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The Secrets of Ghost Island
By Patricia H. Rushford, Cheryl Dunlop
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2007 Patricia H. Rushford
All rights reserved.
A scream tore into my dream, ripping it away and snapping me awake. Another scream. Then another. My heart dropped like a skydiver without a parachute.
Max, what have you done this time? I'm not sure why I immediately thought of Alice Maxine Hunter, my best friend. But why else would the girls be screaming in the middle of the night? I supposed it could have been a murderer or something, but I doubted it. We live on a quiet street on the banks of Chenoa Lake in the Cascade Mountains. Even with all the tourists we get, the crime rate is low. Though considering the events of the past few weeks, not everyone would agree.
Porch and yard lights popped on outside at least four houses, including mine. My dad had taken time to put on his jeans and a T-shirt, but he was barefoot when he came outside. He stopped by the porch swing where I'd dragged my sleeping bag an hour earlier.
"Jessie, are you okay?" Dad hunkered down beside me.
"Yeah, but I don't think they are." I nodded toward the frantic girls bouncing around on our neighbors' lawn.
He ordered me to stay put, so I did, while I watched the adults try to put some order into the chaos. Fortunately, the yard lights had nearly turned the dark night into daylight, and I could see just fine from where I was.
"There's a snake in my sleeping bag!" Jamie Carlton's high-pitched wail broke as she jumped up and down.
"There's one in mine too!" That shrieking voice belonged to Emma Keith.
The third victim's terror had already turned to rage. Sunshine Dougherty had straddled Max's sleeping bag and was throwing punches at what was probably Max's head. "You did this, didn't you? You ... you ... vagrant!" My dad pulled her away from the bag and led her to one of the lawn chairs around what had been our campfire earlier that evening.
"What's going on?" The voice came from the open patio door behind me.
"Aah!" I nearly jumped out of the swing. "Max! What are you doing here?" I glanced back over at the lumpy sleeping bag on the lawn. "You're down there getting your face punched in."
"Obviously not." She yawned and sat down beside me, setting the swing in motion. "Seriously. I heard screaming. What's going on?"
"Come on, Max. You can quit pretending like you don't know. You put snakes in their sleeping bags."
"Snakes? No kidding." Max grinned, revealing the small gap between her front teeth. "How cool is that?"
"That was mean." A small giggle slipped out of my own mouth. "Funny, but mean."
"You think I did it?"
"No. Not that they didn't have it coming. Those three are the worst." Max's grin grew wider. She looked over at me and must have seen the doubt in my eyes. "I didn't do it, Jess. I swear. Besides, when would I have gotten the snakes?"
She had a point. We'd been together most of the day before going to Ivy Cavanaugh's sleep-over party. I'd been afraid something like this would happen. Ivy had invited all of the sixth-grade girls to her party, and some of those girls hated Max and me. Well, maybe hate is too strong a word. Let's just say they didn't associate with us unless they were forced to. Like at Ivy's party.
The party had been okay except for Sunshine, Emma, and Jamie being total snobs and not speaking to Max and me. Even with that we'd had a good time. Max was right; the girls did deserve some payback. But if she hadn't done it, who had?
"What are you doing up here anyway?" I asked. Just a couple of hours ago, we'd all stretched our sleeping bags on the lawn.
"Couldn't sleep. I came in to get a glass of water." She eyed my sleeping bag. "What about you?"
"I couldn't sleep either. The ground was too hard on my bony body, so I decided to sleep in the swing."
"Don't look now, but the posse is headed this way."
I cringed. "This can't be good." My dad, Ivy's parents, and the less-than-happy party girls were heading straight for us.
Jamie, Sunshine, and Emma started yelling at once, all of them accusing Max. Ivy tossed me an accusatory look as if I'd had something to do with it. I splayed my hands in innocence.
"Max?" Dad folded his arms. "Would you care to explain?"
Max shrugged. "I didn't do it. I wish I had."
Sunshine started up the deck stairs, probably aiming to throw a few punches at the real Max.
"Hold on, Sunny." Dad caught her and told her to stay back. "Max just said she didn't do it."
"Then it was Jessie. One of them put snakes in our sleeping bags."
Max had way too big a smile. "I wonder why you'd feel that way," she said. "You think you might have done something to deserve it?"
"I'll get you for this, Hunter. Count on it."
Why her parents ever called her Sunshine, I'll never know. She didn't live up to her name—that's for sure. Okay, I'm prejudiced because of the way she acts toward Max and me. I have seen her bright side, but right now she looked more like a thundercloud.
"Just calm down. No one is getting anyone." Dad turned back to me. "Do you know anything about this, Jessie?"
I started to shake my head when I heard a giggle and a shush coming from under the deck. "Maybe." I pointed downward.
Dad nodded and hunkered down by the open side of the deck. "I might have known. Sam Miller, you and your friends come out of there right now."
"You're busted, Sam." Max chuckled.
My five-year-old brother emerged first, followed by the twins, Brian and Benjamin Davidson, from next door. "But Dad, we din't do nothin' wrong," Sam insisted.
