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First pages

Prologue

I grew up in between moments of greatness.

I was a stout kid, built low to the ground, a bit on the gnomish side, minus the potbelly and pointy hat. My summers were spent barreling out the back door after my chores were done, with a pillowcase in hand as I headed to the woods that were beyond the cornfield in back of our neighborhood.

Andy, Thomas, and a girl who went by Billy were the neighborhood kids whom I hung out with. Our meeting spot was down along Port Indian. It was a Pennsylvania river town that was on the other side of the woods. It was neither a port nor had any Indians in it, but it was our spot.

The year was 1986, and our summer was filled with adventure movies that swept us up in never-ending quests for mystery and magic. The year before, we had scoured the riverbanks in search of lost treasures, just like the kids in The Goonies. Now we longed to find the Goblin King from Labyrinth. We would weave our way through the woods in the hopes that we could discover a doorway into his world. We had wanderlust and an inkling that our lives were meant for so much more.

When the sun finally went down, we would sling our pillowcases over our shoulders and head home. We were dirty and muddy but proud of our extraordinary finds.

I would burst through the back door and into the kitchen to the smell of fresh spaghetti sauce cooking on the stove.

 “Gravy” was what my dad used to call the sauce.

Ravenously hungry, I’d grab pieces of fresh bread off the table and dip them into the red gravy, savoring every bite. I was a pillowcase adventurer, and the spaghetti sauce was my comfort food—my beacon home.

“Go get cleaned up. Dinner’s on in ten minutes,” my mom used to say.

Off to my room, I’d dump out my loot from my pillowcase. River stones, old bottles, some loose change—all of the odds and ends came with an adventure to tell, which was also being shared simultaneously throughout the neighborhood by my merry band of wanderers, over a plate of pasta.

No tale was too tall. No story was too small.

We were living in between moments of greatness where—in our minds—the goblins were captured, the secret passages were found, and the lost treasures were discovered at last. Until that one afternoon when myth became reality and our lives changed forever.

My name is Claire D’Angelini, and this is my story . . .

Chapter 1

“Batteries . . . check. Flashlight . . . check. Snacks . . . check. Juice boxes . . . check. Pillowcase . . . check.” I leaned over my bed, going over the items I needed for my afternoon adventure.

I picked up the flashlight, unscrewed the cap, and rechecked the batteries.

New batteries were vital.

They were the lifeblood to all my exploring.

Okay, maybe I was going a bit overboard on the whole lifeblood thing, but they were pretty stinking important. I clicked the flashlight on and off.

Everything was in working order.

Into the pillowcase, it went.

Next, I inspected my snacks. There were two Zip-Pak bags. One was filled with Fruit Roll-Ups, and the other was stuffed with potato chips. I was particular about my potato chips. Kettle-cooked. Extra crispy.

Yum.

Into the pillowcase, they went.

The juice boxes were pretty self-contained. Hi-C was my favorite, but only the cherry and fruit punch flavors. I hated the grape ones.

They also went into the pillowcase.

Finally, there was the pillowcase itself. I lifted it off of my bedspread and inspected it for stains, tears, and loose strings. I was a stickler for a clean pillowcase.

Stickler. Claire, now you sound like Mom.

I smiled at the thought. I had a pretty rad mom.

“Claire! Claire! Did you take my favorite headband out of my room?” my older sister, Gabby, shrieked from the hallway.

I rolled my eyes and set my pillowcase back down on the bedspread. “No, Gabby, I didn’t take your stupid headband. Did you check the bathroom?” I yelled back at her.

Gabby pushed opened my bedroom door the rest of the way and then stood there with her arms crossed, blocking my exit. “You’re always taking my stuff! I told you to stay out of my room!”

I eyed my sister. She had turned sixteen right after Valentine’s Day. Ever since she had gotten her driver’s license, she had become unbearable to live with. I bet she thought she was so cool standing there in her favorite pair of pink, acid-washed jeans and a David Lee Roth T-shirt she had gotten at a concert last month in July.

She made me want to barf.

