Authors: Joan Lowery Nixon
Sean slid into his chair and pulled out his history book, but he couldn’t concentrate on the lesson. He’d practically promised to do the last thing in the world he really wanted to do—go into a haunted mansion at night, looking for ghosts.
RIAN LIKED THE IDEA
of ghost hunting. “Sure,” he said as soon as Sean told him what Charles had said. “You don’t have to talk me into it.”
“I’d rather talk you
of it,” Sean said.
Brian laughed. “Come on, Sean. We may find out a lot more about the ghost lights. It would be fun to tell Sam something scary that he didn’t already know.”
“I don’t mind hearing scary stories. I just don’t like being in the middle of them.”
“You don’t have to be in the middle of anything. We’ll listen to what Charles has to say. If we think we can help him, fine. If his parents are right, and the ghosts are all in his imagination, we can forget the whole thing.”
“Okay … I guess,” Sean agreed. After all, Bri would be on hand, along with Charles’s parents. What was there to be scared of?
Mrs. Quinn drove Sean and Brian to the Everhart mansion. “It’s too chilly for a bike ride this evening,” she said as she turned her car off the main road onto a long drive that circled up to the house. “Besides, I’d like to meet Mr. and Mrs. Collier.” She turned and smiled at Sean. “I’m pleased that you and Brian accepted Charles’s invitation for dinner. He’s probably very lonely and eager to make friends.”
Sean gulped, feeling guilty that he hadn’t happened to mention the ghost-hunting part of the invitation.
Mrs. Quinn parked near the front door, and she, Sean, and Brian climbed out of the car. For a few moments they stood silently, studying the looming, dark redbrick Everhart mansion, with its small, narrow windows. Beyond the house, where the property stretched out toward the bay, they could hear the surf’s rhythmic slap against the rocks.
“The gardens have been well kept up,” Mrs. Quinn said. “Look at the beautiful white chrysanthemums along the side of the house.”
“This has to be the biggest house I’ve ever seen in my life,” Sean said as he followed Bri and their mother up the front steps. “And the ugliest,” he mumbled to himself.
The door was opened by a tall, muscular man who looked at the Quinns with disapproval. “Mr. and Mrs. Collier are not at home,” he said. “They were called to a business meeting in San Francisco and won’t be back until very late.”
“I’m sorry,” Mrs. Quinn said. “I thought the boys were expected for dinner.”
“They are!” Charles ducked around the man’s legs and held out his hand. “How do you do, Mrs. Quinn. I’m Charles Collier. My parents will be very sorry to have missed you. Please come in.”
They stepped into an entry hall that was paneled in deep mahogany. Even the yellow gleam from the dusty lamps and grimy crystal chandelier that hung over the stairway couldn’t do much to chase away the gloom.
The circular stairway was carved and ornate. It swept upward from a pair of newel posts topped with carved round knobs like balls.
A slender, brown-haired woman, who wore a large apron over her dress, stepped timidly into the entry hall. “I’m sorry about the looks of the place,” she said to Mrs. Quinn. “There’s so much to do to put this house in order. I haven’t been able to polish all this wood or get to the chandelier yet.”
She had made a very slow start, Brian thought. Only the ornamental knob on top of the right newel was shiny.
“It’s a very large house,” Mrs. Quinn said politely. “I imagine that it’s going to take a great deal of work.”
Charles introduced the man and woman as Martin and Zelda Elbert, who had been hired to take care of the house.
“And of Charles,” Mr. Elbert added.
“I’m very happy to meet you,” Mrs. Quinn said, with a smile for Mrs. Elbert. “This seems to be an inconvenient time for you, so I’ll take the boys home. Perhaps they can come for a visit some other day.”
“No!” Charles begged. “Please let Brian and Sean stay for dinner. Mrs. Elbert made something special for us—homemade pizza with everything on it.”
Mrs. Elbert nodded. “It’s very good pizza. Your boys will like it.”
Mrs. Quinn hesitated only a moment, then smiled at Charles. “This is a school night, Mrs. Elbert, so I’ll pick them up at eight-thirty. Will that be all right?”
“That will be fine,” Mrs. Elbert said. She glanced at her husband, but Mr. Elbert simply nodded.
As soon as the door closed behind Mrs. Quinn, Mrs. Elbert said to Charles, “Dinner is ready. We can serve right now, if you’d like.”
“Yes, thank you,” Charles said. He began to follow Mrs. Elbert, with Brian and Sean behind him. But Mr. Elbert stepped in their way.
“I want you to understand a few things,” he said. “Charles’s parents work as consultants in the field of art exports and imports. Their job in Redoaks is only for three months, and they’ll often be away from home on business trips. Since they’re renting furnished property, they have to be especially careful. There are too many things that can break. Furniture can be ruined.”
“We’ll be very careful,” Brian told him.
“They did not encourage Charles to invite other children here, but since you’ll be in the home for two hours I want to make clear there will be no snooping around, no roughhousing, no throwing things, no baseballs or footballs, no wrestling or running.”
“We’ll be careful,” Charles said. “I told you we would.” He walked around Mr. Elbert and headed for the dining room.
The dining room, with its small, narrow windows, was as gloomy as the other rooms. Nearby was an ornately carved buffet table, on which rested a tray and glasses and a seltzer bottle.
Three places were set at a long dining table. As they sat down in upholstered, high-backed chairs, Brian nudged Sean and pointed to the badly stained tabletop. What looked like rings from wet glasses and bottles covered the surface. “These weren’t made by ghosts,” he mumbled.
Along with a garden salad and Cokes, Mrs. Elbert brought in three plates of super pizza. Charles, Brian, and Sean were so intent on the good food that none of them said a word until every bite of pizza had been eaten.
