Chapter 1 1
“…And his mustache was all that remained.”
Mr. Noffler leaned against the edge of his desk and watched the class. They were silent for a moment. Their eyes were wide. None of the students knew whether or not to believe what they’d just heard.
Every kid in Wolver Hollow grew up going through the same weird routine on October 19, but until now, they never knew why. Every October 19, the town shut down before dusk.
Parents made their children stay inside.
Curtains were drawn.
And doors were bolted.
Every year, men who were normally clean-shaven grew mustaches in preparation for October 19. Women and children took their fake mustaches out of the drawer and taped them above their lips. Parents made a game of it, but their eyes were filled with fear.
When children would ask why they had to wear mustaches, or what Mommy was so afraid of, it was always the same answer: “You’re too young” or “It’s nothing, just a silly old legend.” But now that they were in fifth grade, they were finally learning the truth. They were finally going to hear about the legend of October 19.
“And that is today’s local history lesson,” said Mr. Noffler. He clapped his hands and sat down.
Parker frowned. That couldn’t be it, he thought. He had the feeling that Mr. Noffler was leaving out all of the good parts. He hadn’t told them why it was all such a big deal in the first place. He hadn’t told them why they locked their doors and wore fake mustaches. Parker sensed a mystery, and he wanted answers. He was not about to let Mr. Noffler stop there. Not when he was so close to learning the truth. Parker leaned forward at his desk and raised his hand as high as he could. “Yes, Parker?” said Mr. Noffler. He set down his marker and adjusted his glasses.
“How big was the explosion?” asked Parker.
“So big,” said Mr. Noffler, “that it rattled houses and broke windows for miles around. It left a crater in the ground large enough that our entire school could fit inside of it!”
The class murmured in amazement.
“Well, how did the gunpowder explode?” Parker asked.
Mr. Noffler tapped his upper lip, like he always did when he was considering his answer. Mr. Noffler did not normally have a mustache, but, like everyone else, this week he did. October 19 was only one day away. He crossed his arms and stared at Parker.
“That’s a great question, Parker,” said Mr. Noffler. “No one ever quite figured out what caused the unfortunate black powder incident that vaporized poor old Bockius Beauregard. It was labeled an accident.”
“Vaporized?” Parker asked.
“Vaporized,” said Mr. Noffler. “Well… mostly. As I said—”
“The mustache,” said Lucas, Parker’s best friend. “It survived.”
“Yes, the mustache,” said Mr. Noffler. “The magnificent mustache of Bockius Beauregard. It was the envy of every man in town.”
“That must have been some mustache,” said Gilbert Blardle, doodling mustaches in the margin of his notebook.
“Indeed it was,” said Mr. Noffler. “There never was another mustache quite so magnificent ever recorded again in Wolver Hollow.”
“Who keeps track of mustaches?” asked Lucas.
“This is the weirdest town ever,” said Parker.
“Some say that mustache had a life of its own,” continued Mr. Noffler. “Some say that that is why it returns from the grave every year on the anniversary of Bockius Beauregard’s unfortunate explosion. Nobody knows for certain. Nobody dares to go looking. And so, it remains… a mystery.”
A mystery! Parker’s eyes lit up. He knew it!
“Wait,” said Parker. “Did you just say that the mustache returns? From the grave?”
Mr. Noffler smiled and stood up from his desk. “I did.”
“Are you getting all of this?” Lucas asked.
“Every word,” said Parker, writing furiously on a piece of paper. He and Lucas had a detective agency—the Midnight Owl Detective Agency—and finding out if the haunted mustache was real or not sounded like a mystery most definitely worth pursuing.
“This could be our biggest case yet,” said Lucas.
“Bigger than the Case of the Missing Toad,” said Parker.
“Or the Mysterious Mailbox Mix-Up!” Lucas said.
Mr. Noffler slipped his thumbs through his suspenders and slowly walked about the classroom. He weaved his way around the groups of tables.
“His mustache,” said Mr. Noffler, “was indeed all that remained. It was found six hundred yards—five football fields—away from the crater, in an apple orchard. It was still attached to his lip.”
“Gross!” said Sally McKinley, who sat across from Parker.
Parker wrote, Five football fields. Still attached to lip.
“It’s not true, you know,” said Samantha von Oppelstein. She was applying a new coat of black nail polish to her fingernails.
“What isn’t?” Parker asked. He tried to listen to Mr. Noffler and write down everything Mr. Noffler said at the same time. He already had one full page of notes from what Mr. Noffler had told them at the beginning of class.
“All of it,” she said, not looking up.
“How do you know?” Parker asked.
She shrugged. “It’s just a stupid story.”
Parker stared at his notes. This was the coolest thing he’d ever heard. He didn’t want it to be just some stupid story. He wanted this to be the Midnight Owl Detective Agency’s biggest case yet.
