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Authors: Kenneth Oppel

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BOOK: A Bad Case of Ghosts
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Chapter 7
The Attic

“You mean there’s another ghost now?” Kevin exclaimed. “I think we’re into ghost overload!”

“I haven’t told my Mom,” said Giles. “She’s getting pretty grumpy about the birds as it is. The strange thing is, the birds
her. There’s a budgie that’s been nesting on top of her head lately. It makes her furious. If I told her there was the ghost of an old woman walking around, she’d go completely over the edge!”

“I bet it’s the crazy lady everyone was talking about!” Kevin said enthusiastically. “Did she look crazy?”

“No, she didn’t,” said Giles. “She looked sad.”

“Oh,” said Kevin, disappointed.

Giles was trying to find a place to sit down in Tina
and Kevin Quark’s basement workshop, which was filled to bursting with old bits and pieces of furniture and machinery. He settled for an upturned cardboard box.

“Dad and I called up Aunt Lillian in secret,” he told the two Quarks. “And she said that ghosts are people who were very unhappy or upset when they died, and they keep on being unhappy for a long time afterwards. So they wander around all sad, trying to figure things out.”

“But what about all the birds?” said Kevin. “Who’s ever heard of sad birds?”

“It’s weird, I know,” said Giles. “But the old woman’s obviously sad. And I think it has something to do with all the birds. They must have belonged to her. Listen to this. Remember how I told you the ghost lady pointed at the ceiling? Well, after I told Dad, I was wondering what it all meant. And I thought maybe she was pointing to the attic!”

“The attic!” said Kevin. “Now this is more like it! Did you go up?”

Giles nodded. “I didn’t even know we had an attic. But Dad and I found a trap door in the ceiling. It pulled
down with a little set of steps. We got some flashlights and climbed up. It was really dusty. Dad kept sneezing. But we found hundreds of old, empty bird cages in a big pile!”

“Hundreds, Barnes?” said Tina. “That sounds like somewhat of an exaggeration.”

Giles rolled his eyes. “All right, not hundreds. But there were
I didn’t count them. But whoever this woman was, she must have had a lot of pet birds.”

“Wow,” said Kevin.

“Dad called up some of our neighbours, but none of them remembered who used to live in the house before us. Most of the people Dad talked to hadn’t lived on the street that long. I wish I knew what happened.”

“Yes, well,” said Tina, looking up from a new gadget she’d been fiddling with, “I think we can give this a try.”

“What is it?” Giles asked.

“It’s great,” said Kevin. “She took apart practically everything in the house to make it—the radio, TV, electric egg-beater. She’s brilliant.”

“Kevin—” said Tina.

“I know, I know,” sighed her brother, “shut up.”

“Exactly. Now then, what I’ve been working on is a device which should make the ghosts disappear for good. Stand back everyone, please.”

She flipped a little switch on the side of the contraption. There was a loud whirring noise, then a coughing, spluttering sound, and a big plume of yellow and black smoke curled up into the air.

“Well,” said Tina. “That wasn’t a huge success, was it?”

“Tina? Kevin?” a voice called down from the top of the stairs. “What’s going on down there?”

“Nothing, Mom,” said Tina.

“Don’t worry,” Kevin said to Giles, fanning smoke away from his face. “We’ll come up with something. You won’t have to live with ghosts for the rest of your life.”

“Maybe we should try to find out more about the woman who used to live there,” Giles suggested. “Maybe that would help.”

Tina looked doubtful.

“It doesn’t sound very scientific,” she said.

“But it’s a real mystery,” Giles said. Something terrible must have happened. But what? If he knew that, maybe he’d be able to free his house from all the ghosts.

Chapter 8
Melanie Jones

On his way home from the Quarks’, Giles saw an old man making his way down the street with the help of a walker, leaning heavily on the metal handles. Giles had seen him many times before. Every day at four o’clock he would shuffle very slowly down to the end of Stoker Street, then turn round and go back. It took him about forty-five minutes. But this evening, he stopped right in front of Giles’s house.

“Hello,” Giles said, walking up to him. “Can I help you?”

He thought at first that the old man might be feeling sick. But now he saw that he was looking intently at the house, gazing straight up at his bedroom window.

“Oh, hello,” the old man said, still staring at Giles’s
window. “It’s silly, isn’t it, but I still expect to see birds in there.”

Giles’s heart thudded. “I’m sorry, what do you mean?” he asked, surprised. Could he know about the ghost birds, too? Had he seen them flying around?

“She used to keep lots of birds, Melanie. She had so many birds she barely knew what to do with them. Kept most of them in that room, right up there. I used to be able to see them when I took my walk.”

“Did you know her?” Giles asked hopefully.

“Hardly at all,” the man said. “No one really knew her. She barely put a foot out her door. Everyone thought she was a little batty, mind you, with all those birds. Poor Melanie Jones. It was a shame what happened. I only found out years later.”

Giles waited patiently for him to continue.

