Eustace, p.1Catherine Jinks
CATHERINE JINKS was born in Brisbane in 1963 and grew up in Sydney and Papua New Guinea. She studied medieval history at university, and her love of reading led her to become a writer. She lives in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales with her Canadian husband, Peter, and her daughter, Hannah.
Catherine Jinks is the author of over twenty books for children and adults, including the award-winning Pagan series.
To Fiona Rhodes,
First published in 2003
This edition published in 2007
Copyright © Catherine Jinks, 2003
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.
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National Library of Australia
Jinks, Catherine, 1963–.
Eustace: a ghost story.
For ages 10–14.
1. Ghosts – Juvenile fiction. 2. Hill End (N.S.W.) – Juvenile fiction. I. Title.
(Series: Jinks, Catherine, 1963– Allie’s ghost hunters).
Cover design by Tabitha King
Text design by Jo Hunt and Tabitha King
Typeset by Midland Typesetters
CHAPTER # one
CHAPTER # two
CHAPTER # three
CHAPTER # four
CHAPTER # five
CHAPTER # six
CHAPTER # seven
CHAPTER # eight
CHAPTER # nine
CHAPTER # ten
CHAPTER # eleven
Once upon a time, I didn’t believe in ghosts. Then my family moved into a haunted house. You may have heard of the ghost who was haunting it; her name was Eglantine, and she’s quite famous now. There was a report about her on Channel Nine, and an American program called ‘Stranger than Fiction’ made an entire episode about her. She’s still a hot topic on the Internet, despite the fact that she disappeared more than six months ago.
After she left, I figured that I’d learned just about all there is to know about the paranormal. But what I didn’t realise then – and do now – is that dealing with one ghost doesn’t make you an expert. There are no real experts when it comes to ghosts. It’s not like that movie Ghostbusters. As far as I can see, every ghost is different from every other ghost, because every person is different from every other person. That’s why research is so important. It’s easier to deal with a ghost if you know exactly what ghost you’re dealing with.
Not that you’re certain to get rid of it, even then. That’s what I’ve discovered. They’re tricky things, ghosts; I didn’t realise how tricky, before I went to Hill End. I didn’t understand that just because you’ve seen one ghost, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve seen them all.
CHAPTER # one
The Hill End trip was a school excursion. A camping trip, to be exact. There were eighteen people on the bus that pulled away from our school one Friday morning: a teacher, five parents (including my mum) and twelve kids (including me). The group might have been bigger if we hadn’t been going on a camping trip, but it was probably just as well that no one else wanted to come, because the bowels of the bus were absolutely stuffed with gear. Eskies and tent poles and gym bags and frying pans and I don’t know what else. There wasn’t room for even one more firelighter. You’d have thought that we were colonising Mars, or something. The bus could hardly move up the steeper hills.
Personally, I would have preferred to go by car. But a bus had been hired, so I was stuck in the same vehicle with kids like Amy Driscoll and Malcolm Morling for four hours, except when we were let off, at Lithgow and Mudgee, to buy food and go to the toilet. As a matter of fact, I don’t really want to talk about that bus trip. You probably don’t want to hear about it either, because long-distance school bus trips are all the same: there’s always someone who throws up, and someone who spills a drink, and someone who takes his pants down and sticks his bare bum against the back window. This one was no different. By the time we reached Hill End, my mum was beginning to have second thoughts about the whole expedition. She’s not used to dealing with masses of kids, you see. She works in a bank, and as an artist’s model, and she also does a bit of tarot reading on the side. They’re all very peaceful jobs. You don’t get much yelling or scuffling or flying lollies when you’re in artists’ studios or bank branches. And even my brother Bethan isn’t too bad most of the time. Not like Malcolm Morling.
When we finally chugged down the long, leafy road that leads into Hill End, poor Mum had a throbbing headache. It hadn’t been a pleasant journey, what with the bumpy, unsealed road between Mudgee and Hill End, and the boys down the back making faces and rude gestures at people stuck behind us in their cars, and Tammy Ng throwing up into an empty garbage bag. I felt sorry for Tammy; I knew that she would never hear the end of it. I felt sorry for Mum too, because she’d forgotten to pack the Panadol. And I felt very, very sorry for myself, because Jesse Gerangelos had just spent the previous three hours fooling around with Amy Driscoll.
As a matter of fact, I reckon that Amy Driscoll probably signed up for the trip so she could spend the whole weekend flirting with Jesse. She was certainly off to a good start on the bus, despite the fact that her father was there. But her father, whose name is Victor, wasn’t especially interested in what Amy was doing. He was too busy flirting with Tammy’s mum, who is very pretty. The other parents on the bus were Angus’s dad, who is big and hairy and who didn’t talk much, and Tony’s mum, who is a smoker, but nice. As far as I could see, she doesn’t deserve a son like Tony, who was very rude to her. I caught Mum shaking her head over this more than once. Mum didn’t get along too well with any of these people, incidentally: Tammy’s mum was too shy, Angus’s dad was too silent, Tony’s mum allowed her son to get away with murder, and Amy’s dad, according to my mum, was a ‘sleazebag’. So Mum talked mostly to Mrs Patel, our teacher, when the poor thing could spare a moment. She was kept pretty busy during the bus trip, separating troublemakers, rounding up strays and cleaning up puke. Like I said before, it was a horrible trip.
