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Forest of Fear






 

Nancy Drew pulled her blue sports sedan up to a fork of the wooded, dirt road.

"This looks like the way to Lake Oolagah," she told her friends, Bess Marvin and George Fayne.

"But where is the sign that used to be here?" tall, dark-haired George asked.

"Yes," Bess added and pointed. "All I see is that weird-looking thing."

In place of the Lake Oolagah sign was a crudely drawn skull and crossbones nailed to a tree.

"Maybe the lake's closed now," George said. "It has been several years since we've been here."

"If that were the case, the government would have blocked off the road," Nancy said, and continued along the dusty path while the sun was rapidly setting behind the treetops.

A few minutes later they passed another crude sign. "Danger—Go back!" it read.

Bess became worried. ''Let's turn around," she said. "See how barren the trees are? Something's wrong here."

"I know," Nancy said. "But I'd like to know what it is."

The farther they drove, the less living vegetation there was. The trees and bushes, which should have been bursting with new shoots and leaves, were dead, skeletal things that seemed to be reaching ominously for the car. And darkness was descending rapidly, stretching long shadows across the roadway.

"This is getting spooky," Bess shuddered. "Let's go back."

"Not until we find out what this is all about," Nancy said. "The lake should be less than a mile from here."

They pushed on. Far off the roadside they saw a makeshift cabin of odd-sized planks and rocks. Nancy did not remember it being there before. Dead, rotting trees surrounded it like a natural fence. She wondered what kind of person would put a house in the middle of such desolation.

"There's the lake!" Bess said, pointing. The road went right up to a small spillway for unloading boats into the water.

"Strange," Nancy said. "It looks like Lake Oolagah, but—"

Bess frowned. "It's as if it got old and died," she added.

"Died is right," George murmured and got out of the car. She walked to the water's edge. "Look at this." Nancy and Bess joined her and stared. The ground on the shore was littered with fish skeletons!

"What happened here?" George asked.

Nancy surveyed the countryside. The lake covered about twelve acres, which gave her a good view of the surrounding forest. It was all dead!

"I have no idea," she said.



"What should we do?" George asked. "It's getting dark."

"And we haven't had dinner yet," Bess interjected.

Nancy smiled at her. "Just keep thinking how good you'll look at the Spring Fling if you skip dinner."

Bess looked horrified. "Bite your tongue!"

The girls laughed. "I suggest we set up camp anyway," Nancy said, "then worry about what to do in the morning."

Bess and George agreed, and in the last light of the fading sun, they hurried to unload the tent and sleeping bags from the car.

"Okay," Nancy said, surveying the gear on the ground. "Let's get—"

"Nancy!" Bess screamed, her face white as milk. "There—in the trees!"

They looked up. A canteen dropped from George's hand and clattered loudly to the ground. Large, glowing orbs moved lazily through the parched woods!

There were four of them, then a fifth. They glowed a warm yellow as they flitted through the spindly trees— the only things that seemed alive in the deserted forest.

"What do you think that is?" George asked.

"G-ghosts!" Bess whispered, her throat dry.

"Bess!" Nancy snapped.

"What else could it be?" Bess replied. "Look at them, waltzing around there. What if they come down here?"

"Then maybe we'd get some idea of what they really are," Nancy returned.

The ghost lights moved through the woods for several frightening minutes, then, all at once, they began to rise. Slowly at first, then more rapidly, the eerie orbs floated up into the night sky to dwindle, then disappear into the darkness.



Bess leaned against the fender of the car. "Whew," she breathed. "I've never been so scared in my whole life."

"Neither have I," George confessed.

She walked to the passenger side of the car and opened the door. "Let's go," she said. "We've had enough excitement for one night."

"What about the gear?" Nancy asked.

"No one will take it," George said, climbing into the back seat through the driver's door. "Let's find a motel. We'll come back for the stuff in the morning."

