About the Author
Joan Lowery Nixon (1927—2003) was an American journalist and author, specializing in historical fiction and mystery books for children and young adults. Some of her popular books include The Kidnapping of Christina Lattimore, the Orphan Train Adventures series, and The Other Side of Dark, the last of which was adapted into a television movie entitled Awake to Danger (1995). Nixon won four Edgar Allan Poe Awards from the Mystery Writers of America, and had five additional nominations. She died in 2003 of pancreatic cancer.
Read an Excerpt
The House Has Eyes
By Joan Lowery Nixon
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1996 Joan Lowery Nixon
All rights reserved.
John Quinn took a sip of coffee and said, "I heard that the old Everhart mansion has been rented."
Brian looked up from his scrambled eggs. "Dad, that's weird," he said. "Everybody knows that awful old house is haunted. No one ever goes near it. Sam Miyako said that for the past couple of years people have seen strange lights in the mansion at night—ghost lights."
Mr. Quinn frowned. "All this talk about ghosts is nonsense. We don't believe in ghosts."
"You mean that you don't believe in ghosts, Dad," Brian said. "There has to be some reason for those lights."
Sean turned to their father. "Sam said ghosts are made up of stuff called ectoplasm, and it collects in closets and floats out at night, and hovers over our beds, and—"
"I think we've had enough of Sam's scary stories," Mr. Quinn said to Sean. "There is no such thing as ghostly ectoplasm. If that's why you had a nightmare last night—"
Mrs. Quinn interrupted. She looked firmly at Sean as she said, "If anything collects in the closet and floats out at night and hovers over our beds, it comes from dirty clothes and sweaty socks that should have been put in the hamper and not in the closet."
"But ectoplasm ..."
"Not in our closets," she said. "I won't allow it." Mrs. Quinn shook her head. "Just imagine the dreadful state the Everhart place must be in. The mansion has been vacant for years. I'm sure it will need a great deal of care to put it and the furnishings back in shape again."
"It was built way off by itself, down by the bay," Brian said. "The nearest neighbor is at least half a mile away. Who would want to live there?"
"Charles Collier," Sean answered.
The others looked at Sean with surprise.
"Who's Charles Collier?" Brian asked.
"He's a kid who registered at Redoaks Elementary yesterday. He got put in my fourth-grade class."
Mrs. Quinn smiled. "I'm glad you made friends with him," she said. "It's always hard, being new."
Sean squirmed uncomfortably. "I didn't say I made friends with him, Mom. Charles keeps to himself, which is okay with me, because he's real quiet and not very friendly."
"Give him a chance," Mr. Quinn said. "Maybe he's shy."
Mrs. Quinn looked at her watch and pushed back her chair. "I've got to be going. We're having an early meeting this morning. We're ready to begin planning an advertising campaign for one of our new clients."
She opened her handbag and reached for her car keys, but stopped and said, "Oh no! The lining is torn. And this handbag is brand new."
As she examined the bag, she shook her head. "It looks as though the lining hadn't been sewn in properly. It's torn all along one side. I certainly expected better quality than this in a bag with a famous designer label."
"Return it to the store," Mr. Quinn said.
"I don't know if I can," Mrs. Quinn answered. "I bought it at a small shop over in Lanita.
They were having a sale, and the bags were selling at a big discount."
A knock at the back door interrupted her.
"That's Sam," Brian said and jumped up to let him in.
"Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Quinn. Hi, Sean," Sam said. He glanced at the breakfast table. "Got anything good left over, like a doughnut, maybe?"
"Sorry, no doughnuts, Sam," Mr. Quinn said. "However, I'd like to discuss these scary stories you've been telling the younger children."
"Dad!" Sean complained. "I am not as young as Sam's little brother. I am not a 'younger children.' I'm nine."
"It's the ectoplasm story, right?" Sam said. "My dad wasn't very happy about that one either."
