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       The Raven, p.1

           Patrick Carman
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The Raven







  Title Page

  Are you new to Skeleton Creek

  Monday, July 11, 8:18 p.m.

  Monday, July 11, 11:30 p.m.

  Monday, July 11, 11:32 p.m.

  Monday, July 11, 11:35 p.m.

  Monday, July 11, 11:39 p.m.

  Monday, July 11, 11:47 p.m.

  Monday, July 11, 11:51 p.m.

  Tuesday, July 12, 3:00 a.m.

  Tuesday, July 12, 8:00 p.m.

  Tuesday, July 12, 10:00 p.m.

  Tuesday, July 12, 11:11 p.m.

  Wednesday, July 13, 11:00 a.m.

  Wednesday, July 13, 1:21 p.m.

  Wednesday, July 13, 2:00 p.m.

  Wednesday, July 13, 4:12 p.m.

  Wednesday, July 13, 10:07 p.m.

  Thursday, July 14, 2:20 a.m.

  Thursday, July 14, 6:30 a.m.

  Thursday, July 14, 4:45 p.m.

  Thursday, July 14, 5:40 p.m.

  Thursday, July 14, 6:10 p.m.

  Friday, July 15, 6:55 p.m.

  Friday, July 15, 10:30 p.m.

  Friday, July 15, 10:46 p.m.

  Saturday, July 16, 1:24 a.m.

  Saturday, July 16, 2:00 a.m.

  Saturday, July 16, 6:10 a.m.

  Saturday, July 16, 6:30 a.m.

  Saturday, July 16, 7:20 a.m.

  Saturday, July 16, 7:35 a.m.

  Saturday, July 16, 7:45 a.m.

  Saturday, July 16, 3:00 p.m.

  Saturday, July 16, 8:16 p.m.

  Saturday, July 16, 9:05 p.m.

  Saturday, July 16, 11:25 p.m.

  Saturday, July 17, 12:25 a.m.

  Saturday, July 17, 12:35 a.m.

  Sunday, July 17, 1:25 a.m.

  Sunday, July 17, 1:40 a.m.

  Sunday, July 17, 4:05 p.m.

  Sunday, July 17, 4:24 p.m.

  Sunday, July 17, 10:10 p.m.

  Sunday, July 17, 11:04 p.m.

  Monday, July 18, 7:00 a.m.

  Monday, July 18, 11:14 a.m.

  Monday, July 18, 11:50 a.m.

  Monday, July 18, 1:12 p.m.

  Monday, July 18, 6:29 p.m.

  Monday, July 18, 10:40 p.m.

  Monday, July 19, 1:09 a.m.

  Tuesday, July 19, 8:02 a.m.

  Tuesday, July 19, 7:02 p.m.

  Wednesday, July 20, 12:06 a.m.

  Wednesday, July 20, 3:19 a.m.

  Wednesday, July 20, 3:39 a.m.

  Wednesday, July 20, 3:45 a.m.

  Wednesday, July 20, 4:03 a.m.

  Wednesday, July 20, 8:13 a.m.

  Wednesday, July 20, noon

  Wednesday, July 20, 6:45 p.m.

  Wednesday, July 20, 9:57 p.m.

  Wednesday, July 20, 10:43 p.m.

  Thursday, July 21, 6:30 a.m.



  Monday, July 11, 8:18 p.m.

  In an hour the world will turn dark and still. Anyone who’s ever camped in the remote wilderness knows what I’m talking about. There are no streetlights in the woods. No lamps, storefronts, or glowing laptop screens. These things are a comfort, even in a town as small as Skeleton Creek, but I won’t have any of them once the sun goes down.

  You might say, “Yeah, but there are stars. Isn’t that the same as a billion flashlights? And there’s the moon — that thing is huge.” True, on a clear night with a full moon it’s not as dark in the woods, but that’s not the kind of night I’m about to suffer. I can already hear the thunder claps ten miles or so off in the distance. A storm is coming and clouds are gathering overhead.

  There will be no stars or moon tonight.

