The Final Reading Place Cemetery

Marley and her guardian Dodo bird leave the safe confines of Storybook Land to search out Mole who has gone off to the environs of New Orleans to help a cousin. The burrowing cousin made a comfortable and peaceful home in a cemetery, but then the place became much too lively. Accompanying them in this trip are two new Storybook Land characters, the sultan’s sorcerer and his ward, the Princess Badroulbadour, whose friends call Bee.

The Final Reading Place Cemetery

by

Tonton Jim

Marley’s Halloween party certainly brought out the creative genius in most of her friends’ parents. Though, many a grownup and child wondered who dropped off the kid in the dodo bird costume. It looked very real. It’s feathers especially looked so prettily real which, of course, they were. And those feathers were also extremely valuable being the real feathers of an extinct bird.

Seeing her old friend and guardian dodo bird walk through the front door, brought a smile to the serious face she’d been wearing all that evening. One reason for the grim face was the recent death of her beloved dog. Also, this year her costume was that of a no-nonsense detective: a baggy suit (actually, the only kind her mom could find near to her size), a loose tie around an open collar white shirt, a badge on her belt, but no gun. Her mom forbade it, and when Marley demanded to know what kind of detective didn’t have a pistol, her mom told her, “An English one.” Marley wanted to double check that, but the badge and the trench coat so completed the costume, she grew entirely satisfied with being unarmed.

“Marley.” She could barely hear her friend, Chuck the guardian dodo bird, partly because his upper and lower beaks didn’t move and like a human trying to talk without moving the lips, the result was hardly loud enough to be heard over the voices of the excited kids and the CD of “Monster Mash” that her dad insisted on playing.

“You have to come to Storybook Land. We need your help.”

“What? I can’t hear you?”

Outside, distance rumbles of thunder also couldn’t make themselves heard inside the party, then, outside of the living room picture window, a flash of intensely bright light, followed by childish screams followed by a rumble of thunder. As all the lights in the house flickered out leaving everyone quite in the dark, Chuck took Marley’s hand in his and lightly pulled her in the direction he needed to take her. Slowly, a soft natural light began to reveal the familiar landscape of Storybook Land.

“Marley, Mole has gone off into the nearly big world.” Chuck led Marley toward Toad Hall which so far served as the headquarters for Marley’s adventures in that land of storybook folk.

“Oh, that’s terrible, I guess.” Marley knew that the ‘nearly big world’ Chuck referred to wasn’t the normal world Marley lived in with her family and friends. No, it was the rather odd world that existed just outside of Storybook Land and inside of the real big world.

After entering Toad Hall, they approached the sitting room with the fireplace, in front of which were several armchairs. Badger, Ratty, and Toad rose from their comfy chairs, each beaming with pleasure at seeing their old friend enter the fire lit room.

“Come sit down, lassie,” said Badger.

Toad motioned for her to sit in the chair he’d been in, close to the cheery fire. Chuck disappeared into the kitchen and Marley knew what to expect when he reappeared.

“So, Marley, what’s new in your world?” asked Ratty.

“I see you have a new way of dressing,” said Toad. “And I approve of the many additional pockets your overcoat has. A gentleperson can never have too many pockets, you know.”

“It’s a costume. I’m dressed as a detective.” She held up her badge. “Chuck found me at my Halloween party.”

“Oh, that does sound like jolly fun.” Toad turned to the others. “We should host one of those.”

“Time enough later to discuss parties,” said Badger. “Marley, before we tell you our news, tell us what’s on your mind. I’ve a powerful feeling all is not right in your world.”

Chuck entered with a tray on which were five mugs of steaming hot cocoa. Around his neck hung a chain of dodonuts. He held the tray before Marley who took a mug, held it to her lips and then decided to let it cool a bit. She set the mug on a side table and looked around at her animal friends.

“Jolie, my dog, died last week.”

They all shook their heads, their sadness plain to see.

“I was sort of hoping I’d see her here.”

“Oh, no, my dear,” said Chuck. “Storybook Land is for imaginary creatures, the kind one finds in books. Real dogs have their own special afterlife place.”

“Like humans have heaven?”

“Yes, that is the way of it,” said Badger.

“Though, I suppose if you wrote a story about your beloved Jolie,” said Chuck, “she could exist here, and in your memory for as long as you, well, remember her.”

“I’ll never forget her.” The mug felt cooler to her lips so she sipped at a little before asking, “Is Mole in some sort of trouble?”

“He sure is, the silly fellow,” said Ratty. “Or, at least, we know he’s sure to be very soon.”

“He’s gone and left the proper bounds of our snug lands,” said Badger.

“He left us this letter he’d received from a distant cousin living just outside of the nearly big New Orleans.” Ratty held up a sheet of paper that had been folded over twice. “In the letter his cousin complains about not being able to get a good night’s sleep because of…”

“Ghosts!” exclaimed Toad. “Ghosts rising out of their graves.”

“That’s what the cousin said,” said Ratty. “Every night ghosts are rising right up out of the ground. Well, the cousin being an underground creature naturally gets disturbed by all those spooky goings-on.”

“His cousin lives in a graveyard?” asked Marley.

“Aye,” said Badger, “the daft gopher thought it looked so calm and peaceful that he burrowed straight in.”

“So, Mole, the kind-hearted fellow,” said Ratty, “determines without so much of a by-your-leave, to go off and help his unfortunate relation.”

“But, lassie, we’re very worried about our friend’s well-being. We’re not sure if Mole, though stout hearted as he is, is a match for such evil characters such as ghosts.” Badger said this while Ratty and Toad nodded in agreement. “So, we asked ourselves…”

“Nobody asked me anything,” Toad said sulkily.

