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The Ring of McAllisterA Score-Raising Mystery Featuring 1,046 Must-Know SAT Vocabulary Words
By Robert Marantz
KaplanCopyright © 2004 Robert Marantz
All right reserved.
At first, the words didn't register. Will was staring at the scar on his arm, now a glossy shade of peach, his mind too immersed in degrees, cosines, and algorithms to hear. How could Mrs. O'Leary end 10 months of mathematical torment with such a laconic request?
"Pencils down, Mr. Lassiter!"
Her command jolted Will out of his stupor. He put down the pencil, and the world around him gradually came alive. Other students shifted in their seats. Papers rustled. Passing his test booklet to the girl in front of him, Will massaged his throbbing hand and then surveyed the room.
His classmates seemed similarly dazed by the exam. They rubbed their necks, yawned, and stretched their backs. Leave it to O'Leary to drag the semester to such an excruciating end. But, at last, that's what it was. The end.
"Have a great summer. See you in September."
Mrs. O'Leary was not given to grand orations. But what she said was enough for the weary eleventh graders.
The hallway was littered with crumpled term papers and discarded pens. Overripe gym shorts fell out of lockers that lined the walls. Entire notebooks were nowconfetti on the floor. Will stepped out into the corridor and was immediately caught in a throng of exuberant students making a beeline toward the door.
Outside, Will felt the full force of the sun against his face, the warmth reviving his stiff body. The sun had lightened his hair over the years, and tanned his skin to a golden hue. Casting a long, thin shadow as he walked, he spotted Ty near a large maple tree.
Today, Ty had grown into a muscular athlete, no longer the small, pudgy kid of his youth. Now, nearly half a foot taller than Will, his baby fat was gone, though his round face still wore the same cherubic smile.
Standing next to Ty was Katie Watson. Will had known her since the second grade, when they'd both received awards for good citizenship: He'd painted a picture of the town from a bird's-eye view, and Katie had written an effusive essay about the importance of community spirit. When they were called up at the awards ceremony, Will's stage fright had overpowered him, and he stood stiffly, admiring Katie's carefree expression. Even now, with her curly scarlet hair and boundless energy, Katie was always in a good mood.
"How'd it go, Will?" Katie could barely contain her enthusiasm that school was finally over.
"I don't know, and I don't care."
Ty rolled his eyes. He knew better.
"I'm sure you aced it."
Will shrugged. Katie snorted impatiently and looped her hands through her friend's arms.
"What are we loitering around this place for? Let's get out of here!"
Will and Ty agreed, and Katie led them across the street to Sal's Pizzeria. Even on a hot day, the smell of fresh basil and mozzarella was too intoxicating to pass up.
Housed in an old brick storage warehouse, Sal's was the closest thing to an after-school hangout that this town had. Sal, who practically lived at the pizzeria, was a third-generation restaurateur. Visitors could glimpse his ruddy face every day of the week, adroitly tossing dough into the air or mingling with customers. A testament to the quality of his cuisine, Sal's corpulence had come from years of "sampling." It had gotten to be such a problem that he now had to suck in his gut to pass between the crowded tables. Pizza was in his blood.
Finding a secluded table in the back, the three friends attacked their pepperoni pie with gusto. Between mouthfuls, they talked about their plans for the summer.
"I'm gonna sail my butt off so I can beat my brother once and for all," Ty declared.
Will and Katie laughed. Poor Ty. He constantly vied for superiority over his older brother Ray. Every year, Ty would pick a new sport. And every year, Ray came out on top. That's not to say Ty was inept. Ray was simply the best sailor in Red Fork, as well as the best football player, tennis player, basketball player, and chess player. Where competition was involved, Ray always won.
"Don't you ever get bored sailing around that tiny lake?"
Katie sighed. "Will, don't start that again."
Will wanted to say more, but he acquiesced. Ty and Katie were his only friends, and he couldn't afford to alienate them. He knew that sooner or later, their differences would divide them. Just not today, not the beginning of summer vacation.
The trio ate in moody silence. When there was only one slice left, they all hesitated, and then simultaneously, reached for it. Their hands smashed together.
"Ty should have it," Will laughed. "He's in training."
The three friends eased back, their exchange falling into a comfortable ebb and flow. The summer was panning out in the usual fashion. When he wasn't sailing, Ty would be working at the video store adjacent to Sal's. Katie was going to help out at her parents' antique shop. And Will had lined up work as a "landscape engineer," or as Ty aptly put it, "a mower of lawns." By the time they rose to leave, the sun had crept into the western horizon.
* * *
McAllister Boulevard was the main thoroughfare in the hamlet of Red Fork, Pennsylvania. Giant oak trees lined the cobblestone street, providing perpetual shade. They were planted a hundred years earlier, back when the town was Algernon McAllister's country estate.
