It’s Only the Windigo
(Formerly Legend of Burial Island)
“Readers will not be able to put down this fast-paced mystery that doesn’t slow down until the neat conclusion.
School Library Journal
Ab Peterson and Bean Carver are back for their third exciting adventure on Penobscot Island off the coast of Maine. The danger-prone teens thwart drug runners, escape from federal agents, and side-rail assassins. When Ab first arrives on the ferry from New York, Bean is concerned that his longtime friend has grown up too much. She doesn’t seem anything like his mystery-solving pal from the summer before. To make matters worse, she has brought along a spoiled Middle Eastern princess, Dahab, and her strict governess, Miss Termagaunt.
Bean’s feelings are hurt by Ab’s snub, but he has bigger problems to handle. Meanwhile, Ab grows bored with her new lifestyle and vows to repair her friendship with Bean. She follows him and his friend Spooky, quickly realizing that the two boys are hiding a big secret.
As the adventure unfolds, the kids are forced through a harrowing series of narrow escapes by boat, ultralight, and mini-submarine. To complicate matters, bizarre occurrences indicate that the legends surrounding nearby Burial Island – site of a tragedy during the French and Indian Wars – might not be simply folktales after all.
The Legend of Burial Island
by David A. Crossman
oooo“There is an ancient legend among the Algonquin Indians of a mysterious, malevolent creature that inhabits the dense, uncharted evergreen forests of northern Maine. Before the Loch Ness Monster; before Big Foot or Sasquatsh; before the Abominable Snowman, there was the Wendigo—the ice-hearted soul-eater. A cannibalistic creature, skeletal and gigantic, it follows travelers through the woods, making its presence known by the crack of branches and crunch of leaves underfoot. However, when the traveler turns to confront his fate, there is nothing to be seen.
oooo“But Wendigo is there, sniffing the traveler’s soul. Drooling for the taste of human flesh. Driving him insane with fear . . . and feasting on the remains.”
ooooThe class sat in rapt attention as Mrs. Windquist closed the book. “That’s Maine History,” she said. “Still think it’s boring? Now, your assignment for next week is…”
Fog and Shadows
ooooIt was high tide, so Spooky had no trouble tying his painter to an overhanging spruce bough. Like every day lately, the fog was thick and wet, clinging to everything. It dripped from the sprills of the branches and down the back of his neck. He shivered mightily.
oooo“Doggone fiddleheads,” he said to himself.
ooooIt hadn’t been his idea to row across the Reach to this deserted island, that was his aunt Sophie’s doing.
oooo“But it’s too foggy, what if I get lost?” he’d argued.
oooo“Lost! It’s only a hundred yards out to the island,” Sophie had reminded. “I was rowin’ out there when I was six years old in fog so thick you could spread it on toast.”
ooooSpooky mimicked her last sentence as he took his nylon jacket down from the coat rack; he’d heard it a thousand times.
oooo“Don’t you be a smarty pants,” said his aunt, giving his fanny a sharp flick with the dish towel. “Lost. What would your father say?”
ooooSpooky’s father, Sophie’s brother Kip, was in the merchant marines, and had been in the Navy before that. He’d been on all seven seas at one time or another, in weather that would make a haddock seasick.
oooo“Them fiddleheads will all be gone by in a day or two,” she said, handing him a net bag. “Fill that up I’ll be able to can a few quarts for later, and maybe we can sell some to Lonnie down at the restaurant.”
ooooThere was no point arguing. Spooky took the bag, grabbed his baseball cap from the phone shelf, pushed open the screen door and, with a quick glance up and down the Reach – where visibility was no more than fifty feet – headed down to the float where the little plywood skiff he’d built over the winter was waiting.
ooooNow he was high-stepping his way through the thick evergreen forest of Burial Island to the familiar little clearing where the fiddleheads grew. The tall grass and wide-spreading juniper bushes – heavy with fog and rain – lapped at his pants legs like a drooly old St. Bernard with a scratchy tongue.
ooooMaybe he wouldn’t have minded so much if his mission had been to pick blueberries, or raspberries – which wouldn’t be in season for six weeks yet – but he hated the taste of fiddleheads.
ooooNevertheless, he bent to his work and, in less than ten minutes, he’d picked all the fiddleheads fit for eating. In that time the fog had gotten even thicker. He couldn’t see more than fifteen feet. He propped the bag against a dead tree and stood up, stretching his weary back.
ooooThere wasn’t a breath of air, and the ocean was still – but the green bell buoy out by Heron Ledge was clanging irregularly. A boat must have gone by and left the buoy rocking in its wake.
ooooBut if that were the case, he’d have heard an engine.
oooo“A sail boat?” he wondered incredulously. He knew no self-respecting captain would be attempting to sail in this fog. “Besides,” he said aloud, “no wind.”
ooooHe picked up the net bag and was just about to begin the descent to the shore when something moved up ahead.
ooooOr did it?
ooooHe squinted, trying to stare holes in the thick fog, and leaned forward slightly in an attempt to draw whatever it was into focus. “Just an old stump,” he said quietly, but he didn’t sound too sure. It was impossible to tell what it was–just a shapeless shadow in the soupy mist, a vague smudge on the surrounding curtains of gray.
oooo“You’re seeing things, Spooky old boy.” He hitched the bag up onto his shoulder, even so it brushed the tops of the juniper as he picked his way back toward his boat.
ooooAll at once a branch broke behind him. Startled, he spun on his heel just as the fog parted violently, as if sundered by an on-rushing wind, and a half-decomposed creature that might have risen from the grave burst into being not five feet away, splitting the silence with a chilling fingernail-on-the-chalkboard wail that fused Spooky to the spot. In that sickening instant he saw it in all its horrible splendor…covered with stringy, wheat colored hair that billowed wildly about it in a thousand fingers of menace, from which leaves and branches protruded at wild angles, as if they were growing from it. He gathered his wits just in time to throw up his arms, but it was too late. A second later, with a sickening thud, he was on the ground. Everything was going dark, but the darkness was spangled with a painful chorus of stars that traced uneven orbits on his eyelids. As the world closed about his senses, he saw the hazy image of the banshee leaning over him, still making its piercing squeals, bending closer, and closer, so that he could feel its hot breath on his face. Then he passed out.
