Read an Excerpt
Caught in the Web
From the Files of Madison Finn, Book 4
By Laura Dower
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2001 Laura Dower
All rights reserved.
"So even though this guy was dead, his heart was still beating under the floor?" Hart Jones cried. "For real?"
"Well," Mr. Gibbons said. "Not exactly, Hart. But your imagination's working. That's good."
Madison Finn shifted in her chair. English class was giving her the creeps today.
Mr. Gibbons continued to pace in front of the class as he explained more meaning behind "The Tell-Tale Heart." He replayed a recording of the classic short story by Edgar Allan Poe.
... The beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst....
This narrator's voice was weirder than weird.
... Until, at length, I found that noise was not within my ears ...
"So his mind was playing tricks on him," Hart said aloud.
Mr. Gibbons clapped, excited. He liked it when his students gave good answers.
Hart always said things in class that made teachers smile. He was smarter than smart. This was probably why Madison had been crushing on him since seventh grade started. Plus, he was cute.
Way back in elementary school Hart had chased her around the school yard, but Madison always ignored him. Back then, Hart had been nothing more than a big geek. But something had changed over the years. His family moved away from their neighborhood in Far Hills. They moved back again when Hart was suddenly popular. Even Madison's enemy, Ivy Daly, appeared to have both eyes on him.
Fiona Waters leaned over to Madison. The beads on her braids clinked against the desk.
"Was Hart Jones just looking over here!" Fiona asked. "I swear I saw him. I swear."
"No way," Madison said firmly, turning in her chair. She shrugged off Fiona with a casual "Whatever." For a friend who was usually pretty spaced out, Fiona was paying an awful lot of attention to people Madison "liked" and "didn't like."
Hart had absolutely not glanced over in Madison's direction.
Had he? Now Madison wasn't sure.
Madison's lips were Ziploc-sealed shut when it came to boys. Only her secret computer files and her secret online friend Bigwheels knew the whole truth about her feelings for Hart and everything else.
Across the classroom, Ivy's hand shot into the air. She looked like a boa constrictor ready to strike. She had her elbows up on her desk and her red hair was all fluffed out around her head.
"Mr. Gibbons?" Poison Ivy hissed. "Can't you just tell us why the man killed the other man again?"
A kid from the back row laughed out loud. "Duh, weren't you listening?"
"Duh, yourself." Ivy turned around and glared. "I was so listening!"
"Excuse me." Mr. Gibbons clapped again because he wanted everyone to be quiet. He handed a spiky-haired girl in the front row a stack of papers. "I think we've talked about 'The Tell-Tale Heart' for long enough, class. Now, take one of these sheets and pass the rest along...."
Madison saw the word Boo! in giant black letters on the page. A cluster of black bats winged across the top. Underneath, Mr. Gibbons had printed random facts about the origins of the upcoming holiday.
Much to Madison's surprise, the Halloween described on this paper had very little to do with the holiday she'd understood all her life. Centuries ago in Europe, Halloween was named "Samhain." Mr. Gibbons pronounced it "son-wen." Samhain started out as a Celtic holiday.
"Wait! Wait! Who are the Celtics again?" Ivy asked aloud.
"Just one of the best basketball teams ever," Fiona's brother, Chet Waters, snapped.
Mr. Gibbons laughed. "You're right, Chet. But the real Celtics, or Celts, mentioned here were people from ancient Ireland. At the time we're talking about, in the fifth century B.C., Samhain, or Halloween, was the day their summer ended. On your sheet there's more information—and I added a crossword on the other side...."
Madison loved word games. She flipped the page over instantly. This crossword was shaped like a witch's hat.
"Pssst! Maddie?" Fiona asked, leaning over toward Madison's desk. "Can you sleep over on Saturday? I'm going to ask Aimee too. My mom said it was okay."
"Cool!" Madison smiled. She loved sleepovers.
Madison timed herself filling in all the crossword puzzle blanks. Three minutes later, she'd scribbled the answer to each clue, finishing up just before the class bell. It was a personal record.
Fiona grabbed Madison's arm as they walked out.
"My mother says she'll make minipizzas and Cherry Garcia sundaes in honor of your favorite ice cream flavor," Fiona bubbled. "At the sleepover I mean. And my dorky brother, Chet, won't be there, so we can get any old movie we want on demand. I am soooo excited!"
Madison stopped short in front of a display case as they walked down the hall together. "Look," she said, motioning to Fiona. She pointed to a bright orange sign inside the cabinet:
Something to Scream About!
Friday, October 27, from 6 to 9 P.M.
"Yeah! Aren't you excited?" Fiona asked when she read the sign. "Seventh-grade dance committee meeting's tomorrow. We have to do the decorating and food and stuff like that."
Madison acted happy, but deep down, the dance had her a little worried. School dances usually meant a girl needed to be able to do three things: get boys to like her, pick out a cooler-than-cool outfit, and dance. Madison wasn't sure she could do any of those things.
