The Jennings gang followed Miss Duvall and Chester, twittering about the grove and what they might see.
Mrs. Jennings paused and smiled at me.
"I know you're a skeptic, Travis, but I hope you and Corey will join us tonight.
Eleanor is convinced we'll have a better chance of seeing the ghost if your sister's with us."
"Don't count on it," I told her.
Mrs. Jennings sighed. "Chester was very tactless at dinner, but then I suppose that's how it is when you're a genius.
The ordinary rules don't apply." With another smile and a pat on my shoulder,
she hastened after the others, leaving a trail of sickeningly sweet perfume behind her.
Across the room, Tracy cleared tables.
The setting sun shone through the windows and backlit her hair, making it shine like fine threads of gold.
She turned and caught me staring at her. "What do you think of Chester and Eleanor?" she asked.
"Bona fide nut cases, both of them."
With a serious face, she set her heavy tray on my table. "If you'd been in the grove last night, you wouldn't sound so smug."
More embarrassed than smug, I scraped the last bit of chocolate icing from my plate and licked it off my fork, tine by tine. "It's all fake," I said. "Corey and I wanted to make people think the inn was haunted so Grandmother would get more guests. She dressed up like a ghost and—"
Tracy shoved her face so close to mine we were almost nose to nose. Which would have been a thrill if she hadn't been so mad. "There was something in the grove lastnight—and it wasn't Corey!"
She snatched up my plate and fork,
dumped them on her tray with a clatter,
and huffed out of the dining room.
There I was, all by myself, surrounded by empty tables covered with dirty linen and crumpled napkins. It was obvious Tracy was never going to be my girl friend. Not only was I tactless and offensive, but I was shorter and younger than she was.
"It was your imagination," I called after her, but the only answer I got was the whop, whop, whop of the kitchen door swinging back and forth.
"But what if it wasn't?" the little voice asked, a little louder this time.
"What if . . . What if . . . ?"
Exasperated, I tossed my napkin on the table and went to find Corey. I wished we'd never thought of the ghost game.
As it turned out, Corey agreed with me.
I finally found her sitting on the patio in the dark all by herself. At first she refused to look at me or answer any questions.
"Why are you mad at me?" I asked her.
"What did I do?"
She turned to face me. "I told you I wanted to read, but you made funny noises outside my door, threw apples at my window, and thumped on my wall. You even unplugged my light and my radio and changed the time on my clock."
I stared at her. "Are you crazy? I knocked on your door once and you told me to go away and I did. I never made funny noises or threw apples or thumped on your wall or anything."
"Then who did? Mr. Brewster?"
"Corey, I swear to you I did not do that stuff."
"Oh," she said sarcastically, "then it must have been the ghost."
We looked at each other in the moonlight, electrified by the same thought.
"No joke," I whispered.
"No." Corey folded her arms across her chest and shivered. "No joke."
Delicate shadows from the wisteria vine patterned the table and Corey's face,
shifting as the breeze blew. From somewhere in the darkness, an owl hooted and another answered. Much closer, I heard something that sounded like a muffled giggle.
"Did you hear that?" I whispered.
Corey shuddered. "A mouse," she said.
"A cat, a bird. Nothing to be scared of."
"Admit it," I said. "You're scared—and so am I."
She shook her head stubbornly. "Speak for yourself." At the same moment, we heard a whispering sound in the bushes and then the giggle—louder this time,
followed by an eddy of cold air that tousled my hair and then Corey's.
My sister jumped to her feet. "Let's go inside."
The two of us ran to the inn and dashed through the kitchen door, sure we were being chased by an invisible gang of ghosts.
Mrs. Brewster was scrubbing the sink.
She frowned when the screen door slammed shut. "What's the big rush?" she asked.
"A person would think something was after you."
Neither Corey nor I knew what to say.
We just stood and stared at Mrs.
Brewster, wishing we were safely home in New York or even at Camp Willow Tree—anywhere but here.
"I thought you two were out there with them so-called psychics." She waved a hand in the direction of the grove,
where flashlights bobbed about in the dark. "They're aiming to take pictures of things that don't want their pictures taken," she muttered.
Grandmother opened the door to her apartment and poked her head into the kitchen. "Corey and Travis," she said,
"it's time you were in bed."
At that moment, the power went off, and the inn became totally dark and silent—no lights, no radios, no humming refrigerator. Not a sound.
"Go get Henry," Grandmother told Mrs.
Brewster. "The power's out again. I meant to get the wiring checked the last time this happened."
Grandmother had no sooner lit a candle than we heard a commotion outside—shouts, screams, the sound of people running toward us as if they feared for their lives.
Tripping over each other in their haste to get inside, the Jennings gang poured into the kitchen. Behind them, Chester was yelling, "We got an image!"