ooooWhen he woke his hands went immediately to his head, as if he half expected to find an ax buried in his skull. No such luck. His head hurt so bad he was sick to his stomach, and a few seconds later he threw up. He remembered hearing somewhere that you should never let the victim of a blow to the head fall asleep. Why was that? he wondered. Being dead couldn’t feel any worse than what he was feeling now. He fell asleep.
ooooThe second time he woke his head was throbbing, but his brain was clear. He couldn’t say the same for the sky. The fog still crowded low and cold, embracing him with clammy ghostfingers. That’s what Aunt Sophie called the fog’s caress. Ghostfingers.
ooooWhy did he have to think of that now? In the dark. And the fog. On Burial Island. He clamped his eyes shut and tried to think of something else, but he knew what was coming: vivid memories of the whole sad history of Burial Island. He could even envision the owlish eyes of Hinky Parmenter, curator of the Island Museum, enlarged to three times their normal size by his thick glasses and his excitement as he told him and Bean and Ab the story last summer.
oooo“The year was 1719. There was lots of trouble with the tribes in those days. The British – which is what we all were at the time-built forts up and down the coast to try to protect the settlers, but what with night raids and setting fire to their crops, the Indians forced folks behind those gates for survival, so the crops and the homesteads just went to ruin.
oooo“Well, three of the families decided to come out to the islands, where the Indians only came now and then to fish, to start again. They numbered nineteen souls, all told, men, women, and children. The Sawyers, the Blankenships, and nobody knows the name of the last family, ‘cause it couldn’t be read on the headstones.”
oooo“Headstones?” Bean interrupted. “What headstones?”
oooo“Well,” Mr. Parmenter replied, “they aren’t there anymore. Over the years, between the vandals and the weather, they were pretty much the worse for wear. But they were there when I was your age.”
oooo“That long ago,” said Ab.
ooooThe curator lobbed a glance over his spectacles.
oooo“Oh! I didn’t mean…I mean…you’re not…that old.” She wanted to shut her mouth off, but it just kept running.
oooo“Yes, I am,” Mr. Parmenter replied with a smile, “but only on the outside.”
oooo“Sorry,” said Ab, wondering what he meant.
oooo“There were three headstones?” Bean asked.
oooo“Yes,” said Mr. Parmenter. “But you could only read the writing on two of them.”
ooooSpooky wanted to know whatever happened to them.
oooo“Well,” said Mr. Parmenter. “The two with legible writing are right over here.”
ooooThe kids exchanged amazed glances. “Here?”
oooo“Come this way,” said the Curator, carefully picking his way through a few hundred years’ worth of island knicknacks, bric-a-brac, curios, mementoes, souveniers, trash, trinkets, oddments, and treasures. “Mind the locomotive wheel.”
oooo“That must’ve come off the train that ran from East Boston quarry,” said Bean. As far as he knew that train, carrying granite from the quarry to the harbor on the first leg of its trip to Boston, was the only one that had ever run on the island.
oooo“That’s right,” said the Curator absent-mindedly. He began rummaging through a stack of hand-made quilts.
oooo“Were those the tracks that ran by the slag heaps…where we found the pirate ship?” Ab asked.
oooo“Yeah,” Bean replied.
oooo“Ah, the pirate ship!” said Mr. Parmenter, his eyes lighting with excitement, though he didn’t take them off what he was doing. “I’d love to have seen that. If only you could have picked up a few odds and ends. They’d have made a wonderful exhibit, but then, what with the cave in and all…
oooo“They should be over here somewhere,” he fussed, “unless Isobel moved them.”
ooooIsobel was Hinky’s wife and, weighing in at about twice his size, did most of the heavy lifting.
oooo“No! No! Here they are. Here!” He pushed aside an old, cracked-leather ottoman and its burden of ancient magazines, as the kids gathered ‘round. The tiny headstones, each nothing more than an engraved boulder of beach stone, were nested in a huge cast-iron skillet and surrounded by small pillows with faded cross-stitched pillowcases. He bent to pick one up, but when he tried to stand, it stayed where it was.
oooo“Perhaps you’d best bend down here for a look,” he said. The kids got down on their hands and knees and clustered close. “See?” he said, swiping his ever-present dusting cloth at the stones. He traced the letters with a gnarled finger. “S-a-w-y-e-r. Sawyer.” He turned his attention to the other stone. “This one is more weather-worn, but you can still make out some of the letters ‘B-L’ then some squigglies, then ‘E’, another squiggly, then ‘S-H-I-P. Blankenship.”
oooo“So, what happened to the other one,” asked Spooky.
oooo“The other headstone. You said there were three.”
oooo“Oh, yes. Well, it was left there,” said Mr. Parmenter. “No discernable writing on it, you see. So it’s…well, it’s just a rock.”
oooo“Then how do you know it was a headstone?” asked Ab.
oooo“Very good question, young lady,” said the Curator, then proceeded to explain. “The three of them were arranged in a line, you see. One, two, three. One for each family grave.”
oooo“Then, there’s nothing there today to mark those graves?” Bean asked.
oooo“No, no. I shouldn’t think so,” said Mr. Parmenter. “Except the one stone, of course. Unless somebody’s gone off with it. Disgraceful, really, what some people do.” He stood up. “Kids, don’t you know. They don’t appreciate all that has gone before.” He swept a long, loving gaze around the room, seeming to take in, with his wise old owl eyes, not only the artifacts themselves, but the stories they held, and the hands long gone that had once made them useful. “Anyway, nobody knows exactly where the grave is anymore.”
