Jenny decides to meet the ghost witch face-to-face in this scary, yet delightful short-chapter book.
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The Ghost Witch
By Betty Ren Wright, Ellen Eagle
Holiday HouseCopyright © 1993 Betty Ren Wright
All rights reserved.
The Witch's Cat
"It is too our house now," Jenny Warren insisted. "Miss Nagle left it to us. She and my great-grandma were best friends. My mom helped her out with errands and stuff for years. I guess she wanted to give us a present."
Jenny and her best friend Chris Ellis stared at the big house at the end of Willowby Lane. Dark windows stared back at them.
"That's some present!" Chris rolled her eyes. "You wouldn't really live here, would you?"
"Maybe yes, maybe no," Jenny said. "We haven't decided yet." She was beginning to be sorry she'd invited Chris to come with her.
"Well, I sure wouldn't want to," Chris said. "This is the spookiest-looking house in town. And my cousin says Miss Nagle was a witch!" She looked over her shoulder when she said it.
"That's dumb," Jenny said. "Miss Nagle wasn't a witch. I told you, she was my great-grandma's best friend. Come on," she continued briskly, trying not to notice how dreary the house looked under the gray October sky, "we have to go in and feed Miss Nagle's cat."
"Not me!" Chris squealed. "No way!" She clutched the gatepost as if she thought Jenny might try to drag her up the long walk to the house.
"But that's what we came for!" Jenny exclaimed. "My mom says I have to take a turn once in a while. You don't want the poor cat to go hungry, do you?"
"No, but I want somebody else to feed him," Chris said. "Why don't you take him home with you?"
"Because we can't have a pet in our apartment," Jenny told her. "Later on we might put an ad in the paper to find him a new home. Unless we move in here ourselves. ..." She tried to sound as if that was what she hoped would happen.
After a moment Chris let go of the gatepost. "You're brave, Jenny," she said. "I wish I was as brave as you."
Jenny was pleased, even if she didn't feel very brave at the moment. "We just have to go into the kitchen," she coaxed. She led the way up the walk and around the side of the house. Leaves crunched noisily under their feet.
Jenny wore the house keys around her wrist on a ring as big as a bracelet. She unlocked the glassed-in back porch with the key her mother had marked for her and scooped up the bag of cat food. Then she opened the kitchen door with a second key.
"Here, Rufus." Her voice seemed to bounce off the walls of the chilly, old-fashioned kitchen.
"What's he look like?" Chris whispered.
Jenny shrugged. "I don't know. My mom's been feeding him till now." She picked up one of the two bowls on the floor in front of the sink. "I'll get the water, and you fill the other bowl with cat food, okay?"
"It's too quiet in here," Chris muttered. Then she screamed. Jenny dropped the water bowl into the sink with a clatter.
"The cat!" Chris whimpered. "He's here, and he's wrapping himself around my legs. Look at him!"
Jenny stared. Miss Nagle's cat was the biggest she'd ever seen. His coat was red-orange, and his green eyes glowed in the dim light.
"The witch's cat!" Chris shivered. She peered into the hallway that led to the rest of the house. "Jenny, let's go," she begged. "I feel as if something's staring at me!"
"That's crazy," Jenny protested. She tried not to notice the prickles on the back of her neck. As she bent to pet the cat, a blast of cold air swept through the kitchen. The door to the hall slammed shut with a crash that made both girls jump.
"Help!" Chris shrieked. She dashed across the kitchen and out onto the porch. Jenny quickly put the water bowl on the floor and raced after her. Hand in hand, they flew down the steps and around the side of the house.
"I t-t-told you that house was haunted," Chris gasped when they reached the gate. "I could tell."
"It's not haunted." Jenny tried to keep her voice steady. "The wind blew the door shut, that's all."
"What wind?" Chris demanded. "You were scared, too, Jenny. You ran as fast as I did."
Jenny knew it was true. "We have to go back and lock the doors," she groaned. "Come on."
Once again Chris grabbed the gatepost. "Not me," she said, and it was clear that this time she wouldn't change her mind. "I'll wait here for you."
With dragging steps, Jenny started back up the walk. She tried not to look at the dark windows or think of the empty rooms behind them. All she had to do was cross the back porch and lock the kitchen door. It was silly to be afraid.
She opened the door to the porch and went through it to the outside of the kitchen. Now just put the key in the lock. She tried to keep her eyes on the keyhole, but she couldn't help one quick peek through the glass pane in the upper half of the door.
The cat was on the counter with his paws tucked under him. Poor Rufus, Jenny thought. I'm sorry we ran off and left you. But then she realized the cat hadn't even noticed her. Instead, his green eyes were staring across the kitchen at the door to the hallway.
It was wide open.CHAPTER 2
The Dragon in the Mirror
"Of course it was a draft that moved the door," Mrs. Warren said. "What else could it have been, Jenny?"
They had just finished supper and were standing at their living-room window watching old Mr. Barkin pick up soft-drink cans along the curb and drop them into a bag. Mr. Barkin lived in an apartment building a block away. All year long he collected cans to earn money for his Barkin Christmas Fund for Poor Children.