“Bad heart,” he said. “Melanie had a bad heart. I think they wanted to get her into one of those homes, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She wouldn’t have been able to look after those birds. But she had a heart attack one night, and they came and took her to hospital, but she never woke
up. And there was no one to look after her birds. They all starved to death, poor things, before anyone thought to look in on them. It was sad, very sad.”

“Oh,” said Giles quietly. And suddenly everything clicked in his head. The ghost lady was Melanie Jones, coming back to take care of her poor, starved birds!

“I’ve just seen a lady ghost walk through the bathroom,” said Mrs Barnes, her face pale, as Giles rushed in the front door.

“It’s the ghost of Melanie Jones,” Giles said excitedly. “She’s the one who lived here before us. She’s the one who had all the birds!”

“Oh,” said Mrs Barnes. She hadn’t blinked in quite a while.

“How did you find this out?” Mr Barnes wanted to know.

“The old man with the walker,” Giles said, and he repeated the story he’d just heard outside.

“Well, that’s just great,” blustered Mrs Barnes, who was beginning to recover from her shock. “But enough is enough. This is the last straw. There I was, getting ready for a nice hot shower, without budgies and blue jays, and just as I was about to step in, the ghost of Melanie Jones hustles through!”

“How awful,” said Mr Barnes, trying to stifle his laughter.

“There’s got to be laws about this kind of thing,” muttered Mrs Barnes. “Invasion of privacy by ghosts of various description!”

The adoring ghost parrot chose that moment to settle on Mrs Barnes’s shoulder and nuzzle her ear affectionately.

“Hello, hello,” it whispered.

Giles gave it a sharp blast of air.

“Awkkk,” said the parrot as it disappeared.

“Oh dear,” said Mr Barnes. “I have to admit, it’s getting a little much. How are we supposed to lead a normal life? What about the Quarks? Have they figured something out?”

“Not yet,” said Giles. “The last gadget Tina invented just went up in a puff of smoke.”

What he didn’t tell them was that he had an inkling of an idea of his own. He didn’t want to say anything yet; he wasn’t a genius after all. He wanted to think it through. But maybe, just maybe, it would solve all their problems.

Chapter 9
The Plan

“I have a plan,” Giles announced the next day.

He’d called up Tina and Kevin and asked them to come right over, and now they were all sitting at the dining room table. His mother and father were there, too. So was the ghost parrot and a squadron of budgies which were circling Mrs Barnes’s head and bombing her with ghost bird droppings.

Giles took a deep breath.

“Ghosts are usually very sad because something went wrong when they were alive. That’s why they’re still here, because they’re trying to fix things up. Except that they can’t because they’re dead. But they can’t rest properly until they think everything’s OK again.”

“Who told you all this?” asked Mrs Barnes.

“Aunt Lillian,” Giles admitted.

“I won’t listen. I don’t believe a word that comes out of her mouth,” Mrs Barnes replied.

“That’s what you said
you had a ghost parrot sitting on your shoulder,” Mr Barnes reminded her. “It won’t hurt to listen, Elizabeth. Go ahead, Giles.”

“Well, Melanie Jones keeps coming back because she’s worried about all her birds. She must have loved them more than anything. She had dozens. But when she died they didn’t have any food. So she couldn’t feed them, and nobody else thought to feed them, so they starved to death.”

He paused and looked around the table. Tina was looking at him very seriously.

“Maybe,” Giles said, “if we
the ghost birds, Melanie Jones will stop worrying and she won’t feel so sad and all the ghosts will go away for good!”

There was a long silence.

“Barnes,” Tina said, “do you have any idea how unscientific that sounds?”

“Well…” he stammered.

“Those birds aren’t real,” Tina said. “They’re ghosts. How could they

“Look,” said Giles, “I know it sounds crazy, but it does kind of make sense. There’s nothing anybody can do to change what happened, but maybe if we show Melanie Jones and the birds that we care, that’ll be enough. Do you have a better idea?”

There was another long pause.

“No, I don’t,” Tina said. “My last gadget just burst into flames. And I don’t think I’m going to be making any more for quite a while. Mom and Dad found out about the radio and the television—”

“And the electric egg-beater, and the frying pan,” Kevin added. “Oh, and don’t forget the
Encyclopaedia Britannica
. They weren’t very pleased about that either.”

“Yes, it’s been a bit of disaster, really,” said Tina, folding her tiny hands on the table. “We may have to shut down our genius business temporarily.”

“Well,” said Giles, “then we have no choice. We have to try my idea.”

“All right,” said Tina.

“I think I must be crazy, but I’m willing to try anything,” muttered Mrs Barnes, glaring at the parrot on her shoulder. “Let’s get started.”

Chapter 10
The Big Feed

“We’d like sixty-three pounds of your finest bird seed,” said Giles.

“Sixty-three pounds,” said the pet shop owner, looking at Giles as if this were all some huge practical joke. “That’s an unusual amount of bird seed. Usually we sell these somewhat smaller boxes.”

