Authors: Natale Ghent
For Wesley and Brian. And for odd fellows, young and old, everywhere.
t was a quiet Sunday afternoon on Green Bottle Street when Boney climbed the rope ladder into the clubhouse to find his friend Squeak sitting at Lookout #1, scanning the horizon with his antique brass telescope. At the other end of the clubhouse, Boney’s friend Itchy sprawled like an exhausted octopus in a chair at the table, slurping on a cherry slush.
“Anything to report?” Boney asked.
Squeak lowered his telescope. “It’s odd,” he whistled through the large gap in his front teeth. “Everything is quiet…a little too quiet.”
Just as he said this, a rain of eggs pelted the Odd Fellows’ clubhouse.
“Fire in the hole!” Squeak shouted as he dived to the floor, eggs hitting the clubhouse in a shower of yellow yolk and slippery, slimy white.
One egg made it cleanly through a window, hitting Itchy square in the forehead. Boney would have been splattered too, but he quickly hit the deck, the egg shrapnel shattering over his head and smearing across the floor behind him.
And then they heard it: that horrible, familiar voice cackling hoarsely below.
“Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Take that, you losers!”
Boney jumped up and shot his head out the window. “Fart King!” he screamed. “Why don’t you and your merry men take a hike!”
The egg bombers laughed all the louder as they disappeared on their bikes along the length of train tracks that ran behind the houses on Green Bottle Street.
“Take a hike…?” Itchy said, egg yolk dripping down his cheeks. “I bet that really hurt their feelings.” He ran his hand across his face, drawing back blood-red fingers. “Ahhh! I’m bleeding!” he shouted, jumping to his feet. “Look at me! I’m covered in blood!”
Squeak ran his finger through the red goop on Itchy’s face, then stuck it in his mouth. “Mmmmm…cherry,” he said, smacking his lips.
“It’s only your red slush,” Boney pointed out.
Itchy collapsed with relief into his chair. Squeak blinked at him thoughtfully from behind his Coke-bottle-bottom aviator goggles, which nearly swallowed
his whole face and were held on with a leather safety strap that ran around the back of his small, round head. The goggles were authentic, from a World War I cache. The lenses were modified with someone’s prescription—but not Squeak’s. This made it difficult for Squeak to navigate through the world, and gave his eyes the appearance of two blue goldfish swimming aimlessly behind the thick lenses. Why he insisted on wearing the goggles was a mystery to everyone except Squeak. He picked up a rag and began dabbing gently at Itchy’s hair.
“It’s the third time you’ve been hit this week,” he said.
Boney picked up a rag and began dabbing at Itchy’s hair as well. He knew things would be different if only they weren’t all so…
No one was quite certain what it was that made Boney odd, including himself. It wasn’t his long chin, or the hare-brained schemes he cooked up. It wasn’t the fact that his parents had disappeared in a ballooning accident while chasing down some scientific curiosity when Boney was just a baby, leaving him in the care of his aunt and uncle, who didn’t know the first thing about raising a child. It wasn’t his nickname, Boney, which often made people laugh. It wasn’t anything anyone could put a finger on, but rather some kind of
invisible “odd” signal Boney emitted that other people received—even people who were meeting him for the very first time. His friends Itchy and Squeak felt it too, but then again, they were odd as well.
Itchy was far too skinny, with feet the size of toboggans and a mop of hair so tangled and orange it looked as though it would ignite at any second. Squeak resembled a begoggled and gap-toothed gerbil and was far too smart for his own good, which meant he was almost always misunderstood. Even his teachers never really knew what he was talking about, leaving him no option but to escape in his books and special-effects magazines. So the three boys made a pact to stick together through thick and thin, as they said—a company of Odd Fellows.
Besides being the very best of friends, the Odds were further tethered by the fact that all three were only children, and all three had always lived side by side in a row of crooked little houses on a small street called Green Bottle: house numbers 23, 25, and 27. There were only twelve houses total on Green Bottle, six on either side. And everyone on Green Bottle was old, except for Boney, Itchy, and Squeak, who were the only children on the block. Even more surprising, though, was the fact that all three of their birthdays were less than a week apart in the month of May.
