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The Genesis Tree (The Tethered World Chronicles) (Volume 3)

By Heather L. L. FitzGerald

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Chapter One


“KATU Channel 2 News. We’d like to ask you a few questions.” A female voice called to us through the front door after a rapid-fire knock.
My eleven-year-old sister, Sophie, catapulted from the couch. “I’ll get it!”
“Hang on.” I heaved myself out of the beanbag chair—my favorite place to curl up with a good book—and hobbled to the door. With my foot in a walking cast, everything I did took twice as long. “Let me see if it’s for real.”
Sophie stepped aside, hand on the knob. “What do they want with us?”
I squinted through the bubble of glass without answering my inquisitive little sister. A distorted camera lens stared back from the shoulder of a guy with a bushy goatee and oversized, black-rimmed glasses. He stood behind a lady whose face looked misshapen through the peephole. “Looks legit.”
Sophie twisted the knob on one of the deadbolts. Although we had three installed for our sleepwalking brother, Brock, we only used one when he was gone. My sister pulled the door open dramatically, which is pretty much how she does anything.
A redheaded woman wearing a pale blue dress and too much makeup blinked at Sophie, then at me. I recognized her from television.
“Hello!” She gave us a syrupy smile from behind her microphone. “I’m Michelle Gaelyn with KATU Channel 2 News. Is this the residence of Sasquatch specialist Amy Larcen?” The hipster cameraman pointed his lens at us. A red light blinked, indicating he was recording.
Sophie glanced at me. Our mother—and said Sasquatch specialist—wasn’t home. I guessed my sister was uncertain about how to answer.
I stepped closer to Sophie. “She’s unavailable at the moment.”
The woman blinked again. “We wanted her to weigh in on your neighbor’s claim to be in possession of the body of a dead Bigfoot.” She jerked a thumb behind her, indicating the house across the street. “His press conference begins shortly. Said he welcomes skeptics, reporters and questions. What a crazy coincidence that the man who swears he has a Yeti lives across the street from a Yeti expert.”
I faked a laugh to cover a gasp of indignation. Our diabolical neighbor had called a press conference to show off the body of a Bigfoot? Though I was well aware of the corpse, I had no idea the creep planned to play show-and-tell with it. Such publicity would be dangerous.
The reporter stuck her microphone in my face.
“Yes. Crazy.” My heart hammered a distress call. “Um, I’ll let my mother know you came by.”
“Has she inspected the body?” The redhead placed a navy stilettoed heel into the doorway. “Surely your neighbor, Joseph Marshall, has shown your mother his trophy catch. Normally we would dismiss such hype as yet another hoax, but Mr. Marshall emailed some very convincing photos.”
I stiffened. Though this woman could have no idea of the bad blood between us and our neighbor, she was quickly gravitating toward my disagreeable side by mentioning him by name. His fake name, in reality.
“Actually, this is the first I’ve heard. And I’m certain she would’ve mentioned something if she knew.” I shrugged. “Also, you might want to do a little fact checking about the man himself. Joseph Marshall isn’t his real name, so who knows what he plans to display to the media today. I’d be careful, if I were you.”
The reporter took a step back, bumping into the cameraman. “Really?” She pressed her lips together and smoothed her skirt with her free hand. “Well. I—I thank you for your time. And the…tip.”
“You’re welcome.” I couldn’t help but smirk at her reaction.
Sophie stuck her hand in the air and waved. “We’ll tell Mom you came by when she gets home.”
“Sophie.” I yanked her behind me.
“Oops.”
“Here’s my card.” The woman shoved her business card at me. “Please have your mother call if she has anything to add, after the broadcast. I’m flabbergasted that your neighbor has kept this to himself. She has an excellent reputation.”
I closed the door and leaned against it, eyeing my sister. “Breaking news…Joseph Delaney isn’t going to mind his own business and stay out of our lives.”
“Mom’s gonna flip out when she hears this.” Sophie shook her head and ambled back into the living room.
A door creaked upstairs. My brother Brady towered from the top step, his blond hair wet, a piece of toilet paper stuck to his jaw where he’d evidently cut himself shaving. “Mom’s going to flip out about what?”
Before I could answer, Sophie squealed. “Oh my goodness! A van from Animal Planet just pulled up to the curb.”
I lurched over to the couch, followed by my brother. The three of us perched on our knees, peeking through the blinds at the boxy vehicle enveloped in the bright, catchy logo of the Animal Planet channel. They’d parked on our side of the street.
“What’s going on?” Brady nudged me.
“Apparently Mr. Delaney—aka Mr. Marshall—plans to capitalize on that Yeti his wife Abigail killed helping dad escape from their basement. He’s holding a press conference or something.”
