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Authors: Eric Walters

Tiger Town

BOOK: Tiger Town
9.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

For my wife, Anita.
— E.W.

Chapter 1

I awoke with a start. What was that noise? It had been real … hadn’t it? Or was it just something I’d heard in my dreams? It was hard enough for me to sleep in my own house, with its own noises, but it was always harder at somebody else’s place. My sleep had been so disturbed that I’d already woken up a half-dozen times and — there it was again! It sounded like something dragging across the floor. My mind raced to all the horror movies I’d seen. The scene that stuck was of a body being dragged across the floor. That’s what it sounded like.

“Smarten up,” I said to myself softly.

Sometimes my imagination got the better of me. This wasn’t a horror movie, and there was nobody there. This was Mr. McCurdy’s farmhouse. There was nothing here to be afraid of. Of course, that didn’t stop me from wishing that my mother was here, instead of at our house. It was just the next farm over, across a few fields, but it might as well have been on the other side of the country for all the good that was doing me now.

At least I had Nick. He was sleeping in a room down the hall. Though somehow relying on my eleven-year-old brother for protection wasn’t a particularly reassuring thought.

I pulled my feet out from under the covers, threw them to the side and stood up. The floor creaked and groaned under my weight. I began to shuffle across the floor as quietly as I could. I reached the door and peered down the darkened hall. I couldn’t see anything. Fumbling along the wall, I tried to locate the light switch. It couldn’t be far away. My hand bumped into the faceplate, and I flipped the switch. There was a quiet click, but no light. Oh, right, this one didn’t work. The wiring in this house was as old as the house itself, and many of the switches didn’t work. I’d had to turn the hall light off from the kitchen when I shut everything down last night.

Maybe I should just retreat into my room. I could turn on the lamp beside my bed to throw a little light down the hall. Then again, maybe it was better if I didn’t turn on the light. The dark didn’t just stop me from seeing, but stopped anybody from seeing me. Somehow, being in the dark seemed safe, or at least safer.

The noise came again. It wasn’t so much a dragging sound as something being pushed, like the noise a chair makes when you get up from your desk at school.

There’s nothing to be afraid of, I thought. Don’t be stupid. Just walk down the hall. It was nothing. Certainly not something to be afraid of. Certainly not someone dragging a body around. Or pushing it. Could you even push a body?

I pressed myself tightly against the wall and started to slide down the hall. This was a trick my brother had shown me that minimized the creaking of the floorboards when you moved around in old houses like ours — or Mr. McCurdy’s. Slowly, I inched toward the kitchen. I knew there was nothing to fear, but my head didn’t seem to be winning the argument with my body; my knees were shaking, my stomach was fluttering, my mouth was dry, and the hairs on the back of my neck were all standing at attention.

I had never liked the dark and was still spooked by our farmhouse with its nooks and crannies. It was even worse at Mr. McCurdy’s place in the dead — the middle — of the night. Why had I even volunteered to stay here with Nick while Mr. McCurdy was away? I knew somebody had to watch the animals, but it didn’t have to be just us. Our mother had said she’d stay with us, but she didn’t sleep well unless she was in her bed, and she was preparing for a big trial at work and needed all the rest she could get. Besides, I was fourteen years old — a very grown-up fourteen years old — and I didn’t need to be babysat while I was babysitting.

Of course, as I stood there in my bare feet, in my pyjamas, in the dark, in the middle of the night, in Mr. McCurdy’s house, I wouldn’t have minded having my mother there beside me. I couldn’t even call her. Mr. McCurdy’s phone was dead, or rather, disconnected. He hadn’t had a working phone since before we met him. My phone sat uselessly on the night table — no cell reception here either.

The sound came again. Somebody was moving around in the kitchen. It had to be Nick. Probably fixing himself a snack — that kid was always hungry. But why wouldn’t he have turned on the kitchen light? It would be awfully hard to fix a sandwich in the dark.

I stood and listened as the noises continued. They were louder, closer, clearer, coming from the kitchen, the dark kitchen, right on the other side of the wall I was pressed against. I stood frozen, not able to move forward, but not wanting to go back. I couldn’t just stand here all night, though, could I? I wondered what time it was, and how many hours until the sunrise when the kitchen wouldn’t be so dark. Hold on — I didn’t have to wait until then to get light. Slowly, I reached my hand around the corner into the kitchen, feeling for the switch and … I touched another hand!

