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Authors: Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Fool's Gold

BOOK: Fool's Gold
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Fool's Gold
Zilpha Keatley Snyder

To George Nicholson,

with admiration and appreciation


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

A Biography of Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Chapter 1

came from a small flickering flame. There was no sound except for the faint gurgle of something slimy that oozed down the walls and trickled underfoot. He was all alone. The others had been with him only a moment before, but now they had disappeared. He turned back, shouting their names, but there was no answer. He shouted again and the sound returned to him in a jabbering chorus. Something, perhaps his own gasping breath, disturbed the tiny flame and it sank lower, wavered, and as he tried desperately to shield it with his cupped hands, died completely away. The heavy, smothering darkness was suddenly shaken by a terrible sound. Someone was screaming.

“Rudy. What is it? Was that you?”

For a moment his mother's voice blended with the blind panic of the dream, but then his eyes opened and relief surged through him. It was only a nightmare—and not a new one. Only a slightly different version of a dream he'd been having over and over again since early spring. Some of them hadn't been too bad, but this one had been a real killer. Sitting up, he struggled to focus his sleep-blurred eyes and to force his lips into something like a smile.

“Wow!” he said. “Did I yell? Yeah, I guess I did.”

His mother was standing in the door in her nightgown, her eyes wide and startled in her sleep-rumpled face. “What is it, Rudy? Did you have another nightmare?”

“Yeah.” He took a deep breath, shook his head to clear it, and managed a slightly more typical grin. “Yeah. A real killer this time. X-rated.” His grin widened. “Or at least ‘parental discretion advised.'” Doing a pathetic little-kid face, he whined, “How come you let me watch that kind of stuff, Mom?”

Sitting down on the edge of his bed, Natasha put her hand on his arm. “What were you dreaming about?”

Rudy rolled his eyes thoughtfully and then shook his head and shrugged, hoping to give the impression that he couldn't remember, without actually having to lie about it. He didn't want to get into what the dreams were like, because that would be certain to bring up—

“Why do you suppose you've been having so many nightmares lately?”

There it was—the one question he didn't dare get into. Not with anyone—and particularly not with his mother. Trying desperately to think of a good way to avoid answering, he stared at his mother's face. Usually Natasha was pretty good-looking for her age, which was around thirty-three, but at the moment her face was puffy with sleep and bare of makeup and her hair looked as if it had been combed with an eggbeater.

“Arrghh!” he said, cringing back against the headboard. “The invasion of the living dead.”

Her reaction was typical—a glare that gradually turned into a giggle. If you could get Natasha to laugh she usually forgot about doing the stern-parent bit. She swatted at him, got up off his bed, and went out. At the door she stopped and said, “Well, I might as well stay up. It's past seven and I promised Frank I'd be at the store at eight thirty for the back-room inventory. Let the girls sleep a little longer. And don't forget to remind them about this afternoon. Okay?”

Rudy said okay and then collapsed under the blankets—to give himself time to shake off the last dark shadows of the dream. It took a few minutes and some careful thought control. The thought control went like this:
Don't even think about the nightmares—or what's causing them. Think about something really great instead
something like my impersonation of Michael Jackson at the Graduates Talent Assembly last Thursday
and how everyone had cracked up
even solemn old Stephanie.
Yeah, that helped. Thinking about old deadpan Stephanie's giggle wiped out all kinds of gruesome memories—even memories of…
Don't think about it.

It took a while, but it worked. By the time he climbed out of bed he was himself again even though the whole thing—the nightmares and what he knew was causing them—was sneaking in and out of his conscious mind as he began his Saturday morning breakfast routine. Like a robot operating on only one cylinder he got out the cereal and milk, cleaned up the mess where Ophelia (the poodle) had barfed on the floor, and even came up with a new threat to make his sisters stop fighting.

“Death!” he yelled suddenly when the usual screams and thuds and high-pitched yelps finally began to get through to him. The yelps were from Ophelia, who always got hysterical when Moira and Margot started fighting—like about a dozen times a day. “Death! Terminal death, if you two don't chill out and eat your breakfast.”

To his surprise it worked. His sisters, half sisters, that is, dropped their weapons—a dust mop and a fly-swatter—and sat down at the table. Moira, the skinny brown-haired one, was eight and the oldest by one year, but they were a fairly even match. Margot, blonder and chunkier, was fiercer and could punch harder, but Moira was quicker on her feet and a lot sneakier.

“Terminal death?” Moira whispered.

Margot nodded. “Terminal.”

They both looked at Rudy with Barbie-doll eyes while he stared back, giving them his Nazi-officer bit, chin jutted out and eyes narrowed to cruel slits.

For a moment a stranger might have thought that he'd really scared them, but he knew better. They were too used to him. They'd had too much experience with the Rudolph Drummond Baby-sitting Method, which had always depended on all kinds of dramatic impersonations and lots of creative threats.

Moira's round blue eyes finally blinked. “What does terminal mean?” she asked.

“Shhh!” he whispered, then, doing his German accent, “Don't zay anyzing. Zee enemy iss listening.”