oooo“Grave?” said Ab. “You mean graves, don’t you?”
ooooParmenter seemed to be recalled from a distant memory. “Pardon? Graves? Oh, no. No, there was just one. Sad,” he said. “I don’t suppose we’ll ever know the name of the third family. It’s as if they never existed.”
oooo“Can I interest any of you in coffee? A doughnut?” He didn’t wait for them to answer, but plowed gingerly off toward the cluttered little office. “Izzy! Four cups and saucers…”
ooooSeveral minutes later, each with his own cup of coffee, trying to balance the saucer with one hand and eat the stale doughnut with the other, the kids were arranged on an old horse-hair loveseat, ready to hear the rest of the story.
oooo“Where was I?” said Mr. Parmenter, taking a bite of doughnut, much of which fell unattended among the folds of his sweater. “Oh, yes. Well, things seem to have got off to a pretty good start. They built their houses – two of them stand to this day – and scraped a living from the land and sea that first winter. Come spring, they cleared land and planted crops out between the rocks and boulders, and it looked like it was all going to work out after all.
oooo“But it wasn’t to be. In late June a party of Indians raided the island, one homestead at a time, rounded everyone up and moved ‘em out to Burial Island. Of course, it wasn’t called Burial Island then. It was just a place that afforded a good view up and down the Reach, all the way to the mainland.
oooo“That was part of their plan, you see. They held seventeen people hostage and sent two of the men to the mainland to collect the ransom–weapons and ammunition. But before they sailed away, the Indians warned them that if they saw more than two men in the boat when it returned, then, well…” he glanced apologetically at Ab, “there would be no survivors.”
ooooAb was aghast. “Not the women and children, too! Surely they wouldn’t…”
oooo“Those were violent times,” said Mr. Parmenter with a shake of his head. “That kind of barbarity was something practiced by all sides, I’m afraid. Whole villages were often…well…
oooo“One day went by. Then two. The Indians began to get nervous, and they kept a sharp eye on the Bay. Then, on the morning of the third day they saw a sail on the horizon. They watched carefully as the boat made its way in amongst the islands, and it wasn’t long before they could make out that it was packed with Redcoats.”
oooo“That’s what they called British soldiers,” Spooky offered, for the benefit of anyone who didn’t know.
oooo“Just so,” nodded Mr. Parmenter. “Or Lobsterbacks, but that was during the Revolution. Well, the Indians assumed they’d been betrayed, so they dragged all the settlers to a rock not a stone’s throw away and…” He let the thought trail away, not wishing to alarm the kids to much. Especially Ab.
oooo“That’s why they call it Murder Rock” said Bean, breathlessly. Funny, he’d never thought about those strange names, Murder Rock and Burial Island. That was just what they were called. He’d never wondered why.
ooooAb often had a hard time knowing if Bean was telling the truth, though she’d known him since her family first started coming to the island summers when she was four. She looked from him to Mr. Parmenter. “Do they?” said Ab, her eyes wide with the horror of the story.
ooooThe Curator reached out to a nearby pile of printed matter and, after thumbing briefly through it, produced a dog-earred map of the Bay. He opened it and spread it out on the floor between them. “There they are,” he said, bending way over so his knees were nearly in his ears.
ooooAb read where he pointed. “Burial Island and Murder Rock.” She looked up. “They’re real.”
ooooMr. Parmenter looked at her sadly. “This old earth is covered with bloody stains, I’m afraid,” he said. “This,” he tapped Murder Rock on the map, “is one of them.” He sighed heavily. “Having done the deed, the Indians watched in horror as the British turned down through the reach between Hurricane and Green’s island, and sailed off toward Matinicus. They’d been mistaken, you see. It wasn’t the men they had sent at all. Just a patrol boat.”
oooo“How horrible!” said Ab.
ooooBean and Spooky agreed, but they didn’t say anything.
oooo“Horrible indeed,” said Mr. Parmenter. “They paddled away in their canoes, and never returned. They felt they had cursed themselves, you see. Even today, no Indian will set foot on either place. Bad karma.”
ooooSpooky was perplexed. “But, what about Burial Island? How did the bodies…”
oooo“Oh, when the two men came back with the ransom, later that day, and discovered what had happened to their families, they began the long, sorrowful task of moving them to the little island for burial.”
oooo“I can’t imagine having to do such a terrible thing,” said Ab, putting herself in the place of those two men whose hearts must have broken helplessly with every pull of the oar, every turn of the spade. Their wives and their children were gone. Their dreams dashed on those cruel shores. She was nearly in tears, which she didn’t try to hide, and Mr. Parmenter respected her for that. Perhaps there was hope for the younger generation after all.
ooooBean saw a flaw in the story. “But, if there were no survivors, and if the Indians ran away, how do you know about what really went on?”
ooooMr. Parmenter took a long sip of coffee. “One of the Indians converted to Christianity many years later, when he was an old man, and he confessed, for the good of his soul.”
ooooThere was a long silence. “And they’re all still buried there,” said Bean.
oooo“With only one stone left to mark their graves,” Ab concluded.
oooo“Not necessarily,” said Mr. Parmenter, leaning back in his chair, cradling his cup between his hands.
oooo“What do you mean?” said Ab.
oooo“Well, that depends on how superstitious you are,” the Curator replied enigmatically. “Over the years, many people have reported seeing lights out on the island.”
oooo“Like lanterns, winding slowly through the woods. Especially on foggy nights.”
oooo“What are they?” Ab demanded.
ooooMr. Parmenter shrugged. “Nobody knows. Some say they’re the souls of the dead, looking for their menfolk to return. Just one of nature’s little oddities, if you ask me, put there by Providence to remind us we aren’t as smart as we think we are.” He stood up and slapped his knees. “There are still more things unknown than known. You can write that down.”
ooooThat was the memory that echoed in Spooky’s throbbing brain as he struggled to his feet. Why hadn’t anyone come looking for him? Aunt Sophie knew where he was, surely she’d have sent help when he hadn’t returned.
