In this eighth adventure in the popular Meg Mackintosh Mystery series for young readers, children join Meg at school, where the mystery club is performing a play. During the twists and turns of the play, a real mystery takes place on the stage. Young detective Meg, who is the announcer for the play, must use her powers of observation and deduction to solve such questions as Why did the lights go out at the wrong time? What happened behind the curtain? Who stole the valuable prop? and Does the case have something to do with Meg's brother’s stage fright? This story features maps, photographs, scrambled codes, and clues hidden in line drawings, inviting even the most intimidated readers to observe the scenes and solve the mystery. An ideal way for teachers to introduce themes of mysteries and theater, this fast-paced suspense story offers a mini-play within the book that can be performed by young readers.
About the Author
Lucinda Landon is a children’s book illustrator and the author of American History Mysteries and the Meg Mackintosh Mystery series, which includes Meg Mackintosh and the Case of the Missing Babe Ruth Baseball and Meg Mackintosh and the Case of the Curious Whale Watch. She lives in Foster, Rhode Island.
Read an Excerpt
Meg Mackintosh and the Stage Fright Secret
A Solve-it-Yourself Mystery
By Lucinda Landon
Secret Passage PressCopyright © 2004 Lucinda Landon
All rights reserved.
"Meg, look!" Liddy pulled her best friend over to the school bulletin board. "The Mystery Club is having a play! We've got to try out. I bet you'll get the lead part of Detective Sureluck House. It's perfect for you. You're such a good detective."
"The Trick or Treat Mystery," Meg's eyes widened as she read the title. "Hmm, that sounds like an interesting case to solve. Sureluck House must be based on the great detective, Sherlock Holmes. And you'll have to get the part of his partner, Dr. Witson!"
"Here's a page of the script for the try-outs," said Liddy, handing one to Meg. "Come on. Let's go practice!"
The Mystery Club met after school in the auditorium. Ms. Morse, the advisor, spoke excitedly. "When I wrote my play, The Trick or Treat Mystery, I combined a Halloween story with a bit of Sherlock Holmes, quite cleverly I might add." She waved her arms dramatically.
"You were right," Liddy nudged Meg.
"The performance is on Parent's Night, which is only a few weeks away, so we have lots of work to do," Ms. Morse continued. "And don't worry if you don't get a speaking part. There are plenty of exciting jobs in the theater." She handed them a list. "I'll be the director, of course."
"Now let's get started with the auditions. How many of you would like to try out for the part of Sureluck House?" Ms. Morse asked.
Just about everyone raised a hand.
Liddy elbowed Meg. "Look, even your brother Peter wants to be Sureluck."
"I noticed," Meg gave her brother a competitive glance.
Ms. Morse scanned the room with her eyes, then stopped at Meg. "Meg, would you please go first? Just get up on the stage and start reading at scene one."
Meg looked up in surprise, clutched the script, and hurried up the stage steps. She read the lines well, but much too fast, and she could feel her legs wobbling a bit. Before she knew it, she was back in her seat.
"You were great," Liddy whispered.
"I was okay," said Meg. "That was nerve-wracking."
The audition seemed to take forever. When it was finally over, Ms. Morse told the club, "Good work everyone. Let's take a break. I'll be back in a while to announce the cast members."
After another long wait, Ms. Morse returned to the stage with a bag of hats and wigs. As she announced each of the cast members, she gave them part of their costume.
"Sureluck House — Simon"
"Dr. Witson — Liddy"
"Old Jane — Carmen"
"Pirate — Peter"
"Witch — Rosie"
"Mummy — Nick"
"Let's give our mystery cast a round of applause," Ms. Morse said cheerfully. Everyone applauded, but not everyone was cheerful.
Meg couldn't help feeling disappointed. "If only I didn't have to go first," she thought to herself, "maybe I would have read the lines better."
"There are also some non-speaking parts as ghosts, bats, and black cats for anyone who wants to volunteer," Ms. Morse called out. "Your job is to run across the stage scaring the cast and the audience! It will be so exciting!"
A few minutes later, Liddy consoled her friend. "Meg, I can't believe you're not Sureluck!"
"It's okay, really. I'm glad you got the part of Dr. Witson," Meg congratulated her.
"And Peter is a perfect pirate," Liddy added.
"Yeah, he'll be great." Meg took a deep breath. The fact that her brother got a part didn't make her feel much better.
