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Danger Lies Ahead
By Paul McCusker
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Paul McCusker
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe banner "Welcome to Odyssey Municipal Airport!" stretched across the airline gate, ready to greet the passengers on the approaching plane. Mark Prescott leaned across his mother's seat to get a closer look out the window. Although the pane was dotted with raindrops from yet another late August storm, he could see the banner and felt his heart leap at the name "Odyssey."
"Are you glad to be back?" Julie, his mother, asked.
Julie rubbed Mark's back. "I was just thinking how nice it is to be home again. Funny, huh?-thinking about Odyssey as home."
Mark understood what she meant. When his parents separated the previous June, Mark was sure nothing worse could ever happen to him. That is, until Julie moved Mark to her grandmother's house in Odyssey, halfway across the country from his father, Richard, and their home in Washington, D.C. Then Mark knew it was the end of the world.
But that was last June.
In the three months since then, he had made new friends, enjoyed Odyssey's gentle charm, and taken part in some exciting adventures (including taking a trip in a time machine and solving a mystery). Slowly, Mark felt less like a stranger and more like a welcome friend. By August, it was as if he'd always been there-and always would be.
Mark and Julie followed the crowd of passengers from the plane to the baggage-claim area. A horn sounded a warning blast, and the conveyor belts loudly whirred to life. Mark stood nearby, grabbing their luggage when it came past. They tossed the cases onto a cart and pushed it to the long-term parking area where Julie had parked the car only a few days before.
Only a few days? It seems longer than that, Mark thought, then said so out loud.
"Did it seem long because you didn't enjoy yourself?" Julie asked as she closed the trunk.
"I guess so," Mark said with a shrug. "It wasn't as much fun as I thought it would be. It's like ... our house wasn't ours anymore."
Julie nodded her head, a lock of her long, brown hair falling across her face. "I understand. Everything looked the same as it did before we left, but it seemed different somehow. Once or twice, I felt like I was a visitor in a museum." She started the car and backed out of the parking space.
"All my old friends were either away on vacation or they didn't want to see me," Mark complained. That bothered him a lot. Somehow it didn't seem fair that they went on with their lives without him being there to give his approval.
Julie paid the parking attendant, wound up her window, and pulled away. "That's the hardest part. When you go away, you think everyone should suddenly stop in their tracks and never do anything important without you. You think you're the only one who can change and make new friends or have new experiences. And when you come back, it's a shock to find out that their lives kept going-just like yours did."
"Yeah, but Mike Adams is hanging around Tom Nelson! They couldn't stand each other before!"
Julie laughed and said, "Just like you never thought you could have a girl as a friend."
His mom was referring to Patti Eldridge, a girl who had become Mark's closest friend in Odyssey during the summer.
"That's different," Mark replied. He stared out the passenger window thoughtfully. "And I thought you and Dad ..." He glanced down at his lap uncomfortably.
Julie finished his sentence: "You thought your dad and I would get back together again. I know."
She was right. The reason they had gone to Washington, D.C. in the first place was so that Mark's mom and dad could iron out their differences. But by the time Richard dropped Mark and Julie off at the airport for their return trip to Odyssey, it was clear that wasn't going to happen.
"I'm sorry, Mark," Julie said. "I really thought your dad and I would work it all out. I thought this trip would be the end of our separation. I know you're disappointed."
"Wars have ended quicker than you to getting back together," Mark said as they drove away from the airport.
Julie smiled wearily in return. "You have to be patient. You may not see the improvements, but they're there."
"Then why aren't we together again?"
"Because we're not ready," she answered. "I won't get back with your father until I'm sure we're ready."
"But that's what you and Dad keep saying!"
"I know. But some things came up in our counseling session that we have to figure out." Julie sighed. "You wouldn't understand."
"What wouldn't I understand?" Mark snapped. "Why do you always think I don't understand?"
Julie glanced at Mark, a pained expression on her face.
"I'm sorry," Mark said. "I didn't mean to be so sharp."
Julie acknowledged the apology with a nod, then reached across the seat to touch Mark's hand. "It's all leading somewhere, Mark. You have to trust us. We've needed this time to mend our wounds."
Mark shot her an ornery look, then said, "Maybe you should buy some Band-Aids."
She pinched him playfully and drove on.
Chapter TwoAt home, Mark hurriedly unpacked his case. He was eager to talk to Patti, to tell her everything that had happened. He smiled at the thought of Patti listening attentively to the disappointment and frustration he felt. He imagined her reaction. She would be sympathetic. She would understand how he felt. In other words, she'll do all the things a friend is supposed to do, Mark thought. She wasn't at all like those uncaring friends he left back in Washington.
But Patti wasn't home. Her mother reminded Mark that she had left to go to Camp What-a-Nut, a summer camp in the mountains. She'd been gone a week.
"On no," Mark whispered. He had forgotten all about it. What was he going to do for a whole week?
