The Haunting of Wildwood Farm
© 2021 Mark D. Gallant. All rights reserved.
Chapter Three: The Fifth Wheel
The Dixon Regional Elementary School was the local K-to-Five school that serviced three neighboring communities: Mystic Point, Spencer Ridge, and Castleton. Why three towns, you ask? Well, populations were a tad sparse in the White Mountains, and as far as the individual towns were concerned, there weren't enough kids to fill a space cruiser. Uh, I mean, elementary school. So they doubled up, and in some cases, tripled up.
The Dixon School was the home-away-from-home for the four members of the Wildwood Gang. As fifth graders, they were the top dogs in the school, and with it came some perks, one of which was an unofficial claim to playground equipment. Swings, monkey bars, jungle-gym, whatever. Now most of the time it was share and share alike. Everyone got along just fine. But when it came to the ultra-popular rocket ship structure, the climbing mecca of playground equipment with its nose cone shooting skyward and all its secret compartments, all bets were off.
Most days at recess you'd find the Wildwood Gang camped out on the rocket ship. But today was a little different. Change was in the air. A current of energy rippled across the plain of normalcy and sent the instruments out of whack. For some members of the gang, it was barely detectable. For others, it was like a pimple on the end of your nose.
Jeff and Ethan were on the hardtop shooting hoops, or more precisely, Jeff was shooting hoops and Ethan was throwing up bricks. Sofie was on the bench near the cherry blossoms with the new boy, Ben, while Drew sat on the boulder on the opposite side of the schoolyard, eyeing them suspiciously.
Ben was in the fifth grade as well. He was a new arrival to start the school year, and took an immediate liking to Sofie. He was handsome, charming, and adventurous, and spent much of his recess trying to impress Sofie with some skill or trick. Today he was juggling mechanical pencils, and had kept four in the air for almost ten seconds. Sofie found it amusing, and applauded his focus. And when Ben tired of his juggling act, he resorted to magic tricks, and made a quarter appear from behind Sofie's ear. And when he was done with that, he told some jokes, and Sofie laughed out loud.
Drew watched her throw her head back with laughter. He watched the way she looked at Ben with that little twinkle in her eye, and how he brushed up against her when he spun that stupid quarter trick.
Drew's focus was abruptly diverted when Jeff and Ethan showed up.
"How's it going?" Jeff asked. Drew grumbled incoherently.
"So what's up with that cottage?" Ethan said. "Is it really haunted?"
"There's a ghost that haunts the top floor," Jeff replied. "That's where the boy died."
"A boy?" Ethan said. "What boy?"
"The boy who lived there," Jeff said. "There was a family that lived in the cottage and the boy got murdered, and he's been haunting that place ever since."
"That's crazy," Ethan said. "Have you ever seen it? The ghost, I mean?"
Jeff shook his head. "Nope. I'm not allowed to go there. Greg says if we stay away, the ghost won't bother us."
"How did the boy die?" Ethan asked.
"I forget the whole story," Jeff said. "You'd have to ask Greg. He knows all about it."
"Greg's a windbag," Drew interjected. "I wouldn't believe anything he says."
"Greg knows a lot about the farm," Jeff said. "He knows a lot about a lot of things."
"Oh gimme a break," Drew laughed. "He lies through his teeth. He told us there were rattlesnakes in that field, just to keep us away. Rattlesnakes??? There are no rattlesnakes in New Hampshire! And remember that Maniac of the Mountain baloney? Yeah, Greg's full of it. He'll say anything to keep us off the trail."
"I don't know," Jeff said. "My grandfather says the same thing. Something bad happened to that boy. He knew the family. My Aunt Patty did too. I think she was friends with him. She's coming to visit, so we can ask her about it."
"It's just a ghost story," Drew muttered, his voice trailing off as he noticed Sofie and Ben coming his way. Ben must've been telling more of his stupid jokes, Drew thought to himself, because Sofie was laughing again.
"Hi," she said, as she and Ben approached. "What are you guys talking about?"
"Wildwood business," Drew said. "It doesn't concern him."
The remark sent a shockwave of discomfort through the group. Jeff and Ethan sort of glanced away, distancing themselves from Drew's venomous tone. They had nothing against Ben. He seemed like a decent kid, and though taken aback, he recovered with an uncomfortable, yet understanding grin, and looked down at the ground.
"Drew, that is so rude!" Sofie said, coming to Ben's defense.
"Wildwood business is Wildwood business," Drew said. "You're lucky you're still in the group."
"What's that supposed to mean?" she asked.
"You ratted us out to Greg!"
"I did what?? Drew, what are you talking about?"
"The cow, remember? You went crying to Greg."
"Drew, I went to get help!"
"We didn't need any help," Drew said. "We had everything under control."
"No we didn't!" Sofie argued. "We never would've gotten that cow back in the pen without Greg and Cody."
"The cow was gang business," Drew said. "And gang business stays within the gang."
Sofie rolled her eyes. "Oh, give me a break!"
"You betrayed our trust."
"I did not!"
"You committed treason! And you should be kicked out of the gang!"
"You're not the leader," she said, "so you can't kick me out."
"Fine," he said, "then I vote you out."
"I vote she stays," Jeff said.
Ethan nodded. "Ditto."
Drew threw his arms up. "Fine, see what I care. I'm outta here." He hopped down from the rock and pushed past Ethan and Ben, huffing his way back toward the school.
"What a jerk!" Sofie said, visibly upset.
"Yeah, sorry about that, Ben," Jeff said. "You didn't deserve that."
"It's okay," Ben said. "I get it. I'm the new guy. I have to earn his trust."
"Believe me," Ethan said, "I know all about being the new guy. Last year was not an easy one."
"New guy or not," Sofie said, "you shouldn't be treated like that."
"You don't deserve to be treated like that either," Ben said with a smile. She smiled back, then the two of them bid Jeff and Ethan adieu and walked away.
Ethan scratched the back of his head. "Man, what's gotten into Drew lately?"
"I don't know," Jeff said. "He's been acting weird ever since school started."
The recess bell rang, summoning the students back to class. Jeff and Ethan trudged across the schoolyard, with thoughts weighing heavily on both of them. For Jeff, he pondered why Drew was so agitated. As for Ethan, he couldn't stop thinking about the ghost of Kent Cottage, and how that boy was murdered.
© Copyright 2021 Mark D. Gallant. All rights reserved.