Authors: Gary Paulsen
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YEARLING BOOKS/YOUNG YEARLINGS/YEARLING CLASSICS
are designed especially to entertain and enlighten young people. Patricia Reilly Giff, consultant to this series, received her bachelor’s degree from Marymount College and a master’s degree in history from St. John’s University. She holds a Professional Diploma in Reading and a Doctorate of Humane Letters from Hofstra University. She was a teacher and reading consultant for many years, and is the author of numerous books for young readers.
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Copyright © 1992 by Gary Paulsen
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Duncan—Dunc—Culpepper sat on his bicyle in front of the old Rambridge house beside his best friend for life, Amos Binder. Amos stared at the house’s front door with a frown.
“Are you going to go in and get him?” Dunc asked.
Amos’s dog, Scruff, had just disappeared into the house.
“All I did was try to pet him,” Amos said.
“Why doesn’t he like you?”
Amos scratched his head. “How would the school counselor put it? The sharp
chasm between our personalities is difficult to breach.”
Dunc balanced in place on his bicycle. He was pretty good at it. “So why don’t you just go in and get him?”
“Haven’t you ever heard the story about Old Man Caruthers?”
“Who’s Old Man Caruthers?”
“There’s a legend that says Blackbeard the Pirate hid millions in jewels somewhere around here,” Amos said. “Old Man Caruthers used to brag that he knew where the treasure was. One night about twenty years ago he broke into the Rambridge house to get it.”
“No one really knows. The neighbors said they heard him scream, then there was a real low, evil laugh. His scream was cut off short, just like you cut a piece of meat with a cleaver.” Amos ran his finger across his throat. He shuddered.
Dunc straightened out his handlebars. He was still balancing. “So did they ever find Caruthers’s body?”
“No. Some say he died in the cellar, others
in the bedroom. Almost everybody says it was Blackbeard’s ghost that killed him.”
“Yeah.” Amos shuddered again.
Dunc shook his head. “I don’t believe it.”
“Because I don’t believe in ghosts, that’s why.” He set his feet down on the sidewalk. “You’ll still have to go in and get Scruff. You can’t leave that poor dog in there all night.”
Amos looked at the house. It was old and falling apart. The paint had peeled off, and all the boards were bleached a grayish white. The last rays of the sun behind it made it look even spookier. If there was anyplace a ghost would want to live, the Rambridge house was it.
“Maybe he hid in there because he wants it to be his new home,” Amos said. “Maybe he and Blackbeard get along really well, a kind of boy-and-his-dog type of thing.”
“But he’s your dog.”
“Blackbeard can keep Scruff. Scruff never liked me anyway.”
“You don’t mean that. Your sister would be heartbroken.”
“Then she can go in after him. Blackbeard can keep her, too. Or my grandparents, or Mom and Dad, or Melissa—” He stopped. “Well, maybe not her.” Amos was in love with a girl named Melissa Hansen.
Dunc climbed off his bike. “C’mon.”
“We’re going to get Scruff.” He grabbed Amos’s arm and dragged him toward the front door.
“What do you mean, ‘we’? Why does it have to be ‘we’? Why can’t you do it yourself?”
“Because you need to get over this silly superstition about ghosts.”
“But I like superstitions. There’s nothing wrong with a good, healthy superstition once in a while.”
Dunc wasn’t listening to him. He had Amos halfway to the front door.
“I’ll tell you what,” Amos pleaded. “If you go in and get Scruff, you can have him. Free.”
“What would your sister say?”
“Just don’t bring him over to the house. I’ll tell her a dump truck ran over him.”
Dunc almost had to carry Amos up the front steps into the house.
Inside, it was like midnight. Just enough light was coming through the dusty windows to outline an old fireplace crouched against one wall with a picture hanging above it. There wasn’t any furniture and absolutely nothing that resembled a ghost.
The picture was of an old man with piercing black eyes. “That must be Mr. Rambridge,” Dunc said.
“I don’t care. I don’t like it in here.”
“This isn’t so bad. It’s just an old house.”
“All haunted houses are old.”
