The Mystery of Dogwood Cross
CHAPTER
4
Lock-picking for Curious Adolescents
Standing in front of the door, I stared at the glow coming from its cracks. I reached for the handle once again, but it didn’t turn. Defeated and annoyed, I sighed and turned, then flopped back against the offensive barrier, and—
OOF and also OUCH!
I landed so hard on my rear!
After getting over the initial pain and shock, I looked up.
My dramatic flounce had caused the door to unstick and swing open.
I was in!
I stood and looked around.
There wasn’t much to see here, really. It was a hallway. The circular window visible from the front of the house was centered on the left wall, the moon lighting some empty side tables along the opposite wall. But at the far end?
Another door.
I knew my chances of it being unlocked were slim to none, but I went over anyway, whispered a wish, and turned the handle.
It opened.
My heart pounding, I smiled and walked on in.
I guess I was expecting a mirror image of our side of the gatehouse. Instead, a hallway led me in and to the right, deeper into the house. In front of me, the darkness absorbed the light. I blinked a few times, my eyes searching for any kind of ambient light besides that which I’d just left.
Nope.
Jet black.
“I have seen this movie before,” I whispered to myself, “and I know what I really need in order to survive is a flashlight.” I went back the way I’d come, and found a light switch this time. I flicked it on, just to be sure it worked, but then turned it off again. I didn’t particularly want anyone knowing that I’d made it through the door yet.
Not until I had time to explore, at least.
I went through the passage that connected the two sides of the house together, dug through my stuff, and found my flashlight. “Thanks, Dad,” I said softly. Returning to the hall, light on and feeling extremely like Hermione Granger with her wand in hand, I said, “Lumos.” I flicked on the button and snuck through the hallway.
One thing that was similar to our half of the house was the staircase that was positioned in just about the same spot as ours. The hallway ran alongside it. A few pictures decorated the wall. I paused to look at them.
They weren’t photographs, but paintings. One big cityscape—I recognized it as San Francisco—was particularly out of place. Wasn’t this supposed to be a visitor’s center eventually? We were on the other side of the continent. I would’ve expected beach scenes or maybe even a sketch of the old plantation house.
The other few art pieces weren’t island-y or ocean-y or historic, either. I loved each of them, though. I recognized one as the Arc d’Triomphe in Paris (not because I’d ever been to Paris, but we did a unit study on it for a whole month last year). Another was of a horse pulling a carriage down a paved road, away from a line of huge buildings. I guessed that was New York. I really liked the Paris one, but I didn’t steal it or anything. Instead, I pressed on down the hall. The air was stale and dusty, and I knew I couldn’t hang around long without medication. But I couldn’t turn back just yet, either.
The first door I found led to a bathroom. That would be pretty uninteresting, except garbage bags full of…something bulky...seem to have been thrown into indiscriminate piles. I felt like I had stepped into an episode of Hoarders. Most of the bags were tied off at the top, but a few were open, their contents spilling. I moved in as far as I could, kneeled down, and slowly reached for one of the nearest open bags.
My flashlight beam trained on the lumpy form, I pulled out a few articles of clothing. All were women’s pieces that might be a little big on Mom, but that wasn’t saying much, since she still has the figure of the ballerina tha she used to be. They were all nice, almost all name brand.
The rest of the bag was filled with similar items.
Weird.
They matched the style I’d seen on Maisie today. Had she outgrown all of these things? I stuffed all of the articles back in the bag and stood up, shining my light at the other lumps. Movement caught the corner of my eye. A mouse scampered over a pile and disappeared under another sack. I scrambled backwards to the hall and shut the door, shuddering. Ew. Ew ew ew ew ew. I knew it wasn’t dangerous, and Jayla’s little sister even had pet mice that were actually adorbs, but a WILD mouse?
Ew!
I had second thoughts about staying over on this side of the house where the mice ran free, but I also knew that my chances of exploring later would be slim, if Maisie found out the door hadn’t been properly locked and I’d gotten in. So I shuddered once more and followed the hallway further.
On the same side of the hall as the bathroom/cast off center was another door. I pushed into that one and shone the light in.
