josh said between tongue bites. “I made a path.” Everyone stopped mid-chew. “You don’t actually walk through the cornfield, do you?” Andy said. “That field is haunted. My back yard is right up against that field. I keep waiting for something to come walking out of there.”


Questions Brad laughed, “Ever since that movie where the ghosts of the baseball players walked out of a cornfield, Andy won’t even go in his backyard without someone with him.” “It is no more haunted than the fields back at my old house. I walked in them a lot. I like the corn.” “Man, I wouldn’t go in that field for anything. My older brother said he knew of a couple of kids who went in there and never came out again. All they ever found was dried bones and one shoe,” Brad said. Dana nodded, “My cousin said a murderer hid in that field and died. His ghost walks the fields looking for more people to kill!” Josh thought of the movement he had heard, but he shook his head, “You guys have too much Halloween on your mind. It’s just a cornfield. Except for the corn, I have never seen or heard anyone talk in the field.” That came out of his mouth before he had a chance to stop it. The table got quiet. “You’ve heard the corn talk?” asked Andy. “Maybe Brenda’s right about you. Maybe you do make up everything you say.”


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“You guys are just a bunch of tuber heads. The cornfield is just a cornfield. There’s nothing spooky about it, and no one died in it. Why don’t you walk home with me today and I’ll show you.” “Not if the corn is going to talk to me! That’s even stranger than being haunted.” “Haven’t you ever listened to the African violet in class?” asked Josh. “It’s like that.” The guys all stared at him for a second and quickly changed the subject.


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CHAPTER 4 The Old Ones “Here he comes,” whispered the corn at the field’s edge. “We see,” hissed another voice. Andy, Brad, Brenda, and Jerika stood in front of the drab yellow door of the school waiting for him to chicken out of walking into the field. Stepping off the path and into the brittle stalks of corn, Josh turned and watched them as they watched for him to come back out. The corn held its breath; all was calm and motionless. What a rotten day it had been. The guys had told everyone he walked home through the cornfield and had been talking to the African violet. From that point on, no one, except the African violet and Mrs. Smith, talked to him. Everyone just looked at him


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like a person would look at a dog being taken to a vet to be put down. Soon his audience left. Josh stepped carefully through the rows of corn. He wanted to be alone with the corn. He felt comfortable with the corn.

“Boy,” whispered a rough, hoarse voice. “Boy.” Josh froze. Within the breeze that rustled the long, dried brownish leaves of the corn a voice, that didn’t sound like the corn, had said something. Corn spoke with a voice as smooth as the silk on their ears. This voice was rough and full of dirt. He shook his head. This was nonsense. The guys had spooked him. “Boy, listen closely,” rasped the voice. It sounded like glass in a garbage disposal. Again, the crinkled voice bore into his head. Josh ran. “Wait, we have something to say to you,” the voice croaked. He didn’t want to hear. “Please.” This came just before he burst out of the field. Josh stopped feet away from the edge. He turned and faced the corn.


Questions “What?” he demanded. “What do you have to say? What are you?” A sigh ran through the field, the stalks swaying like an old woman waltzing. “Our days are few, soon the corn will be harvested. We must tell you a story. We must tell you how it came to be,” whispered the new voice. “Who are you? You aren’t the ones I’ve talked to before.” “They are here.” “So talk. What do you need to tell me?” “You must come with us to the center, to the mouth. We cannot tell you here.” Josh stepped cautiously towards the field. “The mouth… what mouth?” “Come, follow us,” said the corn, one stalk passing the word to another diagonally across the field. “No. I’ve been told that people have died in this field. Kids think I’m crazy to even walk in here. Tell me here or don’t tell me at all.” “We cannot. Follow us to the center,” whispered the corn. “No.” Josh turned and walked away from the field. He heard the crinkled protests as well as the silky voices of his friends in the field all urging him to come back and listen. Josh


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went to his room when he got home, mumbling a “nothing” when his mom asked what had happened at school. Flopping full-length on his bed, he stared at the ceiling. A plant had never scared him before. But this time the voices in the field sent chills up his back. He rolled to his left and looked at the fern. “What happened?” asked the plant. Josh repeated all he had heard from the guys and Brenda. How the field was haunted and how everyone thought someone had been killed there. Josh also told the fern about the change in the corn. How the soft voices had been replaced with a rough, raspy voice. The fern chuckled. “You were listening to the elders, the old ones. They have voices as old as the dirt.” “How can there be elders in a cornfield? Corn dies every year. It gets cut down and dies. Nothing survives the harvest and the winter.” “The corn, yes. But not all dies. There are plants that survive the harvest and the winter, small plants, ones that rise every year and are reborn like a phoenix after a fire. That is who you were listening to, Josh.” “They said something about a mouth in the field. What was that all about? The whole thing gives me the willies.”


Questions “I don’t know,” whispered the fern, “I am a houseplant. I don’t get out much. I will say that you should probably listen to them. The old ones know about the old times. If they want to talk to you, it must be important.” It chuckled again. “You are probably the only human they’ve ever tried to talk to in their history. You should be honored, not scared.” “Sorry. Maybe I should take you with me to talk to these old ones.” “You forget; I’m a houseplant. I like it here in your room. By the way, I’m a bit thirsty.” Josh got up and poured water onto the plant. It gurgled a thank you. After a nap, Josh got up and headed to dinner. His mom served corn.


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Chapter 5 The Field Trip The next day Josh rode his bike to school down Main Street. He was rounding the last corner as Andy, Brad and Dana hollered and waved from a passing car. Andy was waiting for him by the bike rack. “Hey, Josh,” chided Andy, “I thought you came through the field.” “Well, you know. I listened to you guys and your ghost stories and thought maybe you were right.” Andy grinned. “Hey, I’m having a sleep-over for my birthday this Friday; you want to come?” Josh smiled, “I’ll ask my folks, but I don’t think they’ll care. They’ll be happy to get me out of the house for a while.”


Questions Andy nodded. “We have a couple of bushes in the yard. I don’t want to catch you talking to them behind my back, OK?” “No problem. House bushes tend to be pretty dumb.” Andy seemed to either have accepted that Josh could talk to plants or thought it was crazy enough to joke about. “Oh, just so you know: Jerika lives next door and Brenda lives across the street.” Josh groaned.

Josh walked into class and laid his permission slip for the field trip on Mrs. Smith’s desk. She smiled. “I was a bit worried, Josh, you are the last to bring in the permission slip. I guess you get to go with us today.” “I thought we were going to spend the day together,” groaned the African violet. “Well, at least get me drink before you go. You might want to think about repotting. My roots are getting a bit cramped.”

“Ok, class, get whatever you need to take to the retirement village. I suggest a notebook, several pencils or pens,


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and the list of questions you made last week. Did any of you think of any other questions to ask?” No one raised their hand or spoke. “Well, I am sure that many topics will come to mind as you talk to the men and women at the retirement village. Remember to be polite and understanding. Don’t be loud and don’t be rude. Try to be the kind of grandson or granddaughter your grandparents would like you to be. Most importantly, be happy and laugh with them. Any questions?” Brad raised his hand. “Mrs. Smith, how many people are we supposed to interview?” “As many as you have time for, Brad. Some of you will interview several; some of you may only interview one if they really get talking. Just be a good listener and ask questions! You never know what will trigger a story or the information for which you are looking.” She paused and looked around. “Yes, Andy?” “Will we be eating lunch there?” “No, we will come back to school for lunch, which means you will only have about two hours to visit. Then you’ll go back to school, have lunch, and then be dismissed early because of the teacher meetings.”


Questions “Whew, that’s good. When I visit my grandpa, I always have to eat lunch with him. The food is gross; no taste what so ever! Stewed prunes and cooked spinach, ugh.”

A bathroom break and twenty minutes later, Mrs. Smith’s class boarded a bus heading to the Wagston Retirement Village about a ten-minute bus ride from school. Mrs. Smith insisted everyone sit with their partners to compare notes and prepare for the visit. Brenda had shot Josh a scathing look when Mrs. Smith announced this, but dutifully fell into line behind Josh and slid into the same seat with him. “Listen, Chicken Boy, let’s make this as easy as possible. You don’t talk to me. I won’t talk to you. You ask your questions. I’ll ask mine. OK?” She turned to stare out the window on the other side of the bus. Josh looked at the back of her blond head. “You know, Brenda. We’re supposed to be doing this together. Somehow we have to write a paper together. How can we do that if we don’t agree on what we are looking for and what questions we’re going to ask?”