Nancy was reluctant to leave the camping equipment behind, but Bess and George were so frightened that she got into the car.

As she drove, her friends recalled frightening experiences in the past, frequent occurrences when they helped Nancy in her detective work.

Suddenly George sat up straight. "I don't recognize this road," she said. "Did we make the wrong turn?"

"We might have," Nancy admitted. "It's so dark I can hardly see where I'm going."

"What's that sound?" Bess asked.

A loud rumbling noise seemed to be drawing nearer to them.

"I don't know," Nancy began. "I—"

The next moment, piercing beams of light were blinding them.

"It's a truck!" George exclaimed. "Why doesn't it turn off its lights?"

As if in answer to her question, the truck dimmed its lights as it prepared to pass them from the opposite direction.

"What's a big truck like that doing way out here?" Nancy asked. "This isn't near any highway."

The truck slowed and rumbled past them on the narrow, tree-lined road. It was a large white tanker with the words Dunbar Enterprises printed in red on the side. The driver, barely visible in his cab, honked and waved good-naturedly as he drove by.

"Maybe we should turn around and retrace our route," George said.

"There are lights up ahead," Nancy replied. "Let's see what they are, first."

They followed the forest road until it led them to a large industrial complex. A big wire fence with Dunbar Enterprises written on it prevented them from going farther.

Nancy stopped in front of the gate, and a security guard came out to the car.

"Evenin' girls," he said. "What can I do for you?"

"We're lost," Nancy said.

"And hungry," Bess added.

"Can you tell us how to get to the nearest motel?" George asked.

The man grinned. "Took the wrong road, huh," he said, shaking his head. "Happens all the time. What you do is go back the way you came and take the first left. Lutherville is about five miles away."

"You sure are located in the middle of nowhere," Nancy told the man.

He shrugged. "We used to have a big old plant in Cleveland," he said. "Then Mr. Dunbar decided to build a new, ultra-modern factory out here and relocate everybody. I come from the country anyhow, so it was a good move for me."

"What do you make?" Bess asked.

"Toys!" the man explained. "All kinds of plastic toys."

Just then, a delivery truck pulled up behind Nancy's car and honked.

"Whoops," the guard said. "I'd better get back to work."

The girls waved to the pleasant man as Nancy turned around and headed toward Lutherville.

They found the town within fifteen minutes, though a good section of it was boarded up and deserted. Only one motel, the Rest-a-Spell, seemed to be open. They pulled up to the manager's office and went in.

A bell rang when they opened the door and a small gray-haired lady came in from the living area in back of the office.

"Pretty late for you young ladies to be out," she said, and smiled. "I'm Mrs. Johnson. We don't get too many guests here anymore."

"I'm Nancy Drew," Nancy said. "And these are my friends, Bess Marvin and George Fayne."

"George?" the woman said, wrinkling her nose. "Funny name for a girl."

"We were going to camp out at Lake Oolagah," Nancy said, "but—"

"Don't say any more," Mrs. Johnson interrupted. "The reason Lutherville looks like a ghost town is because of that lake."

"What happened?" George asked.

The woman frowned. "One room with two big beds okay?" she asked.

The girls nodded.

She pulled a key from a pegboard. "Come on. We'll chat on the way."

They left the office and walked down a line of small cottages, stopping in front of number nine. "This is the nicest one I have," Mrs. Johnson said and opened the door to a pleasant, colonial-style room.

"Now, you want to know about the lake?" she asked as the girls walked past her. "It's ghosts!"

"I told you!" Bess said, throwing herself on one of the beds. "Are there any restaurants open this late?"

Mrs. Johnson shook her head. "I can whip up a few cheeseburgers, though, and put them on the bill."

"Sounds like heaven." Bess sighed.

"What about Lake Oolagah?" Nancy persisted.

