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A Ghost of a Story
A sharp gust of wind suddenly rustled the thin paper Cindy Temple had taped to a tombstone in the Blue Ridge Cemetery.
"Hey!" she said, laughing. "Must be a ghost!"
She and her brother, Jay, were with their best friend and next-door neighbor, Dexter Tate. Cindy and Jay were blond and freckled while Dexter was dark-haired and wore glasses. The three had their own club, the Spotlight Club, and called themselves the Spotlighters. They'd solved many mysteries in the past, and it had been months since they'd had a real one. They were itching for something new.
Today they were doing stone rubbings. It was a breezy, warm day at the end of May, a perfect day for their project. They hoped to sell their rubbings for the next day's big neighborhood sale. What they really hoped for was to make money. Not for themselves, but for the local museum, which was in real trouble. They'd already done several a piece and were working on their last ones.
"This is kind of tricky," Dexter said, trying to keep his own paper taped to his chosen tombstone. "But fun." They each had a broad, flat pencil that they carefully ran over the paper. Images appeared, almost ghostly, as they worked.
"Here, listen to this," Jay said. "This is on Jacob Wendover's stone: 'At last' I'm gone. All rejoice. It's true, I've finally lost my voice.'"
"But that's funny," Cindy said. "Who would put something funny on a tombstone?"
"Why not?" asked Dexter. "I think it's a great idea. Why should there be just gloom and doom? I think for my tombstone it should say, 'Here lies Dex, on a whim. There was nothing wrong with him.'"
Cindy laughed at Dexter's good-naturedness. "You're right, she said. "Funny is good." She looked back down at her stone. "I've got Serafina Winslow," she said. "Died in 1862." She paused. "Wow. She was born in 1842—so she died when she was only twenty."
"Awfully young," Jay mused. "Right in the middle of the Civil War." The Spotlighters continued rubbing busily on their stones.
Blue Ridge Cemetery was like a park, Cindy thought. Massive maple trees spread over the sweeping lawns, where sun-bleached tombstones lay in tidy rows among the slopes of grass. Flowers were placed near many of the grave sites, some real, some artificial. If she squinted her eyes, Cindy thought they all looked real. It was a beautiful place to be. In fact, it was one of Cindy's favorite places. Ever since she could remember, her mom had taken her and Jay here for picnics and long walks. When Cindy was older, she went by herself, bringing a book to read. She'd always felt good about being here. But today, for the first time, she sensed unease. Something about the way the trees seemed to bend together, almost as if sharing a secret.
The Spotlighters were lost in their projects when they heard a sudden sneeze behind them. Cindy jumped, and her flat lead pencil flew from her hand.
"Excuse me," a man said. His voice was low, his words clipped. He leaned on his rake as he looked at the Spotlighters. He was lean and tall with short, stubby reddish hair. "What are you doing here?" he asked. Cindy noticed that his eyes were a piercing blue and held a steady gaze.
The Spotlighters introduced themselves and explained that they were doing stone rubbings and were hoping to sell theirs to earn money for the museum fund-raiser the next day.
The man nodded slowly. "I see," he said. He studied their work for a moment and then glanced up at the Spotlighters. "I'm Chuck, by the way," he said. "I'm the groundskeeper here. I like to make sure everything's on the up and up, so to speak. Wouldn't want any vandalizing here," he added pointedly.
"We'd never vandalize," Jay said, feeling his face begin to warm. Chuck waved his hand in the air, as if to shoo a fly away. "Enough said. I believe you. You look like honest kids." He paused and stared off into the distance. "You can never be too sure."
The Spotlighters glanced at one another. "We just want to help the museum," Dexter said.
Chuck blinked and returned his gaze to the Spotlighters, "I heard about the museum troubles," he said. "It's a shame. We need a museum to preserve all the old, wonderful bits and pieces of history." He paused again, staring off into the distance. "There's so much history right here in this cemetery—it goes on and on." He glanced again at the Spotlighters' rubbings. "I'll bet you could get $15 each for those," he said. "People love history."
There was another pause, and Dexter spoke up. "What's groundskeeping? he asked.
Chuck allowed a small smile to escape his still face. "I keep the grounds around here as neat as I can. You know, raking, sweeping, cutting grass, weeding, shoveling in the winter, generally making this cemetery as beautiful as I can. That sort of thing." A few birds chirped in the distance, and the trees rustled in the soft breeze. "It's important for those who visit the graves of their loved ones. And important for those same loved ones to be able to roam as they please in a well-taken care of place." A crooked smile played on Chuck's lips.
The Spotlighters' eyes widened. What was Chuck talking about?
"Ghosts?" the Spotlighters said in unison.
Chuck stared at the Spotlighters. "Of course," he said. "They're all over. And since I have a little cottage on the other side of the place, I can keep a close watch on their comings and goings. I'm their biggest fan. I don't doubt that there is some wandering soul here and there, even as we speak." He paused and studied the Spotlighters. "Interested in ghost stories?" he asked, warming to his audience. Cindy noticed that Chuck seemed to get friendlier the more he talked.
"Tell us," she urged, feeling a little bubble of nervous excitement in the pit of her stomach.
