A dragon causes flaming mayhem in this twelfth book in New York Times bestselling author Christopher Pike’s Spooksville series.
A fire-breathing dragon has appeared out of nowhere and is looking for its treasure in Spooksville. In fact, the dragon intends to destroy the entire town unless its jewels and gold are returned immediately. The only trouble is that Adam and his friends don’t know where this treasure is.
Worse, the hotheaded creature won’t listen to reason, and soon it’s laying waste to everything in its path with its fiery breath. The dragon has no problem turning kids to ash, either. Soon Adam and his friends are fighting flames—and for their lives!
The Hidden Beast 1 It was Leah Poole, Bryce Poole’s cousin, who brought the gang the treasure map. The fact that Leah was related to Bryce made Adam Freeman and Watch suspicious. Even though Adam and Watch had shared a couple of adventures with Bryce—one on the other side of the Secret Path, the other when prehistoric dinosaurs invaded Spooksville—the guys simply did not trust Bryce. The fact that he said he wanted to share a treasure with them made them trust him less.
Even the girls had their doubts. While fighting the invasion of dinosaurs, Bryce had made a few bad calls that Sally Wilcox had not forgiven. But to Sally’s credit—perhaps a credit to her greed—she was the one most interested in the treasure hunt. Cindy Makey, on the other hand, didn’t understand why Leah Poole would go to complete strangers and offer them half of a supposedly fabulous treasure in return for a little help. Cindy liked Bryce, but his cousin was another matter. Yet maybe Cindy’s distrust of Leah was partly because Leah was so pretty, with her sandy brown hair and pearl white teeth. Prettier, in fact, than Cindy.
At least that was what Sally later said.
They were in their favorite doughnut shop when Bryce walked in and hit them with the idea of the treasure hunt. Leah was outside for the moment, out of sight. Apparently Bryce wanted to soften them up on the idea first. But he hadn’t been talking long when they were all over him with questions.
“Where did this map come from?” Adam asked.
“Where did the treasure come from?” Watch asked.
“Where did Leah come from?” Sally asked.
“Yeah,” Cindy echoed.
Bryce shook his head. “One question at a time. First, my cousin was born in Spooksville but moved away five years ago. She’s seventeen now, so she left here with my uncle when she was our age. It was her father, Uncle Charlie, who gave her the map just before he died. That was only two months ago—she’s still getting over the loss of her dad. It was her dad’s dying wish that she return here and find the treasure. Uncle Charlie was flat broke when he died, and Leah has no way to support herself.”
“She has no mother?” Cindy asked sympathetically. Blond and cute, Cindy was the gentlest one in the group, except when it came to dealing with Sally.
“Her mother died when she was two,” Bryce said. “Anyway, she returned here with this map but . . .”
“Yes?” Adam asked when Bryce didn’t finish. Although the shortest and the newest to town, Adam usually led the group.
“It’s in code,” Bryce said reluctantly.
“And you can’t figure it out?” Sally asked. Sally had long brown hair, and liked to ask hard questions.
Bryce hesitated. “I am having some difficulties.”
“Wonders never cease,” Watch said, glancing at one of the four watches he always wore on his arms.
“Where did Leah’s father get the map?” Adam asked.
“I don’t know,” Bryce said. “But he grew up in Spooksville and lived most of his life here. He was adventurous when he was little. I’m not surprised that he found a treasure map.”
“But if he’s had the map for a while,” Watch said, “why didn’t he go for the treasure himself?”
“I’m not sure how long he had the map,” Bryce said. “I’m only guessing when he got it. He died before Leah could really ask him about it.”
Watch frowned. “Are you saying he gave it to her with his dying breath?”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Bryce said. “I only know that Leah doesn’t know where the map came from.”
“Then how does she know it’s genuine?” Sally asked.
“Her father swore it was,” Bryce said. “I knew the guy. He was honest.”
“But we still don’t get the deal,” Adam said. “Why should Leah share half the treasure with us in exchange for our help? You’ll be able to decipher the code without us.”
Bryce sighed. “I’ve been studying the code for the last two weeks and haven’t been able crack it yet.”
“So it’s both a map and directions?” Watch asked.
“Yes,” Bryce said. “Leah’s outside with the map. She’s willing to show it to you, if you swear to keep it secret.”
