Chapters 1-2 Summary
Eleven-year-old Jack Gantos lives in the dying town of Norvelt, located in western Pennsylvania. It is early summer in 1962. Jack is outside, watching a war movie on the television in the house through Japanese camouflage binoculars. The binoculars are part of his father's vintage collection of war memorabilia acquired when, as a young conscript, he came across the bodies of Japanese soldiers lying in a bunker. Jack's Uncle Will was also a soldier; Jack's mother says that the army changed him from a "nice kid" to a "confused jerk." Uncle Will keeps an Indian pony on the Gantos property; he has painted the animal's body with large orange and white circles to make him look like he is "getting ready to battle General Custer."
Mom comes out to inform Jack that Miss Volker, an eccentric neighbor, has requested for him to be at her house early the next morning to help on a project. When she leaves, Jack turns his attention back to the movie, playfully picking up an old sniper rifle which is also part of Dad's collection. After removing the ammunition clip, he trains the rifle's sights on the television screen, aiming at the "enemy." Pulling the trigger, he is shocked when the gun discharges violently.
Mom sprints out of the house to find Jack covered in blood. Fortunately, the offending liquid is coming only from his nose. Jack is a nosebleeder, and when he is overexcited, blood "spray[s] out of his nose holes like dragon flames." An ambulance drives up to Miss Volker's house down the way, and for a moment, Jack is afraid that the stray bullet has killed her. To his relief, Mom informs him that the sound of the blast only caused the old lady to drop her hearing aid down the toilet. She called the plumber for help; in a town as small as Norvelt, the plumber serves as the ambulance driver as well.
As a punishment for playing with his father's gun, Mom sends Jack to his room, to be grounded at least until Dad returns home from a business trip. There, Jack, who likes history and adventure books, reads about Pizarro's conquest of the Incas in Peru. He finds it tragic that, because the conquistadors were blinded by their lust for gold, a whole civilization was destroyed.
Jack reports to Miss Volker's house the next morning at six as directed. On her porch he notices a heart-shaped box of chocolates left by Edwin Spizz, the "town...
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Chapters 3-4 Summary
Jack's favorite article in the newspaper is a daily column of facts titled "This Day in History." The entries were written by Miss Volker "ages ago," before her hands were rendered useless by arthritis. According to Jack's mother, the newspaper just repeats the columns every year, which works out well, because "history does not really change."
After breakfast, Mom sends Jack out to cut the weeds in the gutter, but the family is soon penalized for not following community laws. As Jack labors, Mr. Spizz, who enforces the rules, stops by, riding a ludicrous adult-size tricycle and towing a red wagon full of Sunday dinners for the needy. Mr. Spizz announces that he will return later to check on the weeds, and Jack recalls that his father thinks that Mr. Spizz is "cracked."
Jack finishes with the weeds and stacks them in the gutter to haul away later. Unfortunately, he gets sidetracked and the family receives a three-dollar ticket for "weed obstruction of gutter water." Jack hides the ticket under his mattress, knowing that he will have to figure out how to pay it without his parents' knowledge. He then goes out to do the one chore he enjoys: mowing the lawn with the tractor.
While he is engaged in this task, Dad, who has returned from his business trip, comes out and makes a startling request. Pointing to the patch of fresh corn that Mom has planted to make money for the charity dinners she cooks, he orders his son to mow it down. Knowing that Mom will be furious, Jack protests, but Dad is unyielding. With an inexorable sense of doom, he proceeds to do as he is told.
As expected, Mom comes running out of the house when she sees what Jack is doing. Planting herself in front of the tractor, she demands to know what is going on. Just then, Dad comes out of the garage where he keeps "all his secret stuff," and tells Mom that he needs the area cleared to build a bomb shelter for protection against "whatever bomb attack" the "Russian Commies" plan to launch in the near future. After arguing briefly, Mom stalks back to the house, warning Jack that he had better not dare to destroy the rest of the corn. When she leaves, Dad tells Jack to finish the job, then meet him in the garage.
Stuck between a rock and a hard place, Jack envisions his impending death at the hands of his mother as blood flows out of his nose. He...
