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Climbing SkullMountain

You won’t come back the same—if you come back at all.

A CLOSER LOOK: Character Authors let you know what characters are like in many ways. They may tell you directly, as in “Kate hates eggs.” Or they may show you through the character’s thoughts, speech, or actions: “Kate wrinkled her nose at the eggs.” Think about this as you read! 



    Back then, I didn’t talk much. 

    My big brother, Jordan, did enough of that for both of us. When he talked, I listened. When he had an idea, I followed along. That’s just how it was. 

    At least until that one summer day before eighth grade. 

    The day began with Mom confiscating our phones and ordering us to go outside. 

    After Mom left for work, Jordan turned to me. “We’re going up Skull Mountain,” he announced. 

    I gave him a look. It was a terrible idea, even for him. 

    “Eddie, please,” Jordan said with a laugh. “Don’t tell me you believe all that stuff about ghosts.”

    I shrugged. We all knew the story. It said that anyone who tried to take anything off the mountain would suffer a terrible fate. Legend had it that hundreds of years ago, some explorers found rubies up there. They returned with pickaxes to dig the gems out of the rocks. But a sudden storm buried the explorers alive. 


    No trace of them was ever found, except for one thing: a chipped and beat-up pickax. 

    Now when the wind blows, people say you can hear a clang, clang, clang coming from Skull Mountain. It’s as if those men are still up there with their pickaxes—doomed to bang away at the rocks forever. Many people claim it’s a punishment for trying to take what did not belong to them. 

    It was nonsense, of course. I’d never heard any clang, clang, clang. And the mountain was only a mile from our house. 

    Still, I didn’t want to go. Mom had always said it was off-limits. But when Jordan opened the door and said  “come on,” I didn’t say anything. I just followed him.



    Jordan and I walked down a dirt road until we came to the foot of the mountain. There, a dilapidated wooden fence stretched as far as we could see in either direction. A faded sign read “NO TRESPASSING.” 

    Jordan climbed the fence easily. “See?” he said—once I finally made it over. “No ghosts.” Then off he went. Jordan was already 6 feet tall. I had to jog just to keep up with him. 

    It was very, very hot. There were no trees or shade. The rust-colored dirt was strewn with rocks the size of basketballs. After an hour, we stopped by a boulder to drink some water and catch our breath.

    “What’s this?” Jordan asked. He pointed at something white on the ground. It had empty eye sockets and a jaw full of mean teeth.

    “A coyote skull,” he said, answering his own question. 

    Jordan bent to pick it up.

    “Don’t!” I yelled out, surprised by how loud my voice was.

    Jordan ignored me and picked it up anyway. The moment his fingers touched the skull, the sky went dark.


    Jordan didn’t seem to notice. He just stared at that skull, mesmerized. I wanted to tell him to put it down. I didn’t like all that death in his hands. But before I could think of what to say—BOOM! Thunder cracked across the sky. Wind whipped through the dirt.

    “Run!” I shouted, covering my face with my arm. 

    Jordan just stood there, looking at the skull. I grabbed his hand. Still, he didn’t move. Sand filled my nose. It snipped at my skin like thousands of tiny scissors. With all my strength, I charged down the mountain. I pulled Jordan behind me until—

    Clang. Clang. Clang. 

    And then louder—CLANG. CLANG. CLANG.

    Suddenly, I knew what I had to do. I turned back to Jordan and yanked the skull from his hands. Then I threw it as far as I could. 

    And just like that, the clanging stopped. The storm died down. 

    All that was left was a calm blue sky.



    “It hurts to open them,” Jordan moaned, covering his face with his hands. His eyes had been scratched up badly by the sand. It would be days before they healed.

    “Keep them shut,” I told him.

    “Where’s my skull?” he asked. I saw it in the distance next to a large rock. It seemed to be watching us.

    “It’s gone,” I lied. “I’m going to lead you down now.”

    To my surprise, Jordan didn’t argue. I took his hand and helped him to his feet. I was careful to walk slowly so he could keep up. 

Making an Inference

Michael Gilday/Alamy Stock Photo (Skull); Shutterstock.com (All Other Images)

You’ve just read “Climbing Skull Mountain.” Now it’s time to try this activity.

Tip:   An inference is something that is not stated but can be figured out from clues in the text.

What to do: Imagine that you are Eddie. It’s the end of your strange day on Skull Mountain, and you’re writing in your journal. Make inferences to complete each sentence below on a separate piece of paper. For clues, go back and look at the story.

Dear Diary,

    I didn’t want to go to Skull Mountain today, but I went anyway because

Hint: Look in Part 1 for clues.

When Jordan climbed the fence and raced ahead of me, I felt

Hint: Look in Part 2 for clues.

Grabbing the coyote skull away from Jordan was unusual for me because

Hint: Look in Part 2 for clues.

This strange, scary day taught me something about my habit of following Jordan’s lead:

Hint: Look in Part 3 for clues.

And leading Jordan home taught me something about myself:

Hint: Look in Part 3 for clues.

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