Mr. Quinn nodded. "And as for haunted mansions ..."
"Dad, Sam and I have got to hurry," Brian said quickly. "If we're late we'll get detention. See you tonight." He snatched his backpack and shoved Sam ahead of him out the back door.
Sean grabbed his own backpack and ran after them. Brian would tell Sam that the Everhart mansion had been rented, and Sam might have more to say about the ghost lights. Sean didn't want to miss a word.
"You're kidding," Sam was saying to Brian as Sean joined them. "Somebody really is going to live in that ugly old place?"
"Tell me what you told Brian about the ghost lights," Sean said.
"Your dad said I shouldn't tell you any more scary stories."
"It's not a scary story if the lights are happening. It's like ... like something you'd read in a newspaper."
Sam thought a moment. "You're right," he said. Then he leaned down toward Sean and made his voice low and spooky. "On dark winter nights people have seen the cold, white, flickering lights and ..."
"What difference does it make, what people?"
"It makes a lot of difference. If the mayor said he saw the lights, okay. But if Debbie Jean Parker said she saw them, I wouldn't believe her for a minute."
"Take my word for it. I didn't get the story from Debbie Jean Parker. Now, do you want to hear about the lights or not?"
"I want to hear."
"Then stop interrupting and listen. The lights travel from room to room. Sometimes they vanish, then reappear."
"You could do that with a flashlight," Brian said.
"Sure you could, if you were a human being," Sam answered. "But remember, for years and years no one has lived in that house. Up until now, no one has dared to. Who'd want to live with ghosts?"CHAPTER 2
Sean couldn't wait to tell his friend Matt Fischer about the ghost lights, and soon a group of kids from their fourth-grade class had gathered around to listen to the story.
"How do you know it's ghosts making the lights?" Matt asked.
"Yeah," Jabez Amadi said. "It might be burglars."
"On and off for two years? In an empty house?" Sean asked. "It couldn't be burglars." As Debbie Jean climbed over a desk and pushed into the front of the group, Sean winced. "Sean Quinn, did you just say that the old Everhart mansion is haunted?" she asked.
"That's what Sam Miyako told us," Sean insisted.
"Did Sam see the lights?"
Sean hesitated. "I don't think so. But he talked to some people who did."
"He didn't tell me."
Debbie Jean laughed. "I think all that stuff about ghost lights is just one of Sam's scary stories. People have moved into the house. If it was haunted, they'd have moved right out again."
"Why don't you ask me if the house is haunted?" Charles Collier spoke loudly from one side of the group.
Sean's face grew warm with embarrassment. "Uh, Charles," he said. "I forgot that it was you and your family who moved into the Everhart mansion. I didn't mean to ..."
Charles was smaller than most of the kids in the class, but as he frowned at Sean and took another step closer, Matt and Jabez quickly got out of his way.
"Hey, listen," Sean said. "I'm sorry if I made you mad."
"I'm not mad at you," Charles answered. "I'm mad at having to live with the ghosts."
Sean knew his mouth had fallen open, but he couldn't think of a thing to say.
"You're right about the ghost lights," Charles told him. "You and that Sam, whoever he is. The Everhart mansion is haunted."
"Wow!" Matt said. "Why did your parents rent a house with ghosts in it?"
Sean could see the unhappiness in Charles's eyes as he said, "They needed a place to stay for just a short time while they're working on a project for the Redoaks Museum. My parents don't believe in ghosts. When I told them what I saw, they just said I had an overactive imagination. It doesn't matter, I guess, because Mom and Dad are hardly ever home anyway. And, when they are home, the ghosts don't come around."
Debbie Jean squeezed next to Charles. "How can you stand it, living with ghosts? Aren't you scared out of your mind? Most people would ..." She stopped, smoothed back her hair, and said, "That is, most people would be scared. I probably wouldn't."
"Yuck," Sean said and pretended to gag.