“Seriously?”
Sophie bounced on the cushion beside me. “Yep! Channel 2 News just knocked on the door ’cause they wanted to ask Mom a few questions.”
Brady groaned. “Mom is gonna flip. This is not the kind of exposure she needs.”
The driver of the van got out and walked across our grass to the back of his vehicle. He opened the rear doors, which blocked our view of his movements. Another man slid out of the passenger seat, then disappeared on the other side.
A pickup truck from KOIN 6 News pulled up behind the Animal Planet guys, in front of the house next door.
I raised an eyebrow at Brady. “He’s got quite the audience. Since when do major news stations take Bigfoot findings seriously? They’ve stonewalled Mom for years.”
“That reporter said Mr. Marsh—Delaney—sent very convincing pictures.” Sophie hopped off the couch. “I’m gonna go outside and watch.”
“I don’t know…” Before I could finish my thought, she was out the door.
“Good luck keeping Sophie in the house when there’s a circus out front.” Brady chuckled and stood, offering me a hand. “Besides, aren’t you the least bit curious? We should probably keep an eye on things.”
I clutched his forearm and pulled up with most of the weight on my good leg, and Brady helped me hobble to the door. It occurred to me, with a stab of surprise, that his shoulder was now level with my chin. Though younger by seventeen months, and about my height at the beginning of summer, he had shot past me by several inches. It startled me to imagine my other brother, Brock, being this tall. He was Brady’s identical twin, and I had barely seen him throughout our family’s very peculiar summer.
Sophie stood in the middle of our driveway, gaping at the reporters and camera crews milling across the street. Brady and I stood behind her.
“I’m gonna text Mom.” What would she say to this craziness? I pulled my phone from my back pocket and noted the time. Nearly four in the afternoon. Though she’d probably be home any minute, I went ahead and divulged the news. When the wrath of Mom arrived, this circus would come to a screeching halt.
Other people gathered on their front porches or in their yards, peering at the commotion. Our next-door neighbor’s kids, RJ and Bethany, dashed across the lawn and set about mauling the Animal Planet van, pointing at the different species depicted on the sides and peeking through the windows.
The irony of the situation made me shake my head. Mr. Marshall, whom we now knew to be Mr. Delaney, had been the world’s nosiest neighbor for the five or six years he had lived across the street. He seemed to be spending his retirement watching us from his front porch, or from the front window of his home, blurred by a haze of cigar smoke. We used to joke that he’d moved here merely to gawk at our homeschooled family, like we were some sort of novelty or lab specimen.
The unfortunate truth of it, we had recently discovered, was worse than our silliest speculations. He knew secrets about my family…secrets I had only learned at the beginning of summer. The man had been watching us. Watching and waiting.
Now all eyes and cameras were on him. What did he hope to accomplish?
I had a sinking feeling he was trying to revive something that recently had died—and it wasn’t Bigfoot. It was his sick agenda that my family had managed to sabotage a month or so back. It looked as if Mr. Delaney wanted to resurrect his foul and nefarious plans right in our faces.
My hand instinctively sought the little book charm hanging around my neck, a gift from my dad. Although I often messed with it absentmindedly, stress drove me to zip it back and forth along the silver chain like it might catch fire. And at this moment, I was smoking mad at what I was witnessing across the street.
The front door of our neighbor’s house opened. Reporters and onlookers turned to watch. A cloud of smoke preceded Mr. Delaney’s stout body like unintended special effects. He tipped his newsboy hat and stuck his thick thumbs in his suspenders, waddling toward the garage door. The crowd shifted to his driveway and would have blocked our view, if not for his property’s steep incline.
The man grinned, cigar clenched in his teeth at the side of his mouth. “Glad you all could make it today. I promise it’ll be worth your time. You’ll have an opportunity to take a brief look and snap some photos. Then I’ll answer a few questions.”
Even through the veil of smoke, I saw his beady eyes peer at me and my siblings, as if daring us to speak up and threatening us if we dared.
He removed something from his pocket with a flourish. The mechanical humming of the garage door commenced, and it lifted like a slow-motion curtain revealing a stage. Bright lights set up inside the garage beamed onto the large silhouette of something lying on a table beneath a blue plastic tarp. Mr. Delaney walked to one end, grasped the cover, and pulled it away with a swoosh.

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