It's Halloween night when strangers come to Linden Street . . . and something absolutely vital to Olive goes missing. To what lengths will she go to get it back? Can she trust the strangers? Will she turn to a new and dangerous magic within the paintings of Elsewhere? Or will Olive put her faith in her own worst enemies to save the people and home she loves?
The stakes grow higher, the secrets more dangerous, and mystery and magic abound as Olive, the boys, and the magical cats uncover the true nature of the old stone house on Linden Street.
A must-read fantasy series for fans of Pseudonymous Bosch, Coraline, and Septimus Heap.
"This haunting fantasy thriller brings together the quirkiness of Roald Dahl and darkness of Neil Gaiman." —Austin Family
"The story was well-written, clever, and completely unpredictable...a great summer read that will let your imagination run wild." —TIME for Kids
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Olive streaked toward the closest exit, a pair of doors that led not to the crowded front corridor, but to one of the school’s inner halls. She smacked through the doors, their heavy panels creaking open to let out the many running feet that came right behind her. Everyone shot out into the dark corridor, the cats racing protectively around Olive’s ankles, Morton reaching up to grab her gloved hand.
They turned a corner into an even darker hall. Beneath their footsteps and her own gasping breath, Olive could hear the gym doors creaking open, releas-ing a blast of screams and laughter before whooshing shut again.
. . . Leaving one more pair of footsteps to follow them into the darkness.
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The Ghost’s Grave Peg Kehret
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an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
HOUSES ARE GOOD at keeping secrets.
They shut out light. They muffle sounds.
Some have musty attics and murky basements. Some have closets stacked with sealed boxes and locked rooms where no one ever goes. A house can stand with its windows curtained and its doors shut for decades—even centuries—without revealing a hint of what is hidden inside.
The old stone house on Linden Street had kept its secrets for a very long time. For more than a hundred years, it had loomed at the crest of the hill, its towering black rooftops piercing a canopy of ancient trees. A pool of shadows surrounded the house, even on the sunniest days. Overgrown hedges enclosed its garden. Its deep-set windows were blurry and dark. Even in the height of summer, its stone walls exhaled a faint, grave-like chill, as though warmth and sunlight could never quite get in, and the darkness inside could never quite get out.
But as this particular summer dwindled into autumn, and the ancient trees dropped their leaves, and the nights grew long and cool and dark, the secrets hidden in the old stone house seemed to rise, at long last, to the surface.
On those lingering autumn evenings, dim red and purple lights began to glow from the house’s upper windows, where the silhouettes of watchful cats sat motionless on the sills. Cobwebs stretched across the porch. Headstones sprouted from the overgrown lawn, jutting up like crooked gray teeth. After sunset, when darkness covered the house, small, fiery faces flickered from the shadows around the front door.
Neighbors walking down Linden Street had always walked a bit faster as they passed the old stone house. Now they ran.
As for the people living inside those chilly stone walls: They were delighted to know that their house looked so frightening.
It was almost Halloween, after all.
• • •
Inside the old stone house were the three Dunwoodys: Alec Dunwoody, a mathematician; Alice Dunwoody, another mathematician; and their daughter, Olive Dunwoody, who was about as likely to become a mathematician as she was to become a three-toed tree sloth.
Throughout the twelve years of Olive’s life, the Dunwoodys had lived in many different towns, moving from apartment to apartment as Mr. and Mrs. Dunwoody moved from one mathematical job to another. When they had settled on Linden Street early that summer, Mr. and Mrs. Dunwoody were happy to think that at last they had a real house all to themselves.
But the truth was: They didn’t.
A trio of cats—Horatio, Leopold, and Harvey—had been keeping watch over the old stone house since long before the Dunwoodys arrived. Also hidden in its quiet rooms were a slew of sleepy neighbors, three stonemasons, a bouncy brown dog, several dancing girls in gauzy dresses, a café packed with Parisians, an out-of-practice orchestra, a castle porter, a woman in a bathtub, whole forests of trees, entire flocks of birds, and one small boy in a white nightshirt.
