The Ghost of Fossil Glen gripping ghost story and murder mystery by a popular and highly regarded author.
Allie Nichols knows she's being pursued by a ghost. But her friend Karen calls her a liar and doesn't want to hear "stuff like that." It is Allie's old pal Dub who listens eagerly as Allie tells him about a voice that guides her safely down a steep cliff side, the face in her mind's eye of a girl who begs "Help me," and a terrible nightmare in which that girl falls to her death. Who is the girl? Is she the ghost? And what does the ghost want from Allie?
As Allie discovers that her role is to avenge a murder, she also learns something about friendship, false and true, in the latest chilling tale from best selling author Cynthia DeFelice.
About the Author
Cynthia DeFelice is the author of many bestselling books for young readers, including Wild Life, Signal, The Missing Manatee, and Weasel. Her books have been nominated for an Edgar Allen Poe Award and listed as American Library Association Notable Children's Books and Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year, among numerous other honors. She lives in upstate New York.
Read an Excerpt
The Ghost of Fossil Glen
By Cynthia DeFelice
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 1998 Cynthia DeFelice
All rights reserved.
Allie Nichols clung to the side of the steep cliff, trying to calm her racing heart and think. Stupidly, the only thought that came to her mind was: Mom and Dad would kill me if they knew where I was right now.
How many times had her mother warned about how dangerous Fossil Glen could be? How many times had her father reminded her not to go fossil hunting alone? How many times had they both cautioned her about climbing too high on the steep shale cliffs that rose perpendicular from the stream bed at the bottom of the glen?
"All the best fossils are up in the cliffs," Allie always told them, which was true. But her parents were right: Fossil Glen could be dangerous, as Allie's predicament clearly proved.
Mom and Dad won't have to kill me, she thought, because I'll already be dead. She felt tears spring to her eyes and almost lifted her hand to brush them away before remembering: she couldn't let go of the large exposed hemlock tree root. It was all that was keeping her from tumbling over one hundred feet straight down.
She couldn't change the position of her feet, either. The tips of her sneakers dug into the crumbly rock of the cliff side. Each time she tried to move, she dislodged several layers of the thin, slippery shale and slid farther downward. She was already stretched as far as she could stretch: her hands clung desperately to the root, her feet dug precariously into the shale, the side of her face pressed into the wall of the cliff.
There she hung, like Allie the Human Fly, except that, unfortunately, she had no wings. She'd thought climbing up was the hard part; now she realized it was even trickier to get back down.
She inched her head to the side so that she could look below her. Her eyes snapped shut when she saw how far away the ground was. She made herself open them again to survey the surface of the cliff beneath her, to see if there was anything down there that she could grab onto if she let go of the root and slid down the cliff side.
If there wasn't, and she fell all the way — well, she didn't want to think about that. But if she managed to get down lower and then fell, perhaps she wouldn't do anything worse than break a bone or two.
About halfway to the ground there was another hemlock tree. Thin and scrawny, it grew bravely out from the rocky wall. She had used it to pull herself up; now she hoped that it was strong enough to hold her weight if she grabbed it on the way down.
One by one, she began to uncurl the fingers of one fist. But then she froze. It was just too scary to let go.
Suddenly, from somewhere, she heard a voice. It wasn't a voice she recognized and yet it seemed familiar. It was soft and soothing and seemed to be coming from inside her head. She trusted it right away.
"Go ahead," said the voice. "Let go. You can do it."
A feeling of calmness and confidence began to come over Allie.
"It will be all right."
Allie believed the voice. Still, she hesitated.
"Now. Before you're so tired you simply fall."
Yes, thought Allie. Now. Letting go of the root first with one hand and then with the other, she began to slide down the face of the cliff, slowly at first and then faster. She ignored the terrible clatter of falling rock and the scraping of her hands and face and concentrated on the skinny hemlock trunk. She reached for it, caught it, and held on with all her might.
Her arms were nearly jerked from her shoulder sockets, but she held on and, miraculously, the little tree's roots held fast in the stony soil. Her right foot found a narrow ledge. Carefully, she tested her weight on it. It was solid. She brought her left foot next to her right.
In this position, which was far more secure, she rested for a moment before looking down. The ground was closer, though still far away.
"Good," said the voice. "Now slide. Don't lean back. Just let yourself slide."
Again, Allie did what the voice told her to do. She let go and slid. When she hit the ground, her legs buckled under her. She landed on her bottom and then on her back, in a cascade of rocks and dirt.
"Ow!" she moaned. She sat up and gingerly examined the damage. Her rear end hurt — a lot. Her hands were scraped and raw. Her face felt just like her hands. She reached up to touch her cheek and her finger came away bloody, but she couldn't tell if the blood came from her face or her hand. Probably both, she thought.
Allie stood up, brushing the dirt from her clothing. There was a rip in the front of her windbreaker, and her sneakers were full of dirt and stones. Her right elbow hurt where she had used it to soften the force of her fall. But nothing was broken. She was alive.
