The chronicles of harris.., p.15
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       The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: 14 Amazing Authors Tell the Tales, p.15

           Chris Van Allsburg
 
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  ***

  Trent wasn't completely sure Laurie would ride along with what he had in mind—it seemed awfully ... well, final ... even to him—but she did. If it had just been a matter of enduring a spanking from "Daddy Lew," he didn't think she would have, but Laurie had been as deeply affected by the sight of her mother lying senseless on the living room floor as Trent had been by his stepfather's unfeeling reaction to it.

  "Yeah," Laurie said bleakly. "I think we have to." She was looking at the blinking numbers on the arm of the chair. They now read

  07:49:21.

  The wine cellar was no longer a wine cellar at all. It stank of wine, true enough, and there were piles of shattered green glass on the floor, but it now looked like a madman's version of the control bridge on the Starship Enterprise. Dials whirled. Digital readouts flickered, changed, flickered again. Lights blinked and flashed.

  "If we don't do something, he'll kill her," Laurie said in a low voice.

  She was looking at the red numbers of the countdown.

  "Not on purpose," she said. "He might even be sad. For a while, anyway. Because I think he does love her, sort of, and she loves him. You know—sort of. But he'll make her worse and worse. She'll get sick all the time, and then ... one day..."

  She broke off and looked at him, and something in her face scared Trent worse than anything in their strange, changing, sneaking house had been able to do.

  "Tell me, Trent," she said. Her hand grasped his arm. It was very cold. "Tell me how we're going to do it."

  ***

  They went up to Lew's study together and found the key in the top drawer, tucked neatly into an envelope with the word STUDY printed on it. They left the house together just as the shower on the second floor went on, meaning their mom was up.

  They spent the day in the park. Although neither of them spoke of it, it was the longest day either of them had ever lived through. Twice they saw the beat cop and hid in the public toilets until he was gone. This was no time to be caught playing truant and bundled off to school.

  At two thirty, they walked to the phone booth on the east side of the park.

  "Do I have to?" Laurie asked. "I hate to scare her, especially after last night."

  "Do you want her in the house when whatever happens, happens?" Trent asked. Laurie dropped a quarter into the telephone with no further protest.

  It rang so many times that she became sure their mother had gone out. That might be good, but it might also be bad. It was certainly worrisome. If she was out it was entirely possible that she might come back before—"Trent I don't think she's h—" "Hello?" Mrs. Evans said in a sleepy voice. "Oh, hi, Mom," Laurie said. "I didn't think you were there" "I went back to bed," she said with an embarrassed little laugh. "I can't seem to get enough sleep, all of a sudden. I suppose if I'm asleep I can't think about how horrible I was last night—"

  "Oh, Mom, you weren't horrible. When a person faints, it isn't because she wants to—"

  "Laurie, why are you calling? Is everything okay?"

  "Sure, Mom ... well..."

  Trent poked her in the ribs. Hard.

  Laurie, who had been slumping, straightened up in a hurry. "I hurt myself in gym. Just ... you know, a little. It's not bad"

  "What did you do? You're not calling from the hospital, are you?"

  "Gosh, no," Laurie said hastily. "It's just a sprained knee. Mrs. Kitt asked if you could come and bring me home early. I don't know if I can walk on it. It really hurts."

  "I'll come right away. Try not to move it at all, honey."

  "Don't worry, Mom, I'll be careful."

  "Will you be in the nurse's office? I'll be right there."

  "Thanks, Mom. Bye"

  She hung up and looked at Trent. She drew in a deep breath and then let it out in a long, trembly sigh.

  "That was fun," she said in a voice close to tears.

  He hugged her tight. "You did great," he said.

  "I wonder if she'll ever believe me again?" Laurie asked bitterly.

  "She will," Trent said. "Come on"

  They went over to the west side of the park, where they could watch Walnut Street. The day had turned cold and dim. Thunderheads were forming overhead, and a chilly wind was blowing. They waited for five endless minutes and then their mother's car passed them, heading rapidly toward Greendowne Middle School.

