Read The Beast of Blackslope Online

Authors: Tracy Barrett

The Beast of Blackslope

O
woo-oo-ooo!
The sound drifted through the air to the park where Xena and Xander Holmes were lying on their stomachs in the grass.
“What was
that
?” Xena sat up and pushed back her long dark hair. The eerie wailing sound had come from way off in the distance. It interrupted the Game she and Xander were playing and made her skin prickle.
Xander stared toward the woods. “Um, a siren?” He didn't really believe it though. That had been a
weird
noise. It gave him goose bumps.
“I guess.” Xena wasn't convinced either. “A wolf, maybe? Do they have wolves here in England?” She knew Xander had been reading up on natural history for school. Xander had a photographic memory. He would remember any mention of wolves—especially because he had a phobia about wild animals.
“Nope.” Xander shook his head. “No wild ones, anyway. The English killed them all by the eighteenth century. And there can't be a wolf sanctuary or anything like that near here or Mom and Dad would have definitely mentioned it. And I would have convinced them to pick someplace else for vacation.”
“Well, maybe a dog, then.” But Xena still felt uncomfortable. She'd never heard a dog make such a spooky sound. And now she felt that there was something creepy about the quiet town square in this little village. She shivered and decided to change the subject. If Xander thought there were wolves, or even something like them, nearby, he'd refuse to do any of the outdoor activities their parents had planned. “Let's play some more,” Xena said. “It's still two-one, your favor.”
Their father had taught them the Game, and his father had taught him, and his father had taught
him
, all the way back to the inventor of the Game: their great-great-great-grandfather Sherlock Holmes. They had found out only a few weeks ago that they were descended from the famous detective, and they had already solved one of the cases in his notebook of unsolved mysteries.
The Game was a good way to sharpen their detecting skills. The rules were simple: figure out something about passersby—like their job, where they come from, or what kind of mood they're in—just by observing them.
“I wonder where everyone went,” Xander said. “It's not dark yet, and there were lots of people around until a few minutes ago. How can we play the Game?”
“Here comes somebody.” Xena narrowed her eyes at the figure walking down the side of the road next to the park. Xander was getting too good at the Game, maybe even better than she had been at his age. But she was two years older, and she was determined to win this round.
“Hmmm,” Xander muttered. It was a kid about twelve years old, like Xena. How can I figure him out? he wondered. There's nothing unusual about him.
The boy smiled as he passed. He had freckles, an upturned nose, and curly light brown hair. Xander saw a grin of triumph on Xena's face. Oh no—what had she seen?
“City kid!” she said, and Xander looked at the boy again. The boy stumbled over something and almost fell. He disappeared around a corner.
Xander groaned, because in that last second
he too had spotted the monthly Tube pass sticking out of the boy's back pocket. It looked just like the transit passes the two of them used to get to school and around London.
“Ha!” Xena said. “Two each! And the second one you got didn't really count.”
“Did too,” Xander said.
“Oh, okay.” Xena could afford to be generous, because she had caught up. She stretched out on the grass and waited for another person to go by. This village seemed like a good place for their vacation, and she was excited about being somewhere other than London. Not that London wasn't a great city. She was really glad their dad had taken a one-year job there. She still missed her friends back home in the States, but she and Xander were attending a really cool school with kids from all over the world, and most of them were nice. She had even started liking Andrew Watson, whose great-great-great-grandfather had been Sherlock Holmes's best friend, and who went to their school.
Thinking of Sherlock reminded Xena of something. “Xander, you did remember to pack the notebook, didn't you?”
“Of course! You think I'd forget Sherlock's cold-case files? It's our best treasure.”
A week after they had arrived in London, Xena and Xander found the secret meeting place for the Society for the Preservation of Famous Detectives—or the SPFD. The members of the SPFD believed that because Xena and Xander were descendants of Sherlock Holmes, they had the potential to be great detectives. The SPFD gave them Sherlock's notebook of unsolved cases, and Xander and Xena realized that some of those cases could still be cracked.
“We never would have found the lost painting without the clues in the notebook,” Xena said. She and Xander had solved the case of a painting that had been missing for more than a hundred years.
“It would be so cool to solve another mystery,” Xander said. “Not much chance of that on vacation though. Do you think—”
Ooo-ooo-OOOOOOO!
They both froze as the howl drifted down from the forest. It started long and low, rose to a higher pitch, then dropped again before dying out.
“No
way
that was a siren!” Xena said. “Let's find out what it was!” She leaped up and ran in the direction of the eerie sound. When Xander didn't answer she glanced over her shoulder.
Xander had disappeared.