Ms. Morse handed out maps of the stage so everyone could learn theater direction. "Oh, Meg, I've decided I'd like you to be the announcer. You'll stand downstage left — in front of the curtain — and speak to the audience before every scene."
"Thanks, Ms. Morse." Meg grinned as she accepted her new job. Then she studied the map. "This could be a setting for a mystery," she thought.
Over the next couple of weeks, everyone brought in Halloween costumes and decorations and began to set the scenes for the play. While groups built sets and gathered props, the actors tried on their costumes and rehearsed their roles.
"I have so many lines to memorize as Old Jane," Carmen said nervously, "I don't know if I'll ever remember them all."
"You'll be fine," said Simon as he tried on his fake beard. "What about me? I'm Sureluck. I have the most lines to learn."
Rosie pulled something out of a paper bag. "Look at the incredible raven my mom made! She even sewed on feathers and fake eyeballs that glow in the dark!" Rosie showed the detailed prop to the cast.
Carmen admired the raven. "The mysterious stolen object."
"That's so awesome looking," said Nick. "Can I have it after the play?"
"No way," said Rosie softly.
Simon grabbed the bird. "Ah ha! The famous stolen Raven," he said as he dramatically rubbed his beard.
"You know, Simon, Sherlock Holmes doesn't have a beard." Nick told him.
"I'm not supposed to be Sherlock, I'm Sureluck," Simon replied. "Besides, the beard makes me look older."
Ms. Morse called them over, "Come on, kids. It's time to rehearse. Let's go over the scene in the cemetery. That includes you, Sureluck. You still haven't memorized scene four. You must get that done, it's almost opening night!"
Meanwhile, Meg was busy preparing for her job as announcer of the play. She got out her detective notebook and copied the elements of a mystery onto the 'clue cards' that she would show the audience at each scene. She also wrote some questions to ask them, so that they could try to solve the case as it was acted out.
As Meg worked on the clue cards, she could hear the actors rehearsing nearby. Sometimes she secretly wished she had a real part in the play. "I would have been a great Sureluck," she muttered under her breath.
"I heard that." Peter peered over her shoulder.
"Peter! Don't tell anyone I said that," she pleaded.
"Don't worry, I won't." He paused for a second, nervously twitching the fake hook on his hand. "Listen Meg, you've got to help me. Don't tell anyone, but I have stage fright. Every time I think of going in front of all those people, I forget all of my lines. What am I going to do?"
Meg actually felt sorry for her brother. "Peter, you'll be fine. Pretend that you're home, practicing in front of the mirror like you always do."
"I tried that, but I still keep messing up the words." Peter shook his head.
"I'll help you rehearse tonight," Meg promised.
"Thanks, keep it a secret, okay?" asked Peter.
"Don't worry," Meg nodded back.
The days flew by, and before they knew it, it was the night of the performance.
Ms. Morse called the cast and crew together behind the curtain. "Break a leg everyone! Don't think I'm crazy, but I have to tell you that. It's an old superstition in the theater. It's bad luck to tell an actor" she spelled it out, "G-O-O-D L-U-C-K."
Everyone shouted, "Okay, break a leg!"
Simon and Nick hobbled around as if they had broken legs.
Then Nick spied Peter writing something on his sleeve. "Peter, you still don't know your lines? You only had to memorize about three sentences."
"You don't have stage fright, do you?" Simon teased him. "I heard that sometimes as soon as the stage lights go on, an actor might go completely blank and forget everything!"
"Gee, thanks for the encouragement, mates." Peter flashed his hook.
Meg heard what was going on and pulled Peter aside. "Don't worry, Peter. I'll prompt you. I've heard the play so many times in rehearsals, I know everyone's lines by heart. Now go out there and break a leg!"
The ushers handed out programs to the audience as they entered the theater. Once everyone was seated, the lights dimmed and the crowd hushed. Meg took a deep breath and walked on the stage. The spotlight was on her as she greeted the audience. This time her legs didn't wobble.
Meg: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to Mystery Club Theater. Our advisor, Ms. Morse, wrote tonight's play, The Trick or Treat Mystery. We begin in the library of Detective Sureluck House and his partner, Dr. Witson. Please watch carefully for key clues, to see if you can solve the case along with us.
Scene One: The Library of Detective Sureluck House
Sureluck: Witson, what is it? You're squirming like a weasel!
Witson: Look here, Sureluck. A messenger has just delivered a mysterious letter. (Hands Sureluck envelope)
Sureluck:(Examines envelope) Pay attention, Witson. Watch me use my powers of observation. The envelope has candle wax dripped on it and it smells like burnt wood. The author probably wrote by candlelight and was sitting near a smoky wood fire.
