First Chapters for a YA book: Comments appreciated.
THE WITCH WITH 300 HATS
THE WITCH WITH 300 HATS
By BJ Hickey
A double-dare had been made. The gossip traveled fast in the hallways and classrooms of Lincoln Elementary. Before lunchtime, all the older kids had heard about the dare. The general consensus was the dare was for the new kids - the lemonhead twins.
It came from Buddy Beakley. He had a reputation as a mouthy bully and brat but he was also highly entertaining. Mrs. Davis, the assistant principal, said he was trying to set a record for spending more time in detention than any boy in history.
When the noon bell rang, seventh and eighth graders tossed on coats and rain jackets and gathered in a large mob at the picnic pavilion near the practice field. A stiff whirling sleet blew in the damp cold, but the kids didn't care. A double-dare had been made. They were harder and naughtier than any regular dare. Few were ever accepted but the shame of turning down a double-dare carried a stigma for the rest of a person's life.
Buddy Beakley sat on a tabletop, eating a cheese sandwich. Kids weren't supposed to sit on the tables, but Buddy didn't care. The teachers would just send him to detention for the afternoon where he sketched cartoons. He started to chant "I dare, I dare, I'm gonna dare, I'm gonna stare with a double-dare!"
Pretty soon most of the kids had memorized the chant and were singing along with him.
Buddy swallowed the last of his sandwich and stood up. "It's two weeks to Halloween. And we all know that Halloween is the scariest day on earth. My double-dare is this..." He glanced around at all the familiar faces. There were two missing.
Buddy pushed the shoulder of the boy standing next to him.
"Hey, Exlax, go get me the lemonheads."
The kid ran off towards the school. Kids were laughing and giggling now. So it was the lemonhead twins!
Cecil and Bernice Lemon were brainiac science geeks from
. They had just moved to town at the beginning of the school year. They were quiet and only spoke when spoken to. Rumor had it that their father committed suicide after financial ruin. None of the kids really knew. They just liked to start gossip to see how far it traveled. Chicago
Exlax returned with the twins in tow.
"They didn't want to come," he bragged. "But I made 'em or else.
Buddy started his chant again with his admirers.
"I dare, I dare, I'm gonna dare, I'm gonna stare with a double-dare!"
Buddy jumped to the ground and faced the twins. He raised his hand and there was silence.
"Know why you're here?" he asked the Lemon twins.
"It's the law," said Cecil Lemon. "We have to go to school."
Cecil was small for his size, just like his sister.
"Very funny for the money," Buddy said. "I can't tell which one is uglier, you or your sister."
"Take your pick," said Bernice. "We're twins."
"Red-haired, freckled freaks," said Buddy. "Listen, Halloween is coming. It's time to have a little fun. You do like fun, don't you lemonheads?"
"Depends on your idea of fun," said Cecil.
"Oh, this will be fun!" smiled Buddy.
He pulled a sheet of paper from his pocket and held it up to the twins.
"You two know how to read?" he asked.
Bernice took the paper and studied it. "Looks like a map," she said.
"It IS a map," said Buddy. "I drew it myself in detention yesterday. And now I double-dare you to follow it."
"What if we don't want to?" Cecil asked.
Buddy stammered. "Don't... don't want to? You have to! It's a double-dare!"
Cecil studied the map now. "End of town, through the woods, cemetery on the right, to the old house."
Cecil and Bernice reacted to gasps from the students. The name "Haunted Hill" whispered among them.
"Who lives there?" Bernice asked.
"Just a little old lady. The caretaker's widow. He had a heart attack last summer digging graves."
"What are we supposed to do when we get there?" Cecil asked. "I can't read your chicken scratch."
"Just go in, bring us proof that you did it."
"Proof? Like what?" said Bernice.
Buddy Beakley smiled. "I see the old lady in town sometimes when she buys groceries. She always wears a floppy old hat with holes in it. Bring it back to us."
"You mean, steal it?"
"Okay, bleeding heart. You can return it AFTER we all see it."
"This is stupid," said Cecil.
Buddy laughed and clapped his hands. "Ha! I knew they wouldn't do it! They're just a pair of lemonhead yellow belly sapsuckers!"
All the kids chanted, "Yellow belly sapsuckers, yellow belly sapsuckers!"
