The chronicles of harris.., p.7
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       The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: 14 Amazing Authors Tell the Tales, p.7
 

           Chris Van Allsburg
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  A few days after Dougie came to live with them, Gramps got fed up. "Don't want him digging up the yard anymore," he said. "Take that dog into the woods, let him dig there."

  Brian scowled and pressed his lips together. It felt like Gramps was kicking Dougie out of the yard, just like Dad had kicked Brian out of the apartment.

  Gramps gave Brian a quick look, as if he knew what Brian was thinking. "While you're out there, you might try listening for the music."

  "What music?"

  "Woods music," Gramps said.

  Brian stared in surprise. That was weird, coming from Gramps. Too—too poetic, or something.

  Gramps had already taken Brian on a couple of walks through the woods. He showed Brian where the main paths were, and how the stream would lead him to the road if he ever got lost. Gramps seemed to know everything about the woods, but as usual, he didn't talk much on their walks. Which was fine with Brian. He wanted to discover the woods himself.

  On entering the woods with Dougie, Brian had to smile at the dog's response. Dougie was practically beside himself with joy—sniffing madly at everything, bounding through the trees ahead of Brian, coming back to his side, bounding away again.

  Brian lost sight of Dougie for a few moments, then caught up with him at a big old oak tree. The tree had apparently passed the Dougie sniff test, because now the dog was digging happily at its base. He paused and barked a few times.

  "What is it, Dougie-boy?" Brian squatted down, but Dougie barked again, looking up at the tree's broad branches.

  Brian frowned. "Is there something up there? You want me to go see?"

  The old oak was that rarest of specimens: a perfect climbing tree. In just a few minutes, Brian was up amid the branches, seeing the woods from a whole new angle. The lower limbs were broad enough to sit on comfortably, and Brian immediately began making plans. I could bring lunch ... and a book...

  Dougie dug contentedly at the base of the tree while Brian made his plans in the branches. Maybe even build a tree house, or at least some kind of platform. A basket with a rope so I could haul Dougie up...

  As Brian was getting ready to climb back down, he froze and lifted his head like a deer on alert.

  Was that ...music?

  Brian frowned, listening hard. Perhaps he had imagined it. Or it could have been something else, like a bird...

  No, not a bird. It had definitely sounded like some kind of musical instrument—a guitar, or something with strings, anyway.

  He heard it again, and this time he was sure. Not really a tune, but a whole bunch of notes all blurring together, as if someone was running a finger over the strings of—of whatever it was. The music was coming from deeper in the woods. If I got up higher, maybe I could see...

  Brian climbed quickly. He got more than halfway up the tree; the branches weren't nearly as broad here. Holding on to a branch over his head, he scooted sideways out onto a limb, trying to find a clear line of sight through the trees.

  He focused hard on the music. It was so faint that at times he could barely hear it. Then it would get a tiny bit louder, and at those moments he thought he almost recognized a tune. The ABC Song? Or maybe "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"? Wait—it could be "Baa Baa Black Sheep"...Never noticed it before, but they all have almost the same tune...

  Brian was concentrating so hard on listening that he didn't notice he was leaning toward the sound. Bit by imperceptible bit, his feet shifted. The branch began to sag under Brian's weight. With each tiny movement he made, it bent a little more.

  Brian was now singing softly, trying to fit the words to the tune:

  "H-I, J-K, L-M-N-O—YIKES!"

  The bent bough snapped. Brian fell, twigs scratching him and leaves whipping into his eyes; he prayed that he would break an arm or a leg, not his neck.

  He landed, rolled, and sat up in astonishment.

  No crack of broken bones. No pain at all, in fact.

  Just Dougie's warm breath and wet tongue greeting him.

  Brian had fallen into a large soft mound of dirt and leaf mold. Beside the pile was a big hole.

  Dougie had done his thing again.

  ***

  Frances was finally proficient at "Twinkle, Twinkle" and could even throw in a decent glissando or two. The sisters were now trying to satisfy the musical standards of the spell.

