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When Junior accidentally gets caught in his own coyote trap deep in the woods, he is rescued by the reclusive woman known as Mad Mary and begins an unforgettable adventure.
When Junior accidentally gets caught in his own coyote trap deep in the woods, he is rescued by the reclusive woman known as Mad Mary and begins an unforgettable adventure.
The Thing Under the Tarp
"I'm finished!" Junior called.
He walked to the barn door and looked out. No one was in sight.
"I'm finished! Hey, you can see it now! Where are you guys?"
Junior walked out into the sunlight. He made a visor of one hand.
Nobody was in the yard.
"I said I'm finished," he yelled at the top of his lungs. "You can see it now!"
Still no answer.
Junior sighed. All morning long he had been wasting valuable construction time keeping Maggie and Vern out of the barn, keeping them from seeing what he was working on. Every time he turned his back, one of them would try to sneak in the door. "Oh, no you don't." Or slip through the loose board in the back of the barn.
He must have said "Oh, no you don't" at least a hundred times.
All the yelling had made his mom come out of the house. "What's Junior doing in the barn?" he heard her say.
"I don't know. He won't let us see," Maggie said. "He's making something."
"And he's using all of Pap's hog wire," Vern said.
"Junior, are you making anything dangerous in there?"
"What is it?"
"It's a surprise."
"Well, I've had enough of your surprises. Come out here. We have just gotten through paying for your last summer's surprise—flying off the barn. Come out here this minute."
Junior appeared in the doorway of the barn. He had a hammer in one hand.
"I didn't fly," he explained, "I fell."
"What are you making in there now?" Vicki Blossom's hands went on her hips.
Junior sighed. He walked reluctantly to his mother and said, "I'm making a ..." Then he lowered his voice and whispered the rest of it.
He sent a suspicious glance in Maggie and Vern's direction to make sure they couldn't hear. He cupped his hands around his mother's ear. "A ..." he said.
"But why? What for? Hurry up, Junior. I've got a customer inside. I'm cornrowing her hair and customers don't grow on trees."
Junior sighed again. "Remember last night? Remember ..." He motioned for her to bend down again. This time he gave such a long explanation that Maggie and Vern started slipping to the back of the barn where the loose board was.
"Oh, no you don't."
He had run into the barn and thrown a tarp over his invention. "There! Spy all you want to." From then on he'd worked strictly under the tarp. It had been hot under there and the air smelled of old oil, but Junior felt it was worth it.
Now, after all that, he was finished, and there was no one around to see what he had made.
Junior glanced down at his watch even though the watch was broken. According to this watch, the time was always 3:05. When Junior had first found the watch in the parking lot of Sears and strapped it on his arm, he'd kept hoping that one time he would glance down and it would say 3:06, but he had given up on that now. Still, he looked at his watch every time he was curious about the time, like right now. Maybe Maggie and Vern were eating lunch or something.
"Why do you wear that old broken watch?" Maggie had once asked. "It never gives you the right time."
"It does too," he had answered. "At three-oh-five in the afternoon and three-oh-five at night."
Anyway, he liked the way he looked with a watch on his wrist.
He checked the time again. With a sigh, he walked back to the barn. He stood in the doorway, looking at the bulging tarp.
Well, if Maggie and Vern weren't interested enough to wait, they just weren't going to get to see it. He would set it up without them. It would serve them right.
He felt better after he had made that decision. He got the wheelbarrow from the corner and rolled it over to the tarp. He lifted the tarp dramatically, the way he had intended lifting it for Maggie and Vern.
He said, "Tadaaaa!"
He gasped with pleasure. Just in the few minutes it had been out of his sight, it had gotten more impressive. He was smitten with regret that Maggie and Vern weren't there to admire it.
His invention was spectacular—as sturdy as if it had been made by a real carpenter. He walked around it. From every side it was a beautiful, professional job. The word professional said it all.
The hog wire was fitted over the top, nailed neatly into place; the nail heads hammered sideways over the wire for extra security. The corner boards had been put into place with screws—more security. Even he himself—the inventor—would not be able to get out if he was locked inside. That's how professional it was.
"And," he said, speaking aloud to his invention, "you're going to make me rich."
He loaded his creation awkwardly onto the wheelbarrow. It tipped and he straightened it with his knee. Hog wire took off some skin.
Now he really wished Maggie and Vern were there—this time to take a corner. Even without them the invention finally thudded solidly onto the wheelbarrow. Junior secured it with rope, making a bow on top as if it were a present.
He glanced out the barn door to make sure Maggie and Vern had not returned without his hearing them. That would be just like them—to spy on his invention and then run away without praising it. No, the yard was empty.
"Where are they?"
For a moment he considered pushing it just to the edge of the woods and waiting until they returned. That would give them a chance to see him, just a glimpse of him and his beautiful, professional creation, and then he would disappear into the woods.
He thought longingly of their envious cries: "Junior, what is that?" "Junior, where did you get that?" And the final, disbelieving "Is that what you were making? Come back, Junior. Please let us see."
