Authors: Betty Ren Wright
OOKS BY THE
BETTY REN WRIGHT
Copyright Â© 1985 by Betty Ren Wright
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Wright, Betty Ren.
; Christina's summer in a spooky, isolated Victorian house with her grumpy uncle turns into a ghostly adventure.
1. Children's stories, American.Â Â Â Â Â [1. GhostsâFiction.Â Â Â Â Â 2. Mystery and detective stories]Â Â Â Â Â I. Title. PZ7.W933Ch 1985Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â [Fic]Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 85-42880
ISBNÂ Â Â Â 0-8234-0581-8
“Chrissy's going to throw up again!” Jenny shrieked the news.
The back of Uncle Ralph's thin neck turned red. He swung the car off the road and braked at the edge of a steep slope. Chris hurtled out of the car. Halfway down the hill, she knelt and waited for the waves of sickness to overwhelm her.
Nothing happened. A breeze cooled her forehead. The air was sweet after the pizza-and-oranges smell of Uncle Ralph's old Chevy. At the bottom of the hill, a stream glittered in the sun.
, Chris thought. She wished she could stay right there. She wished she could walk to Grandma's house in Oakleigh. Or fly! She was sure that if she got back
in the car, she'd be sick again.
“How about it, Christina? We haven't got forever.”
Chris looked up and saw Uncle Ralph and Jenny peering down at her. Uncle Ralph sounded annoyed, as usual. He sometimes called Jenny “old girl,” and he called other people “sport” or “Buster.” But he always called Christina Christina.
“You look sort of green,” Jenny said when they were back in the car. “Sort of green and sort of gray. Very yucky.”
“That's how I feel,” Chris told her. “Open the window on your side, okay? And don't eat any more oranges.”
For the next hour Chris kept her face turned to the open window and tried to think good thoughts. Going to Grandma's was okay to think about. If she had to be away from home, she'd rather be out in the country with Grandma than anywhere else. Thinking about home, even for a second, was a mistake. Every time she pictured her house standing empty, she began to feel sick again. By now her parents were in Seattle, on their way to five weeks of conference-and-vacation in Alaska.
No, don't think about that
Think about sleeping in a sleeping bag out under the trees. Grandma let her do that, as often as she wanted. Think about fishing in the little river a quarter-mile
away. Think about exploring the old barn, or climbing to the very top of the oak in Grandma's front yard. Last summer she'd scrambled two-thirds of the way to the top before Jenny saw her and tattled.
The wind blew Uncle Ralph's visored cap from the back-window shelf onto Chris's lap. She slicked her dark hair behind her ears and put on the cap, tilting it to one side. Then she leaned over the seat and twisted the rear-view mirror so she could see herself.
“Will you cut that out?” Uncle Ralph pushed the mirror back into position. His long, narrow face glowered at her. “And take off my hat. If you please.”
Jenny giggled. Chris took off the hat.
“You don't like me,” she said softly, but of course Uncle Ralph heard.
“I do like you,” he said. “It's just that you always get things in a muddle, Christina. You don't think. I'm a past-middle-aged man, and I suppose I have past-middle-aged opinions. I happen to believe a girl shouldÂ .Â .Â .Â should act like a lady. And dress like one,” he added.
Chris considered throwing the cap at him and decided she'd better not. She glanced down at herself and then at Jenny. Her sister's jeans looked brand-new; Chris's were worn almost to whiteness, the way she liked them. Jenny wore a crisp red-and-white plaid
shirt, and Chris wore a T-shirt with a Spider-Man picture on the front and a hole under one arm. Even though Jenny was only eight, two years younger than Chris, she insisted on blow-drying her pale brown hair so that it fell in waves around her face. Chris didn't care how her own hair looked, as long as it didn't get in her way.
“Chrissy is a tomboy,” Jenny commented. “She can't help the way she is.”
Chris threw the cap at her.
“Can we just forget it?” Uncle Ralph said. “Tomboys are okay. You're fine, Christina.”
But Chris knew he was counting the minutes until he could drop her, and Jenny, too, at Grandma's house. Her mother had said they were lucky Uncle Ralph had even consented to take them with him on his way north. He was an associate professor at City College, and every summer he went off somewhere by himself. This year a friend had asked him to house-sit at a northern Wisconsin lake. Chris's mother said the human race was just too much for her brother Ralph. He liked his own company best.
“Chrissy bites her fingernails,” Jenny said. “I wish she wouldn't. It makes me sick.”
“And I wish I was an only child,” Chris snapped.
Uncle Ralph switched on a classical music station
and turned up the volume. He looked straight ahead, as if he were pretending he was alone in the car.
