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The Ghost of Poplar Point (Ghost Mysteries)
GHOST OF POPLAR POINT
Allie Nichols sat in the third row of the old opera house, waiting her turn to audition for the starring role in the town's summer pageant. She had practiced her lines so often she almost knew them by heart, and knew just how she wanted to say them. But the longer she had to wait, the more nervous she became.
She watched as her friend Pam Wright stuttered and stammered her way through a bad case of stage fright. Next, another classmate of Allie's, Julie Horwitz, mumbled her lines quickly and in such a low voice that Allie doubted anyone in the auditorium could hear her.
Then a girl named Janelle Kavanaugh took the stage. From the whispers of the other kids, Allie learned that Janelle had moved to town just that year and that she went to a private school.
"Her mother's the one who wrote the script,"Julie said in a low voice. "And I heard her dad gave all the money for it."
"Wow," said Pam. "He must be kind of a big shot, huh?"
Miss Lunsford, the pretty young director of the pageant, shot them a glance, and they stopped whispering as Janelle took a deep breath and cleared her throat. To their surprise, before she uttered one word, Janelle's face flushed an extraordinary shade of red and she fled from the stage in tears.
Next to try out was Karen Laver, a classmate who was well known to all the kids for her nasty remarks and mocking tongue. She read the entire speech loudly and, in Allie's opinion, rather overdramatically. But Karen received a polite round of applause for her performance.
"Okay, Allie, you're our final reader for this part," called Miss Lunsford.
Allie drew a deep breath and took the stage. She stood for a moment, squinting into the bright stage lights and trying to calm the fluttering in her stomach. She glanced at the audience and was immediately sorry. Karen, now sitting in the front row, was looking at her with a smug, challenging expression.
She told herself to ignore Karen and look instead at her best friend, Dub Whitwell, who sat one row behind Karen. Dub gave Allie a wide grin and a thumbs-up sign, and she tried to smile back.
Allie couldn't see a thing beyond the second row of seats, where Dub sat, and that was fine with her. The rest of the huge old theater loomed back there, dark and cavernous, and if she could see it, she undoubtedly would imagine it filled with people and be even more frightened than she already was.
"You may go ahead," Miss Lunsford said with an encouraging smile in Allie's direction.
Allie began without even looking at the paper in her hands. "Greetings, friends. My name is Laughs-like-a-waterfall. I am a Seneca Indian." So far, so good, she thought. Maybe this wasn't going to be so bad, after all.
Laughs-like-a-waterfall was the pageant's narrator. It was the most important role, with the most lines. Tryouts for the part were open to any girl in town who, like Allie, was twelve, or had just completed the sixth grade. The pageant, the town's first ever, was going to be the final event of the annual daylong summer festival on July 26. It was a depiction of the history of the town of Seneca, showing the relationship between the early European settlers and the local Seneca Indians.
"My age is twelve winters," Allie went on. Suddenly she felt a peculiar shivery sensation down her neck and across her shoulder blades. To her dismay, instead of the next line, she heard herself say, "Skayendady gyasonh."
The odd-sounding syllables echoed through the quiet hall. She felt her cheeks redden in embarrassment. Where had that come from?
There were muffled giggles from the audience. A few kids who hadn't been paying much attention before were now looking up at her with interest. One of the kids whispered loudly, "That wasn't in my script." Miss Lunsford shushed the crowd. In the silence, Allie coughed, then swallowed, and tried to collect herself before continuing.
"I belong to the Wolf Clan." Whew, she thought with relief. She was back on track.
But the next thing she said was another string of unintelligible words.
As the strange sounds fell from her lips, half of her brain screamed frantically, Stop! What are you doing?
The other half, recognizing all too well the odd, quivery feeling that was now running through her entire body, was thinking, Oh, no, not again. Not now.
She forced herself to go on, although she wasn't at all sure what would come out when she opened her mouth. "I wish to tell you a story. It is a story of how your people came to the lands of my people. It is a story of friendship." Good, she thought. You're back to the script. Now finish quickly and get off the stage before you make even more of a fool of yourself.
But then, unable to stop herself, she blurted another burst of incoherent sounds.