Brian pulled out his notebook and pen. As he opened the notebook and wrote, he said aloud, “Charles Collier.” He looked questioningly at Charles. “Or should I use your nickname?”
“I’ve never had a nickname,” Charles answered. “My parents … everybody else … they just call me Charles.”
“Okay, Charles,” Brian said. “Mr. and Mrs. Elbert had a lot to say about this place, but neither of them mentioned anything about ghosts. So what’s the deal? Why did you ask us to get rid of ghosts? Are there ghosts haunting this house, or aren’t there?”
“There are ghosts! I’ll … I’ll show you.” Charles squirmed in his chair.
“Show us?” Sean nervously looked over his shoulder.
“Not here,” Charles said. “They’re in …” He leaned forward, resting his arms on the table. “I never know when the ghosts are going to appear, but it’s always after dark.”
“It’s dark now.”
“But not dark enough. Finish your Cokes. I’ll get some cookies. Wait just a little while until it’s good and dark.” He grabbed Brian’s arm and begged, “Please? I promise you, the ghosts are going to show up.”
RIAN NODDED AND PICKED
up his pen. “Forget the cookies for now,” he said. “Give us some information. Exactly how long have you and your parents lived in this house?”
“Exactly eight … no, nine days.”
“How long have Martin and Zelda Elbert been working for your parents?”
“My parents hired them before we even moved into the house.”
“They’d worked for you before?”
“No. We have a housekeeper at home in New York—Mrs. Beldon. But her mother got sick so Mrs. Beldon went home to take care of her. That’s why my parents brought me with them. There was nowhere they could leave me.”
“Do you know where they met the Elberts? Or how they happened to hire them?”
“I think the real estate agent recommended them.”
Brian stopped writing and looked at Charles “Okay. Next question. What makes you think there are ghosts in the house?”
Charles looked frightened. He glanced at Sean, then back to Brian. “The staring eyes, for one thing.”
“What staring eyes?” Sean asked. He began to feel creepy, as though eyes were staring at him right that minute.
“Sometimes,” Charles said, his voice trembling, “I’ve seen eyes looking at me from the walls of the house.”
Brian raised one eyebrow in disbelief.
“It’s true. Really!” Charles insisted. “One second the eyes are there, staring at me, watching me. The next second they disappear.”
“That’s it? Eyes in the walls?” Brian made another note.
“No, there’s more,” Charles answered. “Sometimes I hear noises, like bumps or knocks, and low voices in some of the rooms. I’ve looked, but no one’s there.”
“Have you told your parents what you just told us?”
“Sure I have, but it doesn’t do any good. We’ve only lived in this house a little more than a week, and most of the time Mom and Dad are gone. The ghosts haven’t come around while my parents have been here, so they don’t believe me. My father thinks it’s all my imagination. My mother thinks I’m making up stories to get attention.”
Sean thought about how lonely it must be to hardly ever see your parents. He wouldn’t blame Charles if he
make up stories.
Mrs. Elbert entered the dining room, and Charles became quiet. She closed the heavy drapes over the windows, then removed the dirty dishes.
As soon as she left the room, Brian asked Charles, “Have you told the Elberts about seeing and hearing ghosts?”
“No,” Charles said. “Mrs. Elbert might listen to me, but she probably wouldn’t believe me either. And Mr. Elbert’s such a grouch that I don’t want to talk to him about anything.”
Brian still felt doubtful. “Of the five people who live in this house, you’re the only one who has had any visits from the ghosts.”
“That’s not my fault,” Charles complained. He pushed back his chair and stood. “It’s dark enough now. Come with me. I’ll prove there are ghosts. And don’t make any noise.”
Sean and Brian followed Charles down a long, dim hallway into what must have once been a wood-paneled library or office, with empty bookshelves along the left-hand wall.
Charles shut the door, and eyes suddenly began to gleam through the darkness.
“Yikes!” Sean yelled.
But Brian felt along the wall until he found a light switch. “Luminous paint,” he said. “You painted the eyes, Charles. A smudge of paint on your hand was glowing, too. What kind of a trick are you playing on us?”
“Okay, I drew the eyes,” Charles said, his voice trembling. “But it wasn’t a trick. Eyes sometimes do look at me from the walls, but I never know when they’ll come. I didn’t want you and Sean not to believe me.”
Brian shook his head. “I think this case is closed,” he said.
“No! Please help me!” Charles insisted. “There
ghosts haunting this house!” He turned to Sean. “You want to help me, don’t you, Sean?”
Sean opened his mouth to answer, but he couldn’t speak. Among the wood panels on the left wall a real eye had appeared.
“L-L-Look!” Sean stammered and tugged on Brian’s arm.
Brian followed the direction of Sean’s gaze, and gasped when he saw the eye.
Charles squeaked, as if he were a mouse caught by a cat. Both Brian and Sean turned to look at Charles and were startled by the terror on Charles’s face.
They looked back at the wall, but the eye was no longer there.
Brian, Sean, and Charles ran out of the library and into the room next door.
“It’s empty!” Brian said.
“It can’t be,” Sean told him. “We saw the eye. Somebody had to be here looking through a hole in the paneling. He couldn’t have got away this fast.”
Charles started forward, but Brian put out a hand, holding him back. “Wait,” he said. “Look at the floor. Lots of dust and no shoe prints but our own. No one’s been in this room for a long time.”
“But we saw someone looking through the wall,” Sean said. “He had to be in here.”
“Now maybe you’ll believe me that the house is haunted,” Charles said. “Ghosts don’t wear shoes. Ghosts don’t leave footprints.”