We asked ourselves: Who do we know that is not the least bit afraid of the nearly big world, and who is brave and resourceful, and who will always cheerfully volunteer to help a friend in need.”

“And I shouted, ‘Marley!’,” said Toad.

Badger, slightly irritated, glared at Toad. “We all said, ‘Marley’. She is just the one to fetch back Mole to his rightful land.”

“I’ll do it!” exclaimed Marley. “Who else is coming along?”

This question caused an awkward silence. Toad and Ratty looked away and stuffed their mouths with bits of dodonuts. Badger, coughed, and said, “The last expedition quite took it out of me. It’ll be a long while before I leave this contented land of normal critters.”

“Same here,” said Ratty. “And Toad, here, deeply offended the fairies. They won’t be helping him anytime soon.”

Toad sunk lower into his comfy chair. “All I said to them was that it appeared I was better actor then they were. It was just a witty way of saying I could be seen and they couldn’t.”

“I’m afraid, dear child,” said Chuck, “it’s to be just you and I. Oh, and maybe Tinkerbell.”

 

Tinkerbell flew out to Chuck’s and Marley’s rowboat as it glided down the Grand Canal on its way to the dark tunnel that led to the nearly big world. The bright pinpoint of light, which was the only physical presence of Tinkerbell that could be seen when they weren’t playing Bubble-ball, floated just behind the boat and above the calm dark waters of the canal. Marley and Chuck watched as several other pinpoints of light floated toward them from the shore.

“Her friends,” said Chuck. “Probably come out to see if she’s going anywhere interesting.”

In the perpetually twilight of Storybook Land, the lighted windows glowed prettily in the Snow Queen’s town, Askershus. It lay just abeam of their boat. On a dock facing the canal, a lantern light could be seen moving slowly up and down. Holding it was a lean cloaked figure. Standing next to the figure, stood an also cloaked figure but wearing bright red shoes.

“That’s the canal signal for a boater to come ashore.” Chuck, alone at the oars, rowed the boat toward the dock.

“Do you think they need help?”

“Perhaps, though the signal is also used for ‘come ashore and share a tasty treat with us’.” Chuck stopped rowing and the boat glided up against the dock. While the red shoed person made herself useful by securing the dock lines, the lean hooded figure carefully placed the lantern on the dock. Then, using both of his hands, he pulled back the hood of his cloak revealing his angular face, his narrowed eyes, and his tightly drawn lips.

“I am the sultan’s sorcerer.”

Marley looked to her guardian dodo bird. But before he could assure her there was nothing to worry about, red shoes removed her hood revealing a girl’s face positively radiating cheerful friendliness.

“Oh, lighten up, sourpuss and grow a smile. Hi, I’m Princess Badroulbadour, but you can call me Bee, all my friends do.”

“Hi, I’m Marley. And this is Chuck, he’s my guardian dodo bird.”

“Ooh, neat-o. Aren’t you the lucky one. A guardian dodo bird. They’re really, really rare. All I got is old Sorc, here. Daddy insisted I bring him along. Daddy is really, really sweet but sometimes he…”

“Princess, perhaps we should hurry along.” Sorc looked down at Chuck. “We request the favor of a row across the canal.”

“Certainly,” replied Chuck. “I’ll just move over a bit and Marley, you sit next to me. Here, take this oar and you can help me row.”

The sorcerer stepped down into the boat and unsteadily remained standing in an effort to assist the princess aboard. But she refused his hand and said, “Oh, just sit down, Sorc.”

He sat down on the aft seat facing the rowers, and she with youthful grace stepped down and sat next to him. Chuck leaned back and freed the dock line. As they drifted clear of the dock, Marley and Chuck began rowing.

“Thanks a whole bunch for stopping and picking us up. We just had to escape from Ashershus.”

“Are you in trouble?” asked Marley.

“Goodness, no. Well, that is, sort of. You see we came down here because Daddy wanted me to meet this prince guy for marriage purposes only the boy turned out to be a real stiff, no fun at all, so rather than hurt his feelings we sort of snuck out of the palace.”

“Your father will be most displeased,” said Sorc.

“He’ll get over it, Daddy never stays angry with me, I’m the baby of the family. Anyway, we just need a lift over to the next town with a prince or two lying about the place, though I really got to hope they’re lots more lively than just lying about like so many couch potatoes. Hey, Sorc. What’s the name of the next town, you know the one… some little mermaid swam there and snared herself a hubby and then the town’s people made a bronze statue of her. Oh, what’s it called?”

“It has a Danish name. Solvang, I believe,” said Sorc.

“Do you think you’ll find a good husband in Solvang?” asked Marley.

“Who knows? I’m certainly not betting any money on it. And, you know what? I simply don’t care. I’m just doing this because Daddy wants me too. Hey, that’s a neat-o coat you got on. Is it a detective coat? It must be there’s your badge. We haven’t any detectives back in the sultanate – boring.”

“The sultanate? Is that where Aladdin’s palace is?”

“Heavens no, the silly boy is just going to have to wait his turn. Daddy, the Sultan, that is, has got a lot more life left in him yet. But don’t get me started on Aladdin and my sister, what’s-her-face. Hey, where you folks headed anyway?”

“We’re going to rescue our friend, Mr. Mole. He’s run off to the nearly big world to help his gopher friend because of the ghosts.”

“Ghosts? Ooh, that sounds marvelously mysterious. Oh, I know you’re a detective and you going there to solve the mystery of the ghosts. Can I help? I’d love to come along. Can I?”

Marley looked at Chuck who nodded his beak, yes. Bee saw that and the smile on her face grew even wider though no one a second ago would’ve thought it possible.

“Princess, I cannot advise such a course of action,” said Sorc.

