Read Carter and the Curious Maze Online

Authors: Philippa Dowding

Carter and the Curious Maze


For C and S,

always amazing

This Part Is (Mostly) True

should know, before you even start this book, that it's a little scary. And parts of it are even a bit weird and strange. I wish I could make the story less scary and strange, but this is the way I heard it, so I really have no choice.

It starts like this:

A long time ago, a little old man planted a garden maze. It was a special walking path through bushes, and it was very peaceful. The man invited his neighbours to come and walk through the maze any time of day or night. The neighbours enjoyed it.

For a while.

The maze grew and grew at an astonishing, even unnatural pace. It was whispered that the old man had a magical connection to the soil. Some thought he had an enchanted water supply or perhaps bewitched garden implements. It was true that he carried a pair of red-handled garden shears with him wherever he went, and he guarded them closely. Whatever the case, the man could make anything grow.

He had what people call a “green thumb.”

Which was unfortunate, since it also happened that his REAL thumb was terribly deformed and crooked. It was huge and stuck out at a strange angle from his hand. The man hid his horrible thumb. Some people said his thumb was a curse, others said it was just an unfortunate birth defect, and not to be cruel.

people said if you looked too closely you could see … leaves growing out of it.

Whatever people said, the truth was that everything the man planted turned green, leafy, and lush. But soon the maze became too green and leafy and lush. It was overgrown and wild, and people started to see and hear strange … things … in there.

The bushes in the maze grew and grew.

Here's the weird and scary part. One sunny summer day, a child wandered into the maze … and was never the same. When she came back out, she told a mysterious story about strange lands and travelling through time. Which no one believed, of course, since she was only in the maze for about ten minutes. But then more children went into the maze, and when they came back out … a few of
told strange stories, too. After a while, the authorities came to have a serious talk to the old man with the green thumb, and … there was no sign of him. Or his maze. The old man and the maze had simply vanished, and no one heard or saw him ever again.

You don't have to believe this story. But just because things are odd or a little strange or unbelievable doesn't always make them untrue. Truth is an odd thing; one person's truth can be another person's lie. That's the most important thing to remember about this story: sometimes things that seem like lies are actually true. And sometimes you never can tell.

That's the spookiest thing of all.

Chapter 1

So NOT Scary

mummy howled.

Carter yawned.

The skeleton rattled.

Carter sneezed.

The ghost flapped in his face.

Carter rolled his eyes.

He had to face it: the haunted house at the fair just wasn't scary anymore.

It used to be scary when he was a little kid. Even last year, when he was eleven, it was still a little creepy. But this year?

No chills, no goosebumps, no shrieks, nothing. The only thing Carter noticed was that the pop-up crypt keeper had a broken spring sticking out of his head, and the floating ghost was covered in a thick layer of dust. Plus, there was a bored-looking man standing behind the curtain near the end of the ride, beside a red button that said, “In Case of Emergency, Push to STOP.”

What emergency?
Carter thought.
Not even a little kid would be scared by this boring ride!

The haunted house ride ended, and Carter climbed out of the rolling car. He pushed past the bored fair worker and shoved his way through the crowd into the bright sunshine. It was weird out in the noisy midway after the dark of the haunted house.

Carter scanned the crowd and found his older sister, Sydney, but frankly, she would have been hard to miss. She was wearing a ridiculous red hat with googly eyes and long, red tentacles.

“What the heck is
thing?” Carter asked as he joined her. It was the weirdest hat he'd ever seen.

“It's a squid hat,” Sydney answered, pleased. “I won it. Over there.” She pointed at a tent with stripes on it under an old tree. “While you were in the haunted house,” she added.

“Take it off, you look strange,” Carter said. Everything about the fair suddenly seemed strange. His once-favourite haunted house. And now the weirdest hat in the world.

And there were more things that suddenly didn't seem so fun. For one thing, it was too hot. And for another, it was too loud. He'd never noticed how loud and hot the fair was before. Plus the place smelled. The air was full of the reek of fried food and garbage.

Yep … that's garbage, all right.

Carter and Sydney walked out of the noisy, hot midway and bought ice cream cones. They sat on a picnic bench near the lake beside an enormous grey rock.

The water lay perfectly still against the pebbles on the shore. It looked pretty, but the water smelled like goose poop, which Carter had never noticed before. A few sailboats bobbed in the lake, but there was no wind. It was too hot and still, even for the sailboats.

Carter looked up at the huge grey rock beside them. It stood above his head, above his arms, stretched out. It looked very old and was covered with moss and deep scratches near the top. He finished his ice cream and studied the huge rock.

I'm so bored, I'm studying rocks! I have to get out of here!

“Come on, Sydney, let's go find Mom,” he begged. “I'm dying of boredom! This place is dull. Nothing interesting has ever happened here in the history of the world. Let's go!”

“It's not boring, and Mom's not meeting us at the parking lot for a little while, Carter. What's wrong with you? There's still so much to see.” Sydney marched away. Carter sighed and followed her past the tents and midway rides.

Then he stopped.

was watching him. Across the grass beside a tall tree, a stranger waved and beckoned. Carter was too far away to tell if the man — because it looked like a very small man in a long green smock — was waving at him or someone else. Carter slowly raised his hand and cautiously waved back.

