Gertie and Bridget go on holiday
Bridget heaved her suitcase onto what she declared “her” bed and dropped herself down next to it. She threw her sweater (which she had been forced to remove in the airport due to the heat) onto the floor, and let out a long, contented sigh.
“Thanks for the offer, sis, but I got this.” Gertie said sarcastically as she dragged her suitcase into their room and left it at the foot of her bed. In her other hand was a black and white portable hatbox, and inside sat her most prized possession - her storage hat. Using magic, it held her entire collection, stored in rows and rows of individual hat boxes.
“You’re fine,” Bridget responded, and unzipped her suitcase to change into shorts.
Spring in the family’s home state of Tornstead was barely warmer than winter, and for this reason the family took the time to escape the chilly weather and bask in the sun of Lucembrine. The island state was famous for its beaches and sun, aquariums for the young, and wine tasting for the adults.
The cottage they had rented had a full kitchen, two bedrooms (“If you start snoring again, I won’t hesitate to throw a pillow at you,” Gertie had told Bridget. “Like it would reach,” she’d retorted with a playful grin), two full bathrooms, a kitchen, and - most importantly - a beach right out the back door.
“A TV!” Gertie declared upon opening the ornate dresser that was taller than she was. She sat on her bed and clicked it on.
Theodore Mallon, their father, walked into the room to find his daughters watching an episode of a pirate cartoon.
“Did we really travel all this way just for you two to watch TV?” he asked.
“It’s Lucembrine TV dad!” Gertie protested.
“It’s totally different,” Bridget added jokingly.
He sighed. “Isn’t that what you do when you’re at school?”
“At school we do homework.” Bridget said, rising up on her elbows to get a better angle of the TV. “And basketball, and studying.”
“And magic,” Gertie added.
Their dad rubbed his forehead. “Do I have to hear about that here?”
“Well,” Gertie explained. “We don’t have a TV at school.”
Eloise, the girls’ mother, slipped into the room and put her hands on Theodore’s shoulders. “Can’t we just have a nice family vacation?” she asked everyone.
“That’s what we’re here for,” the girls said in unison and laughed.
“We’re going to get settled in,” Eloise said, pulling her husband out the bedroom door before he could protest again.
A dog appeared in the cartoon, barking in the sunlight on the pirate’s ship.
Bridget sighed. “I miss Ziggy.”
“Yeah, well, he wouldn’t be able to cross the ocean,” Gertie said. Ghosts always had problems with salt, even when dissolved. It was why Ziggy, their ghost dog, hated popcorn and pretzels. “Besides, dad would blow a gasket.”
“So would the government of Lucembrine,” Bridget pointed out.
Gertie shrugged. “Dad’s scarier,” she joked.
The TV flickered and the lights in the room dimmed for a minute.
“Mom!” Gertie shouted. “There’s something wrong with the TV!”
“And lights!” Bridget added.
Their dad appeared in the door again.
“Yes, that’s why we got such a good deal,” he flapped the shirt he had been in the middle of hanging, trying to get rid of the wrinkles. “Apparently there’ve been some intermittent electrical issues. Nothing dangerous, of course.”
Gertie balked. “We’re all gonna die.”
Later that evening, after returning to the house from a nearby aquarium, Gertie was enjoying the second to last book in the Flowers of Dark Meadow series, and Bridget was scrolling through the latest in sports news, when her skin itched in the way that meant something magical was nearby. She scanned the room, looking to see if there was something her spelled left eye could see that her normal right eye couldn’t.
And there it was.
“Gertie…” she said, closing her laptop.
Gertie shushed her. “I’m at a good point let me just-”
“I have to finish this chapter-”
“GERTIE!” Bridget shouted, pulling the book from her hands.
“Ok, ok,” Gertie sat up. “What?”
“There’s a ghost in here.” Bridget flicked her eyes back to the corner of the room. The spirit glared back at her, his ghostly form shivering in anger. “One on the verge of becoming a poltergeist from the look of it.”
Gertie sighed and grabbed her laptop from her backpack. “Ok, let’s hope the wifi doesn’t crap out on us.”
On her way to the rental car with Theodore, Eloise realized she had forgotten her purse and turned back to the cottage. She was ready to grab it from the kitchen counter and head back out. Instead, she found her daughters sitting cross legged on the floor with salt sprinkled around them in a big oval. A black top hat sat upside down in between them.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
Gertie panicked. “Nothing!”
“Weren’t you going to the grocery store?” Bridget asked, trying to be more subtle.
Eloise crossed her arms. “I forgot my purse.”
“Oh,” Bridget glanced up. “Well, it’s right there on the counter so you can just-”
“There’s a poltergeist,” Gertie said.
“An almost-poltergeist,” Bridget corrected.
“The only licensed handler open during the holiday is two hours away,” Gertie explained, “and his prices are way above the quality of work he provides, according to his online reviews.”
Eloise couldn’t believe was she was hearing. “So you decided to take care of it yourselves?”
Gertie bounced a bit in place. “I’m going to try out the ghost therapy hat that Great Grandpa Gregory gave me!”
“You know it’s illegal to practice magic without a proper license in Lucembrine right?” Eloise asked.
Gertie and Bridget looked at each other.
“You’re licensed,” Bridget said.
Gertie nodded. “That’s why I was even able to get my collection here in the first place. If you were here when we were practicing then technically...”
Eloise’s cell phone rang. It was Theodore.
“Hi honey,” she said after answering. “I’m actually going to spend some time with the girls. You go on ahead.”
“Is there anything else we need?” Theodore asked on the other side of the call.
Eloise looked back at the salt circle her daughters were drawing for her. “Salt.”