The gang, the inner four, all looked at one another. Sally was the first to speak. “I suppose it couldn’t hurt,” she said.
“Maybe,” Adam answered carefully. “But I’ve got a funny feeling about this treasure map, even before I see it. Does it hint that there’s any danger in chasing after this treasure?”
Again Bryce hesitated. “Sort of. The instructions are weird. There is a hint of danger.”
“But why does Leah want us to help?” Watch asked. “We’re only kids.”
“I told her about you guys,” Bryce said. “When it comes to handling bizarre adventures, I said you’re the best.” He added, “I’m trying to help you, even though you’ve accused me in the past of acting like I could do everything myself.”
“Who accused you?” Adam asked. “Not me.”
“Your tone accused me,” Bryce said. “Besides, you told me you didn’t trust me.”
“I think you were the one who said that,” Adam said.
“It doesn’t matter,” Sally said, showing a rare ability to compromise. “We can see the map and then decide if we want to get involved. Who knows—even we may not be able to decode it.”
“But if we do decode it,” Watch said firmly, “the deal can’t change. We get half the treasure.”
Bryce nodded. “That’s fine with me. If Leah’s father was right, there should be so much treasure it won’t matter how many share it.” Bryce stood. “I’ll go get my cousin.”
While he was gone, the gang talked.
“Now that I think about it,” Watch said. “I do remember this Leah. She was tall, even as a little kid, and had a sharp mind. I’m surprised she hasn’t been able to decode the message.”
“Was she a nice person?” Cindy asked.
Watch shrugged. “I didn’t really know her.”
“Am I a nice person?” Sally asked Cindy with a trace of sarcasm.
Cindy looked her straight in the eye. “One or two days out of the month.”
“We only have a few days before school starts,” Watch said. “We might want to go on one last summer adventure—all together,” he added meaningfully.
Leah appeared a moment later. As Watch remembered, she was tall, with thick red lips and curly hair that seemed to change color as she turned her head in the bright sunlight pouring in through the window. But even though she was five years older, and very pretty, she seemed apprehensive to meet them. She stood stiffly while Bryce introduced her. It was Adam who had to suggest she take a seat. In her hands she carried a brown piece of parchment. As she settled down in the booth across from them, she clutched the paper close to her chest. Watch tried to put her at ease.
“We’re not going to steal it from you,” he joked. “At least not right away.”
Leah smiled thinly. “I haven’t told anyone about this map except Bryce. I’m sure you can understand why.”
Adam waved his hand. “We’re good at keeping secrets. We’ve had aliens and witches confide in us.”
“Not that we confided in them,” Sally muttered.
Bryce spoke to Leah. “I’d trust these guys with my life. In fact, they’ve saved my life. You can trust them with your inheritance.”
“Do you think of your treasure map as an inheritance?” Watch asked Leah. “That might not be such a good idea.”
“What Watch means is that we might not find anything,” Adam said quickly. “We don’t want you to be disappointed.”
Leah hesitated. “My father said if I could decipher the map, I would find wealth beyond imagination.”
“How come he failed to decipher the code?” Sally asked.
“It’s not easy,” Leah said. “But Bryce tells me you guys are all brilliant.”
“Three-quarters of us are,” Sally said, glancing at Cindy.
“Let’s see the map and we’ll show you how brilliant we are,” Watch said, obviously anxious to try his wits on the code. Once more Leah hesitated, but then slowly she laid the map down on the table. But it was Adam who spread it open.
The map was simple. On the left side was a series of triangles that seemed to represent mountains. Opposite the triangles was a set of wavy lines that appeared to be the ocean. In between was a bunch of stick trees and what looked like poorly drawn rocks. There was a large X in the middle of the triangles. That was it.
But the clues were bizarre, far from clear.
They were actually written as a poem.
When the morning and evening lady stands at her tallest.
The shadow of the white light of love shall falleth.
In a line of darkness on the door of the smallest.
In a hidden spot on the tallest.
Therein lie the jewels that speak in dreams.
The crystals that whisper words that are more than they seem.
But beware the ancient pet.
The fire that burns yet.
She who remembers old debts.
She whose breath melts every net.
“Nice rhymes,” Adam said as he finished reading it out loud. “But I haven’t a clue what any of it means.”
