Chapter Six


    Aunt Tabby may think it is a big joke to go around frightening people who are exploring secret passages, but I do not. In fact, I think it is in very poor taste, as Uncle Drac would say. It did not take me long to realize that ball-and-chain ghosts do not scream, "DRAT THIS BOILER!" In fact, I don't think that ball-and-chain ghosts are even a little bit interested in boilers.

    "DRAT THIS BOILER! I HATE THIS GRATE!" I could hear Aunt Tabby yelling through the wall of the secret passage as clearly as if I was standing next to her. I was glad I wasn't standing next to her, as I could also hear her kicking the coal scuttle and throwing the shovel at the wall. But time was running out. Soon a whole bunch of people who liked haunted houses would be walking around my house, deciding that they were going to live there instead of me. And if I was not careful, I would be stuck in a secret passage and not able to do a thing about it. I decided I had to give up on the balcony idea and go back and plan a Slimebucket Surprise. It was better than nothing.

    Since Aunt Tabby had given me a really big fright, I wanted to give her one back before I went. I looked for a chink in the wall to shine my flashlight through so that she would think there was a ghost in the boiler room--and that was when I saw him. I saw a ghost. He was sitting in a dark corner a bit far- ther down the secret passage. At first I was so surprised that I thought he was just an ordi- nary boy, so I said, "Hey! What are you doing here?" But when he looked up at me, there was something about his face that made me shiver, and I knew he must be a ghost. He had watery, ghostly eyes, and his face was kind of transparent and glowed with a pale light. I thought he was probably a ghost from long ago, as he had a funny bowl hair- cut and wore a tunic with a long hood.

    He had a dagger tucked into his belt too, which I thought looked pretty good-- Aunt Tabby won't let me have a dagger, however much I ask her. In fact, I felt as though I had seen him some- where before, as he looked just like the pic- tures of medieval pages in my knight-time storybook. I was pleased that he wasn't a nasty ball- and-chain ghost. I went up to him and asked, just to make sure, "Are you a real ghost?" He didn't answer--in fact he looked scared, like he had seen a ghost.

    It was a bit disappointing, really, as that was kind of backward. I was meant to be scared of him. "So what's your name?" I asked. He still didn't answer, which I thought was rude. Aunt Tabby would have told him it was rude too. He looked away and stared at the floor, and I could tell he was hoping that I would just go away. But there was no way I was going to walk away from the very first ghost I had ever found, especially after I'd been looking for one for such a long time. "You must have a name, " I told him. I had expected a ghost to be more fun than this one was turning out to be. But then I heard some- thing that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. A weird, hollow whisper filled up the air all around me.

    "Edmund . . . " the whisper said. It was him--the ghost boy--talking. And it was spooky. Edmund floated up from the floor and drifted over toward me. I took a step back, as I suddenly wasn't so sure that I wanted to talk to a ghost after all. And then Edmund said something really odd--he said, "Are you the Tabitha?" He spoke with a strange accent that reminded me of some French people who had once turned up at the house, thinking it was a guesthouse. They hadn't stayed long. "No, " I told him, "I'm the . . . I'm Araminta. " "Good, " said Edmund, and he sort of walked up the wall and began to wander upside down along the ceiling.

    "I do not like the Tabitha, " he said in his funny accent. "The Tabitha is noisy. " He had a point, I thought. There were times when I didn't like the Tabitha either, and the Tabitha was most definitely noisy. In fact, just as Edmund was saying that, I could hear Aunt Tabby angrily shoveling coal into the boiler and banging the door closed with a loud clang. I figured Edmund must have heard a lot of Aunt Tabby's tantrums over the years. Then, just as I was beginning to like Edmund, he said, "You must go now. " "What?" I asked him. "You must go. You may not come any closer. " "Why?" He didn't answer. He just floated up and down in front of me with his arms out- stretched, as if he could stop me from going past him.

    He need not have bothered, as there was no way I was going to walk through a ghost. Brrr. No way at all. "Well, I don't want to go any farther, so there, " I told him. "I only came to look for the way to the balcony. " "The balcony is not down here, " said Edmund, who had begun slowly spinning around for some weird reason--don't ask me why. "So you must leave. Farewell. "  It sounded to me as though Edmund knew where the balcony was, so I asked him if he would take me there. "If I take you to the balcony, will you go away?" he asked. I don't hang around where I'm not wanted. I have better things to do. "Well, I don't want to stay down here, do I?" I told him. "Don't you?" said Edmund. "Oh good. Follow me. " So I followed him.

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