Ghosts and Ghosts
I woke up with a start the next morning as Agatha floated through my door, the faint scent of jasmine trailing after her.
“Oh Agatha, it’s you,” I said sleepily.
“Who did you think it was?” Agatha replied with a smile. “Had a bad dream?”
“No,” I shook my head. “I had a bad ghost. Sad Sally kept me awake with sobs until I told her about the ghost I met at the library, then she got frightened and left.”
Agatha stopped short.
“You actually had a ghost here last night?”
“Yep. Either that, or I’m going crazy. As Wilda saw Josephine I’m pretty sure I’m sane. And if you look up former employees at school, I bet you’ll find a Mr Crinkle.”
“Why of course,” Agatha said, “Mr Crinkle was one of the former principals.” Agatha nodded to herself as she was remembering something.
“Well, now he’s the protector of Rocky Creek, if you care to know,” I said.
“How interesting! I always wondered how the spirit realm works and now we might find out.” Agatha looked pleased. Only someone in my family would look pleased when their teenage niece broke it to them that the town had a resident protective ghost. Everyone else would have called the nearest place for treating hallucinations. Which, come to think of it, would have been Sanctum Sanctorum.
“You wouldn’t think it interesting if it was your life constantly interrupted by ghosts. I mean, it’s cool ghosts exist and all that. No need to be scared of death anymore, unless you turn into sad Sally, but can you imagine ghosts talking to you at all hours? I mean, come on, what if they start talking to you when you’re on stage?”
“Or at a date?” Agatha smiled, while I felt myself grow pale. I hadn’t considered that particular scenario.
“No worries Lulu, I’m sure you’ll learn to handle your gift. And maybe even tune out ghosts when you really can’t deal with them.” She paused, looking at me thoughtfully. “Change is unsettling at first for most of us, but usually it leads to something good. Remember that!”
“Yeah, Mr Crinkle said I could help when protective spirits couldn’t get through to regular people. They aren’t allowed to interfere with us very much, but apparently there are exceptions. What sad Sally wants I don’t know, she just sobbed. Told me she was stuck in her past life, or something.”
“Maybe you can help her?” Agatha suggested.
“Sure, if only I knew what to do,” I replied. I mean, who knows how to get ghosts to move onto their next life? I’d have to Google it. Not sure Google would produce any useful information though. Having grown up with witches I know there are lots of rituals to perform to clear negative energy (the basic idea being: walk around infusing your own positive energy into the air, while doing smudging with certain herbs as it literally cleans the air by killing bacteria and the likes, then light a salt candle/lamp to release negative ions which, ironically, have a positive effect on health). However, throwing holy water at a ghost or some other sort of exorcism was unlikely to work. Not least because Sally’s problem wasn’t that she was unholy.
“Come on,” Agatha said, “it’s time to get up and face a new day. Use some of Wilda’s citrus water this morning to spray on your clothes. That should awaken your senses!”
“Yes, I’ll do that,” I replied and started to sit up as Agatha left the room. “I’ll see you in the studio,” she said as she exited.
I got up and as I put my feet on the cold wooden floorboards, I felt a wave of energy hit me. It was a new day — I was acting Juliet, I could see ghosts and I was doing a project with Jason. Why mope? Life was filled with interesting things at the moment! The horror I’d felt the night before surrounding the spooky voice about gold in the mountain and the note, as well as my annoyance at being awakened by sad Sally, were all gone. I felt refreshed and ready for adventure — who knew what would happen today?
After completing our morning ritual and having a quick shower using Wilda’s citrus explosion products (including the linen spray Agatha had recommended), I was ready for school. I’d also munched down enough breakfast — a sprouted berry muffin with almond butter, a smoothie shot and an herbal shot — to turn me into the energizer bunny. There are perks of living with health freaks who can cook delicious meals!
As I biked to school I enjoyed the fresh air and foggy morning landscape. It appeared the fog had hung around overnight and it made the fields and forests look magical as it moved around in long strands, hovering just above the ground. A light breeze ever so often made leaves dance in the air. One could really feel fall now and I was very happy with myself for having made my late gran’s famous hot chocolate and packed it in a thermos. It was the best thing to take you through cold days!
Arriving at school I met Johanna just as I was parking my bike.
“Hey, Jo!” I shouted.
“Morning Lulu,” she replied, as she biked up to me.
