This is the 27th installment of the book I am currently writing. It is Sci-Fi/Adventure for young adult. It is not part of the Oz Chronicle series. It will be out in paperback soon Click on the “Lost Days Book” category on the right to read from the beginning. Or you can click here
I don’t know how I ended up in my uncle’s FROG. I waited until everyone had gone to sleep in the house, and I snuck down to the garage to return the clippings to the toolbox. When I reached the door to exit the garage, Uncle Crew and J-Rob came barreling down the stairs. They threw some things into the bed of J-Rob’s truck and then left. The temptation was too strong, I had to snoop around in Uncle Crew’s room and get more answers.
So there I was, breathing so heavily that I was almost hyperventilating, staring into the dark room. I didn’t even know where to begin to look. I was new at this. Up ‘til then, taking the clippings was the worst thing I had ever done. Now I was breaking and entering. I tried to convince myself that it was alright because the door was unlocked. I wasn’t breaking. I was just entering. That made it okay, didn’t it?
“You’re a jerk,” I whispered. I said it out loud in an effort to admonish myself with more authority. Maybe if I heard myself say it, I would turn around and leave. It didn’t work.
I spotted the boxes in the corner of the room and decided that was as good a place as any to start. I opened the first box and found a dozen or so plaster casts of footprints wrapped in bubble wrap. I carefully unwrapped the one on top and examined it. It was huge, four times the size of my own foot. I turned it over and found the measurements written in marker. Eighteen inches long. Eight inches wide. At the bottom, someone had written, “Sample of a total of 1,536 tracks found near Missoula. Average stride, 63 inches. Estimated weight of ape, 650 pounds. Height unknown. Tom Slick Group.” I carefully rewrapped it and put it back.
I went through three more boxes and found more of the same. The fourth box contained baggies full of hair strands, bags of dried mud labeled “Scat,” and one bag that contained a tooth that was as big around as my thumb.
It was all very interesting, but did nothing but confirm that Uncle Crew was completely insane. I stood and scanned the room for something else to investigate. I stepped forward and accidently kicked a black thigh-high two-door metal filing cabinet. I tugged on the handle of the top drawer. It didn’t budge. Same with the second drawer. I immediately assumed that since it was locked that it held some deep dark secrets that would clarify the mystery that was Uncle Crew. I searched the immediate area for the key. I went to the desk and opened all the drawers. Each one was full of a hodgepodge of office supplies, candy, and folded maps, but nothing that even remotely resembled a key. I was about to give up when I remembered once watching granddaddy reach under the kitchen table and pull out a key to his liquor cabinet. I stooped down and looked under the desk hoping that it was one of those like-father-like-son traits that people always talk about. The room was dim, but I could make my way around. Under the desk, there was virtually no light. I ran my hand across the underbelly of the desk and felt for a… key. It was there. I quickly pulled it free from the tape and stuck it into the keyhole in the filing cabinet. I felt the lock tumble free and I opened the top drawer. My eyes zeroed in on an expensive digital camera sitting in an otherwise empty drawer. I pulled it out and fumbled for the power switch in the poor lighting. It clicked on and I started pushing buttons until an image popped up on the small screen. It was a shot of some trees punctuated by a beautiful sunset. I thumped a button and jumped to the next picture. Another outdoor landscape, cliffs this time. I advanced to the next picture and the next, all nature shots. I stopped on one that was of an owl in a tree. An owl. I swallowed. I thought about the ceramic owl in the Starling’s kitchen. The next image made me gasp. It was a picture of a smiling Ginger Starling. This was her mother’s camera. Uncle Crew had Elizabeth Starling’s camera locked in a filing cabinet. I could think of only one reason why.
My mind started to race. What was I supposed to do with this information? I had to tell someone, didn’t I? He had a murdered woman’s camera. A camera the police said was missing. I took a deep breath. “Get a hold of yourself, Hayley. This doesn’t prove anything.” I exhaled.
I stared at the image of Ginger for a long time before I worked up the courage to click the advance button again. It was another landscape. Then another owl. Another owl. And then… a picture of Uncle Crew. It was taken from a distance. He had no idea she was taking his picture. He was bent down looking at something on the ground. The next image was Uncle Crew and J-Rob. They were going through their backpacks. I was about to click the button again when I heard someone walking up the steps. I froze. I stood and rocked on my toes. I had no idea what to do. I needed to hide, but where. Everywhere I looked seemed like a bad idea because I would be trapped in the room until Uncle Crew left the next day. I headed toward the bathroom, but stopped when I saw a window. I hurried to it and looked out. There was a tree just a few feet away with a branch that looked big enough to support my weight. I stuck my head through the shoulder strap of the camera and opened the window. The footsteps were louder, and I could hear voices. I quickly crawled through the window and felt around in the darkness for a firm footing on the branch. It was big, but still relatively narrow. I found my footing and turned back to shut the window. I heard the door open and pulled the window down just before the door snapped shut. Then I heard a voice. It was a man, but it wasn’t Uncle Crew or J-Rob. It was a voice I had never heard before.
I stooped down and scooted back on the branch. Beams of light criss-crossed the FROG. There were three men dressed in black. It was impossible to make out their faces. They were whispering. As I reached the trunk of the tree, I heard one of them say “Teddy was right. This nut job is into Bigfoot.”
I stayed in the tree, trying to catch a glimpse of the three men, moving as close to the window as I dared. They were as discreet as I was. They chatted quietly, too quietly for me to hear most of what they were saying. Occasionally I would hear a word or two, but not enough to make sense of what they were looking for. It was clear they didn’t know Uncle Crew, but they did know of him.
They left after a good thirty minutes. I crawled back, opened the window, and entered the FROG, expecting it to be ripped apart. It was as neat and tidy as it was before they came. Whoever they were, they didn’t want Uncle Crew to know they were there. Judging by the frustrated tone of their whispers before they left, they didn’t find what they were looking for. I could only assume that they would be back.
I was faced with a real dilemma. Did I tell Uncle Crew that I saw three strange men in his FROG and did nothing while they rummaged through all his belongings, putting myself in the position of having to explain why I was in his room myself? Or did I keep my mouth shut about the whole thing to save my own skin?
I absentmindedly reached up and adjusted the camera that was hanging around my neck. That’s when I remembered that Uncle Crew had a dead woman’s camera. The camera police were looking for. That didn’t exactly make him a boy scout. In fact, I was pretty sure it made him the bad guy in this whole thing. Why would I want to help him out by telling him there were men in his room going through his things?