Chapter 35: Cross-Country Mystery (Long Fiction for Middle Graders)

Note: One thing I want to be careful with is to not make the children act too grown-up. I can handle precocious kids, (and to an extent, the kids in this story are precocious) but a story loses something when the kids act like mini-adults. I feel like when I started this story, that wasn’t a problem. Now that I no longer have children of these ages at home, it is harder to remember how children generally act. Not sure I got it right in this chapter, but I’m working on it.

Chapter 35

For Peter and Frank, the walk back through the woods seemed to take forever. Both of them were hot and thirsty and the foul skunk odor never seemed to lessen. “Shouldn’t that ‘smell tiredness’ or whatever you call it kick in soon?” Peter asked Frank.

“Olfactory fatigue. And yes, it should help us stand this smell until I can get a good shower.”

Despite Frank’s words, the smell only seemed to get worse, if that was possible.  The walk back was a little longer than a mile, but seemed more like five. Frank’s and Peter’s mouths were so dry that neither of them talked much.  The BGs, on the other hand, had no trouble keeping up a constant stream of grumbling and moaning.

Peter’s joy at seeing the yellow house come into view was dulled when the police wouldn’t let them enter it, even to get a drink. The police took brief statements from Peter and Frank and Frank agreed to come to the station the next day and give a more detailed account.

Finally free, Frank drove straight to a drugstore and sent Peter in with some money to buy drinks and soap.  When Peter returned, they both downed large bottles of water before heading back to the chalet.

“Did you find the grease-cutting dishwashing soap?” Frank asked as he drove out of the parking lot and stepped on the gas.

“Yes, and a bunch of other things too,” Peter replied. “The clerk asked what I was looking for and she recommended some other stuff. One of the customers overheard us and suggested something else. I got everything! Dishwashing liquid, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, lemon juice, tomato juice, and this spray called ‘Stink-Away.’ I suggest you use them all, Dad.”

Frank chuckled.

“Oh, and I also got soft drinks to replace the ones you said you gave to the BGs. Plus two extra for you and me to drink now. Here,” Peter pulled out the drinks and gave one to Frank. “Hey, aren’t you driving a little fast?” he added as Frank swerved to miss a pothole and Peter nearly dropped the bottles.

“I guess I should slow down,” Frank admitted and let off the gas a bit. “Why don’t you tell me about your adventure in the shed and how you happened to show up with the police?”

Peter told all about how Curt escaped and how he rigged the booby trap. Frank was surprised, but approving of Peter’s decision to give Curt the locator. “It’s much more important that Curt go home than that we see Tim again,” Frank said, thinking out loud.

“We will see him again, though, won’t we?” Peter asked with a hint of worry in his voice.

“I think so,” Frank said and changed the subject. “When did the police arrive?”

“Maybe about ten minutes or so after you left, I think? I was surprised to hear their siren coming closer and closer.” Peter went on to tell a long story about what happened when he talked to the police and how long it took them to believe he was telling the truth. When Peter mentioned that the 911 call was made by Ashley, Frank smiled. Another weight was lifted from his chest knowing that Ashley had escaped the cabinet.

They reached the chalet before Frank had a chance to tell Peter more of his own adventures with Al and Phin, but as soon as they got out of the car, Peter shooed Frank toward the shower.  “Here’s the odor killers!” Peter said shoving the drug store bag into Frank’s arms.  “Now go kill the odors!”

“All right, all right,” Frank said as he entered the chalet.

“Peee-youuu! Someone tangled with a skunk or I’m a monkey’s uncle!” Aunt Hannah said as they entered.

Ashley woke up and rubbed her eyes. “Eww!” She held her nose and scowled.

Frank wondered why Hannah was there, but he hurried down the stairs and didn’t stay to chat. Ashley sat up and blinked.  She looked at Peter who was grinning mischevously. “Was that one of your stupid stink bombs?”

“I wish! It was nature’s own stink bomb—a skunk! Long story.”

Ashley sighed. “Maybe I’m not sorry I fell asleep after all. That sounds like an adventure I’m glad I missed!”

Someone knocked on the door and Aunt Hannah answered. Immediately Charlie came barreling into the room and gave her a big hug. Then he ran inside and jumped onto the couch next to Ashley. “I swim!” he announced.

Aunt Helen came in behind him carrying Robbie who was asleep on her shoulder. She set down Charlie’s bag of clothes and toys by the door. “I’m just returning Charlie. He had a busy day.” Helen looked around.  “Where are Nanette and Frank?”

Aunt Hannah answered, “Frank’s downstairs showering and Nanette isn’t home yet. I’ll stay here with Charlie and the kids until Frank’s done.”

“Great,” Helen said. “Thanks. See you at dinner!”

“Dinner!” Charlie said gleefully and ran to the kitchen to look for a snack.

Ashley and Peter didn’t even hear him. They looked at each other thinking about Aunt Helen’s question. Ashley spoke first, “Didn’t the BGs say that they had Mom and Nathan trapped somewhere?”

Peter started breathing faster. “Oh, no. They did. We need to find them!”

“Do you think they’re ok?” Ashley’s eyes were filling with tears.

“What are you talking about?” Aunt Hannah asked. “Wherever they are, I’m sure they’re fine.”

“The bad guys who kidnaped Dad and me said they had Mom and Nathan too!” Peter said. “I almost forgot! What if they’re hurt?”

“Why didn’t you ask the BGs what they did to them?” Ashley accused. “You were with them for like an hour!”

“The skunk stink kind of erased our brains,” Peter said. “But we’re not that late. We could go now! Aunt Hannah can you drive us?”

“I think we should wait for your father,” Hannah said. “I can stay here with Charlie.”

