Authors: Peg Kehret
Night of Fear
Special thanks to Rosanne Lauer,
a thoughtful and perceptive editor,
whose skill always improves my work
DUTTON CHILDREN’S BOOKS
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Published in the United States of America by Cobblehill Books, an affiliate of Dutton Children’s Books, divisions of Penguin Young Readers Group.
Copyright © 1994 by Peg Kehret
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LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA:
Night of fear / by Peg Kehret.
Summary: Thirteen-year-old T. J. and his grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s disease, find their lives in danger when they discover a disturbed arsonist hiding in a barn.
[1. Survival—Fiction. 2. Courage—Fiction. 3. Arson—Fiction. 4. Grandmothers—Fiction. 5. Alzheimer’s disease—Fiction.]
PZ7.K2518Nf 1994 [Fic]—dc20
93-24051 CIP AC
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.
For my grandson,
Eric Carl Konen
April 18, 1992
“Cluck, cluck, cluck!”
T.J. Stenson glanced toward the source of the chicken imitation and quickly looked away. He wished the after-school activities bus would hurry. Why was it always late on the days when Craig Ackerley decided to hassle him?
“Here comes your pal, Ackerley,” Dane whispered.
“Some pal,” T.J. said.
“CLUCK! Cluck, cluck, cluck. CLUCK!”
Craig tucked his hands into his armpits and flapped his elbows as he approached.
T.J. ignored him. So did Dane.
Craig quit clucking and flapping when he reached T.J. and Dane. “Hey, Stenson. I’m talking to you.”
I hear you, Craig
, T.J. thought.
I wish I didn’t, but I hear you.
“Why don’t you grow up?” Dane said.
“What are you, his bodyguard?” Craig said. “Is Stenson such a baby that you have to protect him from big, bad Craig?”
“What do you want now?” T.J. asked.
“I see you got another
in English,” Craig said. “Don’t you know you’re setting a bad example? How are the rest of us supposed to look good when you keep getting
’s all the time?”
“Sorry about that,” T.J. said. “I tried to flunk, like you, but I just couldn’t pull it off.”
“Sorry about that,” Craig mimicked. “Well, don’t let it happen again. Hear?”
T.J. looked down the street again, relieved to see the yellow hulk of the school bus in the next block.
“I asked you a question, wimp.” Craig put his face close to T.J.’s and glared at him. “Hear?”
“I hear. I hear.”
“All right, then. It’s a deal. No more
“There’s just one problem,” T.J. said.
“Yeah? What’s that?”
“If I don’t
in English, I have to quit basketball.”
’s, no more basketball.”
“My parents. They mean it, too. If my grades drop, I’m off the team.”
And if I’m off the team, turkey, you won’t win half as many games.
“Bye-bye, District Championship,” said Dane.
Craig scowled. “In that case, you’re excused this time. But the next time I talk to you, you jump.” He punched T.J. on
the shoulder, just hard enough to sting. “Unless you want to fight,” he said.
“He doesn’t want to fight you,” Dane said, as the bus sputtered to a halt. “He hates to see big boys cry.”
Dane got on the bus and T.J. quickly followed. Craig did not ride the school bus home, thank goodness.
As the door creaked shut, Craig leered through the window at T.J. “I’ll get you tomorrow,” he yelled, “and I won’t be the one who’s crying.” He began flapping his arms again.
The bus pulled away; T.J. blew his breath out.
“What’s his problem?” Dane asked. “Why does he always try to start trouble with you?”
“Who knows? I avoid him if I can but he keeps showing up, trying to pick a fight.”
“Maybe he’s jealous because you’re a better basketball player than he is.”
“Or maybe he just has a mean streak. I wonder what would happen if you punched him once. If you stand up to him and call his bluff, he might leave you alone.”
“And he might beat me to a bloody pulp. He’s two inches taller and outweighs me by thirty pounds.”
“True. I’d be scared to fight him, too.”
“Grandma Ruth used to tell me, ‘Win with your wits, not with your fists.’ So far, I’ve managed to outsmart Craig and avoid a fight.”
“Is it true that your folks will make you quit basketball if your grades drop?”
“No. I just made that up to get Craig off my back about my grades.”
Dane chuckled. “It worked.”
“He’ll find something else to complain about.”
After Dane got off the bus, T.J. thought about what Dane had said about being scared to fight. Am I scared of Craig, as Dane thinks, or just being sensible? Or both? Sensible or not, he didn’t like his buddy to think he was a coward.
