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Kudzu and Ghost Finders
"Look! It looks just like a dinosaur!" Six-year-old Benny Alden pointed out the window of the car.
Henry, Jessie, and Violet Alden looked where their younger brother was pointing, and Watch, their dog, sat up and put his paws on the edge of the window. Only Grandfather Alden didn't look, because he was driving.
"You're right, Benny," said Henry, who was fourteen. "It does look like a dinosaur."
"I think it's an old house that's falling down," said Violet, who was ten.
"Or being mashed by all those green vines that are covering it," Jessie said, who was twelve and often acted motherly toward her younger sister and brother.
"Those green vines are everywhere!" Benny exclaimed. "What are they?"
"The vines are called kudzu," Grandfather Alden told him. "It's considered a weed in the South. People have to fight to keep it from covering everything. I've read it can grow up to four inches a day."
"A monster vine that eats everything," said Jessie.
Benny shivered and pretended to be afraid. He leaned over and said, "Watch, be careful! You don't want to get eaten by the monster vines!"
Watch, a small dog who acted as if he were much bigger, peered out the window and cocked his head. He wasn't sure what Benny was talking about, but he was ready to face it.
Henry, who was sitting in the front seat next to Grandfather, looked up from the map he held. "It looks like we're almost there," he announced. "According to the map, we're only about twelve miles from Elbow Bend, Alabama."
"We are?" Benny asked. "Good. I'm hot. And thirsty!" he said.
"Not hungry, too?" Henry teased Benny.
Benny thought about that for a moment. "Maybe," he said. "I could be hungry, too."
"Don't worry, Benny," Grandfather Alden said. "I'm sure Sally Wade will have a nice cold drink and something waiting for us to eat." Mrs. Sally Wade was an old friend of Grandfather's who had invited the Aldens to visit.
"Oh, good." Benny bounced a little on the seat with excitement. "Then the only other thing we'll need is a good mystery to solve. Let's ask Mrs. Wade if she has a mystery for us when we get there."
"We'll do that," Grandfather agreed. "Although it's a small town, Elbow Bend is famous for its fine old houses. It was one of the first settlements in the state. It's bound to have at least one haunted house."
"Not Mrs. Wade's house?" Benny asked, sounding half afraid and half hopeful.
"No, probably not the Wade house," Grandfather said, smiling.
Benny looked relieved. "Look out, ghosts, here we come!"
With Henry reading the directions, Grandfather had no trouble finding Mrs. Wade's house. Like many of the houses they passed, it was a big old house with a wide front porch. Mrs. Wade's house had a porch upstairs and down and was painted white with dark green shutters. An old oak tree draped with moss shaded the front yard. Flower beds bloomed along the front walk and around the house.
"It doesn't look haunted at all," Benny said. "None of the houses we've passed look haunted."
"Maybe that's a ghost!" said Jessie as the front door of the house opened and a small silver-haired woman stepped out. She shaded her eyes with her hands to see the Aldens better.
Grandfather laughed. "That's no ghost. That's Sally Wade."
Mrs. Wade waved at them. "Y'all are just in time for iced tea and cookies," she called. "Come on in."
Benny and Watch ran up the front walk, while the others followed more slowly.
As Benny got closer, Mrs. Wade smiled. Lines crinkled at the corners of her brown eyes. "I think you must be Benny," she said.
"You're right!" Benny cried. "How did you know? Did Grandfather tell you?"
Before Mrs. Wade could answer, he went on, "And this is Watch. And here comes Jessie—she's twelve—and Violet—she's ten. Henry's fourteen, and we don't know how old Watch is, because we found him. I'm not sure how old Grandfather is, either."
"Old enough," said Grandfather, smiling. He came up the steps and gave Mrs. Wade a hug.
"It's so good to see you, James," Mrs. Wade said. "It's been much too long."
Just then, the door opened and two girls of about eighteen or nineteen came out.
"Hi," said Benny. "Did you bring the cookies?"
The taller of the two girls, who wore her dark brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, said calmly, "Not yet. We'll help you bring your luggage in and show you your rooms first. I'm Kate Frances Wade. Mrs. Wade is my grandmother."
She motioned to the girl next to her, who had curly red hair and green eyes. "And this is Elaine Johnston. She's a real practical joker. You have to keep an eye on her!"
"Call me Lainey," the girl said with a warm smile.
"I'm Benny," Benny said. After everyone had been introduced, Kate Frances and Lainey helped the Aldens bring in their suitcases and showed them to their rooms.
Benny especially liked his room, which was across the hall from Henry's. It was small and fitted neatly under the sloping roof at the back of the house. It had a window with a window seat. Benny and Watch knelt on the pillow there and peered out the window. They saw a big backyard with a garden in it.
"It's nice, Watch. But no boxcar," Benny said.
"Boxcar?" asked Kate Frances, who had taken Benny to his room.
"We have a boxcar in our backyard in Greenfield," Benny explained. "We used to live in it when we were orphans."
"You did?" Kate Frances raised her eyebrows in surprise.