Mr. and Mrs. Dunwoody had no idea that they had so many roommates. But Olive knew. Thanks to a pair of spectacles she’d discovered in an upstairs drawer, Olive had learned the truth about the paintings that gleamed from the house’s cold stone walls.
Olive knew that Aldous McMartin, the house’s original owner, had been a very talented—very unusual—artist. Each painting he created was a living, changeless world, full of flowers that never wilted, and moons that never set, and people that could never die.
People like Aldous’s beloved granddaughter, Annabelle.
People like Aldous McMartin himself.
These painted worlds also made the perfect hiding place for everything Aldous wanted to conceal. Family spellbooks. Nosy neighbors. Dangerously curious almost-twelve-year-old girls who moved into your house and started unearthing all of its secrets.
Inside Aldous’s paintings, Olive had been chased by shadows, nearly drowned, and almost buried alive. She had survived each threat so far, but Olive didn’t know how much longer her good luck would hold. She’d already set the living image of Annabelle free, and worse still, she’d let Aldous’s final self-portrait slip through her fingers straight into his granddaughter’s cold, painted hands. As soon as Annabelle found a way to release him from the canvas, Olive’s luck would take a turn for the much, much worse.
Back in their college days, Mr. and Mrs. Dunwoody had invented a card game called 42—a more complicated version of 21—where each player tries to collect 42 points without going over. Sometimes, when Olive was really bored, her parents convinced her to play it with them, even though she never won. In her struggle with the McMartins, Olive felt as if she’d flipped one low card after another. Even if she didn’t exactly understand the mathematical rules of probability, Olive knew that a lucky streak couldn’t go on forever. Each good card brought a bad card closer. At any moment, the face of a chilly, smiling queen, or a stony, sunken-eyed king would stare up at her, and she would lose, yet again.
Compared to this very real fear, Halloween began to seem downright cheery.
So Olive had hung the cobwebs and put up the colored lights. She had cut out the cat silhouettes, modeling them on the house’s real (and much more talkative) cats. She had carved the jack-o’-lanterns with her parents, sitting on the porch in the October twilight. Mr. Dunwoody’s jack-o’-lantern was made up entirely of equilateral triangles. Mrs. Dunwoody’s jack-o’-lantern was made up of three scalene triangles and one complex quadrilateral. Olive’s jack-o’-lantern was made up of a jagged nose, two asymmetrical squinting eyes, and a crooked, snarling mouth, which disturbed her parents and the neighbors for entirely different reasons.
When she was finished decorating, Olive had stood at the curb looking up at her towering, terrifying house, and she’d felt a momentary zing of pride. For once, she might be the one getting to frighten someone else.
But being frightened wasn’t Olive’s real problem. Olive’s real problem was the feeling that—even with the cats and a few human friends, and all the painted people surrounding her—down at the very bottom, where the house’s worst secrets lived, she was completely alone.
Olive was the one who had unearthed the house’s secrets. She was the one who would bear the brunt of the McMartins’ anger, if—or when—they did come back. Sometimes Olive felt as though she were carrying the weight of the entire house, with its massive stone walls and its huge, dim rooms, inside of her worn purple backpack. It would have been nice to let someone else carry it for a while.
Weeks ago, after Annabelle had made off with Aldous’s portrait, Horatio had promised Olive that they might not have to face the McMartins all by themselves. Since then, however, he’d gotten suspiciously secretive about the matter.
“But what did you mean?” Olive demanded for what might have been the hundredth time, when she and the huge orange cat were alone together in the backyard. Olive had been raking leaves and throwing herself into the piles. The leaves crunched around her as she sat up and looked at Horatio, who was seated near the shriveled lilac hedge, his eyes fixed on the empty gray house just beyond. “You said, ‘We may not have to fight alone.’”
“Did I?” said Horatio.
“Yes.” Olive tugged a maple leaf out of her hair. “You did.”
“Then I must have meant what I said,” replied the cat.
Olive flopped back into the pile. “You’re keeping something from me.”
“If I am,” Horatio’s voice murmured through the crackling of the leaves, “you should trust that I am doing so for good reasons.”
Olive tried to believe this. But as the autumn days blew by, and no new help appeared, and Horatio went on refusing to explain, Olive felt more alone than ever.
