Thriller, p.1
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       Thriller, p.1
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           Jon Scieszka
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Thriller


  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Before We Begin - by Jon Scieszka

  The Old, Dead Nuisance - by M. T. Anderson

  Believing in Brooklyn - by Matt de la Peña

  The Double Eagle Has Landed - by Anthony Horowitz

  Pirate - by Walter Dean Myers

  Thad, the Ghost, and Me - by Margaret Peterson Haddix

  Pudding - by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

  The Snake Mafia - by Gennifer Choldenko

  Nate Macavoy, Monster Hunter - by Bruce Hale

  Boys Will Be Boys - by James Patterson

  Ghost Vision Glasses - by Patrick Carman

  About Guys Read and Biographical Information

  Also available in the Guys Read Library of Great Reading

  Credits

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  Before We Begin . . .

  Why is that shady-looking character lurking in the dark alley? What’s he doing with that crowbar? Is that something in his other hand? What is he doing? What has he done?

  That is the mystery.

  I’ll bet the kid who just spotted him knows what he’s up to.

  There’s not enough light from the street or the full moon to see the guy’s face clearly. What if he turns? The kid will see his face. But he will see the kid. And then what?

  That is the thriller.

  You will have to work out the rest of the story yourself, because that’s all we’ve got from Brett Helquist’s cover. And Brett is suddenly not talking anymore. Smart guy.

  Welcome to Volume 2 of the Guys Read Library of Great Reading. Volume 1, Guys Read: Funny Business was all funny. Volume 2 is a crazy collection of mysterious, strange, scary, weird . . . and all thrilling. Which is why we are calling it Guys Read: Thriller.

  We asked only the best thriller authors to write for this volume. I’m sure you know most of them, if not all of them. What you don’t know is that these writers have delivered with the wildest mix of detectives, spooks, cryptids, snakes, pirates, smugglers, a body on the tracks, and one terribly powerful serving of fried pudding.

  What happens next?

  You read and find out.

  And don’t look now, but the guy in the alley is turning your way.

  Jon Scieszka

  The Old, Dead Nuisance

  by M. T. Anderson

  The psychics are having a huge argument,” said Paul’s dad. “Sit and read behind the sofa.”

  “There’s mouse stuff behind the sofa,” Paul complained.

  “What do you mean by ‘mouse stuff’? Tiny little lamps and suitcases?”

  “Poo and weird hair.”

  “Just hide somewhere. Stay out of the shot.”

  Paul’s dad was the cameraman for a show called True Spook. They were filming at a house that was supposed to be haunted. Paul had to keep out of the way in case one of the psychics swept past, calling out the names of the dead or saying she felt cold spots near the credenza.

  “All right,” muttered Paul, taking his book of world records and crouching behind a side table. “Is this hidden enough?”

  “Roger that,” said his father, giving a thumbs-up. “We’re probably not coming into this room. No one’s heard or seen anything in here. I’ll give a shout when the coast is clear.” He hoisted his camera onto his shoulder and went to film the psychics’ argument.

  Paul looked around the room. Everything was old and ugly. The sofa was smelly and sixties. There were several TV trays with scenes of moose and ducks in the wild, standing in grasses. He picked up an ugly, three-legged ceramic plant holder filled with plastic flowers and put it on the table to hide him better, in case one of the psychics came in and had to be filmed hooting about ghostly presences. Paul didn’t want to be in their way.

  Each week, the True Spook team went to a different haunted place: a house; a cemetery; a dark, rusty factory; or even an old railroad bridge. They investigated the haunting. They filmed interviews of people who described what they’d seen.

  Paul didn’t believe a word of it. He thought it was suspicious that so many of the haunted places were inns that needed some publicity and restaurants where the rugs smelled weird. But it didn’t matter how ridiculous the story was: once the True Spook team shot their footage and an editor cut up the interviews and pasted them back together again, and once a composer created creepy, groaning music to go along with the footage of fallen walls and spiders spinning in the eaves, it seemed like the story was absolutely true and the streets of America were packed with the dead, like a bunch of grim joggers.