“If Mom catches you wearing her makeup again, she is going to kiiilll yoouuu.” I pulled one of my neon hair bands, which were mixed in with my jellies, off of my wrist and tied my long brown hair up into a ponytail. I was proud of my jelly bracelets. I had one in every color, unlike my sister, who only wore the black ones, like Madonna.

Gabby narrowed her brown eyes at me. “What are you gonna do? Squeal?” She wasn’t budging from the doorway. “Then I’ll tell her you snuck out of the house last week to meet up with your dumb club.”

“I did not!” I protested as I slung my pillowcase over my shoulder. She was right, of course. I did sneak out of the house last week, but our club meetings were important, much more important than her silly dates and secret boyfriend that she wasn’t allowed to have.

“You did too!” She uncrossed her arms and put her hands on her hips. “You’re almost thirteen, Claire, for crying out loud. When are you going to grow up and, like, start acting your age? You can’t keep running around the neighborhood like you’re still ten. It’s, like, embarrassing.” She still blocked my exit.

I nudged her. Hard. “You’re embarrassing. Now get out of my way.”

“Make me.”

“I don’t make trash—I burn it.”

“Oh, that’s mature.” Gabby flipped her hair back.

We were having another one of our standoffs.

“I bet you don’t even know what the word mature means.” She popped the bubble gum she was chewing right in my face.

“Ugh, you are so gross.”

“I am not!” she shrieked.

“Girls!” Mom came up the steps. “What is going on? I can hear you two all the way downstairs. Your dad is trying to take a nap.”

“Mom, Gabby won’t move,” I whined.

“Stop calling me Gabby,” my sister warned through gritted teeth. “I go by Gabrielle now. See? It’s mature.”

I stuck my finger in my mouth and made gagging noises at her.

“Enough,” Mom huffed. “I don’t have time for this. Gabrielle, let your sister pass. Claire, stop taunting her.”

Gabby sighed and stepped to the side.

“I wasn’t taunting,” I scoffed, brushing past her. I sniffed the air. “Eww . . . are you wearing perfume? Mom, she’s wearing perfume.”

“Claire.” Mom’s voice grew stern.

“Fine, I was leaving anyway.” I turned back to Gabby and stuck my tongue out at her.

“Oh, that’s mature. You’re such a doofus.”

“Dork.”

“Please don’t make me ground the both of you. It’s Saturday. I just want to enjoy the weekend in peace and quiet.” Mom sounded tired. During the school year, she taught fourth grade, but during the summer, she was a camp counselor for first graders. It was almost the end of August. Every year around this time, she was always exhausted. Those little rug rats ran her ragged.

“I’ll be home for dinner.” I stood up on my tippy-toes and kissed Mom on the cheek. She smelled like Prell shampoo and Irish Spring soap.

“It’s spaghetti night.” Mom wiped her hands on the apron she was wearing. “Mr. and Mrs. Salvay are going out tonight, so Billy is going to be having dinner with us.”

“All right!” I fist-pumped the air. Billy, who lived next door, was my best friend. We had been besties all of our lives. She and I did everything together. She was also a pillowcase adventurer. “We won’t be late. I promise.”

“Mom, why can’t I have people over? You always play favorites.”

Gabby was such a fusspot.

“Are you wearing makeup again, Gabrielle?” Mom walked past me toward my sister, and I giggled all the way down the steps as Gabby got read the riot act for painting her face.

Ha! Serves her right for calling my club dumb.

I passed Dad, who was in the living room, dozing with an open newspaper on his lap. He had retired from the navy last year. He had taken a job teaching safety classes at the local vo-tech school, but that didn’t start till Monday, so I wasn’t surprised that he was napping in his recliner, wearing one of his old Navy T-shirts and sweatpants. Mutts, our family dog, was sleeping at his feet.

“Bye, Dad! See you at dinner!” I gave Dad a peck on his forehead and then leaned down to rub Mutts’s hairy belly. He was good dog—half sheepdog, half we-didn’t-know-what.

“Huh? What?” Dad snorted awake. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

“I’m going out for a while. I’ll be home for dinner.”