  Laurie had Trent's hand and was pulling him back to the telephone booth again. "You get to call Lew."

  He put in another quarter and punched the number of the History Department office. He glanced at his watch. Quarter to three. Less than an hour to go. Thunder rumbled faintly in the west.

  "History Department," a woman's voice said.

  "Hi. This is Trent Bradbury. I need to speak with my stepfather, Lewis Evans, please."

  "Professor Evans is in class," the secretary said, "but he'll be out at—"

  "I know, he's got Modern British History until three thirty. But you better get him, just the same. It's an emergency. It concerns his wife." Then he added: "My mom."

  There was a long pause, and Trent felt a moment of faint alarm. It was as if she were thinking of refusing or dismissing him, emergency or no emergency, and that was most definitely not in the plan.

  "He's in Oglethorpe, right next door," she said finally. "I'll get him myself. I'll have him call as soon as—"

  "No, I have to hold on," Trent said.

  "But—"

  "Please, will you just stop messing with me and go get him?" he asked, allowing a ragged, harried note into his voice. It wasn't hard.

  "All right," the secretary said. "If you could tell me the nature of the—"

  "No," Trent said.

  "Well?" Laurie asked.

  "I'm on hold. They're getting him."

  "What if he doesn't come?"

  Trent shrugged. "Then we're sunk. But he'll come. You wait and see."

  "We left it until awful late."

  Trent nodded. They had left it until awful late.

  "Why doesn't he answer the darn phone?" Laurie asked, looking at her watch.

  "He will," Trent said, and then their stepfather did.

  "Hello?"

  "It's Trent, Lew. Mom's in your study. Her headache must have come back, because she fainted. I can't wake her up. You better come home right away."

  Trent was not surprised at his stepfather's first stated object of concern.

  "My study? My study? What the hell was she doing in there?"

  In spite of his anger, Trent's voice came out calmly. "Cleaning, I think." And then tossed the ultimate bait to a man who cared a great deal more for work than his wife: "There are papers all over the floor."

  "I'll be right there," Lew rapped, and then added: "If there are any windows open in there, shut them, for God's sake. There's a storm coming." He hung up without saying goodbye.

  "Well?" Laurie asked.

  "He's on his way," Trent said, and laughed grimly.

  They ran back to the intersection of Maple and Walnut. The sky had grown very dark now, and the sound of thunder had become almost constant. As they reached the mailbox on the corner, the streetlights along Maple Street began to come on.

  Lissa and Brian hadn't arrived yet.

  "I want to come with you, Trent," Laurie said, her eyes swimming with unshed tears.

  "No way," Trent said. "Wait here for Brian and Lissa."

  At their names, Laurie turned and looked down Walnut Street and saw them coming, hurrying along with lunchboxes bouncing in their hands.

  "Good. The three of you go behind Mrs. Redland's hedge there and wait for Lew to pass. Then you can come up the street, but don't go in the house and don't let them, either. Wait for me outside"

  "I'm afraid, Trent." The tears had begun to spill down her cheeks now.

  "Me too, Sprat," he said, and kissed her swiftly on the forehead. "But it'll all be over soon"

  Before she could say anything else, Trent went running up the street toward the Bradburys' ho
use on Maple Street. He glanced at his watch as he ran. It was twelve past three.

  ***

  The house had a still, hot air that scared him. It was as if gunpowder had been spilled in every corner and people he could not see were standing by to light unseen fuses. He imagined the clock in the wine cellar ticking relentlessly away, now reading

  0019:06.

  What if Lew was late?

  Trent raced up to the third floor through the still, combustible air. He imagined he could feel the house stirring now, coming alive as the countdown neared its conclusion.

  He went into Lew's study, opened two or three file cabinets and desk drawers at random, and threw the papers he found all over the floor. He was just finishing when he heard the Porsche coming up the street.

  Trent stepped out of the office and rammed his hand into his pocket for the key, but it was empty except for an old, crumpled lunch ticket.

  I must have lost it running up the street. It must have bounced right out of my pocket.