"Old houses are drafty," Mrs. Warren went on. "If we live in Miss Nagle's house, we'll have to get used to that."
"I don't want to live there," Jenny said. "I like it here."
"You like sleeping on the couch?" Her mother was amazed. "I thought you hated it. The first thing you said when I told you about Miss Nagle's wonderful gift was 'Now I can have my own bedroom.'"
Jenny thought about the house and those dark, staring windows. She thought about the door that closed and opened by itself.
"I don't mind sleeping on the couch," she said firmly.
"Well, we needn't make up our minds tonight," Mrs. Warren said. "We'll just polish the place up a bit, and then we'll decide whether we want to live in it or sell it. I know Miss Nagle hoped we'd live there. She even left us some money to take care of the taxes every year."
"Who's going to polish it up?" Jenny wanted to know.
"I am. You are. We are — together."
Jenny sighed. Ever since her father died, she and her mother had done lots of things together. Most of the time it was fun, but this was different.
"I'd rather sell it right away," she said.
Her mother just smiled. "No rush," she said. "Maybe you'll change your mind."
Two days later it was Jenny's turn to feed the cat again. "And while you're there, look for my sunglasses, please," Mrs. Warren said. "I'm pretty sure I left them in the dining room yesterday."
"Can't we both go?" Jenny asked. But as soon as the words were out, she was sorry. Mrs. Strauss, their neighbor in the apartment down the hall, had stopped in for coffee, and now she said the same thing she said almost every time she visited the Warrens.
"Too bad you don't have a big strong son to help you, Mrs. Warren. My Bobby is such a help to me."
"Jenny's a good helper, too," Mrs. Warren said. She waggled her fingers at Jenny. "Run along, dear. Don't be late for supper."
Jenny gritted her teeth as she hurried to the back hall where she kept her bike. She knew what Mrs. Strauss would say next. "Jenny is such a skinny little thing. A breath of wind would blow her away. No wonder she has no backbone."
It wasn't fair. I've got backbone, Jenny grumbled as she rode across town. I'm as brave as Bobby Strauss any day. But when she turned into Willowby Lane, she wasn't so sure. Miss Nagle's house looked drearier than ever.
Rufus meowed a noisy welcome when Jenny unlocked the kitchen door. She shot a quick look through the open door on the other side of the kitchen. Then she filled the food and water bowls, talking to the cat as she worked.
"Good kitty. I wonder if you're lonesome. I wonder if —"
She froze. Was that a noise from the front of the house? It had sounded like a hiss.
Rufus leaped up onto the counter and stared down the hall.
"What is it, kitty? Did you hear something, too?"
Jenny didn't know what to do. She wanted to run — but what if she were running from nothing at all? Then Mrs. Strauss would be right, and Jenny's mother would have to agree with her. You mean you didn't even pick up my sunglasses, Jenny? I'm surprised at you.
Stiff-legged, Jenny tiptoed across the kitchen and down the hall. The dining room was on the left, the living room on the right. Both were crowded with heavy furniture. Jenny stepped into the dining room. She saw the sunglasses lying at the far end of the table. Beyond the table was a long, low cupboard with a mirror above it.
For a moment Jenny just stood there. Then she darted the length of the table and snatched up the glasses. As she did, the hissing began again, only this time it was right above her head. She whirled and stared up into the mirror.
A shaggy brown head as big as a laundry basket loomed over her. Cruel eyes glared down, and puffs of steam billowed through gaps in the pointed yellow teeth.
Jenny staggered back against the table, too frightened to cry out. For a moment the head hung above her. Then a great cloud of steam filled the mirror, and when it faded the dragon head was gone. Her own face stared back at her, and behind it the dining room was sunny and still.CHAPTER 3
Maybe I Made Him Up
Jenny rode her bike at top speed all the way home. When she got there, Mrs. Strauss and her mother were still sitting at the kitchen table.
"You are so lucky," Mrs. Strauss was saying, when Jenny burst in, "that beautiful big house just waiting for you to move in! A gift from heaven!"
Jenny opened her mouth to tell them about the dragon, but her mother spoke first. "I know we're lucky," she said. She sounded happier than she had in months. "I still can't believe it." She held out a hand to Jenny. "Did you find my sunglasses, dear?"
Jenny looked at her mother's smiling face. Then she looked at Mrs. Strauss. No backbone, Mrs. Strauss was probably thinking.
"Here they are," Jenny said. "They were on the dining-room table. I guess I'll watch television for a while." She left the kitchen quickly, before the rest of what she'd wanted to tell her mother could come tumbling out. ... A big dragon thing with mean eyes and smoke coming from its mouth! ... The words would make her mother's smile disappear. And I can't even prove I really saw a dragon, she thought miserably. If I try to show her, I just know there won't be anything in that mirror.
The next afternoon Jenny got home from school just as her mother was returning from her job at the supermarket. "I'm going to Miss Nagle's house to do some cleaning," Mrs. Warren said. "You come, too, Jenny. I could use some help."
"NO!" The word popped out so loudly that Mrs. Warren stared at her.
"I mean," Jenny said shakily, "I mean, I don't like it there, Mom. I just don't. It's scary!"