A queen-sized bed, made and ready for sleeping, practically calling my name, waited for me. The room was equipped with a wide armoire, much like the one in Mom’s room, and a chest of drawers, too. In fact, it was very similar to Mom’s.
I frowned so, so much.
Okay. Maybe Maisie didn’t know. I mean, maybe she’d never even been in this side. She said she didn’t have a key, right? Maybe—
No.
Maisie had been here when we were out with Daniel.
She’d brought the groceries in.
She hadn’t put them away, but the frozen things were still frozen when we’d gotten to them. She’d been there very, very recently.
And when she left, the light in the passage had been left on.
But why on earth would Maisie lie?
Frowning, I turned to leave. A cough rose up in my throat. And then another. In the hall, one more door had been left unopened, and I couldn’t ignore it. I pushed it open and scanned the room with my light.
Another bedroom, this one with way more character than the adultish, perfectly tidy one across the hall, greeted me. I wanted to take it all in, so I got brave and exchanged the flashlight for the overhead.
The room lit up around me. For a minute, I thought I was in Daniel’s room. A Call of Duty poster clung to the wall, beside a bulletin board filled haphazardly with photos of friends and baseball games and concert ticket stubs. A shelf littered with textbooks, notebooks, and trophies spoke of a student having been there. A bunch of CDs and DVDs, and a small line of novels, none of which were classic or fluffy or award winners, stood on the shelf below those.
Propped up in the corner was a guitar. Closer inspection of the head revealed it was a Taylor. I knew that was a big deal, because Mickey, Jayla’s boyfriend, was forever detouring us into pawn shops and the Guitar Center back home and trying out whatever nice guitars he was allowed. This was way, way nicer than my cheap department store acoustic.
Had it not been for my increasing allergies and also the fact that I was pretty sure I was at least kind of trespassing, I totally would’ve played the five chords I knew.
An old TV, not the flat kind, sat on a table in front of the bed. A cable snaked around at the foot of the table, attached to nothing. A game system had been here, I’d bet, but it was long gone.
I coughed again. It was time to go. But a glance at the bedside table revealed an open, dusty can of soda, and a sketchbook.
I needed to know when to quit.
Someday I’d learn.
I moved over to the table and picked up the sketchbook. I flipped through it, amazed by the hard curve of an ibis beak. The strength of a red-tail hawk. The soft of a mimosa tree in bloom. The tendrils of Spanish moss in a play of wind.
Earlier in the book, the subject matter was not so much of island life as it was of the island’s architecture.
I immediately recognized the style.
It looked like the art in the hallways.
I flipped back to the front cover. It was dated February 12 of this year.
Under the date were the words:
IF FOUND, PLEASE RETURN TO RHYS FONTAINE
Rhys.
This was Rhys’s room.
He’d been chronicling nature with pencil and 60 lb. paper, just like I do with my camera and computer. We had things in common. And he had unbelievable skill. But now, according to everything I’d heard, he was barely able to take care of himself. Barely able to dress or feed himself.
My heart ached for a person I’d never met.
I sniffed, but I wasn’t crying. I was just trying to breathe. I had to get out of here. I exchanged the overhead light for my flashlight. As I passed the other bedroom, I realized it was probably his dad’s. His dad who had been killed in the car accident.
Which made me wonder whose room Mom was living in.
Back on our side, I fumbled in my bag for an allergy pill. The only kind I could find were the pills that made me sleepy. Not such a horrible thing, probably. I checked to be sure everything in the passage was the way it should be. I didn’t imagine Maisie meant for the light to be left on, so I turned it off and pulled the door shut behind me. I felt it click, and when I tried the handle, it wouldn’t turn. When I pushed lightly, it didn’t budge under my weight.
It was probably just stuck, but it felt locked. Maisie—or whoever—had probably thought it was locked when they left it behind.
Stuck but not locked was good enough for me, too.
And besides, I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to be back in there, now that I knew why Maisie had lied. It felt weird, disrespectful, and, well, creepy, to be in a closed-up home where one of the occupants had recently died.
As I settled into the bedofa, my mind was on the boy I hadn’t yet met.
The boy I might never really meet.

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Chapter 5

A Mild Case of Herpetophobia

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