I have been working on this for awhile now, and it is a mystery for pre-teens. The setting is an actual place and where I was born and raised. I have 11 chapters and 44 pages. I had 85 pages at one time, but my computer crashed and I had to start over.
The story takes place at Fairhaven in 1958, a small community that includes many of Croatian descent who are in the commercial fishing industry. Fairhaven, Whatcom and Sehome were actually three towns at the turn of the century, but by the time this book takes place they were combined into one town. Only a true Fairhavenite considered Fairhaven to be separate from the others, always referring to Whatcom and Sehome as Bellingham and Fairhaven as; well - Fairhaven.
The eight children in the book are 12 and 13 and attend Fairhaven Junior High
The three-story Victorian house was an ominous sight, sitting in the middle of the grassy knoll surrounded by an ivy covered wire fence. The old, tan colored shades were always drawn – day and night to keep out prying eyes. This is where Mrs. Alma George lived with her little Scotty dog, Biscuit. She hardly ever came out in the yard except to let Biscuit get some fresh air and exercise in the enclosure. In the spring and summer seasons she pushed the lawn mower around the expansive back yard to keep the grass at a decent level; but she had no vegetable garden. A Japanese yellow plum grew next to the fence and a few ripe plums dropped on the outside of the fence that the children loved, but were afraid to eat fearing that Mrs. George had laced each one with some kind of paralyzing poison, made especially for hungry, spying children.
The house had a full basement that emerged out of the ground like a big concrete coffin. There were no windows, but on one side of the back wall there was a small wooden door used by Mrs. George for back-yard access and on the other, a garage door where she kept her car hidden. When she was in the yard whether it was hot or cold out, she always wore a long coat and a big floppy hat, and she always kept her head down so that you could not see her face. She never parked the car in the yard, but always opened the garage door and drove the car into the basement, hiding any clues to her odd behavior that the children might have obtained by studying it through the ivy fence. The driveway gate to the yard did not have the ivy covering, and neither was it made of wire squares like the fence; it was solid wood so that no one could see in and was kept locked with a large padlock. Mrs. George liked her privacy that was for sure!
She generally ran her errands at night, taking her old 1942 Packard Clipper Sedan out around 8 pm and usually not coming back until the wee hours of the morning. She left the lights on while she was gone so that the neighbors would think she was at home, but they paid her no-never-mind and didn’t monitor her activities. She was a quiet neighbor and never caused any trouble, everyone said she was just eccentric and left her alone.
That is everyone except for the children in the neighborhood. They were intrigued by the house, the fence, the odd behavior, and especially the big old black car. Many a good witch story was told that always included Mrs. George, or at least the old house – which, of course, had to be haunted. The children decided that she must be a criminal of some sort who was hiding out in their neighborhood.
Mrs. George was the spookiest person in the neighborhood, and one block over and up on 14th Street was an equally intriguing person; although that was not a part of their own personal neighborhood, they eyed him with fear and loathing when he came out for a walk. Mr. Adam French lived in a large, but not spooky house. It looked quite respectable and was kept neat. The yard work was done by a professional yard-care company from Ferndale.
The story on Mr. French was: “He had been in the war and saw the destruction of Hiroshima by the atomic bomb first hand. Some said he was one of the pilots that dropped the first bomb, but others believed that not to be true. Something that he knew about the bomb scared him and people said he believed that someday soon Japan was going to drop a bomb in retaliation right on his house on 14th Street. Anytime he came outside the house, went for a walk, or even poked his head out the door, he looked like he had every piece of clothing he owned on his body. Hat and ear muffs, coat, gloves, galoshes, neck scarf and a very scary gas mask on his face. He was completely covered and wore this paraphernalia summer and winter. The kids figured he never took the clothes off and wondered how he ate and went to the bathroom – even spooky people had to eat and go to the bathroom.
When kids were around, he would yell and wave them away as he walked; there was no need for that since any kid on the street went the other way if they saw him coming, believing that he was really a monster and would suck them up through the snout on his gas mask if he could get close enough.
The kids in the Croatian neighborhood hardly ever walked to 14th Street, that was considered the beginning of the “rich people’s streets (14th through 17th then next was Highland Drive where the doctors and other rich people lived).” In Fairhaven as the streets went up in number, the more affluent you were, and the higher the street you lived on. The Croatian community for the most part was on the poor side, so almost all of them lived 11th, 12th, and 13th Streets.