“You don’t really think this place is haunted, do you?”
“The thought has crossed my mind.” Amos crossed his fingers and held them out in front of him. All the movies said crosses kept ghosts away. Or maybe it was vampires. Either way, he wasn’t going to take any chances.
“Even if it was, what could a ghost do to you? Punch you a good one? His hand would go right through your face. Big deal.”
“We’re not talking about any old ghost.
We’re talking about the ghost of Blackbeard. I’ve heard he used to make people chew the insides of their cheeks off and blow bubbles with them like gum.”
“The only thing we need to worry about is these rotten floorboards. They could collapse at any moment.”
“And Blackbeard would get us. He’s probably waiting under them for us right now.” Amos flashed his crossed fingers at the floor.
“Will you relax?” Dunc studied the room. “Do you have any idea how old this place is?”
“I don’t care.”
“There aren’t any wall outlets. It must have been built before electricity. I bet there isn’t any internal plumbing, either—maybe just a hand pump in the sink. Let’s see if we can find the kitchen.”
Amos grabbed his shoulder before he had a chance to wander off. “No. Let’s just find Scruff and get out of here.”
“Are you really afraid?”
“I just want to get out of here.”
Dunc shrugged his shoulders. “All right. Stay close.”
He didn’t have to say that. Amos was draped over his back like a cloak.
“What are you doing?”
“Staying close. You said to stay close.”
“You don’t have to stay
“I just want to be sure I don’t lose you.”
Dunc studied the room again. “If you were Scruff, where would you be?”
“Upstairs. Every time I come in the house, Scruff growls and hides under my sister’s bed.”
“I don’t see a staircase,” Dunc said. “Wait, there it is.”
He pointed toward an old wooden case with an ornately carved banister. It climbed the far wall and ended at a doorway on the second floor.
“Let’s go.” He led Amos across the room.
“If you see a ghost, you’ll tell me, won’t you?”
“There are no such things.”
“Tell me anyway. I don’t want to get my head cut off just because you say there are no such things.”
Dunc ignored him.
“If we see a ghost,” Amos said, “so long, Scruff. I don’t care how heartbroken my sister is. I don’t care if she cries herself to sleep and drowns in her soggy pillow.”
“We’re not going to see a ghost. Be careful going up these stairs. Make sure you step on the sides and not in the middle in case the boards are rotten. You go first.” He pushed Amos up the first step. It creaked loudly.
“Here, doggy,” Amos tried to call. He was so scared, his voice squeaked. He stepped onto the second step. It creaked worse than the first. Dunc followed him.
“Here, Scruff old boy.”
Scruff came out on the landing above them. He took one look at Amos, growled, and trotted back into the darkness.
“There he is,” Amos said. “I’ll just go up and—” He stopped. “Do you smell something burning?”
“Burning?” Dunc sniffed. “Yeah, I do. What is it?”
“Don’t ask me.”
Why don’t you ask me?
” a loud voice boomed.
A light appeared suddenly at the top of the stairs. Amos and Dunc froze. Solid.
They heard heavy footsteps like thunder. When they looked up, they saw a huge man carrying a lantern. He was glowing white and had a hat pulled down over thick, greasy hair, and two lit matches, one sticking out of each side of his head. He looked at them and laughed. The laugh sounded like somebody breaking bones with an ax.
Why don’t you ask me?
” He bellowed again.
And the boys were gone.
Dunc didn’t know how he made it outside, but his feet never touched the floor.
Amos didn’t know how he made it, either. The only thing that Amos’s feet touched was Dunc’s back as he ran over him on his way down the stairs.
They burst out the front door like an explosion, screaming and tripping over each other. They hurdled the fence that encircled
the yard and collapsed on the sidewalk, panting and scared spitless.
Scruff trotted out after them, his tongue wagging out of the side of his mouth. When he reached the fence he cocked his head to one side and looked at them curiously.
Amos stared at Dunc. He took a deep breath, took another one without exhaling, then one more, and screamed directly into Dunc’s ear:
“Now do you believe in ghosts?”