They shot into the backyard in a crouching run—dressed in camouflage and all black, even painting their faces. They told their parents that they were trick-or-treating as commandos. Reaching the Price house, they sat beneath a window. Other than crickets chirping in the surrounding bushes, the night was silent.
Phineas wondered what Cousin Jimmy was thinking about all this. Did he think Phineas was a bold hero or a stupid hoodlum? Judging from Jimmy’s reaction to the tale of Martha Price and her Poe-like demise, Phineas’s image was probably holding up just fine. Besides, what else would they be doing tonight? Actually go trick-or-treating? Watch horror movies and wait for their younger siblings to come home so they could steal their Halloween candy? No thanks. Phineas would rather go for, as his hero, Indiana Jones, once said, “Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory.”
“Ready?” Phineas said to the other boys. No one answered.
Most kids on the island knew that the house’s windows were never locked, as if Martha wanted to encourage intruders. Peter gave Phineas a boost, and Phineas opened the window. The house gasped, as if letting out a breath it had been holding for centuries. Phineas peeked in the window. The room was empty. The full moon reflected across the floor and onto the far wall.
Phineas climbed in through the window, sliding over the sill and coming to rest, face first, on the floor.
The place smelled like death.
No. It smells like dust, he assured himself.
He climbed to his feet and surveyed the darkness. No glowing eyes in the room’s doorways. No maniacs charging from the dark with chainsaws. And no Martha.
Phineas popped his head back out the window. “Boo,” he said in a low voice.
His friends gasped. Phineas laughed. “C’mon,” he said.
One at a time, the other boys climbed into the room. They stood in silence, their eyes darting in the dim moonlight.
Phineas held up his hands in a halting manner. “Wait.” he said.
They all froze.
“Did you hear that?” Phineas said.
“No. What was it?” Ralph said.
“I farted,” Phineas said.
The other boys murmured curses.
Phineas pulled a flashlight from his backpack. “All right,” he said, clicking on the light, “I’m going to look around. Who’s coming?”
The other boys glanced at one another, none looking as if he was going to volunteer.
“Figures,” Phineas said. “Fine. You girls stay here and knit, I’ll check the place out.” He walked off with the flashlight’s beam bouncing before him.
Phineas stepped into a foyer, the moonlight spilling through windows like silver fog. Several rooms branched off from the room, and a sweeping stairway climbed into the darkness. The flashlight’s beam brought to life a strange sense of movement, dancing shadows and silhouettes. The shadow of the stairway’s globe-topped banister created an especially lifelike specter ascending and descending the steps.
Phineas peeked into the room to his left, flashing the beam of light across the walls, just to make sure there was no one in there. But there was someone in there, and Phineas’s gasp echoed in the darkness like a gale. On the room’s far side, he saw the fiery face of a glowing, pale specter that looked just like… him. It was Phineas’s own flashlight-lit image mirrored in glass. He pointed the beam at the glass doors of an inlaid hutch. He took a deep breath, scolding himself for almost screaming. He didn’t want to admit it, but it would have been a very girly scream at that, and it was a stupid reflection the whole time. The mechanical shark almost got the better of him, and for a moment, his own reflection had become Martha Price.
He scanned the rest of the room with his flashlight, careful not to look toward those glass doors again. He then returned to the foyer. He’d long envisioned finding his prize upstairs. Thinking long and hard of where the captain would have hid the brooch, Phineas had already ruled out the servant’s quarters—which was a large wing off the house’s vast kitchen. Phineas figured the captain would never trust such a treasure in a place where the hired help could stumble upon it—accidently or otherwise. And for that matter, Phineas could rule out the kitchen, too. The two places Phineas thought most likely the brooch’s final resting place—final, that is, until he found it—were the captain’s study and the master bedroom. Phineas and his friends had actually entered the house by the study, so he figured he’d check there later, should his search upstairs prove futile. Besides, he didn’t want to go poking around the study with his friends there only to have to slink into the other rooms empty-handed if it wasn’t there. He wanted a flare for dramatics. To return triumphantly with the brooch.
