A blind boy and his brother set out on a motorcycle in search of their ghost-hunting grandfather It all starts with the postman. Jake cannot see the mail, but he is an excellent listener, and he can tell by the sound the mail makes when it hits the floor that bad news is coming. At the top of the pile is a very thin letter rejecting Jake’s brother, Martin, from every college he applied to. Even worse, there is no news from their grandfather, an eccentric ghost hunter whose supernatural investigations have carried him into the wilds of northern England. Martin cashes in his college savings to buy a secondhand motorcycle, and the boys set out to find their grandfather. It is a trip that will change their lives forever. This ebook features an illustrated personal history of Peter Dickinson including rare images from the author’s collection.
|Publisher:||Open Road Integrated Media LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.60(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Peter Dickinson was born in Africa but raised and educated in England. From 1952 to 1969 he was on the editorial staff of Punch, and since then earned his living writing fiction of various kinds for children and adults. His books have been published in several languages throughout the world. The author of twenty-one crime and mystery novels for adults, Dickinson was the first to win the Gold Dagger Award of the Crime Writers’ Association for two books running: The Glass-Sided Ants Nest (1968) and The Old English Peepshow (1969). Dickinson was shortlisted nine times for the prestigious Carnegie Medal for children’s literature and was the first author to win it twice. Dickinson served as chairman of the Society of Authors and was a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2009 for services to literature. Peter Dickinson died on December 16, 2015, at the age of eighty-eight.
Read an Excerpt
By Peter Dickinson
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2015 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
All rights reserved.
The postman was the one who whistled "Amazing Grace" rather well but couldn't manage the flap of the letter-box. Jake Bertold heard him stuff something fairly bulky through and then the flap snapped back just as the package hit the doormat. Martin's chair squeaked slightly on the kitchen tiles, but only enough to show that he was rocking himself comfortably back against the fridge, which Mum would never let him do when she was there, so he probably hadn't heard the postman. The flap was rattling again as Jake got up and walked out of the kitchen and up the two steps into the hallway. The snap of the flap was dulled by something the postman hadn't pushed right through.
"Thank you," called Jake as boots and "Amazing Grace" dwindled away into the street. He pulled the letter clear of the flap, just one cheap envelope feeling like a bill. His foot touched the package on the doormat so he bent to pick it up. Martin's Motorcycle Mechanics—nothing else came rolled quite like that. He knew that there was no more post on the mat because he'd have heard it fall, but while he was down he couldn't help sweeping a hand around just in case. Nothing. He did his best not to let his feelings show when he carried the post back to the kitchen. Martin was trying to jiggle a crookedly cut bit of bread out of the toaster.
"Here's your comic," said Jake.
"Thanks. This stupid gadget!"
"Why don't you cut the bread straighter? It always works when I do it. One bill, I think."
"Oughtn't to be. Dad said he'd settled everything for the next six weeks. Oh, come on!"
Metal slithered on smooth metal.
"Look out!" said Jake. "You mustn't use a knife. That element's live even when it's stopped toasting. I bet you haven't switched it off!"
"I want my rotten toast."
"Let me do it."
Jake was quite right about Martin having been too impatient to switch the current off. He did so, then turned the toaster on its side and humoured the mangled slice free. At least, he thought, it hadn't been as bad as Saturday when he'd come racing downstairs after hearing the unmistakable flutter of a postcard and it had turned out to be only one from Mum and Dad. Martin muttered as he tried to rip the wrapper off his magazine starting, as happened every month, in the wrong place so that he tore the cover.
"Thanks," he said as he took the toast.
"Nothing from Granpa?"
"You want me to go and look? It might have fallen in a funny place."
"I'd have heard."
"'Spect so. I wonder what's happened to the old idiot. He's probably too hot on the trail of some banshee to remember that he's got any family at all. That's two weeks, isn't it?"
"Honestly, when you get that old I suppose you've got a right to go a bit nutty, but not inconsiderate. He knows Mum and Dad are away too."
"Oh, come off it."
"I suppose so."