Grandmother closed her eyes and shook her head. "I don't believe this." In a louder voice, she repeated herself. "I do not believe this."
Someone giggled, and Grandmother glared at me, her face stern in the candle light. "This isn't funny, Travis!"
"I didn't laugh."
The guests milled around the kitchen,
stumbling over things in the darkness.
"Why are the lights off?" Mrs. Jennings cried.
"Please turn them on," Mrs. Frothingham begged. "We've had a terrible scare."
"Serves you right, you silly old scaredy-cat," someone whispered, causing an outburst of giggles.
"Travis, apologize at once!"
Grandmother said, shocked.
"It wasn't me!"
"I don't care who said it," Mrs.
Frothingham cried. "Just turn the lights back on."
"I'm sorry, but the power's off."
Grandmother lit more candles. As the kitchen brightened, something scurried into the shadows, too quickly to be seen.
"I can fix tea," Grandmother offered.
Some wanted tea. Others wanted something stronger. Two or three wanted to leave the inn at once.
The only ones in need of nothing were Eleanor Duvall and Chester Coakley. They were ecstatic. Not only had they seen something, but they'd captured its image on video.
"See?" Chester showed us a grainy image in the camera's monitor. Whatever it was wore a long dress, and its hair was loose, but its face was too blurred to make out any features.
"She came like a blast of cold air,"
Miss Duvall said. "Silent, not a sound,
but emanating malice."
"You probably saw the strobes light up," Chester put in. "She tripped the wires like I hoped and triggered the camera. It's the best paranormal experience I've ever had—and the best footage I've ever shot. Or seen, for that matter."
Mrs. Jennings clutched her teacup with shaking hands. "I'm very glad you children were not with us," she quavered. "I'll never get another good night's sleep."
Her friends nodded and cooed to each other in soft, comforting voices. Mrs.
Frothingham sobbed into a wine glass.
The wives were done with ghosts. No one wanted to see another one. In fact, they wished they hadn't seen the one they just saw.
The husbands laughed and talked too loud, already beginning to doubt they'd really seen a ghost.
"The image on that videotape," Mr.
Bennett said. "It was probably the strobe lights. They caused a glare in the camera lens or something."
"Trick photography," Mr. Frothingham declared. "Double exposures. Easy to fake."
Mr. Jennings was the only husband to disagree. "No, it was the real thing,"
he insisted, gulping down a glass of something that made him cough. "I'm glad I saw it, but I don't care to see another."
Just then, every light came on, almost blinding us with their brilliance. The refrigerator began humming, and the dishwasher started—even though it hadn't been running before the power failure.
Radios and TVs all over the inn came on,
blasting noise at top volume.
Mr. Brewster stood at the top of the basement steps looking gloomier than usual. "I went to the fuse box," he said, "but before I so much as touched it, the power come back."
"How odd," Grandmother said.
"Nothing odd about it, ma'am." Mr.
Brewster shook his head. "They been stirred up good and proper now."
Without another word, he trudged out of the kitchen, accompanied by a giggle that earned me a dirty look from Grandmother. I shook my head in protest,
but she'd already turned her attention to Mrs. Brewster.
"What on earth was he talking about?"
"You'll find out soon enough." Squaring her shoulders, Mrs. Brewster strode out the door behind her husband.
Clearly bewildered, Grandmother looked at the guests. "Has everyone gone crazy?"
Chester patted her shoulder. "It's the ghosts," he said. "I told you, the girl's a catalyst."
Grandmother shrugged Chester's hand off. "I want you and your equipment out of here tomorrow morning. We've had nothing but trouble since you and that woman showed up."
Taking Corey and me by our arms,
Grandmother ushered us out of the kitchen. In the doorway, she paused.
"Will someone please turn off the radios and the television? Or at least turn them down?"
Snapping off her own television and radio, Grandmother frowned at me. "I expect you to apologize to Mrs.
Frothingham tomorrow. You were very rude."
"But, Grandmother, I didn't—"
Silencing me with a look, she said, "If you continue to lie to me, I shall be forced to call your parents." She opened her bedroom door. "I need a good night's sleep. Please don't disturb me." With that, she walked into her room and shut the door.
I followed my sister into her room and sat beside her on the bed. "She hates us," Corey said. "We'll have to go to summer school now."
I shook my head. "She's just upset. And you can't blame her. This has been a really weird night. Especially for someone who doesn't believe in ghosts."
Corey sighed. "I wish we knew what Mr.
Brewster thinks we stirred up."
Before I could come up with an answer,
the light went off and the bed began to shake. Back and forth, up and down,
jolting us like a carnival ride, harder and faster. We tried to hold on to the headboard, but in seconds we were thrown to the floor with a loud, bone-jarring thud. Too stunned to move, we cowered together while invisible fingers pinched us and pulled our hair and tweaked our clothes.