Allie watched as Dub's expression turned from puzzlement to concern. Karen Laver was holding a hand to her mouth, trying unsuccessfully to hide her delight at Allie's disaster.
Allie clamped her lips shut. Well, that was that. She'd never get the part now. She was about to flee the stage when she saw, to her surprise, that Miss Lunsford was smiling at her.
"Thank you, Allie. That was very interesting," Miss Lunsford said, standing and clapping. Slowly, uncertainly, others joined in the applause.
"Now, before we have the auditions for the role of Cornplanter, let's take a short break. You have five minutes, everyone, for a quick drink or trip to the bathroom." She held up her hand, fingers extended, and repeated, "Five minutes."
Allie rushed down the steps from the stage, anxious to talk to Dub about what had just happened, but she was blocked by the figure of Karen.
"Too bad, Allie," Karen said, her voice filled with mock sympathy. "You really blew it." Smiling then, she added, "Looks like I've got the part sewed up."
Allie wished for the perfect, witty retort to spring to her lips but, as always, she was too taken aback by Karen's nastiness to think.
Once, when Allie, in despair, had wondered why Karen was so mean, Pam had said it was because Karen was jealous.
"The other kids like you," Pam explained.
"They like Karen, too," Allie answered.
"No," said Pam, shaking her head. "They go along with her because they're afraid of her, not because they like her. Nobody wants to be her next victim."
Now, looking right into Karen's smirking face, Allie tried to follow Dub's often-repeated advice to ignore Karen Laver and everything she said. Sidestepping Karen, she headed toward Dub.
"Al, what happened up there?" he asked, looking worried.
"I'll tell you out in the lobby," Allie answered tersely.
When they were alone, Allie moaned, "Dub, I think it's happening again."
Dub looked quizzical. Then understanding dawned and his expression grew serious. "You mean ... another ghost?"
To her surprise, in the past few months Allie had been visited by a series of three different ghosts. Each spirit had been unable to rest in peace because of an unresolved problem and had come to Allie for help. Each had finally been "put to rest," but only after Allie had taken action, sometimes at great risk to herself, to Dub, and, once, to her four-year-old brother, Michael.
Her sudden attraction for the unhappy spirits hadcaused Dub to joke that she was a "ghost magnet." He was the only person who knew the whole story behind each of her otherworldly adventures, and she was very grateful to have him by her side. The discovery that ghosts not only existed but seemed determined to involve her in their affairs had been an unsettling one. It was fascinating and exhilarating, yes, but also frightening and dangerous.
Furthermore, she didn't really know why ghosts came to her. The question grew more puzzling when she discovered that her little brother, Michael, could see and hear the same spirits, though their parents had no idea that this was going on. That might not have worried Allie, except for one thing she and Dub had learned: ghosts were all different, just like the people they had once been. Some were kind, but some definitely were not.
Michael was too young to understand that some of the things he saw and heard were of supernatural origin, and as far as Allie was concerned the longer he remained in blissful ignorance, the better.
"Al? Hello? I asked you a question."
Dub's voice penetrated Allie's reverie. "Sorry," she said. "What did you say?"
"I said, was it a ghost who made you talk like that during the audition?"
Allie nodded. "It's the only explanation I can think of."
She had learned many of the ways ghosts could communicate and make their wishes known. Having someone else speak through her lips was just one of the interesting--and disconcerting--surprises she had experienced.
"At least the last time you came out with weird stuff you didn't mean to say, it was in English," Dub commented. "What was that?"
"I have no idea," Allie said. "And I can't believe Miss Lunsford was so nice, clapping and smiling afterward as if I'd done a great job. I mean, I totally blew it." She made a face, remembering Karen's comment. "Of course, Karen made sure to point that out to me."
Dub scowled and was about to answer when Miss Lunsford called loudly from the stage, "That's five minutes, people!"
"I'll stay for your audition, Dub," Allie said quickly. "But I'm going to sit in the back. That way, if I start babbling again, nobody will hear me."
Sitting alone in the dimly lit shadows at the rear of the old theater, Allie experienced a mixture of excitement and dread at the thought of another ghostly encounter. Whose spirit was trying to reach her this time, and what did it want from her?
Copyright © 2007 by Cynthia C. DeFelice
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