Bernice whispered in Cecil's ear. "We might get stuck living here the rest of our lives."
"So you think we should do it?"
The chant droned on.
"It can't hurt anything."
Cecil raised his hand. "Okay, we'll do it."
The chanting stopped and kids started applauding.
"No way!" said Exlax. "You're actually going to do it?"
"I thought you said we can't turn down a double-dare," said Bernice.
Buddy's eyes bulged. "Let me repeat myself. She is the gravedigger's wife! She helped him bury dead bodies! Rumor has it she killed him with a shovel. Some say she is a witch!"
"You said her husband died of a heart attack."
"Sure. Maybe after she hit him on the head with the shovel!"
Cecil and Bernice smiled at each other.
"Small town kids," said Cecil.
"Small brains," winked Bernice.
They started back towards the school.
"One more thing," said Buddy. "You have to steal the hat at night... When the ghosts are out."
"Sure, Buddy," Bernice called back. "We wouldn't have it any other way."
All that day, and all through the next, the school was alive with anticipation. Would the lemonheads do it? If they did go, when would they go? There were dozens of discussions about ghosts and vampires and werewolves in the woods now.
Joey Toothe, a paperboy, said he saw a dead man hanging from a tree early that morning, just before sunrise. But when he looked again, the man was gone! A couple of non-believers wanted him to take them to the tree so they could see for themselves but he couldn't remember exactly where the tree was now.
"You don't stick around for ghosts," he warned.
In the library, brave eighth graders pored over old records of people buried in the cemetery. They counted three hundred. Most died of old age, but there were kids buried there, too and they suspected the bodies buried in the unmarked graves on Haunted Hill were axe murderers and killers.
By the end of the second day, everyone agreed that the Lemon twins were in way over their heads. What if the widow caught them? Would she kill them with her shovel, just like she did her gravedigger husband?
The twins were new to town. They didn't even know what the widow looked like.
"Her name is Mrs. Klumb," said Buddy. "Don't let her size and age fool you. She's nimble and quick, moves like a black cat."
Over dinner that first night and the next, Cecil and Bernice were very quiet.
"Are you thinking of your father?" their mother finally said on the second night.
The kids often thought of their father. He had been a sweet man, a kind man. Like gravedigger Klumb, he too had died of a heart attack. That was three years ago. Mrs. Lemon said she needed "a change of scenery" and the family packed up and moved to small town
. So far, it didn't change anything. America
"I think about dad every day," said Cecil.
"Me too," said Bernice.
"So what's wrong?" asked their mom.
"Kids at school," said Cecil. "We got double-dared."
"I see," smiled Mrs. Lemon.
"Nothing we can't handle," said Bernice.
"They don't know you two are geniuses?"
Bernice smiled. "I can't wait to see the looks on their faces when they start freshman year of high school and we're off to MIT."
That night, Cecil and Bernice held a secret meeting in her bedroom. They put fresh batteries in flashlights and agreed to wear black clothes, shoes, gloves and stocking caps.
"When do you want to go?" Cecil asked.
"Tomorrow night," said Bernice. "Then on Friday morning, we show everyone the witch's hat and spend the weekend looking like super stars.
"Bernie, what if she really is a witch?" Cecil said.
"No such thing," said Bernice. "It isn't logical."
The next day was Thursday. Buddy Beakley spent the afternoon in detention, bragging that he saw Mrs. Lemon at a U-Haul store putting down a deposit for a big moving van.
During every class and in the halls between bells, Bernice and Cecil fended off the ultimate question:
"When are you going to do it?"
They smiled smugly and kept quiet.
That night, after they knew their mom was asleep, Bernice and Cecil donned their nightclothes and stole away from the house. They crept down alleys and side streets, avoiding well-lit areas where curious adults might spot them.
"I just realized," said Cecil. "We've never been to the edge of town."
"We never saw the cemetery either," said Bernice.
"I hope it's a big house," said Cecil.
"A really big house," said Bernice.
"What if she has a dog? A giant, snarling snapping beast?"
"Then we abandon the mission," said Bernice.
Twenty minutes later, they faced the forest marking the end of civilization. It seemed dark and dreary.
Bernice shone her light on the map.
Picker Parkway one-half mile uphill to the cemetery."
"Haunted Hill," reminded Cecil.
"Isn't logical," said Bernice.