“Ahhhh!” I screamed as my hand was grabbed tightly and the light flicked on. I was dragged into the kitchen and —


I was being held tightly in the big hairy mitt of Calvin, Mr. McCurdy’s pet chimpanzee. “You almost scared me to death!” I exclaimed breathlessly. Actually, until my heart settled back into my chest from my throat, I wasn’t one hundred percent sure he hadn’t.

“Can I please have my hand back?” I demanded.

Calvin gave my hand a big, wet sloppy kiss then released it. Uggggh. I guess I shouldn’t complain. Sometimes he kissed my face, and chimps must have the worst breath in the world.

“Sarah, are you okay?” Nick came running into the kitchen. He looked scared.

“I’m fine. I was just —”

“What the heck happened in here?”

I looked around. All the furniture — table, chairs, the buffet, the old couch — had been pushed to the far end. And each and every cupboard was wide open.

“Calvin, did you do this?” I asked.

He looked down at the floor and put his hands over his eyes.

“Did you, Calvin?” I asked louder.

“Sarah, do you really expect him to answer?” Nick asked. “Who else do you think could have done it?”

“I guess you’re right, but why would he move all the furniture?”

“Looks pretty obvious to me,” Nick said.

“It isn’t to me.”

“He was looking for something to eat and climbed the furniture to get to the top cupboards. Look.”

It was then I noticed Calvin hadn’t just opened the cupboards, but had pulled everything out. The table was covered with jars and bottles and boxes, most open, some lying on their side, spilling and dripping their contents onto the floor.

“Calvin, you are a very, very bad chimp!” I scolded.

Calvin took his hands off his eyes and placed them firmly over his ears.

“He’s gone from ‘see no evil’ to ‘hear no annoying sister!’” Nick laughed.

Calvin laughed with him. Apparently he could hear some things. Equally apparent was something I’d known for a long time: the ape and my brother shared the same sense of humour.

I grabbed Calvin by the hand, trying to pull him to his feet. He sat there, refusing to move. He was far too heavy and strong to be moved against his will.

“You have to clean up this mess!” I shouted.

Calvin took his free hand and put his thumb to his nose, spread his fingers and went “PPPPlllllllffffffff,” spraying spit into the air and my face!

“That’s disgusting!” I said as I let go of him and wiped my face on the sleeve of my pyjamas.

“Forget about a little ape slobber,” Nick said. “What’s Mom going to say when she sees all this?”

“Oh, my gosh, you’re right. She’s going to go crazy. Calvin’s got to clean this up.”

“Sarah, think about what you’re saying. Calvin’s a chimpanzee. Chimpanzees are very good at making a mess, but not really good at cleaning up those messes. You’re going to have to clean it up.”

“If I’m going to be cleaning, so will you,” I said.

“Me? Why should I clean up? I didn’t make this mess.”

“Neither did I!” I protested.

“Yeah, but I’m not the one in charge here. You are. Since you’re in charge, you’re the one who’s responsible. And since you’re responsible, you have to be the one who does the cleaning.” He paused and smiled. “And could you try to keep it down? I want to go back to bed and get some sleep and —”

“You’re not going anywhere!” I snapped, grabbing him by the arm as he started to walk away. Unlike with the chimp, I easily spun him around. “I’m in charge of everything, including you. So you’re going to work, too!”

Nick looked as if he was going to argue, but shut his mouth.

“What time is it?” I asked.

Nick glanced at his watch. “It’s almost five in the morning.”

“That gives us three hours to get this cleaned up before Mom drops in to check on us on her way to work. We have to get going.”

“Well, at least we have some help,” Nick said. He walked over to one of the partially opened cupboards and pulled it the rest of the way open. Inside, his head buried deep within an overturned bag of cookies, was Polly, Mr. McCurdy’s macaw.

“He’s helping clean up the cookies!” Nick laughed.

“That’s not helping!” I rushed over, reached up and grabbed the bag of cookies, practically ripping it off Polly’s head. He squawked loudly, dropping the partially eaten piece of Oreo he had in his beak. As I started to roll up the bag, he ruffled all his feathers.

“Stupid girl!” Polly exclaimed, and Nick burst into laughter again. It wasn’t just the ape who was on the same level as my brother.

“Be quiet, you stupid bird!” I yelled.

“Go home, ugly girl!” Polly squawked.

