Undercurrentsby Willo Davis Roberts
Nikki still grieves for her mother, knows she will desperately miss Bonnie, and feels inadequate to fill in for them at home. And then
Fourteen-year-old Nikki Simons has lost her mother to cancer. Her older sister, Bonnie, will soon be off on an exciting trip before heading to college, leaving Nikki to cope with things at home, including her little brother, Sam.
Nikki still grieves for her mother, knows she will desperately miss Bonnie, and feels inadequate to fill in for them at home. And then their father makes a shattering announcement: He is going to marry Crystal, a woman he met through work who is only slightly older than his daughters.
Not long after the peculiar wedding (none of Crystal's family or friends attended), Nikki learns that in place of a European trip the family had planned before her mother's death, they will be spending part of the summer in the village of Trinidad, in northern California, where Crystal has inherited a house on the beach.
Nikki decides that going to the beach is preferable to having no vacation at all. But soon she's troubled by more than just Dad's hasty marriage to a woman who doesn't make much of an attempt to relate to his children. Other things about Nikki's new stepmother remain unexplained: Why is she reluctant to return to the house where she spent some time as a child? And after Dad is called back to Seattle on an emergency, what awful secret causes Crystal to have nightmares that waken Nikki out of a sound sleep? How is Nikki, by herself, expected to cope with things that baffle and frighten her?
Then Nikki meets Julian Gyasi, an intriguing boy known as Spook who lives in a house on the cliff nearby. Why are there mysterious lights in the tower windows over there, and who is the man who frightens Nikki by watching her from the top of the cliff? As the days pass, Crystal's behavior becomes even stranger and Dad is still not there to help Nikki deal with either her stepmother or the increasingly mysterious situation at the Gyasi house.
Read an Excerpt
That ungodly moan brought me upright, immediately aware that Dad was not in the house.
The sound dwindled into a sort of choking gurgle. I moved to swing my legs over the edge of the bed, eliciting a grunt from Buster when I shifted position, though he didn't wake up. Some watchdog he was. Maybe Dad was right, that he was getting a bit deaf in his old age.
I jabbed him with an elbow, and he grunted again, then raised his head against my outstretched hand.
"Get up, Buster! You're coming with me," I said, knowing I couldn't just burrow under the covers and wait for whatever was going to come next.
I reached for the lamp, remembered it was on the opposite side of the bed from the one at home, and flopped over to turn it on.
It was a small bulb nobody'd ever be able to read in bed in this room but it sent a welcome circle of light around me. My traveling digital clock showed 12:07 A.M.
Buster was looking at me as if I'd lost my mind. Then, when the sounds were repeated, he lifted his ears and jumped off the bed to follow me.
The door to the boys' room stood open, and I hesitated there. Nothing from them. I knew Dad had brought a flashlight, but I thought he'd kept it in the master bedroom, so I didn't have it.
I crept along the chilly hallway in my bare feet, and the moan was repeated, this time with words: "No! No!"
I hesitated at the door of the room where Crystal was sleeping alone. The light from my open doorway didn't come this far, certainly not into the room.
"Crystal?" I asked hesitantly, praying she wasn't being strangled in her bed by some fiend who had gotten in in spite of locked doors and windows.
For a moment there was no sound, and then she gasped and I sensed movement.
"Crystal?" I said more loudly. "Are you all right?"
"Wha ? What is it?"
"What's wrong? Were you having a bad dream?"
"Dream," she muttered. "Nightmare, yes. Who is it Nikki?"
"Yes. Are you okay?"
"Oh, it was...horrible. All that...blood. They were all dead. Just like..." Her voice trailed off. "Jeff, where's Jeff?"
"Dad had to go home to Seattle," I reminded her. The bare floor was icy beneath my feet and I was shivering.
"Oh. Oh, yes, I remember now." She inhaled raggedly. "I'm sorry. I'm awake now, Nikki. I'm sorry I woke you up."
"Do you have nightmares like this very often?" I asked uncertainly. It must have been a doozy, and I wasn't sure if I should leave her now or not. Dad would probably have put his arms around her in reassurance, but I didn't feel I could do that.
