Authors: Joan Lowery Nixon
The House Has Eyes
For Michael Joseph Quinlan, with love
—J. L. N.
OHN QUINN TOOK A
sip of coffee and said, “I heard that the old Everhart mansion has been rented.”
Brian looked up from his scrambled eggs. “Dad, that’s weird,” he said. “Everybody knows that awful old house is haunted. No one ever goes near it. Sam Miyako said that for the past couple of years people have seen strange lights in the mansion at night—ghost lights.”
Mr. Quinn frowned. “All this talk about ghosts is nonsense. We don’t believe in ghosts.”
“You mean that
don’t believe in ghosts, Dad,” Brian said. “There has to be some reason for those lights.”
Sean turned to their father. “Sam said ghosts are made up of stuff called ectoplasm, and it collects in closets and floats out at night, and hovers over our beds, and—”
“I think we’ve had enough of Sam’s scary stories,” Mr. Quinn said to Sean. “There is no such thing as ghostly ectoplasm. If that’s why you had a nightmare last night—”
Mrs. Quinn interrupted. She looked firmly at Sean as she said, “If anything collects in the closet and floats out at night and hovers over our beds, it comes from dirty clothes and sweaty socks that should have been put in the hamper and not in the closet.”
“But ectoplasm …”
closets,” she said. “I won’t allow it.” Mrs. Quinn shook her head. “Just imagine the dreadful state the Everhart place must be in. The mansion has been vacant for years. I’m sure it will need a great deal of care to put it and the furnishings back in shape again.”
“It was built way off by itself, down by the bay,” Brian said. “The nearest neighbor is at least half a mile away. Who would want to live there?”
“Charles Collier,” Sean answered.
The others looked at Sean with surprise.
“Who’s Charles Collier?” Brian asked.
“He’s a kid who registered at Redoaks Elementary yesterday. He got put in my fourth-grade class.”
Mrs. Quinn smiled. “I’m glad you made friends with him,” she said. “It’s always hard, being new.”
Sean squirmed uncomfortably. “I didn’t say I made friends with him, Mom. Charles keeps to himself, which is okay with me, because he’s real quiet and not very friendly.”
“Give him a chance,” Mr. Quinn said. “Maybe he’s shy.”
Mrs. Quinn looked at her watch and pushed back her chair. “I’ve got to be going. We’re having an early meeting this morning. We’re ready to begin planning an advertising campaign for one of our new clients.”
She opened her handbag and reached for her car keys, but stopped and said, “Oh no! The lining is torn. And this handbag is brand new.”
As she examined the bag, she shook her head. “It looks as though the lining hadn’t been sewn in properly. It’s torn all along one side. I certainly expected better quality than this in a bag with a famous designer label.”
“Return it to the store,” Mr. Quinn said.
“I don’t know if I can,” Mrs. Quinn answered. “I bought it at a small shop over in Lanita. They were having a sale, and the bags were selling at a big discount.”
A knock at the back door interrupted her.
“That’s Sam,” Brian said and jumped up to let him in.
“Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Quinn. Hi, Sean,” Sam said. He glanced at the breakfast table. “Got anything good left over, like a doughnut, maybe?”
“Sorry, no doughnuts, Sam,” Mr. Quinn said. “However, I’d like to discuss these scary stories you’ve been telling the younger children.”
“Dad!” Sean complained. “I am not as young as Sam’s little brother. I am not a ‘younger children.’ I’m nine.”
“It’s the ectoplasm story, right?” Sam said. “My dad wasn’t very happy about that one either.”
Mr. Quinn nodded. “And as for haunted mansions …”
“Dad, Sam and I have got to hurry,” Brian said quickly. “If we’re late we’ll get detention. See you tonight.” He snatched his backpack and shoved Sam ahead of him out the back door.
Sean grabbed his own backpack and ran after them. Brian would tell Sam that the Everhart mansion had been rented, and Sam might have more to say about the ghost lights. Sean didn’t want to miss a word.
“You’re kidding,” Sam was saying to Brian as Sean joined them. “Somebody really is going to live in that ugly old place?”
“Tell me what you told Brian about the ghost lights,” Sean said.
“Your dad said I shouldn’t tell you any more scary stories.”
“It’s not a scary story if the lights are happening. It’s like … like something you’d read in a newspaper.”
Sam thought a moment. “You’re right,” he said. Then he leaned down toward Sean and made his voice low and spooky. “On dark winter nights people have seen the cold, white, flickering lights and …”
“What difference does it make, what people?”