Dad smiled up at me and began refolding his paper. “Stay out of trouble, and remember—safety first.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know, Dad. I know.” He was always going on about safety this and safety that. I loved him to death, but it got old after a while. I headed for the kitchen and snatched an apple out of the fruit bowl on the table. “Love you!”

“Love you, too, pumpkin!” Dad called back.

I shuffled out the back door, and once outside, I blew out my breath. “Free at last.”

Jumping over the hedges, I crossed over into the Salvays’ yard. Billy was already outside sitting on the back steps.

“What took you so long?” Billy picked up her own pillowcase sack and stood up. Her proper name was Beatrice, named after her great-grandmother on her mom’s side, but nobody called her that. In fact, the last time someone called her Beatrice, it ended with a boy getting a bloody nose and Billy in detention. We were nine then.

I shrugged. “You know, evil sister and all. You’re lucky, being an only child.”

“It’s nice. That’s for sure.” Billy tucked her black hair behind her ears. She was sporting a new “bob” cut, which was the latest style, and it looked awesome on her. I was so jealous and wanted to cut my own hair off, but Mom wasn’t having any of that.

Out on the sidewalk, we fell into step beside each other. Billy was taller than me and built like a giraffe. She was all legs. I always had to walk doubly fast to keep up with her, but I didn’t mind.

“If you ever want Gabby for a weekend, you let me know.” I shifted my pillowcase from one shoulder to the other. “Really, I am generous that way.”

Billy snorted, “Not on your life.” She adjusted her wristwatch. She had just gotten it last week. It had a blue plastic band and even came with a built-in compass. It was really cool. I kept dropping hints to my parents that I wanted one, too, but my birthday wasn’t until October, and my weekly allowance didn’t stretch that far.

“Do you think the boys are on their way?” I squinted up at the bright sky. We had a solid four hours before the sun would start to set. “Andy was late to the last meeting, and Thomas ate half my snacks.”

Andy Maglio and Thomas Salvay were the only other members of The Pillowcase Adventurers. Thomas, who lived behind us, on the next street over, was Billy’s first cousin. Andy lived at the other end of the neighborhood. He was never on time. If anyone could use a wristwatch, it was Andy. The four of us had grown up together and had gone to the same elementary and middle schools. But this year was going to be different. Next week, we were starting eighth grade in a brand-new building that was attached to the high school.

It was a big deal.

“They better show up.” Billy took a bunch of sample toothpaste tubes and toothbrushes out from inside her pillowcase. “My mom brought these home from work to give to everybody, and I don’t want to lug them around all day.” She handed me a plastic-wrapped green toothbrush and some toothpaste.

Billy’s mom was a dental hygienist who felt it was her job to make sure every kid in the neighborhood had clean teeth. My mother loved it. She hadn’t had to buy a toothbrush for me or my sister in years.

“Tell your mom I said, ‘Thanks.’ Hey, can I have the orange one?” We swapped out colors, and then we walked toward the cornfield that was behind the row of houses on the other side of the street. All the way, I munched on my apple, reflecting on how much was about to change in my neck of the woods—literally.

There was talk amongst the grown-ups that the farmer who owned the cornfield had sold it to a contractor for a new housing development. As Billy and I cut through Mrs. Ringgold’s yard and entered the cornfield, the only thing I had decided was that I was totally undecided about the whole project. On the one hand, it would be really neat to have new neighbors and hopefully new kids our age to hang out with. But on the other hand, it meant that the field would be gone. It had been there as long as I could remember.

“I’m going to miss this field,” Billy said wistfully as if she was reading my mind. “We’re not going to be able to sneak corn home anymore.”

“No, we’re not, but we’ll still have the woods. I heard my dad say that the land is too steep to build on so close to the river, which is why Port Indian left it alone.” I finished my apple and tossed the core at the border into the woods for the squirrels to eat.