"Not so often anymore," she said. She was bringing her breathing under control. "It was so real. Oh, my heart is still racing. But it was all a dream, wasn't it?"
"Nothing else has happened," I told her. I remembered my own last nightmare, years ago, before Mom got sick. "Sometimes it takes awhile to get over it. Mama sometimes made me some cocoa and we talked until I calmed down."
"Cocoa. Yes, that would be good. Just a minute, let me find a robe. And slippers. Gosh, it's cold in here."
"I didn't bring a robe with me," I said, feeling colder by the minute.
Crystal emerged out of the darkness and thrust a garment into my hand. "Here, wear your dad's."
I shrugged into it, wrapping it tightly around me (it was almost big enough to wrap twice) and holding it in place by tying the belt. I still didn't have anything on my feet, but when we got downstairs there were some rag rugs and I slid one over in front of my chair at the kitchen table.
"I'm going to turn the furnace on for a little while," Crystal said, and pushed at the thermostat just inside the dining room door. "Where did we put the cocoa?"
I got it out while she brought milk and got down mugs. While she was heating milk in the microwave, I sat with my feet curled on the rug and thought about what she'd said when I woke her out of the nightmare.
It was horrible. All that blood. They were all dead. Just like...She hadn't finished that sentence. Just like...what? Had she really seen something like that at one time? People covered with blood? Dead? That would have given me nightmares, for sure.
And when I'd asked if she'd had them often, she'd said, Not so often anymore.
Meaning, I guessed, that in the past she'd had them frequently. Always the same dream? About dead people, and blood?
Gradually the furnace heated the room, and I stopped shivering. When she brought the cups to the table, we stirred the cocoa to dissolve the powder and warmed our hands on the big china mugs before we drank.
She had been shaking when we reached the kitchen, turning on lights all the way. I didn't know if it was from the nighttime temperature of the house or from the nightmare, or both. She seemed to be calming down now, taking sips of the hot cocoa.
"It's good, isn't it? I'm glad you thought of it, Nikki."
"Are you all right now?" I asked.
"Just give me a little more time, and I will be. I wish your father hadn't had to leave us here."
"Me, too," I agreed. "Does Dad know you have nightmares like this? Really bad ones?"
It was a moment or two before she responded. "No. No, I haven't had one since we've been married." Her smile was wan. "It's nice to wake up next to someone after a dream like that. Thank you for coming and waking me up. I hope I didn't scare you."
Half to death, I thought, but didn't say it. "It took me a minute to realize what I was hearing."
"Thank you," she said again, and drained her cup. "I hope I can go back to sleep now."
We stood up and put our cups, unwashed, in the sink. I hesitated. Crystal had never demonstrated any particular fondness for animals, but I then asked, "Would you like to take Buster into your room for the rest of the night? I know he's not supposed to sleep on the beds, but he's really a clean dog, and he's nice and warm to curl up with, even when he's on the top of the quilts. I know you got pretty chilled."
That sounded better than mentioning her terror again, and pointing out that the presence of a big dog could be rather comforting.
Crystal hesitated, then nodded. "Thank you, Nikki. If he'll come with me, I'd like to have him."
Buster would go with any member of the family who invited him. I didn't know if he got onto the bed with her or not, which I would have invited him to do. I went back to bed myself, still wearing Dad's robe with the scent of his shaving lotion on it, and waited to get warm enough to go back to sleep, still pondering Crystal's words and knowing I wasn't brave enough to ask her to explain them further.
Maybe, I thought just before I fell asleep, I'd tell Dad about the nightmare and the things she'd said. Maybe he could figure it out. He certainly wouldn't be afraid to ask her.
The next morning was Sunday. We decided we were smart enough to make pancakes measure out the pancake flour and add water and fry them on the big griddle we'd found in the cupboard so we were having a substantial breakfast.
"Are we going to church?" I asked. At home, we never missed a Sunday unless somebody was sick.
Crystal was taken aback. "I hadn't planned on it," she demurred immediately. "We don't know anybody here."
"We know God," Sam said unexpectedly. "He's everywhere the same, isn't he?"
"I don't even know where there's a church," Crystal said.