  My dad and I left Skeleton Creek early this morning in order to get away from all the craziness in town. For the past week, the phone had been ringing off the hook for interviews, and news vans had pulled into town from Portland and Seattle. First, I’d found gold on the dredge, then I’d discovered the missing Jefferson library right under our noses. No one knew how much help I’d gotten from Sarah, because I couldn’t tell anyone. (She’s far too valuable working in secret, at least until after she makes the long drive home from LA to Boston.) Nope, this one was all on me. I was turning Skeleton Creek into a town known for its hidden treasures, and my dad thought it best to get me out of Dodge before my head turned freakishly big.

  “Nothing like roughing it to put things into perspective,” he’d said. “Let’s you and me hightail it for the river.”

  He didn’t have anything to worry about, because I don’t have any space in my head to dwell on how amazing I am. I’m preoccupied with more important things, like how I’m going to stay alive from one day to the next.

  I’d devised a cover for how I’d come to find the missing Jefferson library books hidden under Gladys Morgan’s library. Instead of a note Henry left in the dredge, it was a simple map I’d found while helping disgorge forty million in gold from the floorboards. I hadn’t shown the map to anyone because … well, I just hadn’t. No one seems to care about a little deception when you’re the bearer of good news.

  I feel paranoid and unprotected so far away from home. The Raven, Henry, the ghost of Old Joe Bush — it’s like I’m being followed by an army of zombies dead set on tracking me down.

  It all comes down to the secret Crossbones society, and three shadowy figures at its core.

  First, there’s the Apostle, the Crossbones recorder. His creepy videos made it clear that crossing the Apostle came with a price: He’d reveal your secrets to the rest of the world. Sarah found four hidden Apostle messages on her drive from Boston to LA, which was what led us to discover the missing books from the Jefferson library. These books were a Crossbones treasure, but the Apostle led us right to them from beyond the grave.

  Then, there’s the ghost of Old Joe Bush, who isn’t really a ghost at all, but my dad’s former friend, Henry. Whereabouts unknown. I can’t say for sure whose side Henry is on, but two things are certain: He’s still out there and he’s scarier than ever.

  And finally, there’s the Raven. The muscle. The power. The really bad dude. Every secret society needs one, and the Crossbones is no exception.

  I’ve thwarted the Crossbones enough to know: The Raven will want me dead. It’s the quickest way to stop me.

  My dad didn’t exactly do me any favors by dragging me down the river on a raft into the middle of nowhere. The really bad thing about camping in the deep of the woods? Unless you count a sleeping bag, there’s no place to hide once the sun goes down. My fears can come at me from whatever direction they want.

  Here’s another thing about camping: There are at least four ways to do it, only one of which qualifies as real camping if you ask my dad.

  How to camp, according to my dad, with actual fireside quotes included:

  Option 1 (lamest): Use a Cabin

  Dad: “The only way this counts as camping is if there’s no indoor plumbing or beds, the nearest help is at least an hour drive down a dirt road, and the place is crawling with Termites.”

  Option 2 (a near tie for lameness with option 1): Use an RV

  Dad: “I think I just threw up.”

  Option 3 (barely not lame): Camp with a Tent in a Campground

  Dad: “There’s a guy delivering firewood for five bucks a box from the back of a golf cart. Why not bring a big-screen TV and a Lay-Z-Boy while you’re at it?”

  Option 4 (officially roughing it): Pack into a Remote Location, Fend for Your Life

  Dad: “Give me three matches, my fishing gear, and some tinfoil. I’ll live out here for a month and a half.”

  Which is how I found myself setting up my pack tent on the edge of the river five miles downstream from town, nowh
ere near a hamburger or a cell tower. I’d barely rolled out my sleeping bag before my dad was calling me to the edge of the water … as he always does.

  “Ready for the flip?” he asked. I nodded, knowing before he flipped the coin up in the air that I had no chance. I’d lost seventeen out of seventeen coin flips on seventeen out of seventeen trips down the river, and things were not about to change.

  “Heads,” I called, just to give myself a fighting chance.

  “Sorry, sport, it’s tails. See there?”