“It makes a lot of difference. If the mayor said he saw the lights, okay. But if Debbie Jean Parker said she saw them, I wouldn’t believe her for a minute.”
“Take my word for it. I didn’t get the story from Debbie Jean Parker. Now, do you want to hear about the lights or not?”
“I want to hear.”
“Then stop interrupting and listen. The lights travel from room to room. Sometimes they vanish, then reappear.”
“You could do that with a flashlight,” Brian said.
“Sure you could, if you were a human being,” Sam answered. “But remember, for years and years no one has lived in that house. Up until now, no one has dared to. Who’d want to live with ghosts?”
EAN COULDN’T WAIT TO
tell his friend Matt Fischer about the ghost lights, and soon a group of kids from their fourth-grade class had gathered around to listen to the story.
“How do you know it’s ghosts making the lights?” Matt asked.
“Yeah,” Jabez Amadi said. “It might be burglars.”
“On and off for two years? In an empty house?” Sean asked. “It couldn’t be burglars.” As Debbie Jean climbed over a desk and pushed into the front of the group, Sean winced. “Sean Quinn, did you just say that the old Everhart mansion is haunted?” she asked.
“That’s what Sam Miyako told us,” Sean insisted.
“Did Sam see the lights?”
Sean hesitated. “I don’t think so. But he talked to some people who did.”
“He didn’t tell me.”
Debbie Jean laughed. “I think all that stuff about ghost lights is just one of Sam’s scary stories. People have moved into the house. If it was haunted, they’d have moved right out again.”
“Why don’t you ask
if the house is haunted?” Charles Collier spoke loudly from one side of the group.
Sean’s face grew warm with embarrassment. “Uh, Charles,” he said. “I forgot that it was you and your family who moved into the Everhart mansion. I didn’t mean to …”
Charles was smaller than most of the kids in the class, but as he frowned at Sean and took another step closer, Matt and Jabez quickly got out of his way.
“Hey, listen,” Sean said. “I’m sorry if I made you mad.”
“I’m not mad at you,” Charles answered. “I’m mad at having to live with the ghosts.”
Sean knew his mouth had fallen open, but he couldn’t think of a thing to say.
“You’re right about the ghost lights,” Charles told him. “You and that Sam, whoever he is. The Everhart mansion
“Wow!” Matt said. “Why did your parents rent a house with ghosts in it?”
Sean could see the unhappiness in Charles’s eyes as he said, “They needed a place to stay for just a short time while they’re working on a project for the Redoaks Museum. My parents don’t believe in ghosts. When I told them what I saw, they just said I had an overactive imagination. It doesn’t matter, I guess, because Mom and Dad are hardly ever home anyway. And, when they are home, the ghosts don’t come around.”
Debbie Jean squeezed next to Charles. “How can you stand it, living with ghosts? Aren’t you scared out of your mind? Most people would …” She stopped, smoothed back her hair, and said, “That is,
people would be scared.
“Yuck,” Sean said and pretended to gag.
“Listen to me, Sean,” Charles said. “We haven’t got time to fool around. The bell’s going to ring pretty soon, and I want to talk over a business arrangement with you. Yesterday I heard someone say that you and your brother are private detectives.”
“Yeah. We are,” Sean said. “We call ourselves the Casebusters.”
“Fine,” Charles said. “In that case, I’d like to hire you. My parents and I are going to live here for three months before we can go back to our home in New York. As I told you, I don’t like living with ghosts, so I want to hire the Casebusters to get rid of them.”
Sean spoke without thinking. “Hunt for ghosts? No way!” he said.
“Ha!” Debbie Jean said. “You’re scared to!”
“Are you?” Charles asked Sean. “Tell me right now. Because if you won’t help me, I’ll have to find someone else.”
Frantically, Sean searched for the right thing to say. “My brother and I are partners,” he said, “so I’ll have to talk it over with him.”
“Do you think he’ll agree?”
The first bell rang, but no one moved. Sean realized they were all waiting for his answer.
“Yes,” he heard himself saying. “I can just about promise that Bri will agree.”
Charles gave a long sigh of relief. “Fine,” he said. “How about coming to my house at six-thirty tonight?”
“I have a better idea,” Sean said, eager to see the house in daylight, not in the early winter darkness. “We can come right after school.”
“No,” Charles said. “Evening is better. If my parents are home, you can meet them, too. I’ll tell the housekeeper you’ve been invited for dinner.”
Mrs. Jackson came into the classroom just as the second bell rang. She pretended to look surprised. “What’s all this?” she asked. “No one’s sitting down, ready to work? Come on, boys and girls, it’s time to get busy.”