That struck me as absurd. There were churches all over the place. "There's at least one in Trinidad, only a few miles away. And Arcata and Eureka are full of churches. I saw the spires and the crosses when we were driving around."
"I...don't think I feel like going. I hadn't planned on it."
"What's to plan? This is tourist country. I doubt if anyone would object if we went in jeans, but we've all got something dressier than that. It would only take a few minutes to change."
"Not this week," Crystal said with more firmness than she usually displayed. "Maybe next week, when Jeff is back."
We could have gone by ourselves, but it was just a little too far to walk, I decided. The boys didn't really care. They voted for the beach.
"Oh," I said to Crystal as we were clearing the table, "I'll need a ride to my job tomorrow. Eight o'clock in the morning."
She nearly lost the sea of syrup still standing on Jeremy's plate, tilting it toward the sink just in time. "Job? What job?"
"I'm going to be transcribing a handwritten manuscript for the father of the boy who works at the general store. On a computer."
She stared at me as if I'd suddenly become a kumquat. "When did all this come about?"
"The day Dad left. He said it was okay. I'll earn enough money for my school clothes next fall, and maybe somewhere near enough to get me a used computer so I don't have to use Dad's."
"But you can't even know this person!"
"Does anybody usually know the people they go to work for? He's just a man in a wheelchair who can't use the computer himself, and he's written this book in long-hand. You know you can't submit it that way "
Crystal ran an agitated hand through her silvery hair, leaving it standing in wisps. I knew she had her moments of being beyond understanding, but I wasn't prepared for her vehemence. "No, I can't let you do this, Nikki."
Stupefied, I felt my jaw drop. "What do you mean you can't let me? Dad already said I could."
"Your father isn't here," she snapped, as if the tension had suddenly become too much for her, though why it should have left me baffled.
"I know that. But he said I could. He talked to the man, and we went to his house and met his housekeeper, and Dad said I could do it. I'm expected to be there at eight in the morning, and I need a ride because it's too far to walk."
"No," Crystal said flatly.
Well, we'd not become bosom buddies, and I wasn't happy that my dad had married her, and I didn't expect we'd ever be best friends, but I certainly hadn't anticipated anything like this.
"I want to call Dad and ask him, then," I said finally. "He said I could, so I don't see how you can say I can't."
"Because I'm in charge while he's gone," Crystal said, still in that flat, noncompromising tone.
"I'm calling Dad," I repeated. But when I tried, I couldn't reach him. He wasn't at home, and when I tried his office at B&B, he wasn't there, either. I even tried Harborview, thinking he might be at the hospital where Mr. Billock was, but though they admitted Mr. B was a patient, they said there was no one visiting him at the moment and when they paged Dad, nobody answered. Surely he'd keep his cell phone on him, but he didn't answer that number, either. Frustration was at a boiling point.
It didn't make for a pleasant day. I smoldered, and Crystal went into her studio to work. We each fixed our own lunch at different times and didn't speak to one another all afternoon. I decided if she was in charge, she could deal with supper on her own, and I didn't even show up to clean vegetables for a salad.
Finally Sam peeked his head into my room and asked, "What's going on? How come nobody's fixing anything to eat?"
"Crystal informed me she's the boss while Dad's gone, and that I can't go to my new job, so we're not speaking," I told him. "Fix whatever you can find in the refrigerator. Eating junk for one night isn't going to hurt you any. By tomorrow, I'll be able to talk to Dad."
He regarded me with troubled eyes. "What are you going to do?"
"I told Mr. Gyasi I'd be there at eight, and I will be."
"You're going to walk all that way?"
I'd had time to think about it by this time. "It's too far by road, but I can cut three or four miles off the distance if I go by the beach. Incidentally, unless she goes with you, you stay off the beach while I'm gone."
His dismay struck at my conscience, but what could I do about it? Of course Dad had expected to be here to look after the boys, but he hadn't changed any of the rules before he left.
I relented a little. "I don't know how long I'll have to work, but if I start at eight, I'd think I'd be able to come home by four or so. I'll go down to the beach with you then."
He brightened a little. "Can we watch for you from the top of the stairs? And come down when we see you coming?"
"I guess so, but don't start watching until at least four o'clock," I told him.