"We didn't," the twins echoed.
"Where did you get the snakes?" Dad asked.
"From our snake pit under the tree house," Sam said. "It's to keep imposters out."
"You mean trespassers?" Dad was trying to keep a straight face, but I gotta tell you, with Sam it isn't easy. He's a funny kid. I just hoped he wouldn't get into too much trouble with the snakes.
"Would you like to tell me why you put snakes in the girls' sleeping bags?"
Sam pointed at Sunshine. "They were mean to us. We just wanted to play with Deeogee and they made us go away."
Deeogee is Ivy's boxer. He's this crazy dog that swallows cakes whole and eats candy with the wrappers still on. I could hear him barking from inside their house where he'd been banished earlier in the evening after tearing open a bag of marshmallows.
"They were being pests." Sunshine still had her hands clenched. "It was a girls-only party."
"You weren't even having the party yet." Sam glowered at her. "'Sides, they were just garter snakes."
"You little brat." Sunny, which is what most of us call her, would have throttled all three boys if it hadn't been for the adults. After Dad made the boys apologize, Carly Davidson signaled for her twin sons to follow her, lecturing them on sneaking out at night. She didn't mention the snakes, but I imagined she would when she got them home.
Ivy's dad sighed. "Okay, everyone. Party's over."
"Sam, go up to your room," Dad ordered. "We'll talk more about this in the morning."
Max gave Sam a thumbs-up sign that Dad didn't see. Sam signed back. I had a hunch Max wasn't as innocent as she claimed to be. She may not have put the snakes into the sleeping bags, but she might have just happened to mention the idea to Sam as a practical joke.
Things settled down after that, and everybody went back to bed. Ivy and her friends picked up their sleeping bags and went back to Ivy's house, where they decided to spend the rest of the night inside. Max and I decided to stay on the porch at my place. Like Ivy's dad had said, the party's over.
Once things quieted down and the lights went out, I was ready for some serious sleep. Max conked out about the time her head hit the pillow, so I couldn't confront her about the practical joke. Not that I minded much. Those girls deserved it.
I lay there for a while thinking about Sunshine Dougherty and her followers. I called them that because whatever she did or said, the other girls, especially Emma and Jamie, did. Ivy used to hang out with them all the time, but in the past couple of months, she's been around them less and she's been nicer to me. Maybe because we're neighbors and used to be good friends before I got leukemia six years ago. She changed after that. Or maybe it was me who changed. Chemo made me lose my hair, and I wasn't the nicest person to be around. Besides all that, Mom pulled me out of school and homeschooled me until this past year. With being sick and not going to public school, I didn't really hang around with any of them. Not that they would have wanted me to. I didn't fit in.
I ran my hand over my still-bald head. Tears filled my eyes, and I brushed them away. Do not feel sorry for yourself, Jessie Miller. You don't need friends like Sunny. You have Max and Cooper. Cooper Smally had been one of the mean ones when I first went back to school, but we've been friends ever since I rescued him from Bear Island. Okay, I didn't exactly rescue him—I just told the sheriff where to find him.
Sunny and her gang have never liked me, but they didn't start being total jerks until I became friends with Max. I thought about Sunny pounding Max's sleeping bag and calling her a vagrant. That seemed strange to me. Of course, the way Max dressed in baggy thrift-store clothes, she sometimes looked like she lived on the streets. I think the real reason Sunny doesn't like Max is that she can't bully her. I can understand Sunny being upset about the snakes, but I don't remember her ever being so angry. She looked like she could have killed Max.
I pushed my thoughts and feelings away. I didn't like the fact that Sunny and her friends wanted nothing to do with us, but it wasn't worth losing sleep over. Besides, Max and Cooper were much more fun to hang around with. And much more forgiving.
Instead of thinking about Sunny, I gazed up into the star-sprinkled night sky and then took in the rest of the view. The full moon sent a shimmering path across the water, making it look like a magical wonderland. The lake looked as calm as a lily pond.
Someone in a rowboat cut a swath across the moon's image, disfiguring the scene. I sat up and rubbed my eyes, thinking I must be imagining things. I was about to wake Max when a cloud covered the moon. The darkness swallowed the boat and the rower.
Must be a camper, I decided. It wasn't all that unusual for people to boat to the islands and spend a night or two. But this late? Why not wait until morning? And where would they be going? I could have been wrong, but it had looked as though the boat was headed for Ghost Island. I stared out at the water for a long time but didn't see the boat again.
Ghost Island is about two miles northeast of our dock. The island is an ancient Native American burial ground and is off limits without a permit. Anyone going there would be breaking the law unless they were granted special permission from the government. I could see a faint outline of the island along the south shore. For a moment, I thought I saw a light flicker. Maybe my imagination or my tired eyes were playing tricks on me. Or not.
I burrowed deeper into my sleeping bag, trying to ignore the goose bumps on my arms and neck. Ghost Island was definitely not a place I would want to row to in the middle of the night.CHAPTER 2
The warm sun and voices coming from the dock woke me the next morning. Sam and Dad were taking the boat out. It's one of those lightweight aluminum boats with oars. It has a small motor on it now in case someone rows out too far and can't get back. Dad got the motor after my unplanned trip to Bear Island, on the far side of the lake.