She was the only student in her art class who couldn’t touch a paintbrush without shivering. She was the only one on the school bus who spent the whole ride peering anxiously out of the windows, sure that she would catch sight of a pair of painted eyes staring back in. She was the only kid in sixth grade who wasn’t excitedly making plans for a Halloween costume, because she knew she wouldn’t be safe outdoors, at night, in the danger-cloaking darkness, without the walls of the old stone house standing solidly all around her.
If anyone had told her that something was about to happen that would make Olive’s current aloneness feel as friendly as a birthday party, she simply wouldn’t have believed it.
So it was probably just as well that no one did.
AFTER THE LAST bell had rung on the final school day of October, Olive made a beeline for the bus. The sooner she got out of this twisting brick building, the sooner she would be on her way back to the old stone house. There were cats to confer with, and rooms to check, and painted people to visit, and she didn’t want to waste one extra minute entangled in the halls of the junior high. Olive careened around a corner and smashed straight into a girl headed in the opposite direction, bumping her so hard with her heavy backpack that the girl spun in a circle. The girl’s armload of bright orange papers fluttered through the air, like strangely rectangular autumn leaves.
“Hey!” the girl shouted. “Watch where you’re going!”
“Oh,” Olive mumbled, stumbling backward. “I’m sorry.”
With a huff, the girl bent down to gather the papers. Olive crouched beside her. Even through her lowered eyelashes, she could see that the girl’s hair was sleek and dark, and her green-brown eyes were framed by eyeliner. Olive looked back at the floor.
“I hope I didn’t wreck anything,” she said, straightening up with the papers in one outstretched hand.
“That’s okay,” the girl sighed. “I’ve got about a billion more to give out anyway.” She crammed the pages back into the stack. “Are you coming?”
Olive blinked. “Coming where?”
“To the carnival?” The girl shook the stack of papers, making their edges fan and rustle. “To the Halloween carnival that’s happening tomorrow, that’s all over the flyers you were just holding in your hands?”
“Oh.” Olive’s mind took off like a mouse in a maze, bumping its whiskery nose at each turn. Is this a test? If I say yes, will this girl roll her eyes and say “Oh, great”? If I say no, will she laugh and say “Good”? If I say I don’t know, will she say—
“If you say ‘I don’t know,’ I’ll scream,” said the girl, widening her outlined eyes. “That’s what everybody’s been saying. We did all this work getting everything ready, and I’ve gotten about a million paper cuts from these stupid flyers, and somebody had better show up.”
“Oh,” said Olive again. “I—I don’t know.”
The girl didn’t scream. She just sighed again and ran her hand through her long, sleek hair. Olive caught a glimpse of orange fingernails with tiny black pumpkins perfectly placed on each tip. “Is there some other, cooler party happening that I just haven’t heard about?” the girl asked.
If there was another, cooler party, Olive hadn’t heard about it either. “I don’t think so,” she said.
“Are you going trick-or-treating instead of coming to the carnival?” the girl demanded. “Because you can do both, you know.”
The girl frowned. “Why not?”
Because two witches made of paint will do terrible things to me if they get the chance. Olive swallowed. “Um . . .”
“You should come. It’ll be fun. Here.” The girl shoved a flyer into Olive’s hands. “Bring your friends.” With a swish of glossy hair, she strode off around the corner.
Olive looked down at the paper in her hands.
Costume Contest!! Haunted Mazes!!
Caramel Apples!! Fabulous Prizes!!!
Too many exclamation points!!! thought Olive. But she folded the flyer and tucked it into her pocket anyway.
She was still thinking about the carnival when she and Rutherford Dewey climbed off the school bus at the foot of Linden Street.
“You don’t mind staying home on Halloween, do you?” Olive asked as they crunched their way up the leafy sidewalk.
“I understand your hesitation,” said Rutherford, in his rapid, slightly nasal voice. “You are probably right that leaving the house at night would make you vulnerable. My grandmother’s charms are surrounding the place, so as long as you stay inside, they should keep you safe as well.”
“But—” Olive began.
“But then again, the McMartins have found a way around those protections before.”