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Without turning around again, Brenda snapped, “I won’t be a part of anything that you do, Chicken Boy. I plan on writing my own paper. I really don’t care what you do.” She turned in her seat and talked to Jerika who was sitting across the aisle. Her back was now firmly to him. He looked at her back and then out the window on the other side of the bus. They were traveling north on Main Street along the edge of the cornfield. Moaning like old men, the stalks swayed slightly with the breeze made by the bus. The ears of corn hung very low; their weight too much for the drying stalks. Within a week the farmer would roll into the field driving a corn picker. The thought made him sad. Besides his fern and the African violet in class, the corn was his only real friend, except maybe Andy.

With a lurch, the bus turned west onto Jefferson. Andy’s head rose like the sun over the back of the seat. “How do you like your seat?” he chuckled. Josh looked at Brenda’s back and then at Andy. “It’s a bit chilly, but the smudge of dirt looks good.” Andy smiled.


Questions Brenda whirled around. “What smudge? I don’t have a smudge on my back!” She reached around and felt the back of her blouse. “Made you look!” smirked Josh. Andy burst into laughter and slunk down into his seat. “Shut up, Andy!” Brenda’s outrage stopped as the bus turned into a parking lot in front of a one-story, tan brick building. As the bus shuddered to a halt, Mrs. Smith stood up and called for silence. “We’re going to gather over there by that tree with the bench beside it.” There was a scramble as everyone stood up and tried to get into the aisle and off the bus at exactly the same time. Brenda stood but Josh stayed seated. “Come on, Chicken Boy, she wants us to get off,” said Brenda. Josh reluctantly stood and followed her into the crowded space between the seats. After everyone had been pushed out of the bus and all toes had been squashed, the students stood awkwardly around the tree. Mrs. Smith waited until they quieted. “Okay, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you to be on your best behavior. The Wagston Retirement Village has been very


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kind to allow us to visit and interview their residents. Be polite and try to gather as much information as possible about Wagston. Don’t be surprised if you only get to ask one or two of the questions you have prepared. Different questions may come to mind as you learn new things. And remember to make notes, you will never be able to remember all you are told.” A door opened and a crisp gray suit came striding towards them. Mrs. Smith held out her hand and shook it. “I’d like you all to meet Mrs. Watson. She is the head administrator here at the Wagston Retirement Village.” “Hi, Mom!” shouted a voice from somewhere in the middle of the class. The crisp lady smiled and waved. There were a few chuckles and Brenda and Jerika exchanged eye-rolls. Mrs. Watson stepped to the front of the students. “Welcome to the Wagston Retirement Village. Several of you have visited here before, but I would like to remind everyone of a few things. First, please be quiet. Our residents are not used to shouting or running in the halls. The men and women here do not move quickly and many are not as sure on their feet as they once were. Wheelchairs also move slowly; try to be patient.” She paused to see if anyone had a question.


Questions “Also try to remember that many of our residents speak slowly. Give them time to complete what they have to say. Listen and then follow up with another question. Also, they are very direct. They may possibly ask you a question or say something that is right to the point. A lot of them say what is on their mind with little thought to how blunt it is. Wagston Retirement Village is a gold mine of information and stories if you have the patience to dig it out.” “The residents have all finished breakfast and have either moved back to their rooms or into the social center to talk. They have all been told that you are coming and what you are doing. That doesn’t mean they will remember they were told. Feel free to walk around and talk to whomever you would like as long as they wish to be talked to. If you have a family member here, I suggest you talk to them first.” The students all shuffled nervously. Andy leaned into Josh. “This is kind of spooky. I never know what to say to an old person.” Josh shrugged. “You might start with ‘Hi, my name’s Andy.’ Then ask your questions.” Mrs. Smith cleared her throat like she always did when she wanted attention. “If you do talk to your relatives, try to not


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use them for your questions while you are here. Ok, kids, let’s go.” With a shuffle of notebooks, the herd of kids headed for the front door. Odors smacked Josh in the face when he stepped inside. A mixture of antiseptic, floor polish, and an unidentifiable smell that Josh remembered from his grandmother’s house filled the building to overflowing. There was hotel quality artwork on the walls and a large fish tank filled with several large multi-colored fish. “Eww,” groaned Jerika. Brenda nodded. “Come on, Brenda,” urged Josh. “Let’s go to the social center and see if we can find someone to talk to there.” Brenda rolled her eyes, “Didn’t you hear Mrs. Watson? I should go talk to my grandpa first.” She headed down the hall to the left; Josh followed a couple of steps behind. Brenda abruptly turned around. “Where do you think you’re going, Chicken Boy?” “First, my name is Josh. Do you think in public you could call me that? And, if I remember it right, we’re supposed to be doing a report together. Brenda’s green eyes flashed. “Don’t follow me!” She strode away.


Questions “Boy, she has an attitude,” remarked a fern next to the wall.

Josh stepped next to the fern as he watched Brenda and his classmates wind their way down the hallway. “Who tells good stories here?” Josh asked the fern. “Well, a gray-haired man is always talking when he walks by me, he seems to know a lot of things.” “Do you have any idea how many gray-haired guys there are here? Do you know his name?” “I have no idea how many, ferns don’t do math. Actually most men are bald here.” The fern smirked. “I think someone called him Mr. Lee, maybe Chester. Chester Lee.” “Thanks,” whispered Josh and he took a step away. “Say, you couldn’t get me drink could you? They never seem to water me.” “Sure, I’ll bring you back a cup of water when I come back this way. See ya.” Josh turned and headed for the social center. He looked around and saw Andy and Brad talking to a gray-haired man. “Hey, Andy, who’s your friend?” asked Josh. stuck out his hand. “Howdy,” he said in a gravelly

The

gray-hair


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voice that sparkled with energy. “I’m Andy’s grandpa, Chester Lee. Who are you?” “This is Josh Jones, Grandpa. He’s the new kid I was telling you about. He’s the one who talks to plants.” “Talks to plants, huh? I used to talk to plants; they never answered though. Do the plants answer you, boy?” “Sometimes… at least I think they do. It’s probably my imagination.” Josh glared at Andy and wished he had never told him. “Well, Grandpa, Brad and I had better be off and find someone to ask our questions to. See you later.” “Do you have questions to ask?” said Chester Lee to Josh. “I know a little bit about this old town.” Josh sat down across the table from Andy’s grandfather and opened his notebook. He noticed a half-filled glass of water on the table. “Is that water yours?” Josh asked motioning towards the glass. “Nah, that was Bob Gaines. He left to find his granddaughter.”


Questions Josh picked it up and excused himself for a second. He rushed into the hallway and poured the glass into the fern’s pot. “Oh, wow, that’s great! With lemon! They are always forgetting to water me.” “Don’t mention it.” Josh hurried back to the activity center and Mr. Lee. “Sorry, but the fern in the hall was very dry.” Mr. Lee looked quizzically at him. “Andy said you were a bit odd. Did the plant tell you it was thirsty?” Josh glanced up from his notes. “Hey, I’m supposed to be asking the questions,” he said in a mock hurt tone. “How long have you lived in Wagston, Mr. Lee?” “Not a day longer than I’ve been alive, Josh. Not a day longer,” he chuckled. “That would be about 84 years now.” “You’ve always lived in Wagston?” “If you don’t count the time I spent in the United States Air Force, yes. Spent twelve years in the Air Force. I love to fly. Did so most of my life. Used to fly over the farmland around here spraying the fields with stuff, you know, pesticides. Tried to start a business selling aerial photos of people’s farms. No one was really interested though.”


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Josh jotted some notes in his notebook and then glanced at the questions he had written. Maybe Brenda was right. They did seem a bit odd to ask. “I have a kind of weird question. You see, my partner and I were thinking up questions and I saw a couple of names carved in her desk…” “I was one of the first kids to go to Lincoln School. Those desks were almost brand-spankin’ new when I sat in them. Course a couple of kids could have carved their names in them by now, I guess.” “The desk Brenda sits at had ‘Henry + Alice’ carved in it. I was wondering. Do you have any idea who Henry and Alice are? What happened to them?” Chester Lee stared at Josh. “Who sits at that desk?” “My partner, Brenda Gaines.” The old man eyes grew big. “Don’t want to talk about them. Ask me something different.” Josh couldn’t believe his ears. He had expected an ‘I don’t know.’ “Do you know who they are? Did they get married; have kids; have a job?”


Questions The old man shook his head. “I don’t want to talk about them. If you don’t have any other questions except about them, let some other kid have a shot at me.” “Sorry, I just thought… Anyway, what’s the funniest thing that has ever happened in Wagston?” “Hah, that’s easy. The time that truckload of hogs tipped over out by Uncle Woody’s” “What was Uncle Woody’s?” Mr. Lee leaned back in his chair. “It was a restaurant. It had the best chocolate malteds and burgers in town. Anyway, the driver tried to cut a corner a bit thin. The back wheel of the truck dropped into the ditch.” Chester Lee chuckled. “I was there, saw the whole thing. Those hogs spilled out of that truck like marbles out of a bag. They started running all over the place. It took all four Wagston police officers and fifteen farmers to catch ‘em. They never did find one of them. Someone said it disappeared into the cornfield right about where your school is.” Josh chuckled as he wrote the story down. “Sounds like fun.” He raised his head and looked at Mr. Lee. “I walk through that field everyday going to school. Do you think that hog is still in there?”