“Oh, come on. Let’s live a little. I mean, look at that place.” Bee pointed to the town on the shore that they were now passing, Solvang. None of the town lights were on, not even in its modest castle. “The sun hasn’t even fully set and they’ve already all gone to bed – boring.”

Sorc sighed, folded his arms, and looked away from Bee. Marley watched him do this and felt a little sorry for the man. It did not appear that his job was easy or worry free.

“Are you really a sorcerer?”

Sorc nodded yes.

“Can you do magic?”

“I certainly can, young lady.” Sorc sat up, reached into a pocket of his robe and pulled out a small rectangular box. “Here, pick a card, any card.”

Chuck leaned over and whispered into Marley’s ear, “In Storybook Land, only some women can do real magic.”

After Sorc had performed his card trick, Marley switched places with him. Sorc began rowing and the fairies set themselves on the bow making for a very bright bow light which was welcomed because otherwise the tunnel they’d rowed into would’ve been far too dismal and dark.

“Marley, to pass the time while we travel through this tunnel which can only be described as horribly dank, I’ll tell you about the Sultan and his forty daughters.”

“Your father had forty daughters?” asked Marley to which Bee nodded yes. “Does that mean he had lots of wives?”

“Heavens, no. Only about thirty-three. He married thirty-three times in a row. He also had an army of divorce lawyers, each one a shark. So, I’ve got forty sisters, all older than me. My eldest half-sister married Aladdin – I told you about that – and the others married who they could. Didn’t leave me much to choose from. So, when it came time for me to get hitched, Daddy sent me on the road to search the lands for a good match though I don’t suppose he would’ve guessed that I was about to have an adventure instead. Anyway, I told you about sister number one and her unlucky find. Now, sister number two…”

By the time the boat reached the end of the tunnel Bee had finished relating the story – a real soap opera of a story – about half-sister number twenty-nine. From the tunnel they emerged into the nearly big world, yet they were still Storybook Land size, which though they don’t like using the word little, is nowhere near as big as the folks who inhabited the nearly big world. As they glided past the castle wall stretching high into the sky above, Bee became speechless with amazement. Chuck stopped rowing, and turned to Tinkerbell and the other fairies, all of whom were asleep on the bow of the boat.

“Tinkerbell, wake up now, it’s almost time for a little fairy dust.”

They rowed under the moat’s drawbridge and then down a canal that led away from the castle. The canal banks looked to be lined by a jungle whose tree trunks towered over them. After beaching their boat and being sprinkled with fairy dust, they found themselves standing in a knee-high garden.

“That’s a really neat trick,” said Bee. “What do you think, Sorc? Wish you could do something like that?”

Sorc grunted his displeasure at being shown up. Chuck and Marley thanked the fairies. Chuck led the way out of the garden and to the road. The tiny lights of the fairies zoomed ahead of them, into the frontier town, down its one street, and disappeared into what looked like to be a saloon.

“Where are they going?” asked Marley.

“I think they’d like to put on stage show in that saloon. Show business must’ve gotten into their blood since their smash hit on Main Street.” Chuck and the others reached the frontier town’s one unpaved street. “Now, I do believe in this rustic riverport, we’ll be able to board the riverboat, A. T. Lacey, bound for New Orleans. Our problem is that the return address on the gopher’s letter just said New Orleans.”

Marley thought about this for a moment, and as they walked along it occurred to her to say, “Well, we know the gopher lives in a graveyard and we know the graveyard is haunted, so I suppose we could ask people if they know where there’s a haunted graveyard.”

“That’s some good supposing,” said Chuck, “I just knew you were the perfect person for the job.”

Bee looked down at Marley and smiled. Marley looked up smiling, pleased to have Bee, an older girl along with her. Then another thought occurred to her. “Chuck, why are we different in sizes? The last time we came to this nearly big world, we all stayed as tall as one another.”

“That’s a good question,” answered Chuck. “And the answer lies… Hold on, that’s the steamboat whistle. We’ll have to run if we want to catch the boat.”

Chuck burst into a run, and so did the others. Sorc, with his longer legs, ran ahead of them. Bee stayed even with Marley, while Chuck ran last. As they ran down the street that led straight to the steamboat dock, Bee asked Marley, “He said the answer lies. Why do you think the answer is lying?”

“I don’t know,” replied Marley, “but I do know Chuck always tells the truth.”

“So, that’s another mystery to be solved. Oh goody, I just knew I was going to love this job.”

Up ahead Sorc waved his arms and shouted at the deckhands not to pull in the gangplank. They heard him and though they couldn’t tell the pilot to not move the boat, they did leave the gangplank down and shouted encouragement to the runners. Sorc ran up the gangplank and onto the boat. With her left hand Bee grabbed Marley’s hand and with her right hand she reached back and grabbed onto what she could reach of Chuck. Unfortunately, the part of Chuck that was nearest to Bee and the boat was his beak which as everyone knows ends in a hook. This hook made it easier for Bee to fling the flightless bird on board just ahead of herself and Marley.

“Sorry about that, Chuck,” said Bee once she’d caught her breath.

“Think nothing of it, my dear,” said Chuck always gracious. “Now, we need to find the steward and pay for our passage.”

One of the nearby deckhands spoke up. “Go on topside to the pilothouse. The captain said to be on the lookout for you guys. He said he wants to have a word with the bird.”

Sorc waited for the others to ascend the stairs. He asked one of the deckhands, “Excuse me, my good man, but does this stately vessel happen to have a salon?”

“What Mississippi riverboat doesn’t?”

“Very good. And would you say there might be some sporting types aboard interested in a game of cards?”

