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Authors: Kenneth Oppel

A Bad Case of Ghosts

BOOK: A Bad Case of Ghosts
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A Bad Case Of Ghosts
Barnes & the Brains
Kenneth Oppel


for Lloyd

Chapter 1

Giles Barnes couldn’t sleep.

He sat up in bed, hugging a pillow to his chest, and looked around the dark room. There was hardly anything in it. The moving van had arrived very late and there hadn’t been much time to unpack. Apart from his bed, the only other things in the room were cardboard crates and bits of furniture pushed against the walls. Pale light from the street seeped through the grimy window and cast weird, dinosaur-shaped shadows across the empty room.

He didn’t like this new house of theirs. From the moment he’d set foot inside, he felt there was something dark and sad about it. Plaster was flaking off the ceilings in big patches, the wallpaper was droopy, the doors hung
crookedly on their hinges, and the creaky wood floors had splinters in them. There was a funny smell to the house, too, which reminded him of his Grandma’s root cellar, dark and unfriendly.

“It’s a great old house,” his father had said enthusiastically when they arrived. “It’s just been shut tight for a long time. All it needs is a good airing out. And a little fixing up.”

“And a
of fixing up,” said his mother, showing him the doorknob which had just pulled off in her hand.

“I wish we were back in our old place,” Giles grumbled to himself in bed. He’d had to say good-bye to Jim and David, his best friends, and now there was a whole summer to get through without knowing anyone. He didn’t understand why they’d had to move at all. What was wrong with their old house? It was a lot better than this ancient thing—he’d be surprised if it didn’t fall to pieces before the end of the week!

A shadow shaped like a Triceratops moved across the wall and Giles shuddered. It’s just a car going by outside, he told himself. You have an overactive imagination. Mom’s always saying so.

But a sudden creak sent a little ripple of electricity up and down his neck.

“It’s just the floors,” he told himself, trying to sound sensible like his mother. “Old houses make lots of strange noises. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

The radiator clanked and Giles jumped.

“This is ridiculous,” he said. “I’m going to sleep.”

But his eyes were closed for only a few seconds before he heard a strange, rustling sound in the room. He popped open his eyes. It was coming from the corner by the window. No, it was closer to the door…no, it was up near the ceiling, then away to the right of the bed. This weird, whispery fluttering noise seemed to be moving!

Giles was starting to get freaked out. He’d had it with moving shadows and strange noises. He jumped out of bed and switched on the light. The noise stopped. All the monstrous shadows evaporated. It was just like his mother was always telling him. Turn on the lights, the noises always stop. Giles took a good look around his room, then flicked off the light, dived back into bed, and pulled the covers up to his ears.

There was some more creaking, but he didn’t let it bother him. Besides, he was getting too drowsy to care anymore. Soon he was fast asleep.

Chapter 2
The Quarks

The next morning, Giles started unpacking his things. First he set up his desk and shelves. That helped—already the room was beginning to look a little nicer, more like home. He wasn’t crazy about the wallpaper, which was a dingy, greyish colour with a faded pattern of vines and ivy leaves. He stuck up some of his favourite posters with putty.

The window was so dirty he could barely see out. He asked Dad for a cloth and some cleaning liquid and gave the glass a good scrub. It was a sunny summer day, and there were lots of people on the sidewalks. He could see an old man, leaning on a walker, making his way slowly past their house.

Across the street was a small park. Giles squinted. Weird!

Perched on the monkey bars were a boy and a girl. That wasn’t weird. It was what they were wearing. They both wore enormous sets of headphones which were plugged into a large machine which the girl carried around her neck on a thick strap. And they were both looking straight at his house!

As Giles watched, the girl twiddled a few knobs on the machine and then said something to the boy. They climbed down from the monkey bars, crossed the street and stood on the sidewalk, staring intently at the house.

Giles could see them more clearly now. He guessed that they were about his age. The girl was very tiny, with small, thin hands, pale skin, and two precise blond braids dangling on either side of her head. The boy had tightly curled red hair, and his broad face was splotched with freckles.

But what were they
with that machine?

