Mr. Lytell Gets Even
Author's note: This story is rated blue star. It is perfectly harmless. :) It is set in contemporary time and contains a mild spoiler for The Mystery of the Whispering Witch. There are also vague references to The Mystery Off Glen Road and The Mystery of The Missing Millionaire.
"Isn't it a little dark in here?" Honey whispered.
"Shhh," Trixie replied softly. "It's supposed to be dark. Ghosts never come out in the light, you know."
The room was dark, lit only by the single candle set on the table before them. The flame danced and flickered, casting eerie shadows on the walls. Trixie looked around at the other faces revealed in the weak light, wondering what they were thinking.
Outside a storm raged with angry bursts of thunder that rattled the windows and blinding flashes of lightning that for a split second made everything as bright as day. Rain lashed at the roof while a strong wind howled, and Trixie knew her mother was worried that Crabapple Farm might suffer some real damage under the onslaught. She was about to ask if she could use the telephone to call home and check in when Diana suddenly spoke.
"Ghosts and spirits, hear my voice," Di intoned. "Come now that we call you. Come forth and give us a sign that you are here."
For a moment, nothing happened.
"Show your presence now!" Di commanded. "Speak and we will listen!"
Again, silence. Then, suddenly, a small burst of air extinguished the candle flame, plunging the room in to utter darkness.
The room's only door swung open, yellow light spilling in from the hallway, and a voice spoke.
"I have your movie and popcorn all set up."
All seven Bob-Whites screamed.
"Can you believe this mess?" Brian asked, staring at the branches, leaves and debris scattered across Glen Road.
Jim frowned. "We have our work cut out for us, all right. This is going to take all day. Even with the city workers out here to clear the roads, we have the entire preserve to worry about, plus your property."
Trixie ran a hand through her already tousled curls. "Oh, woe. And we've got the signs to paint for the rummage sale, too!"
Jim puffed out a breath and smiled weakly. "Well, we'll just have to divide up the work. Why don't we go make sure the clubhouse is still standing and then work out our plans."
Honey fell in step with her best friend as she, Jim and the Belden siblings made their way down the path that would lead them to the Manor House's old gatehouse, a small cottage the Bob-Whites used to hold their meetings and store their considerable piles of outdoors and sporting equipment. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" she asked quietly.
Trixie nodded glumly. "If we've lost our roof again, I don't know what we'll do! Giving my ring to Mr. Lytell won't do us any good this time around and I know Dad won't let me sell it."
Honey reached out and gave Trixie's hand a quick squeeze. "Probably everything is just fine."
They discovered that Dan had beat them to the punch. He was already at the clubhouse when they arrived, using a rake to clear away a large pile of orange, red, and brown leaves.
"How's it look?" Brian called out, waving a hand at the small building.
Dan looked up and grinned. "Good morning to you, too," he called back.
Brian laughed. "Yeah. But how's it look?"
"See for yourself." Dan opened the door and stepped back.
The other Bob-Whites crowded around and peered inside.
"It looks wet," Trixie said finally.
Dan nodded. "I spent about an hour mopping things up, but now the towels I brought are so soaked, they aren't doing any good."
"So what happened?" Mart asked. "I don't see any gaping holes in the roof."
"No holes," Dan agreed. "But we still sprung a leak. If you go stand in the back of the room and look up, you'll see the water damage all along this wall."
"Terrific." Trixie muttered. "Just terrific."
Jim shrugged and offered her a quick smile. "It could be a lot worse, Trix. Don't worry. We'll get it patched up."
"By tonight?" she demanded skeptically. "The weather man is predicting more storms, you know."
"We'll have to get started right away."
"In that case," Honey said, "Trixie and I had better start patrolling. I know Regan is covering the areas up near the Western boundary."
"And Mr. Maypenny is riding out to the south," Dan added.
"Then we'll take the sections along Glen Road. Come on, Trix. Let's get going."