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“Doubt it. I don’t know how long hogs live, but that one would be seventy years old now, I reckon. Hogs can be pretty mean; one that old would be a handful!” Mr. Lee took a drink of water and eyed Josh. “You say you walk through that field every day? That's mighty brave of you. Most folks seem to think the field is haunted. They say they hear things in there. Voices, strange sounds. Other folks say the only thing that ever comes back out of that field when the corn is up is the farmer cutting it down.” Josh stared at Mr. Lee. “I come out of that field twice a day. I walk through it going to school and going home. I’m OK.” “Andy said you talked to plants. Did ya ever hear anything? You know voices, things talking to you, wanting you to do something?” Josh swallowed hard and took another drink of water. He always heard voices in the field and lately they had been trying to get him to do something. “Do things… like what exactly?” “Them two you asked about – Henry and Alice – they used to say they heard things in the field. Those two disappeared in that field. They never came out.” “What?” shouted Josh. “You mean they just disappeared? They just went into the field and never came out?”


Questions “Can’t believe I’m talking about this.” Mr. Lee took another drink of water. “Yep, those two were sweethearts, really stuck on each other. They used to go into that field all the time to be alone.” “So what happened to them?” “No one knows. They went into the field and never came out. Some folks say they died in there. Others say they went out the back of the field and ran away. I don’t know.” Chester Lee leaned back in his chair and stared off into space. “I flew over that field a dozen times. Took lots of photographs hoping to find some sort of clue. Saw a hole in the field, a clearing. I often thought about walking into the field and checking it out. Never did though. I think it’s just an old stump the farmer has to plow around.” “Did you ever go into the field and hear anything talk?” asked Josh. “Not me. I’m a bit of a fraidy cat when it comes to ghosts and strange things I can’t understand. Henry said something talked to them in that field when there wasn’t anything around and I believed him. You wouldn’t catch me in that field.” Mr. Lee leaned forward, “You best be careful in that field. You hear anything talking to you, run like the wind, you hear?”


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“Do Henry or Alice have any relatives left in Wagston, Mr. Lee?” “Henry does. Brenda Gaines’s grandfather was Henry’s younger brother. Alice’s whole family moved out of town just after the kids disappeared.” He took a long drink of water and, with shaking hands, set the glass down. “I think the whole town was glad to see them go.” Chester Lee looked across the room. Brenda and her grandfather were heading towards them. “Now don’t you go asking either Brenda or Bob Gaines about this. I’m not supposed to talk about it, no one is. I doubt Brenda even knows her grandfather had a brother.” Josh glanced at the approaching pair. “Do you still have those aerial photographs you took of the field? I would sure like to see them.” Before an answer came, Mr. Gaines and Brenda walked up to the table.

Brenda sat down next to Josh. “Have you been bothering Mr. Lee with your stupid questions?”


Questions Mr. Gaines looked thoughtfully at his granddaughter. “He looks like a fine young man, Brenda. Why don’t you introduce me?” Brenda rolled her eyes, “Grandpa, this is Josh Jones. Josh, this is my grandfather, Bob Gaines. Josh is my partner, but he doesn’t want to ask my questions. He thinks his are better.” “Nice to meet you, Mr. Gaines. If Brenda had shown me her questions, I’m sure I would have liked them.” Bob Gaines smiled. “Brenda can be a bit headstrong. What are the questions you have, Josh?” Chester Lee interrupted. “Josh here has already asked me all of his questions. We grew up together so you’ll just tell him the same thing.” He gave Josh a stern look. “Nonsense. Josh, ask me a question!” Josh looked at his list. “Um, what’s the funniest thing that ever happened in Wagston?” Mr. Gaines smiled, “That’s easy. The time that hog truck tipped over out at Uncle Woody’s. Hah, twenty police officers and thirty farmers couldn’t catch them all. There must have been two hundred pigs running every which way. One of them hogs disappeared into the cornfield over by the school. Remember


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that, Chester? We chased those hogs all over town!” Mr. Gaines started laughing which turned into a coughing fit. “Just calm down, Bob. I already told him about that. Of course I gave him the real numbers. You always did make things bigger than they were. I never could go fishing with you. Your fish were a foot long and weighed five pounds before they were even caught.” The intercom came to life and Brenda and Josh heard their teacher announcing it was time to return to school. “Thank you, Mr. Lee. You’ve been a great help. You, too, Mr. Gaines.” “Bye, Grandpa. See you Sunday,” said Brenda. Josh joined Andy and Brad in the hallway. “Hey, Josh, look what I have!” Andy made a grab at the paper Brad was waving around. “Andy’s grandpa gave it to me so I can learn about Wagston’s past!” “What is it?” Andy made another grab, but Brad was much too quick. “It’s a picture of Andy running around the front yard of his house naked!” The picture traveled the entire length of the bus before Andy finally got his hands on it. By then everyone was laughing


Questions so hard that even Andy had given up being upset. “You have to admit I was pretty cute!” “I can’t tell if he is running towards us or away from us. Both ends look the same!” snorted Brenda. The bus rolled into the school’s parking lot. An hour later the kids were walking out of school.


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Chapter 6 Andy’s Sleepover “Remember: no talking to the bushes!” joked Andy as he and Josh set up the tent in his backyard. The tent was closer to the house than it was to the cornfield. “When is everyone else coming?” asked Josh hammering a tent stake into the hard ground. “In an hour or so. I’m surprised Brad’s not already here. He really likes setting up tents for some reason.” With a grunt the two boys pulled the canvas tight and tied the tent down. “There, that ought to do it. The weather’s supposed to be good tonight. No wind or rain, just a bit chilly.” Josh arranged the rocks around the fire pit. “I can’t believe your folks let you have a campfire behind the house. We had one on the farm, but it was in the middle of a barnyard.”


Questions Andy looked at Josh. “Can you really talk to plants? I mean, you say things to them and they say things back?” Josh rearranged the rocks around the pit. “Yeah, ever since I was a baby. Weird, huh?” “Yeah. Weird.” Andy pulled on the ropes to make sure they were tight. Then he sat back on his haunches and stared at Josh. “What’s it like? Are the plants always talking?” “Well, plants don’t talk very loud. I have to really pay attention to hear them. I think I miss most of what they say. It’s not like having a conversation with a person. It’s like when the wind blows, I hear voices in it.” Josh stood up and wiped his hands on his jeans. “And they don’t seem to talk much to each other.” Andy stood up and glanced at the field. “Weird. Do you talk to them with your mouth or just in your head?” “I’m not crazy, if that’s what you think. I use my mouth. And I don’t know how they talk since they obviously don’t have mouths. And I don’t know how they hear either. I do have to use my ears though. I had a fern once that would talk all night. I put a bag over it, but it got really upset. I eventually had to put my head under the pillow to get any sleep.” Josh hefted his sleeping bag into the tent. “Don’t tell anyone else about this, OK? The


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guys already think I’m strange and Brenda doesn’t need anything else to talk about.” “Josh, we have to talk to you. Tomorrow is our last day.” Andy saw Josh look at the field. “What? Did the corn say something?” “Yeah, it said it is going to be cut down tomorrow.”

Andy, Josh, Dana, and Brad dangled marshmallows over the campfire flames. Brad’s suddenly turned into a torch and splashed shadows on the withered cornstalks. Brad blew the marshmallow out like a candle. “Just like I like ‘em,” whooped Brad, “burnt to a crisp!” Brad waved his marshmallow stick around making the black blob on the end to glow brightly. “Hey, watch it will ya!” yelled Josh. “If that thing flew into the field it could start a fire. A dry, old cornfield is a bonfire waiting to happen.” Dana looked at the field. “If it caught fire, all the ghosts would come running out.” Josh heard Andy inhale sharply at the thought. “Then what would we do?”


Questions “Probably run screaming into the house!” laughed Brad. “No probably about it, I’d be gone!” said Andy with a glance towards the corn. “Josh, bring them with you,” said the rough voice of what the fern had called the old ones. “You need to come now, before the corn is gone. The corn can lead you.” “Me, too,” laughed Josh. “But I don’t think there’s any ghosts in there. Just a few critters and a bunch of plants.” Dana looked up from the marshmallow he had been trying to pull from his roasting stick. “Oh, there’s probably wolves and bears and elk and big giant, hairy monsters,” said Brad in his spookiest voice. “Really?” asked Dana. The boys stared at him. “Yeah, and killer bunnies and squirrels with knives. Come on, Dana,” kidded Josh, “it’s just a cornfield.” “Hey, does anyone know any ghost stories? I know this one about a skeleton that killed a bunch of kids who were camping,” said Brad. “Why don’t we skip that one?” said Andy. “How about the one about the old cat that my Uncle Fred once had?”