(The entire section is 700 words.)
Chapters 5-6 Summary
Jack's best friend Bunny is "the size of one of Santa's little helpers." Her real name is Stella Huffer, and her father owns the funeral parlor. Jack thinks that Bunny is "better than any guy" because she is "tough, smart, [and] daring."
Due to her father's occupation, Bunny knows about "a million dead person jokes," but Jack, in contrast, is terrified by the subject of death. Determined to help Jack overcome his fear, Bunny had once arranged to have him touch a dead body at her father's place of employment. Sadly, her experiment was unsuccessful and Jack had run from the room panic-stricken, humiliated, and with blood streaming from his nose.
When Jack arrives at baseball practice and tells Bunny about his father's plans to build a bomb shelter and a landing strip, she observes that the whole plan "sounds nuts." While they are talking, Jack spots his mother riding her bicycle up the road in his direction. He runs toward second base in a desperate attempt to escape, but to his utter mortification, Mom nabs him, and, with her hand firmly clamped on the back of his neck, marches him off the field. When they arrive home, she informs him that he is now grounded for the entire summer. In a cowardly attempt to shift the blame for his actions away from himself, Jack whimpers that his father had made him cut down the corn. Mom's rage is not palliated by this admission however, and she threatens darkly that she will first make Dad "cut [Jack] down to size," and then wreak vengeance on them both.
Two days later, Jack's father comes into his room and reprimands him for violating the rules of gun safety in shooting off the Japanese rifle. While he is talking, Jack reminisces about the first time he had gone hunting with Dad. On the first day of deer season last November, they had gone out in the early morning darkness to "get the jump on the other hunters." Along the way, Dad had given him a rudimentary lesson on gun safety and had emphasized that in order to get close enough to a deer to shoot it, there was to be complete silence: "no sneezing...no coughing...no farting." According to Dad, passing gas in particular would scare away a potential victim, as deer have "very sensitive noses and ears."
Dad and Jack had settled in their deer-spotting tree house, and before long a beautiful white-tailed deer had appeared....
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Chapters 7-8 Summary
While reading about Hernan Cortes' conquest of Mexico, Jack notes that the atrocities committed presage Pizarro's destruction of the Inca civilization a short time later. He concludes that the "big lesson" Pizarro learned from history was that "it was okay to kill innocent people and steal their gold." The writer of the book Jack is reading calls Cortes a "great man." Jack remembers that Miss Volker had once cautioned that he should "be suspicious of history that is written by the conquerors."
Mom comes into Jack's room and orders him to put on some "respectable" clothes. She then walks him over to Dr. Mertz' office and tries to persuade the physician to cauterize the inside of Jack's nasal passages so that he will not bleed so frequently. By her manner, Jack knows that his mother had hoped that the doctor would perform the procedure free of charge, but instead, the physician quotes her a price. Mom asks if he will accept homemade jarred fruit or pickles as payment, but to her disappointment, he will not.
On the way home, Mom complains about how the town has changed. In the "old days," people could trade goods for the things that they needed to sustain themselves. It occurs to Jack that today, people "want gold just like Pizarro and Cortes and just about everyone else." As they walk along the street, Mom uncharacteristically kisses her son on the forehead, and the two enjoy a lighthearted exchange. Jack is still grounded, however, and Mom tells him that "not even cash can buy away [his] trouble."
A few days later, Miss Volker calls the house again to request Jack's help. She has just learned that another Norvelt original might have passed away and wants to investigate. The person in question, Mrs. Dubicki, has not been seen for a week. Miss Volker orders Jack to take her over to the Dubicki residence, where, if nothing can be seen from the windows, he will have to sneak inside to determine the condition of the resident. So that he will not be recognized, Miss Volker suggests that Jack wear a disguise. Fittingly, the only costume he owns is one of the Grim Reaper.
Jack has never driven a car before, but Miss Volker insists that he take the wheel of her old Plymouth Valiant. After a madcap ride, the two somehow arrive safely at Mrs. Dubicki's house. The windows are covered with old blackout curtains dating back to World War...