  The light wasn’t very good and the show was awfully fast, but it did look like tails. Does he carry a two-tailed nickel around in his pocket and use some sleight of hand? I wouldn’t put it past him. My dad loves fly-fishing enough to pull one over on his own kid, that much is for sure. Losing the flip meant he’d be catching our dinner while I rounded up firewood, and the light was fading fast.

  For all his talk, my dad is often woefully unprepared in the wild. If it’s fly-fishing you’re looking for, he’s your man. The boat is crammed full of fly boxes and other “essential trout gear.” This is because he spends four hours getting the fishing gear ready, looks at his watch, and spends his last ten minutes packing everything else he’ll need. When I leave to hunt for firewood I will be armed with only my wits and a hatchet, the blade of which is duller than a butter knife.

  Looking up into the sky, I sense what’s coming. By midnight it’s going to start raining. In fact, from the smell of the air, I’d guess it’s going to hail golf balls, the kind that will shred a pup tent and leave me trembling in my sleeping bag.

  Better get with it so I don’t end up traipsing around in the woods after dark and bump into a bear … or someone who’s out to get me.

  Monday, July 11, 11:30 p.m.

  I’m back at the campsite in my one-man tent. The fire has all but gone out — a few glowing embers are all that remain — and all I can say is this:

  What I discovered out there is going to make this the longest night of my life.

  He found me, or I found him.

  Monday, July 11, 11:32 p.m.

  Noises outside.

  Monday, July 11, 11:35 p.m.

  I think it’s gone. Maybe it was just the wind. I don’t know whether to look or stay inside. Praying.

  Monday, July 11, 11:39 p.m.

  I’m not closing my eyes until dawn.

  My cell phone isn’t good for a signal, but it does throw off a soft blue light, which is the only light I have inside my tiny tent. Dad is already snoring in his own cocoon five feet away.

  Okay, I’m going to write down what happened so I don’t forget any of the details. Note to self: Set up an overnight recording camera in my room when I get home in case I get an unwelcome visitor in the middle of the night. And bring the hatchet to bed with me.

  For someone who lives in the mountains I have a surprisingly bad sense of direction. I get turned around easily, which is exactly what happened as I meandered out in the woods in search of firewood. I’d found a pretty hefty armful of fallen twigs and branches and set it down, glancing in every direction as I turned in a circle.

  Where was I? Which way had I come from?

  The woods grew menacingly quiet, and then I heard the sound of wood being split. Surely it was my dad, tired of waiting for my return as he set up a fire to cook the fish he’d caught. I picked up my collection of busted branches and twigs and started in the direction of the sound. It was farther off than I expected, but the sound kept getting louder, so I kept at it. I came to the edge of a clearing, where a single, gigantic tree stood alone in the gathering gloom. And then it struck me: My dad didn’t have the hatchet. I had the hatchet.

  It’s not him I hear chopping.

  There, at the base of the tree, was the cloaked figure of a man. Whoever it was wore an oversized, black rain slicker that ran from his knees all the way up over his head. The hood was pulled low over his face, a black tunnel that led to eyes I couldn’t see. He had the biggest ax I’ve ever seen — it had to be five feet long with a blade as wide as my head. He swung as if in slow motion, broad and powerful, slamming against thick bark. I knew enough about woodcutting to know that even with an ax that big it would take hours to bring down such a monster, and the cloaked figure had only just begun.

  A thunder clap, loud and close, blasted into the valley. I dropped the wood I’d gathered, dashing behind a tree for cover. I thought about running, which is what I should have done. Instead, I took out my phone and hit the record button, then peered around the edge of the tree.

  The thunder clap had covered the sound of the dropping wood. The figure continued swinging the great ax.

  And then, without warning, he stopped.

  Lightning filled the space between us and I saw that he was watching me. And worse, he was sharpening the blade against a stone, sparks flying as the sound of thunder arrived, as if on cue.

  My back against the tree, chest heaving, I thought once more of running. Night was close at hand, and the last thing I wanted was to be lost in the dark with an ax-wielding maniac on my trail. I waited five seconds, ten, fifteen. The sound of sharpening had stopped and the chopping hadn’t started up again. Maybe he’d given up on the big tree. Maybe he hadn’t seen me after all. Maybe he’d gone back into the gloom.