"Why can't they do these things up in wrappers which you don't need a blow-lamp to undo? Soon as Granpa's subscription runs out I'm going to start buying it at Smith's again",
"You always start in the wrong place."
"I start where I feel like. It's a free country, isn't it? Ah."
Jake drank his tea listening to the flop and rattle of pages being leafed to and fro as Martin looked for goodies in the magazine. Then came a sigh of content as his brother settled down to read some article in a sensible fashion, starting at the beginning. The faint mutter of Mrs Quitch's radio next door died. That meant Thought for the Day had begun and she'd switched it off, so it was quarter to eight and time to dress for school. Jake was almost at the door when he heard Martin say in a quite different voice "Hey, that isn't a bill!" As he went up the stairs he felt the mood of the house change—first a shock-wave, of excitement and then a violent lurch into fear and depression, something far deeper and more intense than his own fret about not hearing from Granpa. That was only a guess, of course; when Jake had these feelings about the mood of the house he was sometimes wrong, but he was quite often right.
Jake always had breakfast in his dressing-gown, a habit left over from the years when he couldn't help spilling some of his food, and of course Mum wanted to send him clean to school.
From habit he also paraded in the kitchen, though nowadays he never contrived to put on odd shoes or wear his jersey inside out. Martin had turned the radio on for the news as he always did, but he wasn't listening to it. In fact he switched the reader off in the middle of a sentence about the trial of the Green Revolutionary bombers, when normally he'd have insisted on complete silence from the rest of the family so that he could glean every scrap about his heroes. But today he gave a mutter of furious impatience and then click.
"You'll do," he said.
Jake was careful not to show that he could hear the bleakness and shock in his voice.
"Thanks," he said. "I ..."
"They've turned me down," said Martin with a laugh like the bark of a small dog.
"All three universities I put in for. Oh, God, if only I'd done a bit of work I could have got in on my head! They're crying out for engineers! I've been such a fool!"
Jake didn't know what to say. He made a beginning in his mind and then stopped. Really, they'd all known this was going to happen. Martin hadn't done a lot of work, and even Granpa, who practically never commented on anyone else's behaviour, had once been heard muttering that nobody had ever built a bridge with nothing but flair and flannel. Martin had laughed. But that was then. And since then he'd managed to drive the coming crisis out of his mind by joining in all the student marching and protesting and fund-raising over the G.R. bombers' trial.
Mr Scott's horn pooped outside the front gate.
"I've got to go," said Jake. "It'll be all right, Mart—it really will."
"Couldn't you cut school? I can't face being alone all day—nothing to do but clean the rotten house and pretend to work for my rotten A-levels which I don't need any more and listen to those prissy-vowelled news-readers talking about the trial and think. Say I've got flu or something and you've got to look after me."
"Oh ... OK," said Jake.
He walked rapidly down the hallway and picked up his stick from its corner among the coats and macs. When he opened the door he left it on the latch. He smelt the remains of rain in the March air, though the sound of the passing tyres on the road told him that the tarmac was almost dry. A soft wind on his cheek felt as though it would soon rain again.
"'Fraid I'm early," called Mr Scott's furry voice. "Got a bit of a rush on this morning. Can you hurry?"
Jake walked down the path, took three steps across the pavement and tapped his way past Mr Quitch's parked car.
"You'll need your anorak," said Mr Scott. "Forecast's rain all day. And where's your satchel?"
"I think I'd better not come to school," said Jake. "Martin's not very well. I expect it's only flu, but it might be the thing he had before."
"You can't do much," said Mr Scott.
"Yes I can. I looked after him a lot when he was ill last time. If I think he's getting worse I'll go to Mrs Quitch and ask her to ring the doctor."
"But what about the school?"
"She'll do that for me too. They won't mind. Miss Chandow doesn't come Mondays so I don't get a proper blind-teacher today anyway. I've got some work I can do at home."
"Sure? Well, in that case ... Matter of fact it suits me. Any news from your parents?"
"They're having a lovely time. Solid sun, Mum says, and beautiful girls for Dad to look at. A lot of them go bathing with no clothes on at all, Mum says."
"You don't say!" said Mr Scott. "And all that off the back of a cornflake packet! I'll have to change my breakfast habits. If your Dad can win a competition, so can I, hey?"