"I'll need to run down the house to get some tools," Brian put in. "I'll let Moms know what we're doing."
"What a way to spend the first Saturday of October," Trixie said with a long, dramatic sigh.
"Yeah," Honey added, her hazel eyes twinkling. "Poor us. We have to go horseback riding on this crisp fall day."
Trixie brightened. "Well, when you put it like that.... Let's go!"
"Just beware of those unicycling poachers," Mart warned ominously. "I hear they can be very dangerous."
Trixie shot her brother a sharp glare, but was prevented from responding by Honey who, anxious to avoid a fight, practically dragged her from the clearing to the trail that would wind up to the stable.
"Ignore him, Trix," Honey murmured. "We have too much work to do. We don't have time for a screaming match."
Trixie felt her cheeks redden. She knew she had a reputation for a temper and she knew, for the most part, that it was well deserved, but usually Honey wasn't the one to call her on it. "I know," she mumbled. "Sorry."
Regan was in the stable when the girls arrived. He looked hot and tired.
"We thought you were out," Honey said as she stepped up to Lady's stall and patted her beloved horse's long nose.
Regan nodded, wiping his arm across his brow. "I've been out clearing debris since seven. I just came back for a cup of coffee and to switch horses."
"We're going to take Lady and Susie and patrol along Glen Road," Trixie said.
Regan glanced at her. "Just watch out for the work crews. I saw some pretty heavy equipment working out there. Don't scare the horses."
Honey and Trixie traded smiles. "We'll be careful, Regan," Honey promised. "We'd never do anything to harm one of your babies!"
Regan put his big freckled hands on his hips and directed a mock glare at the pretty, blonde girl. "Was that sarcasm, Miss Wheeler? Every day you hang out with Trixie, I think you lose a little bit more of your legendary tact."
Trixie's eyes widened. "I think I was just insulted, wasn't I?"
Regan suddenly laughed, reaching out to tap Trixie on the top of her head. "Don't worry, Trix. I'm only kidding and you know it." He grinned at her. "I'm pretty sure being a Bob-White is just about the best thing to ever happen to Honey, and you have a lot to do with that."
"It is!" Honey exclaimed warmly. "Being a Bob-White means the world to me! Trixie, I'm so glad we're friends!"
Trixie felt herself blushing again for the second time in less than fifteen minutes. "Me, too, Honey."
The girls saddled their horses, waited for Regan to remind them to check Lady's cinch, then road out into the preserve, savoring the cool morning weather and clean smelling air. They picked their way carefully, avoiding downed branches and even a few fallen trees. They stopped often, clambering down from the horses to move obstacles off the trails. When they came across a tree too big to move, they made a note of where they were and how far they'd ridden from the stable, planning to tell Regan about it later in the day.
"We're really going to work up and appetite today," Honey remarked as they turned onto a narrow path. "The boys, too. I overheard Miss Trask telling Celia to pick up some steaks at the store this morning. Yummy-yum! Big juicy steaks, baked potatoes, green beans and some of Cook's famous Parker House rolls...."
Trixie glanced back at her best friend and chuckled. "If you don't stop talking about it, you're going to make me hungry now. We don't eat it very often because it can be so expensive but a 'big, juicy steak' will probably hit the spot tonight."
"Well done," Trixie said firmly. "I don't like seeing any red when-"
She cut herself off, frowning, pulling Susie to a halt.
"Trix?" Honey asked, reigning in her horse. "Is something wrong?"
Still frowning, Trixie turned in her saddle, staring intently into the woods on her right. "I thought I heard something."
"Oh," Honey waved one hand dismissively. "You probably just heard a squirrel or something."
Trixie's brows drew downward. "I - I guess so. But it sounded more like... like footsteps."
Honey, too, studied the surrounding forest. "Well, I don't see or hear anything now."
"No," Trixie slowly agreed. "Neither do I. Probably it was just some animal or something. Let's keep going."