“Don’t you tell me to —”

“Sarah, you’re arguing with a bird,” Nick said.

“Oh, yeah.”

“Even worse, you were losing the argument,” Nick snickered. “By the way, where’s Laura?”

I’d forgotten about her. Laura was Mr. McCurdy’s gentle old cheetah. She lived in the house, too. Cheetahs were the only big cats you could trust to live in your home — she wouldn’t hurt a fly. She spent most of her time sleeping on the couch. The couch was spun around, facing away from me against the far wall under the cupboards. I walked over. There she was on the couch, on her back, her paws in the air, sound asleep, gently snoring.

“How could Laura sleep through all of that?” Nick asked.

“Mr. McCurdy says she’s even deafer than he is.”

“Maybe he should get her a hearing aid.”

“Right,” I snorted. “I can see that happening — right after Mr. McCurdy gets one for himself.”

“Sometimes I don’t think he needs one,” Nick said. “Ever notice how he hears everything he
to hear?”

“I thought it was just me who’d noticed that.”

“What’s all over Laura?” Nick asked.

I looked down. Just by her back leg there was a patch of bright red! “She’s bleeding! She’s been hurt!”

Nick reached down and put a finger in the blood. Before I could react he popped it into his mouth! My mouth dropped open in shock and disgust.

“Jam.” Nick reached over and grabbed a jar of jam that was sitting on its side with the top off. He sat it upright and licked his fingers again. “Strawberry jam.”

“Nicholas, use a cloth!”

“Why, are you afraid I might make a mess?”

“We have to get started on this disaster somewhere. Get started by washing your hands, and we’ll go from there.”

Nick shrugged and shambled over to the sink. I knew where I was going to start. I grabbed a dishcloth, rung it out and walked back to Laura. Gently I began to dab at the patch of jam staining her fur. As I rubbed harder, one of Laura’s eyes popped open.

“Hello, Laura,” I said. With my free hand I scratched behind one of her ears. Cheetahs love to be scratched there. Actually all cats, big or small, like to have their ears rubbed.

“Sarah, what are you doing?” Nick asked.

“What does it look like I’m doing?”

“It looks like you’re cleaning a cat.”

“Yeah, so what?”

Nick shook his head sadly. “Remember how I said that chimps aren’t good at cleaning up? Well, cats
good at cleaning … at least cleaning themselves. Watch.” Again Nick dipped a finger into the jam on Laura’s side. Then he put it in Laura’s mouth. Her eyes opened wide, and she began licking his finger. He moved his hand away and her head followed, tongue darting out, down to her splattered leg. She began to lick the jam off her fur.

“Nick, I have to hand it to you,” I said. “You are a genius —”

“Thank you.”

“When it comes to avoiding work,” I said, finishing my sentence. “If you were half as smart at doing work as you are at avoiding it, you’d be getting straight A’s at school.”

“Straight A’s would be way too show-offy. I wouldn’t want to be like that. Not like some people I know who love to show off.”

“First of all, you couldn’t get the marks I do, because I’m smart. And second, there’s a big difference between being smart and being a smart-aleck … like some people I know,” I taunted.

“I don’t know,” Nick said. “If you were really smart, you’d be a heck of a lot nicer to the only person who can help you clean up this mess.”

Darn … he was right.

“Well?” Nick asked.

“Well, what?”

“Are you going to apologize?”

“You must be crazy! There’s no way I’m going to apologize to you! What I’m going to do is tell Mom that you didn’t listen to me!”

Nick smiled. “You won’t do that.”

“Why not?”

“Because if you tell Mom, she’ll get mad at me.”

“That’s the idea,” I said.

“And if she gets mad at me, she’ll punish me.”

“Again, that’s the idea!”

“And the way she’ll probably punish me is to make me stay home, and you’ll be here tonight … all alone.”

Nick’s smile grew while my smirk first froze and then vanished. He had me, and he knew it. Even worse, he knew that I knew he knew it.

It was bad enough being here with just Nick in the house. Without him, it would be awful. And Mr. McCurdy wasn’t due back for at least one more night.

I swallowed hard. Twice. I took a deep breath. “I’m sorry,” I mumbled.

“What did you say?” Nick asked. “I couldn’t really hear you.”

I felt myself getting hot. I opened my mouth and quickly closed it. There was no point in saying anything that would cost me a third apology.

BOOK: Tiger Town
9.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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