The girl said something to the boy, but he obviously didn’t hear her. She knocked on his head with her knuckles to get his attention. They had a short conversation.

Then, as Giles watched in amazement, they actually walked through the front gate of the house and into the
garden! They stood on the lawn, listening to their head phones again, and the girl was now scribbling in a notepad.

What on earth?

Giles couldn’t control his curiosity any longer. He went downstairs, opened the front door and walked out. The boy and girl didn’t seem to notice him.

“Hello,” he said uncertainly.

No response.

“Hey,” he said, more loudly.

They both jumped, and yanked off their headphones.

“Hi,” said the boy with the red hair. “Do you live here?”

“We just moved in,” Giles told him.

The boy and girl looked at each other in surprise.

“Oh,” said the boy. “We thought it was still empty. I’m Kevin Quark, and this is my older sister, Tina. We’re geniuses.”

Giles blinked.

“Kevin,” said the tiny girl, “shut up.”

“Well, it’s true isn’t it?”

“Of course, but it’s not the kind of thing you tell people when you first meet them, is it?”

Kevin smiled cheerfully. “Oh well,” he said. “So, what’s your name?”

“Giles Barnes.”

“Are you a genius?”

“I’ve never really thought about it,” Giles replied.

“Well, it’s usually pretty obvious,” Kevin told him. “Can you name all the capital cities of Europe? Do you get ten out of ten on all your class quizzes? Can you do the thirteen-times table in your head? Those are some of the first signs.”

Giles felt out of breath just listening to Kevin.

“We’ve counted the number of bricks in our house, and calculated the amount of water that flushes through the toilet every day. Sometimes we invent things—Tina’s brilliant at that. She knows everything about chemistry and electricity. She can make liquid in a test tube turn blue and then explode! She can make sparks sizzle between two rods!”

Tina stood there silently, smiling faintly.

“Well, I don’t think I’m genius material, compared with all that,” Giles admitted.

“Well, that’s all right,” said Kevin good-naturedly,
“I’m only a little bit of a genius myself. Now, Tina, she’s a vast genius. She’s the brains behind the whole operation. The ghostometer was her idea.”

Tina nudged her brother in the ribs with her elbow.

“Owww!” Kevin cried out. “What was that for?”

“For telling him about the ghostometer.”

“The what?” Giles said.

Tina sighed. “The ghostometer,” she said. “It detects ghosts.”

Giles took a good look at the contraption around her neck. It looked like a toaster with lots of switches and knobs added on.

“That thing detects ghosts?” he said. “You’re not serious!”

“I’m completely serious,” said the tiny girl. “I’ll admit, it does need some minor re-adjustments. But I’ll have you know that we got some very strong readings from your house.”

“Did we?” Kevin asked.

Tina rolled her eyes. “Yes, Kevin, we did. Weren’t you listening?”

“Sometimes it all sounds the same to me. All those little beeps and blerps.”

“They were positive readings,” Tina said, exasperated.

“But didn’t we get positive readings from Tom’s dog once?” Kevin asked politely.

Tina went red in the face. “Yes, that was in the early stages. It’s much more reliable now.”

“Hang on a second,” said Giles. “You think my house is haunted?”

“It’s possible,” said Tina gravely.

“I don’t believe in ghosts,” Giles said firmly, trying to sound like his mother.

“Are you sure you haven’t seen anything spooky or creepy or basically weird in there?” Kevin wanted to know.

“No,” said Giles quickly, “absolutely not.”

He couldn’t help thinking about the strange noises he’d heard in his room last night. But that was just his imagination. It had nothing whatsoever to do with ghosts.

“Well,” said Kevin eagerly, “no one’s lived in this house for years. I bet it’s haunted. They say a crazy lady used to live there. She never left the house. There’s bound to be ghosts coming out of every nook and cranny!”

“Kevin, please,” said Tina in a tired voice, “this is all very unscientific. We haven’t proven anything yet.”

Giles took a look at his house. Now that he thought about it, it
look a little haunted. He felt a tingling at the base of his skull. Had a crazy lady really lived here? Could there really be ghosts?

