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Did You Say Zombie?
Whoo-ooh! Six-year-old Benny stirred in his sleep as an owl hooted in the distance.
The owl flew on silent wings and landed in a tree outside the cabin window. Whoo-ooh!
Benny opened his eyes. Why was that owl hooting so loudly?
Benny sat up in bed and looked around. Henry, his fourteen-year-old brother, was still asleep.
A light flashed in the cabin window and then disappeared. Benny got out of bed. Twelveyear-old Jessie and ten-year-old Violet were asleep in their room on the other side of the small cabin.
Benny looked out the window into the woods. A light flickered and flashed in the darkness.
Benny watched as the light moved farther away and then disappeared.
It looks like those people found their cabin, thought Benny. And here we are in ours. Benny went back to bed and pulled the covers up to his chin. The cabin reminded him of the boxcar. He closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.
"Wake up, sleepyhead," said Jessie.
"Rise and shine," said Henry. "We want to go to breakfast."
Benny sat up right away. "Breakfast!"
"I told you that was the magic word," said Violet.
Henry, Jessie, and Violet laughed. They knew how much Benny loved to eat.
"I'll be outside with the new camera," said Violet. She held the camera decorated with purple stars in her hand. The camera could take photos and videos. Grandfather Alden had bought it for all of them, but Violet was the artistic one. She loved the color purple and loved taking photos and making videos.
"Let me come with you," said Jessie.
"We'll find you when Benny is ready," said Henry.
Benny got out of bed, washed his face, and dressed. A few minutes later Benny and Henry walked out the door of their cabin.
Henry and Benny walked along the path. As they walked, they passed the other small cabins under the trees. Each cabin had a small path that started at the front door. All of those smaller paths led to the wider path. And the wider path led to the main lodge.
Their grandfather had driven them to the Winding River Lodge after dinner the night before. For many years, Grandfather had been friends with the family that owned the lodge. It was just an hour away from Greenfield by car, but it was like another world. There was forest as far as the eye could see. People came from all over the state to enjoy the wonders of the outdoors and stay in the lodge's rustic cabins. Grandfather Alden had business to attend to back in Greenfield, so after they checked in, he had gone home. Soon after, the tired travelers had unpacked and gone to bed.
Violet was filming the light coming through the trees. Jessie stood beside her. "That will make a nice video," said Henry as they walked up to the girls.
"It's so pretty in the woods in the fall," said Violet.
"Breakfast is pretty, too," said Benny.
"Hold your horses, Benny," Jessie said with a laugh. "We're on our way to breakfast now." Jessie often acted motherly to Benny.
"Good morning," said a man as he walked past them on the path. He was carrying a painting easel in one hand and a folding chair in the other.
"Good morning," replied the Alden children.
"I hope he didn't eat all of the pancakes," said Benny after the man passed.
"It's early," said Jessie, "I'm sure there will be a few left for you."
The path to the main lodge twisted and turned through the woods as they walked. Violet turned the camera left and right, taking pictures. "This is such a beautiful place."
"Don't use up the memory card before breakfast," said Jessie.
"I won't," said Violet. "I can take pictures for two hours before it runs out of space."
"I hope it doesn't take us that long to get to breakfast," said Benny.
"It won't," said Henry. "Look." He pointed to the end of the path. There was the main lodge. Tall elms and colorful maple trees with red and yellow leaves surrounded it.
"Breakfast!" said Benny. He ran down the path and opened the door.
"Come right in," said a woman with curly silver hair. It was Maude Hansen, the owner of the Winding River Lodge. She was a longtime friend of Grandfather.
"Are you ready for breakfast?" said Maude. She rubbed her hands on her apron.
"Oh, yes," said Benny. "Do you have any pancakes left?"
"I saved some pancake batter just for you," said Maude. "Have a seat." She pointed at the dining room filled with tables.
Maude smiled as she stirred a bowl of batter with a spoon. Then she poured large circles of pancake batter on the griddle.
"Your breakfast will be ready in a few minutes," said Maude.
