Whispers From the Grave

BOOK: Whispers From the Grave
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1

Sometimes I wished I’d never found Rita’s
diary. If I’d known all the trouble it would cause, I would have left it in its hiding place. But how could I have known that little musty book with its yellowing pages and rusty keyhole would get me involved in a
murder
?

My neighbor Suki was with me when I found the diary. We were poking around the attic of my family’s old, rambling house.

It was built way back in 1870 and was actually made from real wood. That's rare here in Puget Sound. The old blind man who lived across the street said they stopped usin g wood to build houses around 2035 because of the tree shortage.

Suki’s house was made from fiberglass and never needed to be painted like our funky old house did.

“Ick! A spider!” Suki suddenly shrieked. It skittered across the dusty floor on its thick, feathery legs and disappeared into a crack in the attic wall.

“It won’t hurt you,” I said. “We’re used to spiders here. This house isn’t airtight like yours. There are lots of places for bugs to get in.”

She shuddered, her shoulders rising so they touched the ends of her limp blond hair. “Let’s go back downstairs to your room where there aren’t as many bugs.”

“Go ahead,” I said, and was relieved when she didn’t. Last time she was alone in my room, I think she filched my new tube of strawberry lip tinter.

Suki had acted like my shadow ever since we’d moved to Banbury Bay in July when Mom inherited Great-aunt Ashley’s old house. Just because Suki lived down the beach from us, and my father worked with her uncle at Twin-Star Labs, she acted as if we should be automatic best friends. I don’t mean to sound cruel, but I preferred not to spend so much time with her. Suki was clingy and insecure and scared all the boys away with her mousey personality. If she didn’t stop hanging around me, I’d never fit in at Banbury High.

At my old school in Salem, Oregon, I’d always been kind of an outsider. I was branded a rebel in the second grade—all because of a misunderstanding in the midst of one rainy afternoon. The stigma stayed with me forever. Or at least until we moved to Banbury Bay.

Sometimes when I looked back on that strange day in Salem, I got goose bumps. I couldn’t explain what happened, and all these years later I still wondered.
I
don’t want to think about that. That is behind me now!

I saw our move to Banbury Bay as a chance to start a new life, with new friends. But I knew I couldn’t spend every waking moment with Suki unless I wanted to be labeled a total spard. It’s a hard, cold fact that the crowd you hang with influences how people view you.

“This old house of yours really gives me the creeps, Jenna,” Suki said. “Your attic is probably full of rats. Let’s get out of here!”

“Go ahead. I want to see what’s in this old trunk,” I said, pulling a rusty bicycle off the dust-coated trunk in the corner.

“Probably more spiders.”

I ignored her and popped open the lid. A thick, musty odor nearly knocked me over.

“It’s just a bunch of old clothes,” she said, peering over my shoulder.

It didn’t look like anything too exciting, mostly faded blue jeans and ragged T-shirts. But I dug through the pile, partly because I was hoping Suki would get tired of watching me and leave. “Look at this!” I said. “It’s a pair of old overalls. Somebody embroidered little hearts and peace signs on them. Do you think they belonged to a farmer?”

“There’s something sticking out of the pocket!”

It was an old diary. A
very
old diary—its secrets long ago locked between the fading red vinyl covers. It would be easy to pick the lock. Someone had scribbled “Private” across the front cover. For a guilty instant, I considered tucking it back in the overalls. After all, what right did I have to read a stranger’s secrets?

“Who did it belong to?” Suki’s pale blue eyes sparked with sudden interest.

“Whoever it was is probably dead,” I said.
Do the dead have a right to privacy?
I wondered. I turned the little book over and set it on the floor. “I could pick the lock if I had a piece of wire.” The words were barely out of my mouth when the lock suddenly popped open—all by itself.


Weird!

Suki whispered. “Maybe you’ve got ghosts up here!”

A shiver ran through me, but I laughed it off. “Would you relax? The lock was just worn-out. I must have jostled it when I set it down and it broke. That’s all.”

I opened the diary and a black-and-white photograph fluttered out. I stared into the familiar face and gasped.

2

“That’s
you!
” Suki said. “How did a picture of
you get in that old diary? And who is that
cute
guy next to you?”

I couldn’t answer her. All I could do was stare at the girl in the photograph. She had
my
face! The wide-spaced eyes. The button nose sprinkled with freckles. The slight overbite and too thin lips. Those were
my
features. But it wasn’t a picture of me. I was certain.

I turned over the photograph and read:
Rita and Ben, Stones concert, Seattle Coliseum, 1970.
That picture was a
hundred
years old!

I finally found my voice. “It’s not me. This picture was taken a century ago.”

“She sure looks like you. She’s even built like you, Jenna.”

It was true. Rita had my long (but too skinny) legs and slim waist. She wore a flowered halter top and a faded pair of cutoff jeans embroidered with peace signs. Had Rita embroidered the overalls too? They must have been hers, I realized.

“Maybe that’s you in another life,” Suki suggested. “Maybe you were reincarnated.”

“She’s probably a relative of mine. We have the same genes. It’s natural I’d inherit some of my family’s characteristics,” I said, trying to make sense of the eerie resemblance.

“It’s not like she’s your mom or something! She’s a
distant
relative. If she were really born a hundred years ago, the genes would be watered down by now. You could inherit her nose or something, but not her
whole
face!”