  He stood there, sweating and frozen, as the Porsche squealed into the driveway. Its engine cut out. The driver's door opened and slammed shut. Lew's footsteps ran for the back door. Thunder crumped like an artillery shell in the sky, a stroke of bright lightning forked through the gloom, and, somewhere deep in the house, a powerful motor turned over, uttered a low, muffled bark, and began to hum.

  What do I do? What CAN I do? He's bigger than me! f I try to hit him over the head, he'll—

  He slipped his left hand into his other pocket, and his thoughts broke off as it touched the old-fashioned metal teeth of the key. At some point during the long afternoon in the park, he must have transferred it from one pocket to the other without even being aware of it.

  Gasping, heart galloping in his stomach and throat as well as in his chest, Trent faded back down the hall to the luggage closet, stepped inside, and pulled the accordion-style doors most of the way shut in front of him.

  Lew was galumphing up the stairs, bawling his wife's name over and over at the top of his voice. Trent saw him appear, hair standing up in spikes, his tie askew, big drops of sweat standing out on his broad, intelligent forehead, eyes squinted down to furious little slits.

  "Catherine!" he bawled, and he ran down the hall into the office.

  Trent was out of the luggage closet and running soundlessly back down the hall. He would have just one chance. If he missed the keyhole ... if the key failed to turn...

  If either of those things happens, I'll fight with him, he had time to think. If I can't send him alone, I'll make damn sure to take him with me.

  He grabbed the door and banged it shut. He caught one glimpse of Lew's startled face. Then the key was in the lock. He twisted it, and the bolt shot across an instant before Lew struck the door.

  "Hey!" Lew shouted. "Hey, what are you doing? Where's Catherine? Let me out of here!"

  The knob twisted back and forth. Then it stopped and Lew rained a fusillade of blows on the door.

  "Let me out of here right now, Trent Bradbury, before you get the worst beating of your life!"

  Trent backed slowly across the hall. When his shoulders struck the far wall, he gasped. The key dropped from his fingers. Now that it was done, reaction set in. The world began to look wavery, as if he were under water, and he had to fight to keep from fainting himself. Only now, with Lew locked in, his mother sent off on a wild-goose chase, and the other kids safely tucked away behind Mrs. Redland's overgrown yew hedge, did he realize that he had never really expected it would work at all. If "Daddy Lew" was surprised to find himself locked in, Trent Bradbury was absolutely amazed.

  The doorknob of the study twisted back and forth in short sharp half-circles.

  "LET ME OUT NOW!"

  "I'll let you out at quarter of four, Lew," Trent said in an uneven, trembling voice, and then a little giggle escaped him. "If you're still here at quarter of four, that is."

  Then, from downstairs: "Trent? Trent, are you all right?"

  Dear God, that was Laurie.

  "Are you, Trent?"

  And Lissa!

  "Hey, Trent! Y'okay?"

  And Brian.

  Trent looked at his watch and was horrified to see it was 3:3!...going on 3:32. And suppose his watch was slow?

  "Get out!" he screamed down to them. "Get out of this house!"

  The third-floor hallway seemed to stretch out before him like taffy; the faster he ran, the farther it seemed to stretch ahead of him. Lew rained blows on the door and curses on the air; thunder boomed; and from deep within the house came the ever-more-urgent sound of machines waking to life.

  He reached the stairwell at last and hurried down, hurtling down the stairs to the first floor, where his brother and two sisters waited, looking up at him.

  "Out!" he screamed, grabbing them, shoving them toward the open door and the stormy blackness outside. "Quick!"

  "Trent, what's happening?" Brian asked. "What's happening to the house? It's shaking!"

  It was, too—a deep vibration that rose up through the floor and rattled Trent's eyeballs in their sockets. Plaster dust began to sift down into his hair.

  "No time! Out! Fast! Laurie, help me!"

  Trent swept Brian into his arms. Laurie grabbed Lissa and stumbled out the door.

  Thunder bammed. Lightning twisted across the sky. The wind that had been gasping earlier now began to roar like a dragon.