“Well, I think you’re wrong,” he said. “I think the legend is true. I think the mustache does return from the grave every year.”
“Oh yeah?” she asked. “Then why, in over one hundred years, has the mustache never been seen?”
Parker opened his mouth to answer, then snapped it shut. He tapped his chin with his pencil. He tried to answer again, but closed his mouth. He looked like a fish, sucking in air.
“You heard what Mr. Noffler said,” Parker finally managed to say. “Nobody dares to go look for it.” But even he was not convinced by that answer.
Samantha von Oppelstein rolled her eyes. “Uh-huh, right. Suit yourself. But how could a mustache survive an explosion that big when the rest of the man was… What was the word?”
“Vaporized,” said Parker, checking his notes.
“Vaporized,” finished Samantha von Oppelstein. “It’s impossible.”
Parker read back through his notes. She had a point. It did seem rather improbable. Not impossible, he thought, but highly improbable.
Robby Dugan raised his hand and said what they were all thinking. “That’s impossible. A mustache can’t go flying six football fields away.”
“Can’t it?” Mr. Noffler asked.
Nobody had an answer.
“It’s all true,” said Mr. Noffler. “You can read about it in the town archives, in the library. Some poor farmer out picking apples scooped up what he thought was a caterpillar—”
“Mr. Noffler, stop!” squealed Lucinda Brown from the other side of the room. “I’m going to be sick.”
But Mr. Noffler did not stop.
“—only to realize he was holding the magnificent mustache of Bockius Beauregard. Killed the old man on the spot. He had a heart attack right there. But the farmer was only the first victim.”
The class fell silent.
“See?” Parker said to Samantha von Oppelstein. “There was another victim. That means that it came back. From the grave.”
Samantha von Oppelstein painted another nail and said nothing.
Parker frowned. Why was she being so difficult?
“When they found the farmer’s body, still holding that bloody mustache, they asked the same thing you asked. ‘How could a mustache survive such an explosion?’ They called it unnatural. They said it was the devil’s work, and they blamed the mustache for the farmer’s death.”
“So what did they do?” Lucas asked.
“They pried that bloody mustache out of the farmer’s cold, dead hand and took it up to the cemetery. There they found a spot in the farthest, most weed-choked section of the graveyard, and they dug a small hole. Then they set that mustache on fire, and when it was nothing but a pile of ashes, they dumped those ashes in the hole, covered them over, and left them to the worms and grubs.”
“Cool,” said Samantha von Oppelstein. “This is why I like to write poetry in the graveyard. It’s quite eerie.”
“You,” Parker said to Samantha von Oppelstein, “are odd.”
“And one year later,” said Mr. Noffler, “on October 19, the very anniversary of the explosion, they found the cemetery caretaker lying dead among the tombstones…. Something had tried to steal his upper lip.”
The class gasped.
“Steal it?” asked Parker.
“Steal it,” said Mr. Noffler.
“His whole lip?” Lucas asked.
“The whole thing,” said Mr. Noffler.
The class gasped again.
“But that caretaker had a bit of a mustache of his own,” explained Mr. Noffler. “A pencil-thin one, popular back then, and so the magnificent mustache of Bockius Beauregard could not steal the caretaker’s lip. That is why today, on the anniversary of Bockius’s death, the people of Wolver Hollow wear mustaches. It’s why we stay inside, and stay safe. Because, you see… that magnificent mustache haunts Wolver Hollow, angry at being blown up, burned, blamed for the farmer’s death, and dumped in a hole. That magnificent, remarkable mustache, unable to rest in peace, forever seeks a new lip to rest upon. And if it finds you late at night, when the moon is out and the crickets stop chirping—”
The entire fifth-grade class sat at the edge of their seats.
They gripped the edge of their desks.
They watched Mr. Noffler with wide-open, unblinking eyes.
“—it will STEAL YOUR LIP FOR ITS OWN!” yelled Mr. Noffler, leaping toward them.
Several students screamed, most jumped, and three students fell out of their chairs. But not Parker. Parker was thinking. Samantha von Oppelstein had asked a very good question. Why had it not been seen in all of these years? Was there really a haunted mustache, or was it just some silly old superstition? He and Lucas would get to the bottom of this and discover the truth. But there was only one way to do that.
The bell rang, and with a scraping of chairs and shuffling of feet, Mr. Noffler’s fifth-grade class hurried out the door.
“Remember to stay indoors tomorrow night!” Mr. Noffler called out to them. “Be sure to wear your mustaches!”
Parker stopped Lucas in the hallway. “Meet me by the bike rack,” he said. “We have a mystery on our hands.”
Lucas grinned. “The Midnight Owl Detective Agency is on the case,” he said.