  Paul had just read about the record for the world’s largest pie when one of the psychics stormed into the room. Her name was Louise. She stood for a moment, shook her arms, closed her eyes, and exhaled. Her head was back. She waited for a minute. She looked irked. Then she yelled into the hall, “We might as well leave. I can’t feel anything in here. She’s blocking my psionic extensions.”

  “I’m not blocking anything,” said Phyllis, the other psychic. “Maybe you don’t have enough powers.”

  “I have plenty of powers.”

  “Maybe you don’t have enough powers.”

  “I said, I got plenty of powers.”

  “Hey, hey!” said the director, coming up behind Phyllis. “We’re going to take a break. Louise, you go in there and try to settle down. Phyllis, you go in the dining room and try to—you know, open up a channel or something. To the afterlife. We’re going across the street to the graveyard.”

  Paul’s dad poked his head into the room. “Paul?” he said. “You want to come out to the graveyard?”

  Paul nodded and unfolded himself from behind the side table.

  Louise startled a little, then smiled at him. “Look at you. Hiding in here.” She chuckled. “You could’ve give me a fright.”

  The other psychic yelled, “Not if you were psychic.”

  Louise bawled out, “Are you saying I’m not psychic?”

  “I’m saying picking up on an actual, living kid doesn’t take a large amount of powers.”

  “He was behind the side table. Under fake plants.”

  Paul left the house as quickly as possible.

  Out in the graveyard, they were filming the host, the main ghost detective. His name was Dennis. He wore a long, black coat and a black suit, and he liked to look searchingly into the distance. He was a very dramatic person. He stood by a large funeral monument—an obelisk—and tried to arrange his hair to look mysterious.

  It was a cold day out, and dirty snow lay on the ground. It was already trampled along the paths through the graveyard.

  “Tell me when you’re ready,” said the director.

  Dennis squinted. He didn’t say anything. He just nodded.

  “Action,” said the director.

  Paul’s father zoomed in on Dennis, who drew a breath and said, “A cruel father. Bitter sons. A house filled with their spirits. A mysterious gravestone. This time on True Spook: ‘The Family that Stays Together.’”

  He paused, then lay his hand on the smooth side of the stone obelisk. “Here lies . . . a tragic story. The year is 1884; the place is the little town of Canaan, Massachusetts. A wealthy man, Josiah Smitch, dies. He has made a fortune in the China trade. But after his death, no one can find his money. It appears that, as a cruel prank, he hid it somewhere in his house. His sons are penniless. They tear the house apart looking for their father’s fortune after his death, but they never find a single coin. They all die poor. Their only revenge . . . is this stone. . . .” Dennis patted the obelisk.

  Paul’s dad panned the camera up to film the words carved in marble.

  Here lies

  THE OLD NUISANCE

  1806–1884

  Dennis, the host, wa
s staring off into the distance, as if unknown figures were beckoning him. In fact, Paul noticed, he was looking down the street at a gas station.

  Dennis swiveled his intense gaze back toward the camera lens. “And now, both Josiah Smitch and his sons may walk the halls of his old house, still feuding.” Dennis stared for a long time. Then the director said, “And cut.” Paul’s dad stopped filming. Dennis ate some Tic Tacs.

  Paul asked him, “So where did the treasure end up being?”

  “Uh-eh-uh,” said Dennis, to the tune of “I don’t know,” while shrugging his shoulders. “Tic Tac?”

  Paul took his Tic Tac carefully. He was not interested in ghosts. But he was very interested in treasure. He held the Tic Tac between his teeth and snapped it in half.

  The crew did some other takes of the show’s introduction with tangled, black trees in the background. They caught some sounds of dripping. They filmed tombs covered in icicles.