Port Indian was our spot. It had been the meeting place of The Pillowcase Adventurers ever since I had formed the group in fifth grade. We were on our third summer, sneaking around that river town and exploring its riverbank. Port Indian was located along the Schuylkill River in southeastern Pennsylvania. The area had once belonged to the Lenape Indians, but it was Dutch explorers who had given the river its name. It roughly translated to “hidden river.”

I loved history.

Billy and I picked up the trail that would take us to our clubhouse in the woods right on the border into Port Indian. Billy’s and Thomas’s dads were brothers who owned a scrapyard in Norristown. Over the years, we had convinced them to bring home all sorts of awesome stuff that the four of us would then cart into the woods. Our clubhouse had a makeshift door, metal sides, and a tarp for a roof, which helped to let the light in, but it sucked when it rained. We always had to take turns tilting the tarp in one direction to let the water run off of it.

Billy yanked on the door, and it creaked open with a groan. Inside, we had set up a make-do table out of wooden pallets and were using milk crates, turned upside down, with cardboard tops as seats.

I set my pillowcase down on the table and brushed the dirt off my cardboard seat. “Maybe we should get some wood planks to sit on top of. I am tired of always having to replace the cardboard after it rains.”

Billy scrunched her nose. “I don’t know. This is supposed to be our last meeting for a while. After this summer, we may not have the time to come out here as often. We are starting eighth grade at a new school. It’s a big change.”

“What are you saying?” I looked up at Billy, surprised. “This club has been around forever. I don’t see how a new school is going to change that for us.”

Billy shrugged her shoulders and sat down across from my seat, stretching out her legs. “I’m just saying. We’re going to have a lot to do. There’s going to be indoor volleyball and then softball tryouts next spring.”

“You hate softball.” I plopped down into my seat. “First, the cornfield is going to disappear, and now, you want to play sports? Everything is changing.”

“It’s not that bad, Claire. You should think about trying out for something, too.”

Before I could come up with a reply, the door groaned open again, and in walked Thomas with Andy right behind him.

“Surprise, surprise. You guys are on time for once.” Billy tapped her wristwatch.

“That’s only because…I jogged all the way…over to Andy’s house…to get him.” Thomas sank his bulky frame down onto one of the empty seats, trying to catch his breath. For someone who was related to Billy, he looked nothing like her. Thomas wore his hair like a shaggy dog and was built like an ox. Man, could that kid eat.

“Come on, you guys are exaggerating.” Andy blew his dirty-blond hair out of his face and grinned at me. He was wearing a faded David Bowie T-shirt and a pair of black jeans.

He looked so cool.

I blushed and turned away. I had had a crush on Andy since the sixth grade, but I was either too proud or too scared to do anything about it.

Maybe this school year will be different.

“Are we getting started with this meeting or what?” Thomas rummaged through his pillowcase and pulled out a granola bar. “I’m getting hungry.”

“You’re always hungry,” I remarked and moved my own pillowcase away from him. He was not getting his greedy mitts on my potato chips this time. I cleared my voice. “I hereby bring to order this summer’s tenth meeting of The Pillowcase Adventurers, in the year of our Lord, nineteen hundred and eighty-six.”

Andy did a mock drumroll on the tabletop.

Billy played with her watch. “We are getting too old for this.”

“Shh, you sound like Gabby,” I shushed her. “Is there any old business to review?”

Everyone shook their heads.

Thomas loudly crunched away on his granola bar.

“Is there any new business to bring up?” I waited for someone, anyone, to speak up. No new news would mean our meeting would be cut short, and I wasn’t ready to go home yet. The truth of it was that I wasn’t ready for the summer to be over. I was going to fight for every last minute of it.

“Here, this isn’t really new business, but”—Billy dug through her pillowcase—“my mom came home with more toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes.”

“Oh, cool! I want a green one!” Thomas reached for his favorite color.

“Nice. I know my mom will be happy.” Andy made his grab. “Though, I really wish your mom would stop giving these out at Halloween.”

“Tell me about it,” Billy muttered. “It took me forever to get Barry McGallagher to stop teasing me about it.”

“Claire, you have one?” Thomas was being thoughtful.

“Yeah, I got mine earlier. Thanks. But that’s not why we’re out here. No offense, Billy.”