Olive glanced at Rutherford out of the corner of her eye. Having a friend who could read her thoughts came in handy sometimes. Other times, it was simply irritating. “That’s just what I was going to say,” she said, under her breath.
They had reached the walkway to Mrs. Dewey’s house, which nestled a short distance away from the street, behind a knot of shady birch trees. Mrs. Dewey herself was bent over in front of the house, tending to a cluster of plants. Her wide, round backside glided back and forth above her tiny feet, like a blimp anchored to a pair of high heels. She looked up as Rutherford and Olive approached.
“Hello, you two!” she called in her flute-like voice. She bent down again, making the blimp waver, before straightening up with a small paper package in one hand. “Olive, as I heard you weren’t going trick-or-treating this year, I made you a sample to bring home. They’re my chocolate gingerbread bars and frosted pumpkin-spice drops,” she said, pressing the bag into Olive’s hands.
“Thank you, Mrs. Dewey,” said Olive.
“In return, you can help me gather some leaves.” Mrs. Dewey gestured to the shrubs beside her. “This Matchstick Mallow is about to go dormant for the winter.”
“What are you using Matchstick Mallow for, Grandma?” asked Rutherford, beginning to tug the pale leaves from their twigs.
“I like to keep a small stock on hand.” Mrs. Dewey lowered her voice slightly, in case any neighbors were near enough to hear. “It’s good for easing fears, in infusions and so forth—as long as you don’t use too much. A little fear is a good thing. It can protect you, like a shield.”
Rutherford’s eyes lit up. “A knight’s shield?” he asked. “What type would it be? Pavise? Buckler? Targe?”
“I’m sure I don’t know, Rutherford,” said Mrs. Dewey wearily.
Olive snapped a leaf off of its stem. It had a petaled shape, almost like a five-leafed clover, and it felt spongy and smooth against her skin.
“Wouldn’t Martyr’s Hope be a more effective ingredient for eliminating fear?” Rutherford asked.
Mrs. Dewey’s soft, round body turned suddenly stiff. She swiveled toward Rutherford. “Where did you hear of Martyr’s Hope?”
“In the book I’ve been reading, the one about the medieval magician’s herbarium. It was on your bookshelf.”
Mrs. Dewey sighed. She tugged another leaf off of the shrub, placing it in the jar at her feet, before answering. “Martyr’s Hope is a volatile, unpredictable plant. I don’t raise it, and I wouldn’t use it if I did.”
Rutherford straightened his smudgy wire-rimmed glasses, looking puzzled. “But isn’t it one of the ingredients used in creating Calling Candles?”
“Calling Candles? RUTHERFORD DEWEY.” Mrs. Dewey’s voice changed from a flute into a trombone. “I don’t use such items, and I expect you to be wise enough never to use them either,” she added more quietly. “Making such a thing—and using it—takes dark and dangerous magic.”
“I see,” said Rutherford calmly. He plucked another leaf. “And what do Calling Candles look like?”
Mrs. Dewey let out a sigh that could have inflated a hot-air balloon.
“If I can’t identify a Calling Candle, isn’t it possible that I could use one by accident?” Rutherford asked, before Mrs. Dewey could speak. “Like sitting down for a picnic in a patch of Poison Oak?”
“Rutherford . . .” Mrs. Dewey pressed one hand to her forehead. “Calling Candles are bluish, and have a powdery silver surface, a bit like frost on a windowpane. They can also be used only once, and it’s awfully unlikely that you would happen to find one, light it, and say someone’s name into the flames by accident.” Mrs. Dewey halted. She pressed her lips together and stared down at her grandson. “I’ve told you more than enough. And don’t you even try to read it out of me. You know I can keep you out.” She examined the glass jar. “I believe that’s enough Mallow to last for the winter—unless either of you is expecting to have an especially frightening one.” Mrs. Dewey gave a little start and turned toward Olive, looking as though she’d like to take those words back. “And I’m sure there’s no reason you would,” she added.
Olive nodded at Mrs. Dewey. But she wasn’t nearly so sure.