"The old theater in town," Chuck began, leaning on his rake. "There was a very dedicated actor, a lead in a play. He never missed a rehearsal—this was about seventy years ago or so—and everyone figured he'd leave the theater here and head to Hollywood. Well, one late afternoon as he was driving to the theater, he was killed by a train. It's been said that ever since that fateful night, he's been showing up at the theater. They say you can hear him repeat his lines."
The hair on the back of Cindy's neck stood up. "Any other stories?" she asked.
"Sure," Chuck said. "There's always a ghost story. The old girls' boarding school on the south side of town is still haunted by a nun who was struck by lightning during a storm while she was returning with the mail. Some say she can be seen crossing the driveway again and again, trying to get the mail inside."
Cindy had a sudden vision of a nun bending into driving rain, drops cascading down her black habit as the wind whipped leaves all around her. "Well," Cindy said, "Ghost stories are good and spooky. But they're just stories."
Chuck looked at the Spotlighters. "Many a skeptic has changed his mind," he said cryptically, twisting the rake handle in his hand. "I've heard unaccounted-for noises here and there. At night. Someone or something is out there I feel it."
Cindy looked around at the lovely grounds. She could imagine that in a place like this at night someone alone could feel a little spooked by noises and things. But no, she decided. The stories were fun, exciting to listen to, but real ghosts? The noises Chuck heard now and then were more than likely nighttime animals hunting for food.
"I've never felt unwelcome here," she offered. "I love it here. In fact, I often bring a book to read, where I sit on that old wrought-iron bench over there. Under the willow tree."
Chuck nodded knowingly. "That bench? Quite a treasured piece of art, very valuable. The man who built it is now a very famous artist who made most of his pieces one hundred-fifty years ago—his name is Will Winslow."
"Hey, we know him," Jay said excitedly. "From school. My teacher said Winslow put Kenoska on the map."
"Maybe Kenoska should really be named Winslow," Dexter suggested.
"Winslow," Cindy mused. "That's the same last name of the stone rubbing I'm doing. Serafina Winslow."
"Her father," Chuck said. "I've done lots of studying of some of the Civil War families here. I almost feel as if I know them. The Winslow family is one of them, particularly Will. There's a mystery surrounding what is supposedly his first artistic piece, a delicate ring with the words Love Lasts on it. It's been written about countless times, as old records show. Many mentions of it, but no one has ever seen it." He paused. "Ah, but I get carried away." He took a deep breath and let it out with a whistle. "I should listen more closely to the voices at night, find some things out."
"The ghost syndrome again," laughed Jay.
Chuck looked at him, his head tilted. "You shouldn't be so quick to judge," he said. Then he glanced at his watch. "Gotta run. Much to do." He strode off across the grounds, dragging his rake behind him.
The Spotlighters watched him leave. "Interesting guy," Dexter said. "He sure does believe in ghosts,"
"But he doesn't seem too wacky or anything," Jay said. "Just different."
"I like him," Cindy said. "At first I didn't think he'd talk to us at all, or if he did, he'd just scold us. But he seemed really interested in the cemetery and all the history in it. I hope we see him again."
"We probably will," Dexter said. "Or you will, anyway, considering how much time you spend here with your books."
"You're right," Cindy said. "I want him to tell me more ghost stories if I see him." She looked around her and retrieved her pencil from the grass.
"We should finish our rubbings and get back home," Cindy suggested. "We've got lots to do for tomorrow's fund-raiser before Uncle Dan takes us out for dinner."
When they got back to the Temples', Uncle Dan greeted them with a big hello. He was tall and handsome with wavy auburn hair and a trim mustache. Mrs. Temple's brother always spent a week with them in the summer around Memorial Day.
"How'd the headstone rubbings go?" he asked. "I've never done one myself."
"Frustrating and fun at the same time," Jay said. "The paper was kind of hard to keep in place, but we got some good images. And we met the groundskeeper, who's really interesting."
"He believes in ghosts," added Dexter.
"And he really knows a lot about the Civil War," Cindy said.
"I'd like to meet the guy," said Uncle Dan. "I'm fascinated with the Civil War. And,"—he winked—"ghosts, too."
"Do I hear talk of ghosts?" asked Mrs. Temple as she came into the kitchen. "You know me. Ghost story fanatic."
"We heard a couple of great ghost stories from the Blue Ridge Cemetery groundskeeper today, Mom," said Cindy. "We'll fill you in at dinner at Rattigan's. In the meantime, Jay and Dex and I want to round up all your boxes and help you finish up before tomorrow's sale."
Mrs. Temple smiled. "I can always count on you three to come to the rescue. I'll show you what needs to be done."
Later that evening, after a delicious dinner at Rattigan's and shared conversations about the day, the Spotlighters sat around the kitchen table with their stone rubbings. They'd decided to roll them up and tie them with ribbons.
"Didn't Chuck say we could make about $15 apiece for these?" asked Jay.
"Yep," Dexter said. "Let's cross our fingers."
Just as the last one was tied, Cindy suddenly gasped. "My watch! It's gone!"
"The one Uncle Dan gave you?" asked Jay.
