Dad took one look, sighed, and opened the car door. "It seems the realtor forgot to have someone mow the lawn." He shook his head and sighed again. "It's a good thing I don't start teaching until fall. We have some time to get this place in shape."
"Please don't tell me this is our house," I said to Mom. "We aren't really going to live here. It's Dad's idea of a joke-right?"
Making a big effort to infuse her voice with enthusiasm, Mom said, "For heaven's sake, Logan, wait till it's painted and the lawn's cut. It will be adorable."
With a cynical sigh, I followed my parents toward the front door. A black mutt about the size of a German shepherd watched us from the porch. Mom edged behind Dad, but there was no need to be scared. The dog got to his feet and wagged his tail as if he was greeting old friends.
"Does he come with the house?" I asked.
Mom eyed the dog as if she suspected his friendliness was an act. "I think he belongs to the people next door."
As if on cue, a boy appeared at the hedge separating his yard from ours. "His name's Bear," he said. "Part rottweiler, part lab. He used to belong to the lady who lived in your house, but now he's mine and Grandma's."
The boy and I stared at each other over the low hedge. He was shorter than I was-younger, too. Probably no more than eleven. His straight yellow hair hung in his eyes and straggled down the back of his neck, his glasses were held together with tape, and he wore a faded T-shirt big enough for Dad that said, MENZER'S HARDWARE-IF WE DON'T HAVE IT, YOU DON'T NEED IT.
"I've been waiting all day for you." The boy frowned as if he expected me to apologize for inconveniencing him. "Grandma was sure you'd be here by noon, and it's almost six o'clock." He held up a skinny arm to show me the time on an enormous watch that was way too big for his bony wrist.
I'd been trapped in the back seat of an un-air-conditioned car for almost two hours. The temperature was over ninety. I was hot, I was tired, I was in a really bad mood. I definitely did not feel like being friendly. Especially with such a weird-looking kid.
"My name's Arthur Jenkins," the boy went on. "What's yours?"
"Logan Forbes." I glanced over my shoulder, hoping to see Mom or Dad beckoning me to come inside and help unpack or something. But no one was in sight. Now, if I'd wanted to stay outside and talk to Arthur Jenkins, you can bet my parents would have been hollering at me to get my butt in the house.
"How old are you?" Arthur asked. Without giving me a chance to answer, he said, "I'm almost twelve. Next fall I'll be in sixth grade at Oak View Middle School. You can't really see any oaks from there because they cut them all down to build a bunch of big expensive houses. Fair Oaks, it's called, in memory of the trees, I guess. Mostly everyone our age lives there. They're all snobs."
"I turned thirteen last month," I said. "I'll be in seventh grade, a whole year ahead of you."
Arthur shrugged. "We can be friends anyway. Living so close-that's propinquity." He paused to see if I knew what "propinquity" meant. In case I didn't, he added, "That means proximity or nearness. Also kinship and similarity in nature." He flashed a crooked grin. "I have the biggest vocabulary in my grade. I'm also the best speller and the best reader. I read five hundred and three books for last year's read-a-thon. Not Dr. Seuss, either-thick ones, like the Harry Potter books. I won so much free pizza, I don't even like the way it smells anymore."
While Arthur bragged, I looked longingly at the house. I could hear Dad hammering, but no one came to the door to call me inside.
Arthur pulled a stick of gum out of his pocket. Without offering me any, he stuffed it in his mouth. I watched him chew with lip-smacking relish, blow a big bubble, and suck it slowly back inside his mouth.
When he was ready to talk again, he said, "You've got some nice furniture. Expensive, Grandma says. We watched the moving men carry it in yesterday. How big is your TV screen? I've never seen one that size except in a store down at Peckham Mall."
I shrugged and glanced at the house, still hoping someone would rescue me from Arthur.