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“We have only a few hours to stand. The farmer will come before sun-up to cut us down. The old ones cannot lead you because they are too small. Please.” Josh glanced at the field. “Forget the stories,” said Josh, “if you want to be scared, why don’t we go into the cornfield?” There was a long silence followed by a bit more silence. Josh looked around the circle. Andy was poking a stick into the fire. Brad was staring at the fire. Dana was knocking a dirt-covered marshmallow around with a stick. The fire crackled merrily as if laughing at their discomfort. “Bring them into the field with you if you must. We need to show you,” rattled the corn. Josh stood. “Well, I’m going to take a walk in the field. I like the field at night. If you want to come, follow me. If you don’t want to come, burn another marshmallow. I’ll be back soon.” “I’m coming with you,” Andy stood up. “I’ve been afraid of that field too long.” With a shuffling of feet and a couple of grunts of agreement, Dana and Brad stood up and slowly followed Josh towards the field. All of them flicked on their flashlights and scanned the field. The stalks danced in the light and shadows.


Questions “Hurry. You must hurry.” No fence separated Andy’s yard from the tall, brittle stalks of corn so the boys were able to step easily into the field. The corn brushed their clothes and reached out to grab their hands and faces. Josh heard a voice to his left. “This way.” “Come on, let’s go this way.” Josh cut across a couple of rows of corn with the boys following as silently as they could behind him. The beams of light bounced harmlessly from stalk to stalk. “Try not to knock down any of the stalks. They’re going to be harvested tomorrow.” “How do you know that?” asked Brad. “The corn told him,” said Andy in such a matter-of-fact way that Josh was startled. Brad nodded as if he accepted the explanation without question. “I was looking at some old pictures my grandpa took of this field from a plane. I know there’s a clearing over that way.” He nodded in the direction Josh had been leading them. “I’m lost already. Every direction looks the same,” said Dana. “Shh… I’m listening,” whispered Josh. “Listening!” snapped Dana. “To what?”


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“To the corn. Listen to it rattle. See? It rattled over there. It wants us to go that way.” Josh once again stepped carefully through the standing stalks. As he did, he heard a loud “Snap!” and motioned to the boys to stop. They stood silently for a minute or so listening… listening. “What’s the matter?” whispered Andy. “I heard something,” whispered Josh. “Man, you’re really weirding me out. This is worse than the worst ghost story. I want to go back to the tent.” “Shh! Listen.” There was a definite crack as a cornstalk was pushed down. “There’s something in the field with us!” Brad whispered urgently. “It’s the ghost of the cornfield! It’s a monster! It’s...” “…a killer bunny?” Josh finished. “Would you be quiet so we can figure out what it is? A ghost wouldn’t snap a cornstalk. It could come up right behind you without even being heard.” “Oh, thanks, that really helps.” Brad glanced over his shoulder. “There are no ghosts or monsters in here, just corn and some critters. It’s probably a raccoon. Stand still.” In his mind


Questions Josh crossed his fingers. To be honest, the noise had him worried as well, and he knew it wasn’t a raccoon. After a moment the noise continued and it was getting louder. Josh could hear Andy breathing deeply as he tried to control himself. “Josh, I’m heading back. Which way is my house?” Josh held his finger to his lips. “No! I want to go home! Which way?” “Just follow this row of corn that way. It will take you out at the edge of your yard.” Josh watched as the Andy, followed closely by Brad and Dana, crunched their way through the field away from him. Soon, he couldn’t hear them at all. “Josh, come on. You need to follow us. You are close.” “There’s something in the field with me. What is it?” “Two girls. They are standing three rows from you.” “Why are they in here? Did you call them too?” “No, we did not call them. One comes into the field and talks like you. She says she is following you.” “She can hear you too?” whispered Josh. “Yes, but she is following you, not us. Please, we must move on.”


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“No, who is she? I’m not taking another step until I know who is in this field with me. So far my count is three friends who are running away, you, some plants called the old ones, some girl, and myself.” “And someone else.” “Who?” demanded Josh. “Alice,” whispered the corn. Josh’s blood froze. “Alice who? Is this like the girl Alice who disappeared in this field a long time ago?” “Yes.” “I’m outta here.” Josh turned to follow his friends. “I want nothing to do with any ghost. Tell her I don’t want to talk to her and I definitely don’t want to see her.” As he walked towards Andy’s yard, Josh heard the complaints of the corn and the raspy voices of the old ones. A translucent girl stepped into the row in front of him. She appeared to be a few years older than he was, maybe sixteen or so. She held out a hand as if trying to stop him, but Josh had already stopped. Beckoning with her hand, she motioned Josh to follow her.


Questions “No way,” yelled Josh. He turned to go in the other direction. Two steps away from the girl, he saw that he was headed right at her again. “Josh, follow her. It is for her that we have been asking you to follow us. She needs your help.” Josh eyed her suspiciously. He heard footsteps pounding behind him. He turned to see Andy, Brad, Brenda, Jerika, and Dana sprinting towards him. They stopped suddenly when they saw the misty girl standing just beyond Josh. “Who’s that?” demanded Brenda. “Where did you come from?” asked Josh. “Jerika was spending the night at my house and we saw the four of you slip into the field. We followed you,” blurted Brenda. The other kids stood and stared transfixed at the ghost. “Corn, which girl was following me? Brenda or her?” Josh glanced at the ghostly form of Alice who was still motioning him to follow. “Both. Only one makes noise as it follows.” A breeze rattled the dried stalks. “Come. You must follow us into the field.” Andy broke from his fear. “Josh, what’s going on here? What is that?”


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“Obviously, it’s that ghost you keep telling me about that lives in the field. Andy, meet Alice.” Alice turned and looked at Andy. Andy went even whiter than he had been. In the full moonlight, he almost looked as if he were a ghost too. “A g-g-g-g-ghost?” whispered Brad. Dana huddled a bit closer to Brad and Andy. Jerika moved towards Josh. “Alice?” asked Brenda. “This wouldn’t be the same Alice you’ve been going on about in class would it?” “I think so,” said Josh. “Since this now officially falls into the report category, do you have any ideas of what we should do next, partner?” “How about RUN!?” whispered Dana. The rest of the kids nodded enthusiastically. “I tried,” said Josh. “The ghost moves too fast. You might be able to outrun Brenda though.” Brenda shot him a dirty look. Jerika cleared her throat and timidly said, “She doesn’t seem to want to hurt us. How about following her?” Alice turned and floated into the corn. “Come,” rattled the corn. “This way.” .”


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Chapter 7 In the Field Jerika pushed aside two stalks and stepped across the row following the silent ghost. Josh was a step behind. “Are you two crazy?” yelled Brenda at Josh and Jerika. “Are going to follow a ghost deeper into this field?” She looked around at the boys. “I’m not going to follow them, are you?” Andy had regained a bit of his color. He looked nervously at Dana and Brad. Dana shrugged, but Brad shook his head vigorously. “Let’s get outta here!” whispered Brad. “Brad’s right. Let’s go,” ordered Brenda. “Andy, you lead. I’ll protect our back.” Josh and Jerika continued pushing their way through the corn stalks. The rattle and crunch echoed in the still night air.


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“Follow the girl.” “We are,” said Jerika. “Where is she leading us?” Josh stopped and stared at Jerika. “You heard that?” “Of, course I heard it. I’ve been hearing the corn talk long before you moved into town. They live in my backyard.” “Can you only hear the corn or do you talk to other plants as well?” “I’ve never tried to talk to anything else. The corn always kept me company when I was playing alone in the backyard.” Jerika pushed a stalk out of her way and glanced at him. “Can you talk to all plants?” “Yeah, ever since I was a baby. There was this philodendron I used to talk to all the time.” He took several steps in silence and then looked at her. “I’m glad you don’t think I’m crazy.” “Oh, I think you’re crazy.” She pushed another stalk out of her way. “Of course, I’m crazy too. No one hears plants. I couldn’t believe you told Andy.” “Follow quickly.” Josh looked forward again. Alice was gone.