“Well, look,” said Tina, “we’ve got to do some work on the ghostometer.”

“And if anything zany happens,” said Kevin hopefully, “give us a call and we’ll be right over. Here’s our card.”

“Good-bye,” said Giles, feeling slightly overwhelmed. He looked at the business card Kevin put in his hand. It said:

Tina and Kevin Quark
Local Geniuses

Capable of just about everything.
Reasonable Rates

“I’ve never met geniuses before,” Giles mumbled, going inside.

Chapter 3

“I met some kids who said this house is haunted,” Giles told his parents at lunch.

“There’s no such thing as ghosts,” Mrs Barnes said with a smile. Mrs Barnes was a professor of mathematics at the university. She liked numbers, she liked long equations, she liked things you could solve on paper. She did not believe in ghosts.

“Aunt Lillian believes in ghosts,” Giles pointed out.

“Yes, well, Aunt Lillian believes in quite a few odd things,” said Mrs Barnes.

Giles liked Aunt Lillian, no matter what his Mom said. Aunt Lillian dressed like a gypsy with scarves and headbands, and wore too much makeup. She always told ghost stories when she came.

“Dad, do you believe in ghosts?” Giles asked.

“Well, I’m not sure,” said his father. “I’ve certainly never seen a ghost.”

“There you go,” said Mrs Barnes. “No one I know has ever seen a ghost. That’s because they’re not real.”

“But there’s lots of things we haven’t seen which we know are real,” said Giles.

“Like what?” Mrs Barnes asked.

“Like…like atoms!” said Giles.

“Ah, well, that’s different,” said Mrs Barnes. “That’s science.”

“They said a crazy woman used to live here.”

“Oh, please,” said Mrs Barnes.

“Don’t you like the house, Giles?” his father asked.

“It’s a little creepy,” said Giles.

“It’s just an old house, that’s all,” said Mr Barnes. “Once we get it all fixed up, you won’t think it’s so bad.”

Giles’s father was right. After a few days, he’d almost forgotten about the Quarks and their stories about ghosts and crazy ladies. The house was getting more and more cheerful as they arranged their furniture and brought in plants and put up paintings. Mr Barnes was even giving
the house a fresh coat of paint on the outside, and he promised to get new wallpaper for Giles’s bedroom.

“This house isn’t so bad after all,” Giles said to himself. He was in his bedroom, working on a model airplane. The sun and the smell of summer were streaming through his window and he was just about to glue a particularly delicate bit of his model together—when he heard it.

He put down his model and listened. There it was again, slightly louder now, that same whispery rustle he’d heard the very first night! He held his breath. If he didn’t know any better, he’d have said it sounded like a bird flapping its wings.

It was bright daylight, and Giles didn’t feel very frightened at all; in fact, he felt curious. He stood up and walked to his window. Poking out his head, he peered under the eaves. In their old house, some birds had built their nests there, and he’d been able to hear them fluttering around under the roof. But there was nothing to see here, no birds, no nests.

He ducked his head back through the window. He could still hear it! How bizarre. It sounded almost as if a bird was soaring around his bedroom, because the sound
was definitely moving, swooping from one corner of his room to the next. But he couldn’t see anything!

Now Giles was starting to get nervous. He was all alone in the house. His parents had gone downtown to see about some curtains and wouldn’t be home for at least an hour.

Stay calm, he told himself. There must be a perfectly reasonable explanation for all this. What would Mom do if she were here?

Then, all of a sudden—


The hair at the back of Giles’s neck lit up. It was a woman’s voice, and it had come from right beside his ear! But there was nothing to be seen!

“Hello, hello!”

That did it! He lunged for his desk and rummaged frantically through his drawers until he found Kevin Quark’s business card. Then he slammed the bedroom door behind him, raced to the downstairs phone and punched in the number with a shaking finger.

“Kevin and Tina Quark, local geniuses. May I help you?”

“Kevin,” said Giles, recognizing the voice at the other end of the line, “it’s Giles Barnes. You’d better come over right away. We’ve got ghosts!”

BOOK: A Bad Case of Ghosts
9.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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