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Authors: Marion Dane Bauer

The Secret of the Painted House

BOOK: The Secret of the Painted House
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For Kyra and Bailey
—M.D.B.

To curious Ellen
—L.G.

1
The Playhouse

E
mily pushed out the screen door and let it slam behind her. She stood on the top step, gazing in every direction.
Trees! Nothing to see except trees!
Why did her parents think she would love it here?

This place was just a few houses set in a patch of trees. Beyond the trees stretched Illinois cornfields. The nearest town, where Emily would go to school when school
started, was miles away. The nearest kid must be miles away, too, except for her little brother.

But Logan didn’t count. He was four years old. When you are nine, a four-year-old is almost a baby.

“I’m going,” she called back over her shoulder.

“Going where?” Her mother came to the door.

Emily shrugged. Where was there to go?

“I guess I’ll check out the ‘forest.’”

That’s what Logan had called it yesterday. “Cool,” he’d said when they’d pulled up behind the moving van. “We’re going to live in a forest!”

But “cool” was hardly the word for this bunch of trees.

“Okay,” Mom said. She sounded a little
uncertain. “Just be careful, will you? Don’t go too far.”

Emily sighed. At home in Chicago, Mom worried all the time. She was afraid someone might snatch Emily off the sidewalk. What was she going to worry about here … bears?

Emily set off without looking back. She didn’t need to. She could “see” her mother in her head. Mom was hot and tired. Her dark, springy curls were pulled into a ponytail. Her T-shirt was wrinkled. Moving a whole house was hard work. Boxes waited everywhere. Last night they had to search for sheets before they could fall into their beds.

This morning Dad had gone to his new job. Before he went, he’d told Emily, “Be sure to help your mom.” And she
was
going to help. But not just yet.

Emily stepped off the gravel road into the
trees. The leafy branches closed around her.

She rubbed at the goose bumps that sprang up on her arms. Should she go back? But then she thought of the piles of boxes. That kept her moving. This was just a patch of woods, after all.

The land sloped down, so she followed the slope. At the base of the hill, a creek bubbled over a stony bed. Emily stopped at the edge of the water. Maybe she should go back. She had promised her father. And she didn’t much feel like wading.

But then she saw stepping-stones. Flat stones crossed the creek right in front of her. She stepped onto the first one. It was solid. The next one wobbled a bit. The one after that was steady again. She made it all the way across the creek without even wetting her sneakers.

The other side of the creek was the same. It was trees and more trees. Why cross the creek to see more trees? The creek itself would be fun to play in, though. Maybe she could bring a friend to play. But she had no friends here.

Emily was about to turn back when she glimpsed something white. What was it? Even staring hard, she couldn’t tell. White seemed an unlikely color to be part of a tree or bush. She made her way toward it.

She didn’t know what to expect. Certainly not what she found.

A house stood in a small clearing. It was a real house, but small. Maybe it was a child’s playhouse. A girl her size could walk right into it. A grown-up would have to duck to get in through the door. The walls were painted white. The roof, the door, and the shutters at the windows were a rich royal blue.

The playhouse wasn’t new, though. It had been standing here for a long time. The white paint had peeled. One blue shutter hung crooked. A branch had fallen and punched a hole in the roof.

A rusted padlock held the door shut.

Emily tried the handle, anyway. She couldn’t help trying it, even though she could see the lock. The lock hung there, saying, “Keep out!” The playhouse said something else. It said, “I’ve been waiting for you for a long, long time. Please come in!”

Of course, the door didn’t budge.

Emily circled the house. She found no other way to enter. The shutters were all closed. She circled a second time. As she circled, she opened each shutter. When they were all open, she peeked inside.

Emily had already begun to imagine what she would find. A table and two chairs? A tiny sofa? A toy piano? Maybe a sink and stove for the kitchen.

In her mind, everything was made just to fit. But her fantasy was wrong. There was
nothing. Inside, the playhouse was empty.