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Chapters 9-10 Summary
Dad comes into Jack's room one morning and invites him to "escape" his exile for awhile. Jack is at first elated, but his enthusiasm is squashed when he discovers that his father wants him to spend the day digging a hole in the ground for the bomb shelter. Pensively, Jack asks his father which he thinks is more deadly—past history or future history? Without hesitation, Dad replies, "future history," because each war that is fought becomes more deadly as humankind "gets better at killing each other."
Mom comes out with some cold water for Dad and Jack as they labor under the sun. She offers to get some men from the Community Center to help with the digging, but Dad declines, saying that he'd rather keep the project "in the family." A short time later, Bunny comes running over with some exciting news. A visiting Hells Angels motorcyclist had been inexplicably dancing in the middle of the road earlier in the day and had been run over by a cement truck; his mangled body has just been delivered to the funeral parlor.
News travels fast in a small town like Norvelt, and it is not long before Miss Volker calls to ask Jack to take her to the mortuary so that she can examine the body. Jack dutifully drives her to Huffer Funeral Parlor, where the stranger's gory remains have been scooped onto an examining table. Bunny is there and excitedly describes the dead man's lurid tattoos. Jack becomes queasy and must leave the room. On the way back to her house, Miss Volker muses about what she will write for the motorcyclist's obituary. She is especially intrigued by the fact that, before his untimely death, the man had been seen "dancing a jig" all the way across town. This odd phenomenon reminds her "of some convulsive condition [she] read about once," and she vows to research the matter.
Early the next morning, Jack hurries over the Miss Volker's house to help with the Hells Angel's obituary, but when he arrives, he finds that the old woman has other plans. She has decided to fix Jack's nose before doing anything else and orders him to take her to the drugstore to get supplies for the operation. While they are there, they run into Mr. Spizz. The disagreeable man and Miss Volker exchange pointed verbal barbs. Later, Mr. Spizz tells Jack that he knows about the runway his father is building and that he has already issued a zoning violation against...
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Chapters 11-12 Summary
Jack begins another boring summer day with a breakfast of peanut butter-covered Nilla Wafers. As usual, he reads his favorite newspaper column, "This Day in History." Today, the article ironically talks about both the death of the Inca-exterminator, Francisco Pizarro, and a charter signed by the United Nations, pledging peace around the world. Sadly, the reality is that millions have continued to die in wars started after the pact.
After breakfast, Jack peruses a copy of John F. Kennedy and PT-109, a book about the nation's president. Jack is intrigued by the story of Kennedy's heroic efforts to save his shipwrecked crew after their torpedo boat is hit by a Japanese destroyer during World War II. Kennedy served in the Solomon Islands during the war, the same place where Jack's father fought. Jack finds that he is proud to be an American.
In the obituary for the Hells Angels motorcyclist, which appears in the newspaper the next day, Miss Volker recounts how the stranger had spontaneously begun dancing down the road and had met his macabre end when he was flattened by a cement truck. She then goes on to describe a phenomenon known as the "dancing plague," which has afflicted populations throughout history. Miss Volker suggests that the plague has demonic origins and warns that deadly evil has arrived at the doorstep of Norvelt.
Just as Jack is finishing reading the obit, a swarm of motorcyclists roars past the house; the Hells Angels have come to Norvelt to retrieve the body of their fallen comrade. After a short time, the cyclists return, heading back the way they had come. Strapped on one of their sidecars is a coffin which looks like a silver torpedo.
Bunny Huffer comes running up the road in the wake of the noisy procession. She tells Jack that the Hells Angels made her father pull the body of the dead man out of the freezer and then stole a coffin. Mr. Spizz, the "volunteer cop," has been called, and it is not long before the man is seen pedaling his tricycle laboriously up the road in hot pursuit of the motorcycle gang, a ludicrous sight. Bunny relates that the "dead guy" had bought an empty Norvelt house and was planning to turn it into a Hells Angels clubhouse; rumor has it that he was killed to prevent this from happening. Before the gang left, the leader had put "a devilish curse" on the town to avenge the death of their "brother."