  "Okay, so we've got to 'soothe a savage beast, soften rocks or bend a knotted oak,'" Emma said, quoting the parchment.

  "Do you think we have to do all three? Or just one of them?"

  "It says 'or,'," Emma pointed out, "but we should probably try to do all of them."

  "Just to be safe," Frances agreed.

  There were lots of squirrels in the woods and many birds, too. Emma had seen a deer a couple of times, and a raccoon at the stream one evening.

  "I don't think you could call any of those 'savage,'" she said.

  "Are there bears?" Frances asked. "Bears would definitely count as savage."

  "I've never heard of bears out here," Emma said, "and besides, there is no way in this lifetime that I'm going to hold you while you try to soothe a rampaging bear by playing 'Twinkle Twinkle.'"

  "Minnows," Frances proposed. "I've seen lots of minnows in the stream. Maybe some of them are baby piranhas. Do you think potentially savage beasts count?"

  Emma wasn't sure if potential counted, and she was even less sure that the minnows were piranhas. They tried anyway: Emma threw a handful of crumbs into the water (bread, cheese, and fruit appeared nightly in the cave for her—nourishing and tasty, albeit monotonous) to draw the minnows close. Frances plucked away, but the minnows continued their usual darting and twitching and did not seem the least bit soothed.

  The sisters then decided that, in the interest of safety, attempts to soothe any other beasts should be last on their list. They tried rock-softening next.

  "You know how if you sing a really high note you can shatter a glass?" Frances said hopefully. "Maybe it works like that."

  Emma fetched rocks of assorted sizes and types and lined them up next to the harp. Frances played her heart out.

  Nothing happened. The rocks were utterly unperturbed by "Twinkle, Twinkle," with or without glissandos. After a few fruitless hours, Emma swept the rocks away and replaced them with a variety of sticks from a nearby oak tree. Together the sisters went through several dozen more repetitions of the song.

  "Anything?" Frances panted, her throat swelling.

  Emma set Frances down on the rock. She picked up a stick and examined it closely. "Maybe," she said slowly. "I think—I'm not sure—it could be a tiny bit more bent than it was before? Let's keep going, just a little longer..."

  "It's no use," Frances said at last, in both exhaustion and despair. She hopped into the stream to refresh herself.

  Emma flung away the stick she was holding. As she walked back to the cave, she felt her resolve crumbling. There was no way harp music could soften a rock or bend a piece of wood. Did that mean ... Would they be stuck here forever?

  And poor Frances—would she be a frog for the rest of her life?

  ***

  In the distance, Brian could see a girl with her back to him. She was standing next to the stream, playing a harp. All he could really see was that she had dark curly hair.

  Since he had first heard the music, Brian had spent a lot of time in the woods, trying to trace its source. With Dougie at his side, he had tramped over what seemed like every inch of the woods. But he hadn't heard the music again all summer.

  Instead, he heard other things. Birdsong. Rain pattering on the leaves. The sigh of the wind in the upper branches. The rustles and buzzes of hundreds of tiny creatures going about their lives. The near-silence that was full of life.

  He'd heard the real music of the woods. And he liked it so much, he stopped feeling compelled to find that other music.

  Now, when he wasn't looking for it, here it was again.

  The girl was downstream from him, and on the far side
. Brian stayed put; he felt that if he moved too close or tried to call out to her, she would simply disappear. It didn't feel like a silly thought. Maybe it was his imagination, but there definitely seemed to be something weird and otherworldly in the air. Weird, but not scary.

  Brian eased himself down onto a rock. It was rough-surfaced and uneven, not the most comfortable seat. Dougie sat beside him, and Brian curled his fingers into the soft fur on the dog's nape.

  Brian wasn't a musician himself, or he might have noticed that the girl was in the wrong position to play a harp—facing the strings rather than astride its frame. And he was too far away to see that she wasn't actually even touching the strings.

  But he could hear the music. The ABC song—or maybe "Twinkle, Twinkle"—as he had never heard it before. It was as if the harp and the stream were playing together—plinks and splashes, ripples and waves, water and notes in perfect counterpoint.