They rode for about another twenty minutes before they began to pick up on the sounds of what they guessed to be the "heavy equipment" Regan had warned them about. They could hear a loud buzz saw and something that rumbled, deep and low.
Susie twitched a little, her ears bending back to lay flat. "I think Regan was right," Trixie announced. "Susie doesn't like the noise. Why don't we turn and go this way?" She pointed in a direction that would take them away from the city clean-up crew.
Honey nodded her agreement. Just as the girls moved on to a new path, they both caught sight of something light colored, flittering between two trees.
"What was that?" Trixie demanded, leaning forward in her saddle. "Did you see that?"
"I did see it, but I don't know what it was!" Honey exclaimed. "It just disappeared."
They sat still, watching and listening, but the horses quickly grew restless. In the distance they heard a loud crash and sounds of shouting. The buzz saw revved again.
Susie bucked her head, prancing backward. "Whoa, girl," Trixie murmured, patting her neck. "Whoa."
Lady, too, stirred, neighing softly and taking several backward steps.
"We need to move," Honey said. "They really don't like that noise."
Trixie bit down on her lip. Surely that was what had the horses spooked, and yet, it seemed to her almost as if they were trying to move away from the clear path and toward the loud sounds. It was if it were the path itself that had the animals frightened.
The path, or something near it?
Trixie strained her eyes but she saw no more sign of the... of the what, exactly? She'd only the briefest glimpse of it, of a flash of white, and now she was starting to think maybe she'd imagined it. Except, of course, Honey had seen it, too.
It took some doing to get the horses to move forward, but finally, after considerable urging, they were moving down the leaf-strewn path. Trixie called them to another halt after several minutes. "We've got another large branch," she called back to her friend. She swung one leg over her saddle, ready to dismount, when she sensed more than saw something off to her left. Awkwardly, she turned, her boot heel catching in the stirrup and her fingers scrambling for a hold on the pommel.
It was further away this time, moving quickly through the trees. One moment she could see it; the next, it was gone. She struggled to right herself. "Honey! I saw it again! Did you see it?"
Honey was already on the ground, holding Lady's reigns. She shook her head. "Not this time, Trix. Sorry."
"What do you think it was?"
Honey titled her head and studied her friend. "What do you think it was?"
"I don't know. A person I guess. But who could it be? The boys are all at the clubhouse. Regan should be out on Strawberry by now. Mr. Maypenny would stop and say hello, and... and... who else is there?"
"Maybe it was Mr. Maypenny and he just didn't see us?" Honey suggested sensibly. "Or maybe it was Mr. Lytell. We know he passes through here sometimes."
"Trespasses through here," Trixie muttered darkly, overlooking the fact that before the Wheelers had purchased this land, she and her brothers had trespassed often themselves.
Honey grinned at her. "Come on. Let's clear this branch out of the way and get moving. We still have a lot of ground to cover."
They worked steadily until noon. Twice more Trixie thought she'd spotted the strange white apparition, but because in both cases Honey hadn't been able to confirm it, she wondered if she was seeing things.
"This is all because of that stupid séance last night," she grumbled. "I've got ghosts on the brain and now I'm imagining them!"
Chuckling softly, Honey suggested they turn back for the Manor House. "Let's go check in and get some lunch. I'm hungry and I'd also like to know how the boys are progressing."
Trixie glanced at the sky. Grey clouds were moving in, obscuring the sun and casting shadows over the forest trails. "Yeah. We could use a break. The horses, too. But we don't want to stop too long. I think the weatherman was right and we're in for more bad weather."
Honey made a face. "Which, of course, could just ruin all our hard work from today."
They came to a small clearing and Honey clicked her heels, urging Lady toward a path that more or less would take them straight to the Manor House.
They were only minutes from home when it happened. There was a loud crack and before either girl could react a large, heavy branch dropped from above them, grazing Trixie's forehead before striking Susie on the back.