"Mrs. Hansen reminds me of Mrs. McGregor," said Jessie as she sat down at the table. Mrs. McGregor was Grandfather Alden's housekeeper. She had been taking care of the Alden children ever since they had come to live with their grandfather.
When their parents died, the Alden children ran away to live on their own. They feared they would be found and sent to live with their grandfather. They had never met him, and they worried he might be mean to them. So the children stayed in an old boxcar in the woods. The old railroad car quickly became their home, and they lived there until their grandfather found them. When the children saw how nice he was and how much he loved them, they went to live with him in Greenfield. Later, as a surprise, Grandfather had the boxcar moved into the backyard so they could play in it any time they liked.
The door to the main lodge opened, and a young woman with short brown hair walked in. She carried the newspaper under her arm. "Morning, Maude," she said.
"Good morning to you, Madison," said Maude.
"And good morning to all of you," said Madison. She walked up to the Aldens' table and sat down.
"Good morning," said the Aldens.
Madison took the newspaper out from under her arm and held it in front of her. Then she shook her head. "The nerve of that man!" she said to herself.
"What man?" asked Benny.
Madison turned the paper around to show the Aldens. "Can you believe it?" she said. She pointed to a photo of man holding a golf club. "Donovan Golf Tournament to Go On," the headline said.
"Matthew Donovan is a wealthy business-man who stole millions of dollars from the company he works for," said Madison. "Then he disappeared into thin air. But his charity golf tournament is still going on. Unbelievable!"
Maude used a spatula to flip the pancakes over. "Now, Madison," she said. "I thought you were on vacation from the newspaper."
"I am, I am," said Madison. She put down the paper with a sigh.
"How can you be on vacation from a paper?" asked Benny.
"I'm a reporter," said Madison. "I write for this newspaper." She pointed to the words in large bold print at the top of the page: Greenfield Gazette.
"I'm the business reporter. And that Matthew Donovan is making me crazy. Where did he disappear to? What did he do with all of that money?"
"A bad penny always turns up," said Maude. "In the meantime, you should enjoy your vacation."
Maude used the spatula to move the pancakes from the griddle to the plates. Then she put the plates on the counter. "Your pancakes are ready. Come and get them while they're hot."
Madison and the Alden children stood up and walked over to pick up their plates.
"You're right, Maude. I should enjoy my vacation," said Madison. "Donovan is work and this is my time off. I need something new for my Hauntings blog. I'll look for your zombie while I'm here."
"Zombie?" said Benny. His eyes opened wide. "What is a zombie?" asked Benny.
"A creature from a scary movie," says Jessie.
Maude shook her head as she carried the maple syrup jug to the table. "Madison, you know that old zombie legend isn't real. It's just an old campfire story. My great grandfather made it up to bring in the tourists. But I don't need any folks tromping through the woods looking for zombies."
Maude turned and looked at the Aldens. "What I need is some help clearing out the trail to the old fishing lodge. My grandson Jake and his friends won't be up until after lunchtime. I'd do it myself, but I want to make peach cobbler for lunch."
Benny almost jumped out of his chair. "Peach cobbler? I'll help clear the trail!"
The Alden children laughed.
"We'll all help," said Henry. He looked at Jessie and Violet. They both smiled.
"I can film our work," said Violet. She held up the new camera.
"It will be fun," said Jessie.
"Good," said Maude. "Now there will be no more talk about zombies." Maude looked over at Benny and then back at Madison.
"Okay," said Madison. "Just a nice, quiet vacation for me."
"Quiet?" said Benny. "It's not quiet here. I heard an owl hooting last night."
"We're in the woods, Benny," said Henry.
"And owls live in trees," said Jessie.
"Yes, we have lots of owls here at the Winding River Lodge," said Maude. She patted Benny on the head. "They won't hurt you."
"But it was hooting so loudly, it woke me up," said Benny.
"Owls hoot loudly when someone disturbs them," said Maude.
"Did the light in the woods bother them?" asked Benny.