ooooAnd who…or what…had run at him out of the fog? “Sure wasn’t any ghost,” he said, massaging his shoulder.
ooooHe stood slowly, moving his head as little as possible to keep his brain from rattling, and listened carefully. The wind had picked up out of the northeast and was dragging itself mournfully through the branches overhead. The bell buoy haunted the vicinity with its mournful, irregular clang, which told him that the seas had picked up. He’d have a hard row back against the wind and the tide.
ooooHe squinted through the fog and the gathering darkness, half-expecting to be surrounded at any moment by the lanterns of the dead. “Stop thinkin’ like that!” he scolded himself. He picked up the net bag, slung it over his shoulder, and began groping his way down to the shore. All the time he had the feeling he wasn’t alone. “What was that thing?” he wondered aloud, trying to paint a memory from the fleeting glimpse he’d had of…whatever it was…in the instant before it trampled him. He wished Bean was there. He probably couldn’t make any sense of it, either, but at least, well, Bean was the kind of guy you wanted to have around at times like this.
ooooThat reminded him that Abby was coming back to the island for the summer on the morning ferry, and he and Bean were supposed to be there to meet her. The thought hastened him to the shore where he found his punt still tied to the tree, but now sitting high and dry on the shore a good twenty feet from the water. He scrambled across the rocks, tossed the bag aboard, untied the line and began pushing the boat toward the water’s edge. Fortunately most of the boulders on the beach were covered with seaweed which, though slippery underfoot, made pushing the boat a lot easier. Easy or not, though, the effort didn’t help his headache.
ooooOnce or twice he seemed about to go blind, except for tiny smudges of light in the center of his sight. He’d close his eyes, shook his head a little, open them, and he could see fine. He figured he had a concussion and, if the pain in his head was any indication, it was a bad one. Aunt Sophie would make him go to the doctors and, the way he was feeling now, he wouldn’t complain about it.
ooooBy the time he’d gotten some water under the boat, he was surprised how tired he was. He felt like he could lay down and sleep for a week. Waves beat the shore in advance of the rising tide, and the wind was wanting to push the punt back onto the rocks. With effort, he straightened it so the stern pointed toward open water, put one foot in the bow and pushed off as hard as he could with the other.
ooooQuickly, before the waves could push him back to shore, he sat on the bench seat amidships, slipped the oars in the locks and turned the boat with a couple of deep, strong strokes. The bow broke the waves cleanly and in a moment the little boat was free of the island’s tidal pull, but was now subject to the riptide which was flowing southeast – toward the open ocean.
Under normal conditions, Spooky would have had no problem gaining control of the punt and guiding it across to the big island. But things weren’t normal. He was weaker than he imagined, dizzy, and on the verge of passing out again. He told himself to sit up, to keep his eyes open, and to pull the oars toward home, but his body wasn’t listening. As the world once again went black, he slumped forward and fell to the floorboards. The oars slipped from his grasp, down through the locks, and out into the deep, black water of the Reach.
ooooWith the last of his strength, Spooky closed his eyes, shook his head slightly, and raised his chin for one last look above the gunwale. The boat was caught sideways to the current now, pitching steeply in the troughs between the waves, and being swiftly swept out to sea. Behind him, the nearest edges of Burial Island were being sucked into the fog.
ooooWhat was that he saw in the forest as it disappeared from sight, weaving in and out among the trees. Lights? And who were the people carrying them? There hadn’t been anyone on that island but him … and the dead.
ooooThe fog absorbed the sight. Unable to keep his head up any more, he closed his eyes and slipped down to the floorboards. Night closed in, bringing with it a rising wind and a cold rain.
Return of the Redhead
ooooBean woke early the next morning. He didn’t remember what time he’d finally fallen asleep, but it must have been one or two. He did remember the thrill of excitement at the thought that had kept him awake, tossing and turning as if it was Christmas Eve: Ab was coming.
Of course he’d rather have had his teeth pulled and his nose filled with quick-setting concrete than confess he’d been thrown into such agitation by some girl, but at least he was honest enough to admit it to himself.
He dressed as he ran down the narrow kitchen stairs, half-killing himself on the landing as he tripped on his bluejeans, which he’d only managed to pull up as far as his knees. He riccocheted off the wall at the turn and careened down the last four steps, hopping from foot-to- foot as he tried to pull his pants on the rest of the way.
oooo“Bean?” said his mother from the kitchen. “Are you all right?” She wasn’t too alarmed. Life with Bean was a long succession of loud, unexpected noises. She looked up from the sink as he assembled himself at the bottom of the stairs. “Where’s the elephant?”
oooo“You mean you made that racket all by yourself?” she said, smiling.
ooooBean tilted his head sideways and smirked. “Ha, ha. I just . . . tripped a little.”
oooo“Well, come sit and have some breakfast.”
ooooHe was too excited to eat. “I’m not really hungry.”
oooo“I didn’t ask if you were hungry. You come sit and eat some breakfast. It’s the most…
oooo“…important meal of the day,” Bean interrupted facetiously.
oooo“Well, it is,” said his mom. “Besides, it says on page 117 of the Mother’s Guide to Frustrating Your Child that we’re supposed to make you eat your breakfast.”
Bean pulled out a chair at the table and dropped into it. “I bet that’s the thickest book on the planet.”