“Is Mississippi river water muddy? Go up the stairs, hang a right and walk aft until you come to the double doors. Tell them Hard Luck sent you.”

The stairs to the pilot house continued upward from the deck level that Sorc had been directed to. Marley and Bee turned to watch him hurry off.

“Where’s he going?” asked Marely.

“Probably to some card game. He has a bit of a gambling problem.”

“Won’t your father be mad at him for leaving you?”

“I won’t tell, if he doesn’t. Anyway, I’ve got you and Chuck. Dollars to dodonuts, I’m better off with you two, right Chuck?”

“I shall do my best to guide you both.”

After ascending the final flight of stairs, they approached the pilot house in which they could see a man standing at the large wheel. They all paused at the doorway. Though the door was wide open, Marley wondered if they should knock and she was about call out a hello instead, but the pilot without turning around said, “Welcome aboard, Charles. I had a feeling you’d be showing up.” He turned his head and seemed a bit surprised by something, but he simply asked, “Who are your friends?”

“Captain Samuel, let me introduce my favorite charge, Marley, and a new friend from Storybook Land, Princess Bee.”

“Pleased to meet you both. Charles, I must say, you’ve changed a fair bit. And I noticed that you said ‘charge’ so am I to surmise that you’ve a new and more elevated mission in this afterlife of ours.”

“Your surmise is correct. I am this child’s guardian guide in all corners of God’s moral landscape. How about yourself? How goes it?”

“Fog, real thick fog is bedeviling me.”

Indeed, billowy clouds of fog engulfed the boat just as Captain Sam had spoken those words. No longer could they see the riverbanks. Looking ahead was like staring at a white canvas curtain. For a few seconds everyone held back from speaking as the white billows drifting by the side windows of the pilot house.

“Ooh, spooky,” said Bee.

“Charles,” said Captain Sam, “I said I had a feeling you’d be showing up, and I’d also had a feeling that I had to pass on some information to you. You see, a couple of runs back, on our way to New Orleans like we are now, we had a passenger aboard distinctly of the odd sort. He told me a tall tale about being the new librarian for the Last Chance Library. But he wasn’t dressed like a librarian more like an undertaker.”

“That does sound odd,” said Chuck.

“And the fellow had a unique talent, absolutely astounding. He could recite whole books by memory. He recited a few chapters of my Tom Sawyer, which proved he could do such a feat, because mostly he entertained the passengers by reciting from a book I’d never heard of. For all I knew he could’ve been making the whole thing up as he went along. He didn’t even seem to like the novel much, except to laugh at. Have you folks heard of the novel, Grate Expectorations?

“It sounds familiar, but no,” replied Chuck. “Who wrote it?”

“The odd fellow said it was written by an English man by the name of Arthur Havisham. Ever heard of him?”

“The name sounds familiar, but again no.”

With half her mind listening to Captain Sam, and the other half worrying about Mole, partly because of the thick fog, Marley blurted out, “We’re worried about our friend, Mr. Mole. He might’ve taken your boat to somewhere near New Orleans.”

“Ah, yes,” replied Captain Sam, “I remember him well. A pleasant fellow. I remember him sadly waving good-bye to a fairy at the dock. I let him off just a short ways pass New Orleans, same place I’d let off that odd fellow I was telling you about.”

Bee and Marley exchanged looks and then Bee said, “Just in case this odd fellow knows something about Mr. Mole and the ghosts, can you describe him?”

“I sure can. Like I said, he reminded me more of an undertaker than any librarian I’d ever heard say, ‘shush’. He was dressed in black from head to toe, and he had long white hair – paper white, not grey. His face had no color, just kind of a waxy paleness, like the underside of a fish belly.”

“Captain Sam, do you know of any haunted graveyards in New Orleans?” asked Marley.

“Sure do: they’re all haunted.”

“Oh,” said Marley.

“Yep, every last one of them. Even the pet cemetery near to where you’ll be disembarking.”

 

From the bank of the river, they waved good-bye to Captain Sam and the A. T. Lacey riverboat, and to Sorc who told them when they’d gone to find him, “Can’t possibly leave now, I need to win my money back. I’ll catch you on the way back.”

Seeing the riverboat disappear into the blankness of the all encompassing fog gave Marley a chilly feeling, a clammy feeling, and she looked to Chuck who to her relief showed no sign of being afraid of what they might find. Bee said nothing and smiled feebly when Marley looked at her.

“This way, I think,” said Chuck. “Captain Samuel said to follow the road downriver, go pass the pet cemetery, and then it’s a short walk to the graveyard by the library.”

In silence they walked down the dirt road and soon, over to their left, a wrought iron fence became visible through the mist, and then a gate. A plaque on the gate read, “Pet cemetery for beloved pets.”

Marley looked through the gate and at the ghostly headstones for the departed animals. Chuck put a hand on her shoulder and said, “I’m sorry about your dog.”

“Did your dog die?” asked Bee. “What was its name?”

“Jolie.”

“Was she a pretty dog? Do you miss her a lot?”

“Yes, and she was a very pretty dog. She was a golden retriever.”

They walked on in silence. Marley looked back but they had gone too far and she could no longer see the black fence of the pet cemetery. Everything behind her, in front of her and to her sides hid itself in the impure white of the fog.

“We should be getting close to the graveyard now,” said Chuck.

“Did you hear something?” asked Bee. “it’s over to our left. Something’s out there. It sounds like its moving through the bushes; following us.”

They stopped and listened. Chuck shook his beak to indicate that he’d heard nothing. They walked on, but Bee kept looking to her left and listening.

“I think the fog is lifting a bit,” said Chuck.

“I think I see something up ahead,” said Bee. “It looks like another fence. Look! It’s a graveyard.”

