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Zack and the Turkey Attack, Page 1

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor


  ONE Turkey Trouble

  TWO Nosy Josie

  THREE Missing

  FOUR Trapped

  FIVE Walking the Plank

  SIX Pickup Sticks

  SEVEN The Bicycle Move

  EIGHT Company

  NINE A Bad Idea

  TEN The Waiting Game

  ELEVEN Show Me

  TWELVE Moving Day

  THIRTEEN Down the Rain Gutter

  FOURTEEN Matthew at Night

  FIFTEEN In the Moonlight


  SEVENTEEN Testing, Testing . . .

  EIGHTEEN Picture Time

  NINETEEN The Turkey-Blaster Trouble-Shooter

  For my grandson Beckett

  —P. R. N.

  * * *


  * * *


  Zack climbed out of the pickup truck, his heart beating fast. He was wearing the Denver Broncos T-shirt he’d got for his ninth birthday, but this morning it didn’t help. He wondered if he should make a run for it. Somewhere, the turkey was waiting.

  Maybe it was the noise of the truck.

  Maybe it was the little tap of the horn.

  Or perhaps it was just pure meanness that made the old tom turkey chase Zack and peck at his legs each time he came to his grandparents’ farm.

  “Hi, Mom!” his dad called as Grandma came out on the back porch.

  Zack looked quickly around and took a step forward. Then another.

  Suddenly, from behind an azalea bush, a huge turkey came charging across the yard, wings flapping, feathers flying. It lowered its head, loud gobbling noises coming from its throat. And as Zack ran, he felt a nip on his calf, then another—a tug on his jeans.

  “Oww! Get away!” Zack yelled, but the turkey kept coming, kept pecking, until Zack reached the steps of the farmhouse and Dad swooped his arms at the bird, driving him back into the clearing.

  “That Old Tom!” Grandma said. “He thinks he owns the place.”

  Old Tailpipe—that was Zack’s name for him, because he was always right behind you and made as much noise as a tailpipe without a muffler.

  “Better bring a squirt bottle next time, Zack,” Dad said, laughing. “Get that turkey right between the eyes.”

  Inside the kitchen, Zack sat down on a chair and rubbed his leg. It wasn’t funny.

  “That old gobbler get you again?” asked Grandpa, looking up from his breakfast. “If the hens wouldn’t miss him, I’d roast him up for Sunday dinner. Gets meaner every year.”

  “Now that our Trixie is gone, Old Tom thinks he’s a watchdog,” said Grandma, motioning for Zack’s dad to sit, then passing a platter of eggs and sausage around the table, followed by a stack of apple pancakes. “He can’t bark, so he chases after everyone who comes to the farm.”

  The grown-ups treated it as though it was just a part of farm life. No big deal.

  “He doesn’t peck at you or Grandpa,” said Zack. “He doesn’t peck Dad.”

  “And he’d better not, or he’s turkey soup,” said Grandpa, with a wink. “No, he just goes after small fry. Must think you’re another gobbler, come to take his place. You’ve got to show Old Tom who’s boss, that’s all.”

  Easy for you to say, Zack thought as he stabbed his fork into one of the fat sausages, then smeared a thick pat of butter over his pancakes. Grandpa was a lot taller than he was and twice as round.

  Zack’s family used to live in the city, but a few months ago they had moved closer to Grandma and Grandpa to help out on the farm. Gramps had given Dad the used pickup truck to run errands for him—to buy sacks of feed for the hens and trays of new baby chicks in the spring. Every weekend, when Zack and Dad drove over, the visit began with a good dinner, if it was Friday and they stayed overnight, or a big breakfast, if they came on Saturday.

  Zack liked his grandma’s cooking, and he especially liked all the mechanical outdoors stuff—the milking machine, the tractor, the hay baler, and the ride over in the pickup. But Tailpipe was always there to meet them and went after Zack first thing.