“And I’m only on Chapter Six, ‘How to Make Your Child Miserable First Thing In the Morning.’” She put a steaming bowl of oatmeal in front of him. A lump of brown sugar, still in the form of the tablespoon that scooped it, melted in a puddle of butter and oozed through the crevices of the oatmeal landscape in thick, sweet rivers.
ooooBean laughed. “I thought you had it memorized!” He tucked in to his breakfast.
ooooHis mother, leaning against the little half-wall that separated the kitchen from the dining area, crossed her arms and watched him. “Don’t choke yourself. The boat doesn’t get in for another forty minutes yet.”
oooo“Boat?” said Bean, pretending to be thinking of something else. “What boat?”
oooo“You know, that big white object that shuttles back and forth between here and the mainland,” said his mother, uncrossing her arms and heading toward the kitchen, “delivering trinkets for the natives . . . and pretty little red-headed girls from New York.”
oooo“Oh, come on, ma! I wasn’t even thinking about her!”
oooo“Of course you weren’t.”
oooo“No, really . . . I just was wantin’ to get out and mow the lawn before it gets too hot. Then I was going to go swimming.” Why did his mouth keep talking? He knew he was lying. She knew he was lying. He knew she knew he was lying. She knew he knew she knew he was lying. What was the point? But it just kept on and on. “Now that you mention it, though, I think she is coming today.”
oooo“Well I’m glad I brought it up, or you might have forgotten.”
oooo“Might have,” said Bean. He bent his head closer to the oatmeal and consumed the remainder in silence.
ooooMain Street of Penobscot village was built on a man-made isthmus of granite that separated the inner harbor, a shallow, brackish body of tranquil water, and the outer harbor, home of the world’s largest lobster-fishing fleet. The harbor was mostly empty now…nearly eight o’clock…and had been for three or four hours. Boats generally headed out early to take advantage of the calm before the winds built up, and returned with their day’s catch anytime after noon.
ooooFor the most part, the village shops bordered the inner harbor side of the isthmus. From there, their big rectangular windows stared across the parking lot opposite, across the harbor, and out toward Matinicus, the distant island that might seem, depending on the refraction of light from the moisture in the atmosphere, to float above the horizon, or be much taller than it had been the previous day, or to have disappeared altogether.
ooooDuring the long, frozen months of winter, most of the shops—apart from the grocery, the hardware store, and the paper store—had snoozed in icy hibernation. Some had begun crawling out of their cocoons during ‘mud season’—March and April generally, though sometimes much of May as well—and shook off their somnolence in anticipation of Memorial Day: the start of summer and the tourist season. Doors were flung open and the musty remains of winter were swept out into the streets where they blew away on the promise, if not the proof, of summer.
ooooBean loved this time of year. Though most islanders protested the onslaught of ‘people from away’—lumping them in the same category as black flies and mosquitoes— he found local folks laughed a lot more and were friendlier. Not that they weren’t friendly during the winter as well, but they didn’t smile as much. Maybe because the cold froze their teeth if they left them exposed too long.
ooooHe drew abreast of the little park beside the bank. Spooky was supposed to be here waiting for him. He glanced at the bank clock. He’d give Spook seven or eight minutes to show up. That would still give him time to get to the ferry terminal before the boat came in.
ooooLast year the Lady’s Garden Club had put a little bench by the flagpole. He chose a spot between splotches of dried pigeon poop and sat to wait.
ooooSix minutes crept slowly by. Seven. Eight. Bean’s feet were anxious, as if they’d made an appointment and were determined to keep it whether the rest of him wanted to or not. Nine. Ten. “That’s it!” He slapped his knees as he stood up. “I can’t wait any longer,” he said aloud—an audible Post-It note stuck on the air for Spooky to listen to when he finally showed up.
ooooThe ferry hadn’t even rounded the corner of Norton’s Point by the time Bean got to the terminal. That meant it wouldn’t be in for at least seven minutes. He sat on a piling and looked back and forth—like the audience at a tennis match—back the way from which he’d come to see if Spooky was anywhere in sight, forth toward Norton’s Point to be sure he didn’t miss the bow of the boat when it first appeared from behind the trees. Back and forth, and back and forth. His neck started to ache.
ooooThere was no sign of Spooky but, finally, the ferry appeared, blowing its whistle which, to Bean’s ears, was the same as the whole island proclaiming: “Ab’s here!” He got up and went to the ramp. No. That would look too eager. He went back and sat on the piling. Would that seem like he didn’t care? He stood up. Then sat down. Five minutes. The whistle blew again. He stood up and walked to the terminal office where most of the other waiters had gathered. No. He didn’t want to be just another face in the crowd. He wanted to stand somewhere she’d seem him as soon as the ramp went down. He went back to the piling, sat down, got up. Three minutes. He walked around in a little circle for a minute. Two minutes. He ran his fingers through his hair. Had he combed it? Of course not. He never did. Maybe he should have. He couldn’t remember if he owned a comb. A horrible thought occurred to him, had he brushed his teeth? Did he have bad breath?
ooooWhat if she kissed him?
ooooShe did it last year. Of course, that was in all the excitement of solving the mystery of the Black Moriah but, you never know with girls. Especially this one. The thought produced a curious tingle.
ooooHe dug through his pockets to see if there was some gum. All he found was the head of an animal cracker. A rhinoceros. “Where did that come from?” he wondered, then remembered he hadn’t worn these jeans since last summer—which explained why they were so tight. He popped it in his mouth and spit out the lint. It was crunchier than he’d expected. Better than nothing.
ooooAfter what seemed like hours, the ferry eased into the slip, making its familiar squeak as it rubbed against the wooden pilings. Bean’s heart felt like it was in his throat as the ramp began to descend, revealing the passengers standing in the bow. He saw Ab instantly. Even from this distance he could tell she’d grown a couple of inches, and had gotten . . . rounder, and . . . girlier. Instead of waving back, she nudged the person beside her and pointed at him. Then giggled.
ooooHe noticed the nudgee for the first time. A girl with dark skin wearing a t-shirt and jeans, same as Ab. If anything, though, this person was even girlier than Ab. She had long black hair, huge dark eyes and other things that Bean couldn’t help but notice.
ooooBut, who was she?
ooooAs the metal ramp hit the metal deck with a resounding, hollow echo, the passengers congealed into a mass of humanity and streamed off the ferry as if it were sinking. For several seconds Ab and the other girl were lost from view. That would never have happened before. Ab was always the first off the boat and at his side before anyone else had time to collect their bikes, gather their children, strap on their backpacks and take their first step onto terra firma.