  By now, Paul was eager to get back inside the house. Even though he knew it was silly, he daydreamed about finding the fortune hidden undiscovered for a hundred and twenty-five years. He wanted to fiddle with the banisters.

  As they crossed back over the road to the house, Paul asked his father, “Do you think the treasure’s still there?”

  His father said vaguely, “Who knows?” He was thinking about exterior shots of the house surrounded by its bedraggled weeping willows.

  Paul asked him, “What’s the haunting like? When people say they’ve heard things? Where does it happen? What rooms and stuff?”

  His father said, “Dining room. Where the Old Nuisance used to fight with his sons at dinner. Supposedly, you can still hear all of them yelling at each other sometimes. The old guy accusing them of things. Everyone really angry. Then there’s the staircase. Josiah Smitch has been seen at the top of the stairs, dressed in black. The owners hear him screaming down the steps at his family. . . . And, uh, the worst is the bedroom where he died. No one will sleep there anymore. Not guests or anything. When the owner had some friends stay there, they woke up in the middle of the night, surrounded by frowning faces peering down at them. A circle of the guy’s sons, waiting for their father to die. Pale faces, floating in the air around the bed.”

  “Wow,” said Paul. “I bet the gold is still hidden in one of the haunted rooms.”

  “Maybe.” Paul’s father reached over and squeezed Paul’s shoulder. “Don’t tell me you’re planning on finding the Smitch fortune.”

  Paul got a little embarrassed, because that was exactly what he wanted to do.

  When they were back in the house, the owner, Mrs. Giovetti, came out of the kitchen to give the psychics a tour. She was a little old lady who had bought the house and some of its furniture from Josiah Smitch’s granddaughter. She and her dogs had often seen the ghosts. She left the dogs in the kitchen, because they were terrified of the upstairs.

  The psychics hadn’t heard anything about the history of the house. They weren’t allowed to, because then they wouldn’t have to be psychic to figure things out. Now the whole group went from room to room, and the psychics talked about all their paranormal feelings. The idea was to film them, in case they saw something that sounded like Josiah Smitch or his sons.

  Paul was very happy to get a chance to look around the old place. He followed the group carefully, hoping that if he stayed out of the shot, no one would complain. He saw the whole place. Most of the original walls had been covered in awful wallpaper—some of it striped, from the seventies, some of it with little fruit baskets, from the sixties. None of it had been fixed up for thirty or forty years. There was the dining room where Josiah Smitch had yelled at his sons during supper. The original table and chairs were still in the room, nicked and scratched. There was a battered Chinese screen with peeling painted birds. The psychics felt nothing. Then there was the staircase where the father had been seen screaming down at his children, dressed in black. The psychics said they got a vague sense of evil. They jostled each other to be the first up the steps. And upstairs, there was the bedroom where Smitch had died. The original bed was there, dusty and unused.

  While Paul’s dad filmed the bed, Phyllis, the more heavily perfumed of the two psychics, said, “I’m getting something in here.” She quivered her fingers around in the air like beating wings. “Oh, yeah, someone’s in here with us right now. . . . A young man . . . black hair. Kind of a black mustache. He’s telling us to get out. He really wants us to leave. He says it’s his house.”

  Dennis, the host, turned to the camera. “The psychics have not been told the history of the house. Whatever they pick up is just the result of their powers.” He asked Louise, the other psychic, “Are you seeing this man, too?”

  Louise closed her eyes. “Yes,” she agreed. “He’s with us. He says he’s looking for a girl. . . . Her name is . . . two syllables. . . . Maybe Sharon?”

  “That’s not true,” said Phyllis. “Actually he left the room a minute ago.”

  “He didn’t leave. I just heard him talk about Sharon.”

  “Nope, he told us to leave the house and then he just walked out into the hall. I’m following him.” Phyllis left the room with her hands outstretched, singing out, “Don’t worry, spirit! At least I can see you!”

  “He’s still . . . he’s still here,” Louise claimed, but it didn’t look like anyone believed her. Dennis left, so Paul’s father left, and the director left.