When Frank came out of the basement all scrubbed and clean, Peter and Ashley both started yelling at once. “We have to get Mom! Do you think the BGs hurt her? Or Nathan? Where can we find them? We have to go now!”

Frank set down the plastic bag he was carrying. He spoke calmly in an attempt to cool Peter and Ashley’s panic “It’s OK. We’ll go find them. I’m sure they’re fine. The BGs didn’t hurt any of us when they had the chance. I’m sure they’re safe somewhere near Tim’s cabin.”

“What are we waiting for? Let’s go find them!” Peter said.

Ashley immediately ran out the door like a stone from a slingshot, and for the second time that day ran smack into someone standing outside.

Ashley didn’t care, though, when she looked up and saw that it was Nanette.  “Mom!” she said and hugged her tight. “I’m so glad to see you!  How did you get back?”

“Hey, I’m back too! And I have a war wound,” Nathan said with mock offense.

The three of them went inside and Nanette hugged Peter and Frank and Charlie as if she hadn’t seen them for months. “I was so worried about you all,” Nanette said.

“We were worried about you too,” Frank replied. “Are you OK? Did Nathan just say he was hurt?”

“It’s a long story,” Nanette replied. “But first—what is that smell?!”  She wrinkled her nose and looked around the room.

“Oh, it’s my clothes over there in that plastic bag. I was going to take them to the dumpster. They’re beyond saving at this point. I have a long story too,” Frank explained.

“I didn’t notice. Must be ‘olfactory fatigue’,” Peter said.

“Smell tiredness,” Frank replied with a wink.

Aunt Hannah picked up the bag with two fingers and held it as far away from herself as she could.  Then she opened the door and set it outside. “It can stay there for now,” she said.

“Do you need to leave, Hannah?” Frank asked. “You’ve been so helpful today!”

“Are you kidding?” she said. “After all this I’m dying to hear the rest of the story!”

Nathan, Peter and Ashley all started talking at once, but Frank shushed them. “One at a time! Let Mom and Nathan start since they left first. What happened after you got on the patio boat?”

Nanette proceeded to tell her story with help from Nathan. Every now and then, the rest of the family jumped in with questions. Frank was concerned about Nathan’s ankle and insisted they get it checked out in the morning. When Nathan brought out the bag that Tim left for them, everyone looked at the note and passed around the yellow rocks.

“Probably fool’s gold. Iron pyrite, I’d guess,” Peter said. Frank had a funny look on his face, but didn’t say anything.

Nanette continued, “After finding the note, we were worried about you, so we went back to the campground. With Nathan’s sore foot, it took a long time.  We reached the parking lot and started walking toward the camping loops when a family of campers drove by in a minivan. They saw Nathan limping and decided to ask if we needed a lift to town.”

“You hitch-hiked?!” Ashley asked in surprise.

“No, No, No!” Nathan said emphatically. “Mom told me about a thousand times that we were NOT hitch-hiking! We were just accepting a lift. Not the same as hitch-hiking at all! We should never hitch-hike.”

“I don’t see much difference,” Ashley murmured and Nathan grinned.

Nanette continued. “Anyway, we were really worried about you and thankfully the family was willing to drive us all the way to The Evergreen Resort. I was wondering how I would open the door if no one was home when Ashley ran into me, and here we are.

“Now tell us about your adventures!”

Frank, Peter and Ashley then proceeded to tell their own stories. Nathan got upset when Peter said he gave away the locator to Curt. He was also frustrated because he knew it was probably the right thing to do, but was still unhappy that the family didn’t have it anymore.  Nanette, on the other hand, seemed proud of Peter’s decision.

“Where is the time machine now?” Nathan asked.

“The police have it as evidence,” Frank answered. “I …didn’t tell them it was a time machine.  It’s definitely broken, though. It rattled pretty badly when the BGs were carrying it.”

They hadn’t finished talking before Charlie interrupted with a loud, “I’m hungry!” reminding them that it was time to go to the common room for dinner. They finished the stories over fajitas and salad and stayed for a sing-along and family games with the cousins.

When they got back to the chalet, Nathan asked the question that was on everyone’s mind. “What do we do now?”

“I think we just go on with our vacation,” Frank said. “And hope that Tim catches up with us some time.”

Nathan sighed and Peter and Ashley scowled.

“He’s right,” Nanette added. “We did what we needed to do. We found Curt. We broke the second time machine. And we stopped the BGs.”

“But what about–.  I don’t know. Things seem unfinished somehow.” Nathan said.

“Shouldn’t the BGs go back to their own time?” Peter asked.

“We can’t do that without Tim,” Frank said. “So for now, we’ll just have to wait until we see him again.” Frank said ‘until’ and not ‘if’ so as not to disappoint the family, but he felt ‘if’ was more appropriate term.

“So for tomorrow, we’re back to vacation,” Nanette said. “We’re going to Yosemite Valley with the Greenes and some other cousins. It’ll be fun for a change. No running away from bad guys!”

Frank said, “We’ll leave sometime after I go to the police station. I promised to make a fuller statement and I want to give them the names and phone numbers of Josie’s and Allison’s shops so they can check out the extent of the Shrike brothers’ thievery. I’d also like to have someone look at Nathan’s ankle in case it’s worse than he admits.”

“But for now, we need to get a good night’s sleep,” Nanette said holding up her hands and signalling that discussion was now over. Reluctantly, they all prepared for bed.

Mom always thinks sleep is a cure-all, Nathan thought. Maybe it would be if I could actually get to sleep. Nathan spent a lot of time tossing and turning and staring at the ceiling before finally drifting off and dreaming about men with bandannas chasing him through King Arthur’s court and into the shoe store at Wall Drugs.

End of Chapter 35

Chapter 36 can be found here: Chapter 36: Cross-Country Mystery (Long Fiction for Middle-Graders)

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