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The Voice of the Ghost
Morning. Katie John opened her eyes and looked at the strange room. Yes, they were here, all right. She pulled on her blouse and shorts and ran out of the house. Did it really look as horrible as it had when they arrived last night?
Oh, worse. Katie John groaned. It was nothing but an ugly old red brick house, squatting in the sunlight. Square as a box, flat roof, not even a bit of ivy on the walls to soften the sharp corners. It was three stories high, and little hooded windows rimmed the top of the house, like beady eyes. The ugly old box was glaring at her.
"So hah!" Katie John glared back.
Using all her fingers, Katie made a ferocious face at the house. She stretched her eyes and mouth down, shoved her nose up, crossed her eyes, and stuck out her tongue.
"Gaaaah, you old House!"
When Mother had first told her about the house in Missouri, Katie had comforted herself that it might be a beautiful old southern mansion, with huge white pillars on the porch. Well, the house was old, and it had a porch, but the posts were spindly and dirty gray. And it certainly was no mansion. Katie John kicked a post and flopped down on the steps.
Mainly she was mad at the house because it had ruined her whole wonderful summer. If it weren't for the house, she'd be back home in California right now, getting ready to go to the Campfire Girls' camp up in the Sierras. Seemed as if she'd waited all her life to be old enough to go to camp, and now when she was-whack, Katie banged the step with her heel-here she was in the backwoods of Missouri. Why, this poky little town wasn't even on amain road.
"I bet they don't even have Campfire Girls here," she muttered."I bet nothing ever ever happens here."
It had all come about because Great-Aunt Emily poor Great-Aunt Emily, Katie corrected herself-had died and left the house to Mother. So she and Dad and Mother had driven back East to Barton's Bluff to sell the house.
It might take all summer, Mother said.
Impatiently, Katie ran her fingers up through her thick straight bangs, making her hair stick up in spikes. Then she propped her chin on her hands and stared toward the street. At least this yard wasn't bad. It was big and grassy, and maple trees lined the street beyond the fence.
Katie John studied the fence. It was different from the redwood or neat white picket ones back in California. This was an old-fashioned black iron fence, with iron bars rising to upside-down V's, like a row of jagged teeth. The fence went all across the front of the yard and around the comer, down the side hill. Another iron bar ran under the row of teeth, with enough space in each tooth for a foot.
Katie brightened. Wonder if she could walk that fence
She ran over to it and swung up, balancing easily. Her head brushed the lower branches of a tree, and down the steep hill she could see the Mississippi River, sparkling blue. Later today she'd go down there, Katie promised herself. But right now, the fence. Katie began to edge sideways, one foot following the other.
"Your Great-Uncle Dick broke his wrist doing that," a voice said calmly.
Katie jerked, caught her balance, and saw a girl standing on the sidewalk. The girl had a round face, with hair smoothly drawn back into pigtails. Her hands were clasped behind her full skirt, and she looked just like a neat, plump little hen. Katie suddenly remembered that she hadn't combed her hair this morning, and she'd worn these shorts for the whole trip.
"How do you know?" Katie demanded. "What happened?"
"I know because your Great-Aunt Emily told me," the girl said. "When he was a little boy he walked the fence and he fell off and broke his wrist, So you'd better get down."
Something about the girl made Katie John feel contrary. The girl seemed so safe and sure, as if she'd never made a mistake or been scolded in her life. Anyway, Katie had made up her mind to walk this fence, and she was going to do it.
"Well, I'm sorry about Uncle Dick," she said, "but he was probably lots younger. I'm not going to fall."
She side-stepped along the fence toward the corner, The plump-hen girl followed.
"I'll catch you when you fall," she said. "I'm Sue Halsey, and I live three doors down the street. I know all about you, too."
Katie stopped. "Who am I?"
"You're Katie John Tucker, and you're ten, same age as me. You live in California, you've come to sell the old Clark house, and I know because-"
"No, I'm not," Katie interrupted. "Katie's in the house. I'm just a runaway orphan. I was hitchhiking along the road and the Tuckers picked me up."
She watched Sue's eyes grow rounder. "Honest?" Sue's smooth face puckered doubtfully.
She looked so uncertain that Katie laughed. Why, she was easy as pie to tease. So easy it wasn't fair to do it.
"No," she grinned. "You're right. I'm Katie John. Come on up." She stretched out a hand to Sue.
"No." Sue started to walk away.
Katie felt a little ashamed. She hadn't meant to hurt the girl's feelings.
"I'll tell you something I'll bet you don't know," she offered.
"When we sell the house we're not going back to California, Katie said, struggling past a bush that threatened to push her off the fence. She turned the comer and started downhill.Katie John. Copyright � by Mary Calhoun. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.