Witson:(Excitedly) Good job, old chap!
Sureluck:(Hands envelope back) Please read it out loud.
Witson:(Opens envelope and gazes at letter) Quite right you are, Sureluck. The letter is from Old Jane, the woman who lives in the cottage at the edge of the woods. She definitely writes by candlelight.
Sureluck: Ah, the place by the cemetery on Bad Luck Lane.
Witson: That's the one, a creepy old cottage.
Sureluck: Witson, just read the letter!
Witson: I don't see what we can do, Sureluck. These children sound treacherous.
Sureluck: Surely we can do something. No one out-foxes Sureluck House! Quick, what time is it?
Witson: Why it's seven o'clock, All Hallows' Eve! The night of Ghosts and Goblins, Tricks and Treats!
Sureluck: That's enough babbling, Witson! It's Halloween and we have a case to solve. Fetch your detective kit and make sure you have the proper tools.
Witson:(Showing items in detective case) Let's see, I've got my magnifying glass, tweezers, notebook, pen, pencils, and flashlight. It's all here, Sir!
Sureluck: Very well, Witson. Now, let's be off to Bad Luck Lane to help Old Jane!
Scene Two: Old Jane's House
(Sound effects of a scary Halloween night)
Meg: Observe the mysterious setting — Old Jane's cottage. This is where our investigation begins as the detectives look for clues.
Witson:(Scared) Sureluck, what was that?
Sureluck: The scream of a bat, the screech of an owl, the howl of a wild cat. Witson, haven't you ever been out on Halloween before?
Witson: Of course, but it was never as scary as this! (Opens detective kit and fumbles for items)
Sureluck: Don't be silly, Witson. Now let's get to work. (Examines porch railing) Observe these bent nails. I detect that this is the spot from which the raven was stolen. It looks like our thief used something sharp to pry it off.
Witson: Sureluck! Here's a muddy footprint. It looks like it came from a hiking boot. And next to it there's a dark smudge on the step. I bet it's blood!
Sureluck:(Examines) Not so, Witson. It's chocolate, deep dark chocolate. The culprit left some very careless clues.
Witson: Hmm, a candy wrapper. (Picks up with tweezers) The label says black licorice. (Suddenly the sound of a cat screeching, Sureluck and Witson jump)
(A cat rushes out the door followed by Old Jane)
Old Jane: You fools! What took so long!
Witson: Here, here Jane. No one calls Sureluck House a fool. He's already found several clues.
Old Jane: Fine, fine, fine. But lets get going, before it's too late to catch the thief. Here, I drew you a picture of what my raven looks like.
Witson: I say, that's a pretty scary-looking creature.
Old Jane: It's supposed to be scary. It's Halloween!
Sureluck:(Gets out notebook) First, you must tell us exactly what happened.
Old Jane: Oh all right. There were three trick-or-treaters who came knocking at my door. Strange, they came one at a time. I should have known they were up to mischief. Let's see, first there was a witch, then a mummy, and the last one was a pirate. They said they were trick-or-treaters, but I could tell they were a trio of tricksters. I gave them old hard gum!
Witson: Which one was wearing hiking boots?
Sureluck:(Annoyed) Witson, don't interrupt. Jane, was one of them wearing hiking boots?
Old Jane: How should I know? It was pitch black out! While the last one was here, one of my little kittens slipped out the door and I had to go chase her. When I came back, I saw that my raven was gone! One of those schemers took it and ran into the cemetery. I bet they're hiding in there. (Points to cemetery. Witson shines flashlight. Figures are seen darting around tombstones.)
Scene Three: The Cemetery
(More scary sound effects)
Meg: In Scene Three, the detectives search for the suspects and ask them questions. See if you can deduce which clue points to which suspect?
Sureluck: You there halt! Witch, Mummy, Pirate, show yourselves! It's Detective Sureluck House, and my partner, Dr. Witson. We're on the case of a missing raven and you three are acting suspiciously.
Witson: What he means is, come out so we can see you.
Mummy: I can't believe it. It really is Sureluck House and Dr. Witson. Is there really a mystery to solve?
Witch: We didn't do anything, honest. We were just trick-or-treating.
Excerpted from Meg Mackintosh and the Stage Fright Secret by Lucinda Landon. Copyright © 2004 Lucinda Landon. Excerpted by permission of Secret Passage Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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