Jazz slid down in her four-poster bed and pulled the thick white quilt to her chin. Overhead, in the attic, the floorboards groaned, as if from the weight of someone walking around in heavy boots. “Dad? You up there?” She stared hard at the ceiling, wondering why her dad was roaming around in the attic. After all, there was nothing up there except dust, cobwebs and spiders. She raised her voice, “Dad, that you?”
“Jazz?” Her dad’s voice was coming from the main floor, not above. “Did you want something?”
She threw off the covers and jumped out of bed. In the hall, she leaned over the banister and spotted her dad at the bottom of the winding staircase. “I heard something in the attic again. Just like last night.”
Her dad sighed. “And last night we looked. There was nothing. The house is old and it creaks. Nothing to worry about,” he said, placing a foot on the bottom step and a hand on the banister, “Besides, it’s probably the wind. There’s some rough weather coming. Why don’t you put on your favourite CD or something – get your mind off it?”
She climbed back in bed and turned to her window. At nine o’clock, the sun hadn’t set, but the sky was almost dark. Charcoal clouds blanketed the lake, now choppy, which stretched endlessly outside her bedroom window. She let out a sigh. It was still early, yet she was already in bed.
While most kids wouldn’t be caught dead staying in on a Friday night, she was stuck at home with nothing to do and no one to call. She was about as popular as Jonathan Freemont, a bug-eyed kid from her old school who used to crack stupid jokes, which only he thought were funny, and was always picking his big nose in class. Although she wasn’t anything like Jonathan, the kids treated her just like him, as if she had SARS or something. She ate lunch alone, sat in study hall alone, walked down the halls alone. Nobody dared to stick one toe in her direction and she couldn’t understand why, even though she’d wracked her brain a hundred times for the answer.
When they’d moved to Kylie Cove months before, her dad had been full of promises. “Look Jazz,” he’d said, glancing at the sign as they headed into the town, “it says ‘Kylie Cove is the friendliest place in the Niagara Region.’ It’s going to be great here.” Grinning, he had turned up the van’s radio full blast, as if to drive out any negative thoughts in Jazz’s brain, and had sung his lungs out with the Barenaked Ladies.
But as he’d pulled up to their new house – Whispering Willows Bed and Breakfast – his song had died. The house was nothing like its picture. Nothing like the place promised when bought last year, sight unseen. It was a heap of bricks with a sagging porch!
Jazz’s stomach dropped, as it had the last time they’d moved and the time before that. “This is it? This dump? It’s not exactly The Queen Elizabeth.”
Dad shot her a look. “It’s not so bad. It just needs some paint and a few repairs and it will look great. You’ll see. Just use your imagination.”
Her dad was the one with the imagination – not her – after all, he was the writer in the family. He’d sold some short stories and articles over the years but had never made much of a living at it, so he was always taking on odd jobs – like running a bed and breakfast – while he followed his dream. He was now working on a novel, which he was sure was going to sell across North America and be made into a movie. Jazz’s mom had grown tired of waiting for him to get a “real job” and had left the family years ago, then had died in a car accident. Jazz couldn’t remember her at all. She’d been a baby when her mother had died, and nobody, especially her dad, wanted to talk about her.
Climbing out of the car, her dad went on, “Aunt Megan thinks this house has the potential for a booming business. It’s got the perfect location, a getaway from the city life, it’s not too far from Niagara Falls with all its tourist attractions and . . .”
She shut him out, her thoughts turning to Aunt Megan whom she hadn’t seen in a long time, not since Uncle Michael had died. Uncle Michael, Jazz’s dad’s only brother, and Aunt Megan had moved to Kylie Cove years ago just after their twin sons, Kevin and Liam, were born; it wasn’t long before they’d opened a “fifties” diner on the main street in town. Rock On, which Aunt Megan ran by herself now, drew tourists from all over the county, for it had the best food in town along with music memorabilia on all the walls and a large jukebox that played rock ‘n’ roll nonstop.
Jazz couldn’t remember much about her cousins, just that they were noisy little brats who’d run around like maniacs when they’d visited years ago. After their dad’s funeral, they’d disappeared from Jazz’s life. But now they were back and attending the same high school where Jazz would go, which was a short bus ride away, in Niagara Falls.
She huddled into her bulky turtleneck sweater, bracing herself against the icy March wind that was knocking her around as she hurried up the gravel driveway to the house. She wasn’t especially eager to get inside – she just wanted to get out of the cold. She took a quick look around. There were no other houses or buildings nearby, and if there were, they were hidden by the tall pines and willows and other trees that surrounded the property. They were stuck in the middle of nowhere!
Maybe this was some kind of joke – her dad was always joking around – but deep down inside she knew that it wasn’t. She wanted to jump in the car and race back to Montreal, to civilization, where there were malls and theatres and subways and a thousand interesting places to go . . . where her soon-to-be former friends were probably having lots of fun. Katie, Rob, Julio and all her friends from her old high school had said they’d email and call and even visit her, but she knew they’d lose touch. That was what had happened when she’d left the last place – and the one before that.
“If it doesn’t work out here, I want to go back,” she said, folding her arms across her chest and planting her boots firmly on the wooden porch. “There’s nothing to do here. I’m gonna hate it.”
Frowning, Dad met her eyes. “There’ll be lots to do.”
“I don’t mean work.” She eyed the dirt-streaked windows and blew out a breath. “I mean stuff to do with kids.”
