Read an Excerpt
A Fairy Houses Mystery
By Tracy Kane, Kelly Sanders
Light-Beams PublishingCopyright © 2011 Light-Beams Publishing
All rights reserved.
Luke Carver looked up from pulling dandelions. The fog on the river was so heavy it was hard to tell where Prescott Park ended and the water began. He squinted, trying to make out shapes in the mist. It felt as if someone was watching him from behind the big maple tree. He was sure it wasn't Uncle Rick. His uncle was whistling by the fountain in the middle of the park.
Luke had lived near the ocean his whole life. He knew that hot summer weather and cold water made sea smoke. But the fog still spooked him. He shrugged and tugged another weed from the flower bed.
Then Luke took another look around. Prescott Park sat on the banks of the Piscataqua River, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. On a clear day, he could stand at the edge of the river and see the state of Maine on the other side.
Luke picked up a trowel. He hated weeding. But he better not tell Uncle Rick that. Uncle Rick might give him one of his "Nature is Magic" speeches. He had already gotten an earful on the way to the park that morning. Luke rolled his eyes, remembering Uncle Rick's lecture about how dandelions had developed strong roots for survival. Let's see how tough you really are, thought Luke, as he yanked at a weed. He groaned as the plant snapped off, leaving the root in the ground.
A horn blasted in the distance. It was a boat signaling the bridge to raise its middle section. The fog was lifting. Luke spotted a tugboat chugging out toward the ocean. Gardening wasn't so bad. He could watch the action on the water. Plus, he could earn extra gas money for his boat. Maybe he would go fishing this afternoon with his friend Trevor. On second thought, maybe he should just go by himself.
Trevor was Luke's next door neighbor and his best buddy since kindergarten. But hanging out with Trevor hadn't been such a good idea lately. Last week, Trevor almost talked Luke into taking his small boat six miles out to the Isles of Shoals. His parents would have —
"I think the dandelions are winning!" Luke jumped at the sound of his uncle's voice.
"Uncle Rick, I didn't see you coming," said Luke. "The sea smoke is —"
"Quiet," Uncle Rick said. "Don't move. He's right behind you."
"Who?" Luke turned to look in the direction of Uncle Rick's gaze. He saw a flash of brown dart into the trellis.
"It's that sneaky rabbit!" said Uncle Rick. "I've been trying to catch him for days. He's been devouring the flowers as fast as I plant them. See if you can herd him over to that maple tree where I've set a trap."
So that's who had been watching him! "You're not going to hurt him are you?" Luke asked. The rabbit peeked from behind the trellis and sniffed the air.
"Nah, it's a humane animal trap. I put some juicy carrots inside for bait. He'll hop in, the door will close behind him and he'll be just fine."
The rabbit headed toward a bed of petunias. Luke panicked. What if the rabbit ate all the flowers he had spent hours planting?
"We can't let that rabbit use Prescott Park gardens for his personal restaurant." Uncle Rick's hushed voice cut through his thoughts. "He's getting fatter than that tugboat over there."
Luke slowly approached the rabbit from behind. The rabbit leapt forward and dashed toward the maple. Instead of going into the trap, he veered to the left and disappeared down a hole between the tree's spreading roots.
"He got away," Luke said.
"Not again!" muttered Uncle Rick. "We'll have to wait 'til he gets hungry and pokes his nose out to smell those carrots." Rick picked up a pot of tulips. "When I finally capture him, I know a wooded area on the other side of the water where he can make a new home."
"You can't do that!" Luke replied. "There are coyotes in the woods over there. Maybe I can take him home." Luke's house was nestled on the shore of Sagamore Creek, on the outskirts of Portsmouth, in a heavily wooded area full of deer, possum, raccoons, and great blue herons. "I could make him a hutch out of some of Dad's lobster pots." Then he added, "Mom wouldn't mind."