“Of course you don’t,” Watch said quickly, taking hold of the map. “We have to study it for a while. But one thing is clear to me. If this is a map of Spooksville, it’s reversed. See how the mountains are on the left side, the west side, when they should be on the east side.” Watch frowned. “They’re not only reversed. I think they’re inverted as well.”
“What do you mean?” Cindy asked. “Don’t reversed and inverted mean the same thing?”
“Not exactly,” Watch said. “I believe the map was drawn with the help of a mirror. That if we look at its reflection in a mirror we’ll see where the X is really supposed to be. Sally, do you know where we can get a mirror?”
“It’s not necessary,” Bryce said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a piece of notebook paper. “I’ve already redrawn the map while looking in a mirror.” He opened the folded paper and laid it on the table beside the old parchment. It was an exact copy of the original, but reversed. Bryce smiled. “Very good, Watch. It took me hours studying the map to realize it had been inverted.”
Sally wasn’t smiling. “Why didn’t you volunteer that information from the start?”
Bryce shrugged. “I wanted to see if one of you guys noticed it.”
“That’s not the way a team works,” Adam said in a flat tone. “If you know other things about the map, please tell us now so we don’t waste valuable time.”
Bryce shook his head. “That’s all I know.”
Watch continued to study the parchment and the notebook paper intently. He spoke to Bryce with his next question. “But you do know where the X is located?”
Bryce hesitated. “Only approximately.”
“Where?” Sally asked.
Watch pointed to the row of triangles. “This is back in the mountains, in a minor range of peaks called the Teeth.”
Cindy shuddered. “Why are they called that?”
“Because they’re really pointy peaks,” Bryce said. “And close together.”
“We assume that’s the reason,” Watch said darkly, staring at Bryce. “This map refers to an ancient pet. Do you have any idea what that means?”
“No,” Bryce said. “I haven’t been able to figure out the clues.”
“Yeah,” Sally said sarcastically. “And when you walked in here, you said you didn’t know the treasure was located back in the Teeth either.”
Bryce held her eye. “I brought Leah and this map to you guys because I trust you. Now gimme a break, will ya?”
“We’ll think about it,” Sally said.
Adam held up his hand. “Let’s look at the clues one by one. What about the first line? ‘When the morning and the evening lady stands at her tallest.’ That’s clearly referring to a special time. Maybe a special time of the day, maybe a special time of the year.” He paused. “But which lady is connected to the morning and the evening?”
Cindy shook her head. “I haven’t the slightest idea.”
“I studied all the different goddesses in mythology,” Bryce said. “I couldn’t find one that was called the lady of the morning and the evening.”
“You studied too hard,” Watch said. “The answer is simple.”
“It is?” Adam asked. “What is it?”
“The lady referred to here is the planet Venus,” Watch said. “The reference in the second line confirms that—’The shadow of the white light of love shall falleth.’ Venus is always associated with love. It is also the only planet in the sky capable of casting shadows on Earth. Few people realize that it can get that bright. But it only casts shadows when it is at its brightest, and when there is no moon. The first line also confirms it must be Venus because the planet is at its brightest when it is farthest from the sun, either as a morning or an evening star.”
“When you say it is farthest from the sun, is it highest in the sky?” Adam asked, impressed.
“Yes,” Watch said. “In a manner of speaking. Venus is highest—or tallest—when it is far from the sun from our perspective on Earth. Of course, it is always about the same distance from the sun. But from Earth, we see it swing close to and far from the sun.”
“How often does this occur?” Adam asked.
Watch shrugged. “A couple times a year, or slightly more often. I’d have to study my books to know for certain. But one thing I do know—Venus is reaching its farthest point from the sun in the morning sky. If you get up early tomorrow, you’ll see Venus before the sun rises. It’ll be high in the eastern sky, and very bright.”
“Is there a moon tonight?” Cindy asked. “Or early tomorrow morning, before it gets light?”
Watch paused. “No.”
“Then this is a perfect time to look for the treasure,” Sally said, excited.
“Hold on a second,” Adam answered. “There are still a lot of clues here that we don’t understand. Let’s look at the other lines in the first verse. ‘In a line of darkness on the door of the smallest. In a hidden spot on the tallest.’ ” Adam paused. “I assume this means that Venus casts a shadow on some object that points to a door that leads to the treasure.”