  When I peered around the edge of the tree once more, hoping to find myself alone in the woods, the hooded man had crept much closer. He was close enough to hit me with the ax if he’d wanted to.

  And then he spoke.

  “Storm’s comin’.”

  His voice was raspy and cold, hidden under the cloak, and I didn’t know for sure if he meant the storm overhead or something else. His knuckles whitened on the ax handle — an ax I now realized was painted black.

  “Gonna be a big one,” he went on. “Dangerous. Not like the ones before.”

  I just stood there, speechless, staring at the blade.

  “Better take cover.”

  He lifted his head in the direction from which I’d come, as if to tell me where I’d find my dad and the camp we’d set up, and then he turned and walked away. I was struck then by how ghostlike he was as he passed by the huge tree and kept on until he disappeared into the shadows.

  I looked at my hand, which still held my phone.

  I’d recorded the whole encounter.

  But even a recording won’t answer the big question I have:

  Was that the Raven?

  Monday, July 11, 11:47 p.m.

  I made it back to camp, grabbing up pieces of wood as I ran, and showed up to find my dad had already built a fire from wood scraps and cooked the fish. “I was just about to come looking for you,” he said, staring at the paltry collection of twigs I’d gathered up. He looked into the night sky. “Storm’s comin’.”

  He used the exact same words as the man in the woods — Storm’s comin’ — which sent a chill down my spine, all the way into my boots. We ate quickly, threw tarps over both our tents, and hunkered down for what would be a long, sleepless night.

  Storms in the mountains often pass through quickly on their way to somewhere else, as if they’re late for a poker game and they’ve only stopped by long enough to put out your fire. This was just such a storm — quick and brutal — here and gone in twenty minutes flat.

  Wind whipped the tents, a mix of rain and hail pummeled the tarp, and all the while I thought about the figure I’d seen in the woods and the message he’d delivered.

  The Raven.

  The more I think about it, the surer I am. The final player in the Crossbones game has found me.

  But what does he want from me?

  Monday, July 11, 11:51 p.m.

  Never make the mean guy mad.

  It will come back to haunt you.

  I need to calm myself down. I am trying to find some good side in all this. At least if the Raven is near, he can’t be in LA, so Sarah is safe from the swing of a black ax.

  It’s the Raven’s job to clean up messes, get rid o
f problems, protect Crossbones interests at all cost.

  One of the first things I thought of when I saw the Raven was Fitz, my buddy who used to work at the fly shop. The Raven is his dad, so obviously I’m worried about how Fitz is doing. Are the two of them living up here in the woods or something? Does Fitz come down to this very bank on the river and catch fish when I’m not here?

  I just peered outside the slit of my tent, thinking I might just see Fitz standing there, casting his line over the water in the dark. But there wasn’t anyone there.

  I can hear the river but I can’t see it. Funny how something I love so much during the day can turn so deadly. Like a black sludge drifting past, waiting to pull me under.

  I could drown just like the Apostle and Old Joe Bush before him.

  Water can be evil that way.

  There’s one more thing I need to say before I stop writing for the night and start staring at the ceiling of my tent, waiting for the ax to come down.

  Fitz gave me an envelope before he and his dad left the trailer they lived in. Inside was a piece of paper he should not have given me — because it belonged to his dad.

  Now that I think I’ve met the Raven, I understand what a risk it was to take that piece of paper.

  Storm’s comin’.

  Gonna be a big one. Dangerous. Not like the ones before.

  Better take cover.

  I think the Raven might know I have this piece of paper.

  I think he might follow me right back into town and use that black ax to bust down my door and get it back.

  Tuesday, July 12, 3:00 a.m.

  Longest. Night. Ever.

  Tuesday, July 12, 8:00 p.m.

  Made it to dawn without getting killed (very pleasant sunrise), fell asleep on the raft, woke up at the takeout. Bleary-eyed, I helped my dad load the boat and the gear onto the trailer, which my mom had shuttled down the river for us.

  “You’re looking pretty hangdog, champ,” Dad commented when we pulled into town and the truck came to a stop in front of our house. “How about I put stuff away for once and you tell Mom to wrestle up some dinner? Looks like things have cleared up nicely around here.”

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