"The Loch Ness Monster!" Daddy chuckled. "Big, green, mean, lives in the ocean and feeds off people faster than you can say 'jaws'!"
"Bigfoot!" Mom said. "Tall, dark, not at all handsome, very hairy. Every mother's nightmare--leaves huge, muddy footprints wherever he goes!"
"Dracula!" Frankie exclaimed. In a thick, terrible accent, he said, "He vants to suck your blood and prefers A positive to any other flavor!"
"Casper the Friendly Ghost," Tracy said weakly. "Doesn't scare anyone-- just wants to be everyone's friend."
Tracy bit her lip. Talk about wimpy--she always came out last in these long-trip games, way too slow on the uptake. The subject had been 'terrifying creatures'. Casper?Why not Wolfman or Frankenstein?There were so many better choices; why did she pick Casper? "Frankenstein!" she shouted triumphantly. "Your real name, brother!"
"Too late!" Frankie sang. "No second chances!"
Tracy glared at him. Her twin brother had been born three and a half minutes ahead of her and insisted the whopping 210 seconds not only made him her "big" brother, but superior in every way.
Like their mother, they both had deep-set green eyes and black hair. Tracy wore hers long and straight, parted on the side.Frankie kept his clipped crewcut-short with a tail in the back. Both of them had long, skinny bodies and deep dimples in their chins, also inherited from Mom's side of the family. Somehow, it all looked a lot better on him than it did on her, Tracy mused, and that made her so mad! Back on Long Island, all her girlfriends (including her best friend, who was intelligent enough to know better), were starting to talk about how cute he was.They kept asking her to set up group dates with him. Tracy couldn't see what the big deal was. To her, he was just a trouble making "older" brother whose only purpose in life was to drive her crazy!
Now he was smirking at her, his sarcasm button cranked up high. He put on a lisping little girl's voice and said, "Oh, wow, sis, Casper sure strikes terror in my heart! Talk about a horrifying legendary creature. I'm trembling in my Nikes!" In his normal, obnoxious 12-year-old tone, he added, "I think this calls for one of my famous rhymes, don't you?"
"Oh, no," Dad groaned.
Mom said warningly, "Frankie, don't!"
Ignoring them, Frankie chanted, "Tracy, Tracy Considine, if you've a brain, give us a sign, five foot seven, eyes of green, a sister to make fun of today--and every day in-between!"
Tracy made a fist and gave her brother's arm a swift punch.
"Owwwww!" he cried, an exaggerated yell. He grabbed his arm, rubbed it, rolled his mischievous green eyes, then kicked Tracy's shin.
Muffin, their four-year-old black poodle, let out a sharp warning bark and pressed her nose into Tracy's hand, begging for love, not war amongst her people. She hated when the two of them fought.
"Will you two please cut it out?" Mom asked wearily. "This has been going on non-stop ever since we left Long Island. You'll both be 13 in three days. How about showing some signs of maturity? You're not kids anymore!"
Frankie stuck his tongue out at Tracy and she returned the favor, sticking hers out further, wiggling it at him for several seconds.
"Oooh, I knew it--yours is forked!" Frankie said.
"Oh, that's much better," Mom said sarcastically. "The height of sophistication. Settle down, kids, please. We'll be at Grandma's--our--house in less than half an hour. Then you can snipe at each other in a brand new home!"
Mom rubbed her right arm as if it was bothering her. Tracy noticed a black and blue bruise an inch or so above her vaccination mark and gently touched it with her fingertip. Mom flinched. Her eyes narrowed angrily and she pushed her hand away. "Don't, Tracy, that hurts!"
"Sorry, Mom," Tracy said. The bruise didn't look that bad. Mom's reaction seemed extreme.
"We'll be there in five minutes!" Dad announced.
"Hooray!" Tracy cried. That was great news. As roomy as the new van was, Tracy couldn't wait until they reached their destination.Mom's mother had died five months ago and left them her huge house in a remote Massachusetts town called Leams.Tracy had visited there often over summer and other vacations, and she loved the country atmosphere. It always gave her a delightful sense of peace to go to Leams--and now they were going to be living here all year round! It didn't get any better than this!