  “I don’t see why you’re afraid of an old turkey,” his friend Matthew had said just the week before, when Zack told him about it. “It’s only a big bird.”

  “You’ve never seen this turkey!” said Zack. “He’s a monster, and his beak is as sharp as a nut pick!”

  “Then what you need,” Matthew had said, “is to turn around and chase him for a change.”

  Yeah, right, Zack thought now as he cut his sausage into little pieces and dipped each one in syrup. It was simple talking about what you’d do to old Tailpipe until he was right behind you, peck, peck, pecking at your legs, your clothes, your butt. And today, Zack was going to stay as far from that turkey as he could get.

  * * *


  * * *


  “What jobs do you want me to do first?” Zack asked his grandmother when he had finished his pancakes.

  Grandma reached in her shirt pocket and pulled out a list. She had a list for everything. Everything. Zack felt sure that her list began each morning with, Number One: Wake up.

  “I’d like you to water all the flowers on the porch,” Grandma began. “Then I want you to check the fence around my vegetable garden and find the place where the turkey’s getting in. That Old Tom is scratching and digging up my plants before they have a chance to grow.”

  “I’ll find it,” Zack said, hoping Tailpipe didn’t find him first.

  “And finally,” Grandma went on, “I want you to search the haymow and see if the hens have laid any eggs in there. After that, you can have the rest of the morning to do whatever you like.” Then she added, “Josie was asking about you last week. I told her you’d be coming this Saturday.”

  Zack didn’t want to hear that. Josie Wells was from the neighboring farm. She was okay, but he didn’t want her around right now. When he got back home, Matthew would ask him right off what he had done about the turkey, and Zack wanted to have a plan. Nosy Josie asked too many questions, and Zack needed time to think.

  Last weekend she wanted to know his middle name. The Saturday before that, she asked which he liked best: bananas or pears. The time before that, she asked if he’d ever broken a leg. Did you ever get stung by a hornet? Get your finger caught in a door? Can you tell a raspberry from a blackberry with your eyes closed? Which is better—vanilla or butter pecan?

  Zack picked up the watering can and went out to the white-and-purple petunias on the front porch. As he watered each pot, he decided to make a map of the whole farm. He would figure out all the different ways he could get from one place to another without running into Tailpipe.

  From here, he could see out across the bright-green lawn and Grandma’s vegetable garden beyond it. To the left was the grove of evergreen trees that protected the house from prairie winds. To the right was the long lane that led out to the mailbox by the road.

  When he went to the back porch and stood at the screen, the old red barn was straight ahead. To the left of the barn were the pigsty and cow pasture. To the right were the silo, the tractor shed, the machine shack, and the chicken coop.

  But just outside the back steps was “the clearing”—a large bare space mostly clear of worn-down grass where Dad parked his pickup truck and Grandma parked her car—where feet went back and forth from house to barn to tractor shed many times a day. Beyond it all—the garden, the barn, the silo, the machine shack—were the wheat and soybean fields where Dad and Grandpa spent most of their time.

  It was the clearing that Tailpipe liked best—strutting about, watching the hens, and looking for someone to peck. If Zack could figure out w
ays to get from one place to another without crossing the clearing, he would have a lot more fun when he came to the farm on weekends.

  He waited until he saw the old gobbler wander off toward the evergreens behind the house, and then Zack headed for the vegetable garden. He walked all around it. Sure enough, there was the place the wire had given way; a turkey or anything else could walk right through. Zack stuck a stick in the wire so Grandma would know where to look when she came to fix it.

  Then he went to the barn. Opening the big double doors, he stared into the darkness, drinking in the smell of warm hay, of cows and cats and mice. Our old-timey farm, Grandpa had said, because he still kept some hay in there. A grandfolksy kind of place, Grandma called it, because they still had a pump on their back porch. Zack was glad the farm was old-timey and grandfolksy, because this was the way he liked it. If only it didn’t have a tom turkey.