When the bus stopped at T.J.’s corner, he hurried home, eager to get in some free-throw practice before dinner.
T.J.’s mother was in the kitchen. The house smelled like warm peanut butter cookies. This was the best part of having his mom quit work: she had plenty of time to bake cookies.
“I have a great idea,” Mrs. Stenson said, as T.J. poured a glass of milk and helped himself to a handful of cookies. “Let’s have a birthday party for you.”
T.J. stopped chewing. This was the worst part of having his mom quit work: she had plenty of time to think about him.
“You could invite all the boys on your basketball team,” she said.
“I don’t think so.”
“It would be a chance for your father and me to get to know them. I saw Mrs. Ackerley in the grocery store today and she said Craig is on the team and I thought, why, I haven’t seen Craig Ackerley since you boys were in second grade.”
An image of Craig, leering and yelling through the bus window, flashed across T.J.’s mind. He wished
had not seen Craig Ackerley since second grade, either. He wondered what Craig had in mind when he said, “I’ll get you tomorrow.”
“The Ackerleys bought one of those new houses on the other side of the swamp, in that Forest Ridge development. As the crow flies, we’re practically neighbors.”
“It’s nice of you to offer, Mom, but I really don’t want a birthday party this year.”
“But. . .”
“The truth is, Craig and I don’t have much in common anymore. His older brother hangs out with a group that’s into drugs and alcohol, and Craig brags that he goes with them.”
“Are you sure?” Mrs. Stenson looked shocked. “The Ackerleys seem like such nice people.”
“Maybe they are, but Craig is a jerk.” T.J. added what he knew would be the most convincing argument of all: “He has the worst foul mouth in the whole school.”
“Oh.” Mrs. Stenson was quiet for a moment as she digested that piece of news. “Well, of course, you could invite anyone you want. It wouldn’t have to be the entire basketball team.” She brightened. “Maybe you’d like a co-ed party. We could make it a barbecue.”
T.J. examined his fingernails as his mother enthusiastically continued. “You can plan the menu; we’ll have all your favorite foods. I could make that good baked bean dish that you like so much and maybe some potato salad, and cake, of course. A chocolate birthday cake, with fudge icing.” She smiled at T.J. “And thirteen candles.”
T.J. knew his mother was trying to please him but he wished she would quit trying. He said, “I don’t want a birthday party. Thanks, anyway.”
“Except for Dane, you never have your friends over anymore. It would be fun. And Dad and I would keep Grandma Ruth in her room. We’d see that she didn’t embarrass you.”
“It isn’t because of Grandma Ruth,” T.J. said, which wasn’t true. He
be embarrassed if Grandma Ruth decided to
count her play money or sing hymns in front of his friends, but he couldn’t stand to shut her away in her room, either, as if he was ashamed of her. He wasn’t ashamed but it was hard to make people understand that Grandma Ruth wasn’t this way before she got sick. It seemed disloyal, somehow, to let other people watch her confusion if they could not remember how she used to be.
“Why don’t you at least think about it before you decide?”
“All right. I’ll think about it.” But T.J. knew that he wouldn’t change his mind. He remembered too clearly how Dane had reacted the first time he came over after Grandma Ruth moved in.
T.J. and Dane had been best friends since first grade so Dane had known Grandma Ruth when she was well and living in her small mobile home on the back of the Stensons’ property. But he had not seen her during the two years she had lived with her other daughter, T.J.’s Aunt Marion.
Dane knew that Grandma Ruth had Alzheimer’s disease; he knew it affected her brain. He even knew that Grandma Ruth’s mobile home had been sold because she could not live by herself anymore, but he still could not conceal his shock the first time he saw her count her play money and heard her talk about long-ago people and events as if they were in the present.
Although Dane had not said anything, T.J. could almost hear him thinking, Man, she’s really gone crazy, hasn’t she?
Now, Dane was used to Grandma Ruth’s odd behavior and he always said
to her but T.J. was in no hurry to have other, more casual, friends over.
T.J. finished his cookies, got his basketball, and went outside to practice. He needed to keep up his free-throw skills. Even muscleman Craig backed off when T.J. threatened to quit the basketball team.
The Pine Ridge team’s opening game against Lincoln was the next day. Their coach was confident that Pine Ridge had a chance to win the District Championship this year. The team had been good from the first day of practice and kept getting better. Two new boys, brothers, had just joined the team: Allen and Nicholas. They were tall and well coordinated and T.J. could tell they were going to be good team players. Not like Craig, who took too many shots himself instead of passing the ball to someone in a better position.