Most of the group of friends lived on 12th, but Larry and Joey lived on 11th. Their families were no poorer than the rest of the group, but Larry and Joey’s parents just liked their house and did not want to move. Bill’s dad had built a tree house in their back yard and the children met there often, spying on Mrs. George who lived across the alley. The tree house was higher than the fence, but not high enough to see the whole yard. They had fashioned several peep-holes in the wall facing her house and squinted through them trying to locate shadows or anything else moving through the shades. They could not see much activity unless Biscuit was out in the yard, but there was just enough mystery about the house to fuel their young imaginations. They kept themselves occupied spying on the house for at least a couple of hours a day – summer and winter.
They would meet in the tree house after school and sometimes, if there was no homework, after dinner. Summertime was much better for them because they did not have school work; even though they spent most of the day at Easton’s beach, they still had time to spy on Mrs. George.
“Whoo hoo,” shouted Frankie, “the last day of school, we have the whole summer to do nothing but swim, play baseball, and” with a whisper, “spy on the killer!”
“Frankie, quit talking like that,” said Sharon angrily, “you don’t know that for sure. She is strange, but I don’t think she killed anyone.”
“You’ll see, you’ll see, by the end of the summer we will solve this mystery and you will see that us boys are right!” jeered Bill.
“Well, maybe she is a space alien,” Frankie spoke up, “and she will put us in her space ship and take us to her planet and we will be put in their zoo.”
“I don’t even know why we talk to you boys,” Mary spoke up, “You are so childish sometimes!”
Mrs. George got into her car and as usual was dressed in her large black hat and long, dark coat. She turned the key and the faithful engine purred, after a second or two she backed out of the basement garage. She closed the garage door then opened the gate, climbed back in, backing the big car slowly out of the yard. She stopped, jumped back out, and quickly closed and locked the gate; shaking the lock to be sure it was secure before getting back into her car and driving off.
“I really hate to leave Biscuit home, but I won’t be too long tonight,” she thought to herself, “he will be just fine out in the yard for a few hours, as long as those pesky kids stay away from the fence. When I come home, Biscuit will be a mess running from room to room sniffing everything. It must be the rats,” she fumed, “those damn Croatians have chickens running all over the place, goats, and cows, and ducks – who and the hell would have ducks, they are good for nothing – nothing at all! All those animals leaving their feces and their food bring rats – now my house is infested with them and Biscuit is tortured by the things running around in the walls!”
“Hey everyone,” whispered Joey, “Mrs. George is off again in her car, I wonder where she goes, can’t be to get groceries because all the stores are closed.”
“She probably buys her groceries in another town or even in Bellingham or maybe she has friends somewhere.” Sharon guessed.
“Oh yeah, Mrs. George has friends? Not likely, unless they are Frankenstein or the witch of Endor,” Chanted Larry.
“Again with the dead people,” sighed Mary, “Dead people are dead; they are not creeping around trying to get us, Larry.”
“Well, you just can’t be sure of that, can yoooooouuuu, Maaaarrrrry,” taunted Larry while he waved his arms imitating claws at her.
“Augh, get away from me, before I smack you with this book,” replied Mary threateningly.
“You guys are going to miss everything if you keep fighting,” exclaimed Steve, “I don’t think she took her dog this time, so she will probably be back early.”
“Let’s go look through the fence,” Larry spoke up gingerly, “At least we will see what the dog is doing.”
The boys scrambled down the ladder before the girls could object, so they shrugged helplessly and followed along. Running across the alley to the tall, ivy covered fence; each spread the thick ivy and peered through into the yard. The dim light from the window reflected on the back yard giving it an eerie look. All of a sudden, biscuit started running from child to child on the other side of the fence, snapping and growling, startling them.
“Well, that was not a good idea,” Mary said as she stomped away. “The dog always knows when we are looking in the fence; they have a keen sense of smell and hearing you know. I would have told you that before you ran off if you weren’t in such a hurry all the time.”
“Aw heck,” replied Larry, “All I wanted to see was if there were any changes in the yard, but we can’t even do that unless the dog is inside the house.”
“I suppose you are looking for new graves,” snorted Sharon, “Give it up; she is not going to kill people and bring them home!”
“Why not,” Bill spoke up, “No one would look there, no one ever goes in her yard, it is all locked up, and it is the perfect place to hide dead bodies.”
“Right, Bill; that’s what she does at night, she runs out and kills someone and brings them home in the trunk of her car and buries them in her yard,” Diane disgustedly announced.
“Well it is not impossible!” Larry and Bill chimed at the same time.
“Augh, I am going home,” Mary retorted, “You boys can stay up all night looking for dead bodies for all I care.”
With that, Sharon and Diane announced they were leaving too, and took off for home. The five boys climbed back up the ladder, gathering at the peepholes and looking through at the old house. Biscuit had settled down and was lying in front of the basement door on his little carpet, but still kept a wary eye on the fence. He let out a couple of low growls of warning to any intruders that might come by before he drifted off to sleep.