“No, that’s not enough,” said Tina Quark very seriously. “I’ve calculated our requirements exactly, and we need sixty-three pounds of bird seed.”

“I see,” said the pet shop owner, taken aback.

“And some of those birdie treats,” said Kevin enthusiastically. “Yeah, they’ll love those.”

“Kevin—” Tina began.

“That’s a good idea,” said Giles, interrupting her. “We would also like twenty packets of birdie treats please.”

“You must have a lot of very hungry birds,” said the pet shop owner nervously.

“Or one very large one,” said Giles with a smile.

“Right,” said the pet shop owner, hurrying off to fill the order.

Giles’s parents were waiting for them outside in the car.

“I hope nobody saw us,” muttered Mrs Barnes as they drove off. “They’ll think we’re all certifiable. Sixty-three pounds of bird seed…”

Back home, Giles organized the preparations for the big feed. With Tina and Kevin’s help, he brought down all the bird cages from the attic and began dusting and cleaning them. They polished the metal bars until they shone. They made sure the perches and roosts were firmly attached. They even put fresh newspaper at the bottom of each cage.

“They’re just ghosts,” muttered Mrs Barnes. “Isn’t this getting a little out of hand?”

“We have to do our best to show them we’re sorry about what happened,” Giles explained.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” said Tina. “It’s so unscientific.”

“Cheer up, Tina,” said Kevin, “who knows, maybe it’ll work.”

When all the cages were cleaned, they started filling the plastic feeding trays with seed from the huge sacks. They filled all the water bottles from the kitchen tap. And, for good measure, they hung birdie treats from the bars of every cage. Giles had prepared a bird feast the likes of which had never been seen in the animal kingdom.

“Now,” said Giles, “let’s set them all up in my room. That’s where Melanie Jones kept them.”

It took them a good half hour to carry all the cages upstairs and arrange them. By the time they were done, Giles’s bedroom was absolutely crammed, filled wall to wall with bird cages. There were cages on every shelf, cages across the desk, on the window sills, tall cages on pedestals standing side by side, cages on the bed and floor.

“If this works,” said Mrs Barnes, “I hope I never see another bird again as long as I live.”

Suddenly a ghost bird appeared inside one of the cages. It sat on the perch, looking out at Giles, then noticed the tray of bird seed. It hopped over to the feeder and started eating.

“Here we go!” Giles exclaimed.

Then they came fast and furious. The ghost birds materialized so quickly that Giles couldn’t keep track. They were filling up all the cages in his room, sometimes two or even three birds to a cage. And they were ravenous, gobbling seed, slurping water, gnawing at birdie treats.

“They’re eating everything!” Giles shouted.

Except eating wasn’t exactly the right word. The birds ate and ate, but the piles of food weren’t getting any smaller. Still, it didn’t seem to bother the birds. Giles lost track of time as the feast went on. But then, one by one, the ghost birds started disappearing.

First a budgie flickered out of sight.

Then a cockatiel vanished into thin air.

Then three finches evaporated in a puff of ghostly smoke!

“It’s working!” Giles called out.

“I should have brought my ghostometer,” Tina said.

“We don’t
the ghostometer!” said Giles. “Can’t you see, it’s working!”

The birds were blinking out like burned-out light-bulbs, faster and faster. As Giles watched, he felt a ghostly prickle move up his spine. He looked over his shoulder. The ghost of Melanie Jones had appeared amongst the cages.

“Look,” Giles whispered, pointing.

“She’s the one who interrupted my shower,” mumbled Mrs Barnes.

The ghost of Melanie Jones didn’t look sad anymore; she was smiling, nodding and smiling as she watched her birds eating the best and biggest meal ever. Then she began to fade, faint and silvery, until there was nothing left. After that the rest of the ghost birds vanished with little pops of light until all the cages in Giles’s room were finally empty.

“You must be a genius!” Kevin said to Giles. “You’ve done it!”

“It was completely unscientific,” said Tina in a shaky voice, “and yet it seems to have been successful.”

“Not completely,” said Mrs Barnes in a stern voice. “Look at this!”

The regal ghost parrot was perched on her shoulder.

“Hello, hello!” it said.

“No, look, it’s fading, too!” said Giles.

“Good-bye, good-bye,” said the parrot, and, with a little puff of light, it was gone.

“Well, that’s a relief,” said Mrs Barnes.

“You looked pretty good with a parrot,” said Mr Barnes, hugging his wife.

“Well, they’re all gone now,” said Giles, gazing at the empty cages. Strangely, the house seemed too quiet, and he felt a twinge of sadness. He hadn’t realized it, but he’d become rather fond of the birds, and all their noise and activity. The ghosts had kept him so busy he hadn’t even had a chance to miss his old friends. In fact, he’d made some new ones. Maybe the summer wouldn’t be so bad after all.

“What are we going to do with all that seed?” Mr Barnes said.

“And the cages?” said Mrs. Barnes.

“Maybe,” Giles said with a smile, “we should get some birds.”

BOOK: A Bad Case of Ghosts
10.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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