ooooBean sensed a change in the wind, and he didn’t like it.
ooooFinally the duo emerged from behind a large lady and her luggage. Ab had changed up-close, too. First of all, she was wearing make-up. Second of all, she had a diamond stud in the side of her nose. And third of all, there was a look in her eyes he’d never seen before, and it made him feel like he’d just shrunk a foot or so. She and the other girl were leaning their heads together, whispering and laughing. Not a happy laughter either, but a mocking one, and it didn’t leave their eyes when they came to a stop in front of Bean.
oooo“Hello, Arthur,” said Ab, seeming to suppress a giggle with some difficulty. Bean’s heart dropped to his stomach with a thud. She’d never called him by his Christian name. “Dahab,” she said, turning to her friend. “This is the boy I told you about.”
oooo“Ah, yes!” said the girl. “You call him something else, do you not? Something after a vegetable?”
oooo“Some people call him Bean,” said Ab, almost as if he wasn’t there.
oooo“Hi, Ab,” said Bean, because he felt he had to say something. “Good to have you back.”
oooo“I’d rather you call me Abigail from now on, Arthur,” said Ab. “Ab is so immature. This is Dahab. She’s a princess.”
oooo“Really?” said Bean. “Good for her. Hi, Debbie. You can call me Bean. Most people do.”
ooooHe glared at Ab, but she was too busy being indignant to notice.
oooo“Not Debbie,” said a sour-faced woman whom Bean hadn’t noticed before. “Dahab.” She arched her eyebrows and, though she was a good three inches shorter than Bean, seemed to be talking down to him with her proper British accent.
oooo“This is Miss Termagaunt,” said Ab by way of introduction. “Dahab’s governess.”
oooo“Dahab means gold,” said the dark girl haughtily. She let the bag fall from her shoulder and thrust it at Bean, who took it reflexively. “This, too,” she added, putting the handle of her wheeled suitcase in his hand. “Give him your things, Abigail.”
ooooAb looked a little self-conscious. “No, that’s alright. I can carry my …”
oooo“Nonsense,” Dahab responded before she could finish. She took Ab’s bags and draped them around Bean. “There. He’s been made useful. Now, come. Show me this wonderful island you’ve been telling me about.” So saying, she threaded her arms through Ab’s and they walked off in the direction of town, with Miss Termagaunt close behind. Bean stood dressed in baggage like a display at Wal-Mart. He looked around, embarrassed and, head bowed and hollow-hearted, followed after the girls.
ooooThe walk to town was less than half a mile but Bean, almost invisible under the avalanche of luggage, felt as if he’d been walking several days across an Arabian desert.
oooo“Bean? Is that you?”
ooooThe beaten old green truck that pulled up beside him belonged to Spooky’s aunt Sophie. Bean realized how lost in thought he must have been not to have heard it, since it had lost its muffler long ago. He peaked over the bags. “In here,” he said. “Where’s Spook? He was supposed to meet me this morning.” And, thought Bean, an extra back and pair of hands would sure come in handy at the moment.
oooo“I was hoping he was with you,” said Sophie. “Here, toss that stuff in the back and get in.”
ooooBean was more than happy to relieve himself of the burden. He threw the bags over the side and hopped in after it. Leaning over, he spoke to Sophie through the driver’s window. “This stuff belongs to them.” He pointed at the girls in the distance.
oooo“I’ll give them a lift,” Sophie replied, and began to drive on.
oooo“Any idea where else he could be?” Bean asked.
oooo“Not if you haven’t seen him. He didn’t come home last night.”
ooooThis was startling news to Bean. “Didn’t come home?”
oooo“His bed wasn’t slept in. I was out most of the night with a delivery.” Sophie was a midwife, and it wasn’t unusual for her to be gone for long stretches of time, day and night. “So I didn’t notice he was missing ‘til I got home fifteen or twenty minutes ago. ‘Course, I called your mom right away. She said you’d gone down to the boat, so I figured he was with you, like always.”
oooo“What was he doing out all night?” said Bean aloud, though he was mostly speaking to himself. “When did you see him last?”
ooooSophie seemed to flush. “I sent him out to Burial Island to get some fiddleheads. I got a call while he was gone that Misty Olsen was in hard labor, so I left him his lunch and a note. They were still there when I got home.”
oooo“What about his boat?”
ooooSophie shook her head. “Gone.”
ooooThat wasn’t good.
ooooSophie pulled the truck beside Ab and her friend. “Ab,” Bean said from the back. “Spooky’s gone missing. We need to find him. Hop in!”
ooooAb shot a glance at Dahab and hesitated. “I . . . ”
oooo“The princess is not getting in that,” said Termagaunt huffily. “Whatever this object is that you have lost, you must go find it yourself.” She tugged at Dahab’s arm. “But deliver our luggage, first.”
ooooBean had heard Sophie referred to as ‘rough around the edges.’ Her father was a fisherman, as his father had been. The family was chronically poor, but managed to make the best of what life handed them. She was a woman of few words. “Who’s this, then?” she asked.
oooo“She’s a princess,” said Bean, before Ab could make introductions.
oooo“She is Aliyah Fatima Firyal de Sahid, eldest daughter of Sheik Muhammed Abdul-Azim ben Khabir,” Miss Termagaunt amended, “cousin-by-marriage of the second son of the Emir of Saudi Arabia.”
ooooSophie lobbed a look at Termagaunt over her glasses. “And who might you be?”
oooo“She is my governess, Miss Termagaunt,” said Dahab haughtily.
oooo“Governess, is she?” said Sophie. “Well, Mary Poppins, this is the United States of America, and princesses better leave their tiaras at the border if they don’t want to get ‘em bent. You get your fannies in this truck now, and be snappy about it.”