She considered the possibility that maybe her luck was changing, however. Seventh grade was a new start, Madison told herself, so maybe all the tricks of the past would now turn into treats?
Madison headed over to Mrs. Wing's classroom to help upload some documents onto the school Web site. She'd been helping with the site since school started, usually after school and during free periods.
Staying after school could be a very good thing. Especially today. Madison knew Mom would be home late because of a meeting. Aimee had dance troupe. Fiona had soccer. If she stayed after school, Madison could avoid being alone so much. She'd get to walk home with her friends, after all.
On the way home, Aimee started chattering about the Halloween dance, but Fiona wanted to talk about sleepover plans exclusively. Madison asked Aimee if she could bring her mother's Ouija board.
"What's a wee-jee?" Fiona looked confused.
"You know, Fiona," Madison said. "You sit around in the dark and move this little pointer on the game and ask the ghosts to come and play. Like ooooooh, I'm so scared!"
"You shouldn't mock ghosts, Maddie," Aimee said. "Seriously."
"Aimee!" Madison groaned.
"There are ghosts everywhere," Aimee said with a straight face, pointing to an old building they passed on the route home. "Everywhere. You saw Poltergeist."
"That movie was freaky! And there are no ghosts in Far Hills." Fiona shuddered. "Not like that anyway. Would you quit saying spooky stuff?"
"Yeah, Aim. I've had the jeebies all day," Madison said, thinking back to the story from English class.
"See? That's because you do believe me!" Aimee smirked.
As the sunlight faded, all the houses seemed soaked in an eerie, orange glow. While clouds and night sky gathered overhead, light played tricks on the sidewalk.
"You never know when there are ghosts around. They could be at school or anywhere. That's all I'm saying," Aimee said, hustling ahead of her friends.
Madison and Fiona looked at each other and then rushed to catch up. All Aimee's ghost talk had changed their minds a little. Suddenly every bush along the side of a dreary road was hiding a monster, every shadow on a deserted street was a beast on the loose, and every noise was the sound of heavy, plodding footsteps....
Madison was so relieved to finally reach her front porch. She pulled her house key out of her bag. Phineas T. Finn, Madison's pug, greeted her with a big, wet, doggie smooch when she walked in the door. She couldn't hear anything at first except the dog's heavy breathing and snorting in her ears.
... Until, at length, I found that noise was not within my ears....
Her mind wandered back to "The Tell-Tale Heart" again. Ghost stories at school and on the way home were definitely not a good idea. Especially when she was home alone.
Madison called Mom's cell phone to check in. After getting the automatic voice mail system and not a real live Mom, she left a long message. Nerves made her ramble on a little bit longer than usual.
As she entered her bedroom, Madison flicked on the light and knelt down to look under the bed. But the only things Madison saw were a sock covered in dust, a notepad with Phin's chew marks, and one very dirty nickel.
Madison checked every closet and corner and crevice.
She even peeked behind the shower curtain in the hall bathroom.
What if there were ghosts in Far Hills?
Relieved when she found nothing resembling a ghost, Madison shook off her jeebies, slipped out of her sneakers, and sat down at her desk. She speed-dialed her mom once again and got a busy signal this time. Mom was probably getting her messages. She'd be home soon, anyway.
Madison hadn't checked her laptop computer for e-mails yet today, so she powered it up. It was still sitting open on her bedroom desk exactly where she'd left it plugged in that morning. One click and the motor hummed. As the home screen illuminated, Madison's e-mailbox popped up.
Who was Bob1A1239? His name looked like a real name, like a person from school. It annoyed Madison to think that someone was e-mailing her while pretending to be a regular guy. He wasn't real! She knew it must be an advertisement and immediately deleted the message. Dad always said to do that when she didn't know the sender.
"That spam is the bane of my existence," Dad always complained. "Don't ever open up a link on any email you don't know."
And so Madison only opened the ones she knew.
FW: Ha Ha Halloween
Egg needed homework questions for Mrs. Wing's computer class.
Boop-Dee-Doop, an online clothes store for girls, was having a sale.
And Dad had sent along another one of his jokes. Madison always tried to guess the punch line.
What do you put on a Halloween sundae?
Whipped scream was the answer. She guessed it right away, but she still giggled. Dad's e-mails were like happy shots. It didn't even matter if she'd heard a joke before.
Madison opened a saved document and typed the sundae joke into her Dad file. It was joke number thirty-two so far this month. After that she went into her file marked "Social Studies." She'd created folders for every single subject with ongoing vocabulary lists. Tonight she had to study terms about archaeology. Her teacher, Ms. Belden, said she might be popping a pop quiz tomorrow.
Madison didn't want to take any chances.
By the time she memorized the definitions, it was already six o'clock. Her stomach was grumbling. Her e-mail box pinged.
SUBJECT Are you CAUGHT IN THE
The new e-mail was an announcement from her favorite Web site, TweenBlurt.com. Text at the top flashed orange and white in honor of the season. The words looked like candy corns.