"Are you crazy? I've known your mother a lot longer than you have. She is my sister, you know!" laughed Uncle Rick. "She'd have a fit if I let you take that rabbit home for a pet. Besides, she's busy enough running her summer camp."
"But the campers are city kids from Boston. They come here to see the wildlife! They've probably never seen a live rabbit up close," Luke replied.
"Some wildlife," scoffed his uncle. "A chubby bunny that eats flowers and wiggles its nose." He shook his head and smiled. "No, it's definitely too scary for the city crowd. We wouldn't want the kids to have nightmares, would we?"
Luke chuckled at the idea. "I know," he said. "What if we just let him loose in my woods?"
"No way. I want him as far away from my flower beds as possible. Anyway, it's no use waiting for Peter Rabbit now." Uncle Rick bent over to pick up a shovel and trowel. "Let's pack up. We have to go over to Annie Lennox's place. She's hired me to look after her property this summer."
"Mrs. Lennox?" Luke said. "Uncle Rick, she hates me!"
"Then you'd better be on your best behavior," Uncle Rick replied. "Grab that rake behind you."
"Do I have to go?" Luke asked. He picked up the rake, which reminded him of the broom Mrs. Lennox was holding when she shooed him off her property last month. He was just taking a shortcut.
"Well, I thought you'd like to meet the new renters living in her cottage. The woman is really nice. She's the archeologist at Strawbery Banke Museum. She said she had a kid going into sixth grade. Won't that be your class?"
"A boy?" Luke asked, suddenly very interested in his uncle's plan.
"I forgot to ask," his uncle said, as he hopped into his truck. "Come on and we'll find out."
Luke jumped in beside his uncle. He had a new classmate to meet.CHAPTER 2
"This is a perfect place to build fairy houses," Kate Evans whispered in awe, as she came to a stand of tall pines. Her mom had said the cottage was near a wooded area, but this looked more like an enchanted forest. It was quiet, misty, and overflowing with green ferns and mosses. There was even a small stream that bubbled as it splashed over some rocks. Beams of sunlight filtered through the trees, creating warm spotlights between cool shadows. This was definitely better than she had imagined, and Kate had a vivid imagination.
She started collecting some fallen branches and pieces of bark. She was careful not to disturb the mosses and gently built around them by placing the sticks in a teepee shape on a bed of pine needles.
Kate had first learned about building fairy houses with her best friend, Laura. The girls had spent hours in a wooded area in Kate's old neighborhood, building fairy houses together. Kate thought Laura would love it here. If only she still lived right next door! Kate wondered if she would ever find a friend like Laura, someone who loved playing in the woods as she did.
"A fairy goes a-wandering", Kate sang as she gathered pinecones. She spied a mockingbird in a nearby bush. "Hello little bird, are you listening to me?" The bird warbled a few notes in reply and flew into the branches of a giant pine tree.
Kate looked high up into the tree's crown. Her eyes moved down the immense trunk to where it widened before disappearing into a carpet of soft needles. The spot looked inviting. She sat down and breathed in the pine scent around her. Then she leaned back into a furrow at the trunk's center.
"HEY!!!" Kate jumped. It felt like something had pushed on her back! She turned around. A piece of bark had swung open like a door. Astonished, she waited a few moments to see if anything might scurry out. When nothing did, she approached the hollow cautiously.
"I wonder if this is some animal's house." She examined the door. It was made from a thin piece of wood covered with tree bark. It had a special latch that released when it was pushed. Kate peered into the dark opening, which was a bit larger than her head. Something inside caught the light.
"Is that a little table?" Kate wondered. She squinted harder into the tree's hollow. "Could those be chairs next to it? Animals don't use furniture."
Off in the distance, Kate heard her mother's voice. "KAAATE!"
"It's too dark inside. I'll need a flashlight," Kate said to herself. She carefully replaced the door over the secret opening and pushed gently. She felt a click; the door fit so snuggly it disappeared into the tree trunk.
Her mom called again, "KAAATE, where are you?"
"Coming!" Kate yelled. She raced toward home. "Mom's not going to believe this!"