"An old Indian came into town a couple of years ago," the old woman said sadly. "His name was John Bearcloud. He went around telling everyone that the lake and surrounding area was an old Delaware Indian burial ground and that we were all cursed for desecrating it. He built a lean-to out there and started performing what he called 'manito magic' to bring out the spirits of the dead to defend their holy ground."

"We saw them," Bess said, sitting up and staring.

"We laughed at him," Mrs. Johnson continued. "We even ran him off the property several times, but he always came back. We couldn't police it twenty-four hours a day. Then we saw the ghosts. And everything started dying. This used to be a thriving community because we had lots of people come to the lake. Now everything's gone. The only reason I'm still here is that this is my home and I have nowhere else to go. Mr. Johnson passed away many years ago."

"Isn't that government property?" Nancy asked. "A state park, if I remember correctly?"

The woman nodded. "We had the government people come out," she said. "They saw the ghosts, too. But you can't put that on an official report."

"That must be why the road is still open," Nancy said. "No one could come up with an official reason for closing it."

"Sad but true," Mrs. Johnson said. "I suppose you'll be leaving in the morning?"

"Absolutely," Bess said.

"I'm not so sure," Nancy said. "This may be too good a mystery to let stand."

 

While Mrs. Johnson made dinner, the girls got ready for bed. When the woman returned, she brought with her not only the cheeseburgers but also a large bowl of salad and three slices of steaming homemade apple pie!

The young detectives ate ravenously. Nancy was far hungrier than she had realized. But she couldn't get the ghosts of Lake Oolagah out of her mind. As they finished the last of their pie, she determined that they would not leave the area until they had gotten to the bottom of the mystery.

Nancy awoke early from a restless sleep. She dressed quietly to avoid waking George and Bess, then slipped outside to make a phone call. By the time she returned to the cabin, the girls were awake.

"Are we really staying around this creepy place?" Bess asked as she combed her blonde hair.

Nancy perched on the end of the bed, looking fresh in her yellow shorts and blouse. "Well, we have to get the gear that you didn't want to take last night. It wouldn't hurt to poke around the lake a little while we're there."

"Does that mean yes or no?" George asked.

Nancy stood up. "It means, let's go down to the office and have a nice breakfast with Mrs. Johnson and see what the day brings."

Bess frowned at her reflection in the dresser mirror. "It means, we're staying."

An hour later, they were back on the secluded road to Lake Oolagah.

"This looks just as spooky in the daytime," George said.

Nancy's attention was caught by a cloud drifting overhead. It was a strange-looking cloud, brighter than any she had ever seen. She wondered what it was.

When the girls arrived at the spot where they had begun to set up camp the night before, they gasped.

"Our gear's gone!" George exclaimed.

"My dad's going to kill me!" cried Bess, thinking of the new Coleman stove and lantern she had borrowed.

"Don't worry," Nancy said. "I think I know where the equipment is."

"You do?" George stared at her.

"I do." Nancy smiled. "And this is the break I've been looking for."

Without another word, she turned the car around and headed back up the road, stopping near what she figured was John Bearcloud's shack.

"Come on," she said, getting out. "Let's meet the man who brought the curse to Lake Oolagah."

"You must be kidding!" Bess said. "Suppose he decides to have us for dinner or something?"

"We'll let him eat you first," George replied sardonically.

"Very funny," Bess said, and made a face.

As they moved through the bleak landscape to the tumbledown shack, the strange white cloud was still drifting overhead. Nancy had an uneasy feeling about it, but she could not explain why.

They closed in on the shack. Its appearance was even more ragged when they came up close.

"There's our gear," George said, suddenly, pointing to a pile of camping equipment near the front door.

Just then, a large man wearing a plaid flannel shirt stepped out of the hut. His long black hair was tied back at the nape of his neck and his angular face was filled with deep creases. "What do you want?" he boomed.

"You must be John Bearcloud," Nancy said.

"What do you want?" the man demanded again.

"That's our gear," Nancy said, pointing to the stack. "We left it last night and came to get it."