"Grandma and I didn't think anybody was ever going to buy old Mrs. Donaldson's place," Arthur went on. "It's been empty for almost three years. I guess the real estate company was hoping some folks from out of town like you-all would buy it without knowing what happened in it."
He paused to blow another bubble.
"What do you mean?" I asked, curious in spite of myself. "What happened in our house?"
He leaned across the hedge, his face so close I could smell his gum. "Mrs. Donaldson died there.... She was murdered."
"Murdered?" I stared at Arthur, shocked. "No way."
"Ask Grandma. She's the one who found her." His eyes widened behind the smeared lenses of his glasses. In a low voice, he went on with what I hoped was a story he'd concocted to scare me.
"One night, Bear woke up Grandma and me, barking like he'd gone crazy or something. We both kept hoping he'd shut up so we could go back to sleep, but he didn't stop. Finally, Grandma went downstairs, and I followed her. Bear was at our back door, making a horrible fuss." Arthur paused and glanced at the dog, who'd raised his head at the mention of his name.
"Mrs. Donaldson never let him out unless he was on a leash," Arthur went on. "Not only that, his head was bleeding, like somebody had whacked him hard enough to kill an ordinary dog." He paused again, and I found myself staring at Bear, who was now scratching his ear.
Arthur sighed. "Grandma and I knew something was wrong. It was one of those weird feelings-you know what I mean?"
I nodded. "Like in a movie, when the music gets scary and you can tell something bad is going to happen?"
"Exactly." Arthur crossed his arms across his skinny chest and took a deep breath. "Grandma told me to stay inside while she ran to Mrs. Donaldson's house. The back door was wide open, and the kitchen was a wreck. Drawers emptied out, stuff strewn everywhere, furniture turned over. Bear ran down the cellar steps, whining and crying, and Grandma followed him. Mrs. Donaldson was lying on the floor. Dead."
Despite the warm summer sun, goose bumps raced up and down my arms. "Maybe she just fell down the steps, maybe-"
"Even the police said it was murder," Arthur interrupted. "Somebody broke in and killed her. Then they tore the whole house apart-not just the kitchen, but every room, including the attic. They were looking for money, I guess."
I glanced at Bear, who'd gone back to sleep on our porch. "Is he really her dog?"
"Mrs. Donaldson loved that dog, and he loved her. He must have done his best to protect her. But ..." Arthur shrugged. "The cops were going to take him to the pound, but Grandma said we'd keep him. The sad thing is he spends more time at your house than ours. I guess he's hoping Mrs. Donaldson will come back someday."
While Arthur talked, I found myself staring at my new home. Before I'd learned its gruesome secret, it had seemed like an ordinary little house, kind of homely and run-down. Now it had a sinister look, as if it were hiding behind the overgrown trees and bushes, keeping dark, scary secrets.
Our back door opened then, and Mom leaned out. "Logan, how about giving us some help in here?"
At the same moment, a woman appeared on Arthur's porch. Like him, she was skinny as a stick. Her hair was blond or white, I wasn't sure which, and it stuck up like a cockatoo's crest. Her eyebrows were black, drawn on a little too high, which gave her face a startled look. I didn't have any idea how old she was-anywhere from middle-aged to ancient was the closest I could guess.
"Hello, there," she called to me. "Welcome to Bealesville. I'm Arthur's granny, Darla Jenkins. Tell your folks I'll come on over for a visit after they get settled."
To Arthur she said, "Dinner's ready, Artie. Come in and wash up."
"See you later." Without another word, Arthur ran to his house, which was smaller and in worse need of paint than ours. Taking the sagging steps two at a time, he yanked open the screen door and disappeared.
In the sudden silence, I heard his grandmother say, "Arthur Jenkins, how often must I tell you not to slam that door!"
I headed for our house, eager to confront Mom and Dad with the truth about our new home.
Excerpted from Closed For The Season by Mary Downing Hahn Copyright © 2009 by Mary Downing Hahn. Excerpted by permission.
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