After waving good-bye to Rutherford and his grandmother, Olive headed up the street, hurrying past the deserted gray hulk of the Nivens house before cutting across her own front yard. She ducked under the canopy of cobwebs and clomped onto the porch. Dead ferns whispered from their hanging baskets. The porch swing creaked softly in the breeze. Olive tested the doorknob, making sure it was still locked, before fitting the key into its slot.
The door opened inward with a groan.
Olive sniffed the now-familiar scents of dust and wax and old wood, and listened to the silence that washed in to erase the sound of the opening door. Along the hall, dust motes glimmered in a beam of faint sunlight, beckoning her onward. For a moment, Olive felt sure that the house wasn’t just watching her, but recognizing her. With a last deep breath of crisp autumn air, she stepped over the threshold.
“Hello, Olive,” said a voice from the parlor doorway. Horatio’s wide orange face peered out into the hall.
“Hello, Horatio,” Olive answered, locking the door behind her again. “Anything strange happen today?”
“Not a thing. Unless you call Harvey chaining himself to the upstairs banister ‘strange,’ and I no longer do.”
Olive dropped her backpack to the hardwood floor. “Was he being Hairy Houdini again?”
“And did you rescue him?”
“Thank you, Horatio.” Olive tossed her jacket over the knobby brass coatrack and headed for the staircase. “I’m going to pay Morton a visit before my parents get home.”
“An excellent idea,” said Horatio, stepping back into the parlor with a swish of his plumy tail.
“Oh, by the way,” Olive called over the banister, “what did you mean about us not having to fight alone?”
Horatio didn’t turn around. “Nice try, Olive.”
Olive let out a sigh. Then she jogged the rest of the way up the staircase.
In the upstairs hall, Olive pulled the spectacles out of her collar and settled them on her nose. The paintings along each wall rippled to life. Inside one frame, the silvery lake sent delicate waves toward the shore. In another, bare trees rattled above a moonlit path. In the painting of the Scottish hills, bracken tossed and fluttered like a golden sea.
Olive remembered the taste of that silvery lake water filling her mouth as the rising waves dragged her under. She remembered the darkness swirling behind those bare trees, rushing down to surround her like a swarm of shadowy insects. She remembered the hole waiting in that golden bracken—the hole that had nearly trapped her until her body turned to paint and she was stuck there, not living, not dying, forever.
With a shudder, Olive hurried toward the painting of Linden Street.
The canvas squished around her like a sheet of warm Jell-O. She plunged through the frame, headfirst, and landed with a whump in the misty grass on the other side.
The Linden Street of a century ago wound its way up the hill before her. The houses along the street were sleepy and silent, but here and there, burning candles bobbed behind lace curtains. The wary eyes of painted neighbors peered out at Olive as she raced by.
On the sidewalk before one towering gray house, a small boy in a large white nightshirt was waiting. He straightened up as Olive drew nearer.
“Catch!” he yelled.
A rock zoomed straight toward the crown of her head. Just before it could smack her, it arced backward and rolled to a stop near the boy’s bare feet.
“Morton!” Olive shouted. “That was mean!”
“I told you to catch it,” said Morton.
“You know I’m not a good catcher!”
“Yes, but I also knew it would come right back again before it even hit you,” said Morton. “Probably.”
Olive stalked past Morton and plunked down on his front steps, still scowling.
Morton wavered on the walkway in front of her. “I didn’t think you were coming today,” he said, after a moment. “I waited and waited.”
“Keep throwing rocks at my head, and I won’t come at all,” said Olive.
Morton dug one toe into the ground and twisted from side to side, his tufty white hair turned translucent by the glow of a neighbor’s candle. Olive watched his head droop lower and lower until she thought it might topple him straight to the ground, like a pumpkin on a skinny stem.
“I’m sorry I was late,” said Olive at last. “I stopped at Mrs. Dewey’s house for a little while.”
Morton didn’t look at her. “You’ve hardly been here all week.”
“I’m sorry,” said Olive again. “I had lots of homework. And it was my birthday last weekend, and I’ve been decorating the house for Halloween.”
From the slump of Morton’s shoulders, Olive could tell that her explanation wasn’t helping. He plopped down on the grass beyond the stoop and wrapped his arms around his knobby knees. “Did you get presents?”
