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The Monsters of Morley Manor: A Madcap Adventureby Bruce Coville
IF SARAH HADN'T put the monkey in the bathtub, we might never have had to help the monsters get big. But she did, so we did, which, given the way things worked out, was probably just as well for everyone on the planet-especially the dead people.
I bought the monsters at a garage sale. Actually, it was more like a whole house sale. And not just any house. It was Morley Manor, the huge old place at the end of Willow Street.
Every kid in our town knew Morley Manor. It was the weirdest house in Owl's Roost, Nebraska, so scary we didn't even trick-or-treat there. It had three towers, leaded glass windows, and a big iron fence with spikes on the top-though you couldn't see that much of the fence, because the base was overgrown with enormous weeds. Each tower had a lightning rod, which is probably the only reason the place hadn't burned down. Lightning seemed to strike there a lot. My father used to claim that Morley Manor had its own weather system; not only was it darker and gloomier than anywhere else in town, it seemed to be the focus of every thunderstorm that passed through.
I was in sixth grade the year Old Man Morley died. (I know it's not very polite to call him that, but it was the name everyone in town, including the old people, used.) He didn't leave a will, and as far as anyone knew he didn't have any relatives. So the state claimed the house and put it up for sale. Despite the fact that we all thought the place was weird, we were really upset to find out that the guy who finally bought it planned to tear the old mansion down and build a new house altogether.
"You can't blame him," said my mother, when we were discussing this in the back room of the flower shop that she and Dad own. "I can't imagine anyone wanting to live in that old monstrosity."
She adjusted a chrysanthemum, looked at it critically, then pulled it out of the vase and threw it away.
What she said about Morley Manor was true enough, I suppose. But I knew I was going to miss the house, since it was the most interesting place in town.
Of course, being the most interesting place in Owl's Roost, Nebraska, isn't all that hard.
Anyway, the weekend before the wreckers were supposed to start, my parents went to a florists convention in Los Angeles, leaving Gramma Walker to take care of me and my little sister, Sarah. Gramma had been staying with us a lot since Grampa died three months earlier, so Sarah and I were used to having her around. Gramma's pretty deaf, which can make it hard to talk to her. But we never minded when Mom and Dad left her to take care of us. Why would we, when she tended to bake cookies on a daily basis and was a lot less strict about us eating in the living room?
That same weekend the new owner of Morley Manor had a sale to get rid of all the junk inside. Sarah and I figured he was going to use the money to pay the wreckers.
The sale was on a Sunday afternoon. The demolition was supposed to start the next morning, which was Columbus Day. Since we kids had the day off from school, most of us were planning to be there to watch.
Just about everyone in town went to the sale, even though it was pouring rain. After all, it was the only chance we'd ever have to get a look inside the old place. We asked Gramma if she wanted to come with us, but she said no. She acted kind of weird about it, too. But then, she had been a little odd ever since Grampa died. I could understand. His funeral was the worst day of my life, and I knew Gramma loved him even more than I did, though that was hard to imagine. I hadn't slept very well for the first month after he died, and I had cried a lot. I still have one of his old pipes in my sock drawer. Sometimes I take it out and smell it, just to remember him better.
Anyway, with Mom and Dad out of town, and Gramma Walker deciding to "be a homebody," Sarah and I went to the sale on our own, sheltering ourselves from the pelting rain with the big black umbrella that used to belong to Grampa.
"You sure you don't want to go?" we asked again, just before we left.
Gramma shook her head. "It makes me too sad."
"Why does it make you sad?" asked Sarah. Asking questions is sort of a hobby with her. She's like a hunter-gatherer for information. When she was a baby, and I swear I'm not making this up, her first word wasn't "mommy" or "daddy" or even "no." It was "why."
She's been saying it about three thousand times a day ever since.
Gramma sighed. "I'd just rather remember the house the way it used to be."
"You've been inside Morley Manor?" I asked in astonishment. As far as we kids knew, no one except Mr. Morley had been inside the place for years.
"Oh, I used to go visit there all the time," she said. "Until-"
Her face got all puckered up, and she shook her head. "Oh, it's not something I like to talk about," she said. "Now you children run along and have a good time."
Then she shooed us out the door.
Sarah and I stood on the porch for a minute, just looking at each other.
"Do you suppose she knows what it was?" she asked at last.
By "it" she meant the horrible thing that had happened at Morley Manor fifty years ago. Every kid in town knew that something had happened there. But none of us knew what it was.
"Could be," I said. "We're going to have to work on her."
That would be mostly Sarah's job, of course. As the family's official question machine, she could be counted on to do everything possible to dig out the information.
"OOOH, THIS PLACE is spooky," said Sarah as we walked through the big iron gate at the entrance to Morley Manor. "Really spooky," she added, after we had climbed the porch and stepped inside.
I thought about shouting "boo!" just to see if I could get her to jump, but decided against it. There were too many people around.
Besides, something about Morley Manor made you feel like you ought to be quiet. It had high ceilings, dark woodwork, and doors just as creaky as you would have expected. You could see it must have been beautiful once, but you could also see why no one wanted to live in it now. It looked as if that weather system my father talked about had existed inside as well as outside. The house was damp and moldy, and peeling wallpaper hung down in long strips, leaving bare spots where dark patches of mildew had started to grow. But it wasn't just the look of the place that made it spooky; it was the feeling you got when you were inside. I can't really explain it, since I had never felt anything like it. Let's just say that it was easy to imagine secret passages with weird things lurking in them-things waiting to get you if you were stupid enough to be in there after dark.