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Chapters 13-14 Summary
Jack's birthday falls on the first Sunday in July; he is turning twelve. Mom gets him the one gift he has asked for: a tin of industrial-strength grease remover that will clean bloodstains and airplane oil off of everything, including the circles Uncle Will has painted on his Indian pony, War Chief. Mom tells Jack that she has called a farrier over to trim the horse's hooves. She teasingly tells her son that she tried to barter Jack's services as an apprentice to the tradesman in exchange for the work, but, as expected, the farrier was willing to work for cash only.
When Dad arrives, Mom explains that it is "the old Norvelt way" to give three gifts on a person's birthday—good, better and best. The good gift is something useful, so she and Dad have gotten Jack a shovel and three cotton dish towels. The better gift is "a deed you do because . . . [it] makes you a better person." With this in mind, Dad and Mom have arranged for Jack to volunteer at a nearby hospital, reading to patients who cannot read for themselves.
The best gift is something that fits the recipient best. Dad hands Jack an envelope with three handmade tickets in it. The first ticket will allow him to be "un-grounded" for twenty-four hours, the second ticket will let him take one flight in Dad's airplane, and the third ticket will admit him to a double feature at the local drive-in theater. In addition, Mom and Dad have decided that Jack should have an allowance. Jack reacts with delight when he hears he will have an allowance because now he will be able to save the money to pay for the weed ticket before his parents find out about it.
Miss Volker calls and asks Jack to drive her to church. Along the way, she tells him that, as a birthday gift, she will be giving him her car after she dies. When they arrive at the church, Miss Volker goes to sit with the "old folks" in front, while Jack remains by himself in the back. Jack finds that he is happy at church, because he can use his imagination and make the preacher's words come to life. As he listens to the sermon, Jack envisions heaven as an idyllic place completely free of worry. He reflects that his Dad dreams of buying a little piece of heaven in Florida, while his mother thinks that Norvelt is "heaven on earth." For Jack, heaven is simply "everything good [he can] imagine."...
(The entire section is 789 words.)
Chapters 15-16 Summary
Reading the house obituary, Mom is saddened; she comments that Miss Volker should do what she longs to do and just leave Norvelt to live with her sister in Florida. When Jack reminds her about the old woman's promise to Mrs. Roosevelt to remain in town until the last original Norvelter has passed away, Dad comes by and remarks cryptically that his "new top secret job" will leave "no town to nurse."
Later, as Jack is working on the bomb shelter, Mr. Spizz arrives. He intimates that he will make trouble for Dad regarding the construction of his runway unless Jack gets a tin of 1080 poison for him to use to kill vermin over at the dump. Mr. Spizz says that he cannot go on the errand himself because he has hurt his leg; he offers to forgive the cost of the weed ticket, as well, if Jack will help him out. Desperately hoping to avoid his mother's knowing about the weed ticket, Jack runs to the hardware store for Mr. Spizz. The owner makes him sign a log as required by law to obtain the poison. Jack notices that the last person to sign before him is Mr. Huffer. As he hurries home to give the poison to Mr. Spizz, Jack notices that his nose is bleeding again—a bad omen, he feels.
As he had feared, Mom has seen Jack coming out of the hardware store and reprimands him. When Jack readily admits that he had disobeyed her and gone out of the house, however, she softens her tone. She leaves him with an admonition to consider the consequences of lying, to himself and to others.
The next time Jack sees Miss Volker, the woman is elated because another original Norvelt homesteader has died. The deceased is Mrs. Dubicki, whose end has truly come this time. After dictating a lengthy, heartfelt summary of Mrs. Dubicki's life, Miss Volker launches into her usual historical commentary, the part of the obit she likes best. This time, she notes that Mrs. Dubicki died on the day before the anniversaries of the deaths of two other great Americans—John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. She observes that beyond the fact that these two men were both American presidents, they were also notable because they were great friends, despite being bitter political enemies. Miss Volker points out that the relationship between Adams and Jefferson reflects the "American way" of focusing not on our differences but on what we have in common. She further expostulates that Mrs....