“What did you get?”
“Rutherford gave me a book about Renaissance paintings. My mom and dad gave me a new coat and some sketchbooks and a locker mirror.”
“A locker mirror?”
“A little mirror to hang in my locker at school. The frame is all made out of numbers, and it says ‘Here’s looking at Euclid!’ on the front.”
Morton frowned. “I don’t get it.”
Morton rested his chin on his folded arms. “I would have given you a birthday present,” he said.
For a minute, neither of them spoke. Then Morton said, in a clearer, firmer voice, “When it’s my turn with the spectacles, we should have another birthday party. For you and me. And you should have to give me presents for all the birthdays that I’ve missed.”
Olive’s heart gave a nervous leap—and it wasn’t at the thought of having to buy Morton dozens of presents. She had promised him that if she didn’t find his parents by the end of November, he could have the spectacles in order to search for them himself. Olive had looked everywhere for some sign of Mary and Harold Nivens. She’d searched the house, she’d explored Elsewhere, she’d even questioned her neighbors on Linden Street (one of whom had turned out to be a painting herself), but she’d found no promising clues. For a while, Olive had hoped that by re-creating Morton’s parents in Aldous’s magical paints she could sidestep the problem completely. But her portrait of the Nivenses had turned out all wrong—and now, with only one month to go, she was no closer to finding the real Nivenses, either.
“You know how dangerous it will be, don’t you?” she asked, looking down into Morton’s moon-like face. “Elsewhere is full of things that can hurt you or trap you. And the outside is even worse. You’ll have to keep your skin covered up, so no one figures out the truth about you, and so you don’t get hurt by light, or fire, or—”
“I’m already trapped in here,” Morton interrupted. “And I’m sick of missing everything. School. And birthdays. And Halloweens.” He hopped to his feet. “I miss everything.”
Before Olive could reply, Morton charged toward the stoop and started kicking at the porch banisters, his bare feet smacking against the sharp-edged wood. The posts began to splinter.
“Morton!” Olive jumped up. “Don’t! You’ll hurt yourself!”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Morton, stopping. The banisters straightened themselves, splinters mending, paint sealing. “Everything just goes back to the way it was.” Morton looked down as a fresh red wound on his foot faded back into unbroken skin. “I don’t like it.”
Olive stood beside him, her hands shoved uselessly into her pockets. The folded flyer dug its corner into her palm.
“Morton,” she began, “what if there was a way for you to come out of Elsewhere for a little while?”
Morton’s head rose.
“Just for Halloween,” Olive added. “But you would miss one less thing.” She paused, chewing the inside of her lip. “Do you think you would like that?”
Morton looked up at her, narrowing his eyes. “Do you think I would like it?”
“Yes. I think so.”
Morton gave her a knowing nod. “I thought so too.”
• • •
Olive had gotten back out of the painting and down the stairs to the kitchen just in time to hear the front door bang.
“Hello, 12.02-year-old!” called Mr. Dunwoody from the entry.
“I believe it would be 12.0178, dear,” said Mrs. Dunwoody.
“I’m rounding up,” said Mr. Dunwoody, striding down the hall and through the kitchen door. He beamed at Olive, who was settled innocently at the table with her worn copy of Alice in Wonderland. “How many times would you say you’ve read that book?”
“I don’t know,” said Olive. “Maybe thirty?”
“Wrong!” sang Mr. Dunwoody. “Seventeen. I’ve kept track.”
Olive slipped a bookmark between the pages and watched her mother set a pot of water on the stovetop. “Um . . . Mom and Dad?” she began. “Remember how I said I wasn’t going to dress up and go out on Halloween this year?”
“Yes,” prompted her parents.
“Now I think I will.” Olive rubbed her fingers across Alice in Wonderland’s worn cloth cover. “But I need to come up with a costume, fast.”
“Let’s see.” Mr. Dunwoody adjusted his glasses. “I’ve got a simple one: You could cut arm and leg holes in a large box, and wear a plant on your head.”
“What?” said Olive.
“You would be a square root. Get it?”
“No,” said Olive.
