MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Katie Lawrence was sure the torture would never end. She had to struggle to hold back the scream in her throat. Because she knew that if she screamed, things would only get worse.
That is, if things could get worse.
"Isn't this fun, kids?" Katie's mother asked cheerily.
No! Katie wanted to yell at the top of her lungs. This is not fun! This is the worst possible way to spend a day!
It was a beautiful, sunny Sunday. It was also the day before Halloween. That's what made things really bad.
Katie wanted to be home putting the finishing touches on her Halloween costume and getting ready for the big parade. The Halloween parade was the biggest event in Appleton. All of the kids in Katie's school were excited about it.
Katie was excited about it, too, especially since she'd been invited to a party by Christine Baker, the most popular girl in her class. Starting the fifth grade in a new school had been hard enough, but making new friends had been even harder.
Unfortunately, Katie wasn't at home right now working on her Halloween costume. Because Katie was crammed into the backseat of the car with her eleven-year-old brother, Andy, who didn't want to be driving around Appleton any more than she did. All because their parents had insisted they spend the day together visiting the town's historical sights.
"Are we going to stop soon?" Andy moaned.
"Yes," Mrs. Lawrence answered. "We're almost there."
"Almost where?" Katie whispered to her brother. "What stupid thing are we going to have to look at next?"
"Probably the biggest rock in Appleton," Andy whispered back.
They both snickered.
Katie and her family had moved to Appleton just a few months before. They used to live in the city, but Katie's parents had decided that a small town would be a much better place for them to grow up.
Appleton was a small town. It was a small creepy town, in Katie's opinion. It had been founded in the 1600s, and most of it still looked four hundred years old. Even the neighborhood Katie and her family lived in looked like a page from a history book.
Traveling through Appleton was like driving through a time warp. Except for the mall, there was nothing modern-looking at all.
Katie hated it.
But her parents adored it. They thought Appleton was the greatest place in the universe.
The morning before, Katie's mother had picked up a little guidebook at the library that told about all the historical sights in their new town. Before the day was over, they were going to visit every single one of them.
"I can't believe we spent twenty minutes looking at a stupid piece of cement," Katie complained to Andy.
Even though Katie had whispered, her mother heard her. "What piece of cement?" she asked.
"The one that said ‘George Washington crossed here,'" Katie answered. "What was so interesting about that?"
"That was very interesting," Mr. Lawrence answered. "It was the route that Washington took on his way to an important battle of the Revolution," he started to explain. "He—"
"I know. I know." Katie stopped her father. She couldn't stand to hear the story again. History was just about her least favorite subject in the world.
"So what are we going to see next?" Andy asked, sounding as impatient as Katie felt.
"The next stop is the Appleton Orchard," Mrs. Lawrence said, checking the guidebook.
Katie and Andy rolled their eyes.
"Do you want to hear what the guidebook says about it?" their mother asked.
"Nooooooo!" Katie and Andy answered at the same time.
"Of course we do," Mr. Lawrence said, shooting Katie and Andy a scolding look over his shoulder.
"I think you kids are really going to like this," their mother told them.
She'd been promising that all day. It hadn't been true yet.
"‘The Appleton Orchard was originally owned by a woman who was accused of being a witch,'" Mrs. Lawrence read.
"Sounds pretty spooky, kids," Mr. Lawrence chimed in, trying to stir up their interest.
"Listen to this." Their mother continued to read. "‘The townspeople believed that the witch was putting some kind of magic potion into her apples, a potion that turned all the children of Appleton into zombies. On Halloween Night, three hundred years ago, the angry parents burned the orchard to the ground.'"
"Pretty cool!" Andy said.
Katie agreed the story was cool, but she still wasn't sure about going there. "If the orchard was burned to the ground, what is there to see?" she pointed out.
"The book says that the witch's house is still standing," her mother told her. "It's the oldest house in Appleton. And it wasn't even damaged in the fire."