Glancing up, she saw the place where she had been clinging desperately just minutes before. Her heart lurched. Feeling dizzy and slightly sick, she realized how close she had come to serious injury or even death. She took a deep breath and looked away.
Still feeling shaky, Allie began walking downstream to the path that led out of the glen. From the back pocket of her jeans, she took out the trilobite, the treasure that had gotten her into trouble in the first place. It was when she had reached back to put it in her pocket that she had lost her balance and made her first terrifying slide down the cliff.
She looked with satisfaction at the fossilized remains of the extinct marine animal. It was a beauty, all right. She had found not just a part but the ancient creature's entire body. She couldn't help smiling. Now that she had both feet firmly on the ground, she thought the fossil was well worth the risk she had taken. It was the prize specimen of her collection.
For as long as Allie could remember, she had been fascinated with fossils. They were reminders of a world that had existed long before she was born, an undersea world that was almost impossible to imagine. And yet she held proof of it right in her hand.
She had tried to get her two best girlfriends, Karen and Pam, interested in fossils, but every time she talked about her hobby, they looked at her as if she was crazy. "You call that fun?" Karen said. "Climbing around in the glen, getting all dirty? And for what? Little hunks of rock?"
Wait until I tell them about today's adventure, Allie thought. Wait until I show them this trilobite. Wait until I tell them how that voice just came to me and told me what to do.
Suddenly she stopped short. The voice. How could she have forgotten? With a puzzled frown, she searched her memory. Whose voice had it been? She tried to recall what it had said. The exact words were gone, but she remembered distinctly the reassurance she had felt, the calmness and courage the voice had given her.
She had been alone on the cliff. Still, she'd heard the voice. It had come from somewhere. It had belonged to someone. It had saved her life, she realized. But no matter how she tried, she couldn't imagine whose voice it had been, or how it had gotten inside her head.CHAPTER 2
Allie walked home in a daze, contemplating her odd experience at the glen. As usual, she stopped to check the mailbox before walking up the driveway to her house. When she reached into the box, a peculiar tingling feeling ran down the length of her arm and all through her body. It felt almost as if she'd stuck her finger into an electric socket.
"Yikes!" With a yelp, she jumped back and withdrew her hand.
She looked around her. Everything appeared normal on Cumberland Road: houses, lawns, trees, and mailboxes lined the quiet street. Warily, she stared again at her own family's mailbox. The door hung open and a cold dampness poured from its wide-open mouth. Allie shivered despite the warm afternoon sun.
A voice whispered softly. It was the same voice she'd heard in the glen, except this time the words were muffled and unclear. She whirled around to see who'd come sneaking up behind her. There was no one in sight.
She stood for a moment, perplexed. Then, cautiously, she reached once again into the box. As she pulled out the thick bundle of letters, magazines, and glossy flyers, there was no mistaking the feeling that came over her. Again, her skin prickled, her fingers grew cold and clammy, and her heart beat loudly in her chest. And again she heard the voice, a whisper so faint it seemed to be coming from inside her own head.
"At last," the voice said, "the time has come."
At least that was what Allie thought it said. She couldn't be sure.
The shrill ring of the telephone came from the open window of her house. Allie slammed the mailbox shut and ran inside.
Tossing the mail onto the counter, she grabbed for the phone. "Hello," she said breathlessly.
"Hi, Al. It's me."
"Oh, hi, Dub," Allie said.
"Where have you been? I've been calling for an hour."
"I was in the glen. I found an incredible fossil, Dub. A whole trilobite, a pretty big one."
"Cool. Bring it to school tomorrow so I can see it."
"Okay. So what's up?"
"My dad's using the computer, so I don't have anything to do."
Allie laughed. She liked to tease Dub about being a cyberhead because of all the hours he spent on his computer. "Thanks a lot. You mean you called me because you were bored."
"Actually, I was calling to procrastinate," Dub said. "I can't think of anything to write in my journal."
Allie groaned. "Well, you're ahead of me. I don't even have a journal yet."
"Mr. Henry said it's okay to use a regular notebook," said Dub.
"I know, but I forgot to get one," Allie said. "I'm not sure there's anything like that around here, and Mom's going to kill me if she has to drive back into town tonight to buy a notebook."
She looked around the kitchen. There was a chunky memo pad on the counter that the family used to leave one another messages, but that wouldn't do. Idly, she began to look through the pile of mail.
"You'd better find something," said Dub. "We're supposed to hand in our journals tomorrow with our first entries done."
Allie's attention was caught by a package wrapped in white tissue paper and tied with red ribbon. When she picked it up, the peculiar quivery feeling hummed through her again. Turning the package over, she discovered with surprise that her name was written on the front. Just Allie — no last name, no address. The writing was large and neat and looping.
It was April; her birthday wasn't for another two months. She searched the outside of the package for clues but found nothing to indicate who had left it for her.
"Yo, Allie. Hello?" Dub asked.
"Sorry. I was looking at this thing that came with the mail."
"What is it?"
"Hang on. I haven't opened it yet. I've got to get some scissors."