"Why did you leave it?" he asked harshly.

"We saw the ghost lights and got scared," Bess said. "Please give us the stuff back. My father will be really mad it I don't bring it home."

"This is Indian land," Bearcloud declared. "Whites must stay away."

"Someone told us it belonged to the Delaware Indians," Nancy said, "but we didn't learn which tribe."

John Bearcloud just stared at her. "Leave," he said after a moment.

"What about our gear?" Bess persisted.

"Take it and go!"

"That cloud," Nancy said, pointing to the bright white nimbus. "What is that?"

Bearcloud barely glanced up. 'The Manito," he said. "The Great Spirit protecting this land."

"You never told me what tribe is buried here," Nancy said.

"Cree Indian," he said. "Now go!"

The girls grabbed the equipment and retraced their steps through the woods. Bess was panting when they arrived at the car.

 

"Nancy Drew," she wheezed. "Why do you get us into these things. That man was frightening!"

"Well, now that you're acquainted," Nancy smiled, "you won't mind going back."

"What?" Bess looked dumbfounded.

Nancy got in the car and began pumping the gas pedal.

"What are you doing?" George asked.

"Flooding the engine," Nancy replied.

"But then we won't be able to leave!" Bess protested.

Nancy nodded. "That's the idea."

After pumping the pedal for several moments, she tried to start the car. It whined loudly, but wouldn't turn over.

"Do you think John Bearcloud can hear this in his shack?" she asked George over the noise of the crying engine.

"Sure," George replied. "But why are you doing this?"

"I want him over here helping with the car so I can check out his shack," Nancy said.

"What do you expect to find in there?"

Nancy shrugged. "I won't know until I look."

She climbed out of the car. "Go up and ask him for help," she said. "I won't need any more than five or ten minutes." She disappeared between the trees. Bess looked unhappy. "Do we have to?" she murmured. Then she got out reluctantly.

From a distance, Nancy watched her friends approach the shack. There were many large rocks in the woods, and she kept out of sight hiding behind one of them.

Finally, she heard Bearcloud's voice loudly telling the girls he knew nothing about cars. But George insisted and finally persuaded him to take a look. Nancy watched them walk past her vantage point, then ran to the shack when it was safe.

The front door was open and she slipped inside. It was a dismal place, containing one small table with a lantern on it, a sleeping bag on the floor, and a tiny dresser made of unfinished wood.

On the table lay a savings book. She opened it to find John Bearcloud had an account of twenty-five thousand dollars!

Putting the bank book back on the table, Nancy moved to the dresser and pulled out the drawers. The first contained canned goods. In the second were clothes, mostly jeans and flannel shirts. The third drawer was filled with hundreds of clear plastic trashbags and candles. The bags were large, industrial ones, and had D.E. printed on them in red letters.

All at once, Nancy heard the Indian's voice coming closer.

"I don't care how you get it out," he said. "Just leave!"

She quickly closed the drawers and looked around. If she went out the front door, he would see her! Turning, she noticed a place where the uneven boards had been cut through for ventilation to the outside.

She ran to the makeshift window and squeezed through it just as the Indian came through the door!

There was a gully behind the shack. Nancy scurried to it and jumped down to hide. When she was sure it was safe, she walked along the gully away from the house, then moved through the woods to join her friends, who were already in the car.

"We were afraid he'd caught you!" George cried in relief.

"You were supposed to keep him here until I was finished!" Nancy said, climbing into the driver's seat.

"He wouldn't stay," Bess said. "I think he suspected something. He kept asking where you were."

Nancy turned the ignition without pumping the gas pedal. The car whined for several seconds, then roared to life. She drove off.

"Did you find what you were looking for?" George asked.

"I don't know," Nancy said, and described what she had discovered in the shack.

"That's a lot of money for someone who lives out in the woods," Bess said. "That seems suspicious."