"Yes. Before Grandfather found us and we went to live with him," Benny said.
Henry had come into the room and he and Benny told the story of how the Aldens thought the grandfather they didn't know would be mean so they found the old boxcar in the woods and decided to live there.
"That's where we found Watch," Benny put in.
"Then Grandfather found us," Henry explained. "And we went to live with him."
"And he moved the boxcar. It's behind our house in Greenfield now so we can still visit it whenever we want," Benny concluded.
"That's quite a story," Kate Frances said. "I'm sorry we don't have a boxcar of our own."
"If you had a ghost, it would be almost as good," Benny said hopefully.
"A ghost? Hmmm. Why don't we go have some tea and cookies," suggested Kate Frances.
They went back downstairs and found Grandfather, Jessie, Violet, and Lainey gathered on the porch. Benny spotted the plate of cookies and the pitcher of iced tea on the porch table.
Lainey poured him a glass of iced tea and he took a cookie and went to sit on the porch swing with Jessie.
"I was talking about our jobs at Elbow Bend State Park," Lainey told them. "Kate Frances and I are working there and staying with Mrs. Wade this summer. We just finished our first year at the state university."
Mrs. Wade pushed open the screen door and came out with a bowl of water, which she put in the corner of the porch in the shade. "For you, Watch," she said. Mrs. Wade sat down. Kate Frances poured her some iced tea and said, "Benny's been telling me that he wishes we lived in a haunted house."
"Benny!" said Jessie.
"Well, maybe next door to a haunted house," said Benny. "I guess I wouldn't want to live with a ghost."
Everyone laughed, and Benny laughed, too.
"I hate to tell you, Sally," Grandfather said, "but I did say that there might be a haunted house in an old town like Elbow Bend."
Mrs. Wade's eyes sparkled. "Now, how did you guess?" she said. "We have a town full of ghosts! And even better, Kate Frances is a very good ghost finder!"CHAPTER 2
The Ghost Dog of Elbow Bend
"Ghost finder?" Violet's voice squeaked in spite of herself.
"You catch real live ghosts?" Benny asked excitedly.
"But there's no such thing as a ghost. Is there, Grandfather?" Jessie demanded.
"No. Of course not," Grandfather answered.
"I'm not a ghost catcher or a ghost finder," Kate Frances said. "I'm a ghost story finder."
Henry looked puzzled. "I don't understand," he said.
Kate Frances made a face at her grandmother. Mrs. Wade's eyes crinkled with amusement. "What my grandmother means is that I'm doing research for a special school project on ghost stories. Local ghost stories, to be exact. So I've been interviewing people around Elbow Bend about the ghost stories and tales they grew up hearing."
Lainey said, "After all, just because there is no such thing as a ghost doesn't stop some people from believing the stories, or even thinking they've seen a ghost."
"Are there lots of ghosts in Elbow Bend?" asked Violet, looking around a little nervously.
"They're everywhere," Kate Frances said cheerfully. "It seems like everyone has a story to tell. There's even a famous writer who lives near here who says she has a ghost named Jeffrey living in her house."
"Uh-oh," said Benny.
"But you don't believe in ghosts because there's no such thing as one, remember, Benny?" Jessie reminded her younger brother.
"Oh, right," said Benny.
"I have an idea," Lainey said. "Now that it's cooling off a little bit, why don't we take a walk?"
The words "take a walk" made Watch raise his head and wag his tail hard.
Lainey went on, "And you can give everyone the ghost-house tour that you gave me when I got here, Kate Frances."
"What a good idea," said Jessie immediately.
Grandfather Alden and Mrs. Wade exchanged glances. "It's still a little hot for me," Grandfather Alden said. "I think I'll stay on the porch a little while longer, and then I'll help Sally start cooking dinner."
"Help is welcome," Mrs. Wade said.
"Okay, then," Henry said. "Let's go!"
Soon the Aldens were walking down the shady streets of the small town. Benny held on to Watch's leash.
Sometimes they would pause and Kate Frances would tell them stories about the town's houses—and ghosts.
"For example," Kate Frances said, "that house—that's the Pink House." She pointed to a big old house set far back from the sidewalk.
"Is it haunted?" Benny asked.
"Only by the color pink," Lainey told him.
"It's not pink," Jessie objected. "It's just white. With green shutters."
"Ah, but once upon a time, it was pink," said Kate Frances, "inside and out. Pink was the owner's favorite color. All the flowers that come up around the house are still pink."
Lainey said, "And they kept one room all pink, too. In honor of the original owner."
Violet rather liked the idea of a house in shades of pink. But since purple was her favorite color, she decided she would prefer a purple house. "Maybe one day I'll live in a purple house," she said aloud.
"With violets all around it," Jessie said.
Violet smiled at the thought.
"Now, there's a house some do think is haunted," Kate Frances said as they walked on. This house was smaller, but still big enough to have a wide front porch filled with rocking chairs.
"Is it a good ghost or a bad ghost?" Benny asked.