An industrial magnate, McAllister accrued a fortune in the late nineteenth century building steam engines for locomotives and ships. With his new-found wealth, he was able to buy a large parcel of land outside of Pittsburgh and build Red Fork. His new domain reflected his patrician tastes with its grandiose mansion and meticulously cultivated gardens.
McAllister's estate was so vast that it required its own power plant -- steam, of course. He employed a phalanx of housekeepers and gardeners, and imported a herd of stallions from the Arabian Peninsula, housing them in spacious stables. McAllister also built the largest private library in the country and his own printing press, with which he planned to publish his memoirs. Unfortunately, he never got the chance.
McAllister died on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. Though he had no heirs, he did leave a will. In it, he specified that Red Fork be split up into equal-sized lots and divided among his loyal servants. This magnanimous final gesture secured his place in history as Red Fork's progenitor and greatest citizen.
McAllister's story was part of the curriculum at McAllister Elementary School. Fourth graders wrote essays about him and his splendid gift to the town, and sixth graders presented an annual play depicting his life. To Will and his friends, it was as legendary a tale as Washington crossing the Delaware.
The three friends strolled along Tess Street until they came upon Algernon Drive. This was Will's block. Ty put his hand on Will's shoulder.
"I'm going for my license in a few weeks. Before you know it, we'll be cruising down McAl' Boulevard. This is going to be our summer."
Will's eyes lit up. "Maybe we can take a road trip -- check out the Grand Canyon or something."
"Why?" Ty stared blankly at him. "It's just a big hole in the ground."
Before Will could respond, Ty poked him in the stomach.
Will grinned. "Good one. Remember: Green means go and red means stop, not go faster."
"You're one to talk!" Ty retorted.
Will backed down. He had taken his driving test twice already and still had only his permit. Parallel parking was the bane of his existence. Where in Red Fork would he ever need to parallel park? The one street where people had reason to go, McAllister Boulevard, had diagonal spaces.
Bidding his friends farewell, Will started down Algernon Drive. As he passed the Shaw house, he heard Ty call to him.
"Watch out! Don't let Algie get you!"
To underscore his meaning, Ty let out a series of howls.
The taunt shouldn't have bothered Will. But as his friend's wailing faded, the warning rang loud in Will's head, and he automatically reached down to touch his scar. Edginess overtook him as he walked toward his house. Rounding a bend, Will glanced at the rusted iron gates marking the entrance to Stone Manor, the one-time home of Algernon McAllister.
Stone Manor must have been an impressive sight in its day. Four stories tall with over 40 rooms, the mansion reflected its owner's larger-than-life personality. With its domed roof, the place resembled a medieval cathedral. The facade was decorated with sculptures in relief and a colonnade. Named Stone Manor because of the Italian marble that once adorned its exterior, the sobriquet still applied today, despite the overabundance of moss and ivy that covered the now dilapidated shell.
Over the years, "word was" that McAllister's restless spirit haunted the old mansion. People claimed to hear noises emanating from the house -- cries, whispers, and screams. It had been unoccupied for as long as anyone could remember. Even in daylight, there was something menacing about the place. The dark windows seemed to study Will as he passed. He tried to stare back, but quickly lost his nerve.
Will glanced down, tracing the crooked laceration on his arm. It brought back memories of that fateful October day seven years ago, though he still wasn't clear about exactly what had happened. His parents had assured him it was all his imagination -- that he had probably just taken a bad fall. Ghosts didn't exist. Perhaps, he thought, but there was much veracity to the stories about the place -- enough for him to believe even now. Unable to expunge these thoughts, he started to sprint, running past Stone Manor to his house next door.
Once inside, Will relaxed and resumed his usual course. After dinner and a few hours in front of the television, he went up to his room to sketch.
Will found his bed to be the best spot for drawing, though he knew his mother would complain about the charcoal dust that accrued on the comforter. Tonight, he concentrated on a simple pediment on the roof of the manor. He drew the triangular gable with the ease that comes from considerable talent. As he sketched, he thought about what Ty had said, that this summer was going to be different because he was getting his driver's license. Will mused good-naturedly, What good does a license do if no one ever wants to go anywhere?
His eyes suddenly became very heavy, and his breathing slowed. He let the paper and pencil slip from his hand. As he faded to sleep, Will thought he saw an illumination on his globe. Something outside was reflecting off the orb. He picked up his head to look out the window: A light from Stone Manor had altered the usually darkened frame. Someone was in there.
Copyright © 2003 by Kaplan, Inc.
Excerpted from The Ring of McAllister by Robert Marantz Copyright © 2004 by Robert Marantz. Excerpted by permission.
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