When she reached the edge of the woods, Kate saw her mom talking to a man. A boy stood next to him. Her mom looked Kate's way and waved for her to join them.
"Kate, I'd like you to meet Rick Fernandez. Mr. Fernandez works at Prescott Park near my office at Strawbery Banke. He's in charge of the gardens. And this is his nephew, Luke Carver. Luke just turned eleven like you."
Luke and Kate eyed each other warily. Both mumbled a quick "Hi." Kate noticed that Luke was a bit shorter than she was. He looked a lot like his uncle, with dark wavy hair and brown eyes.
"The gardens next door are beautiful," Kate's mom said. "Is that your work, too?"
"Your landlady, Annie Lennox, has cared for them for as long as I can remember," answered Uncle Rick. "But, her husband died a couple of years ago and since then she's lost interest in gardening. She just hired me to take over and manage the grounds, including this cottage you're renting."
"The house is enormous for only one person," said Mrs. Evans.
"Does she own the woods, too?" Kate asked.
"Yes, she does. Her property goes all the way back behind Sagamore Creek, the tidal creek that runs by Luke's house," his uncle replied. "I know a few developers who would love to get their hands on thirty-five acres of land on the water!"
Luke found his voice, "My Dad and I go past her place in our boat all the time when I help him haul lobster traps. I've always thought the Lennox house looked haunted."
"That old house does look interesting," Uncle Rick laughed.
Kate glanced over the tops of the trees and saw the roof line of the house in the distance. She wondered what it would be like to live alone in such a huge place.
"Why don't you and Kate come to my sister's house tomorrow night for a lobster bake?" asked Luke's uncle.
Mrs. Evans' face lit up. "That sounds lovely," she said. She caught a glimpse of her daughter's doubtful expression, but continued, "We'll bring the dessert. Kate and I made a couple of blueberry pies this morning. Where do you live, Luke?"
"Oh, just down the road," said Luke, as he quickly hopped into his uncle's truck.
"He's usually not that shy," Uncle Rick chuckled. "It's down this road on the left, a gray house with the white porch. You can't miss it. Look for the lobster pots piled up near the garage."
"What time?" Kate's mom asked.
"How about six o'clock?" he replied, starting his truck. "That will give us a chance to clean up after work."
Kate and her mom watched the truck disappear down the dirt driveway. "Luke seems like a nice kid. Maybe he'll be your first friend in Portsmouth," her mother said.
Yeah, right, thought Kate. Just her luck that the nearest neighbor turned out to be a boy!CHAPTER 3
The sun was just about to peek over the horizon as Luke quietly left his house and headed down to the dock. He had been thinking about that poor rabbit all night. He wanted to check on Uncle Rick's trap before anyone showed up at Prescott Park.
He walked the length of the dock and untied his skiff. He hopped aboard and pushed off, all in one swift motion. He fastened his life jacket, and then checked to see if the oars were stashed in place under the seat. Although he was only eleven, boating in and around the back channel of the Piscataqua River was second nature to him. Last year for his birthday, his parents had surprised him with this wooden skiff.
Luke started his motor and was off, skimming over the calm water of the inlet at the edge of his family's property. Friendly gulls circled overhead, squawking their morning greetings. He'd reach Prescott Park in no time. He rounded the point and headed toward Clam Pit Island.
To his left, Luke could see Mrs. Lennox's property, which the local people called Creek Farm. From his vantage point on the water, the house seemed abandoned. It reminded him of a haunted house he had seen in a movie.
Mrs. Lennox seemed grouchy the few times Luke had met her. Uncle Rick said she had grown up here, playing and boating in the same area that Luke loved to explore. Luke couldn't picture Mrs. Lennox out here, speeding through the back channel and weaving around the little islands the way he did.
Luke spotted the Prescott Park dock and nosed the boat in that direction. In this main part of the mighty Piscataqua River, the tidal current could make steering difficult. He could feel the power of the water as it rushed out to the ocean. He pulled tight and gripped the handle of his motor.