ooooNo one had ever spoken to Dahab like that. She was so flustered she stood with her eyes wide and her mouth gaping like a fish out of water, but no words came out. She looked at Miss Termagaunt, whose lips were flapping like a sister-fish. Ab seized the moment. “Maybe we’d better go with them.”
ooooAnd so Dahab Aliyah Fatima Firyal de Sahid, eldest daughter of Sheik Muhammed Abdul-Azim ben Khabir, cousin-by-marriage of the second son of the Emir of Saudi Arabia, and Miss Termagaunt found themselves rudely seated amongst the old wooden lobster pots and driftwood that banged around in the back of Sophie’s ’87 Ford Ranger as it trundled up Main Street.
ooooBean leaned over the cab. “Drop me off at the Town Office,” he shouted over the throb of the engine. “Then take them up to the Moses Webster House and come back and pick me up.”
ooooLess than ten minutes later, having delivered the girls to the Moses Webster House – the bed and breakfast where Ab’s family, the Peterson’s, spent their summers – Sophie pulled her truck into the parking lot of the Town Office, where Constable Wruggles and Bean stood waiting. Bean was disappointed to see that Ab wasn’t with her.
oooo“I’ve called the Coast Guard, Sophie. They’re on their way over,” said Wruggles. “Just in case.” No one said what they all feared most, that Spooky had had an accident and been lost at sea. Drowned. That particular tragedy was a recurring theme in the island’s history, one that had affected most of the families on the island in one way or another over the years.
ooooSophie looked hopefully at Bean. “Is your dad with ‘em?” Bean’s dad, Captain Carver, was well-known all along the Maine coast and highly respected for his ability to handle an emergency.
ooooBean shook his head. “No. He’s out on the Great Lakes for some special training. Won’t be home for a couple of weeks.”
oooo“Oh,” said Sophie, the moment’s optimism faded quickly from her voice.
oooo“That’s alright, Soph,” said Wruggles, patting her arm. “Them Coast Guard boys know what they’re doing. Meantime, why don’t we go out Burial Island and see what we can find. I called Paddy Pendleton and told him to meet us at your place with his boat.”
ooooBean was just about to climb in the truck when Ab skidded into the parking lot on Mr. Proverb’s ancient black bicycle. She slammed on the brakes and spun a semi-circle on the ragged pavement, sending up a shower of gravel. “Sorry,” she said. “I had to change my clothes.”
oooo“Pile in,” said Wruggles, with a wink at Sophie as he climbed in the cab. “Let’s see if we can find our boy.”
oooo“I thought you weren’t coming,” said Bean accusingly as the truck pulled away. They were sitting on wheel wells opposite each other.
oooo“Of course I came. We’re talking about Spooky.”
ooooBean didn’t say anything for a minute or two. He didn’t know what to say. So much had changed so suddenly in his relationship to Ab. She’d changed. Not just in the way she looked, but . . . he didn’t know exactly what it was. All he could think was that it was like someone else had taken over Ab’s body. Some strange unpleasant female spirit. “Where’d your friend come from?”
oooo“Dahab? She . . . well, my dad arranged for her to come with me this summer.”
oooo“That means it’s got something to do with the State Department.”
ooooAb didn’t reply. She just hung her head and looked at her hands.
oooo“Why’d you get that thing on your nose?”
oooo“What? Oh . . . it’s . . . all the kids wear them. In New York. Everywhere.”
ooooAb raised her eyes. “You don’t look much different.”
oooo“I’ve grown!” said Bean, and instantly regretted it. He sounded like a ten-year-old, which was the last thing in the world he wanted to sound like right now.
oooo“Yes. I guess you have,” said Ab.
ooooTo Bean her tone was condescending, like she was about to pat him on the head any minute. It drove him nuts. He decided it was best to just keep his mouth shut. Apparently Ab felt the same way, so they rode in silence to the Martin’s house on Shore Acres. By that time, the thick bank of fog that had been haunting the bay drifted ashore, chilling the air and giving the dark spires of the tall spruce trees a ghostly appearance.
ooooAs Ab climbed out of the truck, she closed her eyes, sighed, and inhaled deeply. “I love that smell,” she said.
ooooBean sniffed at the air. “What smell?”
oooo“That sweetness. The salt air. The spruce. Beach roses.”
ooooBean shrugged. It smelled the same as always to him. New York must have a smell of its own.
ooooThe quartet stumbled single-file down the root-strewn path toward the Reach, taking ineffectual swipes at the occasional mosquito. Nearby, the sound of an outboard motor thrumped through the fog, in which it seemed to come from every direction at once.
oooo“That’ll be Paddy,” said Wruggles. “Good timin’.”
ooooAs it turned out, Paddy had brought a rowboat in tow. “We can search twice as much area if we split,” said the usually taciturn old fisherman.
oooo“Good idea,” Wruggles agreed. “Bean, you and Ab go out an’ have a look at the island. Paddy, and Sophie and me’ll make a pass up and down the Reach on both sides. Coast Guard should be here by then, if nothin’ turns up.” Bean helped Sophie into Paddy’s boat and he and Ab stood on the float for a moment until the boat disappeared into the fog.
ooooBean untied the punt and held it while Ab climbed in. She sat down on the rower’s bench and grabbed the oars. “What do you think you’re doing?” said Bean.
oooo“I thought you cared about Spook.”
oooo“And you think goin’ ‘round in circles in the fog for an hour or so is going to help?” said Bean sarcastically.
oooo“I’m a good rower!” Ab protested.
oooo“Sure you are . . . for a girl . . . if you’ve got no place special to go and all the time in the world to get there.”
ooooIt was Bean’s turn to feel superior. He was a much better rower, and they both knew it. “Besides,” he said, taking the oars as she relinquished them, “you don’t want to break your nails.” He didn’t have to add that, and he felt bad about it. But not too bad. She wasn’t the only one who could be snotty.