"I know I had it earlier," Cindy said. "I had it at the cemetery, I'm sure."
"Let's check around," Dexter said, pushing his glasses up on his nose. The Spotlighters did a quick search of the rooms in the house. Then they checked Uncle Dan's car.
"Maybe it fell off at the restaurant," Jay suggested. "Let's call and see if someone found it." He found the phone number and dialed it. After a moment, he shook his head. "Nobody turned it in," he said.
"I'll bet it fell off at the cemetery," Cindy said worriedly. "I've just got to go up there and check. Right now."
"Can't it wait?" asked Jay. "We could see much better in the morning."
"I just can't," Cindy said. "There's too much to do in the morning, and I really want to make sure it's there. If you don't want to go, that's fine. I'll go by myself."
"No way. We're going with you," Jay said. He grabbed a flashlight from the kitchen drawer. "It's getting darker by the minute. And the darker it gets, the more ghosts there are!"CHAPTER 2
On the Case!
The air was much cooler now, and Cindy shivered. Was this such a good idea? Maybe they should have waited for the morning. But Cindy was determined. She wanted to find her watch and that's what she was going to do.
Cindy was glad that the cemetery was just a few short blocks from their house. They were walking since Dexter's headlamp had burned out on his bike. They'd have to get it fixed before baby-sitting the Maxwells the next night.
The sidewalk stretched in front of the Spotlighters like a pale snake as their shoes slapped the pavement. None of them felt like talking. The night, still and dark, hung about them like a cloak, and Cindy was grateful for the company. And the flashlight. It shone on nearby trees, their shadows stretching and twisting like live things.
At last they reached the cemetery and began the walk toward the tombstones. Even with the flashlight, they stumbled over unseen tufts of grass and tree roots bulging up from the ground, grotesque and misshapen. A sudden, quick-moving wind darted through the trees, whistling and dancing, pulling at the Spotlighters' hair. It ceased as quickly as it had started, and it was quiet enough to hear faint rustling noises somewhere in the distance.
"What's that?" Jay asked. "That rustling?"
"Probably rabbits or something," Dexter said. "Whatever night animals look for food."
An owl must have seen or heard the Spotlighters, and it sent out chilling, slow hoots.
"The difference between night and day," Cindy whispered.
Finally they saw the spot where they'd been working on their rubbings. They slowly drew closer, Jay shining the flashlight over the tombstones. Something glinted in the flashlight's gleam. "It must be my watch," Cindy cried hopefully.
Before they could reach it, a hoarse whisper cut through the night, "Is that you, Serafina?
The Spotlighters stopped in their tracks so quickly that they bumped into each other. "Let's get out of here!" Jay gulped.
The Spotlighters were out of breath by the time they reached the sidewalk outside the cemetery.
"What happened? What was that?" Jay asked.
Dexter shook his head as he took off his glasses to clean them on his shirt. "We don't believe in ghosts, right? Why did we run?"
"Well, it was scary," Cindy said. "There we were, in the cemetery at night, that crazy owl hooting and the wind acting odd it was just scary."
The boys laughed nervously. "Yeah, it was scary, that's all," Jay said. "I mean, there's a voice asking if someone dead is there. 'Is that you, Serafina?'" He shook his head.
"Yeah," Dexter said. There was hesitation in his voice. "Wanna go back?"
Jay and Cindy stared at him.
"Go back?" they said in unison.
"Yeah, you know, go back. Prove that it was nothing. Besides, we didn't get your watch."
"Nope," said Jay.
"I'm good," said Cindy. "It's just we've just been there, and it's really time to go home. We can go back tomorrow."
"Okay," Dexter said, relief in his voice. "Let's go."
Cindy wrapped her arms around herself. "There's a perfectly good explanation," she declared. The Spotlighters found themselves back home, continuing their conversation.
"Hmm," Dexter said. "Whatever it was, I think we could think more clearly if we ate something."
"And I think we could think more clearly if I had my notebook," Cindy said. "We should write down what we know."
"Is this a mystery?" Jay asked. The Spotlighters looked at each other.
"Well, it sure is mystifying," Cindy said. She got her notebook and sat down at the kitchen table, where the boys joined her. "What do we know?"
Jay said, "We heard a voice in the cemetery."
"Asking about Serafina," Dexter added.
"Who would be in the cemetery at night?" Cindy wondered.
"Well, we were," Jay said.
"Chuck said he sometimes hears noises there at night," Cindy mused.
"Maybe it was Chuck himself," Dexter offered. "Maybe he thought he was seeing Serafina's ghost."
"Okay," Cindy said. "Let's see what we have."
1. Voice in cemetery
2. Who was in cemetery?
3. Jay, Cindy, and Dexter were in cemetery.
Query: Could it be Chuck?
Answer: Let's ask him after tomorrow's fund-raiser.
Query: If not Chuck, then who?
Answer: We don't know because we don't believe in ghosts.
Excerpted from Mystery of the Blue Ridge Cemetery by Florence Parry Heide, Roxanne Heide Pierce. Copyright © 2013 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of Albert Whitman and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted December 2, 2013