“No offense taken, but I’m sorry that I don’t have any new news for the meeting.”

I sighed. It seemed all we had for the moment was the prospect of keeping our teeth clean.

“I have something,” Andy piped up. “Since this is our last meeting of the summer, I think we should check out the abandoned house.”

Andy, you are my hero, I thought smugly. The afternoon might be saved after all.

Thomas finished chewing and swallowed his last bite.

Billy stopped fiddling with her watch. Andy’s suggestion had her attention. “You mean the one at the end of town?”

Andy leaned in. “There’s only one. It’s Saturday. The Phillies are playing at home. Nobody’s gonna be around. Port Indian will basically be deserted.”

“I don’t know. That house is pretty beat up. Nobody’s lived in it for, like, a decade or something. Some people think it’s haunted.” I had no idea if the house was haunted or not, but just mentioning it might be enough to tip the scales in my favor. Though, in the back of my head, I heard my dad’s voice reminding me about safety first.

Thomas dug around in his pillowcase again and pulled out another granola bar. “What the hell, I’m in.” He tore open the wrapper and spit the tip of it onto the ground.

“Must you curse and litter?” Billy snapped at him. “You have such a potty mouth, Salvay.”

Thomas sat up a little straighter and began mimicking his cousin.

I stifled a laugh. Sometimes Billy was more like an older sister to Thomas rather than a cousin. I thought she was a good influence on him, but Thomas would probably disagree.

Andy dropped his gaze to me, and the rest of my thoughts flew out of my head while my stomach did flips. I swear Andy had the bluest eyes of anybody I had ever met. “Whaddya say, Claire? One final adventure before school starts?”

I paused just enough to make it appear that I was really giving it some thought. I didn’t want Andy to see that I was already on-board hook, line, and sinker. “Well . . . okay, I’m in!”

“Awesome!” Thomas bumped fists with Andy.

Billy’s mouth dropped open. “You’re not serious, Claire?!”

I grinned at Andy, choosing to ignore Billy. It was our last week of summer. I was feeling bold. “Let’s do this.”

Chapter 2

The abandoned house sat at 655 Canal Street. It was a two-story, rickety building that was covered in faded white clapboard, with busted shutters and a boarded-up front door. There were black burn marks around some of the front windows and the edges of the roof. It must have caught on fire at some point. It totally gave off the vibe of being haunted.

It also gave me the heebie-jeebies.

Andy had been right; Port Indian was deserted. It was a solid guess that families were either over in Valley Forge Park, enjoying the nice weather, or they were down in Philly at the baseball stadium. Wherever they were, nobody had noticed the four kids standing in the tall grass of what used to be a front yard, waiting for one another to make the first move.

Finally, Andy broke the silence. “Dudes, like, we’re never going to get inside by just staring at the place. The front door is obviously a no-go. Let’s find another way in.”

“You know this is trespassing, right?” Billy grumbled as we walked around to the back of the house. “We could go to jail for this.”

Thomas rolled his eyes. “We are not going to go to jail, Salvay. We’re minors. Besides, it’s not like anybody’s been using the place. Hey, Andy, maybe we’ll find something cool we can take down to the pawn shop and get some money for.”

“My . . . thoughts . . . exactly . . .” Andy was trying to pry open a window. “Thomas, help me with this. It’s stuck.”

“I can’t believe we are going through with this.” Billy turned to me and threw her hands up in the air.

“You could always go home, Billy.” I stood my ground while the boys forced the window open. “Since you want to disband the group anyway.”

“She wants to do what?” Thomas whipped his head back around, letting go of his side of the window. “Billy, are you for real?”

“Ouch! Man, watch it!” Andy pulled his fingers back just in time. “The window’s sliders are shot. You’re going to have to hold it up for us.”

“Billy wants to get rid of the group,” Thomas groaned as he used his shoulder to keep the window wedged open.

“I do not! I didn’t say that exactly,” Billy retorted defensively. “I just think we are going to have less time to keep the club going, with school sports coming up and all.”