He lingered over the thought. He wanted to hear those words a lot, but he didn't have time. There was still work to do. He glanced at his watch: 3:05. He would have to hurry to be finished by supper.
Quickly he pushed the wheelbarrow out of the barn. Legs flashing in the sunlight, he headed for the house. He ran in, and in a few minutes he ran out. There was a bulge in his back pocket.
Then Junior picked up the wheelbarrow handles and ran hard for the woods.CHAPTER 2
Mad Mad Mary
"Go way! Shoo!"
Mad Mary stepped onto the highway. "Shoo!" She waved her arms. Her torn sleeves flapped in the still air.
The two vultures looked her way. They had the carcass of a rabbit between them. They had opened it quickly by pulling in opposite directions. One vulture dropped its part, the head, spread its wings as if to take to the air, and then changed its mind and folded them.
Mad Mary was still a hundred yards down the road, no real threat as yet. They knew Mad Mary and were used to competing with her for highway meat.
The vulture lowered its bald head to the rabbit.
But Mad Mary was running over the shimmering asphalt now, closing the distance. "I said 'Shoo!'" She threatened them with her cane.
One vulture hissed. The other took a few steps across the road, but leisurely, like a barnyard turkey. The hissing vulture dug its beak quickly into the meat and picked at the dead rabbit. It got hold of a piece of intestine and pulled.
"I want that rabbit!"
Mad Mary flew at them. Now she was close enough to be a threat. Four more strides and she would be able to hook one of the vultures around the neck with the end of her long cane. Both vultures ran down the road, building up speed, and took to the air.
Mad Mary ran a few feet beyond the dead rabbit. She watched the vultures settle on the limb of a nearby tree. Then she eased the rabbit over with the toe of her boot.
"Fresh meat," she muttered to herself.
Then she lifted her head. She heard the sound of an approaching truck.
Leaning down, she picked up the rabbit with one hand. The vultures had popped it open and pulled out part of the insides. Other than that, the rabbit was perfect. Mad Mary liked to get meat that hadn't been run over five or six times. It was juicier.
Like the fat possum she had found last week and dined off for two days, the rabbit had just taken a light bump on the head from some rear tire. The body was still limber—couldn't have been dead twenty minutes. She slid the rabbit down into her stained shoulder bag.
The truck was blaring its horn. The driver had spotted Mad Mary.
Mad Mary didn't even glance in the truck's direction. She walked leisurely to the edge of the road and stepped off into the grass. Then, head down, poking the ground with her long shepherd's cane, she moved along with steady soldier strides.
The truck blew its horn again as it passed. Mad Mary felt the exhaust, the sting of dust, but she did not look up. There was nobody in the whole world that she wanted to see. She hadn't even nodded to a living soul in three and a half years.
The vultures watched from separate limbs of a nearby dead tree. When the truck passed, they flew down to the spot where the rabbit had lain. They checked to see if Mad Mary had left them anything. Then, although she had not, they continued to walk around the damp spot on the highway for a few moments.
As they took to the air again, Mad Mary turned the curve of the highway, jumped the ditch, and headed into the woods.CHAPTER 3
The Hamburger Ball
"I just figured out what it is," Maggie said.
She and Vern were at the creek. Maggie was sitting on the raised bank swinging her legs out over the water. Vern was making little rafts out of twigs and vines and sending them down the shallow, shifting current, watching them plunge over the waterfall.
"What what is?"
He released his fourth raft and frowned as it headed for the willow tree.
"I bet I know what Junior's making."
His raft was caught against the roots of the tree. He could barely see it through the curtain of willow branches. He waded across, parted the branches, and got his raft.
Vern enjoyed making small things. He spent money every Saturday for a plastic model, but no matter how hard a model he got, he was always finished by Sunday.
"Well, if you're not interested, I'm not going to waste my breath telling you," Maggie said, turning away. She stuck a blade of grass in her mouth.
"I'm interested. What's he making?"
"Oh, all right. He's making a trap."
"A trap?" Vern looked at her for the first time. "What kind of trap?"
"Come on. Even Junior's got better sense than to set a trap for a coyote. That's like setting a trap for a polar bear or ..." He paused to repair a loose vine. "Or a crocodile."
"Weren't you listening last night at supper? Yesterday Pap heard on the news about a coyote that's loose in the area. They think it got away from Farmer Brown's Zoo, only Farmer Brown won't admit it because it's been killing people's chickens and lambs, and he doesn't want to have to pay." She slung her braids behind her shoulders with one practiced shake of her head. "Junior wants the reward."
"How much is it?"
"A hundred dollars."
"Shoot, for a hundred dollars I'd make a trap myself."
Vern's last raft had now gone successfully over the fall, and Vern watched his fleet of rafts, four of them, sailing down the creek, moving in and out of the long shadows of the trees.
"Are you really going to make a trap?" Maggie asked. "I'll help."
"No, I'm helping Pap this afternoon."
Every Monday afternoon Pap went around the county collecting beer and pop cans that people had thrown out of car windows and left at picnic sites. It was his job, the most satisfying he had ever had. He started when he wanted, quit when he wanted, and got paid for what he collected. Vern was his assistant.