Being cooped up with her brother in such close quarters for so many hours was rough, however. He kept winning Travel Scrabble, coming up with words Tracy had never heard of. She couldn't challenge because they had no dictionary. He made such a big deal after each win, banging his chest and kissing his hands, Tracy wanted to toss him out a window. He made fake anagrams of her name on the Scrabble game board, turning Tracy into Arcty, Carty or Craty, just to irritate her.
He constantly called her inflammatory names like Fart Bomb or Dopey, and reveled in playing dumb tricks on her. On one of their rest stops, he asked Tracy if she was thirsty. Surprised by his rare show of concern, she nodded. He handed her a can of soda from the cooler resting on the seat between them. Since thoughtfulness was rarely a part of Frankie's and her relationship, Tracy should have been suspicious, but she always held out hope that, from one moment to the next, he'd turn into a human being. When Tracy peeled open the pull-tab, however, she was showered with sticky soda--he'd shaken it up thoroughly.
Frankie also loved to leap out at her and scream "Boo!" in the loudest, screamiest voice possible. Tracy nearly always fell for it and cried out in fear. He did that to her on two other rest stops, leaping from behind the van or around a corner. At every opportunity, he teased her about her weak bladder and how the family was always forced to make extra stops so Tracy could go to the bathroom. Tracy complained to their parents about all of it, but, tired of playing referees, they'd long ago ordered them to work out their sibling disagreements themselves. "And Frankie," said Dad severely, "you've overdone it this trip. Teasing is one thing, but being cruel is not acceptable--stop it."
"Did you hear that this whole town is supposed to be haunted?" Frankie asked, winking at Tracy. "Every house has its own ghost, vampire and witch in residence, in some cases two or three of each?"
"Frankie..." Mom said warningly.
"Really, Mom," Frankie continued. "I heard this story a bunch of times from the old-timers who hang out around Mr. McGhee's hardware store in town.I think Tracy looks like a witch, don't you? Maybe we can talk them into adopting her! She'd look great in a pointy hat, don't you think?"
"Yeah, right," Tracy retorted. "Maybe if I give them all the allowance I've saved, they'd adopt you.You'd fit right in, casting nasty spells on everyone!"
"You'd be the first I'd turn into a toad, I promise!" Frankie said."Oops, too late!"
Tracy was about to elbow him in the side when Daddy pulled the van into the maple tree-lined driveway of their mother's childhood home. He drove slowly up the narrow dirt road and parked in front of the giant cream-colored colonial that Mom had lived in until she got married. Mom and Dad had been grammar and high school sweethearts, had gotten married right after high school and lived in one wing of this house until the twins turned three. When Daddy was offered a terrific job on Long Island, they packed up and moved, but Mom always vowed they'd go back to Leams to live someday, and here they were!
"Yuck, Boondocks City," Frankie said, frowning. When he learned of the impending move, he insisted he would only come along because he couldn't afford his own apartment on Long Island."I bet the nearest game room is in the state capital!"
"Not that far," Mom said. Her light green eyes glowed. She and Daddy both looked really happy. They'd been complaining for a long time that Long Island was too crowded and confining. Mom especially missed her old friends, seemingly all of whom had stayed in Leams, married local guys and were raising their children.
The old house was going to need a lot of work to make it comfortable. Daddy had transferred to a branch office of his Long Island company only a few miles from Leams (with a huge raise), so after Grandma's will was settled, the family agreed to make the move to the six-bedroom home--as long as everyone agreed Tracy would have a room on the opposite side of the house from Frankie."I can't believe we're here!" Mom said excitedly. "We're home! Isn't it beautiful?"
It was a lovely place, country-serene. The huge colonial house was surrounded by multi-colored flowerbeds on all four sides. Beyond was the panorama of the woods, towering oaks, willows and maples leaning against a cloudless, azure summer sky.
Muffin leapt out the instant Tracy shoved the door open. The poodle ran, barking wildly, towards the back of the house.Frankie and Tracy, afraid she'd get lost, chased after her, alternately calling "Muffin!" in sing-song voices.
When they caught up with their dog in the back yard, she was sniffing around the remains of a campfire, whimpering. Tracy noticed something mixed in with the ashes and kneeled down to check it out more closely. She covered her mouth with her hand and gasped, her heart galloping in her chest."Frankie!" she gasped. "Look! It's bones...a pile of bones!"