The situation got worse when Mark walked downtown to Whit's End. It was an ice cream parlor and discovery emporium for kids, filled with room after room of displays, inventions, play areas, a library, and workshops. It also boasted having "the largest train set in the county." Mark, like most of the kids in Odyssey, liked going there-not only for the fun, but also because of John Avery Whittaker, the owner. Whit (as he was best known) was a kind, generous, and wise man who used Whit's End as a way to help kids. Sometimes it was enough for kids to simply have a place to play, but Whit often listened to the kids' problems and offered a word of advice. He'd helped Mark on several occasions.
But Whit wasn't there when Mark arrived. He had gone to camp, too. Tom Riley, Whit's best friend, stood behind the ice cream counter and cheerfully served customers. "Howya doin'?" Tom asked Mark in his gentle drawl.
Mark shrugged and answered, "Okay, I guess. Patti and Whit are gone."
Tom tugged at a loose strap on his overalls and buttoned it up again. "Left for camp while you were in Washington, huh?"
"Yeah," Mark replied, cradling his head in his hands sadly. "I forgot all about it."
"Plenty of other people are still around," Tom observed.
"But not Patti or Whit," Mark complained.
Tom watched Mark thoughtfully for a moment, then snapped his fingers as if he had just thought of a great idea. "Why don't you go to camp?" he asked.
Mark lifted his head. "It's too late ... isn't it?"
"I don't think it's ever too late to go to Camp What-a-Nut. Most years they have plenty of room." Tom leaned close to Mark. "I'm sure Whit would be glad to see you. In fact, he was saying just the other day how different the place seems when you're not around."
Mark's spirits brightened. "He said that about me?"
Mark found it hard to believe considering the tension between them right before Mark left for Washington. Mark had stayed at Whit's house for a couple of days after Julie left. While he was there, he disobeyed Whit by sneaking into a locked room, where he broke a treasured heirloom of Whit's. Mark apologized and Whit forgave him, but it didn't take away from the surprise of Tom's words.
"Yep, that's what he said." Tom nodded and hooked his thumbs in his overalls straps. One of them came loose.
* * *
"Camp what?" Julie asked as she leaned across the kitchen table.
"Not Camp What-Camp What-a-Nut," Mark corrected her.
"That's a silly name," she said.
Mark could argue. He didn't know where the camp got its name and wasn't sure it was important at the moment. "I was thinking that maybe it would be fun to go ... you know, before school starts."
He nearly choked on the word school-and even felt a tightening in his chest at the realization that summer was ending so quickly.
"But I don't know anything about it," Julie said, spreading her arms. "Where is it? How much does it cost to go?"
Mark pushed a brochure that Tom Riley had given him across the table. Julie looked surprised, then picked it up.
"Camp What-a-Nut, nestled next to the beautiful Lake Manitou in the Green Ridge Mountains, offers sound moral teaching combined with recreational facilities and large dormitories for the campers. Archery, canoeing, swimming, softball, horseback riding, and a number of crafts are all just a part of the fun found at Camp What-a-Nut ..." Her voice trailed off as she continued to read to herself.
Mark shook his leg impatiently.
"Hm," she finally said.
Mark looked up expectantly.
"Well ..." she began as she set the brochure on the table again.
Mark stopped pumping his leg.
"If you really want to go, I guess you can."
Mark shouted and hugged her.
Chapter ThreeFrom the porch of Pine Lodge, Camp What-a-Nut's main cabin, Mark watched his mother carefully maneuver her car past the potholes in the dirt road that led away from camp. He waved, but he knew she wouldn't wave back. She wouldn't dare take her hands off the steering wheel for fear of landing in one of the holes.
He leaned forward and rested his arms on the large, brown log that served as the porch's handrail. From this vantage point, Mark could see most of the camp. Several small cabins, built with the same kind of logs, circled the driveway at the center of the camp like a wagon train under Indian attack. Beyond the circle, a carpet of thick grass stretched toward playing fields, a fencedin swimming pool, and a large stable. The green carpet suddenly gave way to a wall of trees that covered the mountain like badly combed hair.
To the left, a large, blue lake twinkled in the sun as if someone had thrown glitter all over it. He longed for a closer look. The air was fresh with the scent of pine. Mark hummed softly with the serenity of it all.
Then a screen door slammed behind him.
"Okay, Matt," Mr. Gunnoe, an assistant director of the camp, said.
"Mark," Mark corrected him.
Mr. Gunnoe adjusted his glasses and looked closely at the registration slip in his hand. "Mark. Right. We went over the rules of the camp while your mother was here, we took care of the medical release, we got your tuition paid in full, your suitcase is right here, and-let's see -we'll put you in Wabana."
"That's the name of the cabin you'll stay in. Follow me."
"Where is everybody?" Mark asked as they walked across the circle and under the flagpole that marked its center. An American flag flapped in the soft breeze with a sound like birds' wings.