"Not necessarily," Nancy said. "Where John Bear-cloud chooses to live is his own business. John Paul Getty was one of the richest men in the world, yet he rode to work on the bus and brought his lunch in a paper bag. Right now, I'm more interested in the things I found in the drawer."

"The candles and trashbags?" George asked.

"Anyone who doesn't have garbage pickup and electricity would have those things," Bess pointed out.

"But he had so many," Nancy said. "Also, the trashbags were industrial ones, not the kind you buy in the supermarket."

"Maybe he has a friend who works for a company that makes them," Bess said.

Nancy passed the road they had turned down by mistake the night before and suddenly stepped on the brakes. "D.E.!" she exclaimed. "That's it."

"What's it?" George looked dumbfounded.

"The D.E. that was printed on the garbage bags stands for Dunbar Enterprises!" Nancy responded excitedly.

She checked the road behind her, then backed up and took the road to the factory.

"Where are we going?" Bess inquired.

"I want to look at the company again," Nancy explained. She stopped the car about twenty yards away from the guard station, prompting the day-shift guard to walk out and stare at them.

"That's no cloud at all," Nancy said to her friends, pointing to the bright white fluff overhead. "Bearcloud called it Manito, but it's smoke, and it's coming from that odd-shaped building over there."

She indicated a structure that looked like a large cylinder squeezed together in the middle and bulging out at the top and bottom.

"What's this got to do with anything?" Bess asked.

"I'm not sure," Nancy said, "but I bet there's a link between Bearcloud, Dunbar Enterprises and the death of Lake Oolagah," Nancy declared, and turned the car around to drive back to the motel.

Mrs. Johnson was waving to them from the office door when they pulled into the parking lot.

"Nancy Drew!" she called when they had parked. "Your father phoned while you were gone."

"Oh, good," Nancy returned. "He must have something to tell me."

"How did your dad know we were here?" George asked.

"I called him this morning while you were still asleep," Nancy told her. "I asked him to check on a few things for me. Go on down to the room. I'll join you after I've returned his call."

When Nancy phoned her father, he did have news for her.

"You were right about the Delaware Indians," he said. "They were a loose confederation of what are known as the Algonkin tribes that traveled the hunting trails in the Northeastern United States and Southern Canada."

"Could they have come this far South?" Nancy asked.

"It's not impossible," her father returned. "But remember, they were nomadic wanderers who spent much of their time on the trail. They would have no set burial ground."

"That's what I wanted to know!" Nancy exclaimed. "Thanks, Dad. What about Dunbar Enterprises?"

"I checked with the Environmental Protection Agency on Dunbar's Cleveland plant. The reason it moved to Lake Oolagah is that it was in trouble with the EPA over pollution."

"Pollution?"

"That's right. There is dangerous waste connected with the making of plastics, and Dunbar Enterprises was dumping this waste into the Ohio River. When the company was caught, the owners claimed their plant had been built many years before the environmental standards had been established."

He paused a moment, then went on. "The EPA told Dunbar no charges would be pressed if he built a new, safer plant. Apparently he did, near Lutherville. When it was finished, the EPA approved it as far as pollution emissions were concerned."

"Sounds as if I've run into a dead end on that one," Nancy said. After a few more moments, she said goodbye to her father and hung up.

She was confused. The damage to the lake had begun right after Dunbar Enterprises had moved into the area. Yet, its EPA monitoring proved that wastes were properly disposed of.

She walked to the cabin, where Mrs. Johnson was putting new linen on her bed. As Nancy watched the woman flick her wrist and snap the sheet out to let it float gently down onto the mattress, she had a thought.

"That's it!" she cried out.

''What's it?" George stopped brushing her hair in midair and stared at her.

"I have a plan," Nancy said, and quickly explained her idea to her friends and their pleasant hostess.

 

There was no moonlight that night when the three young detectives parked near the turnoff path to the lake. Nancy turned the headlights off.