“She’s got a point, you know.” Andy locked his fingers together and crouched down. “Come on, Claire. You first. I’ll give you a leg up.”

I tucked my pillowcase under my arm. “We are not disbanding. This is not up for discussion.” I stomped my foot extra hard into Andy’s hand to prove my point.

Andy winced. “Gosh, Claire, you don’t have to get so pissed off about it.”

“Language,” Billy warned.

“Okay, Mom,” Andy teased Billy.

Thomas guided me through the window. “In ya go, Short Stuff.”

“Hey!” I protested to Thomas as I slipped into the house.

I climbed up through the window, and once inside, my pillowcase fell out of my arms and onto the floor. I cringed when I heard the flashlight inside land with a thud. Quickly I retrieved it and clicked it on. It was still working.

Whew.

 “Great! This is just great. We are officially breaking and entering.” Billy continued to complain from outside.

“Put a sock in it, Billy, and get in here!” I was standing in a room that used to be the kitchen. The counter, appliances, kitchen table, and chairs were all covered in a thick dust. Even the floor was dirty.

One by one, the rest of the crew piled in. Billy was next, followed by Andy and then Thomas, who released the window. It slid down into place with a snap.

“Wow, this place is like something from The Twilight Zone,” Thomas remarked while hastily pulling the window curtains shut.

Immediately we were thrust into a dim and dank atmosphere.

“This is way creepy. That’s for sure,” Andy agreed. He took his own flashlight out of his pillowcase and turned it on.

“Okay, we broke in, and now you’ve seen the place. Let’s go.” Billy was already turning back around to the window.

“Not a chance, Cousin.” Thomas steered her away. “We are here to explore. This house has two floors. This is too good of an opportunity to pass up.”

“I’ll betcha there’s some stuff in these cabinets.” Andy started opening the ones below the sink.

Thomas joined Andy and began opening the cabinets above the stove.

Billy wasn’t letting it go. “If our parents find out we are in here . . .”

“Stop being a wet rag, Billy.” Wow, she sure was putting a damper on the afternoon.

I went over to the refrigerator and shined my flashlight on its door. Under a magnet, there was a yellowish piece of paper with a grocery list written on it. Next to it was a black-and-white photograph. It was covered in dust and hard to make out. I slipped it out from underneath its magnet and used the end of my shirt to wipe it off.

“Whoa,” I said to no one in particular. The picture was slightly creased on one side, and there were little brown spots on it. It was of an older man who had his arms around the shoulders of a younger man who appeared to be a few years older than Gabby. The young man was holding the biggest spotted egg I had ever seen. It was so large that the young man could barely hold it in both of his hands. The men’s clothes were odd to me. Their shirts were oversized, and their shorts were baggy. Both of them wore dome-shaped hats, and they had the same smile.

“That egg is, like, the size of a football,” Andy said almost in my ear.

I jumped. I hadn’t realized he had come up beside me. “Don’t do that!”

“What? Sneak up on you?” Andy was standing so close to me that our shoulders were almost touching. Well, my upper arm to his forearm. He had a decent four inches of height on me.

It sucked being short.

I felt my cheeks getting hot as Andy stared down at the picture and then back at me. I swallowed. Did he know I liked him?

“Hey, guys, come see what Claire found.” Andy smiled at me.

Maybe he does.

Butterflies were fluttering in my stomach.

Thomas snatched the picture out of my hands. “Whoa, this is cool! What’s with these funny hats? And look at the size of those plants behind them. That’s not anywhere around here.”

“Hey! Give that back to me!” I protested. “I found it first!”

Thomas held it up in the air, way above my head, laughing.

Billy punched her cousin in his side. “Stop acting like a baboon.”

“Oomph!” Thomas dropped his arm and clutched his ribs. “Why do you have to be such a bully? That hurt.”

Billy snatched the picture from Thomas. “Me, a bully? How about you? Always thinking you’re funny by teasing everybody. You’re not funny, Thomas.”

Thomas frowned at her, but Billy was already studying the picture. “They could be in South America somewhere. Maybe the rain forest. Wow, that egg is huuuggee.”