"They're at lunch in the cafeteria-over there." Mr. Gunnoe pointed to a long building just off the circle of cabins. Unlike everything else, the building was made of large sheets of metal bolted together. It reminded Mark of an Army boot camp he once saw on television. A large bell in a wooden frame sat in front of the building.
"They ring the bell when it's time to eat," Mr. Gunnoe added. He held open the screen door of Wabana as Mark lugged his suitcase into the dark, cool room. The cabin was filled with bunk beds, lined exactly opposite each other along two walls. Each bed was made, except for one at the very end. On that one, the covers were tossed aside, and clothes were strewn about. It was a startling contrast to the rest of the neatness.
"Disgusting, isn't it?" Mr. Gunnoe said, obviously noticing Mark's gaze. "That's Joe's bed."
Mark frowned and asked, "Joe Devlin?"
"You know him? Too bad for you.Your bed is right next to his."
Mark groaned loudly.
"Sorry, but it's the only one left in this cabin, which is the only one designated for your age group." Mr. Gunnoe pulled a pencil from behind his year and scribbled on a piece of paper.
Mark dropped his suitcase and glanced again at the disheveled bed nearby. He was genuinely surprised that someone like Joe Devlin would come to camp. More than that, he dreaded the idea of being so close to Joe. They had had several arguments since Mark arrived in Odyssey; one even led to a fight. It wasn't Mark's fault, though. Joe Devlin was a bully.
"The kid's a terror," Mr. Gunnoe said. "We've already reprimanded him once. Twice more and he'll be expelled from camp."
"Good," Mark whispered.
Mr. Gunnoe showed Mark where the toilets and showers were, then gave him a sheet of paper with the afternoon's schedule. It gave Mark the option of taking a swimming, archery, or woodworking class. Mark decided he'd try the archery.
Just like Robin Hood, he thought.
* * *
Until Mark saw Patti walk toward him from the cafeteria, he had forgotten that their last conversation ended with her slamming the phone down in his ear. It happened right before Mark went to see his father. He had been staying at Whit's house, and Patti had called him at the wrong time (just as he was about to solve the mystery of Whit's locked attic door). He was rude to her, and she got mad and hung up.
Now he wondered what Patti would say to him-if she spoke to him at all. He stood perfectly still and waited for her to get closer. A tight smile stretched across his lips and froze in place. "Hi, Patti," he squeaked when she was within earshot.
She was dressed in her favorite outfit: faded jeans, T-shirt, and baseball cap. Her right arm was in a cast because of an accident a few weeks before. It was covered with good wishes and signatures. Mark braced himself as she stopped directly in front of him. She tipped the baseball cap away from her forehead. Her eyes burned into his.
"How's it going?" Mark asked.
Patti slugged him in the arm.
"Hey!" he cried out.
"That's for being so mean to me on the phone!" she shouted. "Now apologize!"
"That hurt!" Mark whined.
Patti punched him in the other arm. "Apologize!" she demanded.
"All right, all right, I'm sorry," Mark said. He glanced around quickly to make sure no one had seen them.
"Say you're really sorry," she insisted, raising her fist.
"I'm really sorry," Mark said, then nearly whispered, "Really, really sorry, Patti. I mean it."
Mark was sincere, and Patti knew him well enough to realize it. Her tone softened. "Okay. So, what happened to you?"
Mark wasn't sure if she meant at Whit's house or in Washington. Either way, he didn't think it was the right time to explain. "All kinds of things. I'll tell you later. Do you like camp?"
"Uh huh," she replied. "Did you come up to visit for the day?"
Mark shook his head. "I'm here for the rest of the week."
Mark expected her to be pleased with the news. Instead, she frowned and said, "Oh, really?"
"Yeah. What's wrong with that?"
"Nothing," she said in a voice that meant something. She screwed her face up as if she was thinking hard about whether to tell Mark what was on her mind.
Perhaps she would have if they haven't been interrupted by a tall, red-headed boy who ran in their direction and called Patti's name. He had a lean, athletic build that was well-displayed beneath his muscle shirts and gym shorts. Though Mark guessed he was only a couple of years older than either him or Patti, his voice had already changed to a deeper, more teenage pitch.
"I've been looking for you," he puffed as he wiped the sweat from his brow.
"Hi, David." Patti giggled strangely. "I was just talking to-" Patti stopped, then looked at Mark with wide, surprised eyes. She had clearly forgotten his name.
"I'm Mark," Mark said.
Patti blushed. "Yeah. Mark. And this is David Boyer. He works here. At the camp, I mean. He sets up tables for the meals and teaches some of the classes and ... oh, he does everything."
"Hi," Mark said uneasily. Patti was acting very weird all of a sudden. If Mark didn't know better, he'd swear she was gushing.
"Is this the kid you told me about?" David asked Patti.
Patti cleared her throat and answered, "Well, uh-"
"You shouldn't have acted like that on the phone," David said to Mark. "It wasn't very polite."
Excerpted from Danger Lies Ahead by Paul McCusker Copyright © 2006 by Paul McCusker. Excerpted by permission.
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