She stuffed the map in her jacket, took her brother by the hand and bravely moved on. They walked step for step, side by side, listening for unusual sounds, but the woods were silent.
They reached the cemetery. It stood pale and dreary on a small knoll, its tombstones crooked.
"Over there," said Bernice. "The house."
Cecil shuddered at the sight of it. The house was everything a haunted mansion should be; tall and brooding, paint peeled from years of neglect, almost as dead as the people in the graves surrounding it.
"It isn't NEXT to the cemetery, it's IN the cemetery!" Cecil whispered. "What if my imagination starts to run wild?"
"Think of the calculations for E=Mc2," said Bernice.
They drifted slowly past older graves, then newer, fresher tombstones as they reached the old house.
"No lights on, no hounds barking," said Bernice.
"What about cats? A cat could alert the owner."
Bernice looked at her watch. "Midnight. Old people are always in bed by eight."
"What if she's a light sleeper?"
"We're about to find out."
Cecil shined his light on the front porch. It was wide with ancient floorboards.
He pulled his sister away and led her to the rear of the house. A terrible stench filled their nostrils.
"What is that godawful smell?" Cecil whispered.
Bernice shined her flashlight on a big pile of rubbish.
"No garbage service out here," she said.
They crept forward to a small concrete pad and stepped up.
"Two doors," said Bernice. "First the screen."
She slowly, carefully pulled the door open. It didn't make a sound. She held it open and whispered to Cecil. "Try the main door."
He took a long swallow, reached for an old brass handle and turned the knob. The door opened with a slight creaking sound.
They were in.
It took ten minutes for the Lemon twins to cover the space of three rooms. First the kitchen followed by the dining room, then the living room. No cats, no dogs, no mice, no fish in an aquarium. No hats.
The house, like the cemetery, seemed dead.
Cecil pointed at his sister's head. "Hat?" he reminded her.
Their lights skimmed the living room. No hats here either.
They scratched their heads and stared at the steps leading to the second floor. Maybe the gravedigger's widow slept with her hat on?
Cecil spotted a door in the hallway and led his sister to it.
"A closet," he mouthed.
Carefully and slowly, he opened the door. Flashlights beamed inside. It wasn't a typical hallway closet. It was wide and deep, a walk-in. They stepped inside, dense dust in the air. Bernice closed the door behind them and pulled on a dangling string. A bright bulb suddenly filled the room with light.
"Oh my...," Bernice gasped.
Cecil couldn't believe his own eyes.
"Hats!" he said. "Hundreds of them!"
They inched their way through the closet. Along the walls on either side, hats of all sorts and sizes hung from pegs.
"Maybe she collects them?" said Bernice. "You know, like a shoe freak."
Cecil studied several hats. "Doesn't calculate. Kid's hats, old hats, cowboy hats, go to church hats... If she was a shoe freak they'd all be the same size."
"We only need one hat," said Bernice.
"But which one?"
"What was it Buddy said? The widow wears an old floppy hat with holes in it."
Bernice followed the left wall with her light. Cecil did the same on the right.
"Found one!" Cecil declared.
"Me too!" announced Bernice.
They compared hats. Hers was older and floppier. It also had more holes. She put it on her head for safekeeping.
Cecil hung his hat back on its peg and followed her towards the door, his flashlight moving along the hat row. He spotted a blue cap and tried it on.
"An old fishing cap, Bernie! Greek, I think."
She turned around and looked at him. "Put it back," she whispered.
"There's at least three hundred hats here," Cecil complained. "She won't miss it."
Bernice shook her head, pulled on the string and turned off the overhead light.
"This closet gives me the creeps," she said.
"Claustrophobic?" asked Cecil.
"No... I feel like... I feel like we're surrounded by dead people."
Cecil carried the mysterious knapsack to school the next morning, promising Bernice she would be the one to open it at lunch. During Math class and all through English, he must have heard, "What's in the bag?" a million times. Cecil just smiled, saying, "All will be revealed at noon."
Buddy Beakley bumped into Bernice after first period and asked, "What's in the bag?"
"It isn't a bowling ball," she smiled.
"It isn't a human head either," said Buddy. "So what is it?"
"All will be revealed at noon," Bernice smiled.
Buddy wanted to punch her but that would put him in detention earlier than he planned. He had to be available at lunch to see what they had.