All of a sudden, a speedboat came out of nowhere, straight for Luke's skiff. The driver saw Luke at the last minute and veered to the right, going toward the back channel. The man waved his fist and shouted angrily at Luke, even though he was the one who almost ran Luke over. It was Trevor's dad.
"That was a close call," yelled the Harbormaster as Luke pulled up to the dock. "This part of the river is a no-wake zone and that guy's looking for an accident."
Luke stepped onto the dock. "Hi, Mr. Sewell. He sure surprised me. Mind if I tie 'er up for the day? I'm helping Uncle Rick with the gardens."
"Nope," answered the weathered seaman, smiling. "Say hello to your uncle. I'll see you this afternoon."
Luke knew he would have to hurry to beat Uncle Rick to the trap, because his uncle was an early riser. As he hustled along, he thought about how Trevor and Trevor's dad had both been acting strangely lately.
Just last week, Luke and Trevor had had a terrible fight. Trevor tried to convince Luke to jump off the steel bridge that connected Prescott Park with Peirce Island even though the sign posted on the bridge clearly said "No Jumping." The guys unloading their catches at the fishing wharf and a lady walking her dog would have seen them. Trevor had called Luke a wimp. But Luke didn't care. He just walked away. He didn't want to get in trouble just because his friend needed to break the rules to have fun.
Luke reached the spot where his uncle had left the trap. It was empty. Peter Rabbit was safe, at least for now.CHAPTER 4
Since Luke's house was less than a mile away, Kate and her mom had decided to walk to the lobster bake. Kate hadn't had a moment to go exploring by herself since she had discovered the hidden room yesterday. All she could think about were the secrets that might lie in the hollowed-out tree trunk. She planned to bring a flashlight next time to see it better. Had she imagined the furniture or was it simply a squirrel house with some twigs inside?
"There's going to be a lovely sunset later," Mrs. Evans said.
Kate glanced at her mom's smiling face. Kate could tell that her mom liked it here. She knew her mother was excited about her new job, and maybe she even liked Mr. Fernandez a little, too. He looked different from her Dad, who had died when Kate was too young to remember. Still, she knew his face from the family photos. In fact, everyone always said that Kate looked just like him, especially her blue eyes with tiny flecks of gold and her thick, chestnut-colored hair. Anyway, she would have to keep an eye on Mr. Fernandez and make sure he was good enough for her mom.
"This must be the place," Kate's mom said. "See the lobster traps? And that's Rick's truck in the driveway."
A woman stepped out onto the porch. "Greetings," she said. "You must be Rick's guests." She was pretty, with her curly brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. "I'm Connie Carver, Rick's twin sister," she said.
"Thanks for inviting us for dinner," said Kate's mom. "Here are some pies we baked."
A small figure stepped out from behind Mrs. Carver. "Oh. And this is my daughter, Meg."
"And I'm four," declared the little girl with two long braids.
"Hi, Meg," said Kate. "I like your hair."
"Dinner will be ready shortly," Mrs. Carver said. "Come meet my husband."
Passing through the kitchen, they came out into a long narrow backyard that ended at the water. At the far edge sat a shed and a dock with two boats tied to it, a lobster boat and a smaller skiff.
"This is my husband, Kevin," Mrs. Carver said. Luke's dad stood alongside Uncle Rick, helping with the lobster bake. They had built a fire in a hole in the ground with rocks lining the bottom. The seaweed they had piled over it hissed and steamed.
Just then, a large boy in a Red Sox cap came charging into the yard shouting, "Luke, come on. We'll miss the lobsters getting thrown into the fire!" He turned to look back at Luke, who seemed to be stalling at the backyard gate. Luke followed slowly behind.
Excerpted from Forest Secrets by Tracy Kane, Kelly Sanders. Copyright © 2011 Light-Beams Publishing. Excerpted by permission of Light-Beams Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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