“It is,” said Chuck. “Now all we have to do is find Mole and his cousin. It shouldn’t be too hard. The graveyard can’t be that big.”

The road led directly to the graveyard’s gate and then turned left, uphill and away from the river. They stopped at the iron gate and read the name, Final Reading Place Cemetery. They stared through the iron bars of the locked gate and watched as the fog hiding the nearby tombstones dissolved into mist and then into swirls of mist that faded into nothingness. The dying light of twilight seemed darker all around the graveyard. Still, they were able to see more of the graveyard as the fog lifted further away. Far from being a small plot of land, they could see more and more of it in the distance. It stretched along the river as far as the eye could see. It appeared to have no limit.

“That’s going to be really hard to search,” said Bee. “What are we looking for? A gopher’s hole? Somewhere between here and the horizon?”

Marley stopped staring at the impossible sight before her and turned her head. “I heard something.”

Bee looked up the road. Just beyond the inland side of the graveyard, the road ran uphill to a large building, something like an old Victorian mansion. Though the fog had lifted, it was still very quiet. Chuck and Bee waited to hear something, or for Marley to hear what she’d heard before.

“It sounded like a bark,” said Marley.

“Like a growling dog?” asked Bee.

“No, it sounded like a friendly bark; like a dog trying to warn us about something.”

“That’s a relief, because when I’d heard that noise back there in the fog, I’d begun to wonder if some ghost dog had come out its grave and started to track us.” Bee said this while staring at the mansion on the hill.

All three heard the next bark. The sound came from a short way up the road and behind some trees. Marley led the way closely followed by Bee and Chuck. Around the trees they expected to find a dog, large judging by its bark, but all they could see was a hole in an embankment. Several mounds of freshly dug soil stood just outside of the hole.

They stared at the hole as if expecting to see a dog emerge from it, but instead what they saw was a nose and then a mole’s head. “Marley!” it shouted.

“Mr. Mole!” cried Marley. “We found you. We’d heard a dog’s bark and it sounded familiar so we came to investigate.”

“Yes, there was a dog just here. Friendly, though. I’d invite you all in, but this hole is being built for a creature of my cousin’s compact size, and this sure isn’t Storybook Land, you know.”

“No, this sure isn’t Storybook Land. Hello, I’m Bee. Marley and I teamed up to solve a mystery, maybe several. You were the first mystery and now we found you, so I’d say we’re doing pretty good. Where’s your cousin?”

“He rented a room in New Orleans. He was pretty badly spooked by the goings-on around here. And I can’t say as I blame him. Anyway, I stayed behind to finish his new home, just in case we can discover why this place has become so haunted.”

“You mean the graveyard and the library?” asked Marley.

“Well, the cemetery sure is haunted, but the library is just plain creepy. Every day, six people dressed all in black march out of the library and into the cemetery carrying coffins. They dig graves, drop in the coffins, and put up tombstones. It gives me the willies just thinking about it.”

They looked in the direction Mole pointed to. Even in the twilight the dark old mansion stood out against the brooding sky. In some ways it looked abandoned, but the porch light was on, and several windows shone out dim flickering light.

“That creepy old mansion is the library?” asked Marley.

“I’m pretty sure it’s some kind of a library.”

“Is it called The Last Chance Library?” asked Bee.

“Why, yes, it is. In fact, that name is printed on the sides of the wagons carrying books to it. Every couple of hours a horse drawn wagon comes up the road carting a huge pile of old books.”

“How many books can that library hold, anyway?” asked Bee. “How long has this been going on?”

“For as long as my cousin has lived here, a couple of years at least.”

“Do the wagons ever take any books out of the library?” asked Marley.

“No, and the strange thing is, no one ever goes to the library. So, I assume no one is checking out any books. But if they were, I imagine they’d have to bring them back or get fined. But, so far, no one.”

“Now, that’s a real mystery. Oh, goody. We should get to work on it right away. We’re detectives, you know.” Bee turned to Marley and asked, “What should we do first?”

Marley thought for a moment and then said, “What about the ghosts coming out of their graves? Do they ever say anything?”

Mole scrunched up his face. “We’ve heard them moan, ‘Why do you disturb us? Leave us in peace.’ Oh, dear girl, it’s too frightening to even think about, but now that you’re here maybe we can get a closer look at them. Do you see that tower on the library? Well, at closing time, someone up there rings a bell. Shortly after that, you can these ghostly figures rise up from their graves and move around searching for something or someone.”

“Do they go in the library?” asked Marley.

“I surely don’t know. After we saw the first head pop up out of the ground, my cousin and I would hide our faces as soon as we heard the bell.”

“I’ve an idea,” said Bee. “Let’s go up to the library and talk to that odd fellow Captain Sam told us about. Let’s go see what he has to say about spooky goings on in the cemetery. How about it, Chuck? Sound like a plan?”

The question seemed to startle Chuck who had obviously been silent all this time. He turned his head as if being recalled from a daydream or a deep thought and said, “Yes, let’s do go up there. I’ve been thinking about hot cocoa and dodonuts. And I’ve been wondering if the librarian might invite us in for some.”

“Invite us in?” said Mole. “You want to go in that place?”

“Well, we need to solve the mystery,” said Marley. “So, we probably need to get in there somehow, sooner or later.”

It was a short hike up the road and to the library’s front gate. Once at the open gate, they paused to silently consider the large and old Victorian building which was neither well maintained nor dilapidated. The wood siding could have used a fresh coat of black paint while the faded red trim around the windows showed bare spots and flaking. Bright light didn’t shine out of any of the windows, though a few windows looked as if behind the drawn curtains glowed nothing brighter than candles. Inside the fenced grounds the road split with a well rutted dirt road leading to the rear of the large house. They continued up the brick driveway that led to the stairs to the porch and double front doors.