If Crystal got anything to eat that evening, it was when the rest of us weren't in the kitchen. I tried again to reach Dad at home, and had to leave a message on the answering machine. I didn't explain it I thought I'd better tell him my side of the story in person and just said I needed to talk to him as soon as possible.
I hoped he'd call back before I went to bed. He didn't. So I had to make up my own mind what to do.
I decided to simply get up early and walk over to the Gyasis' by way of the beach and the stairs. I didn't leave a note. If I didn't show up the next day, I figured Crystal would be smart enough to come to the conclusion that I'd walked to work without her permission.
Did I deliberately neglect to tell her where I'd be working? I don't know. Maybe. She wasn't being receptive to anything I said, and I had no reason to think it would matter to her where I went and who my employer was. At least that's what I told myself when I set the alarm for six-thirty the next morning.
Buster was back in bed with me that night, and I didn't steer him toward Crystal's room. If she had any nightmares, she kept them quieter. If she wanted Buster's company, she'd have to ask for it, but she didn't.
I slept restlessly, waking before the alarm went off.
I didn't want it to wake Crystal up. I wasn't sure what she'd do if she knew I was defying her and going to work against her direct forbidding of it. But I wasn't eager to find out.
Why was she taking such an attitude? What difference did it make to her whether I took a job or not? Especially when I'd explained to her that Dad had met the man and his housekeeper and was satisfied that I'd be perfectly safe and that the material I'd be typing was acceptable?
I didn't put on my shoes until I got down to the kitchen. It was only a quarter of seven and Crystal wasn't likely to be up for some time yet. I ate cold cereal and a banana, and then, because nobody had said what I'd do about lunch, I made a sandwich and stuck an apple in a paper bag to take with me. I could always go down and eat on the beach if I needed to.
I'd allowed plenty of time to get over to the Gyasi house, but by the time I'd gone down our stairs, walked along the beach and around the jutting rock barricade separating our section from theirs, and up the other flight of stairs, I was winded.
Mrs. Mallory let me in, smiling. "Good morning, Nikki. Mr. Gyasi is waiting for you in his study."
"Am I late?" I asked in alarm, but she shook her head. "No, no, you're early. He's always up with the birds, often has trouble sleeping, poor man. He hurts quite a bit, you know."
"What happened to him?" I blurted, and then realized that maybe I'd better learn to curb my tongue.
"Oh, he was in a terrible accident. He never wanted to go back to teaching at the university after he was in that car wreck, though being in a wheelchair wouldn't have kept him from conducting classes. His wife died in the mishap, and that took the heart right out of him, they say. I didn't work for him then, only after he came back to Trinidad to live."
"I thought he'd always lived here," I said, trying to remember the conversation with Mr. Gyasi.
"Oh, he grew up in this house. It's belonged to his family practically forever." She led me along the hallway toward the study that overlooked the ocean. "But he went away to school and taught in a college somewhere. I forget which one, one of those prestigious ones. He only came home after the accident. He'd always owned the house, after his parents died, but he hadn't wanted to live here. But I suppose it seemed a reasonable place to bring his motherless son to grow up." She had been pleasant, smiling, but now her face twisted. "If only those miserable young whelps in the village weren't so unmerciful with Julian. I don't think he's especially happy here, but he's going away to school next year. Here you are. She's here, Mr. Gyasi."
The man swiveled in the mechanized chair to face us. "Well, at least you're on time," he said gruffly. "I'll show you the manuscript here and the paper you're to use. This for my copy, that heavier bond for finished copies, of which I'll need two. They're to be put into these boxes. I'll be checking them over for accuracy before they're shipped out, of course."
The look he gave me suggested that he thought I might try to get away with covering up my errors.
"There's a spell-checker on the computer," I told him quietly, subduing my nervousness. "It should catch any mistakes."
I could tell by his reaction that though he might have heard of spell-checkers, he didn't really know how they worked.
Without a further invitation, I sat down and turned on the computer, giving it a chance to warm up and give me a blank page. I typed out a line, deliberately misspelling a couple of words. "See? If the spelling is wrong, it makes a wiggly red line under the word. And if you click on it with the right side of the mouse," I demonstrated, "it gives the correct spelling, and then when you click again, it makes the correction on the screen."