The Odd Fellows agreed that being odd wouldn’t be so bad if only people would leave them alone. But they wouldn’t. Teachers singled them out in class. Fellow students tormented them ruthlessly. Even the paperboy seemed to have it in for them. But no one was worse than their mortal enemy, Larry Harry, aka
the Fart King
. The Odds called him this because Larry had the peculiar talent of being able to break wind on command—and did so at every opportunity. What’s more, he never travelled alone. He enjoyed the constant company of Jones and Jones, identical twin bullies with the collective IQ of a wilted carrot.
And so it was necessary to take precautions. Like always being on the ready for attacks from marauders, and building a clubhouse high up in the oak tree in Boney’s backyard, with no fewer than three escape hatches and five special lookout posts that together afforded a full-length view of Green Bottle Street.
Improvements were always being made, like the addition of a roll-up ladder for Escape Hatch #1, and the installation of a fire pole (a length of old plumbing pipe) in Escape Hatch #2. Escape Hatch #3 was currently just a hole in the clubhouse floor with no way to descend except by accident, but plans were in the works for something very innovative—even if the Odds didn’t quite know what that was yet. They’d
already added a shelf for their reference library, and a new roof made from discarded boards, shingled with margarine tub lids from Boney’s aunt’s kitchen. The roof helped protect the Odds from the rain—and the eggs thrown by Larry Harry. There was a mop and rags and a bucket of fresh water in the clubhouse at all times for cleanup, and a cooler for milk and soda. But no matter what improvements they made to their clubhouse, somehow the Odds always came out holding the short end of the stick.
“I’m hungry,” Itchy announced.
Itchy was always hungry. And itchy. That’s how he’d got his name. Even his parents called him that because he scratched at his pale, freckled skin all the time like a dog chasing a flea. He could never sit still, either, so that even when he wasn’t scratching you had the feeling he was.
“Check the larder,” Boney ordered.
“I already did,” Itchy said. “It’s empty. We ate the peanut butter and crackers last night.”
“Every last crumb?” Boney asked.
Squeak dipped his tasting finger in a puddle of yellow yolk on the floor and brought it up to his nose. “Smells very loud,” he said. “Almost deafening.”
“Huh?” Itchy said.
“The egg yolk…it smells very loud.”
Itchy turned to Boney. “What’s he talking about?”
Boney shrugged as he continued to dab at his friend’s hair.
“I thought it would be cool to have synesthesia,” Squeak explained.
Itchy scratched at his elbow. “Sin-a-what?”
“Synesthesia. It’s a condition characterized by using different sensory descriptions that are often incompatible.”
Itchy looked to Boney for help. “I still don’t know what he’s talking about.”
“It’s quite simple,” Squeak said. “Synesthetes, as they are called, are able to
sounds, and employ many other possible combinations of senses in addition to their regular senses. I believe the great inventor Leonardo da Vinci was one, though I have no direct proof. But I’ve read every book about him and by him, including
The Complete Works of Leonardo da Vinci
, a ten-volume set I intend to own some day—”
“Squeak!” Itchy shouted. “What has that got to do with our situation?”
Squeak blinked indignantly from behind his goggles. “I just thought it would be cool to have something like that.”
“What would be cool is if we didn’t get creamed with eggs by that wretched Fart King and his Demented
Duo, Jones and Jones. They’ve been bombing us with eggs ever since we entered our scrambled-egg-making machine in the Invention Convention in grade three.”
“The Scramb-o-nater,” Squeak remembered wistfully. “We would have won if Larry hadn’t sabotaged our entry by putting rotten eggs in the refrigerated holding bin. I felt bad for the judges.”
“I’ve never seen adults barf like that before,” Boney said, shaking his head.
Itchy jumped up and began pacing the clubhouse floor. “That creep sabotages our invention every year—it’s the only reason he ever wins.” He smacked his pale fist in the palm of his hand. “I’m so sick of it. I want revenge!”
Boney rolled his eyes. “You say that every year, but then you chicken out whenever I come up with a plan.”
“I really mean it this time,” Itchy said. “I want to get even.”
“How?” Squeak asked.
“I don’t know.” Itchy deflated into his chair and began scratching absently at his arm again.
“We could win the Invention Convention once and for all,” Squeak said. “We’re in senior public school now. If we win this year, we’ll get to go to the international convention in San Diego. It’s the best possible revenge.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” Itchy muttered.
