Home > Tales of the Peculiar (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children 0.5)(15)

Tales of the Peculiar (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children 0.5)(15)
Author: Ransom Riggs

“That’s a game for children,” the woman replied, then made an excuse to leave early.

Hildy found she preferred the company of ghosts to living people, and so she decided to make some ghost friends. The trouble was how to do it. Even though Hildy could see ghosts, they were not easy to talk to. Ghosts, you see, are a bit like cats—they’re never around when you want them, and rarely come when called.10

Hildy went to a cemetery. She stood around waiting for hours, but no ghosts came to talk to her. They watched Hildy from across the grass, standoffish and suspicious. She thought perhaps they’d been dead too long and had learned not to trust living people. Hoping the recently deceased would be easier to befriend, she started going to funerals. Because people she knew didn’t die very often, she had to go to strangers’ funerals. When the mourners would ask why she was there, Hildy would lie and say she was a distant relative, then ask whether the deceased had been a nice person, and had they enjoyed running in fields or playing stick-a-whack? The mourners thought she was strange (which, to be fair, she was), and the ghosts, sensing their relatives’ disapproval, gave Hildy the cold shoulder.

It was around this time that Hildy’s parents died. Perhaps they will be my ghost friends, she thought, but no—they went off to find her dead sister and left Hildy all alone.

She hatched a new idea: she would sell her parents’ house and buy a haunted one instead, which would have its own ghosts built in! So she went shopping for a new house. The real estate agent thought she was frustrating and strange (which, to be fair, she was) because every time she showed Hildy a perfectly nice house, Hildy’s only question was whether anything terrible had ever happened there, like a murder or a suicide, or better yet a murder and a suicide, and she’d ignore the generous kitchen and light-filled drawing room to go look at the attic and basement.

Finally, she found a properly haunted house and bought it. It was only after she moved in, though, that she realized the ghost that came with it was only there part-time, stopping by every few nights to rattle chains and slam doors.

“Don’t go,” Hildy said, catching up to the ghost as he was leaving.

“Sorry, I have other houses to haunt,” he replied, and hurried away.

Hildy felt cheated. She needed more than a part-time ghost. She’d gone to so much trouble to find a haunted house, but it seemed the one she bought wasn’t haunted enough. She decided she needed the most haunted house in the world. She bought books about haunted houses and did research. She asked her part-time ghost what he knew, shouting questions after him as he raced from room to room, clanking here and slamming there. (He always seemed to be late for some more-important haunting, which Hildy tried not to take personally.) He said something about “Kwimbra,” then left in a hurry. Hildy discovered that this was actually a town in Portugal—spelled Coimbra—and once she knew that, it was simple enough to track down which house in the town was most haunted. She exchanged letters with the man who lived there, in which he described being bothered day and night by disembodied screams and bottles that flew off tables, and she told him how pleasant that sounded. He thought this was strange, but also that she wrote very nicely, and when she offered to buy his house, his refusal was as gentle as could be. It had been in his family for generations, he explained, and so it had to remain. The house was his burden to bear.

Hildy was getting desperate. At a particularly low moment, she even entertained the thought of killing someone, because then their ghost would haunt her—but that didn’t seem like a very good way to start a friendship, and she quickly abandoned the idea.

Finally, she decided that if she couldn’t buy the most haunted house in the world, she would build it herself. First she chose the most haunted spot she could think of upon which to build it: the top of a hill that had been the site of a mass burial during the last outbreak of plague. Then she collected the most haunted building materials she could find: wood salvaged from a shipwreck with no survivors, bricks from a crematorium, stone columns from a poorhouse that had burned with hundreds of people inside, and windows from the palace of a mad prince who had poisoned his whole family. Hildy decorated the house with furniture, carpets, and objets d’art bought from other haunted houses, including that of the man in Portugal, who sent her a bureau from which emanated, at precisely three o’clock every morning, the sound of a crying baby. Just for good measure, she let bereaved families hold wakes in her parlor for an entire month, and then, just after the stroke of midnight in the middle of a howling rainstorm, she moved in.

Hildy was not disappointed—at least not right away. There were ghosts everywhere! In fact, there was hardly room in the house to hold them all. Ghosts crowded the basement and the attic, fought for space under the bed and in the closets, and there was always a line for the bathroom. (They didn’t use the toilet, of course, but liked to check their hair in the mirror, to make sure it was disheveled and frightening.) They danced on the lawn at all hours—not because ghosts especially liked to dance, but because the people buried under the house had died of Dancing Plague.11

The ghosts clanked pipes and rattled windows and threw books down from shelves. Hildy walked from room to room introducing herself.

“You can see us?” asked the ghost of a young man. “And you aren’t frightened?”

“Not at all,” Hildy replied. “I like ghosts. Have you ever played stick-a-whack?”

“No, sorry,” the ghost muttered, and turned away.

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