"Stop it," Corey yelled at me. "You're hurting me, stop it!"
"You stop it," I shouted, pushing her away.
At that, the room's dark corners rang with laughter. The empty bed bounced as if a gang of kids were jumping on it.
The radio blared from one end of the dial to the other, and the bedside lamp flashed on and off. The closet door opened and slammed shut, opened and slammed shut, over and over again.
Things thudded and thumped all around us. A book hit me in the head. A picture fell, and the glass in the frame broke.
"Who are you?" I cried in a voice so high and shaky I hardly recognized it as mine. "What do you want?"
An outburst of laughter answered me.
Somebody yelled a string of cuss words
"I told you to go to sleep!"
Grandmother stepped into the room and gasped, her face pale with shock. "What on earth have you done? Have you gone crazy?"
The closet door lay on the floor, the wood splintered from the hinges. Corey's clothes were scattered everywhere, some no more than ripped rags. Bureau drawers hung open, spilling their contents.
Pages torn from books lay in drifts on the floor. Feathers from pillows still floated in the air. My sister covered her face with her hands and began to cry.
Grandmother stared at us as if we were monsters. "Why did you do this? What kind of children are you?"
"Bad children," a kid's voice whispered. "Lovely bad children!"
"What did you say?" Grandmother asked me.
"Nothing," I whispered. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the shadows in the corner move, shifting the darkness from one place to another.
"It wasn't us," Corey sobbed. "We didn't do anything."
"Of course it wasn't the children."
Chester peered over Grandmother's shoulder, grinning with apparent delight at the state of our room.
Grandmother whirled to face Chester,
eager to take out her anger on him.
"What are you doing here? This is my apartment, not part of the inn. Please leave at once!"
"Let him speak, Mrs. Donovan." Miss Duvall floated into the room on her tiny little feet, wearing her usual layers of filmy clothes. "Chester is the only one who can get to the bottom of this."
Her words caused an outburst of giggles from the corner. The same kid's voice whispered, "Fat bottom, fat bottom,
fatty, fatty, fat bottom!" The giggles grew louder. Somebody said a rude word,
which provoked even louder giggling.
Grandmother looked at Corey and me,
alarmed for the first time. "Stop it,"
she ordered. "Or I'm sending you home tomorrow."
"Don't blame Travis and Corey," Chester said. "Can't you see they're just as scared as you are?"
"Ouch!" Miss Duvall began slapping at her rear end as if she were being pinched. "Stop it, stop it right now,
you imps of Satan!"
The shadows raced around the walls,
laughing and taunting her with insults relating to the size of her rear end.
Ignoring Miss Duvall, Grandmother looked at Chester as if she wished she could send him to the principal's office. "I am not scared!" she said, but the tremor in her voice gave her away.
"Old granny scaredy-cat!" An invisible hand tugged at grandmother's sweater.
"Nyah, nyah, nyah!"
Grandmother whirled around to stare at Corey, still crying on her bed, and me,
sitting beside her. It was obvious we couldn't have been responsible for the tug on her sweater.
"Who did that?" she yelled. "What sort of tricks are you playing?"
For an answer she got a series of rude noises and a loud outburst of giggles,
along with more cuss words.
While this was going on, Chester was aiming his camera at the corner where most of the noise came from. "Wow! Oh, wow!"
"Amazing manifestation," Miss Duvall whispered into her microphone.
"Laughter, voices, poltergeist activity.
My hair is standing up . . . the air is electrifying!"
Suddenly, a cold wind shot into the room. The curtains blew out straight from the windows, and the clothing and torn pages rose from the floor and spun around like tiny tornadoes. A low moan,
almost a sob, rose from the corner. The shadows twisted and turned, now long,
now short, and raced around the walls as if they were being chased.
Then the lights went out, and a harsh voice cried, "Enough! Back to where you belong. You will be punished for this!"
The moaning changed to high-pitched squeaks and yelps. Invisible hands pushed me out of their way, invisible feet stepped on mine, elbows poked my sides. The moonlight streaming through the window dimmed as shadowy shapes fled into the night, followed by something bigger and darker and far more terrifying.
After a sudden silence, the lights came on again. Torn clothing and shredded paper fell back to the floor. The curtains drooped. Whatever had been among us was gone.
Chester and Miss Duvall huddled together, elated by the activities they'd witnessed, but Grandmother sank down on the bed beside Corey and closed her eyes. My sister continued to sob.
I went to the window. The grove was a patch of inky shadows on the moonlit grass. "Who are you?" I whispered. "What do you want? Why are you here?"
Nothing answered. Nothing stirred. A blanket of darkness lay over the earth,
hiding everything. Shivering, I crept closer to Grandmother.