Bee lifted the türklopfer on the front door and let it fall to make a loud thud. They waited for a response. In the silence, Bee, Marley, and Mole exchanged worried glances, then Bee firmly griped the türklopfer and banged it several times. That caused Mole to look a little apprehensive. But even more so when the door slowly opened and revealed a man dressed all in black with long paper-white hair cascading out from underneath his tall black hat. And though he appeared severe in the style of his outfit, he didn’t seem at all irritated. In fact, he smiled at them.

“Yes, may I help you?”

“Is this really a library?” asked Marley.

“Yes, it is, young lady.”

“And you’re a librarian?” asked Bee.

“I certainly am.”

“I only asked,” said Bee, “because you’re dressed just like an old-fashioned undertaker.”

“We’re a special type of library.”

“Great,” said Bee, “because I’d really like to see a special library. Our town library back home is so, so small, and that’s because Daddy appointed himself as head librarian and does all the book buying and he only buys books from Westland writers, but we only have five lazy authors in town, so you can see there aren’t many books for Daddy to buy.”

“That’s a regrettable pity. And I’d love to show you around our library, but we’re about close for a spell. We’re about to have our afternoon meeting.”

From behind the odd librarian, came laughter that sounded somewhat like cackling. Also, from behind the odd librarian wafted a familiar smell.

“Hmm,” said Chuck while sticking his beak in between Bee and Marley, “that smells like someone is making hot cocoa. Would it be possible for us to come in and share some? We promise not to disturb your meeting.”

“Sorry, that would not be possible in the least. We only have enough to dunk our dodonuts and little enough of those as well. Good-bye.”

The odd librarian closed the door. Though Chuck didn’t show any sign of disappointment, he did say, “That’s very unusual for someone not to share their dodonuts.”

Unusual or not, there was no point in staring at the closed door or hanging around the porch. With Chuck lagging behind they descended the front steps and headed toward the front gate. As they walked down the road, a horse and wagon came up behind them. They stood aside to let him pass. The driver nodded to them and said, “Evening folks. Are you all headed to the lunch wagon?”

“Lunch wagon?” asked Marley. “What’s that?”

“Oh, it’s a wagon all fitted out as a kitchen and a kind of a diner. All the wagon drivers stop there for a bite and a drink. If you’re going that way, hop in. I’ll give you a ride.”

They climbed into the empty wagon, the driver snapped the reins, and the horse began plodding along again. Chuck stood up, the better to speak to the man.

“That lunch wagon you spoke of wouldn’t happen to serve a certain delicious warm beverage…”

“Hot cocoa,” said the driver, “That’s their specialty. That and freshly made dodonut chains.”

In fact, that was just about all the lunch wagon sold. None of its customers seemed to have ordered anything else. The lunch wagon was parked well past the cemetery, down by the river. Several other Last Chance Library drivers had stopped there to have a snack and a conversation. So, after ordering their treats, our detectives joined the small crowd of drivers.

“Do all you wagon drivers just deliver books?” Marley asked.

“No, young missy,” said one. “Some of us deliver the library’s other supplies, tombstones and really small coffins.”

“Really small coffins?” asked Bee. “You mean child sized?”

“Smaller.”

Bee, Marley, and Mole exchanged worried looks. Chuck munched on a dodonut.

“Yep,” said a driver. “You got a right to look worried about the goings on up there.”

“Have any of you seen the ghosts?” asked Marley.

“I have,” said another driver. “Mostly we try to be well away from that place by the time they ring the bell. But about a month ago – in fact it was the day after I gave an odd fellow a ride up there – I was a little slow in unloading the day’s last delivery. The bell rung, and as I hurried pass the cemetery, I saw them. Four of them, the last one just rising out of the grave.”

“Yep,” said a third driver, “that was when all that ghost business started up. It was right after the odd fellow got there. And that place was spooky enough before he came.”

The drivers finished their snacks; the lunch wagon owner closed up shop, and they all left in the direction away from the cemetery and library. Marley, Bee, Mole, and Chuck began walking toward the side gate of the Final Reading Place Cemetery.

“What’s the plan?” asked Bee. “Well, I sort of know the plan. I suppose we have to wait for the ghosts to reappear just to make sure they are ghosts, hopefully friendly ghosts, though I don’t exactly know if I’d recognize a ghost if I saw one. Do you think they all wear white sheets?”

“I don’t know,” said Marley. “In cartoons they sometimes do. But in some movies the ghosts look kind of like real people.”

“Perhaps, we should have asked that wagon driver what his ghost looked like,” said Mole.

“Maybe we should have asked him where exactly was that grave the ghost came out of,” said Bee.

“Oh, we’re in luck,” said Chuck. “This gate is unlocked.”

Without stopping to celebrate their good fortune, the others cautiously followed Chuck into the graveyard. The endless lines of tombstones lay before them, or at least it did until the thick fog engulfed them. They could barely see each other. Somewhere ahead of them a dog barked. They headed toward the sound expecting to finally see the dog. They hadn’t gone far when from the hidden-in-fog library a bell began to clang.

Underneath Bee’s foot the ground moved upward. She jumped back and in front of her a head rose up out of the ground. She moved back a few steps while the others gathered around her. They watched as the figure of a whole man climbed out of the ground. He stretched and then reached his hand down to help a young lady climb out. The young lady when standing on top of the grave looked over at the two girls and the two animals and smirked. But the young man nodded and said, “Hello, my name is Fip.” Meanwhile a hand emerged from the hole in the grave. While Fip bent over to seize the hand and help pull the hand’s owner up, the young lady wandered away into the fog. A second man now stood on firm earth. He nodded and said, “Good evening, my name is Zaggers and I am a lawyer.”  Another hand appeared and together Fip and Zaggers pulled its owner out, a man older in appearance than the first two. After placing both his feet on the ground, he introduced himself. “Cain Ragwitch at your service.”