Her mother sighed. "Look, Jenny," she said, "this is silly! You have to give the house a chance. We'll be working together, and it'll be fine. You'll see. The more time you spend there, the better you'll like it."
Jenny shivered. She was sure she would never like it. Never, never, never! But no matter how much she protested, her mother insisted that she go.
Every afternoon that week and the next she and her mother drove across town to Miss Nagle's house. They threw open the windows to let in cool, fresh air while they swept and scrubbed and polished. Each day Rufus waited for them at the back door and followed them from room to room as they worked.
"You see?" Mrs. Warren said at the end of the second week. "Isn't this a great house, Jenny?"
Jenny nodded slowly. Nothing scary had happened to her since the day she'd seen the dragon in the mirror.
"I wonder if I just sort of made him up," she whispered to Rufus one evening. "Like a bad dream." She was sitting in the window seat of the big front bedroom that might be her own room someday. Rufus lay curled up in her lap.
My own bedroom and my own cat, she thought. Wait till Chris sees this room!
When she met Chris in the school yard the next morning, her friend had news of her own.
"I just saw Mr. Barkin out looking for cans," she said. "He told me he's going to have a big surprise for us on Halloween night."
"But that's the night of the school party," Jenny objected.
"I know," Chris said. "But Mr. Barkin's surprise is going to happen after the party. It's supposed to help raise money for his Christmas Fund."
"What do you think it is?" Jenny wondered. Then she remembered what she'd been waiting to say to Chris. "Want to go to Miss Nagle's house with me after school?" She tried to sound as if the invitation weren't important. "I guess we're going to live there, and I want to show you my bedroom."
Chris twisted her bangs around a finger. "I think I'm busy," she said.
"Please come," Jenny said, forgetting to pretend it didn't matter. "My bedroom is really nice."
"I guess I can go for a couple of minutes," Chris said uneasily. "But I can't stay long, honest!"
That day, school seemed to last forever. Jenny made four mistakes in a spelling test, and she didn't hear her teacher call on her to answer a question. Her fingers kept closing around the ring of keys in her pocket, and each time she touched them, goose bumps peppered her arms. For some reason, the memory of the dragon head returned, scarier than ever.
On the way to Willowby Lane, Jenny decided that she and Chris wouldn't go into the dining room. And they wouldn't look in any mirrors. They would just go upstairs to see the bedroom, and they would feed Rufus, and they would leave.
A nice quiet visit to a nice old house, she told herself. That's what it will be.CHAPTER 4
The Terrible Lamp
"It's getting kind of dark, Jenny," Chris said as they rode their bikes into Willowby Lane. "Maybe you should show me your bedroom some other day."
"This'll just take a couple of minutes," Jenny coaxed. "Come on, we'll hurry." If they didn't do it now, she was afraid she'd never get Chris this far again.
They left their bikes at the front gate and made their way up the walk and around the side of the house. Jenny unlocked the door to the back porch and put a finger to her lips. "Listen."
An eager meow came from inside the house.
"Rufus is saying hello to us," Jenny said proudly. "We're pals."
She unlocked the kitchen door and bent to pet the big cat. Chris petted him, too, but at the same time she looked around uneasily.
"It's not as cold as it was the last time I was here," she said after a moment. "And it smells different. Nice — like someone lives here."
Jenny sniffed. She smelled cleaning powder and a whiff of the hot chocolate she and her mother had drunk last night. She switched on the overhead light and saw that her mother had left a bouquet of wildflowers in the middle of the kitchen table.
"Come on," she said, "I'll show you my room." She turned on more lights as they hurried down the hall and up the wide front stairs. Rufus tagged behind them, happy to have company.
"Here it is. My room." Jenny stepped to one side so Chris could get a good look at the brass bed and the wide window seat. "My mom says we'll get a new carpet later on."
Chris turned one way, then the other. "It's so big!" she exclaimed. "This is really nice, Jenny. You're lucky!"
For the first time all day, Jenny relaxed. It was going to be all right. Chris wasn't afraid of the house anymore.
"We can go now, if you want to," she offered. "I just have to feed Rufus on the way out." She scooped up the cat in her arms and they went downstairs.
"That's just the dining room in there," Jenny said. "It's nothing special," she added hurriedly as Chris turned to look. "The living room's over here."
Together they peered into the shadowy living room. Jenny reached to turn on a table lamp close to the door and then she hesitated. Perhaps it was because Rufus suddenly leaped out of her arms. Perhaps it was because she was looking closely at the lamp for the first time.
Excerpted from The Ghost Witch by Betty Ren Wright, Ellen Eagle. Copyright © 1993 Betty Ren Wright. Excerpted by permission of Holiday House.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Contents1 The Witch's Cat,
2 The Dragon in the Mirror,
3 Maybe I Made Him Up,
4 The Terrible Lamp,
5 Chicken Jenny,
6 Rufus Takes Charge,
7 The Ghost Witch,
8 Mr. Barkin's Surprise,
9 The Scariest House Ever,
10 This Is Where I Belong,
11 Jenny Tries Again,
12 Halloween Night,
13 The Worst Thing I Ever Saw,
14 A Very Important Difference,