Wedging the phone between her ear and her shoulder, Allie rummaged in the junk drawer until she found the big kitchen shears, which she used to cut through the ribbon. Carefully, she unfolded the tissue paper.
"Well? What is it?" Dub asked again.
"I'm not sure," said Allie. "Some kind of book." The cover was made of deep red burnished leather, embossed with an elegant patterned border. The pages were edged in gold and there was a red satin ribbon, bound right in with the pages, to use as a place marker. The leather felt rich and smooth, and its pungent smell filled Allie's nostrils.
"What's it called?" asked Dub.
There was no title printed on the cover. Allie examined the spine. Nothing. "I don't know," she answered.
"Open it," urged Dub.
"I am," said Allie. "It's empty. The pages are blank." She turned the pages, feeling the dry, nubby thickness of the paper. The odd, shivery feeling returned, seeming to gather in the pit of her stomach.
"Who's it from?" asked Dub.
"I don't know," said Allie. She flipped through the book, but nothing was written anywhere inside. She looked at the wrapping paper again. "There's no note and no return address."
"Looks like you have a secret admirer," Dub said slyly.
"Hey!" Dub said, his voice brightening. "You can use it for your journal. The pages are blank, right?"
"Yes," Allie said. "But, Dub ..."
"Don't you think it's kind of strange?"
"What do you mean, what? You and I are talking about how I need a journal, and this empty book just happens to show up."
"Coincidence, I guess," said Dub. "A lucky one for you."
"Maybe. But ..." Allie hesitated, trying to think how to explain her feeling that something decidedly unusual was going on. "If I tell you what happened to me today, do you promise you won't think I'm crazy?"
"Too late for that, Al," said Dub cheerfully.
Ignoring this last remark, Allie said, "Dub, when I was in the glen today, I climbed up the cliffs. Pretty high. Well, really high. And I got sort of trapped there. I couldn't go up or down and my arms were really tired and I thought I was going to die."
"Wow," said Dub. "How'd you get down?"
"This is the weird part. I heard this voice, Dub. It told me what to do. And all of a sudden I didn't feel scared and I slid down, and I was okay." Holding the phone between her ear and her shoulder again, she examined her palms. They were dirty and scratched and sore. "Well, mostly okay," she added.
"Whose voice was it?" Dub asked curiously.
"I don't know. I mean, there wasn't anybody there. But the voice seemed — familiar, somehow. It was almost as if it came from inside my head, but it wasn't me."
Dub was quiet, listening, so Allie went on. "Then when I got home I opened the mailbox the way I always do, and I got the queerest feeling. You know how people say, Chills ran down my spine? That's exactly what it was like. I heard the voice again, too, but no one was around. And then this book showed up, with my name on the wrapper, and I have no idea who it's from."
"And the book was in the mailbox?" asked Dub.
"Dub! This is serious!"
"Well, it's weird, I have to agree."
There was silence for a moment.
"You sure it wasn't Michael tricking you?" Dub asked. Michael was Allie's little brother.
"How? He's not home from the baby-sitter's yet," said Allie. "No one's home but me. And don't tell me it was my imagination!"
"Okay," said Dub, "it happened. I guess you'll just have to wait and see if it happens again."
"Mmmmm," Allie agreed.
"So, meanwhile, are you going to use that book for your journal?"
Allie looked again at the dark red leather cover and the gilded pages. "Well, it beats a regular old notebook any day."
"What are you going to write about?"
"I don't know," said Allie.
Dub and Allie were both in Mr. Henry's sixth-grade class. Mr. Henry had announced that everyone was to begin keeping a journal. They could write about anything they pleased — the books they'd read, their daydreams, stories, poems, questions, even their most secret thoughts.
The whole class had agreed on a rule: all journals were absolutely, positively private. No student was allowed to read anyone else's without permission. The books would be turned in to Mr. Henry from time to time; he alone would read them. "And my lips are sealed," he'd said with a smile, making the motion of locking his mouth and throwing away the key.
Allie rubbed her hand across the smooth leather on the front of the book, thinking.
"Well, I can see you're not going to be much help," said Dub. "I'm hanging up. Hey! Don't forget, tomorrow's Earth Day."
"I won't," said Allie.
Allie's school was going all-out for Earth Day. Each class had selected a special project designed to help the environment and beautify the school and the community. Mr. Henry's class had voted to clean up Fossil Glen Cemetery, which was behind the school about a hundred yards from the steep ravine of Fossil Glen and the creek that ran through its bottom.
"Okay. See you tomorrow," Dub said.
Allie hung up the phone and stood at the kitchen counter, looking at the book. It really was beautiful. No one in the class would have a journal anywhere near as special.
She closed her eyes and, hugging the book to her chest, imagined filling it with words that would shine with wit and truth and beauty. Then, as suddenly as before, the chill settled over her, raising the flesh along her arms and all the little hairs on the back of her neck.
Excerpted from The Ghost of Fossil Glen by Cynthia DeFelice. Copyright © 1998 Cynthia DeFelice. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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