He clearly knew nothing about computers. I wondered what he had taught, that he'd remained so uninformed about a tool that was so universally in use. I had the impression that he was impressed but not about to admit it not with my knowledge of it, but with the computer's ability to detect misspelled words.
"What shall I do if there's a word I can't interpret?" I asked, reaching for the first page of his handwritten text. "Shall I come ask you, or mark it to check on later?"
"Ask me," he said. "I do not want any mistakes in what you print out."
"All right." I hesitated. "Do you have a publisher for this, or are you printing it yourself?"
Somehow he managed to draw himself taller in his chair, indignation barely under control. "It will be published," he informed me, which didn't answer my question. Maybe I should have kept still, but I was used to having some facts to work with.
"Self-published?" I persisted. "Or do you have a contract with a publisher, or will you be looking for one when it's been printed out?"
"It will not be necessary for me to self-publish," he said, so I got the idea that he expected to find a publisher, and that he was insulted that I would assume it wasn't good enough to find a commercial publisher who would pay him for it, rather than having to pay to get it into print. I knew enough to know that most professional authors expect to be paid, rather than having to pay a subsidy publisher.
"I'm asking because my dad's an editor," I explained. "At Billock & Brandbury Books, out of Seattle. So I've seen a lot of manuscripts." And I remembered how many books he had to read to find one worth publishing, but I didn't tell him that.
His nostrils flared perceptibly. I didn't think he'd ever heard of B&B. It wasn't one of the big New York companies like Simon & Schuster or Doubleday, but it was a respectable publishing house.
"You may begin," he said. "I will be just across the hallway in my own room, reading and revising the last few chapters. If you need to consult with me, you may knock on the door over there."
He wheeled away, leaving me to start the job. I was glad he wasn't standing over me, watching, because I made a few boo-boos before I got everything set up to do manuscript form pages, with numbers and margins set appropriately.
When I'd done the first chapter, I decided I'd better show it to him to make sure it was satisfactory before I went on. When I stood up, I could see the tranquil blue of the ocean beyond the big windows, with a freighter heading toward Humboldt Bay. I hoped the boys wouldn't go down on the beach without Crystal, and I wasn't sure how much time she'd be willing to spend with them, instead of in her studio.
I took in a deep breath and prepared to knock on the door of Mr. Gyasi's room and show him what I'd done so far. Actually, I thought it looked great. I knew the right format for printing it out, and he had a superb printer that turned out completely professional-looking material.
I opened the door into the hallway and ran right into a tall, bulky figure I hadn't been expecting. I gulped aloud and almost fell over backward, while this stranger's face stared down at me in what I could only describe as an unfriendly manner.
Copyright © 2002 by Willo Davis Roberts
Meet the Author
Willo Davis Roberts wrote many mystery and suspense novels for children during her long and illustrious career, including The Girl with the Silver Eyes, The View from the Cherry Tree, Twisted Summer, Megan’s Island, Baby-Sitting Is a Dangerous Job, Hostage, Scared Stiff, The Kidnappers, and Caught! Three of her children’s books won Edgar Awards, while others received great reviews and other accolades, including the Sunshine State Young Reader’s Award, the California Young Reader’s Medal, and the Georgia Children’s Book Award.
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Nikki had the perfect life. She was going to a foreign country with her parents, older sister and brother. Nikki was going to have the best time ever! Even when Mom got sick, Nikki knew she'd get better. But she didn't. But Nikki forced herself to believe she would even when the trip was canceled. Soon after that, her mother died.
8 months later Nikki's dad comes home with the news he's engaged. And Nikki's new step-mom seemed nice at first, but soon she began to seem a bit strange.
No Nikki's step-mother isn't evil. She's mysterious. So when Nikki is forced to take a trip with her step-mom, she really isn't eager. Until Nikki's step-mom's secrets begin to unravel.
I loved Undercurrents. It was a very interesting book about once again Self Discovery and Mystery.
Undercurrents is definitely a page turner and I highly recommend it.
i hated this book and showed no interest whatsoever and could not stand reading it. im sorry to all of the lovers of this book out there but it was just not my cup of tea. not recommended.