Startled, the horse bolted. Trixie, blinded for a moment, had lifted her hand to her head and as her horse suddenly shot forward, she tumbled backward from the saddle, falling to the hard ground below.
"Trixie!" Honey cried. She slipped from her own horse, holding the reigns firmly. "Are you okay?"
Trixie winced and slowly sat up. "Well, that was fun."
"Are you hurt?" Honey asked. "Oh! You're bleeding!"
Trixie touched her fingertips to her head. "It's just a scratch," she assured her friend weakly. She looked up. "You have to go after Susie. She might come across another tree in the path and hurt herself."
"I can't leave you here like this!"
Trixie climbed to her feet, biting back a moan. "I'm fine," she insisted. "Just got the wind knocked out of me. Please, Honey. Go catch Susie. I'll follow along."
Honey stood her ground, ready to argue, but Trixie cut her off. "Honey. I'm fine. But I'll never forgive myself if something happens to Susie. Go after her. We aren't that far from your house. It's maybe a ten minute walk." She reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out a tissue which she used to gently wipe at the small cut on her forehead.
"And you're sure you're all right?" Honey asked doubtfully. "You don't feel dizzy or faint or anything?"
Trixie waved her off. Finally, reluctantly, Honey rode off, following the path Susie had taken. In moments she was out of sight, leaving Trixie alone in the clearing to chastise herself for her stupidity.
Certainly, it wasn't her fault she'd been clobbered by an errant tree branch, but still, she suspected Regan would have a thing or two to say about her letting her horse runaway like that. With a heavy sigh, she brushed at the dirt and leaves on her jeans and started walking.
Without the clip-clop of hooves and cheerful chatter or her best friend, the woods seemed... different. Gloomy and oppressive. Trixie's mind wandered to the person, or whatever it was, and she couldn't stop herself from shuddering. She jammed her hands into her pockets and marched resolutely on, keeping her gaze fixed firmly on the ground in front of her.
She'd walked along that way for about five minutes when a soft noise snapped her out of her glum thoughts.
She froze, listening.
Yes. There it was again.
Footsteps. Light, and nearby.
The hair on the back of Trixie's neck stood up and goose bumps broke out along her skin. Slowly, knowing she was making a mistake, she turned around.
This time is was less than twenty feet away. White and glowing, it hovered near a broad tree trunk. Trixie swallowed hard, closed her eyes and opened them again.
It was still there.
"Trixie Belden," an eerie voice whispered. "Trixie Belden, you will pay for what you've done...."
"Wh-Who are you?" Trixie cried, fighting back a blind panic.
"You will pay..." the voice rasped again.
And then it was gone. Vanished in the blink of an eye.
Trixie decided there was no point in fighting blind panic and with a shriek she whirled around and took off at a fast run. For awhile, she heard a distant laughter following her.
Cackle, was more like it. It was high-pitched and wicked. The laugh of something completely evil.
And then she was stumbling out of the preserve at the end of a trail that stopped only yards from the back of the stable. Even as she rushed forward, she saw Regan and Honey, both mounted up. Coming to look for her, she guessed.
She lifted her arm and waved for their attention, not trusting her voice to speak.
A ghost. She'd seen a real, live ghost!
Or, well, dead ghost, she supposed.
Shivering, she remembered its threat.
She would pay!
Mart spooned some creamed corn onto his plate, shaking his head. "Oh, come on, little sister, dear. A ghost?"
Trixie crossed her arms stubbornly. "I saw one, I tell you. I saw him and he told me I'd pay for what I'd done!"
"What did you do?" Dan asked, unable to hold back a grin. "It must have been something truly awful to have disturbed his eternal rest."
Trixie frowned mullishly. She should have known no one would believe her. Even Honey looked skeptical and she'd seen the ghost herself once at least.
"You took a knock to your head and a tumble from your horse," Brian pointed out reasonably. "You might have just imagined it."
"Are you saying I'm nuts?' Trixie demanded, glaring at him.