"A light in the woods?" said Maude. "Where did you see that?"
"In the woods behind our cabin," said Benny.
"You can see the stars when it's dark," said Violet. "Was that what you saw, Benny?"
Benny shook his head. "No, it wasn't stars. It was a light moving in the trees."
"Like the flashlight we used to go to our cabin last night?" said Henry.
"Yes," said Benny, "but the light was on the other side of the cabin." He looked at Maude. "Is that path too close to the owl's nest?"
Maude's eye opened wide. "There's only one path to the cabins. Behind the cabins it's just woods." Maude turned and walked back to the kitchen. "Not again," she whispered.
Henry looked at Jessie and Violet. What was going on?
Maude came back out of the kitchen carrying another plate piled high with pancakes. "You'll all need some more pancakes if you're going to clear the trail for me this morning."
Benny blinked. "More pancakes? I can always eat more pancakes."CHAPTER 2
After breakfast, the Aldens followed Maude out of the main lodge. They walked around to the back of the building. "Here is our toolshed," said Maude. She opened a small wooden door, and they all walked inside. The room was filled with tools. There were shovels, rakes, wheelbarrows, and more.
"Wow!" said Benny. "You have a lot of tools."
Maude laughed. "We have a lot of trees! We need all of these tools to keep them tidy." She shook her head. "I used to have a work crew come and help me every summer. But business has been slow, so I couldn't hire anyone this summer. And now that it's fall, everything has grown even bigger."
"We can help you," said Henry.
"Yes," said Jessie. "We'll help you tidy up the trail."
Maude smiled. "Your grandfather said you were hard workers."
"What do we need to take with us?" asked Henry. He was good with tools.
"You'll need a rake and some clipping shears," said Maude. She lifted a pair of clipping shears off their hook on the back wall of the shed. She put the clipping shears in a wheelbarrow. "We'll use the wheelbarrow to carry the tools," said Maude.
"Let me help," said Henry. He took three more clipping shears off the back wall and put them in the wheelbarrow.
Benny pointed at a rake at the back of the toolshed. "That rake is taller than I am," said Benny. The Aldens laughed.
"That's why we use a wheelbarrow to carry all our tools," said Maude. "The wheel makes it easier to carry large loads." Maude looked at the Aldens again. "You'll need some work gloves, too." She opened a drawer in the workbench and took out four pairs. She gave a pair of gloves to each of the Alden children. "These will protect your hands," said Maude.
Benny put on his gloves. "Now I'm ready to work," he said.
Henry pushed the wheelbarrow out of the toolshed. "Which way do we go?" he asked.
"The trail on the right goes out to the old fishing lodge," said Maude. "Follow me."
Violet took the camera out of her pocket. "I'm going to film our adventure," she said.
Benny lifted his hands and waved at the camera.
"Now, act natural, Benny," said Violet.
"Natural?" said Benny.
"We're surrounded by nature," said Henry.
"I'm supposed act like a tree?" said Benny. He put his arms out like branches. The Aldens laughed as they walked down the trail with Maude.
"These trees are beautiful," said Violet. She turned and looked at Maude. "Are you sad when the trees lose their leaves?" asked Violet.
"There is beauty in every season," said Maude. "After the leaves fall, the snow comes. The woods are quiet and peaceful then."
"That sounds wonderful," said Violet.
"But what about the zombie?" blurted Benny.
Maude turned and looked at Benny. "Now, don't you worry about that old story," said Maude. "It is just a scary story for the campfire. That's one of our traditions. We have a campfire at the old fire pit every night for our guests. We eat together and tell stories. The guests like it."
"So there isn't a zombie?" said Benny.
Maude shook her head. "No," said Maude. "There's not. Are you disappointed?"
"Not me," said Benny.
"Me neither," said Violet.
"Good," said Maude.
The Aldens followed Maude as she led them down the winding trail. When the trail narrowed, Maude stopped. The trees and bushes along the sides of the trail almost touched one another in the middle.