The end of his sentence was half drowned by the drub of his starter motor. Jake waved good-bye as the suck of wind behind the car riffled through his hair. Funny, he thought. Nobody ever dreams a blind kid might be lying.
Martin had re-tuned to Radio Solent and turned the volume full up. It was the Bay City Rollers and they were too much for the tinny little speaker. Jake could smell that Martin had made himself another cup of coffee, double strength. He reached out his hand to the core of the bawling and twanging, ran his fingertips along the plastic and turned the volume down.
"Sorry," he said. "That loud they make my teeth ache."
"Stops me thinking," said Martin. "What did he say?"
"Nothing. He was in a hurry to get off somewhere. I'll go round to Mrs Quitch and ask her to phone the school."
"What'll you tell her?"
"You've got flu, and I've got to stay at home in case it turns out to be the bug you had before."
"But that means I'm stuck here all day! I won't be able to stand that! Couldn't you phone from the call-box?"
"I suppose so. Where do you want to go?"
"I haven't thought. I just want out."
Jake didn't say anything—it was so exactly like Martin. First he insisted on Jake staying at home to keep him company, and then he decided to go out. "Out" meant on the moped Granpa had given him, and it didn't have a pillion so he couldn't take Jake with him. Martin wasn't stupid, he was just incredibly impulsive.
"Tell you what," he said suddenly. "If I'm not going to university I won't need that money. I can use it to trade the moped in and get a proper bike. Let's do that!"
"You'd better talk to Dad."
"It's my money. It wasn't even given me—I earned it, didn't I?"
"Yes, but ..."
"It's either that or send it to the G.R. Defence Fund."
Jake argued a bit more, but there wasn't much he could say. Martin was quite capable of talking himself into a position where he'd feel forced to send the money to the Green Revolutionary lawyers, and if he did that there'd be real trouble when Dad got home.
Not that it was Dad's money. Apart from a few small presents, Martin had earned it all during the last four holidays, slogging away at petrol stations or on building sites so that Dad wouldn't have to fork out anything to make up his university grant to enough money for a student to live on. He'd once or twice talked in a day-dreamy way about spending it on a real bike, and had even passed his driving test on a big Honda belonging to his friend Brian. Obviously it would be better if he let this dream come true than if he threw the whole lot away on the Motorway Bombers, who probably had plenty of cash rolling in to help them anyway. Dad would understand, even sympathise, about the bike. G.R. no. Jake gave up arguing.
"Where's the show-rooms?" he said.
"I'll start at Pauling's just behind Woolworth."
"I could catch the bus down and wait for you on the library steps. Would you mind?"
"Course not. It would mean we could fit you for a crash helmet."
"Come off it. What's the point in me getting a real bike if I can't take you out on it. Next week's half term, isn't it? We'll really go places."
He sounded so excited that anyone who didn't know him would have thought he'd already got over the shock of disappointment, but Jake could sense that it was still there, a hard ball of pain inside him, and the fizz and urgency were his way of wrapping it round with crackling dreams to seal it off and lessen the pain.
The drizzle began while Jake was waiting on the library steps. He tapped his way up them into the shelter of the porch and listened to footsteps and traffic. A moped of the same make as Martin's went by, but with a rattle in its chain which Jake didn't recognise. The third stranger in ten minutes spoke to him.
"You all right, lad?"
The voice of an elderly man, edged with that fuzz of shyness which most people feel when they offer what may be unwanted help.
"Yes, thank you," said Jake. "I'm waiting for my brother."
"OK. Fine. I'll be in the Library about twenty minutes and I'll keep an eye open for you when I come out, just in case ..."
"Thank you so much."
Nice for him, thought Jake. Now he can feel good all day without having had to do anything at all. He was still grinning when he heard Martin's step and the slight brush and squeak of his leathers.
"Sorry, Jake. Been waiting long?"
"About ten minutes. The bus was a crawler."
"Would be. Anyway there's nothing doing at Pauling's."
"I'd have thought you'd have bought half the shop by now."