So why were we all there? It wasn’t as if we had to go. Well – I told you why Amy was there: so that she could flirt with Jesse. Jesse was there (I later found out), not because he was interested in history, but because his older brother Raphael had gone on a similar excursion once, and had managed to persuade some kindly farmer to buy him a bottle of booze at the Royal Hotel. No doubt Jesse was hoping that he himself would have the same kind of luck. And it must have been Jesse who persuaded Malcolm Morling and Tony Karavias to come along too. They’re his gang; he never seems to go anywhere without them.
As for me, I’m the last person you would have expected to see on a camping trip. I certainly didn’t want to go, not at first. But when my mum found Mrs Patel’s crumpled note at the bottom of my school bag, she got all
‘This sounds good, Allie,’ she said. (I should explain that my mum’s a bit of a hippy; hence the fact that my name’s Alethea, which means ‘truth’ in Greek, and my brother’s name is Bethan, which means ‘life’ in Welsh.) ‘Would you like to go to Hill End? We could manage it, I’m sure.’
‘No, thank you,’ I replied.
‘Oh, come on. It’s supposed to be a wonderful place. Very historic.’
‘I know.’ Mrs Patel had been talking about it for weeks. Everyone in my class had been told, over and over again, that Hill End used to have twenty-eight hotels during the Gold Rush era, when thousands of people were digging in the mines surrounding the town. Now there’s only one hotel and a thin scattering of houses. But because all those houses are very old and historic, and because you can still see traces of the nineteenth-century mines, a lot of tourists go to Hill End. A lot of tourists, a lot of artists, and a lot of school students whose teachers think that it might be a good educational experience to explore a genuine Gold Rush town.
‘It would only be for two nights,’ Mum mused, poring over the fine print on Mrs Patel’s note. ‘Ray’s got all that camping gear he uses when he goes out to draw trees for the Department of Forestry. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind lending it to us.’
‘What do you mean, to us?’ I demanded. ‘You won’t be going.’
‘Oh, I think I might. I’ve always wanted to go to Hill End.’
‘But it’s a school excursion, Mum!’
‘Yes, but Mrs Patel says here that she can’t get any other teachers to help out, so she’s asking for parents to volunteer as supervisors. I wouldn’t mind doing that.’
‘But, Mum,’ I wailed, ‘it’s camping! You hate camping!’
‘No, I don’t. What gave you that idea?’
‘You did! When we went camping last time! You said that you would never, ever do it again!’
‘Oh, Allie.’ Mum laughed. ‘That was nearly five years ago. You were only seven, then, and Bethan was only three. Of course it was a bad experience. I should never have taken you both – you were much too young.’
‘I used to love camping, before you were born. Your father and I used to spend weeks in the Blue Mountains, communing with nature. Of course,’ she added snippily, in the tone of voice that she always uses when she talks about my dad, ‘I was the one who organised all the supplies and everything. Jim seemed to think that he could live out there under bits of bark, eating bush food. If it weren’t for me, he would have died of exposure.’
I’m always confused when Mum starts to talk about Dad. He lives in Thailand now; I haven’t seen him since I was four, though he phones us once a month. Mum doesn’t mention him often, but when she does she gets this sarcastic note in her voice. Then I feel as if I want to defend him, but how can I? Because I don’t really know him.
So I tend to shut up and say nothing. That’s why Mum won the argument about the camping trip, and I had to face the horrible prospect of two nights spent in a sleeping bag.
But as the trip drew closer, I began to think that it might not be so bad after all. For one thing, Bethan wasn’t invited. He’s still only eight, and it was a Year Six excursion, so he had to stay at home with Ray for the weekend. Poor Ray. Bethan has cricket on Saturday mornings, and likes to practise his bowling up at the local nets on Saturday afternoons. What’s more, on Sundays he takes his skateboard down to the park whenever he can find someone older to go along with him. (Mum won’t let him go, otherwise.) So poor Ray had a miserable weekend, on account of the fact that he’s an artist, and hates all sport. Won’t even watch the footy. I’ve known him for five years now, ever since Mum first met him, and in all that time he’s never once shown the slightest interest in any kind of sporting event. When the Olympics were on he shut himself in his studio, with earplugs in his ears.
It’s amazing that he and Bethan get on so well.
Another good thing about the trip was that Michelle decided to come. Michelle is my best friend. Though she reads books (like me), and gets high marks in geometry and maths, she’s also a very stylish girl, and rarely leaves her house without putting on earrings and hand cream and toenail polish. That’s why I hadn’t expected her to sign up for the Hill End excursion. Somehow I couldn’t picture her in a tent, or a public shower block.
