His friends were still where he’d left them. But they all looked like cardiac patients in need of defibrillators.
Before Phineas could even say anything, or produce the brooch for well deserved accolades, Peter said to him, “Did you hear that knocking?” Peter’s voice cracked at the edges. With a trembling finger, he pointed to a wall. “It came from there,” he said. “Twice,” he added, his voice giving an extra squeak.
“We were gonna just leave you here,” Ralph said.
Just leave him here? Did these bozos realize what he’d just accomplished? Phineas smiled and strolled to the wall. The knocking was a branch banging against the house or mice feasting on plaster, and these yahoos thought it was Martha the unfriendly ghost. He leaned against the wall. “What, this wall right here?” he said with the coolest grin he could muster.
The other boys stepped back, as if Phineas was taunting a rabid dog.
Phineas produced the cameo. “I got the brooch,” he said, waving it to stress the fact.
“Then let’s get out of here,” Ralph said.
Let’s get out of here? He just found the brooch, Martha Price’s brooch, The Holy Grail of pre-teen adventurers, and all these guys could say was, Let’s get out of here? He didn’t expect ovations and cartwheels, but how about a little credit where a little credit was due? A lot of credit due, for that matter.
“What is your problem?” Phineas said.
“We told you, we heard knocking in that wall,” Ralph said.
“Twice,” Peter’s voice squeaked.
Cousin Jimmy broke his silence. “Phineas, I want to go home.”
Phineas stared at them. He couldn’t believe this. “Look, I just went through this whole house, and I found the brooch.” He held it up again. “And you weenies are afraid of this stupid wall?” He knocked on the wall to emphasize his point.
The wall exploded with flying plaster and shattering slats of wood. The other three boys screeched. A hand latched onto Phineas’s wrist. He turned to see, glowing in the moonlight, the sneering, decayed smile of a skeletal face, dried remnants of flesh hanging from its features like ragged clothing. Its jaw opened in a silent scream as its empty eye sockets fixed on Phineas Wilkes’s pale face.
Phineas was aware of his friends fleeing out the window. He was aware of the skeletal fingers binding his wrist. He was aware of the warm urine running down his leg. He was aware of all this, yet he was unable to react to it. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t scream. He could only watch as another of the skeleton’s hands emerged from the wall and struck, like a cobra, relieving him of his prize.
He was overcome by a swimming, almost drowning sensation as he swooned toward a faint, but the skeletal hand gripping his wrist tightened, and the pain brought him back, releasing the scream frozen in his lungs. He grabbed the skeleton’s forearm, clawing at the coarse, dry bones. The ancient bones shattered in his hand, and he broke free of the thing’s grasp, stumbling backward, falling against the far wall and sliding to the floor. The skeleton held up the cameo brooch triumphantly, and then it fell to the floor, still and lifeless.