"Listen to me, Sean," Charles said. "We haven't got time to fool around. The bell's going to ring pretty soon, and I want to talk over a business arrangement with you. Yesterday I heard someone say that you and your brother are private detectives."
"Yeah. We are," Sean said. "We call ourselves the Casebusters."
"Fine," Charles said. "In that case, I'd like to hire you. My parents and I are going to live here for three months before we can go back to our home in New York. As I told you, I don't like living with ghosts, so I want to hire the Casebusters to get rid of them."
Sean spoke without thinking. "Hunt for ghosts? No way!" he said.
"Ha!" Debbie Jean said. "You're scared to!"
"Are you?" Charles asked Sean. "Tell me right now. Because if you won't help me, I'll have to find someone else."
Frantically, Sean searched for the right thing to say. "My brother and I are partners," he said, "so I'll have to talk it over with him."
"Do you think he'll agree?"
The first bell rang, but no one moved. Sean realized they were all waiting for his answer.
"Yes," he heard himself saying. "I can just about promise that Bri will agree."
Charles gave a long sigh of relief. "Fine," he said. "How about coming to my house at six-thirty tonight?"
"I have a better idea," Sean said, eager to see the house in daylight, not in the early winter darkness. "We can come right after school."
"No," Charles said. "Evening is better. If my parents are home, you can meet them, too. I'll tell the housekeeper you've been invited for dinner."
Mrs. Jackson came into the classroom just as the second bell rang. She pretended to look surprised. "What's all this?" she asked. "No one's sitting down, ready to work? Come on, boys and girls, it's time to get busy."
Sean slid into his chair and pulled out his history book, but he couldn't concentrate on the lesson. He'd practically promised to do the last thing in the world he really wanted to do—go into a haunted mansion at night, looking for ghosts.CHAPTER 3
Brian liked the idea of ghost hunting. "Sure," he said as soon as Sean told him what Charles had said. "You don't have to talk me into it."
"I'd rather talk you out of it," Sean said.
Brian laughed. "Come on, Sean. We may find out a lot more about the ghost lights. It would be fun to tell Sam something scary that he didn't already know."
"I don't mind hearing scary stories. I just don't like being in the middle of them."
"You don't have to be in the middle of anything. We'll listen to what Charles has to say. If we think we can help him, fine. If his parents are right, and the ghosts are all in his imagination, we can forget the whole thing."
"Okay ... I guess," Sean agreed. After all, Bri would be on hand, along with Charles's parents. What was there to be scared of?
Mrs. Quinn drove Sean and Brian to the Everhart mansion. "It's too chilly for a bike ride this evening," she said as she turned her car off the main road onto a long drive that circled up to the house. "Besides, I'd like to meet Mr. and Mrs. Collier." She turned and smiled at Sean. "I'm pleased that you and Brian accepted Charles's invitation for dinner. He's probably very lonely and eager to make friends."
Sean gulped, feeling guilty that he hadn't happened to mention the ghost-hunting part of the invitation.
Mrs. Quinn parked near the front door, and she, Sean, and Brian climbed out of the car. For a few moments they stood silently, studying the looming, dark redbrick Everhart mansion, with its small, narrow windows. Beyond the house, where the property stretched out toward the bay, they could hear the surf's rhythmic slap against the rocks.
"The gardens have been well kept up," Mrs. Quinn said. "Look at the beautiful white chrysanthemums along the side of the house."
"This has to be the biggest house I've ever seen in my life," Sean said as he followed Bri and their mother up the front steps. "And the ugliest," he mumbled to himself.
The door was opened by a tall, muscular man who looked at the Quinns with disapproval. "Mr. and Mrs. Collier are not at home," he said. "They were called to a business meeting in San Francisco and won't be back until very late."
"I'm sorry," Mrs. Quinn said. "I thought the boys were expected for dinner."
"They are!" Charles ducked around the man's legs and held out his hand. "How do you do, Mrs. Quinn. I'm Charles Collier. My parents will be very sorry to have missed you. Please come in."