"Everything here needs to be cut back," said Maude. She lifted her hand and touched a low tree limb. "You'll need to cut both the bushes and the tree limbs."
"Jessie and I can cut back the trees," said Henry.
Violet put her hand on Benny's shoulders. "Benny and I will cut the bushes."
"This trail goes all the way out to the old fishing lodge," said Maude. She pointed in the other direction. "I like to keep it open all year, in case some of the guests want to use it."
Maude looked out at the forest for a moment. "You never know what could be creeping around in these woods," she said softly.
What was creeping around the woods? Violet waited for Maude to explain, but Maude didn't say anything more about it.
Maude walked over to the wheelbarrow. "It will take a few hours to clear the trail," she said. "Just push the cuttings off to the side."
"We can do that," said Jessie.
"Thank you," said Maude. "Your grand-father told me you were hard workers. I'll ring the bell when it's time for lunch."
"Lunch!" said Benny. "I don't want to miss lunch."
"I'll ring the bell extra loud for you, Benny," said Maude. She patted Benny's hair. "When you hear it, just put the tools in the wheel-barrow and come back to the main lodge."
"I will," said Benny.
"Okay, then," said Maude. "I'm off to make my peach cobbler."
"I can't wait," said Benny.
Maude waved and then turned and walked back to the main lodge.
Henry passed out the clipping shears and they all went to work. Clip! Clip! Clip!
"Are zombies real?" asked Benny.
"No," said Jessie, "they are not real."
"Then why is the reporter looking for one?" asked Benny.
"Some people like to talk about scary things," said Henry.
Benny stopped clipping branches. He wanted to be ready just in case something did happen. "What do the zombies look like in the movies?" asked Benny.
"Uh ... They look like people walking around," said Jessie. She didn't want to upset Benny.
"That isn't scary," said Benny. He clipped a low branch.
"No, that's not the scary part," said Henry. He reached up and clipped a tree branch hanging over the trail. Whump! It fell to the ground. "What's scary about zombies is that they are dead."
"Wait a minute," said Benny. "How can they walk if they are dead?"
Henry stopped clipping and looked at Jessie. "We have to tell him."
"I don't want him to have nightmares," replied Jessie.
Benny looked at Jessie and Henry. "Nightmares about what?"
"The zombies in the movies," said Jessie.
"What do they do that is so scary?" asked Benny.
"They eat people," said Henry.
"They eat people?" said Benny. His eyes opened wide. "That is scary!"
Jessie put her hand on Benny's arm. "It's just in the movies, Benny. Zombies aren't real."
"But this work is real," said Henry. "Benny, we need your help."
"You can count on me," said Benny. He went back to cutting bushes. Clip! Clip!
The Aldens worked on the trail for the rest of the morning. Henry and Jessie cut the high branches while Violet and Benny cut the low ones. When the pile in the middle of the trail got too big, they pushed the cuttings off to the side.
"It looks like we're making a wall," said Benny.
"There's the bell," said Benny. "It's time for lunch!"
The Aldens put their tools into the wheel-barrow, just like Maude had asked. Then they walked back down the winding trail to the lodge. The closer they came to the main lodge, the more people they saw.
"Look," said Benny. "Everyone is coming at the same time."
"They all want to eat lunch," said Henry.
"I hope they save some peach cobbler for me," said Benny. "I'm hungry."
"We all worked up an appetite," said Jessie. "But I'm sure Maude will save some peach cobbler for you."
When the Aldens walked into the main lodge, they saw three teenagers. They looked to be a couple of years older than Henry. There were two boys and a girl. A boy with short, curly black hair had his arm around a girl with a blond braid that reached all the way down to her waist. The other boy had long brown hair. He was sitting at the table with his eyes closed.
Excerpted from The Zombie Project by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Robert Papp. Copyright © 2011 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 September 20, 2013
My 7 year old twin grandsons have enjoyed all the Boxcar Children stories so far. This story is a little too scary to read just before bedtime, but otherwise it's "read just one more chapter, grandma."
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