That gave them something to think about. They were still glancing nervously over their shoulders when Rudy tuned them out again and went back to cleaning up the breakfast mess, and to his own thoughts and problems. The problems were definitely taking over and he was feeling more and more miserable as he scrubbed out the sink and swept up the cereal that had been spilled during the fight. It wasn't until he had finished and was putting away the broom that he began to cheer up.

The mirror helped. Natasha had mounted a mirror on the broom cupboard door and it was when he caught sight of his reflection that he finally began to snap out of it. He had to admit that one thing he did have going for him was his looks. Of course, he wasn't exactly muscle-bound, but his face was not all that bad, that was for sure—a little bit narrow and bony maybe, but with great eyebrows and eyes and… He was turning his head to study his best camera angle when somebody giggled.

Rudy turned to see the M and M's (Rudy often referred to Margot and Moira as the M and M's) watching from the hall doorway. He slammed the closet door and went after them doing a Frankenstein number—hunched shoulders and dragging foot—but as soon as they disappeared down the hall, shrieking and giggling, he dropped the chase and headed for the front porch to see if anything had changed overnight.

Nothing had. The street was still narrow and twisting. Next door, at the big old Woodbury house, the tin roof was still rusting away, and nothing grand and exciting had sprung up overnight on any of the vacant lots. Well, maybe tomorrow. Or the day after that. Or five years from now. Or fifty.

He sniffed the air. Nothing new and different there either. Just a typical June morning in the awesomely quaint and historic California gold-rush town of Pyramid Hill in the beautiful Sierra foothills. At the present time, 8:32
plus 17 seconds, according to his state-of-the-art Timex watch—his graduation present—the air was still fresh and fairly cool. However, a bright sun was clearing the mountain ridges to the east, and from almost fourteen long years of experience he knew that hot and dusty were just around the corner.

He had just started to go back in the front door when, warned by the sound of screaming voices and running feet, he jumped back barely in time to avoid becoming a traffic victim. A hit-and-run by two girls and a poodle.

Still plastered back against the veranda wall, he yelled, “Margot! Moira! Come back here. I forgot to tell you something.”

They heard him all right, but they went on running, down the porch steps and out onto the street, with Ophelia right behind them barking her crazy head off.

Actors need to be able to project their voices, and great projection was another of Rudy's natural acting talents. Taking a deep breath and squinching his eyes shut with the effort, he let loose a mega-force bellow.

When he opened his eyes the M and M's were frozen in mid-step, with Moira still holding up one fist and Margot still clinging to the back of Moira's T-shirt. The screaming had stopped and so had the yapping. Rudy strode across the porch. On the top step he folded his arms and stared down sternly at his sisters.

“All right, you hoodlums,” he said, a judge looking down from the bench at guilty prisoners. “The verdict is in. Six months for disturbing the peace! And if you tear that shirt, Margot, you're going to get five years at hard labor.”

Margot only tightened her hold. “But she took all the money, and half of it's mine. Mom said so.”

Moira's smile was full of phony sisterly understanding. “I know it's half yours. I was just going to keep it till lunchtime. So you wouldn't lose it.”

Rudy was beginning to pry Margot off the T-shirt when, from next door, there was the sudden sound of a screen door slamming and scuffling footsteps.

“Rudy. Rudy Drummond. What's going on, boy? Somebody committing mayhem on your premises?”

Murphy Woodbury was leaning over the railing in his usual ratty old jeans and undershirt, his gray hair standing up in quivering corkscrews. Under his sagging eyelids his eyes were, as always, shiny with curiosity. “What was all that screaming and yelling I just heard?” he asked.

Rudy sighed and, grabbing each of his sisters by a wrist, he turned back, pulling them after him, with Margot still attached to the back of Moira's shirt.

Murph, who was probably around sixty years old, had lived most of his life in the big old rambling house next door to Rudy. The Woodburys went back to the original gold-rush pioneers and Murph's father and grandfather had lived there before him. According to Natasha, Murph had gone away to live in a city for a while when he was a young man and he'd had a wife with him when he came back. But the wife hated living in Pyramid and there had been a divorce, and Murph went on living alone in the old Woodbury house. Murph made his living by renting some property he owned in town—which was a good thing, since he never seemed to make any money at either of his other two jobs. Murph's jobs, to hear him tell it, were “author” and “student of humanity.” Which meant that he spent a few minutes now and then banging away on his ancient typewriter, and the rest of his time doing what
called studying humanity. There were other people in town, a lot of them in fact, who called it snooping into other people's business. But Rudy had never minded Murph's curiosity—not until lately, anyway.

He and Murph had always spent lots of time together. For one thing Murph was always around, since he didn't go to work every day like most people, and for another he knew a lot about nearly everything, and there wasn't anything he didn't know about Pyramid Hill and everyone who lived there. And he was a great storyteller. Rudy couldn't even begin to count the hours he'd spent in Murph's backyard or kitchen with Murph helping on one of Rudy's research projects. Or else eating—Murph was a great cook—or just talking. In those days visiting Murph had been one of Rudy's favorite pastimes. But sometimes, particularly recently, his snooping got on Rudy's nerves.

BOOK: Fool's Gold
13.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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