They stepped into an entry hall that was paneled in deep mahogany. Even the yellow gleam from the dusty lamps and grimy crystal chandelier that hung over the stairway couldn't do much to chase away the gloom.
The circular stairway was carved and ornate. It swept upward from a pair of newel posts topped with carved round knobs like balls.
A slender, brown-haired woman, who wore a large apron over her dress, stepped timidly into the entry hall. "I'm sorry about the looks of the place," she said to Mrs. Quinn. "There's so much to do to put this house in order. I haven't been able to polish all this wood or get to the chandelier yet."
She had made a very slow start, Brian thought. Only the ornamental knob on top of the right newel was shiny.
"It's a very large house," Mrs. Quinn said politely. "I imagine that it's going to take a great deal of work."
Charles introduced the man and woman as Martin and Zelda Elbert, who had been hired to take care of the house.
"And of Charles," Mr. Elbert added.
"I'm very happy to meet you," Mrs. Quinn said, with a smile for Mrs. Elbert. "This seems to be an inconvenient time for you, so I'll take the boys home. Perhaps they can come for a visit some other day."
"No!" Charles begged. "Please let Brian and Sean stay for dinner. Mrs. Elbert made something special for us—homemade pizza with everything on it."
Mrs. Elbert nodded. "It's very good pizza. Your boys will like it."
Mrs. Quinn hesitated only a moment, then smiled at Charles. "This is a school night, Mrs. Elbert, so I'll pick them up at eight-thirty. Will that be all right?"
"That will be fine," Mrs. Elbert said. She glanced at her husband, but Mr. Elbert simply nodded.
As soon as the door closed behind Mrs. Quinn, Mrs. Elbert said to Charles, "Dinner is ready. We can serve right now, if you'd like."
"Yes, thank you," Charles said. He began to follow Mrs. Elbert, with Brian and Sean behind him. But Mr. Elbert stepped in their way.
"I want you to understand a few things," he said. "Charles's parents work as consultants in the field of art exports and imports. Their job in Redoaks is only for three months, and they'll often be away from home on business trips. Since they're renting furnished property, they have to be especially careful. There are too many things that can break.
Furniture can be ruined."
"We'll be very careful," Brian told him.
"They did not encourage Charles to invite other children here, but since you'll be in the home for two hours I want to make clear there will be no snooping around, no roughhousing, no throwing things, no baseballs or footballs, no wrestling or running."
"We'll be careful," Charles said. "I told you we would." He walked around Mr. Elbert and headed for the dining room.
The dining room, with its small, narrow windows, was as gloomy as the other rooms. Nearby was an ornately carved buffet table, on which rested a tray and glasses and a seltzer bottle.
Three places were set at a long dining table. As they sat down in upholstered, high-backed chairs, Brian nudged Sean and pointed to the badly stained tabletop. What looked like rings from wet glasses and bottles covered the surface. "These weren't made by ghosts," he mumbled.
Along with a garden salad and Cokes, Mrs. Elbert brought in three plates of super pizza. Charles, Brian, and Sean were so intent on the good food that none of them said a word until every bite of pizza had been eaten.
Brian pulled out his notebook and pen. As he opened the notebook and wrote, he said aloud, "Charles Collier." He looked questioningly at Charles. "Or should I use your nickname?"
"I've never had a nickname," Charles answered. "My parents ... everybody else ... they just call me Charles."
"Okay, Charles," Brian said. "Mr. and Mrs. Elbert had a lot to say about this place, but neither of them mentioned anything about ghosts. So what's the deal? Why did you ask us to get rid of ghosts? Are there ghosts haunting this house, or aren't there?" "There are ghosts! I'll ... I'll show you." Charles squirmed in his chair.
Excerpted from The House Has Eyes by Joan Lowery Nixon. Copyright © 1996 Joan Lowery Nixon. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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