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Chapters 17-18 Summary
Complaining that Jack has done nothing with her the whole summer, Bunny demands that he prove his friendship by finding a way to play baseball with her and the team later that day. Jack talks to his mother and trades his birthday ticket for a ride in his father's airplane in exchange for the freedom to go out and play. Sadly, as he runs over to the baseball field with Bunny, he hears Miss Volker calling to him; he cannot ignore her.
Miss Volker excitedly tells Jack and Bunny that Mrs. Linga, another Norvelt original, has passed away. The three pile into the car and head for Mrs. Linga's house so that Miss Volker can examine the body. Mr. Huffer has beaten them there; he asserts that Mrs. Linga died because of complications from a broken hip. Jack notes that the dead woman is covered with a white sheet and that a partially-eaten casserole and an open bag of Girl Scout cookies are nearby on the kitchen table. When everyone finally leaves the house, Jack and Bunny are anxious to get to their game, but Miss Volker insists they stay with her so that she can dictate Mrs. Linga's obituary.
In the car, Mrs. Volker immediately begins her recitation about the details of the deceased's life. As he is writing, Jack happens to look up just as his father drives by in a flatbed truck, towing a Norvelt house on a double-wide trailer. Dad hollers gleefully that he is taking the house to Eleanor, West Virginia, where investors are paying to add the dwellings "to their own Roosevelt town." When Miss Volker hears what Dad is doing, she is irate; she cries out that he ought to be ashamed of himself for participating in the destruction of Norvelt. Dad counters that he is not destroying anything; he contends that he is "just moving the dead parts of [the] town to a . . . location that's still alive."
Angry that she and Jack are about to miss the game, Bunny hitches a ride with Jack's father, while Jack takes Miss Volker home. There the old woman tells him about Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman, "two great American anarchists who wanted to improve the lives of all Americans." The tragic tale, at its core a love story, includes a botched assassination attempt, a prison sentence, and a bungled escape plot. Although Miss Volker admits to Jack that the story would not be an appropriate addition to Mrs. Linga's obituary, the account of the failed quest for freedom leaves them both in a melancholy...
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Chapters 19-20 Summary
Jack calls Bunny every day for the next four days, but she will not talk to him. She finally relents on the fifth day, demanding with exasperation, "Do you know who put the bullet in your rifle?" Jack counters her question by asking why her father is buying and moving the Norvelt houses to West Virginia. Bunny replies that, although it is a secret, she will tell him if he will meet her that night at ten o'clock, past the school where she and some of the other Girl Scouts will be on patrol to prevent the Hells Angels from torching any more houses.
Jack makes a decision "that almost [gets] him killed forever." He sneaks out of the house after his mother is asleep and meets Bunny, as directed. Bunny tells him that her father is buying the houses and selling them to Eleanor, West Virginia, because it is a bigger town with a larger population; therefore, there are more people who will die, and his funeral parlor business will be more prosperous. When Jack points out that moving the houses is "driving Miss Volker nuts," Bunny nonchalantly responds that "she'll get over it."
As they are talking, Bunny and Jack notice a car headed their way. The vehicle stops at a vacant house, and a Hells Angel gets out and douses the dwelling with gasoline. Bunny stands up and yells at the man, throwing a fist-sized rock. Jack follows her lead; then, as the house bursts into flames, Jack realizes the man is looking right at him, threatening to kill him.
Bunny blows frantically on a silver whistle. She and Jack then take off in different directions, running for their lives. By the time Jack reaches home, the community fire alarm is blaring. Knowing that his mother is awake, he heads to the garage where his father keeps his war memorabilia collection. Jack enters the kitchen carrying the Japanese binoculars and hands them to his mother, who immediately uses them to scan the houses in town. Fortunately, the fire is put out by neighbors before it does any real damage.
Mom never figures out that her wayward son had gone out to meet Bunny on the night of the fire. Jack escapes further punishment at her hands, but the image of the Hells Angel looking at him and threatening him with death remains with Jack. Consequently, he is terrified when a ferocious-looking man riding a motorcycle stops by one day when Jack is working on the bomb shelter. As it...
(The entire section is 510 words.)