I loved this book!!! as soon as i finished it i went online and looked for a sequal! You must read this book!!!!!!
This book was good but a little scary! i am not a big reader myself but this book had me hooked on so i couldnt put the book down. I Recommend that you should read this book. it is good for reports or a test. I have a thing called reading counts at my school and you can take a test on the book' if you have reading counts' ! well hope you enjoy!
This book is deff. woth reading, although about the first half of the book was boring. Took a while to get into but once I did get into it I was hooked. Gave me a nightmare!!
This book is about a teenage girl on vacation in a house that her stepmother inherits. But why doesn¿t her Stepmother want to go? A few weeks later dad has to leave early for business reasons. After her dad leave she starts acting up in an odd way. Is their family in danger? Why is she acting like this? Could his be your kind of book? Near the end she finds out some bad news. The end touches your heart forever. This author has amazing cliff hangers that will keep you reading all night.
This book left you hanging with so many questions like 'Why was Crystal having these dreams' and 'Why did Crystal dye her hair'? It was like a mystery of what Crystal was hideing. I gave this book 3 stars because even though it was an exciting book it didnt seem as thrilling as it could have been. If you are the kind of person who likes mystery books that arent all gory and scary, this book is for you!
When I read this book I really couldn't figure out what the mystery was. I hate reading mystery books, but I had to read one for a book report. This book was chosen randomly from a pile of other mystery books, and to my surprise i really enjoyed it. I think I enjoyed this book mostly because the mystery was hidden. I took the time to think over the book and finally figured out what the mystery was and what some of the clues were. the book was very confusing but in the end it was worth all the time I spent reading it (which was quite a long period of time). I hope you have a chance to pick up one of the many great books by Willo Davis Roberts!
Nikki's new stepmother, Crystal, inherits a house in Trinidad, California, and the family goes out there for the summer when Crystal begins acting very strange. Why is Crystal acting this way and is Nikki's family in danger? I greatly enjoyed this book because it constantly left you hanging with many questions and thoughts at the end of a chapter. I also liked it a lot because it used many descriptive words and phrases, allowing me to clearly visualize the scene being described by the author. An example of these descriptive words are, "We crept along Hillside Street, only a few blocks long but lined with these magnificent old mansions from the lumbering days, when people thought the redwoods would last forever. It was almost like stepping a hundred years back in history." I enjoy this paragraph in the book because it fills my mind with a beautiful scene. This is only one of the many examples of beautiful descriptive words in this book. When reading this book I would constantly find myself asking questions and making predictions. A strategy that could help a reader when reading this book would be to write down any questions or thoughts on the book that they may have. Perhaps you could even take note of things in your mind. I did this and I found myself able to understand the book much easier and wanting to read ahead to see if my predictions were correct. A text-to-self connection that I can make from this book has to do with the setting to which the book takes place. I went to California over Thanksgiving break. This book describes the beautiful Victorian mansions built in California. When I read the descriptions in the book about the houses, it reminded me of my vacation and I felt as if I were there again. Another text-to-self connection that I can make from this book has to do with Nikki's Black Lab, Buster. I could really relate because I have a Black Lab. His name is Cisco. In the book, many descriptions are made about the Labrador, such as begging for food and following its master everywhere. These descriptions sounded so much like Cisco, and I could easily make a connection.
Undercurrents, by Willo Davis Roberts, is a realistic and well written suspense mystery novel. Not to lash out against critics,but the book is directed for children ages 8-12, not them. I have heard some people thought it strange that the main character,14 year old Nikki Simons, has no close friends, and they wondered why. It is not at all uncommon for a young teenager to have few friends or confidants. That is an accurate way to describe how things are these days. The plot was well thought, with a twist that perhaps could have been expected, but still it held a good ending. The last few paragraphs may have left some major cliffhangers, but it was really a smart thing for the author to do. Fifty percent of the reasons some people don't like books is because of the ending. So this way the audience is left with the ability to dream up their own idea of how it unravelled. Overall,I thought the book had a inruiging plot, believable characters, and an intelligent ending.