Who wanted to see another stupid old house? Katie slumped against the car door. Things had gotten worse.
"Look at that," Mr. Lawrence said a second later as the orchard came into view.
A banner stretched across the road. It read WELCOME TO APPLETON ORCHARD.
There were hand-painted signs posted every few feet. Free Candy Apples! Free Apple Cider! Free Haunted Hayrides!
"I thought this place was supposed to be deserted," Katie said.
"Well, it certainly looks full of life today," her father replied as he drove toward the huge iron gates that led into the orchard. "Maybe someone has taken over the place. This looks like some kind of grand-opening celebration."
"That's funny," Mrs. Lawrence chimed in. "I didn't see anything about it in the paper this morning. If I had, we could have skipped the sightseeing tour and spent the day here."
Katie shot her brother a look. Too bad there hadn't been anything in the paper. The orchard sounded a little more interesting than anything else they'd seen so far. Maybe they could have been spared a whole day of torture.
"Well, we're here now," Mr. Lawrence said, turning through the gates. "And we've still got a couple of good hours before it gets dark."
As they entered the grounds, Katie felt something strange. Something that made her shiver. It was as if she'd passed through some kind of invisible wall, or like diving into a pool and breaking through the surface of the water. And it happened just as quickly.
Strangely, outside the gates, the trees were turning colors and losing their leaves, but inside the gates, the apple trees were at their prime—green and loaded with fruit.
Katie turned around in her seat to look back at the gates.
Something else was wrong. But it took Katie a minute to figure out what it was.
Outside the gates, where the leaves on the trees were dying, it was a beautiful, sunny day. But inside the gates, where everything flourished, it was dark and dreary.
Katie shivered again. "Creepy," she said, talking to herself.
"What's creepy?" her mother asked.
"The trees," Katie answered. "How come they've still got apples?"
"Maybe the apple season is longer out here in the country," her mother said.
"But look how dark it is in here," Katie pointed out.
Her father laughed. "Of course it's dark," he said. "We're in the shadow of all these trees."
Katie caught a glimpse of the sky above the trees. It was steely gray, with no sunshine at all.
But before Katie could point that out to her family, the words stuck in her throat as a hideous creature stepped out from between the apple trees that lined the drive. Its head was swollen, and the green, putrid skin that covered its face was rotting right off its skull. Bloodshot eyeballs hung from their sockets. And a blood-covered ax stuck out of its chest.
Look!" Mrs. Lawrence exclaimed as another grotesque creature appeared ahead of them. "Everyone is dressed up for Halloween!"
Katie took a good look at the creature with the ax in its chest. If that was a costume, it was very, very good.
"This is excellent!" Andy said. "I definitely want to go on the haunted hayride."
"Didn't I tell you this would be fun?" Mrs. Lawrence said.
They pulled into the parking lot under a giant old shade tree where several other cars were already parked. But there were no other people in the parking lot, just the biggest, creepiest-looking scarecrow on a pole that Katie had ever seen.
Its head was the size of a basketball, and it was covered with a dirty white sheet that was tied around its neck with a thick, heavy rope dangling to the ground like a leash. Its face was painted onto the sheet.
The second her father parked the car, the creature started to move!
Katie let out a loud, startled cry.
So did her mother.
"It's all right," Katie's father assured them. "It's just someone dressed up in a Halloween costume."
The giant creature climbed down from its pole and started clomping its way toward them, flailing its arms and moaning. It looked like Frankenstein's monster dressed up as a scarecrow.
No one made a move to get out of the car.
"If he's trying to scare us away, he's doing a pretty good job," Katie's mother said nervously.
The scarecrow fell onto the hood of the car, moaning and groaning even louder than before.
"Let's get out of here!" Katie cried.
But it was too late.
Within seconds, the car was surrounded by cackling witches and blood-covered ghouls.
And Katie had the horrible feeling that they weren't just people in Halloween costumes.
Copyright © 2012 by Annette Cascone and Gina Cascone