Johanna has an old bike she’s painted all black, which has been matched with a bright pink saddle and pink basket. My bike is my gran’s old one (they’re the most comfortable ones with saddles that have proper springs to keep your bottom happy, though admittedly they are not the fastest and not suited for mountain biking as they have no gears!) and Johanna had helped me paint it red, with dark yellow and light blue touches.
“I have a surprise for you,” Johanna said once she’d parked and locked her bike.
“Really?” I said. “I’m not sure I can handle more surprises in one week, you know.” In a lower voice, I added: “I had a visit by another ghost last night. One that cried. And I have an issue of being haunted by someone who’s on about gold in the mountain.”
“I think your life is getting more interesting by the minute!”
“That it is. More crazy as well. Who knows what’s next?” I shook my head — I was being sarcastic, but also bewildered. Seeing ghosts all of a sudden is kind of a lot to deal with.
“I know what’s next,” Johanna said. “A make-over. This new you requires a new wardrobe. And I’ve designed just the thing. Just wait till you see my sketches!”
Johanna was beaming at me and I pulled a face.
“Really? A new wardrobe already? I haven’t even figured out how the spirit world works and you want to dress me as a medium?!”
“I promise it isn’t any purple robes, or anything,” Johanna said, still smiling from ear to ear as we made our way inside.
“No, I trust you have better taste than that.” And I did. But I still didn’t trust I’d like to wear the wardrobe — so far all her make-over attempts on me had failed.
Once we were seated in maths class I filled Johanna in on the details from the previous afternoon and evening. I hadn’t texted them to her because, as previously explained, my aunts only have wifi away from the house and cell phones are banned indoors. In fact, they are impossible to use because they’ve set something up blocking reception. You have to walk to the office cabin, or use the dear old landline. I really love the office cabin as it has a glass wall facing the surrounding woods. It’s stunning. It is, however, totally impractical if you want to be texting with someone while doing other things than homework.
We kept chatting away, but I suddenly started paying attention to my surroundings again when I heard a familiar voice — it was the same voice I’d heard in the street outside Mr Crawley’s the night before! Looking up I saw that the voice belonged to the new student, Raya Eastwind.
I must have frozen in mid-air, because Johanna gave me a weird look.
“I heard someone outside Mr Crawley’s last night telling someone else they didn’t care about their plans for becoming mayor and it must have been Raya, because it’s the same voice I heard last night!”
I told Johanna about the incident in further detail.
Johanna shrugged her shoulders. “I guess it could have been her mother? But whoever it was they must be something else if they are to beat Mr Crane. I think he’s more popular than anyone else in this place! Crime is pretty non-existent, the schools are good, there are no homeless people, the medical care is fine, tourism is booming…and every woman above thirty…and a few men too…in this place want to date him!”
I laughed. It was true — Mr Crane was extremely good looking — and after his divorce two years ago I’d heard rumors that a lot of the women in town popped by with food for “the poor man.” I felt more sorry for him having to deal with all the women, than for being without food. After all, between Hetty’s bakery, the delicatessen and three odd restaurants in Rocky Creek and another two in Lookout Village, I’m sure he would have been just fine. Besides, maybe the man could actually cook for himself too!
Just then Jason entered the room, giving me a peculiar look, before he went and sat down next to Elbert in the other side of the room.
“Did you see that?” I asked Johanna.
“Yeah, that was a weird look,” she replied.
I suddenly remembered I’d seen him disappear into some bushes the night before.
“I actually think I saw him last night, outside the library, just as I was getting on my bike, but then he disappeared into some bushes… One minute he was there and the next he was gone. It was a bit…strange.”
“Really? He disappeared into some bushes? Sure he didn’t just walk through a hedge, or something, to get to another path? Shortcut?”
“No, I know those bushes.” I shook my head. “There’s like a large patch filled with them. Maybe he wanted to pee?”
“Outside the library, at night, in the freezing cold? He could just have walked inside the library and used the bathrooms there.”
“You’ve got a point, but you know guys — they just like the fact that they can get away with peeing anywhere. Not the same as for us who literally have to hide in the bushes to do it. Our bottoms are a lot more likely to freeze, too!”
At this Johanna laughed even more, but Mr Wood walked in to start the class and we had to collect ourselves.
After a rather boring day (Maths, Chemistry and Physics) we finally had Culture, Philosophy and Religion. Not that I’d been counting the hours, or anything, not at all.
