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The Haunting of Wildwood Farm

© 2021 Mark D. Gallant. All rights reserved.

Chapter Nineteen: There's No Place Like Home

With the help of Mrs. McGovern, the Wildwood Gang was able to return the baseball cards to Charles Nichols. They joined the Nichols family in the music room at the senior center, and when Charles held the Mickey Mantle card in his hands, his face brightened and his eyes twinkled, and it seemed as if a dark cloud had lifted now that the treasure had come home.

"Mantle," he repeated for the third time as he showed the card to his sister.

But Mickey Mantle wasn't the only surprise the Wildwood Gang had delivered on this day. They brought another ghost from his past, although it wasn't really a ghost in the traditional sense.

Aunt Patty sat down in a chair beside Charles and took his hand in her own. At the mention of his name, he stirred in his chair and his body came to life, as if someone had just replaced his waning batteries with a pair of brand-spanking-new ones. His head turned to the right and his chin lifted ever so slightly, and his eyes darted to the source of a voice that, despite the passing of decades, sounded quite familiar to him.

"Patty," he said with a smile.

Aunt Patty smiled back, and for the next hour or so, they conversed. Charles did little talking and most of the listening, as Aunt Patty dusted off the virtual scrapbook and proceeded to spin yarns of her life and travels.

Fortunately for the Wildwood Gang, they were rewarded with all sorts of sweet treats from the cafeteria, which made their stay a little less torturous. But that didn't stop Drew from trying to negotiate an early release with Mrs. McGovern. However, Aunt Patty wouldn't hear of it, and the kids were forced to find other ways to entertain themselves.

Through conversation with Charles's sister, Stella, the kids learned that she would be taking possession of the Mantle card for safekeeping. There was concern that with Charles in his current state, a dishonest fellow or two might take advantage of him, and Stella feared the card could go missing. So she would assume guardianship.

Stella had no desire to learn the card's true value. While the proceeds from its sale might have covered Charles's stay at the nursing home for years to come, Stella had no plans to sell it. It belonged to her brother, and it was special to him, so it would remain in the family.

And speaking of family, it appeared as if the Wildwood Gang had once again returned to full strength. But there was still the matter of the Halloween Festival's costume contest.

On the day of the big event, downtown Castleton was swarming with trick-or-treaters. It was an introvert's nightmare. Moms, dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and cousins just released from prison, accompanied the kids from one vendor tent to the next, acquiring as much candy and swag as possible.

Police officers directed traffic, crossing guards directed families, and motor vehicles honked at that lone car blocking traffic as it tried to parallel park in a space it had no business trying to squeeze into in the first place.

There was a lot going on: lots of people, lots of vendors, lots of candy, and depending upon your perspective, lots of aggravation. As a former colleague of mine used to say, it was like cramming ten pounds of garbage into a five-pound box. I know that's not the most pleasant way to describe the action, but to be honest, I covered it earlier, and I don't feel like recapping it. Go back and re-read Chapter Four if you need a refresher.

The costume contest took place on the town common, and a slew of ninjas, witches, wizards, action heroes, video game characters, and other colorful designs, paraded across the bandstand to be judged.

Jeff, Sofie, and Ethan (aka the Scarecrow, Dorothy, and the Cowardly Lion), waited nervously for the arrival of their fourth wheel. Drew had assured them he would show, but he had yet to arrive, and they worried that he might not make it in time to be recorded as an official entry.

The Scarecrow, Dorothy, and the Lion fanned out across the common looking for any sign of the Tin Man, and just when it seemed that he might not make it, Sofie spotted him crossing the street in front of Ye Olde Country Store.

In fairness to Drew's impeccable design, it wasn't Drew who Sofie had noticed. It was the Tin Man. Drew was virtually unrecognizable. His costume looked so authentic, with a rounded cardboard torso, legging and arm coverings to match, a plastic funnel for his cap, a pair of old slip-on shoes, and a pair of dishwashing gloves, all of which had been spray-painted silver. His mug had been meticulously covered with silver face paint, right down to his ears and eyelids. His axe, which had also been bathed in silver, was a real axe, although smaller in size and weight, and the protective sheath covering remained intact to prevent injury.

Sofie waved to Jeff and Ethan, and the three of them converged on Drew as he stepped onto the common.

"Your costume is amazing!" Sofie said. "Did you do that yourself?"

"I had some help," Drew said. "My dad and I worked on it. That's why I wasn't on the bus. And I skipped out on recess to work on it. Miss Frazetti let me eat lunch in the art room."

"It looks awesome," Jeff said. "And I'm glad you got to spend time with your dad."

"Yeah, we're a work in progress," Drew said. "I think he felt guilty about missing those weekends. He said he wanted to make it up to me."

"At least he has a heart," Sofie said with a grin.

Drew smiled. "It must run in the family. Now let's go win this thing."

The Wildwood Gang was the last group to appear on the bandstand, and the quartet was met with resounding applause and cheers. It proved to be foreshadowing to the final tally, as the judges awarded them first place in the Group Costume category. The pronouncement was accompanied by a check for five hundred dollars, which they would split four ways.

The Wildwood Gang basked in the glory of the moment, savoring every morsel of adulation bestowed upon them by friends and family. For tomorrow was a new day, and with the mystery of Kent Cottage officially in the books, they were free to embark on their next great adventure.

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© Copyright 2021 Mark D. Gallant. All rights reserved.