"What! Without you to tell me if the man's lying! Mind a bit of a walk?"
Next time the man was lying. He took the boys through his new-bike showroom and out by a back door into an echoing shed which smelt of dirty oil and welding gas and damp sacking, where he showed Martin a machine that made him whistle. Jake could hear the immediate note of longing that threaded through his brother's questions. The man was very very sincere, said it took a real rider to manage a beast like that—BSA Thunderbolt 850, 1964, old, yes, but sound workmanship, classic design, cheap because it's a bit more than most fellers care to handle, but you're a big guy, sir—all that. It took him twenty kicks to start the engine, but that was because it hadn't been run for a while. Jake listened to the bellowing surge of the exhaust as he turned the throttle. He cut the engine and waited.
"I thought I'd seen them priced a hundred quid more than that," said Martin, half longing, half doubt.
"You're thinking of the '65 model, sir. And matter of fact if we'd got round to doing a paint job on this we'd have been asking ..."
And so on and so on, very sincere, very helpful.
A shrill bell fizzed.
"That's my front shop, sir," said the man. "My assistant's out. Mind if I leave you a minute to think it over? Start her up again if you want to—nothing wrong with that engine. But don't take her out in the yard. We're not insured for that."
His brisk footsteps echoed away.
"If it's good as he says it's a snip," said Martin.
"How fast will it go?" asked Jake.
"Supposed to do a ton and a quarter, full noise."
"Full noise is right. You'd look pretty silly if you took it to another of your anti-Concorde demos."
"Bikes are different. What do you think?"
"There's something he isn't talking about."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know. But he's talking so much because there's something he hopes you're not going to ask about."
"Oh ... sure?"
"About usual. About eighty per cent."
"Oh ... He looks you straight in the eyes all the time Um ... it's dead cheap, of course."
"Isn't it too cheap?"
(This was quite a usual sort of conversation between the Bertold brothers. Though Martin was almost eighteen and Jake five years younger they relied on each other a lot. It had begun with Martin as the small hero defending his blind baby brother from the dragons and ogres of the sighted world, but things had evened up since then. Nowadays Martin relied on Jake quite a bit for reading people's moods and feelings—usually their parents', but sometimes even his current girl's. And Jake had found that it was important to let Martin make his own choices and to go along with most of his wild whims; otherwise he simply became extra wild to make up for his brother's caution.)
For a while Martin hummed and grunted and clicked the big machine's controls; then he wheeled it around the shed with its coarse-tread tyres making a contented burring on the cement floor. Jake heard the back door of the shop open and close.
"He's coming back," he whispered.
Martin grunted with the effort of lifting the monster back onto its stand. The brisk steps rang once more through the shed.
"Well, sir?" said the man, careful not to sound very interested.
"What's the frame like?" asked Martin.
"Never been in an accident, sir. One owner, never rode her flat out. Quite as good as you could hope for in a bike that age."
That's it, thought Jake. He clicked his tongue several times against his palate, a noise Mum made when Dad was telling one of his honest-to-God stories.
"Well, um ..." said Martin, still faintly longing. "I don't know ... I think I'd better look around a bit more."
"Perhaps she is a trifle too big for you, sir," said the man. Even Martin could hear the needle under the politeness.
"Expect so," he said calmly. "Anyway, I'll look around." No, Martin wasn't stupid.
That eliminated both the big showrooms near the centre of Southampton. Martin went to a phone box, consulted the yellow pages and rang half a dozen outlying shops. Only one sounded remotely hopeful. He put Jake on a bus and followed it for a mile. When Jake heard the feeble, oddly womanish double hoot of the moped's horn he got off the bus at the next stop and walked, with Martin pushing his moped beside him, down a street where he'd never been. A big blank wall caught all the noises on his left, and on the right little houses with gaps between them sent back confused replies. A strong smell of fresh timber filled the air, backed by a vaguer mixture of odours of rainy earth and old cabbage and wood-ash and manure. It was too early in the year for flower-smells. Half way down the street bristle hissed on stone as somebody scrubbed a doorstep.
Excerpted from Annerton Pit by Peter Dickinson. Copyright © 2015 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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