Before our heroes could think of what to say, Fip, who had been looking around, shouted into the billows of fog, “Stella!” No one replied, so he said to his fellow ghosts. “Come on, you lot. Let’s go find her.”

Slowly, the ghosts disappeared into the fog, each one calling out, “Stella!” every so often. Marley led the others to the front of the tombstone. Bee read aloud the inscription.

Grate Expectorations

Or

Get Me to the Church on Time

By

Arthur Havisham

R.I.P. Never to be read again: Fip, Mr. Zaggers, Stella, and Cain Ragwitch

 

“I’m not too certain about this, but that sure looks more like what’s on a book cover than what should be on a gravestone,” said Bee.

“If it’s from a book, I’ve never seen such a book, and Toad has a magnificent collection of books in his library,” said Mole.

“At least, the ghosts seem friendly,” said Marley.

“So far, they do,” said Mole. “But what now? If we want to question those ghosts, we’ll never find them in this fog.”

“Maybe now that we know who the ghosts are, we should go talk to that odd fellow up at the library and ask him what’s he got to do with them,” said Marley.

“Sure,” said Bee, “but which way is the library?”

None of them could remember from which direction came the sound of the bell clanging. They looked around, hoping to see something showing through the fog, but all they could see was puffy whiteness and the grass by their feet. A dog barked and they all looked in that direction. Then, of the same mind, they began walking in that direction. The dog barked again and soon they found themselves standing by a gate beyond which was the back of the library.

“This must be where the wagons deliver the books,” said Marley.

At the back of the Victorian mansion serving as an odd sort of library, was a loading dock like those at warehouses. They climbed some stairs onto the dock where there were many stacks of moldy old books. But what drew their attention were the tiny coffins, several of which were open. Hesitantly, feeling a little fearful of what they might find, they peered inside one of them.

“It’s a book!” exclaimed Marley.

“Thank goodness it’s just a book,” said Mole. “I was so worried that we’d find something else.”

“So, are they burying books that nobody reads anymore?” asked Bee.

“They must be,” said Marley. “That’s why the cemetery is called, The Final Reading Place. What do you think, Chuck?”

Marley’s guardian dodo bird had wandered over to a door, his beak pressed against its glass pane. “I think you’ve figured out most of the mystery. The Final Reading Place is where these poor books get a final reading by the bookworms in the graveyard. So, that leaves two more mysteries to be solved. One, why are those four ghosts coming back from the never read? And, two: Why didn’t that odd fellow invite us in to share some hot cocoa? I know they’re in there. Probably having a party. I can hear shrieks of laughter and cackling.”

“If we can solve why those ghosts keep coming back, maybe we can figure out a way to… well, make them more at peace with never being read again.” Bee said this and Marley and Mole nodded in agreement. Chuck preoccupied himself with staring through the glass door and then trying its door knob.

“That would be good for your cousin, wouldn’t it, Mr. Mole?” asked Marley. “Then he could live here in peace.”

“Hmm, I think not. This library and that cemetery are creepy enough for ordinary folk, but no writer would want to live near here.”

“Your cousin is a writer?” asked Bee.

“A wannabe writer. He writes westerns about a cowboy called, Gopher Yurguns, but nobody reads his books. All in all, I think it best he moves far away from here.”

They gathered by the door which Chuck had determined was unlocked. Marley heard something out in the fog shrouded backyard. She put a finger to her lips.

“It’s them,” whispered Bee. “They must’ve followed us here. Hurry, let’s get inside.”

“They’re friendly, so they wouldn’t hurt us, would they?” asked Marley.

“Ghosts are unpredictable,” said Chuck as he entered first. They followed him in and found themselves in a pantry. They continued into the kitchen. Coming from the other room came loud shrieks of laughter. Chuck put a finger to his beak and pointed to some empty boxes on a kitchen counter. He whispered, “Mystery solved: empty cocoa boxes. These explain why they didn’t want to share. They really have run out of cocoa mix.”

Interesting as that was, the others noiselessly crept over to the kitchen door leading to the dining room from where the laughter came from. Now, they could clearly hear the conversation.

“Odd Fellow, tell us some more about that terrible book you memorized,” said one voice.

Grate Expectorations? Well, the poor scribbler was so upset that a famous writer used his name in a far better novel, that he wrote his own version. Of course, only a few hundred copies of his book were printed and it wasn’t long before no one read it or even remembered it. Naturally, the last book found its final resting place in the cemetery where we buried it.”

“You do know, don’t you,” said Mr. Zaggers from behind our shocked heroes, “that every time you recite our book, we’re summoned from the grave. It’s very irritating, to say the least.”

Our heroes didn’t bother turning around. They burst into the dining room and ran to the opposite side of the room and to the only door leading away from the panicked librarians and the howling ghosts.

“Revenge!” shouted Ragwitch.

“Revenge on the men!” shouted Stella.

Being a library and not a home, each of the rooms interconnected with at least one other room making it possible to wander or race about without ever having to double back. In other words, the house was a maze; maybe delightful for children at play, but horrifyingly confusing for those who wished to escape howling ghosts. Furthermore, tall bookshelves filled every room making each room its own little maze. Almost immediately, the chased librarians and our heroes separated in all directions. They all thought they were being chased by the ghosts and some of them were, but it was impossible to tell with everyone racing through the rooms and the mazes of bookshelves.