I felt a bit nervous as I didn’t know why Jason had given me a weird look earlier that morning, but my intention for the day had been to be present and explore the unknown, rather than be freaked out about it. I had been thinking about ghosts, but why not Jason too? He was pretty mysterious, after all.
“Alright, everyone,” Mr Smith said, calling the class into order after the bell rang. “It’s time to continue work on your projects. Today you have to settle on your theme, as you need to get going with how to implement it during the festival after that. We only have two classes a week and next week you need to finalize the implementation process and start preparing your presentation, as the week after you’ll be pitching your ideas. I know it’s little time, so you will have to work on it at home as well. Hopefully you’ll find it’s fun work!”
Mr Smith looked pleased with himself. No doubt, because this was the only thing we did as part of the curriculum that was community work.
“Off you go to join your groups, spread out in the classroom and go to the school library if you need to do some research.”
Myself, Jason, Elbert and Johanna gathered in a corner.
“Do you guys think we need to do research in the library today?” Elbert asked.
“I don’t need to,” Johanna replied. “Anyone else?”
I shook my head.
“Let’s find out what people have come up with so far, then we’ll know if we need the library, or not,” Jason suggested. Good point. Of course. As always. It was Jason.
“OK,” Elbert said. “Let’s get started.”
“I was thinking,” Johanna said, “that while we can incorporate this theme into the whole festival, we can’t make all of it reflect it. I mean it’s not like I can provide clothes for everyone who has a stand at the Christmas market. Nor, will everyone want to sell goods from the Gold Rush era and there are many events happening that are super modern, so I suggest we have a few stands in one part of the market. Then, in other ways maybe, we can get the theme across for all of the market. It would be much cooler if it was like the Renaissance Faire in L.A. where everyone dresses up and so on, but we’re only a few months away from Christmas…”
“Good point. It will be freezing as well, so dressing up in clothes from the time will be harder. But we could do a fashion show, or have our stands inside somewhere, I guess.”
“Yeah, I was thinking of that too,” Johanna said. “I’d need a lot of leather and fur to make some of the outdoor clothes!”
“Beware the vegans,” I added.
“You know, all the leather actually comes from the meat industry,” Jason said, looking serious. “If people didn’t use the leather to make shoes and clothes, it’d all be burnt and cause a lot of nasty pollution.”
I had not known that.
“Good point Jason, but none of the vegans know that, plus they hate meat eaters and we’re in California, where vegans are more prone to shooting humans than stopping for facts. We don’t want Johanna shot,” Elbert said and winked at her.
Elbert laughed too, but then added: “I guess we shouldn’t make fun of them, because killing for just the fur, or leather, isn’t funny and I totally respect people who give up meat to help animals, but the militant ones are a bit OTT.”
“OK, so we want a separate area for the theme, like some stands, or a mini-museum or something, and incorporate it in other ways throughout the festival. Like a theatre performance, or something,” Jason said and nodded at me. I immediately felt my heart do something funny. Why did he have to look so good? When he looked at me I could have sworn electricity flowed from him to me. My skin tingled.
I pulled myself together and looked away from him, but I still felt the electricity on my skin. If Tesla could get electricity out of the ground, he sure could have gotten it out of me at that moment!
“I did some research,” I said, as I found my voice again. “I found some pretty interesting characters from the Gold Rush — a murderous actress and entertainer, a woman smuggling slaves to the free States, a Madame Mustache who had her own card parlor and a coach driver who was California’s first recorded transgender woman…or man. Not sure any of them had anything to do with Rocky Creek, but if we find some story from this area we can weave them into it somehow.”
“And,” Elbert said, “we could release some sort of imitation of a newspaper from back in the day with an invented story, or simply a leaflet describing the times.”
“Good idea,” Jason nodded.
“Yeah,” Johanna said, “I could add my sketches there for Gold Rush era clothes, if nothing else. I mean if we can’t arrange a fashion show, or something. We’d need money for a show and I’m pretty sure we have a very limited budget.”
“It could be like an ad,” I said. “I still think you could sell the clothes. Made to measure. I told you people love everything from steampunk to fairytale clothing these days. I’m sure lots of people in L.A. and San Fran are into that kind of thing.”
“Yep,” Jason said. “We get all the weirdos in California.”