“Oh, so now you’re the geological authority,” Thomas said sarcastically.

“You mean geographical, not geological,” Billy corrected him.

“Whatever,” Thomas muttered. “There are days when I really don’t like you.”

“Right back at ya, Cousin.”

I snatched the picture from Billy. “Will you two quit it? You’re starting to sound like my sister, and if I wanted to listen to that all day, I would just go home.” I turned the picture over. “There’s a date on the back.” I rubbed my finger over it. “August 31, 1910.”

“Dude, that’s old.” Andy counted on his fingers. “That’s, like, seventy-six years old.”

“I’m keeping it,” I proclaimed and carefully slid it into my back jeans pocket.

“Great. You can add stealing to the list, too.” Billy hugged her pillowcase close to her. “Now can we get out of this creepy house?”

“No way, José.” Thomas dug into his pillowcase and retrieved a Hershey’s bar. “I want a souvenir, too. There was nothing in the cabinets.” He tore open the candy wrapper, took a bite, and then proceeded to leave the kitchen.

“Wait for me!” Andy was fast on his heels.

“You coming or not?” I asked Billy, following the boys out.

“Fine, fine!” Billy said, exasperated. “But when the cops come, I am telling them this was all your idea.”

“You can tell them whatever you want, but you’re just as guilty as the rest of us. Come on, Billy. Just relax and have some fun.” I shook my head. Billy definitely had a bug up her butt today. I didn’t want her spoiling my mood. I had found a really neat picture. It was one of the best finds ever by a pillowcase adventurer, and considering all the places we had explored over the years, that was saying something.

We walked through a narrow, short hallway and into a living room. The room was empty except for pairs of heavy curtains that were hanging on two windows on either side of the boarded-up front door. Other than that and a set of steps that led up to the second floor, there wasn’t much else to look at.

“What a drag.” Andy’s shoulders slumped forward. “This place is small.”

Thomas began to climb the steps, and they creaked under his weight.

“Careful.” Billy stood at the bottom, watching him go up. She had taken her own flashlight out and was shining it past him.

“Oh, so now you care,” Thomas scoffed as he went up farther. The steps sounded like they weren’t too happy about being used again, especially by Thomas. He was a beefy guy.

“There better be something really awesome upstairs,” Andy mumbled, following Thomas up.

“It’s not my fault I found the picture first,” I defended my treasure. “There was a fifty-fifty chance you would have found something in those cabinets.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Andy waved me off.

What a spoilsport. What is wrong with everyone today?

Billy went up after Andy, but I lagged behind. I shined the flashlight over the faded flowery wallpaper and hardwood floors.

“What’s your story?” I said to the empty living room. “How come nobody lives here anymore?”

Suddenly I heard a howling scream from upstairs.

“Dude! My leg! It’s got my leg!”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Anna B. Madrise is a multi-genre, fiction author, who specializes in writing fairy tales, fantasy, and cozy mystery stories. She is a happy “transplant” to the state of Georgia, where she lives with her husband and a menagerie of four-legged, furry monsters. When she’s not writing, Anna loves to garden, cook, listen to Enya, and paint pictures that will never end up in a gallery. She has dreams, of one day, traveling around the country, in an RV, to enjoy all manner of wondrous things.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
This story is largely based on my own childhood growing up in an Italian-American neighborhood in the 1980s. I wanted to rekindle some of my fondest memories and bring them to my readers in an adventure that speaks of friendship, overcoming challenges, and the wonderment of just being a kid.
Q. Why do you write?
A.
I write because there is a deep-rooted passion in me to bring to life the stories that swirl around in my imagination. Writing is my legacy—to bring a smile to someone’s face and some laughter into their soul. It’s a gift I cherish every day. I am very thankful that I am able to give it to others.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
The title was so unique that it posed its own set of challenges. What feelings did I want to convey to my readers? I decided that the woods would be the best background since that’s where it all began. I wanted to convey a sense of mystery that we all feel when surprised by where life takes us.

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Literature & Fiction
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