The man waved again, more urgently this time.

Carter looked around to see if the person was waving at someone behind him, but no, he was alone. How odd. Who could that be? He didn't know anyone else at the fair. Carter realized that Sydney was getting farther away; her red hat bounced in the distance.

He ran to catch up with his sister, looking over his shoulder once more … but the stranger in the green smock was gone.

Chapter 2

Dull, Dull, Dull

walked to catch up with Sydney as quickly as he could.

How weird! Who was that man, and why was he waving at me?

people had fun at the fair, just not him. The Double Helix Death-Defying roller coaster rattled overhead, filled with shrieking people. The Skull-N-Bonz Pirate Ship swung from side-to-side, filled with more loud fairgoers. Riders screamed on the Monster Loop-the-Loop or from inside the Zippedy Spinner boxes as they spun in circles. Everyone was having fun. Everyone but him.

Instead, he got stuck with dull, not-haunted rides and weird, waving strangers. He caught up to Sydney, who was reading a signpost.

“Look, Carter!
The Curious Maze: The Most Interesting Ride You'll Ever Take.
I've never seen this here before,” Sydney said, pointing at the sign.

“What's a … curious maze?” Carter asked.
Not that I care!

“It's a hedge of bushes, on a winding path,” she answered.

Carter moaned. “I know what a maze is, but why is it curious?”

Sydney ignored him and read the rest of the sign out loud:

Welcome to the Curious Maze.

Walk the path,

Clear your mind,

Reach the end,

See what you find!

“Well, that still doesn't tell us anything. What's curious about it?” Carter complained.

“Why don't you walk the maze and see?” a voice said, making Carter jump. The voice came from the other side of the bushes.

“Hello?” Carter called. There was no answer.

Sydney took a few steps into the maze with Carter close behind her. The bushes followed a brick pathway that wound back and forth and then disappeared around a corner. The maze was green and leafy and looked just a tiny bit inviting.

“Hello?” Carter called again, a little louder.

A voice answered ahead of them this time, an old man's voice, just of out sight around a bend in the path. “You'll have to come in further. I'm over here,” the old voice croaked.

Sydney and Carter took a few more steps. It was quiet and surprisingly cool inside the maze. Suddenly, the heat of the day fell away.

“What's … what's a curious maze?” Carter called out.

A man appeared right behind them, an old, old man, holding a huge pair of red-handled garden shears. Carter whirled around and gasped.

Where'd he come from? Out of the hedge?

The old man was tiny and bent. He wore a long green smock almost to his knees and clutched the garden shears by his side. Carter had never seen such an old man. He looked like he was made out of wood, he was so gnarled and bent and warped, just like an old tree. There was something terribly wrong with one of his thumbs. It was far too large, and Carter wasn't sure but it looked almost … green … and

Carter looked away, trying not to stare.

“Hello,” the old man rustled. “I'm the maze-keeper. You can call me Mr. Green.”

“Oh … hello. That was you just now, beside the tree, waving at me?” Mr. Green blinked and looked at Carter and then nodded ever so slightly.

“Can I help you? Did you want something?” Carter asked.

“I wanted you to discover the curious maze.” The old man clutched his garden shears, and Carter tried not to look at his weird thumb.

“Well, what's a curious maze anyway? Your sign doesn't say, doesn't really explain it,” Carter answered, struggling to remain polite while he rolled his eyes away from the strange hand.

The old man grinned, and Carter thought the ancient face was going to crack like tree bark.

“A maze is a pathway. Some people think it represents a meditation, or a journey. If something is troubling you, you walk along the path and see where it takes you. What could be more curious than a pathway that calms your troubles?” the old man said.

Mr. Green.

Now the old man was closer, there was definitely something off about him, and it wasn't just his thumb. He was … creaking, almost like you could blow him over with a strong breeze. And then there was the small fact of the creepy thumb sticking out of the sleeve of his smock, grasping at the garden shears. Funny, thought Carter, that when you try NOT to stare at a thing, sometimes it's all you can see.

Mr. Green caught Carter staring and pulled his thumb up his sleeve.

“Why don't you just walk the maze? It's very
,” the old man creaked.

“Um …” Carter hesitated. “I should ask my sister. We really … we really should be going to find our mom.” He looked around for Sydney, but she was already disappearing down the pathway. Her tall red squid hat bobbed just above the bushes.

“Come on, Carter!” she called in a voice that sounded too far away. He didn't WANT to follow her into some boring garden maze.

He REALLY just wanted to go home …

… when the old man cackled, and his laugh, if it WAS a laugh, sounded like a tree about to snap in the wind.

“It's the most
attraction at the fair, nothing dull about it,” Mr. Green said. “I

Then Carter heard his sister call again, but this time she sounded REALLY far away.

Carter took three more steps into the pathway.

It's too quiet in here, and where's Sydney?

“Sydney!” he called. He couldn't see her squid hat over the top of the hedge anymore.

There was no answer.

Carter whirled around, but now the old man was gone, too. The bushes rose above his head, the brick pathway lay at his feet. He had no choice but to follow his sister. He took a few more steps and then started to walk.

Carter had entered the curious maze.


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