She cupped her hands around her eyes and pressed her nose against the window. And that was when she saw something more wonderful than child-sized furniture.

Beyond the empty floor rose the walls. But these walls were special. Every single one was painted from top to bottom in a picture.

Emily moved from window to window. She checked every wall. What a strange picture it was! The walls were covered with trees. It was as if the woods around the playhouse had moved inside!

She tried one more window. Still, she saw trees, only trees. Trees grew outside. Painted trees grew on the walls inside. But wait! She spotted something else now. Something white showed through the painted trees. White, with a blue roof.

A playhouse stood in the painted forest, too. The painted playhouse looked exactly like the one she was peering into!

Emily backed away from the window. A small shiver scurried down her spine. How odd this all was! A playhouse in the woods. Woods inside the playhouse. A playhouse inside the woods inside the playhouse! If she could look through the windows of the painted playhouse, would she find more woods? Would she find another playhouse?

The idea made her dizzy.

2
See a Pin and Pick It Up

E
mily didn’t tell her mother about the painted house. She didn’t know why exactly. The whole thing felt too new to talk about, and too strange.

Besides, her mother would worry that the playhouse belonged to someone. She would say Emily shouldn’t have peeked in the windows at all. She would certainly say that Emily shouldn’t go back.

Emily spent the rest of the morning unpacking boxes. Logan even helped … if it could be called “helping.” He emptied boxes with lightning speed, but he didn’t put anything away. Not even his own toys.

Once Emily caught him tucking a box of matches into his pocket. When she took them away, he howled. Logan loved matches. He had even learned to light them. He was the kind of kid who had to be watched every minute. Anything he wasn’t supposed to mess with thrilled him.

Lunch was bottled juice and peanut butter and jelly on crackers. Mom hadn’t found a grocery store yet.

After lunch Mom put Logan down for a nap.

“I’m going to lie down, too,” she said to Emily. “I’m tired. Do you want to rest?”

Emily shook her head. “I’ll read,” she said.

She took her book out to the front steps. It was a ghost story, one of her favorites.

But before long she put it down. She’d read it several times, and it was getting boring. The ghost showed up in the same place every time. And the girl seemed pretty dumb to be so surprised to see it. Hadn’t she gone into that old house looking for ghosts?

Emily didn’t know what else to do. Go back to the playhouse? She couldn’t without telling her mother. Besides, it was a long walk, and the afternoon was growing hot.

A woman with white hair came out of the house across the way. She wore white slacks and a flowered blouse. She wore a smile, too. The woman smiled all the way to Emily’s porch.

“You’re Emily,” the woman said.

It was more of a statement than a question, so Emily didn’t reply.

“I’m Grandma Rose,” she said. “That’s what everybody calls me here—Grandma.” She held out a hand.

Emily shook her hand. She felt funny doing it, though. Usually only grown-ups shook hands with each other.

“May I?” Grandma Rose asked.

At first Emily didn’t know how to answer.
May I what?
Then she figured it out. Grandma Rose wanted to sit down.

“Sure.” Emily scooted over to make room.

Grandma Rose settled herself. They sat there, side by side, looking off into the trees.

“My mom’s taking a nap,” Emily said. “Should I go wake her?”

“Goodness, no! Let her sleep.” Grandma
Rose looked into her eyes. “It’s you I came to see, anyway.”

“Me?” Emily was so shocked that “me” came out as a squeak.

Grandma Rose nodded. “I saw you go off into the woods this morning. Did you find it?”

Find it?
What was this woman talking about? But before she even had a chance to ask, Emily knew. “You mean the playhouse?”

“What else?”

Emily took a deep breath. “Yes. I found it.”

Was Grandma Rose going to scold her? Maybe she wasn’t supposed to go near the playhouse. Maybe it belonged to Grandma Rose or to some long-ago daughter of hers.

“It’s …” Emily didn’t know what to say about it, really. “It’s nice,” she said finally.

“Nice!” The word exploded with a laugh.

Emily stared.

BOOK: The Secret of the Painted House
12.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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