The fishing poles told me all I needed to know. I imagined Dad would have a heart-to-heart talk with Sam about the snake incident last night. I'd been in on a few of those talks, but not nearly as many as Sam. Fishing and hanging out with Dad always made the usual parent/kid lectures easier to take. Getting to my feet, I stretched and yawned. Dad and Sam waved at me from the boat.
I almost stumbled over Max's sleeping bag, which she'd already rolled up. I hurried inside, wanting to tell her about the rowboat I'd seen last night. Only she wasn't there. "Where's Max?" I asked Mom, who was sitting at the table in the bay window drinking her coffee.
"Amelia picked her up a few minutes ago." Amelia Truesdale was Max's new foster mother. More like a grandmother, really. Amelia is 79. You'd never know it though. She owns Lakeside Farm, the lavender farm just outside of town, and makes all kinds of crafts to sell.
I frowned. "She could have at least said good-bye."
"Amelia had to come in early to run some errands. Max asked if she should wake you, but I told her to let you sleep. You haven't gotten enough of that lately."
"Thanks a lot." I hate when Mom gets overprotective like that. I pulled a box of cereal out of the cupboard and grabbed a bowl out of another, and then shut the doors harder than necessary.
"Lose the attitude, Jessie, or you can forget about going anywhere today."
Like I have anywhere to go. Without Max, life could be incredibly boring. After getting milk out of the fridge, I sat down at the table. "Sorry," I said, mumbling a halfhearted apology.
"Hmm." Mom set the newspaper down and brushed a hand through her thick hair.
"There have been two more robberies. One the night before last. And I saw on the news this morning that another house was hit last night up in Lakeside."
"I didn't know there had been any," I said. But then I hadn't exactly been reading the paper or watching the news.
"The first one happened a week ago. Two houses in Steamboat Landing were robbed last weekend. Thursday night the Summerfields got hit. That's too close to home."
"What was stolen?"
"The paper has a list of things. Credit cards, money, iPods, cell phones, jewelry. Small things that are easy to carry."
Small enough to fit into a boat? I wondered.
Mom brought me my medicine and a glass of water. "Don't forget your pills."
"I won't." While she started on the dishes I ate my granola and read the article. The Summerfields lived about a block away from us. Steamboat Landing had the nicest houses in the area. It was a gated community, and all the houses faced the lake. Sunshine Dougherty and her parents and her older brother live in Steamboat Landing.
"It's scary to think someone was burglarizing the neighborhood while you girls were sleeping outside last night," Mom said. "We've had a false sense of security around here for years."
"Do the police know who did it?"
Mom shook her head. "They seem to think the thieves are tourists."
No surprise there. The police blame the tourists for everything.
"Whoever they are, they're very adept at getting in and disarming the alarm systems."
Scary is right. I was about to tell Mom about the boat I'd seen on the lake last night when the phone rang. Mom answered it and handed it to me. "It's Cooper."
My heart flip-flopped. Maybe the day wouldn't be a total loss after all. "Hey, Cooper, what's up?" I pushed my chair back and headed upstairs to the privacy of my room.
"Something big. I need to talk to you and Max right away."
"Sure, but Max isn't here."
"I know. She's at the farm. How about I pick you up and we row over to get her?"
"Dad and Sam are using our boat."
"Okay. I'll bike out to the farm and we can use Max's canoe. We'll come get you."
"Where are we going?"
"I'm not sure yet. Someplace where we can talk privately."
I hesitated. "I'll need to check with my mom."
He gave me his cell phone number. "I'm leaving right now. Call me if you can't come."
I said I would, then went back downstairs to find Mom. To my relief, she agreed to let me hang out with Cooper and Max, but only after I'd brought in the sleeping bags and straightened up my room. I gave her a hug. "Thanks. You're the best."
She laughed. "Just be careful and ..."
"I know. Don't overdo." I'd only been out of the hospital for a little over a week from having a bone marrow transplant. I still felt weak sometimes, but so far everything seemed to be going okay.
"And wear a hat. Here, catch." Mom tossed me the floppy denim one. It wasn't the most fashionable hat in the world, but it was soft and lightweight. Most of the time I didn't bother with ahead covering, but in the summer I had to wear a hat or a scarf to keep from getting sunburned.
After pulling on capris, a T-shirt, and shoes, I straightened my room and put away the sleeping bags from the porch, and then grabbed my backpack. After I'd slathered sunscreen all over myself, I threw the tube in my bag. I also tossed in a notebook and pens in case I needed to take notes. Downstairs, I grabbed some snacks—apples, granola bars, and baby carrots—and put them in a separate bag and stuffed those in my backpack too. Unplugging the cell phone from the charger, I slipped it into a side pocket. The only thing left was a jacket in case the weather turned cold.
Excerpted from The Secrets of Ghost Island by Patricia H. Rushford, Cheryl Dunlop. Copyright © 2007 Patricia H. Rushford. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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