Marley fled through the maze, ran into her friends often, screamed a little, and finally wound up, by herself, in the rear of the house and on the loading dock. She sensed that no ghost was chasing her, so she rested partially hidden behind some tall stacks of smelly, moldy books. She heard the rear door open and peaked around a stack while holding her nose. The four ghosts had caught Odd Fellow. Each ghost had a two-handed hold on one of his limbs, and in this way, they carried him into the fog and the cemetery. Marley followed them.

They carried the poor undertaker/librarian to their grave and there they set him down with a creepy kind of gentleness. Marley feared for the poor man’s safety and wondered what horrors they planned on tormenting him with. Her fears grew as she watched them sit on him: one apiece on his legs and one on his chest. Fip stood just to the side of Odd Fellow’s head. Marley could clearly see the mean grin on Fip’s face. He reached into his coat’s inside pocket and slowly pulled out something small enough to be hidden in the palm of his hand.

“Recognize this?” asked Fip. The others cackled.

“No! Please, no. Have mercy, I beg of you. Not a slim volume of poetry.”

Fip opened the booklet and turned to the first page. “Beat poetry. A small volume of bad beat poetry. And it is with great satisfaction I tell you this: It was written by you!”

“No-o-o!” screamed Odd Fellow.

“First poem – ahem – ‘I’ve seen the best mimes of my generation distracted by mimicry, startling his wreck to me faked, designing neon streaks at …’.”

“Stop! Please stop. What do you want? I’ll give you anything.”

“Don’t recite our book anymore. Okay? We know it’s bad writing but we just want to be left alone and forgotten.”

“Yes, yes. Never again, I promise. I swear to you, never again.”

While Odd Fellow pleaded for mercy and promised to mend his ways, Stella removed one of his boots and his sock and begun writing on the sole of his foot – with an indelible marker.

She paused and asked, “What was the last line again? Designing neon whatsits?”

Marley’s eyes opened wide and before she could stop herself the words came out, “Stella! That’s mean.”

The faces of the ghosts all turned to her. Marley couldn’t help but take a step back. The ghosts each took a step forward. Marley turned and ran. She couldn’t see to where she was running. She could only see one headstone at a time ahead of her; and these she narrowly missed as she ran. Then through the fog she saw the iron fence. She ran to it and then along it hoping to find a gate. But the fence turned right and she found herself in a corner. At the same time that she turned around the four ghosts emerged out of the mists and stood no more than six feet away. Marley backed up until she could feel both angles of the iron fence against her back. She wondered what the ghosts would torment her with. The rap song she’d written in second grade? Her made up history report on Danish missionaries in California? The deathly silent ghosts slowly approached. Their heads and Marley’s turned to stare into the fog from where came a low growl.

“Jolie!” she shouted. “Chuck!”

The peach colored golden retriever and her guardian dodo bird stopped halfway between her and the four ghosts. Jolie barked once and the ghosts backed up. Jolie barked again and they turned away.

Just before disappearing in the fog, Stella stopped to say, “Okay, we’ll leave you alone. Just promise me you’ll never ever shout, ‘Stella! Stella!’ in a nighttime street.”

From the thick gloom of the fog to their left, two more figures approached. Seeing Marley and Chuck in the corner, they raced to her joyfully shouting.

“We were so worried,” said Bee. “All of a sudden I realized no one was chasing me and so I stopped running but was I ever so lost in that library. Boy, I’d really hate to have to work on a homework project in there.”

Marley hugged Bee and Mole and then, wanting to introduce them to Jolie she looked around for her dog but she wasn’t there. Marley called out, “Jolie! Come here, girl.”

Her three friends looked at the fog and listened for some sound of a dog. Marley walked a few steps out of the corner while saying, “Let’s go look for her.”

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible,” said Chuck.

“Because of the fog?” asked Marley.

“Well, because of the fog and because of something that’s far more lasting than fog.”

“Oh.”

From not too far down the river, a steamboat blew its whistle. By walking along the fence, they came to the gate. As they walked down the road, Marley couldn’t help but to peer into the thick swirls of fog, searching with her eyes for Jolie. The fog began to melt away revealing only the nearby empty countryside. Minutes later, they could see the landing and the A. T. Lacey steaming toward them. They watched as the boat carefully nosed up against the riverbank and then drop its boarding planks.

They boarded the boat, and after stopping to say hi to Sorc – busy washing dishes in the kitchen – they climbed the stairs to the pilothouse. Captain Sam, as always, stood at the wheel.

“Now, we’ll just reverse our course, and even though we’ll be traveling upriver I’ll soon have you back at the frontier town landing. With this fog lifting, you can do some sightseeing.”

“I’d like that,” said Bee. “There’s some stuff I wanted to see again. Just before we get to the landing is a neat looking old mansion, and before that, where the river bends to the left, is a pretty little cottage with a beautiful garden.”

“You remember that, do you?”

“Sure, that was just before the fog swallowed us up.”

“Say, you’ve a real fine memory for the river. Have you ever thought of becoming a river pilot?”

“Not until now.”

“Well, take the wheel and let’s see how you do.”

Captain Sam stood aside as Bee put her hands on the wheel and began to steer the boat up the river. Chuck, Mole, and Marley went outside to lean against the railing and watch the riverbank pass by. Marley thought she saw something and stared hard at a grassy spot on the shore. Then she saw her.

“Look! It’s Jolie!”

“She’s a beautiful dog,” said Mole. “Peach colored, is she?”

“She was.”

Jolie barked at them again, and then walked into the nearby woods.

“I’ll never see her again.”

Chuck put a hand on Marley’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, Marley. After you write a story about Jolie she’ll live as long as you do, and most importantly, God will always remember the love in your heart you’re keeping for her.”

THE END