‘It’s my mum,’ she explained to me.
‘She’s got a new boyfriend, and she wants to go away with him for the weekend. That’s why she wants me to go away.’
‘She’s bought me a whole new tent,’ Michelle said plaintively, ‘and now she says that I have to learn to put it up. How will I ever learn to put it up? I can’t even put up my Barbie swimming pool.’
‘You won’t need a tent,’ I pointed out. ‘You can sleep in ours. It’s huge – it sleeps four people. It’s got a door and a window and everything.’
Michelle looked at me doubtfully. I don’t think she’s ever slept in a room with anyone. (She’s an only child.) But when I told her about Ray’s portable gas stove, and fold-out camp chairs, and the insulated ground sheet, she agreed to share our tent. As a result, she didn’t have to bring along anything except her clothes, her toiletries and her sleeping bag, which was a fancy one made for mountain climbers or Arctic explorers – I can’t remember which. You were supposed to be able to roll it up so that it would fit in a tube about the size of a large container of Sara Lee chocolate ice-cream. Once we’d unrolled it, however, we were never able to fit it back into its little blue tube. We had a hard time fitting it back into the bus, let alone the tube.
But Michelle’s sleeping bag isn’t important. I’m only talking about it because I don’t know how to tell you the real reason I went on that trip. It’s very embarrassing, and I’m ashamed of myself for being such a hopeless idiot, but the fact is that at the time of our Hill End trip, like just about every other girl in Year Six, I had a crush on Jesse Gerangelos. Yes, that’s right. The same Jesse Gerangelos whose brother got expelled for setting fire to the school gym mats. The same Jesse Gerangelos who climbed on top of the assembly hall roof. The same Jesse Gerangelos who called me a loony-tune when it first got around that our house was haunted – that Jesse Gerangelos. You might be asking: what’s wrong with you, Allie? What the hell did you see in that stirrer? Well, for one thing I saw someone who isn’t by any means a fool, despite the fact that he hangs out with yobbos. You might disagree with this, but I assure you, he’s not stupid; that poem he wrote about underpants, for Mrs Patel – it might have been rude, but it was actually quite clever. (And it was clever, too, the way he acted up until Mrs Patel asked him to read out his homework poem, or hadn’t he done it? I’m sure she’s regretted that request ever since.) Don’t get me wrong; I could have written that poem myself, easily. But I’m not so good at making snappy jokes, and Jesse is. Once, when I passed Jesse and his mates sitting on the stairs near the assembly hall, Tony Karavias cried out: ‘Hey, Allie Gebhardt! Have you ever worn a bikini?’ Whereupon Jesse, quick as a flash, turned to him and said: ‘Why? Have you?’
Of course, everyone laughed at Tony – which is perhaps the reason why Jesse made his comment in the first place. I don’t suppose he was trying to do me a favour. But it was smart, I thought. And helpful. And it made me wonder if perhaps Jesse wasn’t a total deadhead. It even made me wonder if he liked me a little bit. Just a tiny, weeny bit. And when you start thinking like that, it isn’t long before you find yourself watching that person out of the corner of your eye, and wondering where he is if you can’t see him, and laughing at all his jokes (even if they’re sometimes a bit dumb), and admiring the way he wears his school shirts all loose and floppy, and wishing that he would sit next to you instead of Amy Driscoll . . . that sort of thing.
Besides, you have to admit that Jesse’s good-looking. Very good-looking. Even now, though I’m well and truly over him, I can’t deny that he has the longest eyelashes
Anyway, that’s the third reason why I was feeling positive about this trip – because Jesse was going. I figured that, even if it was a total disaster, only good would come of sitting around a campfire with Jesse Gerangelos, or sleeping near him under the stars. God, I was stupid. I can’t bear to think about how stupid I was. I knew perfectly well that he couldn’t be trusted, that he was always mucking about, that he probably wasn’t interested in me – or in anything much, except his brothers’ cars – and I was still pining after him.
You’d think that I would have known better, especially since Jesse and his mates were one of the main reasons why our bus trip was so awful. Another reason was that us kids didn’t get along much better than the adults. We all ended up in the usual groups, and didn’t mix despite the best efforts of Mrs Patel, who’s always forcing kids like Tammy to work in project teams with kids like Amy. Poor Tammy – she didn’t want anything to do with Amy, who of course stuck close to Jesse, Tony and Malcolm. Zoe did whatever Amy did. Angus and Serge were inseparable, as always. And Peter Cresciani followed me around – I don’t know why. Perhaps it was because his mates hadn’t come. Perhaps he found Angus and the other boys a bit dull, though Angus’s dad was the one who obviously felt responsible for Peter, helping him to pitch his tent and fry his bread. Whatever the reason, Peter always seemed to be hovering nearby, a red baseball cap pulled down low over his nose and a backpack slung over one shoulder.
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