It was December, and the days were really, really short, so it was already dark when the school day ended. So we decided that he would come visit on the weekend, and we’d go to the Haunted House in the middle of the day. Jose didn’t want to get up early on a Saturday, so we agreed that he would come at 11:00. At first, he said we should have lunch and then go, but then I thought maybe that was a bad idea, because if we had full stomachs and got really scared, we might get sick. But then I thought that if we went with empty stomachs, it might be even worse, because I get shaky when I’m hungry, and it might be a distraction while we were Investigating. Finally we agreed that we would eat half of our lunch, then go, then eat the other half when we came back.
Then we had to decide what to tell Granpy. After the first time I met the Duchess and told him everything, I didn’t get in trouble, but he also didn’t change the rule, so Technically I was still not allowed to go to the Haunted House. I thought that maybe we should as Granpy for permission first, so that I wouldn’t break any rules, but Jose said that we Absolutely Could Not do that, because he would Almost Certainly say no, and then if I went, I would really be breaking the rules, but if we went without asking, we could Get Away With It because the rule is only for me, and not for Jose. He said that if we were together, then the rule probably Didn’t Count, because that rule was about me going alone. I told Jose that I didn’t think that’s what it meant, but he said that if we asked, and found out for sure that we weren’t allowed, then it would be All Over. He said, “Do you want to find proof of ghosts or not?” and of course I had to say Yes, I do, so finally I agreed, but I didn’t feel very good about it.
After we had half our lunch with Granpy (it was cheese sandwiches and pickles), we said we were going for a walk in the woods, which was not a lie, even though it wasn’t the whole truth. Granpy said that was Just Fine, but first he wanted to talk to me alone. Jose said he’d get his shoes and coat and gloves and hat on and wait outside for me, and Granpy sat down at the table with me, and I thought it was probably All Over because Granpy knew what we were doing and he was going to say we couldn’t go.
What Granpy said was, “You know, Princess, Jose is a nice young man, but he’s a little older than you.” I nodded my head Yes because I did know that, although it was not what I’d expected him to say. “Princess, you’re a very beautiful girl, do you know that?” And I nodded my head Yes again, because Granpy and Granmy told me that all the time. I looked at Granpy and saw that he had his Line, and I didn’t know what was happening, which made me very nervous. Then he said, “You’re also a very intelligent young lady.” And again I nodded my head Yes, even though it wasn’t exactly a question, because that was another thing people told me all the time. Then he paused for a minute, and finally he said, “I want you to have a nice walk with Jose. Just remember, you never have to do anything you don’t want to, even if Jose or anyone else from school tells you to. Okay?”
And then I almost started crying, because I was sure that Granpy really did know what we were doing. He was telling me I didn’t have to go to the Haunted House if I didn’t want to. But, he wasn’t telling me I couldn’t go. He was making it My Decision. So I said Okay, Granpy, can I go outside now? And he said Yes, and I got dressed and went out where Jose was waiting in the backyard.
When I got outside, the sun was hiding behind a cloud, and Jose was trying to make friends with Simon, who was sitting on the chair under the tree branch and keeping out of the snow. Jose was reaching out to pet Simon’s back, but Simon kept turning his body so he was out of the way. It was very funny, because Jose obviously didn’t know how to pet a cat the right way. I walked over and patted Simon on the head and rubbed his face a little and Jose said, “How come he lets you but not me?” and I just laughed. Then Jose said, “What did your grandfather want to say?” and I remembered to look at his face and I saw that he had a Line just like Granpy and Granmy, but it was smaller than theirs are. He was definitely worried.
I didn’t know how to answer Jose’s question. It was an easy question, but Granmy always taught me it’s not polite to share secrets with people. And when I asked her how I know if something is a secret, she said that if someone wants to tell me without anyone else hearing, that means it’s a secret, and that’s exactly what Granpy had done. But Granmy also told me it’s not polite to talk about someone Behind Their Back, which means when they’re not there to hear you. Granpy had done that, too, and I wasn’t sure how to be polite. Even worse, Granpy had made it my decision whether to go to the Haunted House or not, and that was a lot of Responsibility, and that meant I had to make sure I made the right decision.