Suki was right. It didn’t make sense that I would look so much like a relative who was born a century before me. The fact is, I don’t even resemble anyone in my immediate family. My parents are both short and round, while I am long and slender. I don’t have my dad’s prominent nose or my mom’s startling violet eyes. My nose is one of those tiny upturned models and my eyes are an uninteresting gray. I’m different from my parents in so many ways, I can’t even count them. I thought about this as I walked Suki home.

Her house is about a quarter of a mile from us. It’s right on the water—so close the waves swish against her dining room window when it storms.

Our house is set back from the water, perched on a hill overlooking the beach. Our kitchen door opens onto a dirt path that snakes through a jungle of Scotch broom bushes and gradually slopes toward the rickety steps that lead to the beach.

“Do you think I should call him, Jenna?” Suki asked as we walked along the rocky shore. I knew who she meant. She had a thing for Kyle Mettley, a senior at our school. She chattered about him constantly.

“If you feel brave enough,” I said without enthusiasm. My mind wasn’t on her love life. I couldn’t stop thinking about my resemblance to Rita, and my
lack
of resemblance to my family. What did it mean?

Everything about me was different from my parents. My dad is so logical. Science-minded. In fact, he
is
a scientist. He relies on calculations and carefully thought-out strategies to make decisions. I, on the other hand, operate on gut instinct. I make choices based on what I feel inside. I know I didn’t get that trait from my mother. She’s always second-guessing her decisions, and looks at me blankly when I tell her to follow her instincts.

Why was I so different from my parents?

“I wish Kyle was here with me now.” Suki sighed. “This sunset is so romantic!”

The sun looked like a broken egg yolk oozing down the sky. It smeared the horizon in a beautiful, brilliant orange. It
was
romantic. I stopped to watch the sun dip behind the islands.

Rita must have watched the sunset from this very spot.

A hundred years ago.

Who was the good-looking guy in the photo with her?
Ben.
Did he and Rita sit on a log and kiss as the waves reflected the magnificent hues of the sky?

The answer might be here
,
I thought, and patted my jacket pocket where I’d tucked the diary. Suddenly, I couldn’t wait to get home and read it. I’d felt funny about looking at it in front of Suki. A diary is such a personal thing. I didn’t want her reading Rita’s private thoughts. Rita was
my
relative. I’d inherited her face, so maybe we were alike in other ways too. It seemed right for
me
to know her secrets.

“Maybe I should write him a note,” Suki interrupted my thoughts. “What do you think, Jenna?”

I didn’t want to give her my opinion. Big, handsome Kyle with his impish green eyes and wheat-blond hair would surely laugh at her behind her back—or maybe even to her face—if she wrote him a note proclaiming her feelings. Kyle Mettley was not exactly known for his sensitivity.

He was a track star and his parents were wealthy. Kyle ruled the school and dated popular, pretty girls. Suki did not fall into that category. It’s not that she was homely. She was slightly chubby, with a pleasant, even-featured face; she would have probably looked pretty good if she had a make-over. But she lacked
sparkle.
Her eyes were desperate and her smile nervous. And I felt drained whenever I spent time with her.

“Should I, Jenna? Should I write him a note?”

“I think you’re jumping way ahead of yourself, Suki.”

“You’re right.” She sounded relieved. “I should let him make the first move.”

Of course he never would. I knew it and she knew it too. Kyle was a fantasy for her. He was simply someone to daydream about. Frankly, I was tired of hearing about him. I was tired of being her sounding board. I’d offered to walk her home only because I was afraid Mom would ask her to stay for dinner if she hung around any longer. Mom, a kindergarten teacher, was in the habit of fussing over her students and for some strange reason she fussed over Suki too.

“Come on in,” Suki said, as we reached her dome-shaped house. It was tucked into a dent in the hillside and protected from the encroaching tide by a twelve-foot concrete bulkhead. “Uncle Terry wants to talk to you.”

“Why?” I asked, startled. I glanced up and saw him watching us from one of the bubble-shaped windows. Another face appeared beside him as he gestured toward me.

“Why is he pointing at me?” A sudden prickle of warning ran through me. I was uneasy, but didn’t know why.

A moment later I found myself in her living room as seven adults I’d never met before peered at me intently over their cocktails.

“Nice to meet you, Jenna,” Suki’s uncle said, and shook my hand, squeezing so tightly I thought he’d break a bone. He was strong for such a skinny man. He reminded me of a skeleton coated in a thin layer of flesh. His dark eyes seemed to pierce right through me. “I’m Terry Grady, and these are some of my associates at Twin-Star Labs. They work with your father too.”

I nodded politely at the other scientists, immediately forgetting their names as Dr. Grady introduced them. Nobody else got up to shake my hand. They remained seated on the plush pink sofa that curled around the length of the curved wall.

“So this is Jenna,” a smooth-faced woman said a little too brightly. She leaned forward, her shiny red lips stretched into a phony smile. “We’ve heard a lot about you.”

From who?
I wondered.
Dad?
He’d never been the type to carry my photo in his wallet or display it on his desk. I couldn’t imagine him actually talking about me to people at work. I didn’t think he was even
interested
in me. My father and I have never been close.

“How would you like to earn some extra cash, Jenna?” Dr. Grady asked.

“Sure!” I said, a bit too enthusiastically. The scientists laughed, and I smiled self-consciously. I wished they’d stop staring at me like I was one of their specimens!

BOOK: Whispers From the Grave
9.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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