Brian sighed, clearly trying to hold onto his patience. "No, Trix. I'm not saying you're nuts."
"Last night we held that silly séance. Today you and Honey saw someone in the woods and later, after your accident, your mind starting playing tricks on you."
"I was not imagining things!" Trixie insisted. "I saw him and he spoke and he called me by name!"
Mart's face suddenly took on an expression she knew all too well. Whenever he tried to look this innocent, it meant he was up to no good. "Maybe it was the séance," he suggested in a low voice. "Maybe we called forth a spirit from the ethereal plane and he's angry that we woke him and now he wants his revenge!" He stared at his sister with wide eyes, the picture of concern and fright. "And he's chosen you to exact his payment from! You're the one who will have to suffer for our delving into the black arts!"
He finished this pronouncement by humming a few bars from a song Trixie didn't recognize.
Apparently Dan did.
"Uncovering things that were sacred
Manifest on this Earth
Conceived in the eye of a secret
And they scattered the afterbirth ..."
Trixie shot him a wounded look. She expected this from Mart, but not Dan.
"All right," Jim cut in sharply. "I think that's enough. Whatever Trixie saw, it doesn't change the fact that she was hurt. Knock it off, okay?"
Trixie sent him a grateful look and pushed back her chair. "I'm getting back to work."
"Oh, Trixie!" Honey exclaimed. "You don't really mean to go patrolling again, do you? I think you ought to lie down and rest."
"I'm not tired," Trixie responded stubbornly. "And my head doesn't hurt. It looks worse than it is. I just want to get back to patrolling before the next storm hits."
"Trixie," Jim said slowly. "Just because you feel fine now doesn't mean this won't catch up with you in a few hours. What happens if you're on the other side of the preserve when it happens?"
For a moment, Trixie wanted to argue, but then, realizing she was in a fight she couldn't win, she slowly nodded. "All right. I'll go home, okay? I'll go home and sleep and let you guys do all the work."
"I'll drive you," Jim offered.
Trixie bit back a sigh. "Thanks, but I think I can make it that far on my own."
"I'll walk with you, Trixie," Honey said quickly, shooting her brother a warning look. They'd already pushed her to concede to taking it easy. It wouldn't help things to antagonize her further. "I'm not going patrolling on my own, so I don't have anything else I have to do."
Ten minutes later, the girls were on the short trail that led down to Crabapple Farm.
"Honey, I really saw a ghost," Trixie said suddenly. "I wasn't dreaming or imagining things."
Honey considered this for several long seconds. "I thought you didn't believe in ghosts," she said finally.
Trixie shrugged. "I don't. I don't think I do. But then, you know, no one ever really explained how I saw Sarah Sligo that night at the Lisgard House, either, and Mr. Gregory denied that that was one of his stunts." She paused, impatiently kicking at a small pebble on the trail. "I don't really know what to think," she confessed. "Whether it was a genuine ghost or not, I saw something and it did say my name and tell me I was going to pay."
"But pay for what, Trixie?" Honey asked pointedly. "I really don't think we raised the dead with our séance, and even if we had, I'm sure the angry spirit would've gone after Di in that case. It was her idea and she was the one who set it up and did all the talking."
Trixie could tell her best friend still didn't quite believe her. Turning rather abruptly, she left the path to her house and set off in the preserve. Honey scurried to catch up. "Where are you going now?" she demanded.
"Back to where I saw my ghost. Maybe we'll find some kind of evidence or clue. Maybe we'll even see him again."
"I thought you agreed to go home!"
"I did, and I will. It wasn't too far from here. It won't take long." Trixie led the way back to the clearing, then started again on the trail that led to the Manor House stable. After walking a short distance, she stopped. "Here. This is the tree where the ghost appeared." She bent down and studied the ground.
Muddy and covered with half decayed leaves, she found no sign of footprints. She broadened her search, moving with slow measured steps.
"Look!" she cried softly. She bent down and touched one finger to a deep impression in the water-logged ground. "Someone was here."