“We could dare them,” Boney suggested.
“What do you mean?” Itchy asked, squinting his eyes with suspicion.
“We could dare them to meet us at the Old Mill. They’ll never go there.”
“Maybe that’s because it’s haunted,” Itchy said.
“That has never been proved,” Squeak countered.
Itchy sat up violently in his chair. “Oh, no?” He held his hand out, counting off examples on his fingers. “What about those three kids who went missing? Or all the campfires people have reported seeing at the mill that seem to spring up on their own? Or how about the weird noises heard coming out of the ruins? Or the rocks thrown at people out of nowhere? Or the creepy groups of robed beings holding seances inside the ruins every Hallowe’en? Are all those reports just made up?”
“We could bring protection,” Boney offered.
“Like what? Garlic?” Itchy demanded.
“That only works for vampires—not ghosts,” Squeak said.
Boney frowned. “I don’t know. But I’ll think of something.”
“Forget it,” Itchy said. “We’ve never gone to the Old Mill before. Why should we start now?”
“What about you, Squeak?” Boney asked his friend.
“You’re not afraid to go to the mill, right?”
Squeak blinked silently back.
“He’s terrified,” Itchy answered for him. “We all are. Except you.”
“How will we know for sure if it’s haunted if we don’t go and see for ourselves?” Boney said. “We need scientific proof. We have to test the ghost theory if we want to know for sure. Besides, it can’t be that scary, can it?”
“That’s what those kids who went missing thought,” Itchy retorted heatedly. “Then they got vaporized by the ghost. You can count me out.”
“That also has never been proved,” Squeak said. He retrieved a small spiral notebook from the green canvas military messenger bag he kept strapped over his shoulder at all times. Opening the notebook, he began reading aloud from his entry on the Old Mill. “Established in 1827, the mill was situated at the confluence of two rivers: the Speed and the Eramosa…”
“Squeak!” Itchy shouted in frustration. “What has that got to do with ghosts or missing boys?”
Squeak shot him a piercing look. “I was getting to that. I thought you would appreciate some background information, but apparently I’m mistaken.”
“Maybe you’d better skip to the good stuff,” Boney said. “I mean…the stuff concerning the matter at hand.”
Squeak nodded, skimming feverishly through ten or twelve pages of notes written in very tiny script, complete with pen-and-ink drawings, footnotes, and margin annotations.
“Give me that!” Itchy said, grabbing the notebook.
The two boys wrestled for a few moments, until the notebook fell to the floor at Boney’s feet.
“I’ll read it,” Boney said. He picked up the flashlight he kept hanging on the clubhouse wall and clicked it on, aiming the beam eerily beneath his chin. The light in the clubhouse seemed to suddenly darken. Boney spoke in a haunted voice for full effect.
“The mill, long since abandoned, has been the subject of much controversial paranormal activity. Legend has it that three runaway teenage boys disappeared in 1952 after spending the night camped out in the old ruins of the once magnificent building. No trace of the boys was ever found, except for a pair of glasses and a sneaker. Though never proved professionally, it is rumoured that moaning and whispering can be heard on the full moon of every month, and several eyewitnesses have reported the smell of burning wood, and the crackling glow of a campfire…” Boney’s voice shrank to a whisper as he spoke these last words. He looked up from the page, fixing his gaze on his friends. There was an unnerving silence, soon broken by an indignant Itchy.
“This is insane! Why would we ever go there?”
Itchy looked to Squeak for support, but Squeak simply gazed out the clubhouse window.
Boney stared at the notebook, pulling absently on his long chin. “The full moon…” he murmured.
“Forget it!” Itchy said. “It’s crazy. I won’t have anything to do with it.”
“You don’t even know what I’m thinking about!” Boney said.
“I don’t have to know,” Itchy quipped, mimicking Boney’s mannerisms. “Whenever you start pulling on your chin and thinking, it means trouble. So whatever you have in mind, I’m not interested.”
“You were the one who said you wanted revenge.”
“Yeah, but I don’t want to get myself killed.”
“Why do you think I’d get you killed?”
Itchy scoffed. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because you almost drowned us once when you wanted to test the ‘durability’ of a boat you found at the dump. Or how about the time you thought it was a great idea for us to jump off the roof of your house using pillowcases as parachutes?”