Questions “Hey, where’d she go?” whispered Josh. He and Jerika looked all around. Alice was nowhere to be seen. “This way,” rasped the corn. “Just a little further.” Jerika held an arm in front of Josh. “Where did the others go? I’m not so sure I want to do this anymore.” “I bet they ran out of the field. The guys weren’t too happy about being in the field anyway, much less with a ghost.” There was a crunch behind them. Josh and Jerika turned to see Andy and Brenda emerge from the row behind them. Andy was sweating profusely. Brenda had a scowl on her face. Andy looked at Josh. “Brenda says you faked the whole thing, Josh. Brad and Dana ran back to the house.” He looked nervously around. “Tell me this was all a big joke. I want to hear you say it.” “So, where’s your ghost, Chicken Boy? How did you rig up that little show?” sneered Brenda. “Not a joke, Andy. And Brenda, I didn’t rig anything up. I don’t know where the ghost went; she just disappeared. I’m just as spooked as anyone, but the corn still wants us to follow,” said Josh. “And I think we should.” “The corn said! Give it up will yo…”


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“Give him a break, Brenda!” Jerika glared at her friend. “He didn’t make up the ghost, and the corn does want us to keep following it. I can hear it too!” Brenda’s mouth started working, but nothing came out.


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Chapter 8 Alice Andy sat down on the ground and stared open-mouthed at Josh. “Hey, watch it, you almost sat on us,” said the old ones. Josh smiled. “What are you laughing at, Chicken Boy? You think it’s funny that you’ve scared him to death?” “No, Brenda. Andy almost sat on a plant. It said to be careful. As scared as we all are, it just seemed funny, that’s all.” He looked at Jerika for support. She shrugged. Brenda rolled her eyes. The night darkened as a cloud drifted over the moon. Jerika stepped in the direction the corn had urged. Josh followed.


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After a few steps Josh looked back and saw that Brenda and Andy were still following them, but several steps back. “Three more rows,” whispered the corn. “She is waiting by the stump.” Coming out from its hiding place behind the clouds, the moon once again flooded the field with light. Through the standing stalks, Josh saw the ghost of Alice standing patiently and looking in their direction. He and Jerika, quickly followed by Brenda and Andy, stepped into a small oval-shaped clearing. The corn stalks stood like ragged, old soldiers in rag-tag uniforms around the edge. The moon, having passed its zenith, cast the shadows of the stalks onto the ground. Alice was hovering next to a rotting, half fallen-in tree stump. Cornstalks could be dimly seen through her body. For once, Brenda had nothing to say. The area had a strange feeling of quiet, like when you walk into a church or… a funeral home. Josh pushed that thought immediately out of his mind. Josh cleared his throat. “OK, we’re here. Why? What does she want with us?” Alice pointed at the stump. Usually when someone points at something, the crowd moves in to look. The opposite


Questions happened. All four kids took step backwards, away from the place the ghost pointed. Andy stepped back into the corn. “Go,” rasped the old ones. “She needs your help. When the corn is cut, she disappears until the corn is grown again next year. Go to her.” “Did you hear that?” Josh whispered to Jerika. “No.” “The old ones say we have to go to the place she points. The ghost will disappear when the farmer harvests the corn tomorrow.” Jerika and Josh took a step forward. They heard a deep intake of breath from behind them. “Don’t go over there!” whispered Brenda. Josh turned and looked at Brenda. “Listen, Brenda, according to Andy’s grandfather something happened here a long time ago. Alice and Henry disappeared in this field. No one knows what happened to them. This might be the chance to find out.” “We know what happened to her,” hissed Brenda. “Look at her! She’s dead! And that is what is going to happen to us. She’s going to kill us!” Andy took another step back into the field. “I don’t think a ghost can kill you,” said Josh.


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“So when did you become an expert on ghosts?” Brenda glared at both him and Jerika. “I don’t care what happened to Alice and Henry. I told you that in class, remember?” “You should care. Henry is your great-uncle… your grandfather’s big brother. He and Alice liked each other and used to hang out in the field.” “My grandfather doesn’t have a brother!” “He did. Andy’s grandfather told me all about it when we went to the retirement village. He told me you didn’t know. Your grandfather and your family don’t talk about him. They don’t know what happened to Henry. They think he and Alice ran away and got married and just never came back to Wagston.” Josh paused. “Andy’s grandpa told me not to tell you.” “You’re lying, Chicken Boy. If my grandpa had a brother, I’d know about it, wouldn’t I?” Josh shrugged. “Come on,” he said to Jerika. “Andy, shine your flashlight in the stump!” Up until now they had only seen the stump by moonlight. The harsh light of the flashlight made the stump seem bigger and somehow more sinister. Jerika and Josh walked to the stump. Nothing happened.


Questions Alice floated nearby watching them and pointing to the stump. “What are we supposed to do?” Jerika asked the corn. The old ones replied, “Go to the other side.” “Over there,” Josh said to Jerika. “We’re supposed to go over there.” Josh made a move, but Brenda beat him to it. Walking quickly away from the ghost and towards the place the old ones had said, Brenda snorted, “So, this is the scary old place your ghost wants us to go?” Suddenly her right foot dropped into a hole up to the knee. Her arms swung wildly for the stump in an attempt to keep from falling. “Help, something grabbed me!” she yelled. Andy ran towards her. Her leg had sunken to the thigh when he clamped onto her arm. Josh and Jerika helped Andy pull Brenda out of the ground. Alice drifted towards them. In a flash, all four kids were running, running away from the stump, through the field and towards the safety of Andy’s back yard. No one spent the night in the tent.


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Chapter 9 The Harvest “Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…” Josh looked out Andy’s bedroom window. A large green combine was working its way through the tired stalks of corn. Andy joined him. “Does the corn scream when its being mowed down?’ he asked. Josh listened. “I don’t know. I don’t hear anything, but I’m a long way from the field. Let’s go out back.” They quickly slipped into their jeans and shoes and went into the backyard. Cornhusks and dust were everywhere. Andy coughed and put his hand over his mouth and nose. “You’ll never hear anything out here!” he yelled over the combine’s roar. “It’ll be by soon,” Josh yelled.


Questions In a couple of minutes, the roar had moved away and a relative quiet descended on Andy’s back yard. “Well?” asked Andy. “Let’s step into the corn,” said Josh. He moved towards the field. Andy glanced towards the combine and then followed. “Boy,” rasped the old ones. “Thank you for last night. She is happy you came.” “I’m not sure my friends are,” said Josh, “What grabbed Brenda?” “Nothing grabbed the girl. She fell into a hole.” Andy stared at Josh. “Is the corn screaming?” “No, the corn is quiet. The old ones are talking. They thanked us for following the ghost. They say that Brenda fell into a hole.” “Boy, come back to the stump. There is more to see.” Josh looked at Andy, “They want us to go back to the stump.” “No way am I going back there. I’ve never been so scared in my life and something grabbed Brenda!” said Andy. Josh shook his head. “They said Brenda fell into a hole.” Josh looked at the tornado of cornhusks and dust swirling across


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the field. “I’m going back when the farmer’s done, with or without you.” “Good-bye,” whispered the corn. “Harvest is a blessing.”

Brad and Dana were awake when Josh and Andy went back inside. As the boys had a quick breakfast of toaster waffles and milk, Andy filled Brad and Dana in on what had happened in the field after they had run away. “Do you really think something grabbed her?” asked Brad. Andy nodded rapidly, “I saw a hand reach up and grab her ankle!” Josh looked at Andy. “I don’t think so,” said Josh. “I think you just saw a dark shadow made by your flashlight. I think her foot just slipped into a hole where the tree roots used to be.” “Really, I saw something move,” insisted Andy. Silence, except for the sound of open-mouthed eating. farmer will be done with the field later this

“The


Questions afternoon. You guys want to go explore the field when the farmer’s done?” asked Josh. Andy, Brad, and Dana just stared at him. “Not a chance,” mumbled Brad. Andy and Dana nodded. Taking one last gulp of milk, Brad and Dana said their goodbyes and left. Josh went out back to help Andy take down the tent and to say good-bye to the corn that was still standing.

When the tent was packed into the garage, Andy and Josh went to visit Andy’s grandfather, Chester Lee, at the Wagston Retirement Village. “Mr. Lee, when we were here the other day you said you used to take pictures from a plane,” said Josh. “Do you still have those pictures?” Mr. Lee chuckled. “I bet I took over a hundred pictures of Wagston. No one ever wanted them though. Oh, maybe I sold a few of them, not enough to make a living that’s for sure. I probably should have just pitched ‘em, but I didn’t.” He took a drink of water. “Since I came in here, I don’t really know where


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all my stuff is. If those pictures were anywhere, they would be in Andy’s attic. I think that’s where my son put my papers.” “Would it be OK if we looked at them, Grandpa? We’ll be careful.” “Tell you what, if you find them, drag them out of the attic and we can look at them tomorrow together. Your mom said they were going to have me over for a fried chicken dinner Sunday afternoon. I bet they’d let Josh come too. Your mom always makes way too much food.” Mr. Lee chuckled.

