Authors: Betty Ren Wright
The Ghost in Room 11
Betty Ren Wright
Illustrations by Jacqueline Rogers
For Dorothy Tofte with my love
“This School Is Haunted!”
Matt Barber sat, hunched over, on a swing and dug one heel into the dirt. He was the only person left on the school playground. He might even be the only person left in the world. What if a poison cloud were drifting across the town of Healy right now? What if the birds started to drop out of the trees, and that ant crawling across the gravel rolled over on its back and.â¦
He shivered and gave himself a little push. It was no fun starting in a new school a month late. The kids at Healy Elementary had known each other since they were babies. They weren't interested in a new kid from the big city.
Think about tomorrow
, he told himself. Tomorrow he was going to give a speech in front of his new fourth grade, and after that, everybody would know who he was.
“I'm not supposed to talk about this, but I'm going to anyway.” He said the words out loud to get used to them. “I'm going to tell you about my real mother and father. My real mother does stunts in the movies. Once she jumped from a twelve-story building and landed in a pond about as big as a bathtub.” He frowned. Maybe a bathtub was too small. “About as big as
bathtubs, only a lot deeper. And once she drove a car off a cliff and blew it up before it landed.”
, he thought.
“My real dad is a treasure hunter. He dives down to old wrecks, and when he finds treasure he gets to keep it. Sometimes he sends me a souvenir.” When he said that, he was going to hold up the gold piece Uncle Jim had sent him as a joke, along with a book about treasure hunting. It wasn't a real gold piece, but that didn't matter. It would fool everybody in this dumb country school.
He paused, wondering what his teacher, Mrs. Sanders, would think of his speech. She had said you could talk about anything, as long as the subject was important to you. Well, parents were important, weren't they?
“My real mom does dangerous stuff every dayâthat's why she let me be adopted. She didn't want to, but she thought she might get killed or something. Next summer my real dad is going to take me to Mexicoâ”
The school door burst open, and three boys tumbled out, laughing and pushing one another. Matt slid off the swing, but not fast enough. The boys raced across the yard and stopped in front of him.
“I guess that's what kids do in Milwaukee.” Charlie Peck chuckled. “They play with babies' toys.”
Matt clenched his fists. He hated being laughed at. His dad would probably say Charlie was just kidding, but his dad would be wrong. Everyone at Healy Elementary was mean.
“I wasn't playing,” Matt said. “I was wishing I was back at my old school. If I was, I'd be swimming right now.”
Charlie's eyes widened. “Your school had a swimming pool? I don't believe it.”
“Who cares whether you believe it or not?” Matt backed up, eager to get away.
“What else did you have in that school?”
“Two gyms,” Matt said, “one for boys and one for girls. And an auditorium with a real stage.” The auditorium part was true. “And we had a big cafeteria where we could get pizza or anything else we wanted. Every day!” He stopped, aware that he'd gone too far.
“Sure!” Charlie laughed, and the other boys laughed, too. “Boy, pizza every day! That's a joke!” They started to move off, but then Charlie came back.
“I bet Healy has one thing your big-city school doesn't have,” he said slyly.
“Like what?” Matt glanced at the long, low school building. It looked like a prison.
“We have a ghost!” Charlie said. “This school is haunted, believe it or not.”
“Not,” Matt said. “There's no such thing as a ghost.”
“Sure there is!” Charlie insisted. “This is an old school, and it's haunted. Ask the teachers. Ask Mr. Beasley.”
Mr. Beasley was the principal. Matt had met him on his first day at Healy. He'd told Matt that the governor of the state and the mayor of Healy had been students at Healy Elementary. He'd talked about hard work and no shoving in the halls. He hadn't said a word about ghosts.
“Or if you're scared to ask Mr. Beasley,” Charlie went on, “you can find out for yourself.”
“How?” Matt asked, not really wanting to know.
“Hide in the school till everybody leaves. See what happens.”
Matt wished he'd gone home instead of hanging around the playground. Being alone in a new house was no fun, but talking to Charlie was even worse.
“Why would I want to be stuck in school all night?” he said nervously. “My folks would call the police.”
“You wouldn't be stuck,” Charlie argued. “You can always open the front door from the inside.”
