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.Alex, of course, brought along a mixed assortment of his favorite action figures.Trunk space dwindled fast, and I had to reposition the suitcases and boxes a few times to make sure everything fit.Mom’s laptop computer was the last snug-fitting piece of the puzzle.I wedged it between a couple of suitcases—carefully! Mom was more protective of the computer than I was of my comics.I didn’t know why she wanted to bring it along, though, since this was supposed to be a vacation.With the car packed, we were on our way.There was no talking Mom out of the trip.“Tell you what,” Mom said as we rounded a curve.“Why don’t you check under your seat.I got you something that might cheer you up.I was going to wait until we got to your aunt and uncle’s place, but I’ll go ahead and give it to you now.”I’ll admit, she piqued my interest.For a half-second, I wondered if she’d gone ahead and gotten me a couple of the DS Lite games I wanted.That wasn’t much like my Mom, though.My thirteenth birthday was only a couple of months away, and she liked to make me wait for gifts like that.I leaned forward, reached under the seat, and found a heavy object wrapped in a plastic shopping bag.Definitely too heavy to be new video games, I thought.I unwrapped the package, revealing a thick hardback book.The cover featured a spooky-looking, run down house sitting atop a lonely hill.Ozarks Ghosts and Legends, read the title, written by W.D.Goodwin.I ran my fingers lightly over the raised printing.“What’s this?” I asked.“Open it up and see for yourself,” Mom said.“I marked a couple of chapters I thought you’d find interesting.”I cracked open the book and turned my attention to the pages Mom had noted with several neatly-cut slips of paper.I flipped to the first marked chapter, and the title nearly jumped off the page.“Crooked Hills,” it read, “The Most Haunted Town in America.”CHAPTER TWOTHE TOWN OF CROOKED HILLS became more interesting page-by-page.Haunted houses.Ghostly voices in the dead of night.Spectral shapes flitting through the shadows.Every page was chock-full of blood-curdling stories of spirits, monsters, and macabre happenings.Each tale sent a shiver of fearful delight up my spine.I’ve always been a sucker for spooky stories (especially if they’re supposedly true) and, according to the book, Crooked Hills had more ghosts than any other town in the country!The first story I read was titled, “The Wandering Loverboy of Crooked Hills,” and it told of the spirit of a young man who haunted back roads in search of his lost love.Always seen carrying a bouquet of yellow and red flowers, the ghost flagged down unwary drivers as they drove past.When someone stopped, the young man rushed to the driver’s side, leaning down to gaze through the window, as if expecting to find someone he knew.The smile would droop into a frown, and the flowers, as if aging fifty years in the space of a few seconds, wilted and turned brown.“You’re not her,” he would mutter through cracked, dry lips as his face wasted away, the skin turning gray and flaky as he changed into a desiccated, horrific apparition.Pretty gruesome!Feverishly, I turned the page.One tale told of the haunted gallows tree.Years ago, criminals were hanged from the branches of the tallest tree in the county.Ugh! I rubbed my neck.What a way to go! Now, on nights when the full moon shone brightly through the branches, the ghosts of the criminals appeared on creaking ropes, swaying back and forth as they proclaimed their innocence in mournful, rasping voices.Next I read about a group of evil witches who poisoned local crops and livestock with their magic.Feared by every man, woman, and child in the area, the worst of their number was Maddie Someday.To this day, no one said her name aloud without spitting twice to ward off her ire.A witch of the cruelest variety, Maddie was the sort of vile creature destined to become the subject of campfire ghost stories.Known for kidnapping children in the dead of night, she wore a large ruby ring on the index finger of her right hand.The jewel glinted in the moonlight as the witch wandered the darkest part of the woods.Whenever someone saw the ring winking like a bloody eye in the darkness, they knew to get home quick unless they wanted to become one of Maddie’s victims.This was the first time I heard about Maddie Someday.If only it had been the last.CHAPTER THREETHE DRIVE TO CROOKED HILLS took several more hours.If not for the book, it might have been one of the most boring trips of my life.I read as many of the local legends as I could, but eventually I started to feel just a little carsick.Reading and riding along twisting roads didn’t go well together.I had to put the book aside for a while.Still, I couldn’t believe we were vacationing in such a haunted place.Maybe the trip wouldn’t be so terribly dull after all.If I got lucky, I might even see a ghost.I got goose bumps just thinking about it.“Charlie?” Alex shifted restlessly in the back seat.“Don’t you want to play the cow game?”I turned in my seat to look at my little brother.“You never give up, do you?”Alex smiled.“Nope.”I felt a little bad for ignoring Alex for so long, and I’d been acting like a jerk with my mom, too.I reminded myself that I was “the man of the house” when it came to my family now, and I needed to be a little more understanding.“How many cows have you got now?” I asked my brother.“A bunch.Something like a hundred and fifty.”About that time, we passed a roadside billboard advertising a restaurant called Chauncy Burger.The sign featured a happy cartoon character chowing down on a hamburger [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]