  He walked over to the huge tower of hay in one corner and began to climb. The hay scrunched underfoot, and Zack sank down a few inches with each step. But he continued the climb, scrambling to the very top of the pile under the eaves.

  There were cobwebs among the rafters, and an old nest that the sparrows had built. Sometimes hens came into the barn and laid their eggs up here near the roof. This time Zack found two eggs. Holding them gently, one in each hand, he slid back down the haystack, dust rising to his nostrils.

  The four cows were out to pasture, their stalls empty. Cats moved around the open doorway, yawning in the sun. Zack peered cautiously out, and seeing the turkey leading the hens back into the clearing, he sat down on a barrel and waited five or six minutes until it had ambled behind the chicken coop.

  Zack made a run for the house. He gave the eggs to his grandmother and then, sneaking back to the barn, he went through the cow gate into the pasture and walked as far as the plum tree. Following the fence till he was way past the barn, past the silo, he kept circling around until he thought he saw the stand of evergreen trees far ahead, which meant the house must be somewhere up there.

  This was sure a long way to go to get from the barn to the house without crossing the clearing, but he could do it. Now to work out some other paths. Zack made his way around a thicket of wild blueberries, and suddenly he came face-to-face with Josie Wells on the other side of the fence. One minute he was looking at blueberry bushes and the next minute he was looking at two green eyes above a wide smile that turned down a little at the corners.

  “Hi, Zack!” she said. “Guess what? My brother’s home from the navy, and he’s got an apartment in town.”

  “That’s good,” said Zack, and kept walking.

  “He’s going to school, but he’ll help out here now and then,” said Josie, following along on the other side of the fence.

  “Cool,” said Zack.

  “Want to come over and hang out on the tire swing?”

  Zack shook his head. “Not today.”

  “Want to wade in the creek?”

  “Some other time,” he told her.

  “Want to look at a dead raccoon?”

  “No,” Zack told her. “I’m thinking.”

  Josie didn’t take no for an answer. “What about?” she asked, and her dark ponytail bobbed up and down with each step.

  When he didn’t reply, she said, “If I guess, will you tell me?” When he still didn’t answer, she said, “Skunks? The ones that got under the barn?”

  Zack shook his head.



  “Chocolate chunk cookies?”

  “No,” said Zack. “And I have to get back now.” He was trying to remember how many turns he had made.

  “Wait!” Josie reached out and tugged at his sleeve. “I have to show you something first.”

  Zack stopped. Josie’s smile had disappeared. “What is it?” he asked.

  “You have to see for yourself,” Josie said mysteriously, “because it could happen to you!”

  * * *


  * * *


  Zack didn’t want to go to Josie’s place—he wanted to make his map. But if something else was about to happen to him—something bad—he needed to know.

  Josie waited, hands on her hips, as Zack swung one leg over the top of the wood fence, then the other, and jumped down.

  “Yesterday,” she told him as they started through the cornfield toward the Wellses’ farmhouse, “my mom’s gold bracelet disappeared.”

  “You mean, one minute it was there and then it wasn’t?” Zack asked.

  “No. I mean that’s when she discovered it was gone. And I wasn’t even wearing it. I’m only allowed to wear it in the house because it could slip right off.”

  “So what do you guess happened to it?” said Zack.

  “Mom thinks I lost it,” said Josie. “I told her I hadn’t even tried on that bracelet for . . . Well, maybe I did try it on, but I hadn’t worn it. . . . Well, maybe I did wear it just a little around the house, but I’ve never—hardly ever—worn it outside.”

  Zack wished he hadn’t climbed the fence. Wished he had just kept going. He wasn’t much interested in gold bracelets.

  Josie tugged at his sleeve again. “Do you know how much that bracelet cost?”

  Zack shook his head.

  “It’s priceless! Mom said that all the money in the world wouldn’t pay for it, because Dad gave it to her on their honeymoon.”