  Trent heard an earthquake building under the house. As he ran out through the door with Brian, he saw electric-blue light shoot out through the narrow cellar windows. It cut across the lawn in rays that looked almost solid. He heard the glass break. And, just as he passed through the door, he felt the house rising under his feet.

  He jumped down the front steps and grabbed Laurie's arm. They stumble-staggered down the walk to the street, which was now as black as night with the coming of the storm.

  There they turned back and watched it happen.

  The house on Maple Street seemed to gather itself. It no longer looked straight and solid. Huge cracks ran out from it, not only in the cement walk but in the earth surrounding it. The lawn pulled apart. Roots strained blackly upward below the green. The whole front yard seemed to become bubble-shaped, as if it were straining to hold the house before which it had spread for so long.

  Trent cast his eyes up to the third floor, where the light in Lew's study still shone. Trent thought the sound of breaking glass had come—was coming—from up there. It was a year later that Laurie told him she was quite sure she had heard their stepfather screaming.

  The foundation of the house first crumbled, then cracked, then sundered with a croak of exploding mortar. Brilliant cold blue fire lanced out. The children covered their eyes and staggered back. Engines screamed. The earth pulled up and up in a last agonized holding action ... and then let go. Suddenly the house was a foot above the ground, resting on a pad of bright blue fire.

  It was a perfect lift-off.

  The house rose slowly at first, then began to gather speed. It thundered upward on its flaring pad of blue fire, the front door clapping madly back and forth as it went.

  The house reached a height of thirty yards, seemed to poise itself for its great leap upward, then blasted into the rushing spate of night-black clouds.

  It was gone.

  "Look out, Trent!" Laurie cried out a second or two later, and shoved him hard enough to knock him over. The rubber-backed welcome mat thwacked into the street where he had been standing.

  Trent looked at Laurie. Laurie looked back.

  "That would've killed you if it'd hit you on the head," she told him, "so you just better not call me Sprat anymore, Trent."

  He looked at her solemnly for several seconds, then began to giggle. Laurie joined in. So did the little ones. Brian took one of Trent's hands; Lissa took the other. They helped pull him to his feet, and then the four of them stood together, looking at the smoking cellar hole in the middle of the shattered lawn. People were coming out of the
ir houses now.

  "Wow," Brian said reverently. "Our house took off, Trent."

  "Yeah," Trent said.

  Trent and Laurie put their arms around each other and began to shriek with mingled laughter and horror ... and that was when the rain began to pelt down.

  The Bradbury children sat down on the curb, Trent and Laurie in the middle, Brian and Lissa on the sides.

  Laurie leaned toward Trent and whispered in his ear: "We're free."

  "It's better than that," Trent said. "She is."

  Then he put his arms around all of them—by stretching, he could just manage—and they sat on the curb in the pouring rain and waited for their mother to come home.

  Original Introduction to The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

  I first saw the drawings in this book a year ago, in the home of a man named Peter Wenders. Though Mr. Wenders is retired now, he once worked for a children's book publisher, choosing the stories and pictures that would be turned into books.

  Thirty years ago a man called at Peter Wenders's office, introducing himself as Harris Burdick. Mr. Burdick explained that he had written fourteen stories and had drawn many pictures for each one. He'd brought with him just one drawing from each story, to see if Wenders liked his work.

  Peter Wenders was fascinated by the drawings. He told Burdick he would like to read the stories that went with them as soon as possible. The artist agreed to bring the stories the next morning. He left the fourteen drawings with Wenders. But he did not return the next day. Or the day after that. Harris Burdick was never heard from again. Over the years, Wenders tried to find out who Burdick was and what had happened to him, but he discovered nothing. To this day Harris Burdick remains a complete mystery.

  His disappearance is not the only mystery left behind. What were the stories that went with these drawings? There are some clues. Burdick had written a title and caption for each picture. When I told Peter Wenders how difficult it was to look at the drawings and their captions without imagining a story, he smiled and left the room. He returned with a dust-covered cardboard box. Inside were dozens of stories, all inspired by the Burdick drawings. They'd been written years ago by Wenders's children and their friends.

 
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