"Now we wait," she said.

"I hear someone coming!" George said after about ten minutes. A moment later, the girls saw headlights bumping slowly along the road.

A white Dunbar truck passed them without seeing their car and disappeared in the direction of the lake.

"What do we do now?" George asked.

"I’ll drop you off before we get to the lake," Nancy said. "Go to Bearcloud's cabin. He shouldn't be there. Grab the candles and bags and come down to the lake, okay?"

George sighed. "Okay."

After letting her friends out of the car, Nancy continued to the lake. When she came to the spillway, the Dunbar truck was already backed up and a man in a protective white suit opened a valve protruding from its rear. John Bearcloud stood next to him, watching.

When the Indian saw Nancy, he ran toward her, his face contorted with anger. "Get out of here!" he roared.

Instead, Nancy stepped out of her car and went up to the truck. "I wouldn't do that if I were you," she said.

The man in the white suit stared at her. 'Tm just dumping septic tank water in the lake," he said.

"Water it may be," Nancy said. "But it contains radioactive waste!"

"What?"

"Get out!" Bearcloud screamed again. He tried to grab her arm, but she sidestepped nimbly.

"I figured out your scheme," she told him calmly, even though she was shaking inside. "The Delaware Indians were wanderers; they never had burial grounds. I also checked with the EPA on Dunbar Enterprises. They gave the company a clean bill, but I saw that white cloud coming out of the odd-shaped building next to the Dunbar plant. It made me wonder."

Bearcloud stared at her, his mouth open. "So?" he finally prodded, unsure what to do.

"It occurred to me that the building might be the cooling tower for a small nuclear reactor," Nancy went on, "which provides the electricity for Dunbar. It also produces nuclear waste that must be disposed of. Reactors are not checked by the EPA. It would be up to the NRG, the Nuclear Regulatory Gommission."

"Listen, kid!" Bearcloud fumed. "You just turn around and forget you saw anything if you know what's good for you." He stepped up to Nancy once more, his hands outstretched.

"Look!" the man in white shouted all of a sudden.

Ghost lights were moving through the woods, lots and lots of them!

"What's going on?" the Indian screamed.

"I'm getting out of here," the man in the white suit yelled and jumped into his truck. But Nancy's car was blocking the road!

He got out and ran up to Nancy. "Give me the key!" he ordered.

She pulled it out of her pocket and threw it in the lake!

"You—" the driver began when a voice called out from behind them. "Hold it!"

A man in a blue suit flanked by two police officers walked up to the group. "I'm George Macklin from the Nuclear Energy Commission," he introduced himself. He turned to the truck driver and Bearcloud. "You two are under arrest for dumping radioactive waste into Lake Oolagah!"

"I had nothing to do with this!" Bearcloud protested.

"Wrong!" George cried out. She and Bess had just come from his cabin with trashbags and candles under their arms. "You've been making ghost lights and scaring away the local people to cover this up. And Dunbar payed you plenty for your services."

"I don't know what you're talking about," the Indian said.

Bess tied a lighted candle into the opening of one of the plastic bags. "Like this," she said. "We set off a few before we came. It works very well." The hot air from the candle filled the bag and it rose from the ground floating upwards.

George Macklin smiled at Nancy. "When you called me this afternoon," he said, "I had my doubts. But you were absolutely right. Dunbar dumped wastes into the lake and killed everything in it and around it!" He congratulated the girls for their good work, then drove the officers and the two prisoners to the local police station.

After they had left, Nancy turned to her friends. "Now we have another mystery to solve," she said with a twinkle in her eyes.

"What's that?" Bess demanded.

"How to get out of here. I had to throw my keys in the lake, or that truck driver would have taken them."

"Oh, no!" George groaned and both she and Bess sank to the ground and covered their faces.

Nancy giggled. "I'm only kidding. I have a spare key under the front seat!"

 

 

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