Adam Riley started to sweat as he and his best friend, Eugene Nazzaro, slowly approached the long gravel drive that snaked its way up to the creepy old house on the hill. It was the Leeds house, where the Beast of Baskerville had been born, the house where the sniveling, snorting, subhuman creature lived now.
From the street, Adam could see all the warning signs telling him to turn tail and run. They were nailed to the rotted-out trees that lined the drive:
KEEP OUT! PRIVATE PROPERTY!
NO TRESPASSING ALLOWED!
ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK!
BEWARE! THE BEAST OF BASKERVILLE IS WATCHING YOU!
Adam swallowed hard. The last thing in the world he wanted to do was climb Deadman’s Hill.
But the creature was expecting him.
Here goes nothing, Adam thought, taking a deep breath to steady his nerves. He lifted his foot and crossed over the imaginary safety line between Ridge Road and the Leedses’ driveway.
Behind him, Eugene stopped dead in his tracks.
“This is not a good idea,” Eugene told Adam for the twelve millionth time. “You’re only asking for trouble.”
“But if I don’t deal with this now, I’m dead tonight!” Adam exclaimed.
“And what are you going to do when the little beast throws a big fat tizzy fit?” Eugene asked. “That’s what will happen, you know—the minute you tell him you’re not coming to his stupid birthday party tonight.”
Adam knew Eugene was right.
J.J. Leeds, the thirteen-year-old, sniveling, snorting, subhuman creature that had moved into the Beast of Baskerville’s old house, was definitely going to throw a major tizzy fit. Especially when he found out that no one in the neighborhood was planning to come to his party.
“You’re not going to tell J.J. about anyone else, are you?” Eugene wanted to know.
“Are you nuts?” Adam shot back. “Then I’ll really be dead. Because everyone in the neighborhood will kill me!”
Adam didn’t even want to tell J.J. that he wasn’t coming to the party, but thanks to his mom, he didn’t have a choice.
Mrs. Riley felt sorry for J.J. Leeds. She insisted that the only reason all the neighborhood kids picked on him was because his last name was Leeds, just like the Beast’s.
Adam had tried to explain to his mother that the problem with J.J. wasn’t his name at all. Lots of people in Baskerville were named Leeds, including Stacey Leeds, one of Adam’s good friends. The Leeds family had founded the town of Baskerville more than two hundred years ago, and dozens of Leedses were still scattered about.
It wasn’t even the fact that J.J. and his mom had moved into the creepiest house in town that made him a spitball target. If J.J. had been a normal kid, everyone in the neighborhood, except for Eugene, probably would have thought that was cool.
But J.J. wasn’t a normal kid. He was a sniveling, snorting, loogie-spitting little beast. And everyone in the neighborhood knew it. Everyone but Mrs. Riley.
“I can’t believe your mom is making you do this,” Eugene said.
“Me neither,” Adam groaned. “But if I don’t tell J.J. face-to-face that I’m not coming to his party later, my mom won’t let me sleep out tonight. And if I don’t give him this stupid present, she’ll make me go to his party.”
“So why don’t you just leave the present in the mailbox and tell your mom he wasn’t home?” Eugene suggested.
Adam considered that idea for a second. But he knew it wouldn’t work. “I can’t,” he told Eugene. “My mom might call Mrs. Leeds. Then I’ll really be in trouble.”
J.J.’s mom was always at home. She didn’t own a car, and she rarely went out.
J.J. claimed that Mrs. Leeds had to stay inside because she was allergic to the air on the outside.
No one believed it. Mrs. Leeds was just creepy, and she was another reason no one wanted to go to J.J.’s party.
“So what do you want to do?” Eugene asked, cringing. “Talk to Mrs. Leeds?”
Adam shot him a look. “No, I don’t want to talk to Mrs. Leeds! But if my mom does, she’ll know I didn’t even ring the doorbell.”
None of the kids in the neighborhood had ever even seen Mrs. Leeds since she and J.J. moved in, except through the windows of her house. She was usually up in the “Beast Tower,” sitting in front of the stained-glass window, rocking back and forth in her chair, watching to make sure no one stepped foot on her property.
It was Mrs. Leeds who’d put up all the warning signs to keep the neighborhood kids out.
“Oh, man,” Eugene sighed. “This is a nightmare.”
“Tell me about it,” Adam agreed.
“Why’s your mother being such a bedbug about this anyway?” Eugene wondered.
“Because she feels bad that J.J. doesn’t have any friends in the neighborhood,” Adam explained. “And she doesn’t want me to be mean.”