“How about Hypatia?” Mrs. Dunwoody suggested, taking a box of pasta from the cabinet. “All you would need is a toga.”
“Who?” said Olive.
“Hypatia,” Mrs. Dunwoody repeated. “The first famous woman in mathematics? The last librarian of the library of Alexandria?”
“I don’t know,” said Olive. “That doesn’t sound very Halloween-y.”
“You don’t think so?” Mrs. Dunwoody’s eyebrows went up. “She was accused of being a witch and killed by an angry mob.”
“Oh,” said Olive as the word witch sent a gush of ice water through her stomach. “Maybe.”
Mrs. Dunwoody turned back to the stove. “Ninety-two . . .” she counted to herself, shaking a stream of pasta shells into the pot. “One hundred and ten. There we are.”
Mr. Dunwoody, who had been watching the noodles plop into the water, bolted suddenly upright. “Eureka!” he exclaimed. “You could be Archimedes, leaping out of the bath after discovering his principle of displacement! You wouldn’t need a costume at all!” Mr. Dunwoody tapped his chin thoughtfully. “Of course, it might be wiser—if more inaccurate—to wear a towel.”
“That might be a little too scary,” said Olive.
“I think it’s a wonderful suggestion, darling,” said Mrs. Dunwoody, patting her husband’s shoulder. “Perhaps you should use it yourself.”
Olive pictured her father opening the door to a cluster of trick-or-treaters while wearing this particular Halloween costume. If the house itself didn’t scare them away, Mr. Dunwoody in nothing but a bath towel probably would.
“Thank you,” she said, before her parents could supply any more ideas. “I’ll think of something.”
Olive hoped she was right. She had to think of something, for Morton’s sake. And she had to think fast.
THE NEXT MORNING, Olive tore up the stairs with two strawberry waffles still bouncing in her stomach. If she was going to leave the house after dark, she was going to bring protection along—which meant she had a lot of work to do in very little time.
She raced down the hall into the pink bedroom. The sky outside was too gray and dim to send the usual scattering of sunny spots through the curtains, but the air held its familiar scent of mothballs and dust, along with a whiff of dried flower petals so faint that it was almost an illusion.
Olive placed the spectacles on her nose and headed for the room’s single large painting: an ancient town somewhere in Italy or Greece, with a huge stone archway guarded by two towering stone soldiers. Olive dove toward the painted arch, feeling the surface of the canvas wriggle around her as she plunged into the tiny entryway beyond.
There was no light here; nothing but the faintly glowing band that outlined the edges of a door. Olive lunged through the darkness, grasping the doorknob. The door swung open before her with a low, heavy groan, like a very large creature turning over in its sleep.
A narrow flight of wooden stairs angled upward from the doorway. Olive climbed them gingerly, avoiding the papery corpses of wasps and dehydrated flies that clustered in the corners. At the top of the staircase, Olive paused, blinking around at the cluttered attic. A few streaks of dusty daylight fell through the round windows, scattering shadows everywhere. Antique furniture draped in ghostly white sheets loomed against the walls. Stacks of old steamer trunks towered toward the rafters. Silent clocks, unframed canvases, dead telephones, and one small, battered cannon glinted at Olive from the corners. If there was anywhere in the old stone house to find an interesting Halloween costume, it was here.
Olive crept toward the center of the room, where Aldous McMartin’s easel stood in its patch of pale sun. Olive had brought the easel back to its place after Annabelle had fled with Aldous’s last painting, and now she noticed that the attic’s other furnishings seemed almost to lean away from it, as if it were some strange, potentially dangerous animal. Its shelf was bare now, its drop cloth gone—and still the sight of the easel, patiently waiting, made the back of Olive’s neck start to prickle. The prickle grew into a chill that stiffened the strands of her hair.
Olive knew what this meant. She was being watched.
She whirled around to find herself staring down the length of a cardboard tube, straight into one glittering green eye.
“Ahoy there, matey,” growled the cat at the other end of the tube. “I spotted ye through my spyglass. Not much escapes the single eye of wily Captain Blackpaw!” The cat leaped away from the hat rack where his “spyglass” was braced, and Olive caught a glimpse of a tiny leather eyepatch and a splotchily colored tail before he bounded off into the rafters.