I found a lot of stuff I wanted to buy: weird little statues, candleholders shaped like demons, a chess set with stone pieces that looked like they had been carved out of someone's nightmare. But they were all too expensive; way too expensive, given the fact that I had spent almost all my money on a new batch of trading cards a few days earlier.
Then Sarah found something I thought maybe I could afford, though it was hard to tell, since it didn't have a price tag. Herbie Fluke, one of the kids from my class, and I were studying a roped-off stairway that had a sign saying ABSOLUTELY NO ONE PAST THIS POINT and discussing what would happen if we did go past that point, when Sarah grabbed my sleeve and said, "Come here, Anthony. I want to show you something!"
I didn't go right away; I didn't want Herbie getting the idea I'll do something just because my kid sister wants me to. But after a minute I followed her to the library. (Yeah, Morley Manor was so fancy it had its own library. Only, the place smelled pretty bad, because the books had gotten all moldy, which I thought was really sad.)
"Look!" she said proudly.
Sitting on a small round table was something that looked like a wooden cigar box. Carved into its top was a strange design of interlocking circles.
"I didn't see that when I was in here before," I said.
"It was hidden behind the encyclopedia," replied Sarah, nodding toward one of the shelves. "This old guy was looking through stuff in here, and he pointed it out to me. I thought you might want it for your cards."
I snorted. "I couldn't fit all my cards in there!"
"I know that. But when you go to shows and swaps and stuff, it would be good for carrying the best ones."
She was right, but I didn't want to admit it too quickly. I lifted the box and gave it a good looking-over, checking to make sure it was solid and didn't have any rot or anything. Then I sniffed it, because I didn't want to take home something that smelled all mildewy. To my surprise, it had a kind of spicy odor.
"It's locked," I said, wrinkling my brow.
"So? You can take care of that."
Sometimes I get the impression Sarah thinks I can do anything-which is nice, but also a little nerve-racking, since I don't want to do anything that would show I can't. In this case she was probably right; I could find some way to open the box. I flipped it over again to see how much it cost.
"It doesn't have a price tag," I said disapprovingly.
Sarah rolled her eyes. "So go ask how much they want for it. It probably won't be that much. And remember, you don't have to pay what they ask for the first time. People always make deals at this kind of sale."
"I know that!" I said. (Which was true, if you considered that I knew it now that she had said it. I figured she was probably right, since she had been to enough garage sales with my mother to be an expert by now.)
I looked at the box for a minute longer. Then, mostly to put off making a decision, I suggested we go look at some other stuff. I hid the box under the desk before we left the room so no one would buy it while I was making up my mind.
Going off to look at other stuff was fine with Sarah; she loves this kind of old junk. But I couldn't stop thinking about the box, and after a few minutes I went back to examine it again.
Finally I took it to the gray-haired woman sitting at the card table in the front room. I didn't recognize her, and wondered if the new owner had brought in someone from out of town to run the sale, to make sure he didn't get cheated. Or maybe she was the new owner.
"So...how much do you want for this dumb box?" I asked, trying to sound cool.
She took it from my hands, studied it for a moment, then said, "Five dollars."
I could feel my eyes bulge, but I tried not to make a choking sound. "How about a dollar?" I asked.
The woman laughed out loud. I could feel myself start to blush.
"Two dollars?" I asked.
"Four," she replied, without batting an eye.
Well, that was progress. Maybe Sarah was right.
"How about two-fifty?" I suggested. As I did, I realized something weird: Now that I had started to try to buy the box, I really wanted it, so much that it was almost scary.
The woman narrowed her eyes. "Three-fifty," she said in a firm voice.
And that was as low as she would go. Which was a lot better than five, but still a problem, since I only had two dollars and thirty-seven cents in my pocket. (When I realized that, I was actually relieved that she hadn't said yes to my offer of two-fifty, since I would have looked really stupid counting out the change and coming up thirteen cents short.)
I thought about going home and trying to hit up my grandmother for some money. But I was afraid someone would buy the box while I was gone, even if I hid it again.
So I went to see if I could squeeze some money out of Sarah.
I found her in one of the bedrooms, trying on old hats.
"Do you like this?" she asked when I came into the room. She was wearing something blue and fuzzy that didn't look bad on her.
"It looks stupid," I said, just like I always did when she asked if I liked something.
She made a face. "Don't be such a snot, Anthony."
She was right. I shouldn't be a snot, especially if I wanted to borrow money from her. She noticed I was carrying the box. "Did you buy it?" she asked, looking pleased.
I shook my head. "I don't have enough money. How much do you have?"
She looked nervous.
"I'll pay you back," I said, exasperated.
"You still owe me a dollar from last week."
"I've got it at home. You just never asked for it."
"I did, too!"
"Look, all I need is a dollar and thirteen cents."
She frowned. "I want to buy this hat."
The hat was a dollar-fifty. Sarah had two dollars. I felt as if I was trapped in a math problem.
"Let's see if we can make a deal," said Sarah.
The woman didn't look exactly pleased to see me, so I let Sarah do the talking. Having a cute little sister is not always a bad thing. Sarah twinkled and pleaded and pouted, and next thing I knew, the woman had sold us both the hat and the box for four dollars and thirty cents.
We argued all the way home about how much I owed Sarah.
The argument stopped when we walked through the front door and Mr. Perkins bit me.
Copyright © 2001 by Bruce Coville
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced
or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval
system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work
should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department,
Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.
A significantly different version of The Monsters of Morley Manor
was originally serialized in 1996. The author has extensively revised and
expanded the work for this first publication as a complete novel.
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