“Yeah, well, J.J. doesn’t have any friends outside the neighborhood, either,” Eugene pointed out.
“I know,” Adam said. “But my mom thinks that’s because Mrs. Leeds didn’t send him to school, not because he’s a booger ball.”
“Mrs. Leeds didn’t have to send him to school, remember?” Eugene mocked. “J.J.’s a genius.”
“Yeah, right.” Adam smirked. “J.J.’s a real genius. He doesn’t even know his first name.”
He didn’t, either. J.J. insisted that the Js were his name, not just initials.
“No way that kid has a three thousand I.Q.,” Eugene said, shaking his head.
“No kidding,” Adam said. “I.Q.s don’t even go up that high, you moron. He made that up.”
But J.J. had sworn it was true. He claimed he was so smart, he didn’t have to go to school.
“Let’s just get this over with,” Adam said impatiently, taking a step up the drive.
“Sorry, pal.” Eugene’s feet were still planted on the safe side of the imaginary line. “From here on in, you’re on your own. No way I’m climbing Deadman’s Hill.”
“It’s just a driveway,” Adam huffed.
“Oh, yeah?” Eugene shot back. “Tell that to the Beast of Baskerville’s victims.”
“That’s just a stupid legend,” Adam told him.
“Then how come everyone knows this is the Beast’s house?” Eugene demanded.
“Was his house,” Adam corrected, “more than two hundred years ago. And no one knows that for sure.”
“Everyone knows that for sure,” Eugene protested. “And everyone knows this is the hill he dragged all his victims up—right before he tore them to shreds and buried them in his well.”
“What well?” Adam asked. “Do you see a well on this property?”
“Nooooo,” Eugene replied. “But that doesn’t mean it’s not here.”
Adam stared at Eugene. Apparently, J.J. wasn’t the only genius in the neighborhood. “If you can’t see the well, then how can it be here?”
“Maybe it’s hidden,” Eugene suggested.
Adam rolled his eyes. “How the heck do you hide a three-thousand-pound tunnel made out of stone?”
“Who knows,” Eugene answered. “When witches are involved, anything is possible.”
“What witches?” Adam asked, exasperated.
“The witches that cursed Elvira,” Eugene told him. “The ones that turned Jimmy Leeds into the Beast before he was born.”
Elvira Leeds was supposedly the Beast of Baskerville’s mother. She was also a witch. According to legend, Elvira Leeds married a mortal back in the 1700s when the town of Baskerville was first founded. And because she broke the rules of her coven, which stated that witches could marry only warlocks, the other witches cursed her. They turned her husband into a three-headed newt with one eye. Then they put a spell on her unborn child.
When Elvira Leeds finally gave birth to her son, Jimmy, he was only half human. His arms and legs were normal, but the rest of him was beastly.
Two twisted horns shot out of his skull, while two goatlike hooves grew in place of ten human toes. His eyes burned red like flames. And every inch of his body was covered with matted black hair.
Jimmy Leeds was supposedly so hideous that his witchy mother tossed him down the well on her property, hoping to be rid of him.
But Jimmy Leeds didn’t die. Instead, he grew into the Beast. Rumor had it that every so often, Jimmy Leeds had climbed out of the well to feed on innocent children.
Some people, like Eugene, believed he still did.
“You know what?” Adam sighed in frustration. “You’re a yo-yo. There is no well. And there’s no Beast of Baskerville, either. Now are you coming with me or what? Because if you don’t come with me, I’ll tell J.J. about tent night tonight,” he threatened.
“You wouldn’t dare!” Eugene turned pale.
“Would too,” Adam lied. “And I’ll tell everyone that you’re the one who told him.”
“Tent night” was another reason no one wanted to go to J.J.’s party. All the kids in the neighborhood had been planning to sleep out for weeks. They were all setting up tents in their backyards. Then, when the parents were in bed for the night, the kids were going to sneak out of their yards to play kick the can and hang out.
Needless to say, J.J. wasn’t invited.
“I mean it,” Adam bluffed. “And I’ll tell J.J. you want him to sleep in our tent.”
Eugene gave in. “I’ll go with you, okay?” he agreed in a panic. “But if something bad happens to us on this hill, I’m blaming you.”
“Nothing bad is going to happen to us,” Adam assured him.
But Adam was wrong.
Something bad was going to happen to them—but not on the hill.
Copyright © 2012 by Annette Cascone and Gina Cascone