  “Hey! Hey!” complained Louise, and she followed them all out.

  That left Paul alone in the room.

  The others were arguing out in the hall. They tromped down the haunted steps.

  Paul was the only person upstairs.

  He looked around carefully, then poked the bed. He squeezed the mattress. It would be the perfect place to hide money. Then old Josiah Smitch would be lying right on top of it as he died. No one could take it without him knowing.

  The mattress felt kind of normal. Paul was disappointed. He knew that old-time mattresses were supposed to be lumpy, since they were usually filled with corn husks or old feathers. He thought that probably this mattress was new. Only the bed frame was old.

  Then Paul heard a rattle on the window, a tap.

  He looked up.

  The sky had gotten dark, and sleet was falling. It hit the panes with a tiny ping. The black branches outside in the yard bobbed up and down. Through them shone the dirty light from the gas station.

  Paul went back to the examination of the bed. He squeezed the pillows. They didn’t feel old, either. They felt like foam.

  He looked around the rest of the room. He wasn’t good at telling whether furniture was old or new. He figured a lot of the stuff in the room was newer, maybe from just twenty or thirty years before: a white dresser and a couple of lamps.

  He sat on the bed. The sleet still struck the window.

  A face was looking at him. It hung in the air. It glared.

  Paul yelped. The eyes were huge. The mouth was down-turned. It hung there like a mask.

  He looked wildly around—hoping that he’d see something that might be reflecting.

  There were other faces. They also hung in the air. Brothers. They hated him.

  Paul thought he should run to the door. But he couldn’t. He didn’t know why, but he couldn’t move his legs or arms. Too terrified.

  The faces hung all around him, staring down at the bed. Their eyes were like onions. Their lips moved. They spoke things Paul could not hear. Terrible things.

  There was no sound of sleet anymore, or of the TV crew downstairs. Paul could hear a high, metallic ringing in his ears, but nothing else.

  He threw himself off the bed with all his might. He raced for the door, hurled it open, and thundered down the steps.

  Right into the middle of the shoot.

  He smacked into the psychics.

  “Oh, great,” said Phyllis. “Thanks. There goes my ectoplasm.”

  “Honey,” Louise complained, frowning at Paul. “We were jus
t about to find out who the mysterious Sharon was, in olden days.”

  Paul heaved with deep breaths.

  “There’s guys in the bedroom!” he said. “I saw their faces! It’s real!”

  Phyllis rolled her eyes. “Now everyone wants in. Look, whoever you are—”

  “He’s my son,” said Paul’s father. “Sorry about this.”

  Phyllis nodded. “Well, why don’t you take him outside. And Louise, let me tell you, once and for all, there isn’t no Sharon.”

  “There is too!”

  The psychics were off again. Thankfully, Paul’s father took him into the living room.

  “They said we should go outside,” Paul repeated.

  “It’s sleeting.”

  “I want to get out of this house. I saw guys upstairs.”

  “I wish you did,” said Paul’s father. “I can’t stand working on this show sometimes. How can anything haunt us when we’re all making so much noise?” He put down his camera and ran his fingers through his hair. “That’s the problem with modern life. Too loud for ghosts.”

  “Can I sit in the van?”

  “No. It’s too cold out.”

  “It’s not so cold.”

  “It’s sleeting. We’re going to be hours in here. Sit tight. Stay out of sight. I’m going to tell Dennis about your encounter and see if he wants to use it. No, never mind. What am I saying? I’m not going to let them interview you. Just stay here and for”—he checked his watch—“an hour and half, don’t have any paranormal experiences. Roger that?”

  “Roger that,” said Paul unhappily.

  His father picked up his camera and went back into the hall.

  Paul stared at the door. He didn’t want to be left alone. He had just seen ghosts. How was he supposed to sit here reading? Especially when, at any moment, psychics could burst in and tell him to move or to hide behind the table and the plastic plant?

 
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