He took a step to the porch railing and gazed off in the distance, then turned back. “There’s a lake just beyond the trees. I’ll buy a boat and we can go fishing and . . .” “Fishing?” she cut him off as slimy worms and fish guts sprang to mind. “Yuck.”
Dad put his hands on his hips. “Let me finish. There’s a rowing club. Regattas are big around here and there’s swimming, of course.”
Jazz was silent. Her friend Rob had joined a rowing club and had said that it was lots of fun. Maybe she’d like it too, and she loved swimming; she’d grown up around city pools and had been on the swim team at school. She’d even won a medal that she kept in a special mahogany box in the top drawer of her dresser. But she wasn’t going to tell her dad that he’d caught her interest. After all, he’d dragged her away from her friends.
“Aunt Megan says the rowing club will draw customers to our bed and breakfast,” Dad went on. “We’re going to make lots of money and our troubles will be over.”
“Yes, but we’ll have to put up with a bunch of strangers taking over our house,” she said.
“There’s a price for happiness, Jazz. You know that.”
As Dad pulled his keys from his jeans, a blue station wagon turned into the driveway and pulled up behind the van. Aunt Megan, older and at least ten pounds heavier than Jazz remembered, stepped out of the car, calling out, “Good morning. Welcome.” Waving, she hurried towards the house, carrying a large basket of brightly wrapped packages. Two boys unfolded themselves from the car and followed her to the porch. Kevin and Liam were teenagers now, just a year younger than Jazz, but much taller with broad shoulders and gangly legs and arms.
Although they were twins, the teens didn’t look alike, for Kevin had green eyes, red hair and freckles, whereas Liam had blue eyes, brown hair but no freckles, just a few pimples. Aunt Megan broke into a smile while the twins hunched in their jackets, scowling, as if they were mad at the world. After their mother shot them a dirty look, they grumbled, “Hi,” and glanced away.
“Don’t mind the boys,” Aunt Megan said, tossing a hand in the air. “They’re not exactly morning people. I had to drag them out of bed, but I’m sure they’re just as glad to be here as I am.”
Yeah, right. Does she think I’m stupid?
“Hi boys.” Dad looked them up and down – but mostly up – and then he let out one of his dorky comments, “What’s the weather like up there?”
“Dad!” Jazz groaned, her face getting hot and probably turning as red as the shiny bow on top of Aunt Megan’s gift basket. Sometimes her dad just didn’t get it.
“What? What did I say?” He searched Aunt Megan’s face, his eyes crisp blue. “Did I say something wrong?”
“Of course not.” She laughed, which sounded more like a snort, as the boys rolled their eyes at each other. She handed the basket to Dad. “Mike, there’s everything you need for your first day here. Bread, butter, coffee, tea. I threw in some biscuits – they’re in the blue wrapping – and homemade jam. Peach. Home-grown. You know, you can’t get better peaches than from here in the Niagara Region. I make a batch of jam every summer.”
“Well, isn’t this nice,” Dad said, peeking in the basket. He stole a look at the door. “I don’t know what the place looks like inside. Apparently, there’s some furniture left from the former owners and some other things. Would you and the boys like to come inside?” He turned to Jazz. “There’s a box of kitchen things on the floor when you open the side door of the van. Driver’s side. Would you and the boys bring it in so we can have something to eat? We’ll unload the rest of the boxes later.”
While Dad and Aunt Megan disappeared through the front door, Jazz headed down the driveway with Kevin and Liam following close behind. There was an awkward silence, and then Kevin caught up to Jazz and looked down at her, grinning. “I remember the times we drove you crazy. You used to sit around all prissy, never saying a word, and we’d scream around the house like maniacs.”
“Yeah, we used to have a contest to see who could yell the loudest and make you cry first,” Liam said, letting out a laugh.
Jazz stopped in her tracks and glared up at the boys. “That was mature!”
The boys said nothing.
They all broke out laughing.
Kevin stuck his head in the van, then called back,
“Which box did your dad want?” “It says kitchen on it,” Jazz said.
As Kevin pulled a large carton from the van and lugged it toward the house, Liam held back. “What’s up?” Kevin asked, glancing back.
“I’m not setting one foot in that place,” Liam said, shoving his hands in his pockets. “I’ll hang around out here until Mom’s ready to go.”
Kevin shrugged. “Okay. But you’re making a big deal out of nothing.”
“What?” Jazz stopped on scrubby grass, which was sticking up in patches through the melting snow. “What’s wrong with the house?” She took in the broken windows, the paint peeling on the shutters and the gaps in the porch railing, which were like teeth missing from a second-grader’s smile. What wasn’t wrong with the house?
Kevin set the box on the porch step and said, “Just a bunch of stupid rumours.”
“What’s he talking about?” Jazz turned to Liam.
Liam frowned at his brother. “You promised to keep your big mouth shut.”
“You started it.”
“What are you guys talking about?” Jazz asked, annoyed.
Sinking to the step, Kevin set his elbow on the box as he lifted his eyes to Liam. “You tell her or I will.”
Liam moved closer. “There’s something strange about that house.”
“Strange? How?” “Creepy and . . .”
“Nobody lives there for long,”
Kevin broke in. “I heard Mom talking to the neighbours about it. People just move in and move out again. It’s weird. But I don’t believe what they say, like Liam.” He made a face. “He’s a wimp.”
Liam’s eyes widened. “I spent a night in there. You didn’t. You made some lame excuse and took off.”
“What?” With her heart racing, Jazz stared hard at Liam. “Tell me!”
“The house is haunted.”