Phineas stepped forward to the stairs’ bottom step. He paused a moment, and then began to climb the stairway, stopping a few times, pushing the lingering shock of the dining room from his mind, assuring himself that it had only been a reflection of himself in glass, and that the sounds behind him now were just echoes of his own footfalls. There was no ghost in the dining room, and there was not someone following him up the stairs. He glanced back over his shoulder, whispering, “Just reflections and echoes.”
His heart was pounding, and his arms and legs felt weak. He suddenly wanted to run. He wanted to get out of the house. He wanted to…
He stopped. Stopped his footfalls up the steps. Stopped his spinning thoughts. Would Indiana Jones be scared by reflections and echoes? No way. Nothing’s supposed to get in the way of one’s quest for fortune and glory—not reflections, or echoes, or dart-blowing natives and face-melting Nazis. And certainly not the mechanical shark. Suck it up, buttercup. After all, he’d already proved his muster by winning other adventurous bets. Like camping a night in the supposedly haunted Parson’s Woods, or staring into the Old Stone Church’s stained glass window—which everyone (everyone who is dumb, that is) knows can steal the souls of children and adults alike. This was no different. There were no ghosts in the haunted woods, and no stolen souls in the Stone Church’s stained glass windows. And the reason why was because there are no ghosts, period. Phineas took a deep breath, slowing his heart, conjuring his strength back into his limbs, and he continued up the steps.
He reached the top of the stairway and slashed at the darkness with the flashlight. Countless doorways sneered in the dancing light like the snouts of snarling dogs. He started down the hall, shadows scurrying into corners, the light from his flashlight refracting off curtains of dust. The house was breathing, he was sure of it. It was all around him, whispering, echoed breaths.
A doorway waited at the end of the hall like the opening of a crypt. Phineas continued to creep down the hall toward the room he imagined to be the Price’s master bedroom. He reached the end of the hallway and he peered into the room, dueling the dark with his flashlight. The light caught hold of nothing but far off walls and the wood floor of a sprawling abode. Phineas entered the darkness like a boot sinking into deep mud. He walked around the space, imagining where furniture would have been—a dresser, a wardrobe, a bed where Captain Price entertained his young bride. And she entertained the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker. Phineas’s footfalls were as careful as a stalking leopard’s.
He rewound his steps. Then, very slowly, he stepped forward again,
leaning all his weight forward,
There was a hollow, rattling sound where a floorboard shifted.
Phineas set the flashlight on the floor, and he clawed at the board with both hands. The board didn’t budge. But a great adventurer wouldn’t have come unprepared for such an obstacle. Indy had his bullwhip, and revolver, and Stetson hat, and what adventurer would be worth his weight without his trusty knife? Phineas retrieved his jackknife from his backpack, unfolding its blade with a click. He pried at the edge of the board, reaching with his fingers to lift it, but it fell back into place. Undaunted, he dug with his blade again, the board’s edge lifting, his fingers finding a purchase, and he was able to remove the board from its place in the floor. He shined the light into the opening.
And there it was. The tiny ivory profile of a woman. Phineas rubbed his fingers together, licked his lips, and he carefully retrieved his treasure. Fortune and glory was his. He would become as much of a legend as Martha Price herself. He stood silent a moment. The house was quiet, even its echoed breathing seeming to cease. The house didn’t seem to know, or care, that he had removed its most hallowed treasure. The flashlight’s beam gave the illusion of movement to the cameo. Or was the figure actually moving? Were the stories about the brooch true? Would it talk to him at any moment?
Yeah right, Phineas Wilkes snorted with a sly grin.
He couldn’t wait to see the look on Steven Mitchner’s face, and the rest of the sixth grade’s faces, when he produced Martha Price’s lost brooch. And maybe, just maybe, he’d tell them that it was moving, and that it did speak. Phineas froze, cocking his head, his hand tightening on the brooch. He held his breath, listening. Something knocked, far off, in another part of the house. A steady thumping. Perhaps a wayward trick-or-treater. Or more likely his idiot friends downstairs. They were either trying to scare him, or trying to signal him for some reason. Maybe someone was coming. Whatever the reason, it was time to go. For one thing, he had his prize, and for another, if those knuckleheads downstairs weren’t causing the thumping themselves, then he’d have to get them out of there before they scared themselves so badly that their underwear would never come clean.