  They left the cornfield and walked across the yard to her house. Josie led him around to the side. “Look,” she said.

  Zack looked where she was pointing. All he could see were a few mashed petunias beneath a window.

  “What?” he said.

  Josie stepped closer to the house, still pointing. “Footprints!” This time her eyes were as large as coat buttons. “Big ones!”

  Zack could see them now—two big footprints with V-shaped treads, right in the middle of the smashed-down petunias. “So?” he said.

  “Don’t you see? Somebody was here at the window, and I think that somebody climbed in and took Mom’s bracelet.”

  “Why do you think that?”

  “Because there’s a robber out here! The Smiths and the Baileys and the Hendersons have all had things missing, so it probably means that your grandparents’ farm is next.”

  “Grandma doesn’t wear gold bracelets,” said Zack.

  “It could be anything!” said Josie, and then her voice became low and mysterious. “The Smiths lost their snowblower. At the Baileys’ it was an angel food cake, and a pig is missing at the Hendersons’.”

  Now it was beginning to sound serious. “And they haven’t found the person who took the stuff?” Zack asked.

  Josie’s eyes narrowed to tiny slits. “Ne-ver,” she said. “Which means he’s still around, waiting to strike.”

  Zack’s heart began to thump a little faster. “How do you know it was a he? What would a man want with a gold bracelet?”

  “To sell it!” said Josie, and pointed to the footprints again. “Those are the deep footprints of somebody heavy. I’m just saying that you had better keep your eye out for anyone creeping or sneaking around your grandparents’ place after dark.”

  Zack felt a slight shiver run down his spine. “I will,” he said.

  Josie thrust her hands in her pockets and dropped her head. “Mom’s bracelet is probably gone forever,” she said in a small voice.

  “Maybe your brother will find the burglar and get the bracelet back before it’s sold,” Zack offered.

  The corners of Josie’s mouth turned down. “Adam said he’d keep an eye out. But if he doesn’t get it back, Mom will think that I’m the one who lost it, and she’ll be mad at me for the rest of my life.”

  “Nobody stays mad that long,” Zack said. “Anyway, I’ll look for burglars sneaking around our place.” He thought again of the map he was going to make and the number of turns he had made already. Was it three or four? “I need to get back,” he said. “I’ll come over s
ome other time.”

  “I’ll go with you as far as the fence,” said Josie, and walked along beside him.

  Here come the questions, Zack thought.

  “Want to know the craziest thing I ever did?” Josie asked. And without waiting for an answer, she said, “I rode my belly board down the creek when the water was high.”

  “How far did you get?” Zack asked.

  “Not very. I crashed where the creek makes the turn. What’s the craziest thing you ever did?”

  “Um . . . I took my sister’s little sewing machine apart once and couldn’t get it back together again,” said Zack. “I just wanted to see how it worked.”

  “I’ll bet she was mad!” said Josie.

  “Sounded like a fire siren going off, the way she yelled,” Zack told her, and that made both of them smile.

  They reached the fence and Zack climbed over.

  “Well, bye,” Josie said. “Look out for burglars.”

  “Bye,” he told her. Now there were two things to look out for here at the farm, Zack was thinking when he finally reached the road. Pretty soon he was starting up the lane toward the house. Well, if a burglar did come creeping or crawling, sneaking or stalking around his grandfather’s place looking for something to steal, Zack thought, he hoped he’d take the turkey.

  When he got to the lawn, he sighed: halfway between him and the house was old Tailpipe.

  * * *


  * * *


  Zack stood still as a stone.

  Tailpipe was pecking in the dirt, the red wattle beneath his beak swinging back and forth. Then he stopped pecking and started scratching instead. His long yellow claws looked like eagle talons, and Zack swallowed.

  A whole minute passed, maybe two. Zack didn’t move a muscle. He wondered if Tailpipe could hear him breathing.