When they turned down the gravel lane that led to Grandma's house, Chris looked around eagerly. There was the big gray house. The old sheepdog, Maggie, lay under the oak tree. There was the barn, its door open and inviting. There was the porch swing, and the red wagon planted full of white petunias. Everything looked exactly as it had a year ago when they'd come with their parents, and the year before that. Grandma never went racing off to Alaska to a stupid conference. Grandma
the human race. Suddenly, Chris couldn't wait to give her a hug.
“That's not Grandma,” Jenny said. She pointed at the front door. The screen was partway open, and someone stood in the shadows. As the car turned into the yard, Aunt Grace, their mother's older sister, came out and waited at the top step.
“Oh, give me strength,” Uncle Ralph muttered. “She has that look on her face.”
“What look?” Jenny asked.
“Her the-world-would-be-a-mess-if-I-didn't-take-charge look,” Uncle Ralph said. “That woman was born to give orders.”
They climbed out of the car, and Chris took a big breath of country air. Aunt Grace marched down the
steps, and Maggie the dog waddled toward them.
“I thought you'd never get here,” Aunt Grace said, not bothering with hellos. “Whatever took you so long?”
Uncle Ralph scowled. “Christina had to make a few roadside stops,” he said. “Where's Ma?”
“She's in the hospital, that's where.” For just a second Aunt Grace's thin face sagged. Then she sniffed hard and went on. “Got taken with a gallbladder attack at five-thirty this morning. The Blackwells took her to the clinic in Rochester. Mrs. Blackwell just calledâMa's had her surgery, and she's doing fine.”
Uncle Ralph sat down on a porch step with a thump. “Poor Ma,” he said. “Why didn't you go with her?”
“No need,” Aunt Grace retorted. “And she said to tell you not to go dashing over there till she feels better.” She rolled her eyes at Chris and Jenny. “We've got our problems right here.”
Uncle Ralph narrowed his eyes. He looked at the girls as if he'd never seen them before. “What do you mean
he demanded. “You're here. You can look after them till Ma gets back.”
Aunt Grace gave an angry squeak. “I'm not
here, Ralph Cummings,” she said. “I just drove out from town to tell you the news and close things up. The Blackwells will stop by every day to take care of Maggie. I have a house of my own to look after in Titusville. And three cats. No one can expect me to
take over a family of children just because their parents want to go gallivanting off to Alaska.”
Chris felt her face burn, but she was too scared to say anything. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Jenny shrink back.
“Then you can take the kids to town with you,” Uncle Ralph said, getting up from the step. “I'm on my way.”
Aunt Grace moved between him and the car. “I have it all figured out, Ralph,” she said. “I have only one bedroom, but it has twin beds. Jennifer can stay with me, and you'll take Christina. We can't reach Jean and Philip today, but I'll call their hotel in Anchorage and leave a message about what's happened.”
take Christina?” Uncle Ralph looked at Aunt Grace as if he couldn't believe what he'd heard. “Me? Christina can sleep on your couch.”
“It's a loveseat. Too short.”
“She has a sleeping bag with her. She can sleep on the floor.”
“No!” Two bright red spots flamed on Aunt Grace's cheeks. Her glasses flashed in the sun. “I can't cope with
children,” she said. “I can't and I won't. You have to do your part in this emergency, Ralph. Don't you dare turn your back on your family in its hour of need.”
Jenny started to cry, even though she was the one
who was wanted.
“Nobody has to take me,” Chris said. “I'll stay here with Maggie until Grandma comes home.”
Aunt Grace looked disgusted. “Don't be silly. You and Uncle Ralph will have a good time together. You can get to know each other real well.”
“He doesn't want to get to know me,” Chris said. “And I don't want to get to know him.” To her horror, she began to cry, too.
“Chrissy's crying,” Jenny marveled through her own tears. “I never saw her cry before. Not ever.”
The grownups stared. “Tears won't help,” Aunt Grace said finally. “No need to get upset, Christina.” She glared at Uncle Ralph. “You've made the poor girl feel unwanted,” she said. “Poor child.”
Uncle Ralph looked as if he had a mouthful of vinegar. He opened the car trunk and tossed out Jenny's brown duffel bag.
“Anything else of yours here?” he asked fiercely.
Jenny shook her head.
“Then get in the car, Christina.”
“Get in, I said. Now! We have three hours of driving ahead of us.”
Chris looked at Jenny, the chosen child. She looked at Grandma's empty house, and at Maggie, who seemed puzzled. Chris felt as if only Maggie understood her.
They were both in the way.
Chris got in the car. There was nothing else to do.
She wondered how many times she'd be sick in the next three hours.
Chris's eyes flew open. She sat up straight. Beside her, Uncle Ralph clutched the steering wheel and groaned with every bump.