X
ander!” Xena called. Where had he gone? Had something sneaked up behind them and—
Oh, there he was, going into the bed-and-breakfast. Their father was standing at the door. “Didn't you hear me calling you?”
“Sorry,” Xena said as she reluctantly headed into the B and B. “I was listening to something else.” The truth was, she was still thinking about it. She'd never heard anything like that howl. She wished she could investigate it right now, because she knew that whatever made it might not stick around.
“Well, what do you think of our home away from home?” their dad asked.
When they first arrived in town, she and Xander had dumped their bags inside the door of the B and B and then dashed out to the village square, relieved to be able to stretch their legs after the long car ride. Now Xena paused and
took a good look at the place where they'd be staying for fall break.
“It's like a little cottage in a fairy tale!” she exclaimed, admiring the cozy room with its fireplace, soft-looking furniture, and flowered curtains. Xander was busy gathering up clothes that had spilled out of his backpack. He seemed to be avoiding her eyes.
“I'm so glad you like it, dear,” said a woman in a flower-print dress. She had short, curly gray hair, and she looked tired. “My name is Mrs. Roberts. My husband and I own this B and B.”
Xander looked around with interest. “Is this place really ancient?” He thought it was cool that so many of the houses in England were so much older than the ones in their neighborhood back in Florida.
“It was built in the early seventeen hundreds,” Mrs. Roberts told him. “We're so fond of the house's long history. It was used as quarters for visitors' servants when the family still lived in the Chimington Arms, before they moved to the manor.”
“Oh, the Chimington Arms. Is that the hotel down the road?” their mother asked.
“Yes.” Mrs. Roberts set flowered plates around the table. “And the B and B next to us
used to be the stable. It took our friends the Hendersons a long time to get the horse smell out of it, but it's a lovely place now. Still, I like ours the best. It's cozy, don't you think?”
“It certainly is,” their father said. “And it's nice of you to make us supper. B and B stands for ‘bed and breakfast,' not ‘bed and breakfast and supper.' We weren't expecting such a delicious meal this late in the day.”
“Oh, it's just some sandwiches.” Mrs. Roberts carried the empty tray out of the room, and Xena noticed that she was gripping it so tightly her knuckles were white. It can't be that heavy, Xena thought. She looks worried.
“When Mrs. Roberts comes back, let's ask her if she knows what that noise was,” Xander whispered to Xena. She nodded and gave him a thumbs-up sign.
As they ate, the members of the Holmes family looked over the brochures that were heaped all around.
“Tour the Picturesque Downs on Horseback,” Xena read aloud. “What are downs?”
“They're round hills covered with grass,” Xander answered. Xena sighed. Sometimes it was hard having a younger brother who was such a know-it-all.
Their father picked up another pamphlet. “Anyone interested in Wild Herb Walks?”
“No,” Xena and Xander answered together.
Xena found a pad of paper and drew lines down it in three columns, headed MUST DO, MAYBE, and NO WAY.
“Here's information about the sale, Mom,” Xander said. He handed her a photocopied sheet of paper.
“Thanks, hon,” she said. “I can't wait to see all those wonderful antiques in that old house! Xena, put that in the must-do column, okay?”
“Why are they selling antiques in a house?” Xander asked. “Don't they sell them in a store?”
“The family's moving,” his mother explained. “They're selling a lot of their old things. The house is for sale too.”
Mrs. Roberts came back in. “Let me show you around quickly before you go to bed,” she said, smoothing her apron nervously. Xander opened his mouth as though to ask her about the howl, but Xena shot him a look that made him close it again. “Don't interrupt her,” she whispered. Xena was good at picking up on unspoken thoughts. She sensed Mrs. Roberts was upset about something, and she was hoping that if they just listened, they'd find out what it was.
“This is the breakfast room,” Mrs. Roberts told them. It had yellow curtains and a rag rug and a round table with enough spaces for eight around it. “Please feel free to make yourselves snacks whenever you like. Just leave the dirty crockery in the sink. Over here”—she gestured to her right—“is the sitting room. I think you Americans call it the living room?” Their mom nodded as they all got up and followed Mrs. Roberts into the warm-looking room with a fireplace and a braided rug. “There's a telly,” she went on, “but we don't get many stations, I'm afraid.”
“What about a computer?” Xena asked.
“I'm afraid we just have an old one for keeping the accounts.”
“No Internet?” Xena was disappointed when Mrs. Roberts shook her head. How was she supposed to keep in touch with her friends?
“Cheer up,” her father said. “We'll keep you so busy exploring ancient ruins and taking hikes that you won't even miss them.”
“Who's that?” Xander was looking at one of the old-fashioned photos on the mantelpiece. Mrs. Roberts didn't answer. Curious, Xena glanced at her. Was it her imagination, or had the woman turned pale?
“It's—she was my great-great-grandmother,” Mrs. Roberts finally said.
Xander continued examining the picture. “She looks sad.”
There was another awkward silence, and then Mrs. Roberts rubbed her eyes. “I'm off to bed,” she said. “Sleep well, and I'll see you in the morning.”
“Boy, she goes to bed early,” Xander said after she had left.
“What's the name of this town again, Mom?” Xena asked, looking at a map in a guidebook.
“Blackslope,” Mrs. Holmes replied, and added as she left the room with their father, “Don't stay up too late.”
Xena turned back to the map but Xander nudged her. “Blackslope!” he said, his voice high with excitement. “Sherlock's been here!”

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