Chapters 21-22 Summary
Miss Volker summons Jack to her house again, only this time no one has died. She sends him over to Girl Scout Mertie-Jo's house to buy more cookies. Mertie-Jo is elated because earlier that day, she had sold cookies to Mr. Spizz and Mr. Huffer. Miss Volker is now buying all that she has left.
Jack delivers the cookies to Miss Volker's house and does odd-jobs around the place because he does not want to go home. The telephone rings, and he answers it; it is Mr. Huffer, who reports that Mrs. Hamsby, another Norvelt original, has died and that if Miss Volker wishes to examine the body, she should get to the funeral parlor "on the double." Mr. Huffer says that Mrs. Hamsby died of natural causes, and he is in a hurry to cremate her remains.
Miss Volker becomes pensive when she hears about the latest death. She had liked Mrs. Hamsby and hates to see her go, but she believes her passing is "for the better." In her obituary, Miss Volker notes that Mrs. Hamsby had been the first postmistress of Norvelt. The industrious woman had lined the walls of her dwelling with letters that over the years had been returned as undeliverable, thus creating "a library full of abandoned histories." Bitterly, Miss Volker comments that Mrs. Hamsby's unique legacy will probably be lost when Jack's father hauls the house away to West Virginia. Miss Volker says that preserving history is vital because "you never know what small bit of it might change your life—or change the whole world." She cites the case of Anne Frank, whose diary is "one of the wisest and most moving commentaries on war and its impact on human beings that [she has] ever read."
When Jack delivers Mrs. Hamsby's obituary to the newspaper office, the editor expresses dismay that so many old ladies "seem to be dropping like flies." Wondering if something sinister is going on, he suggests that someone should look into the matter.
One morning Dad announces that he is finally ready to fly his airplane. Jack begs to be allowed to go along, but since he has traded in his ticket for one ride in the contraption, Mom will not let him. Dad, however, invites him to help get the plane ready, and Jack excitedly participates in the take-off.
Mom and Jack watch from the ground as the plane circles the area; it then comes in low over the house, causing them to "hit the deck." Jack is...
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Chapters 23-24 Summary
Jack is worried that his father might have given old Mrs. Vinyl a heart attack with his airplane shenanigans, but Miss Volker assures him that she had spoken with Mrs. Vinyl the day after the incident, just after the woman had enjoyed one of Mom's casseroles. Nonetheless, she is concerned enough to ask Jack to take her to pay a visit. The two arrive at the house to find that Mrs. Vinyl has indeed died. Mr. Huffer is already at the scene; he had learned about the woman's passing from Mr. Spizz, who had stopped by to collect her newspaper payment. Miss Volker complains that someone is selling the vacant Norvelt houses to Eleanor, West Virginia, and when Mr. Huffer comments, "Nothing lasts forever," she snaps, "History lasts forever . . . and we'll be judged by our history."
Later, Miss Volker dictates Mrs. Vinyl's obituary, emphasizing that the deceased had a great sense of humor and that her two sons had served honorably in the war. Then noting that the woman had died on the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, she observes that the winners of wars are not necessarily "more moral or ethical or nicer or more democratic than [the] enemy," nor does God have anything to do with winning or losing. Miss Volker says that countries win wars "by being tougher and meaner and more ruthless than [the] enemy." She concludes that "the only way to turn enemies into friends is with respect."
When Dad reads Mrs. Vinyl's obituary the next day, he is annoyed with Miss Volker's commentary; he feels that she is just reminding ex-soldiers like himself about horrors they are trying hard to forget. Jack suggests that perhaps remembering is a good thing, so that the mistakes of history will not be repeated. Dad counters by saying that people do not forget, and the atrocities of the past are what make them so fearful of the future. With this thought in mind, Dad sends Jack back to work on the bomb shelter, but the boy continues to argue. He asserts that instead of putting so much energy into surviving the next atomic bomb, it would be easier and more sensible if people would just focus on not having bombs at all. As Jack grudgingly gets ready to go out and dig as directed, Dad mentions that he will soon be moving Mrs. Linga's house to West Virginia.
Two days later, Miss Volker calls again to report that yet another Norvelt original, Mrs. Bloodgood,...