ooooAb sat in the bow, crossed her arms, and ignored him. Seconds after they pushed off, though, and were surrounded by the fog in choppy water, she knew he’d been right. She had no idea in which direction Burial Island lay. Bean, on the other hand, rowed with a confidence born of long experience and within three minutes the weatherworn extremities of the island oozed into view.
oooo“You remember the story Mr. Parmenter told us about this place?” said Ab.
oooo“I’m going to let you off,” said Bean, without responding. “There’s a clearing up at the top of the island. The path starts up there, by that little birch tree. See what you can find.”
oooo“And what are you going to do,” said Ab indignantly, “sit here and wait?”
oooo“I’m going to row around the island to see if I can see Spook’s boat. It’s a lot faster than walking through the seaweed. I’ll meet you back here in fifteen minutes.”
ooooOnce again, Bean made sense. But Ab wasn’t about to admit it. Nevertheless, she clambered out and made her way toward the birch tree, where she turned just in time to see Bean row away into the fog. Suddenly, she felt uneasy. The wind had picked up, and the tops of the trees were swaying irregularly, their great old trunks creaking an eerie counterpoint. Mr. Parmenter’s story about the dead—or undead—of Burial Island came back with alarming clarity . . . and it was easy to believe. “Get a grip, Abigail,” she said aloud. She reminded herself of all the adventures she and Bean had survived in the past. Kidnapping, pirates, ghouls from the past, ghosts from the present, thieves, submarines—this was a walk in the park.
ooooOf course, Bean had always been at her side. One of them was always there to rescue the other. Together, they were strong. Now, she was alone.
ooooThe immensity of that aloneness crowded in on her as she climbed the path. The overgrowth of trees seemed to reach out, as if trying to grab her. She made a conscious effort to concentrate on why she was there: to find Spooky. She plodded on.
ooooWhen she finally broke into the clearing, she saw that it was high enough to be somewhat above the fog, but dropped off immediately in all directions and so was ringed with the low lying cloud—an island within an island. Fiddlehead ferns were everywhere, but most of the heads had been picked. The few that remained were rapidly going to seed. There were paths through the covering, presumably where Spooky had trampled the plants in his effort to get at the ripe heads. Here and there she could make out footprints, but they were indistinct and didn’t tell her anything. Otherwise, there was no sign.
oooo“Spooky!” she hollered. She listened. In the near distance a bell buoy tolled the passing waves. The wind dragged itself through the upper branches of a host of nearly invisible trees. A bee buzzed by. Nothing else. “Spooky!” she called again, louder this time. Still no reply. She suddenly was overcome with the irrational notion that the rest of the world had disappeared, and she was the only one left . . . on an island of graves and ghosts. “Bean!” she yelled at the top of her voice, forgetting to call him Arthur. “Can you hear me! Bean!”
ooooNo one answered.
ooooShe turned the way she’d come and fled back down the path, the ghosts of her imagination in hot pursuit.
ooooArriving breathless at the shore she was comforted by the sight of a lobster buoy bobbing in the water. It was a sign of civilization. Of life. She found a hollow of sand and crushed shells—what passed for a beach on Maine’s rocky coast—and, wrapping herself in her arms, began pacing it in small circles as she waited for Bean to return.
oooo“Where have you been!” she shouted as he hove into view.
ooooBean glanced at his watch. “It’s been sixteen minutes!”
ooooOnly sixteen, Ab thought? Surely it was closer to an hour. “I don’t believe you.”
oooo“You don’t have to,” said Bean as he expertly nudged the bow of the punt into a shallow cleft between the rocks. “Look at your watch.”
ooooShe did. Sixteen minutes. “You said fifteen minutes,” she huffed, straddling the boat and pushing off with her back foot. “You’re late.” She wanted to ask him if he’d heard her call, but was too proud to let him know she’d needed him.
ooooBean ignored her. “Did you find anything?
ooooAbby folded herself into the bow. “No. You?”
ooooBean shook his head and, with a couple of deep strokes, put the island behind them. “I found the place where he’d pulled his boat up, but it’s not there now.”
oooo“What could have happened? Could he have gotten lost in the fog?”
ooooBean almost laughed. “Spooky? No way. He’s got a GPS in his head. Even if he did, there are islands in every direction. He’d end up on one of ‘em sooner or later.”
oooo“Maybe that’s where the others will find them.”
ooooSuddenly, as if from nowhere, a lobster boat cleft the surrounding grayness and seemed to be bearing down on them at a high rate of speed. But this was no ordinary lobster boat. First, it was painted black. Even its windows were black. Secondly, its engines, which must have been cranking furiously to generate that kind of speed through choppy seas, made no sound. All that could be heard was a faint humming and the furious slapping of the waves against its bow.
ooooBean pulled mightily at the starboard oar to turn out of the way and, planting both feet firmly against the aft seat, dug both oars deep into the black waters, making tiny, violent whirlpools with each desperate thrust and pull. A sidelong collision was narrowly avoided, but the shiny hull of the black boat grazed the stern of the rowboat hard enough so there was a loud crack. Bean and Ab spun in a sharp semi-circle and, by the time the punt settled, like a wounded pigeon, the black boat had slipped quietly into the fog.
oooo“What was that!” Ab gasped.
ooooBean’s feet were wet. He looked down to see a wide seam opening along the base of the transom.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I hope you’ve read Bean and Ab’s first and second mysteries, The Secret of the Missing Grave and The Mystery of the Black Moriah and are sufficiently intrigued by the sample chapters above to purchase The Legend of Burial Island. For the print version, select the Click to Buy button at left. For the download version click here or click the book cover at the top of this page which will take you to DownEast Books or Amazon where you can place your order for either the download or paperback editions safely and securely. Meanwtime, PLEASE Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail everyone you know, tell them how much you love Bean, Ab, and Spooky, and send them to http://www.davidcrossman.com!
Thank you. The rest of the story awaits!
David A. Crossman
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