"It could have been anyone," Honey began.
Trixie shook her head. "No. This print happened recently or the storm would've washed it away."
"Yes, but it could have been Mr. Maypenny or even Regan out patrolling this morning."
"Maybe," Trixie agreed. "But somehow I don't think so. I think it was the ghost."
"Er, Trix, as a friend I have to tell you, you've finally gone around the bend on this ghost business. Ghosts don't leave footprints."
"Which only goes to show our ghost isn't really real," Trixie said thoughtfully.
The wind was picking up, rustling the trees tops and sending a fresh shower of colorful leaves to fall. Honey buttoned up her jacket and glanced worriedly at the sky. "I think it might be a good idea if we got moving. I hope the boys were able to complete enough of their repairs to keep the clubhouse standing tonight."
Trixie brushed a few errant leaves away from the print. "It was a man, I think," she said softly. "It's a pretty large foot."
"Trixie," Honey said gently. "Let's go. You can go home and get some rest and then, this evening, we'll all meet back at my house for that steak dinner. Okay?"
Trixie finally looked up at her friend and in doing so, caught a glimpse of the sky above her head. It was dark now, covered by a layer of threatening clouds. The rain was not very far off. "Yeah. Let's go. You may find yourself spending the rest of the day down at the farm if this thing breaks loose any time soon."
They walked hurriedly, talking very little as the wind whipped at their hair and set them shivering. They were almost within shouting distance of Crabapple Farm when the ghost appeared again.
In the dim light, it seemed especially bright, a gauzy white mist that floated next to a tree a few feet off the trail. Honey gasped as she saw it.
"Trixie Belden," an unearthly voice rasped. "You will pay!"
Honey clutched at her friend's arm and let out a high-pitched yell.
"Remember, he isn't real," Trixie hissed. Still, it took every nerve in her body to force herself to move forward. As she closed the gap between the trail and the tree, she noticed something.
Was that... wire?
Suddenly she lunged forward, reaching out. A moment later she was standing still, breathing heavily and holding on to a thin, torn sheet of fabric. "Well, here's my ghost. Definitely not real, but that doesn't explain the voice we heard. Someone must have-"
Both girls jumped and shrieked. Spinning about, Trixie found herself face to face with Mr. Lytell.
Mr. Lytell was holding a gun.
And not just any gun.
A Super Soaker Jumbo 2000 water gun like the one Bobby had lost the previous summer. Trixie’s china blue eyes narrowed. It wasn't just like Bobby's Jumbo 2000, it was his Jumbo 2000!
Mr. Lytell raised the gun and fired. Trixie was hit by a hard, steady stream of something red and sticky. A sugary smell filled the air.
"Mr. Lytell!" Honey cried in protest. "What are you doing?"
"S-Strawberry pop?" Trixie said faintly, shaking the liquid from her hands and wiping at her jacket sleeves. "Strawberry pop?"
Mr. Lytell continued to shoot, letting out a long, wicked cackle. Trixie was simply too stunned to move out of the line of fire.
"Mr. Lytell!" Honey shouted again.
Mr. Lytell lowered the gun. "A whole case! One whole case of Strawberry pop! I had to order it because of you, girl! And you know who drinks Strawberry pop? You know who buys Strawberry pop? No one! It's a vile drink that no sane person would touch! No one drinks it but one Trixie Belden! And just how many Strawberry pops have you bought from me in the last year and a half, girl? Do you know, because I do! Two! You've bought exactly two in an entire year and a half! At this rate the stuff will pass its shelf life long before I go through the whole case! You cost me money, Miss Trixie Belden, and now you're going to pay!"
With that he lifted the gun and fired again. "Hee. Hee. You should have seen your face when I yelled 'boo!' You were whiter than my old bed sheet. So ha! If I'm going to be forced to toss nearly a whole case of Strawberry pop, at least I'm going to have fun doing it!