So I thought about it. Jose had said that this was our Best Chance to find proof of ghosts. If we got proof of ghosts, then everyone would know I wasn’t crazy or Just looking for attention. There would be no more specialists, and even if I was the only one who could see the ghosts, Jose would know for sure that they were real, and he would tell Granpy, and maybe Granpy could use chemistry to help us figure out why only I could see them, and how they get Energy but don’t make Heat, and answer all the questions we had about them, and maybe even figure out how to let other people see them.
On The Other Hand, the Haunted House was a scary place. The Duchess might still be there with the Dead Eye ghosts and the old man and old woman with their magazines, and all the horrible ghost spiders and other bugs. Granpy still hadn’t changed the rule about not going there, not exactly, and we might still get in trouble. And anyway, what if we couldn’t even find any proof? What if we went in there and terrible things happened and we got in trouble and we didn’t even get any photos of floating books or pencils or keys or glasses or anything? Actually, once I was thinking about it, I realized that the only thing the ghosts moved last time was the rocking chair, back and forth, and if I took a picture of that, no one would be able to see that it was moving.
While I was thinking about all this, and getting more and more nervous, Jose was just looking at me with his Line and waiting for me to decide something. But in my head, I was going back and forth and back and forth, and I couldn’t decide. There was no right answer. No matter what I chose, something bad might happen.
Finally, Jose said, “Hey, are you okay?” And I hate when people ask that question, because sometimes it’s like How are you? and you’re just supposed to say you’re fine, but sometimes someone really wants to know if you’re okay and if you say you’re fine then you’re lying to them. And I already had one big decision in my head, so I didn’t answer him. I just looked at the ground and shrugged my shoulders, which means I don’t know. After a few seconds, Jose said, “Listen, if you’re scared, we don’t have to go to the Haunted House. But really, you don’t have to worry. I’ll be with you, and nothing bad will happen.”
It was true that he would be with me. And he was probably right that nothing bad would happen. We were very careful to plan everything. Jose was carrying a little backpack with some food and water and a first aid kit and a flashlight in it, just in case we got stuck somewhere. I had my phone, and he had his, too, in case something happened to mine. We were both wearing good winter clothes to keep us warm and dry. We picked the perfect time of day, and we had at least three hours before it would start to get dark. And there was snow on the ground, so if anything did happen to us and we couldn’t find help, Granpy could follow our footprints to find us.
But I was also scared about what would happen with Jose there. Maybe the ghosts wouldn’t come out if I wasn’t alone. Maybe we wouldn’t find any Proof of anything. Or maybe we would find out that I really was crazy. That was the scariest thing of all.
But finally, I decided that we had to go. If we didn’t go, then Jose and Granpy would always think I was either crazy or Just looking for attention. No one else would know what was in that Haunted House. Worst of all, I would never find out if the Duchess really needed help. It was time to be brave. So I told Jose Okay, let’s go, and we started to walk.
First I showed him my tree. It wasn’t so scary now that I wasn’t alone. There was no one up on my branch, and the sun came out from behind a cloud, and I started to feel less scared. We went through the woods the same way I’d gone the first time, parallel to the road, heading straight for the Haunted House. Jose had never seen the house before, and when we got there and he looked at the outside of the house, his eyebrows went way up and his eyes made great big Os. Then I showed him the back of the house, where the tree was that we could use to get inside, and I explained how to get back out, too. There was no one there this time, and the garden and all the strange things in it were mostly buried under snow, so it didn’t look as scary as before, even though the house was still old and falling apart.
Jose went over the fence first. He said that was his job, because he was The Man, and I didn’t know what he was talking about, but it sounded important, so I let him do it. Then I went over, and we were both in the backyard looking at the light metal screen door.
I looked at Jose and I noticed that he was breathing kind of funny, deep breaths but kind of shaky. And I looked at his hands and they were all Balled Up into fists even though it must have been hard to do that with his gloves on. And I decided that he was probably scared, even though he had promised that nothing bad would happen, and that made me scared, too. But we were already inside, and we had already Made Our Decision, and it was time to go see what was inside that house.
Jose went first again. He went up the couple of steps to the door and he opened it and he went inside the porch, and I went in right behind him. Everything was the same. There were the piles of magazines and broken flower pots and mismatched old chairs and the big wooden spool turned into a table. And Jose was looking right at one of the chairs, where the old man with the straw hat was sitting, turning the page in his magazine.