"A good ghost, I guess," Kate Frances said. "It likes to sit in the rocking chairs on the front porch. People say you can go by on a perfectly still afternoon and one chair will be rocking. Just one."
The Aldens looked at the row of rocking chairs on the front porch. But not one of them moved.
"I guess the ghost isn't out today," Lainey said.
They walked on, up one street and down another. People said hello as they passed and many people knew Kate Frances by name.
"Do you know everybody in Elbow Bend?" Henry asked Kate Frances.
She shook her head. "Not everybody," she said. "But people say hello to everyone here. They're just friendly, I guess."
She smiled and nodded at a woman who was walking by, frowning as she stared at the houses. The woman wore dark glasses, red lipstick, and a big straw hat to protect her from the sun.
"Hello," Kate Frances said.
The woman's dark glasses turned toward Kate Frances. She frowned harder. "Do I know you?" the woman asked.
"No. I was just saying hi," said Kate Frances.
"Oh," said the woman. She turned away and kept walking.
"I guess not everybody's friendly," Henry teased.
Kate Frances laughed. "I guess not," she said.
They paused at a corner while a bus rolled by. People were leaning out the windows of the bus, taking photographs, while a man's voice droned through a loudspeaker inside. Kate Frances nodded toward the bus and added with a mischievous smile, "I don't know all the tourists who come through town."
"How do you know so many people?" asked Jessie.
"I've been coming to Elbow Bend every summer since I was a little girl to visit my grandmother, Jessie. That's how I first got interested in ghost stories and folktales, I think. I just loved listening to the grown-ups swap tall tales," Kate Frances said.
"Tall tales?" asked Violet.
"Stories that are just so outrageous they can't be true," said Kate Frances. She stopped. "Now, there's a house with a good tall tale about it."
"Tell it," begged Benny.
"Well, during the full moon in the summer, some say, you can hear the sound of a garden party, right over there behind that wall all covered with jasmine. But if you push open the gate and go inside, the sound stops and nothing is there. Close the gate and come back outside and listen ... and in a few minutes you'll hear soft laughter and the clinking of glasses."
"Ohhhh," Violet breathed.
"Why? Are they ghosts? Where do they come from?" asked Henry.
"Some people say it's an engagement party for the oldest daughter of the family that lived there long ago. Her fiancÃ(c) went to war after that and never came back and she died of a broken heart, saying that party was the last happy day she ever had," Kate Frances said, folding her hands over her heart dramatically.
"How sad," said softhearted Violet.
Watch gave a sharp bark.
Lainey looked down and then over at Kate Frances. "Watch says don't forget the ghost dog story."
"Ghost dog? Where does the ghost dog live?" asked Benny.
"Oh, the ghost dog doesn't live anywhere. That's a common ghost story out in the country—here, and in other parts of the world," said Kate Frances. "Sometimes it appears trotting alongside your carriage ... or these days your car or your bike ... to warn you of danger.
"The story goes," Kate Frances continued, "that once upon a time, a little dog just showed up in town and made himself at home in the shade of the bench next to the courthouse door. No one knew where he came from or whom he belonged to. He was friendly and several people tried to adopt him, but he wasn't interested. So they fed him and petted him and took care of him as much as he would let them.
"Anyway, he watched the people come and go as if he were waiting for someone, but no one knew who or why. They did know that every once in a while the little dog would stand up and bark—just one sharp bark—at someone who was going into a trial. And when he did, that person was always found guilty. People started calling the little dog 'Judge' and the name stuck.
"Then one day Judge jumped up and started barking like crazy, running around the courthouse and jumping up at the windows. People came running out to see what was wrong, and just about then, the whole building collapsed.
"Well, Judge had saved everyone's life. Somehow, he'd known that building would fall. But when everyone remembered what he'd done and tried to find him to reward him, he was gone. He'd just disappeared. No one ever saw him again....
Violet pressed her hands to her cheeks. "Except when?" she breathed.
"Except when something terrible is going to happen. Then Judge comes back, waiting and watching and barking and howling to try to warn people. And woe to anyone who doesn't listen to the Ghost Dog of Elbow Bend."CHAPTER 3
Howls in the Night
Applause broke out.
The Aldens turned in surprise. They had been so interested in the story that Kate Frances was telling, they hadn't even noticed that a small crowd of people had also stopped to listen. Several of them were tourists, with cameras around their necks.
"That was just wonderful," a large man with a big camera said. "May I take your photograph?"
"Sure," said Benny.
"Me, too, me, too," several other people said. Cameras clicked. One man even had a video camera trained on them. Kate Frances laughed.
"Wasn't that wonderful, Elizabeth?" a young woman said to the older woman standing next to her. It was the woman in the dark glasses, red lipstick, and big hat.
Excerpted from The Mystery of the Midnight Dog by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Hodges Soileau. Copyright © 2001 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted January 26, 2013
DO NOT READ THIS BOOK AT NIGHT!!!!!!!! (Unless you like to be scared)
Totally awsome book! LUV it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It is a TOTAL buy! Id give it 5 stars!
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