“All the ones with imagination, not weirdos,” Elbert corrected him. “But you are a total weirdo. And your wardrobe totally lacks in imagination.”
Jason rolled his eyes, but smiled.
“Did you find anything?” I asked Elbert.
“I looked at magic tricks and famous magicians at the time. It was just before Houdini, sadly. But for sure I could pull off some tricks from that time. Dressed in a suit from the era,” he added, looking at Johanna, who beamed at him. This made Jason smile. I suddenly wondered if Elbert had said something about Johanna? As usual, I couldn’t read Jason. Infuriating.
“And you?” Johanna asked, looking at Jason.
“I was going to look for newspaper clippings in the library, but I was…interrupted.” At this Jason actually blushed and averted his eyes. Did it have something to do with the bushes? Who gets interrupted by someone and disappears into some bushes though? Weird.
“I will have a look as soon as possible,” Jason said once he collected himself. “Maybe we can all meet one evening this week? To discuss I mean? I guess what we need is some ideas for what to sell in the stands, an idea for a show to perform and ideas for the newspaper, or brochure.”
I was suddenly hit by inspiration.
“I can ask Wilda if she can make some old-fashioned potions and Hetty if she wants to make some candy from the time. Or bake something. We can label it all with printouts. Lots can be found online. Like old labels I mean. I’ve seen them on Pinterest.”
“Wonderful! Everyone likes Hetty’s stuff!” Elbert’s eyes lit up.
“Yeah, that’d be good,” Jason said and I could almost see him salivating. If only his reaction was that strong when thinking about me! But no. Cake.
Johanna nodded. “We should find someone who can sell something else from that time too. I’ll have a think about it.”
“When and where can we meet?” Elbert asked.
“We could meet at Lulu’s,” Johanna suggested. “Her aunts always have the best snacks and there’s plenty of room.”
“That’s fine,” I said. “I guess everyone knows where I live?”
Everyone nodded. The charm of small town living and having an uncle who’s a vet means pretty much everyone has visited with their pets. Not to mention another uncle being a carpenter and a bunch of aunts who have a solution for almost any problem. No advertisement needed for people to find my home!
“When do we meet there?” Elbert asked.
“How about Thursday?” Jason suggested.
We all nodded.
“Done!” Elbert exclaimed.
I looked at him, as he shone with excitement. It seemed to me Elbert was always happy. He enjoyed pretty much every class we had together and he loved talking to everyone.
Just as I was thinking that, he launched into a spirited description about a magic trick he’d read about from the 19th century. As he spoke I dared sneaking a look at Jason, who was leaning back in his chair, observing his friend. He seemed to enjoy Elbert’s enthusiasm, which was sweet. Personally, I felt butterflies fluttering their wings in my stomach again. How could he be so mesmerizing to look at? He was just a boy listening to his friend, but seeing his enjoyment made my legs go all jelly-like. As if it was something extraordinary to see him being supportive of a friend. As if being nice was a superpower that amazed me.
I shook my head. I clearly needed someone to examine my mind. I was as haunted by thoughts of Jason as I was by ghosts.
Thankfully I got through Culture, Philosophy and Religion without losing my mind entirely, but it came close when we packed up to leave and Jason smiled at me again — I actually tripped over a chair.
The rest of the day was uneventful and I biked to the library after school to study. I did that almost every day as it was nice to have homework done before getting home.
Just before I got to the library my bike started feeling funny. I stopped and looked down at the wheels — you’d never believe it, but my back tire was flat. I must have punctured it!
Sighing, I got off the bike. What was it about me and flat tires these days? At least this time I thought I only needed to patch it up, not exchange the whole thing.
As I turned and walked towards Mr Crawley’s shop I heard a shrill voice.
“That’s well done! At least now the whole wheel didn’t explode.”
“No, that was a bit much,” another voice replied.
“We got the job done that time too…it was just a bit dramatic. Now, let’s get going, we can’t stay and chat with her.”
“I know, I know, but it’s such a stupid rule. I’d like to speak to her.”
“It’s not a stupid rule and you know it. There’s a difference between ghosts and ghosts and we’re not those kinds of ghosts,” a third voice added.
I looked around me as these three voices argued. They sounded like old ladies, but there were, of course, no old ladies around. It was ghosts arguing about their duties as ghosts and, presumably, about how they’d punctured my tires. Great, I was now officially haunted by ghosts who puncture tires! Why, oh, why?