  Harp music. Stream music. Woods music. They all came together, and Brian found himself thinking of Gramps, and his dad, and then his mom, and soon tears were sliding down his cheeks and Dougie was nudging closer to comfort him.

  Brian had no idea how long he sat there crying quietly, oblivious to the cold, hard rock beneath him. The harp music ended. Still in a daze, he didn't notice when the girl disappeared among the trees. Nor did he hear the tiny plop of a frog diving into the stream.

  Brian hugged Dougie, stood up slowly, and took one last look at the harp.

  So it's true, he thought, it's really true. Woods music...

  "Come on, Dougie," he said aloud. "Time to go home."

  ***

  The next morning, Emma woke in the cave to see Frances still asleep next to her.

  Frances the person, not Frances the frog.

  Emma whooped and woke her sister, who in her first dazed and confused moments hopped on all fours several times before readjusting to her two feet.

  "WE DID IT! WE DID IT!" Emma crowed.

  "But—but how?" Frances said even as she hugged her sister in excitement. "We didn't soften the rocks, or bend any of that wood. Or soothe a savage beast either—I don't get it—"

  Emma grabbed the parchment, which they had kept rolled up under a rock.

  "Where does it say—oh, right here...'music to soothe—the savage BREAST'!" she shouted. "Not beast! We read it wrong!"

  Frances was still puzzled. "So we soothed someone's breast?"

  Emma rolled her eyes but was too excited to bicker. "I'm sure it means, like, their heart. Their feelings, you know?" Then she frowned. "But you're right. Who—"

  "The boy!" Frances exclaimed.

  "What boy?"

  "Last night, when I hopped out of the stream, I saw a boy. He was sitting on a rock, crying, and I was just about to come and get you, but then he went away."

  "He was crying? Doesn't seem like the music soothed him," Emma said doubtfully.

  "No, it was him, all right." Frances was sure of it. "A good cry can be very soothing." She herself had experienced a number of prolonged crying sessions—usually the result of particularly fierce bickers—and always felt much better afterwards.

  Emma looked at her sister with new respect. "It was really you," she said. "You did the hard part."

  Frances blushed in pleasure and surprise. "But I never could have done it without you," she said.

  "Indeed," said a voice from outside the cave entrance. "And don't feel too bad about your mistake with Congreve. Lots of folks do the same; it's one of the most misquoted lines in English literature."

  Together the girls ran outside, but they were too late. All they saw was a last whirl of bright green cape disappearing into thin air.

  ***

  "House is too big for me on my own anyway," Gramps said.

  "It'll be good to be all together," Dad said. "A bachelor pad." He smiled and clapped Brian on the back.

  Brian could hardly believe his ears. They were moving out of the city, and in with Gramps.

  He'd get to stay with Dougie. And the woods.

  For a few days, things were all jumble and fluster as Brian and Dad moved their stuff into Gramps's house. Dad sent Brian to the attic to store some boxes. Everything up there was generously furred with dust, and Brian sneezed a few times.

  There was a heap of old worn-out clothes nearby. Brian wiped the snot from his hand on whatever was on top.

  Some old green thing that probably hadn't been used in years.

  Mr. Linden's Library

  He had warned her about the book.

  Now it was too late.

  MR. LINDEN'S LIBRARY

  WALTER DEAN MYERS

  You wouldn't see anything special about Josiah Linden's house if you passed it on the road, which ran from town up to the small bluff that overlooked Allen's Bay. A scrawny oak tree, gnarled and twisted from years of catching the wind off the bay, sat in front, spoiling what symmetry the old house ever had. The back side of the house looked fairly formidable, especially the rounded corner that seemed for all the world like the turret of a small castle. There were some nights, however, when the moon was full or nearly so, that the corner of the house would glow white against the darkness of the trees and shrubbery behind it and take on an eerie glow.