With their mother satisfactorily safe inside another salt circle, the girls sat back within theirs. Gertie checked the label on the seam of the hat again, going over the incantation one more time. She placed the hat just outside the circle of salt, so the spirit wouldn’t be barred from entering it.
“Squirth oo flithum wendri’or plepp!”
The hat lit up from the inside, creating a blue spotlight on the ceiling of the cottage. There was a sucking sound, like a vacuum that had gotten stuck on a pencil. Bridget watched as the ghost, spying on them from the ceiling, got sucked down into the hat.
The blue spotlight switched off, and the hat’s ribbon glowed eggshell white.
“Perfect!” Gertie said. She promptly stood and stepped out of the salt circle. Before Eloise could stop her, she scooped the hat up and placed it on her head.
Her face twisted into the expression that Bridget had seen the malevolent spirit wear.
“Oh, look what you’ve done now,” she said with a grimace, staring down at herself. “What is this foolishness?”
“Hi,” Bridget said to Gertie, trying to get the spirit that had possessed her sister to focus on her. “My name is Bridget. What’s your name?”
Gertie’s head snapped up to glare at Bridget. “Bartholomew Barbill. What are you doing in my house?”
Bridget swallowed nervously. “My family rented this cottage for the week.”
“Well, you’re not welcome here,” the spirit said, making Gertie plop her fists at her waist. “No one is! This is the Barbill house. I don’t know why we’ve had so many strangers lately-”
“The owner of this house…” Bridget looked over to her mom.
“Anthony Barbill,” Eloise supplied.
“Has been renting it out-”
“Ridiculous!” the ghost said. “The Barbills have lived here for centuries! I grew up in this house! We are not leaving.”
“I think you already have,” Bridget said.
“No, we have not. If you will kindly pack your things, I’m sure my family will be back soon.”
Eloise handed Bridget her phone. On the screen was an email from Anthony Barbill.
I’m so glad you’re interested in the Barbill House, it read. My family has been living there for centuries. It’s a wonderful place, just a bit small for my three kids, my husband and I. We’ve since relocated. I have such wonderful memories of the house from my childhood; I’m sure you’ll have a lovely time.
The rest of the email detailed information about the beach and the steps required to rent.
Bridget handed the phone to Gertie, who read it angrily, before her expression melted into one of pain.
“Then where are they?” Bartholomew asked. “Where did they move?”
Bridget looked to her mother.
“I think their office was in Braewight, on the mainland,” Eloise said, she motioned to the business cards on the countertop.
Gertie strode over and picked one up, staring at it.
The lights flickered.
“Bartholomew?” Bridget said softly.
Gertie’s hand crushed the card.
“Why?” Bartholomew cried, dropping onto all fours.
Tears streamed from Gertie’s eyes. Electricity started sparking around her, a sign of the ghost’s pain and anger. She pounded the floor as Bartholomew screamed in anguish.
The lights flared white hot before turning off all together.
“Mom?” Bridget shouted, over the noise of the ghost’s tantrum.
Eloise strode over to Gertie and pulled the hat from her head, releasing Bartholomew’s spirit.
The sparking around her stopped, and Gertie looked around, bewildered. She wiped the tears from her face as the lights came back on.
“Where’d he go?” she asked.
Bridget scanned the room. Suddenly there were crashes from upstairs - he was in the attic.
Eloise and the girls pulled on a string attached to the trap door in the ceiling of the kitchen, extending a ladder for them to climb up.
Cardboard boxes were overturned, a lamp with a glass shade was shattered, and in the middle of the room a photo album lay open.
Bridget could see the ghost weeping, caressing the faces of his descendants in the pictures.
“They left me behind,” he whimpered. “All I did was protect them. Help them. And they didn’t even say goodbye.”
“I’m so sorry,” Bridget said.
“All I ever wanted was my family to be safe,” Bartholomew said. “I can’t move on.”
“We could bring him back with us,” Gertie suddenly said as the thought occurred to her, though she couldn’t hear what Bartholomew was saying like Bridget could. But she had felt his pain, and knew how to help.
“What?” Bartholomew looked up with renewed hope.
“What?” Eloise snapped.
“Yeah,” Gertie said, not withering a bit at her mother’s glare. “Ghosts can’t cross salt water, but if he’s in the hat and I’m wearing the hat, then he’d probably be safe with - well - in me. And we’re going back to the mainland. He’d have to travel a while to find his family but-” Gertie shivered, her teeth clacking together.
Bartholomew, in his joy, had embraced her.
“That’s just Bartholomew, hugging you,” Bridget told Gertie, explaining the sudden chill.
“Oh.” Gertie awkwardly held her arms up, trying to hug him back.
Eloise sighed, knowing that once her girls came up with an idea, it was exhausting to dissuade them. Besides, on the scale of their previous exploits, this rated as “extremely safe.”
Everyone froze as the locked front doorknob struggled to twist.
“Honey! Can you get the door?” Came Theodore’s call from downstairs.
The three humans scrambled down the ladder.
Eloise grabbed a broom and quickly swept all the salt into a corner. Gertie shoved the ladder back up into the ceiling, coughing at the dust that fell down as a result. Bridget ran to their room and clicked on the television so it looked like they were all busy.
“What about me?” Bartholomew asked Bridget, panicked.
“He can’t see you!” Bridget whispered back.
Eloise opened the door for her husband to the sound of their daughters laughing in front of the opening credits to the movie Melody Hill.
“Movie’s just about to start, love,” Eloise said, kissing Theodore on the cheek. “Want to join us?”
Theodore sighed. “Sure, why not?”
To be continued...
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