When the boys returned to Andy’s house, Andy’s mom said that Josh was supposed to go home. His parents had called and said they were going clothes shopping. Josh groaned, “Aw, I hate clothes shopping. See ya, Andy, thanks for the campout.” Josh picked up his sleeping bag and headed for the door. “Hey, Mom, can Josh come over for dinner tomorrow night? We want Grandpa to show us his old pictures.”


Questions On Sunday, Mr. Chester Lee, his grandson, and Josh looked at a stack of aerial pictures of the Wagston area many years ago. Josh and Andy were amazed at how much the town had grown since the pictures were taken. They were most interested in the pictures of the cornfield. The photos showed that the field had once been much larger and had covered what was now Devonshire Estates where Josh and Andy lived. “You see right here?’ asked Mr. Lee. “That’s that hole in the field I was telling you about. There’s a big tree right there. Bill Robertson, who farmed this land, had to drive around it with his tractor. That left a big hole in the cornfield. I always wondered why he didn’t just go in there with his tractor and pull it up by the roots.” “I bet Alice and Henry used to go into the field and sit in the shade of that tree. Sort of a place to hang out,” said Josh. “Maybe,” said Mr. Lee. “You haven’t told anyone about that, have you?” “Uh… just Andy,” Josh lied. “Well, don’t. Bob Gaines would skin me alive if I let that secret out.” Andy looked over at Josh and smiled weakly.


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Chapter 10 Reports “Did anyone learn anything interesting about Wagston at the nursing home?” asked Mrs. Smith on Monday morning. “We learned that Andy has a cute bottom!” Brad blurted out. The class laughed and Andy turned bright red. “I learned that a truck load of pigs turned over by a restaurant called Uncle Woody’s,” said Emily. “I was talking to Mr. Miller. He saw it happen and helped catch the pigs.” “The guy I talked to said the same thing,” said James. It turned out that almost everybody had heard about the accident. “Boy, that must have been one really popular hangout,” said Jerika. “Or else a good story to tell,” snickered the African violet. Josh nodded.


Questions “I talked to Mr. Patterson. He said that his grandfather had tried to dig for oil here a long time ago. They didn’t find any though,” said James. “Did he say where he drilled?” asked Mrs. Smith. “That’s the first I’ve ever heard of that.” “Yeah, he said there were a couple of drilling sites over in the cornfield. The oil company just pulled up the equipment and left.” Josh and Andy exchanged looks and then looked at Brenda. Brenda had been very quiet in school, only talking to Jerika. She had avoided Josh and the boys to the point of not even looking at them. Jerika glanced at Josh and shrugged. “Ooooo,” said the African violet. “Did she smile at you again?” Josh rolled his eyes. Michelle raised her hand. “I got a story about a couple of teenagers who ran away and never came back. I was talking to Dorthalyne Podmore. Isn’t that great name? Anyway, she said she was good friends with the girl. Her name was Alice. She said Alice and her boyfriend just ran away one day.” Josh jotted “Dorthalyne Podmore” down on a scrap of paper and shoved it in


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his pocket. Several kids nodded their agreement. They had also heard about the runaways. “Interesting,” said Mrs. Smith. “Did anyone find any information about what ever happened to her and the boyfriend? Did anyone get his name?” “Henry Gaines,” said James looking at his notebook. “Mr. Patterson had about the same story. Alice and Henry were always together. He said Alice’s dad didn’t like Henry so one day they just ran away and never came back.” The whole class turned and looked at Brenda. Brenda shrugged, “No relation. No one has ever mentioned a Henry Gaines in my family.” “Hey, did anyone hear about the big cornfield fire in 1922?” asked Emily. The class conversation continued for quite sometime but never returned to Alice and Henry.

After school, Josh stepped onto the path leading through the cornfield. The field was a wasteland. The shredded cornstalks lay on the ground like dried bones. The old ones hadn’t spoken to him since the hard frost that had come the Sunday after the


Questions sleepover. He wondered if the frost had killed them. Josh had not yet returned to the stump. He heard a crunching behind him and turned. Brenda was walking swiftly towards him. “Wait up,” she yelled. “I want to talk.” She stopped a little ways off and kicked at a corn stump. “Are you sure Henry Gaines is my great-uncle?” “Brenda, I wasn’t supposed to tell you about Henry. But it seems a lot of people know about him. All I know is that Andy’s grandfather said that Henry was your grandfather’s brother and that I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone. It just came out of my mouth before I could stop it. I told Jerika and Andy not to say anything about it. Sorry.” “I haven’t told anyone what you said either.” Brenda kicked the ground sending a flurry of dust into the air. A brief breeze blew the dust away and cut through the light jacket Josh wasn’t supposed to have worn that day. “Have you been back to the

stump?”

Josh shook his head. “I haven’t had time. I’m a bit spooked anyway. That ghost was a bit much.” He stared at Brenda a moment. “By the way, and I know you won’t believe


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this, the old ones said that nothing grabbed you. Your foot slipped into a hole.” Fire blazed in Brenda’s eyes. “ Chicken Boy, I don’t care wha…” The blaze died. Brenda’s shoulders slumped. “No lying. Do you really hear plants?” Josh nodded. “But that’s impossible, no one can do that.” Josh sighed. “Brenda, I know how weird it is, but I can. Jerika can too because we were both hearing the same thing.” Josh grinned. “If it makes you feel any better, I did make up the chicken coop story. I just didn’t like having to stand in front of the class like that. I had to say something.” “Hah! I knew it!” snorted Brenda. She fell silent. The breeze blew again. “Are you going back to the stump?” “Yeah,” said Josh, “maybe this weekend.” “How about now?” asked Brenda. “With the corn down it will be an easy walk.”


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Chapter 11 The Hole Except for the crunching under their feet, they walked in silence for the first few minutes then Brenda spoke. “Who are the old ones that said I fell in a hole?” “Well, my fern said the old ones are the plants that don’t die when winter comes.” Brenda stared at him. “Your fern?” “It’s next to my bed. We talk. It’s pretty funny sometimes. Like this morning it said the clothes I put on for school today looked dorky.” Josh chuckled. “I mean, what does a fern know about fashion?” Brenda shook her head. “You’re pretty strange, you know that? But, truthfully, you ought to listen to the fern. You looked


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pretty weird today.” They crunched over a few more rows. “Are the old ones still here?” Josh didn’t reply right away. “Probably. I haven’t heard them, but they don’t talk all the time. Maybe they went to sleep when the frost hit last night.” They could see the tree stump about tens rows ahead. Brenda stopped and grabbed Josh’s arm. “Do you think Alice is still there?” “The corn said she disappears at harvest, so I don’t think so. I think now it’s just an old tree stump in the middle of a field.” Josh pushed past her arm and continued walking. “Come on. Let’s take a look at the hole your foot fell into.” They trudged to the oval of cleared area around the stump. “Look!” exclaimed Brenda. “There’s the hole!” She got down on her knees and crawled carefully towards it. She stopped within a foot. Josh walked over and looked down. The hole looked deep. Dead weeds were all around it except where Brenda had knocked the dirt loose the other night. “Boy, thank you for coming back. Tell her to stop.” The voice seemed tired, slower. “Brenda, stop,” said Josh. “Don’t go any further.”


Questions “The ground around the hole is thin. It could cave in again.” “The old ones are telling me the ground around the hole is thin. That’s probably why you fell through.” Josh looked around. There was a stiff cornstalk laying on the edge of the clearing. He picked it up and strode back to the stump. He poked the hole with the stalk. With little effort the dirt gave way and the hole became larger. Josh kept poking the ground. When the hole was the size and shape of a bathtub, the dirt no longer fell away. The kids moved closer. “Hey, what are you doing?” It was a girl’s voice. Startled, they both looked as Jerika and Andy came puffing up beside them. “We saw you from my back yard,” said Andy. “Whoa, look at that hole! Is that what Brenda fell into?” “That’s the area around the outside of the hole Brenda fell into. We made it bigger,” said Josh. “The dirt around it was pretty loose.” “There seems to be cement around the edges,” said Andy. “Is it safe now?” Josh asked the old ones. “Yes, the ground will no longer collapse. Be careful of the center hole.”