  Carol Jenkins didn't know much about Mr. Linden, except that he was one of the few black people in that area of Nova Scotia. The story about him, mostly gathered from the lips of people curious about the old man, or from American Revolutionary War buffs who knew that his ancestors could have been among the ex-slaves who had sided with British, was that Mr. Linden had been a merchant seaman most of his life. He wasn't a big man, and when he walked he shifted his weight more from side to side than straight forward. He was lively, though, and always had a smile for whoever was passing, and a slight wave of the hand. The first time Carol remembered having seen Mr. Linden was in the hardware store, talking to a group of young men about weather conditions in the Arctic.

  "The cold can catch you when you're not even thinking about it. It caught me about thirty years ago and I lost a bit of my finger to frostbite," he had said, holding up his hand so that the small crowd could see where the tip of the second finger of his left hand had been amputated.

  "You must have been all over the world," one of the onlookers had remarked.

  "The lure of seeing new places, different ways of life, has been almost irresistible," Mr. Linden had replied. "Now I collect stories about those places. Pictures and books about the places I've been and places I'd still like to go someday. I have more than two thousand books in my collection."

  Carol mentioned this story to her friend Peter, who dismissed the idea at once.

  "John Altman was up to his place doing some repairs on the window frames, and he said it looked like the old guy read the same page of the same book every day. I bet he doesn't even know how to read."

  Carol didn't believe Peter but decided not to make a big deal of it, and the matter would have gone completely from her mind if she and her mother hadn't run into Mr. Linden the following April.

  It was one of those days that the wind, swirling relentlessly from the north, found every opening a poorly buttoned coat offered up and rattled the windows of Brendel's General Store ominously against their frames. Mr. Linden was waiting while the clerk measured out a pound of coffee beans.

  "Just the thought of a good hot cup of coffee makes me feel warmer," he said in the direction of Carol and her mother.

  "Mr. Linden, do you think I could borrow one of your books one day?" Carol's request surprised even her.

  Mr. Linden looked toward Carol's mother, his brows arched questioningly.

  "Oh, that would be too much of a bother to you, sir," her mother said quickly.

  "Books are meant to be read," Mr. Linden said. "If you bring the young lady around she can have her pick. I'm sure she'll be careful with them."

  The Glace Bay Library was small and didn't carry many of the adventure books that Carol liked. After she promised her mother t
hat she did really want to expand her reading and would absolutely take care of the books, Carol and her mother made the short trek up the hill to Mr. Linden's house on a Wednesday afternoon.

  The interior of Mr. Linden's home was bright with sunlight that streamed through the starched patterned curtains. In the library itself there were dark green bookcases along the wall, and a small writing desk was in the middle of the rectangular room. The surface of the writing desk was covered with dark leather, and in one corner there was a wooden box that contained a sextant. The window seat that looked out over the bay was just wide enough to sit in and, if you were a twelve-year-old girl with a small frame, put your feet up as you read.

  "You must really love books," Carol said when she saw just how many books the old sailor had.

  "Books have always been among my most trusted of friends," Mr. Linden replied. "The best of them allow the mind to wander wherever the author's musings lead. I'm reading the book that's lying there, but the rest are yours to borrow."

  "One book will do," Carol's mom said.

  Mr. Linden said that he would make tea and started down the stairs, and her mom went with him.

  Carol began to read the titles on the spines of the books. Many seemed interesting. She looked again at the window seat where the book Mr. Linden was reading was lying. Like the others, it was old, its marbled binding fitting perfectly with the dark colors of the room. She picked up the book and read its title: Tales from a Dark Sea. There was no author listed. She opened the book where Mr. Linden had placed the flat bookmark. It was [>]! and contained one short paragraph, which, out of curiosity about Mr. Linden, she read.

  When Esteban grew tired, when his weak leg was harder and harder to kick in the choppy waters, the dolphin would swim ahead of him, slightly to his left, and almost draw him along. He realized how far he was from the shore and how far away the small island in the mouth of the bay still seemed. And yet Esteban had never managed to swim so far before, and the accomplishment filled him with pride and made him try even harder. He wondered if the dolphin knew how proud he was.

 
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