"Oh, I forgot it was Monday. Anyway, Junior probably used up all the hog wire. Did you see how big his trap was? Big enough for a pony."
"Junior never was one to conserve."
Vern's rafts were out of sight now, on their way—he liked to think—to the ocean. He imagined them bobbing in the first gentle ripples of the tide, then riding the curling waves out to sea. Although he had never actually seen the ocean, the picture was clearer than a lot of things he had seen.
He climbed out of the creek without using his hands, by digging his toes into the cool slimy mud and turning his feet sideways to take advantage of rock and root ledges. At the top he waved his arms in the air in a rare moment of imbalance.
Seeing her advantage, Maggie yelled, "Race you!" She broke into a run for the barn.
"That's not fair. I wasn't ready!" he called after her. Then he couldn't help himself. He broke into a run and began to overtake her.
Mud was following Junior into the woods. Three times Junior had turned around, hands on hips, and said "Go home, Mud. Go home! I mean it. Go home!"
So Mud knew he was not wanted. Still he followed. He could not help himself. He knew Junior had a ball of raw hamburger meat in his back pocket.
Mud had been lying under the kitchen table, taking a nap, when Junior slipped into the house. Without opening his eyes, Mud knew it was Junior. Junior in the hall ... Junior in the dining room ... Junior in the kitchen. When it was Junior opening the refrigerator door, Mud opened his eyes.
Junior was on a straight chair, reaching into the freezer. Mud crawled out from under the table, stretched, and sat attentively.
Junior took out a frozen package of something and began working on it with a butcher knife. Finally Junior cut off a chunk. Frozen chips sprayed onto the linoleum floor.
Mud moseyed over. He smelled one, licked it up. Hamburger! It was hamburger! Mud's nose began to run.
Raw hamburger was Mud's favorite thing to eat in the world. The only time he got it was when Pap wrapped it around a worm pill. "Catch!" Pap would say. Mud always caught. He thought all balls of hamburger came with a hard, foul-tasting center that you weren't allowed to spit out, but still he loved it.
With eager care Mud sniffed the floor until he was sure he had gotten every crumb. By then Junior was gone.
Mud pushed open the screen door with his front paws, bounded out, and, ears flapping, ran for the woods. He could not see Junior, but the faint scent of hamburger followed Junior like a wake.
He caught up with Junior in the pine trees. "Go home!" Junior said immediately.
Mud was surprised. He was almost never sent back to the house. He sat down.
"I did not say 'Sit,' I said 'Go home!'"
Mud pretended to obey. He took a few steps toward the house. When Junior was once again pushing his wheelbarrow, Mud followed again.
Junior spun around. "I said 'Go home!' Watch my lips. Go home! I do not want you scaring off my coyote. Go home."
Again, Mud pretended to obey. Then, again, he followed. Sooner or later Junior would break down and give him a piece of hamburger meat.
Following as closely as he dared, nose wet with desire, Mud went deeper into the woods.CHAPTER 4
Maggie came up short at the door of the barn. "Where did Junior go?" she asked.
Hopping on one foot, she picked a burr from the side of the other. Vern ran past her and tagged the sagging barn door. "I won!"
"You did not. I quit!"
"Well, I didn't."
"That's your problem." Maggie spit on her finger and cleaned the spot where the burr had been. She looked closely at the round clean spot on her dusty foot. Then she glanced up at Vern. "So where do you think Junior went?"
"He probably went to set his trap." Vern walked forward, looking carefully at the ground. "See, here are wheelbarrow tracks."
They followed the dusty trail with their eyes. "He went to the house, probably to get something—bait, most likely—and then he headed for the woods." Vern always seemed to have a sixth sense about Junior.
They put their hands over their eyes so they could see the trail as it curled beyond the old rosebushes. "Let's follow it and see where he went. Want to?" Maggie asked. "Maybe we can find some kind of joke animal to put in the trap—that would be funny—a turtle or something. A skunk would be perfect, but I know we can't—"
Pap came out of the house yawning. He paused on the top step to stretch. "Vern, you ready to go?" he called across the yard.
"I been ready."
"Maggie, you want to come?"
Maggie hesitated. It would be more fun to follow Junior's trail into the woods, but only if Vern or somebody was along for company. This summer, being alone didn't give her as much pleasure as it used to.
"Oh, all right." She moved closer to the pickup truck. Then she yelled, "But I get to sit by the window," and she broke into a run.
"I sit by the window!"
"First one there gets it!"
Maggie ran across the yard and jumped on the running board. Vern was struggling with Pap's door while Maggie struggled with hers. They got them open at the same minute, but Maggie ended up in the window seat and Vern behind the steering wheel.
Pap came to the car, looking from left to right. "Where's Mud?" he asked. "Anybody seen Mud?"
"He probably followed Junior," Vern said. Reluctantly he slid over so Pap could get in. He hated to ride in the middle. It was unmanly.
"Followed Junior? Where?"
Excerpted from The Blossoms Meet the Vulture Lady by Betsy Byars. Copyright © 1986 Betsy Byars. Excerpted by permission of Holiday House.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted February 26, 2013
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