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Chapters 25-26 Summary
The next day, the editor of the newspaper prints an article calling for an investigation into the rash of old lady deaths that has plagued the town. Miss Volker takes personally the suggestion that something sinister is going. She asserts that the ladies in question were all of "advanced age" and died "by natural causes"; she further argues that their passing is not nearly as much of a problem as is the destruction of Norvelt's history.
Mom, on the other hand, has quite a different reaction to the newspaper editorial. She fears that she has contributed to the ladies' deaths by inadvertently using poison mushrooms in their casseroles. When Dad and Jack convince her that this cannot be the case, she is relieved, but she insists that something is definitely amiss in Norvelt.
Jack shares his mother's feelings of uneasiness about the deaths of the old ladies. As he lies in bed that night, he thinks of the Compound 1080 that Miss Volker uses to kill rodents in her basement, and he recalls that both Mr. Spizz and Mr. Huffer have utilized it, too. With horror, he remembers that he had bought some of the poison himself and that he had signed a list to get it. If Mr. Spizz should decide to lie about the incident, Jack himself would be a suspect in the old ladies' deaths.
The next time Jack returns to Miss Volker's house, he notices that the woman has again laid out in her basement chocolates sprinkled with 1080. While he is there, Miss Volker receives a phone call informing her that Mrs. Droogie, the last of the Norvelt originals besides herself and Mr. Spizz, has died. Elated that her promise to Mrs. Roosevelt is almost fulfilled, she commandeers Jack to take her to the deceased's house.
Mr. Huffer, Mr. Spizz, and two county troopers are present when Jack and Miss Volker arrive at the Droogie residence. After conducting an unusually thorough examination, Miss Volker concurs with the funeral parlor owner that Mrs. Droogie died of natural causes. When "cremation as usual" is suggested, the troopers interject. They have been ordered to take the body to the lab for a full autopsy and to release the remains to Mr. Huffer only when it is concluded.
Back in the car, Miss Volker tells Jack the story of Antony and Cleopatra. Antony tried to kill himself with his sword when he heard erroneously that the love of his life had...
(The entire section is 781 words.)
Chapters 27-28 Summary
Mom goes off to the woods one morning to gather raspberries. She feels sorry for Miss Volker, who is under house arrest, and plans to make her a tart. Jack is reading the newspaper in the kitchen when he hears a rifle shot. He runs outside to find a small deer standing dazed in the backyard, with blood running from a wound in its neck.
Mom comes crashing out of the woods, hollering for Jack to fetch the Japanese rifle. A man in a black ski mask is right behind her, aiming his own gun at the wounded deer. As his mother steps between the man and the deer, Jack hurries to the garage but cannot find the rifle. He takes a long Japanese sword instead and gives it to his mother. Mom uses the sword fearlessly to hold off the hunter; standing about two feet away from him, she realizes the hunter is her wayward brother, Will.
Having been recognized, Will disappears into the woods after dropping his firearm. Jack is surprised to see that the weapon is the Japanese rifle from Dad's collection. He is certain it was Will's bullet which had been in the chamber on that fateful night when he had foolishly pulled the trigger. Jack argues he never should have been grounded for the summer, but Mom says the more important reason for his punishment was the destruction of her cornfield. When Jack counters that he only cut the corn because Dad made him do it, Mom replies that his summer has not been a total loss because he has become such good friends with Miss Volker. Mother and son share an uncharacteristic hug. Then Mom warns Jack that if he ever tells Dad about her brother Will and the gun, he will be grounded until he turns eighteen.
The deer is dead now, lying with its eyes open but unseeing. Jack goes over and gently closes its eyes, lamenting that the poor creature "never did anything wrong in its entire life except to be in the wrong place." He reflects that history is often like that, especially for the innocent.
In the morning, Jack tries to write an obituary for the deer; he knows he will have to find "some good history to go along with it" in order to get it published in the newspaper. After butchering the animal, Dad comes in with the bullet that had been in its neck. He tells his son that he knows he didn't load the Japanese rifle; Dad says it was still wrong, however, that he played with the gun and pulled the trigger. Jack...
(The entire section is 773 words.)