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Josh walked to the edge of the hole. “It’s OK, the ground won’t collapse anymore.” All four walked to the hole in the center and looked in. That hole, almost like a drain, went straight down from center of the larger bathtub-sized hole. It was about two feet across. Jerika kicked a clod of dirt. It disappeared into the drain. They heard a thud as if it had hit something hollow. “Whatever it hit wasn’t dirt,” said Jerika. She lay flat on her stomach and looked down. “I can’t see anything. It’s too dark.” “Andy, run home and get your flashlight, quick!” ordered Josh. Andy sprinted across the field, stumbled, caught his balance and continued running. He was back within ten minutes. “Josh,” Andy huffed, “your mom called looking for you. I had my mom say that we were playing in the field and that you would be home soon. I told your parents the same thing, Brenda.” He handed the flashlight to Jerika and bent double, clutching his side. Jerika flicked on the flashlight and pointed it down into the hole. The harsh light illuminated something about six feet down that was dirty white and rounded. It seemed to be tilted to


Questions one side, not jammed in the hole. There was space all the way around the object except where it touched the side of the hole. “What’s that?” asked Josh. “It looks kind of like a rock.” Jerika moved the light around the sides of the drain hole. The sides were smooth. “Looks like there’s sticks down there too,” said Jerika. “Whatever it is, it’s too far down for us to get.” Josh stood up and brushed his clothes. The others did the same. “This is it?” asked Brenda. “A big cement bathtub with a hole in the middle with a rock stuck in it? That’s what your old ones wanted us to see?” She snorted. “Let’s get that ghost back here and ask her what this is all about.” Andy looked around nervously. “If you don’t mind, let’s keep the ghost out of this.” “Old ones, what should we do?” asked Josh with a sideways glance at Brenda. “Dig,” came the reply. “They say we should dig the thing out.” “There’s no way,” said Andy. “It’s too far down and we might fall in trying. It would be hard to climb out of that hole without a lot of help, and we don’t know how far down the hole goes after that rock.”


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“Maybe we can just pull it up,” said Jerika. “Does anyone have any rope at home?” “Rope won’t do it,” said Josh. “We’d have to hook it or get underneath it somehow. How about a net or a fishing pole with a really strong hook on it?” “Hey, my dad has a three-clawed hook on a rope in the garage.” Jerika said. “A grappling hook! That might do the trick. Could you go get it?” said Josh. Jerika glanced nervously at the sun. “How about tomorrow? It’s getting late and we should probably go home. I don’t know exactly where the hook is anyway.” Andy nodded, “Good idea. You find the hook and we can meet here after school tomorrow.” He glanced at the sun. “Anyway, I don’t want to be out here in the dark again.”


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Chapter 12 Discovery

The alarm went off at 6:15 just as it did every morning “Look outside,” remarked the fern. “It really snowed last night. There’s nothing better than watching a snowfall from a nice, warm shelf.” Josh glanced out the window and then flicked on the radio. Lying back on his pillow, he listened. “Shouldn’t you be getting ready for school?” asked the fern. “Your mother gets a bit upset if you drag your feet in the morning.” “Might be a snow day,” said Josh. “I don’t want to get up if I don’t have to. By the way, Brenda said you were right about me looking dorky yesterday.” “You can always trust a plant.”


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The radio announcer cut through the music. “The following schools will be closed due to the last night’s snow: New Berlin District 221, Jacksonville District 117, Bright Beginnings Daycare, Wagston School District 14, Springf…” “Yeah!” Josh punched the air. “No school! Good night, fern.” “Isn’t that ‘good night, moon’?” chuckled the fern. Try as he might, Josh could not fall back to sleep. The excitement of school being cancelled had forced him wide-awake. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed. “Hah!” laughed the fern. “Say, Mr. I’m Gonna-sleep-all-day, how about a drink of water? It’s a little dry in here.” A shower and two bowls of cereal later, Josh sat down to watch television. His parents got ready for work as usual. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I won’t throw any wild parties or anything. I’ll probably read, watch TV, or go visit Andy.” His parents left reminding him they were only a phone call away and that they would be calling in every now and then.


Questions A banging on his door interrupted Josh’s reading. Andy, Jerika, and Brenda slogged into the kitchen. “Come on,” said Brenda. “Jerika’s got the grappling hook. Let’s go see what that thing is in the hole.” Ten minutes later, giving Josh time to get dressed for heavy snow and Andy to go to the restroom (“Snow makes me have to go.”), they were on their way. The wind had blown the snow against everything that would stop it. The field was snow-covered, but not to any great depth. The four kids jumped into the snow-filled, bathtub–shaped hole. Carefully, Josh and Andy swept their feet back and forth clearing a path to the center until they found the second hole leading downward. Kneeling next to the hole, Josh let the rope slip through his gloved fingers as he lowered the grappling hook. Luckily, the three-pronged hook was smaller than the space between the rock and the sides of the drain hole. Jerika kept the flashlight aimed down into the hole. “The hook is still going down,” said Josh. “It’s about a foot below the rock.” “Pull it back up, see if you can catch that rock,” ordered Brenda.


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Josh slowly started to pull the rope. The hook caught something and would not come any further. Josh lowered the hook again and then pulled again, this time with a bit more power. The hook again caught on the rock’s bottom. Impaled on one of the hook’s barbs, the object began to rise. With Andy’s help, the rope was pulled upwards. Whatever it was on the end of it, it was heavy. Jerika’s light shown on the top of the rock. Brenda peered down at it as the boys struggled with the rope. “Stop!” yelled Brenda when rock was about two feet down. “Don’t bring it up any further. Tie the rope onto the stump and look at this thing!” Josh held the rope firmly as Andy looped the rope around the stump and tied it so it wouldn’t slip. Brenda pointed as Jerika, Andy, and Josh looked down at the rock. “It’s not a rock, Josh,” said Brenda. “What is it?” asked Andy. They could see the object was old and weathered. There were cracks in the top of it and it seemed to curve down like a ball. “It looks like…” gasped Jerika, “it looks like a skull!”


Questions “That’s what I thought,” said Brenda. “If it is a skull, I don’t think we should haul it the rest of the way up.” She stood up, backed away, and stepped out of the bigger hole. The others followed. “Is that what the ghost wanted us to see? Could that be Alice or Henry?” asked Josh. “I’ll bet it is!” said Andy. “Remember, my grandpa said those two would come and sit by tree in the middle of the cornfield. I bet they fell in one day and couldn’t get out.” “That would be pretty stupid,” said Jerika. Brenda bristled, “Hey, that could be my great-uncle down there. Don’t call him stupid!” “I’m just saying that to fall in a hole like that would be pretty stupid. I mean, most people would stay away from a hole like that.” “Not if you didn’t know it was there. Brenda almost fell into it the other night. Maybe that’s how it happened,” said Josh. “If Brenda could do it, surely her great-uncle could.” “I’ll decide later if that was an insult, Chicken Boy,” Brenda grinned. “So what do we do now?” “Tell someone,” said Josh.


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They decided that Andy’s grandfather was the most likely adult to tell since he had given them the most information and wouldn’t ask a lot of questions. After thirty minutes of walking, they arrived at the Wagston Retirement Village. Chester Lee was sitting in the Social Center reading the newspaper and sipping hot chocolate. “Howdy!” he smiled. “Could I interest you in a cup of hot chocolate?” One of the people who worked in the kitchen rounded up four steaming cups of chocolate as they took off their coats and sat down. Soon the warm liquid was thawing out the four frozen kids. “So, what brings you around on a snowy day like today? I heard you had a snow day.” “Grandpa, we think we’ve found Alice and Henry!” Andy blurted. “There’s a hole in the field and we found a skull, and there was this ghost, and…” “Whoa! Slow down!” Chester Lee held his hands up. “You say you found a skull?” “Yeah, Grandpa, we…”


Questions Tell you what, Andy, you’re a bit excited. Josh, tell me what’s going on.” Josh took a deep breath and looked at Andy. “Well, we found a hole next to the tree stump in the middle of the field. We poked around a bit and found a skull.” “A human skull?” asked Mr. Lee. “Yes, sir, we think so,” said Jerika. “You say you think it might be Alice or Henry?” Mr. Lee glanced at Brenda. She shook her head. “I know about my great uncle,” said Brenda. Chester Lee glanced sharply at Josh. “Josh didn’t tell me. A bunch of kids got the story about him and Alice when our class visited last week.” She paused. “My parents don’t know that I know.” “Is this hole big enough for someone to fall into? Why would there be a hole that big out in the field?” asked Mr. Lee. A gray-haired man who had been drinking coffee at the next table cleared his throat. “Chester, could I jump into your conversation?” “Sure, Fred. Kids, this is Fred Patterson. He’s about 150 years old.” Chester Lee grinned at him. “Don’t believe a thing this old coot tells you. I’m not a day over 120!” he chuckled. “Anyway, I heard you talking about


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a hole in that field. When I was a kid, my dad said about 1890 they drilled for oil there. Put up a big rig and drilled way down. Guess they never found anything though. That hole could have been what was left from the drilling.” “That makes sense,” said Brenda. “The hole looked like a drain out of a bigger hole. It was about two feet across. The main hole that looks like a bathtub could be where the equipment sat.” Mr. Patterson looked serious. “You say you found someone in the hole?” “We think we found a skull,” said Josh. “We didn’t pull it up for a lot of reasons. There might be a skeleton there too.” Mr. Patterson and Chester Lee looked at each other. “Better call the sheriff,” said Mr. Lee. Everyone nodded.