Matt started toward the road, walking fast. “Only stupid people believe in ghosts,” he yelled over his shoulder. “Ghosts are stupid!”
He felt better after that, but only for a minute. Then he realized he'd left his library book next to the swing. He whirled around, but Charlie already had the book in his hand.
“Forget something?” he teased.
Matt grabbed it and ran across the playground with
Fifteen Famous Ghost Stories
clutched in his hand. He tried not to hear the laughter that followed him.
, he thought, but he didn't know what he meant. He only knew that moving to Healy was the worst thing that had ever happened to him.
A Bunch of Lies
“So how is it going at school?” Matt's dad asked that evening. “Are you making friends?”
Matt shrugged. “It's okay.” He kept his eyes on the television and hoped his mother wasn't listening. She could tell when he was hiding something.
“If people aren't friendly, it may be your own fault,” she called now, from the kitchen. “Try hard, Matthew. Smile. You have a very nice smile.”
Matt sank deeper in his chair. Could his mother read other people's minds the way she read his?
Luckily, his dad couldn't read minds at all. “Well, I'm glad you're off to a good start,” he said. “Healy is a fine place to grow up in.” He switched channels, but Matt didn't care. The sooner they stopped talking about school the better. No one else knew what it was like, being the new kid.
The next morning the Barbers left the house together. His parents drove to the bus station, and Matt walked down the road toward the school. When he was close enough to hear voices from the playground, he sat under a tree.
, he thought. After today things would be different. After his speech, everyone in the class would know Matt Barber was special.
He stayed under the tree until he heard the warning bell. Then he ran, leaning forward with his arms spread like Superman. He reached the school door just in time to file in with the rest of the fourth grade.
Matt's seat was in the back row, which could be either good or bad. It was good because most of the time Mrs. Sanders seemed to forget he was there. It was bad when she remembered. Today it was very bad, because the first thing she did was return yesterday's spelling tests.
“You and I are going to have to do some hard work, Matthew,” she said. “I almost wore out my pencil on this one.” She laid the test on Matt's desk. There were fifteen words on the list, and twelve of them had checks next to them. Some kids giggled.
“Don't you dare laugh,” Mrs. Sanders said sternly. “There wasn't a perfect paper in the whole class. I'm ashamed of all of you! Your homework tonight will be to write each misspelled word ten times.”
Later, when it was time to start their speeches, Mrs. Sanders called on Matt first. “I'm sure you have something interesting to tell us,” she said. Matt guessed she was sorry she'd made the class laugh at him.
He didn't smile back. His legs moved jerkily as he walked to the front of the room. When he turned to face the class, he couldn't remember one word of what he'd planned to say. Then he glanced at Charlie Peck. Charlie snickered, and the snicker made Matt remember.
“I'm not supposed to talk about this,” he began, “but I'm going to anyway.”
The words were like magic. The kids stopped wriggling. Charlie's grin faded. Mrs. Sanders looked as if she wanted to say something, but didn't.
Matt cleared his throat. “I'm going to tell you about my real mother and father.” For just one second he pictured his real mom and dad, and he felt guilty. But they were at work in Milwaukee, and he was here. Last night his mother had said it was his own fault if he didn't make friends. She'd said he had to try hard.
, he thought,
“My real mom does stunts in the movies.â¦ My real father is a treasure hunter.” He told about some of the stunts his mother did, including some new ones he'd made up in bed last night. He held up the “gold piece.”
Matt hoped the class would clap when he finished, but they didn't. They just looked at him.
Mrs. Sanders asked if anyone wanted to comment on the talk.
“It was a bunch of lies,” Charlie said.
“That's enough,” Mrs. Sanders said sharply. “You're being rude, Charles.”
“Matt talked in a nice loud voice,” Stephanie James said, after a moment.
“That's better,” Mrs. Sanders said. “I hope everyone else will speak as clearly as Matthew did.”
Nobody said, “You're lucky to have such great parents, Matthew.” When Matt walked back to his seat, no one looked at him, except Stephanie. She smiled as if she were sorry for him.
There were four more talks that day, but Matt didn't hear a word of them. He kept trying to figure out what had gone wrong. It was Charlie's fault, he decided. Charlie had called him a liar. He wished a bolt of lightning would shoot through the open window and hit Charlie. It could hit all of them, except Stephanie.