“Ahoy, Captain,” Olive called toward the ceiling. “How are things on board ship?”
“Smooth sailing,” snarled Harvey’s voice from above. “Ye know the old adage: ‘Red sky at night: A sailor’s stoplight. Green sky at dawn: Sailor, sail on!’”
“Green sky?” Olive repeated.
Harvey executed a tumbling leap from one rafter to another. “Prepare to set sail for the islands!” he commanded his imaginary crew. “All paws on deck!”
“Um . . . Harvey? Or Captain Blackpaw?” Olive began, watching the cat dive-bomb a dusty armchair and spring back toward the beams. “I came to ask you something.”
“Ask away! Ha-HA!” roared Harvey, scampering across the shoulders of an old sewing dummy.
“Today is Halloween. And I’m going to take Morton out, in disguise, so he doesn’t have to miss it.” Harvey paused, aiming his one un-patched eye in Olive’s direction. “Rutherford is coming along. Leopold and Horatio said they would escort us, so I have to make their costumes too,” Olive went on. “And I wondered—will you come with us? In a costume, I mean?”
Harvey lost his footing on the sewing dummy. He hit the attic floor with a thump. A moment later, his face reappeared, inching out from beneath a velvet love seat.
“Will I?” he whispered.
“That’s what I just asked you.”
Harvey’s eyes were glazed. “That’s what you just asked me.”
Olive watched Harvey’s gaze drift worshipfully toward the rafters, as if all the heroes of history and literature were gathered there in invisible feline form.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” said Olive. “I’m in a big hurry already, so I hope you won’t mind making your own costume. Will you?”
“Will I?” Harvey echoed, still staring at the ceiling.
“Good,” said Olive.
While Harvey disappeared back into the clutter, Olive rushed toward the nearest corner and tore into a stack of boxes. The first three were filled with a set of fancy china. In the fourth, she found a cache of spidery lace doilies, and in the fifth, she uncovered a stack of old tablecloths, some thick and silky, some as delicate as tissue paper. An idea began to flicker in Olive’s mind.
As she hauled the tablecloths out of the box, she couldn’t help but picture them draped across the dining table two floors below, with the McMartin family gathered all around. McMartin hands had brushed this lacy tablecloth. These linen napkins had lain in McMartin laps. As though they were used tissues instead of fancy fabrics, Olive dumped the cloths into a heap on the floor. They wouldn’t remind her of the McMartins when she was done with them.
In one small metal trunk, she uncovered a pair of old driving goggles—the kind people wore when twenty-five miles per hour seemed astonishingly fast—and a pair of leather driving gloves. Olive wriggled her hands into the gloves. She placed the goggles on top of her head. Then she hurried across the floor to look into one of the mirrors, still arranged in the circle where she had left them months ago. Looking back at her from the dusty reflection was a gangly girl in spectacles, with what looked like a pair of bulbous eyes poking out of the top of her head, and two big, brown, claw-like hands.
“Rraaahhhrrr,” she growled at the mirror. And, all at once, Olive knew just what she was going to be for Halloween.
With an armload of tablecloths, several wire hangers, some curtain fringe, the goggles and gloves, and an old silk sash, Olive ran back down the attic stairs through the painting and along the hall to her own bedroom. There, she hunkered down for several hours of secret and serious work.
• • •
At precisely 4:00 that afternoon, there was a knock at the front door of the old stone house.
Olive skidded along the slippery wood of the downstairs hall. She stood on her toes to peer through the window. Two brown eyes, blurred by a pair of smudgy glasses, stared back at her.
Olive gave her wire-hanger wings a last tweak. She pulled down the driving goggles, which she had painted with wisps of flame. Then she yanked open the door.
“Grrraaaawwwwlllaallllwww!” she roared.
Rutherford blinked calmly back at her. “Good afternoon.”
Olive pushed the goggles onto her forehead. Rutherford was dressed in spotless beige slacks and a tweed jacket, with a bow tie knotted snugly under his chin. It was a change from his usual uniform of wrinkly dragon T-shirts, but it certainly didn’t make Olive think of Halloween.