Questions

Chapter 13 The Facts.

Josh, Brenda, Jerika, and Andy led the sheriff to the stump. “Over here,” Josh gestured to the cement area. “There’s a hole in the middle of that thing. That’s where we saw a skull.” The sheriff walked over to the hole and pointed his flashlight down into it. “There’s something down there alright.” He touched the microphone on his shoulder. “Dispatch, send a excavation team to the corn field south of Devonshire Estates.” About fifteen minutes later a group of firemen arrived with all sorts of equipment and began to break away the cement at the top of the hole. Soon they had created enough of an


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opening to allow them to reach down and pull the object the kids had seen to the surface. It was a skull. Holding the skull in his hand, the sheriff said, “See if you can get the rest of the skeleton up. We may have to dig further down into the well.” After breaking away more of the well’s wall, the team began hoisting the rest of the skeleton into the field. The lights they had erected showed the hole still wasn’t empty. “Sheriff, I think we have another body down there.” A team worked to excavate the rest of the hole. Two skeletons had been wedged in the hole. Everyone’s guess was that one of the people had fallen in and the other had tried to pull them out by holding onto a tree branch and lowering themselves feet first into the hole. The idea being that the first person could hold onto the legs and be pulled out. Obviously, the police said, it didn’t work. Both people had become stuck in the hole. Doctors identified the skeletons as teenagers: a boy and a girl. Tests showed that the teenagers had lived about the time Chester Lee, Dorthalyne Podmore, and Fred Patterson were


Questions chasing the pigs at Uncle Woody’s Drive-In. A rotting pair of trousers produced a wallet with Henry’s identification inside. One of the skeletons still wore a high school class ring with Alice’s initials. “This is going to be one heck of a class project,” Andy told Josh. Josh looked at Brenda. “I’m not sure we’re going to write about this in our report. It is a little close to home.”


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Chapter 14 Endings

Fred Patterson, Chester Lee, Bob Gaines, and others from the Wagston Retirement Village, as well as Brenda’s family and Josh, came to the funeral. Several members of Alice’s family returned to Wagston. Like the Gaines family, they were glad to have closed the door on a bit of strange family history. Brenda’s grandfather, Bob Gaines, brought photos he had saved showing Henry growing up. Mr. Gaines said that his father had disowned Henry after the shame he had brought upon the family by running off with Alice. Brenda listened as person after person told stories about her Great Uncle. Dorthalyne Podmore also had several pictures of her old friend Alice and played the organ at the services.


Questions That night Josh lay in dark, staring at the ceiling. It had begun to snow again. Several inches were predicted. The radio was playing the top hits of 1983. “What are you going to do tomorrow if there’s another snow day?” asked the fern. “It’s going to be hard to top that last one.” “I think Brenda and I will write our ‘Wagston of Old’ report for Mrs. Smith,” answered Josh. “Brenda thinks maybe we can work on it together after all.” Josh grinned. “What’s Jerika going to think about you two working together?” Just then the radio announcer burst in, “This just in: Jacksonville District 117 and Wagston School District 14 have cancelled classes for tomorrow. I’ll have an update in about an hour. Sleep in tomorrow, you lucky kids.” With a smile, Josh turned off the radio and rolled over. “Hey, Josh,” said the fern. “How about tomorrow you get me a drink of water after you put me in a new, spacious pot?”

Josh finally awoke about 9:00 am the next morning. His parents had already left for work, leaving a note that told him to


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not have any wild parties and to not find any more skulls. Josh chuckled. He didn’t want to ever find another skull! At 10:30 Brenda, Jerika, and Andy appeared at the door. “Do you want to tramp around in the snow?” asked Jerika. “It is a good packing snow and really pretty.” “Sure,” said Josh. “Give me sec.” He ran down the hallway to his room and began to put on something besides his pajamas. “They see you in your pajamas way too much,” observed the fern. “I think you need to either start dressing earlier or get pajamas that don’t have little cars and trucks on them.” “Just for that, you don’t get the new pot you wanted last night.” Josh threw his bottoms at the fern, missing by quite a bit. But before he left, he poured some water into the bottom of the fern’s bowl. “There, now you have to suck it up!” “No, problem, that’s why I have roots.”

The heavy, dark snow clouds turned the daylight hours into twilight as the kids wandered around the neighborhood


Questions talking about the funeral and all of the pieces of information Brenda now knew about her Great Uncle. “His name is supposed to be on a State wrestling trophy in the school’s trophy case and Alice was a real brain. Mrs. Podmore told me she had been tops in all her classes until she disappeared,” said Brenda. “I bet not turning in 50 year’s worth of assignments really brought down her grades!” chuckled Andy. They were in Andy’s backyard. Josh looked across the snow-covered stubble of the cornfield. “Boy, return to the well.” Josh glanced at Jerika to see if she had heard anything. She was talking energetically to Brenda about something. He looked down and saw a bit of green beside a large rock. “Return to the well,” weakly rasped the voice of an old one. Josh turned and walked into the field without warning. But, since this was how they had been wandering all day, Andy turned and followed without question. Brenda and Jerika noticed them heading into the field and soon feel into step. “Do you think we’ll ever see the ghost again?” asked Andy. “I mean we did what she wanted. Will she leave the field unhaunted?”


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Josh shrugged, “Probably, some folks say when a ghost has done what it needed to do, it moves on.” “Hey, Chicken Boy, you still the ghost expert?” Josh looked at Brenda, but she had a smile on her face and he knew it was a joke. He smiled back. As they approached the tree stump and the destroyed well base all talking stopped. It was as if the memory of what had happened here fifty years and within the last few days had stolen their voices. Josh sat down on the stump. Jerika sat down next to him and picked a bit of moss growing on the stumps rotting sides. “Boy,” said an old one. “Hey, you’re the moss aren’t you?” said Josh. He looked at the green in Jerika’s fingers. “What?” asked Jerika. “Do you hear something?” “Yeah, the moss wants my attention. Can’t you hear it?” Jerika shook her head. “Nope, wish I could though. So I’ll just assume you’re nuts like everyone else.” She smiled. “Boy, they want to say ‘thank you.’ They are at peace now.” Josh jumped up, “What? Who? Where?” Andy whispered, “Look!” He pointed to the hole. Everyone followed his finger and went pale.


Questions Two figures had risen from the ground. One was Alice and the other Josh assumed was Henry. They were hovering about a foot from the ground directly above the hole that had been their grave for so many years and staring straight at the four kids. “Tell them,” sighed the raspy voice. “Tell them.” Josh looked at his friends. “The old ones, uh, the moss, says they…” he gestured towards the figures hovering in the air, “say thank you and that they are at peace now.” As they watched Alice and Henry slowly dissolved and their pieces were soon lost in the falling snow. “Now,… to sleep,” rasped the voice only Josh could hear.


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Chapter 15 Spring Josh and Andy walked along the path heading home from Lincoln School. It wasn’t an easy walk. The farmer had been in the field plowing and planting, so the hard-packed path was now overturned earth and very soft. The little shoots of corn were beginning to pop above the ground. “Do the little corn plants talk?” asked Andy, as he made sure he wasn’t accidentally stomping on one. “They haven’t said anything so far.” He smiled at his friend. Andy and the guys had started walking the path on a regular basis now that they thought the field wasn’t haunted. “As a matter of fact the moss hasn’t said anything either. My fern said this would happen. It said the moss hardly ever speaks.”


Questions Josh had missed the corn and was looking forward to its renewed friendship. “Can you come over for a while? You can help me put my fern in a new pot. It’s been complaining about cramped roots since the middle of winter.”

“It’s about time you got home,” said the fern. “This spring sun has been baking me all day. I really need a drink.” “I’ll do better than that,” said Josh. “Let’s celebrate spring with a new pot and some plant food.” “I love the holiday season. Happy Vernal Equinox everybody!”


Mike Anderson

Mike Anderson lives in Jacksonville, IL, with his family, three cats (Lizzy, Nemo, and Boo) and a dog named Sparky. Along with writing, the combination of music, storytelling and humor has made Mike Anderson one of the most sought-after performers from the Atlantic coast to Canada to the Gulf and all points in between. His latest recordings writing entitled The Great Sled Race and Anna’s Old Boot both won Parents’ Choice awards. Anna’s Old Boot also won a Children’s Music Web award for best children’s song 2003.

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Questions  

About the Book Life for Josh isn’t the easiest. He moved into a new school, attracted the wrath of Brenda, an opinionated and quite capable...

Questions  

About the Book Life for Josh isn’t the easiest. He moved into a new school, attracted the wrath of Brenda, an opinionated and quite capable...

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