Watch nodded. “I think it says that and more. It’s full of information. I think the smallest is the smallest peak in the Teeth chain of peaks.”
“But the hidden spot is on the tallest,” Sally said. “That contradicts the previous line.”
“Only at first glance,” Watch said. “One of the peaks could be the tallest while still being the smallest.”
“How?” Cindy asked.
“By being narrow,” Watch said. “Even if the peak is tall, it could have the least mass.”
“You’re so smart, Watch,” Cindy said with pleasure.
Sally patted Watch on the back. “Very good. I’m impressed. So now we have the first verse all figured out. But how far back in the mountains are the Teeth?”
Watch frowned. “Way back. We could drive part of the way there, but then we’d have to hike the rest.”
“Can we get there in one day?” Adam asked.
“No,” Watch said. “If we leave today, we’ll have to camp out at least one night and hike the following day.”
“But then Venus won’t be at its highest point,” Sally said. “We won’t find what we’re looking for.”
“Venus won’t shift that much in twenty-four hours,” Watch explained. “I think these clues give us a window of opportunity of a few days.” He paused. “But even if we can identify the correct peak, we might look for days for the right shadow. Unless . . .”
“Unless what?” Adam asked when his friend didn’t complete his remark.
“Unless the light or shadow points out another marker,” Watch said. “We can hope for that. But let’s get back to the other verses. They have me stumped. Jewels that speak in dreams. Crystals that whisper words that are more than they seem. Leah, did your father describe the nature of the treasure?”
“No,” she said cautiously. “Not exactly. He just said it was very ancient.”
“The last verse speaks of an ancient pet,” Sally said.
“And it tells us to beware of her,” Adam said. “Maybe we should listen to what it says. She doesn’t sound very friendly, not from her description here.”
“She is probably dead,” Sally said. “If the treasure is as old as Leah’s father believed.”
“Not necessarily,” Watch said. “The line, ‘She who remembers old debts,’ implies that she lives for a very long time.”
Cindy turned to Bryce. “You’re really quiet. What do you think about what Watch said?”
Bryce nodded in admiration. “I’m stunned. I think he’s figured the whole thing out.”
“But I’ve only figured out the directions on the map,” Watch said. “Not the other meanings. Have you any idea what this ancient pet could be?”
“No,” Bryce said. “But like Sally, I believe it was something that lived a long time ago. I’m not worried about it.”
“I can get a truck,” Leah said. “And can drive us.” She smiled suddenly. “This is exciting. If we do find the treasure, I think Watch should get an extra big share.”
Watch flashed a rare smile. “I wouldn’t mind one of those jewels that speaks in dreams.”
Leah’s smile shrank. “I’m sure we’ll find something you like.”
Cindy raised an important point. “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m going to need time to convince my mom to let me go camping tonight. I won’t tell her how far we’re going. She’d worry too much.”
Adam laughed. “If she only knew how far from home you’ve been other times, she wouldn’t worry about this trip at all.” He was referring, of course, to the times they had been in outer space. He added, “My parents will need to be convinced, too.”
Sally stood. “My mom and dad like camping, and they’ll be happy I’m spending the night with you guys. Don’t forget to get your equipment together: sleeping bags, backpacks, and plenty of food and water.”
Watch also stood. “I don’t have to ask anyone where I can go.”
Adam heard the sadness in his friend’s voice. He knew that Watch’s family was spread all across the country, although he didn’t know why. Watch lived with some relative, but Adam forgot who.
“Doesn’t anybody ever ask what you do?” Adam asked.
Watch shook his head. “Not usually.”
Sally patted Watch on the back and smiled.
“But if you come home with a pile of treasure,” she said, “all your relatives will talk to you plenty.”
Christopher Pike is a bestselling author of young adult novels. The Thirst series, The Secret of Ka, and the Remember Me and Alosha trilogies are some of his favorite titles. He is also the author of several adult novels, including Sati and The Season of Passage. Thirst and Alosha are slated to be released as feature films. Pike currently lives in Santa Barbara, where it is rumored he never leaves his house. But he can be found online at Facebook.com/ChristopherPikeBooks.