To: Members Only
Subject: Are you CAUGHT IN THE WEB?
Date: Mon 16 Oct 11:50 AM
Are you caught in the WEB?
Well, get snagged NOW!
Cue the scary music! The crew at TweenBlurt want YOU to write us a mystery for Halloween. We provide a story starter and you provide the thrills! This contest is for TweenBlurt members ONLY.
Contest entries due Friday, October 27.
To enter the contest: Every winner MUST begin with the story starter below. Write a story of no more than five hundred words. The winner will have their mystery posted on our site and get a mystery game valued up to $25.
IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT. THE HOUSE WAS DEAD QUIET, EXCEPT FOR ...
Madison jumped. The message disappeared from the screen. Her pulse was racing so hard all of a sudden that she mouse-clicked the wrong icon on her computer screen.
"Whoa! Mom scared me," Madison said to Phin.
"Madison!" the downstairs voice bellowed again. "Sorry I'm late! Is Phinnie up there with you?"
"Yes!" Madison bellowed back.
"Rowrooooo!" Phinnie howled.
"Come downstairs!" Mom yelled again. "I got takeout, honey bear! Come and eat!"
Madison wasn't surprised about the menu. Mom had a habit of providing on-the-run dinners for the two of them. Madison usually categorized these meals as "Scary Dinners" in her computer files.
After inhaling the takeout Chinese vegetables and crunchy noodles, Madison started over-thinking.
She thought about the contest.
She thought about ghosts.
She thought about what she wanted for dessert.
"Penny for your thoughts," Mom said gently, reaching into a white, greasy bag. She produced a slice of cake in a pink plastic carton with frosting smudged on the side.
Had Mom eavesdropped on her mind? Madison contemplated the chocolate, double-butter-cream universe sitting on the table.
She couldn't wait to take the first bite.
Caught in the Web
Maybe if I could write scary stories, I'd win this new Caught in the Web contest on TweenBlurt. Can my writing possibly compare to Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart?"
I could write a "My Teacher Is Really a Vampire" story. I'd write it about my science teacher, Mr. Danehy, since he really bites. But who would read that?
Maybe I should just write about Ivy Daly and Hart Jones dancing together at the school dance. Now that's scarier than scary.
Here's the truth: the only Halloween story I'm gonna be able to write is "The Tell-Tale Hart," without the e and without me.
Rude Awakening: Life gets tricky around Halloween.CHAPTER 2
The far hills halloween Dance Committee meeting was scheduled to begin at three o'clock on Tuesday, just after the last class bell rang. Madison was so excited about the meeting that she had a hard time focusing on her end-of-the-day social studies pop quiz.
She wasn't the only one. Aimee and Fiona were just as distracted. In fact, Fiona was doubly distracted because after the dance meeting she had soccer. It was the end of the season, and important games were coming up. She couldn't miss a single practice.
Fiona had considered skipping the dance committee altogether, but Madison convinced her to change her mind. The Halloween dance was the turning point at Far Hills. It meant that seventh graders could finally be a part of junior high. They were responsible for planning the important tasks like decorations, food, and music.
Aimee wasn't going to miss any of it. All four of her older brothers had gone to Far Hills Junior High.
Her oldest brother, Roger, told his sister the dance was an inauguration ceremony. "Like you're finally a member of junior high," Roger said. "Not just some visitor."
Her brother Dean, a high school senior, said the dance had been a great way to get noticed and to "meet babes."
Doug, the ninth grader who'd been to the dance only two years before, said the food was the best part. He hadn't actually danced, but he said the decorations "rocked."
Only Billy, Aimee's second-oldest brother, had voiced a negative opinion. He said the "dumb dance was so boring."
But he would say that. Billy was so boring.
Unfortunately, Aimee's brothers couldn't really help Madison figure out what she needed help with the most, like what outfit to wear or how to dance. More than anything, Madison wanted to dance with Hart.
Just as she thought about Hart, he walked into Señora Diaz's classroom. Madison nearly gasped out loud.
It was a sign. It was just like the night before when she'd been thinking about eating dessert and Mom gave her chocolate cake.
"Hey, Finnster," Hart said, sliding into a seat in the front row. His hand grazed her shoulder accidentally as he walked by.
She felt her face get all red, so she tried to focus all of her energy onto a poster of Barcelona, Spain, that was hanging directly ahead of her on Señora Diaz's wall. It said PARADISE. She stared at the words until they got fuzzy.
Fiona whispered from behind. "Hey, Maddie, did you see that Web contest on TweenBlurt?"
Madison turned around. "Uh-huh. I'm gonna do it," Madison mumbled. She was happier than happy to get her mind off Hart. "Are you?"
Fiona shook her head.
"What are we talking about?" Aimee asked from one row over. "Are we talking about the dance?"
"No, we're talking about an Internet contest," Fiona said. "On TweenBlurt."
Excerpted from Caught in the Web by Laura Dower. Copyright © 2001 Laura Dower. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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