Artie moved towards the woods and Dennie took off, skirting the edge of the clearing, to follow him. Chet, still transfixed in shock, never even noticed Dennie leave.
Although Dennie wanted desperately to catch up with Artie and envelope him in a good old-fashioned bear hug, he restrained himself. Though Artie was alive, he was under the influence of something. The something being whatever had been in the bowl Artie and the others had drank from.
If Dennie wanted to rescue Artie, and there was nothing he wanted more, he would have to stay out of sight of Artie, the other victims, and whoever was in charge until he knew exactly what was going on.
Dennie followed discreetly until Artie stopped by a shed. Someone, he was too far away for a good look, handed Artie a shovel. Artie then made his way over to where several of the other zombies were digging and joined them.
"Slave labor," Dennie said to himself in disgust. "Someone's giving these people the bare minimum they need to stay alive and getting their work done for free. But why the ceremony?" he wondered, his forehead creased in thought.
Dennie stayed and watched Artie for the rest of the evening. As dawn grew near, the undead workers returned their equipment after a short man barked at them in Native Hiatian. Artie, not understanding the language, kept on digging until another man came forward and shouted, "Return your shovel and go to the cave."
Artie followed the others to the tool shed where they, after turning in their equipment, turned and headed for the edge of the clearing where Dennie was hidden!
Growling, Dennie backed away a little, then climbed a tree. He would wait until they passed before climbing down and following them.
Dennie watched silently as the abused individuals passed below, his heart going out to them as a child, no more than ten, followed a woman well into her sixties.
As the last of them moved off, Dennie made to climb down but stopped as he heard more footsteps coming his way. Unlike the steps of the zombies which were irregular and trampled any and all branches in their path, these were quieter and made no sound except for the soft thud as food met solid earth.
Dennie stayed where he was cursing silently because he was unable to follow Artie and the others now.
The footsteps drew nearer and stopped. Dennie peered down and saw the man who had shouted at Artie in English. Unable to get a good look at the man, Dennie could still see his short dark brown hair and navy short-sleeved shirt. He was wearing black pants and seemed to be waiting for someone.
The eerie glow of dawn became bright as the sun began to climb higher in the sky. Over forty minutes later, Dennie's legs were beginning to ache. The man below had sat down and was resting his back against the tree. Should he look up, Dennie would be seen, but the man kept looking forward. Dennie thought he may have fallen asleep. He wondered who was so important that this man would wait in the middle of the woods.
Twenty more minutes and another person appeared. Appeared, for Dennie had not seen, nor heard, the man approach. Neither had the man leaning against the tree, for when the newcomer spoke, the man leapt to his feet. Although Dennie didn't understand what was being said, he felt sure the man was apologizing for a moment later, the newcomer held up a hand and the first man fell silent.
Dennie heard the conversation and tried to remember some of the words so he could ask Jima what they meant. He was sure the small man was someone of importance. After a few minutes the man left and the other man, after kneeling and tying his shoe, also departed. By the time Dennie descended from the tree, both men were gone.
Dennie pulled out his map of the plantation and retraced his trip. He was somewhere on a neighboring plantation. Dennie wondered briefly if this one belonged to Jima's family as he marked the clearing on the map.
Back at the guest house Chet, Biff and Phil were all waiting anxiously. Biff and Phil had not witnessed the ceremony last evening and were finding what Chet told them a bit hard to swallow.
Chet had remained where Dennie left him and watched as the zombies disappeared from view. Then the people rose to their feet and began dancing. Soon, however, all fell quiet as a beautiful dark-skinned young woman arrived. She was dressed in a long, silver gown and her face sparkled as the firelight danced off the flecks of glitter on her face.
The silence then faded as the three drummers began again. The young woman flirted with the men as the women rushed to her with offerings of lace and jewelry.
As the night wore on, the young woman seemed to grow depressed, she left near dawn and the ceremony began to wind down. Chet remained where he was until everyone had left. He made his way back to the guest house and waited for the others to return.
When Biff and Phil entered the house, Chet was waiting in the entryway and told them about seeing Artie and Dennie following him.
"Artie is alive?" Biff demanded, disbelief written all over his face.
"He's a zombie," Chet declared.
Phil looked at Chet skeptically. "You actually saw Artie?" he asked. "Moving?"
Chet nodded vigorously, then told them about the strange young woman at the ceremony.
Phil shot Biff a look then took Chet by the shoulder and led him to a chair. "Sit down and relax," he told Chet. "Dennie should be here soon."
"But what if they got him?" Chet demanded as Biff came over and pushed Chet down.
"Relax," Phil ordered. "If Dennie doesn't show up, we'll go looking for him."
As time went on and Dennie did not return, the boys became worried. "I knew it!" Chet declared, standing up and wringing his hands. "They got Dennie."
"Let's go look for him," Biff said, going over to the door and pulling it open.
As the door swung open, Dennie Mondello, blood on his forehead, fell forward into Biff's arms.
The Mondello Boys belong to Simon and Schuster and the Stratemeyer Foundation. The Mondello Boys Fan Fiction authors of the Mondello Detective Agency have just borrowed them for an adventure or two. The authors promise to put the boys back when they are done with them. The authors do claim copyright to the original characters in this story. Please do not borrow original characters without express permission of the authors.