The Time of the Ghost

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Authors: Diana Wynne Jones
the saucepan. She looked straight at Sally, hovering at Fenella’s side. Her open mouth stiffened, until it went almost square. She screamed, “AHA-aaaaa-a-a-a!” a long, fading scream, like someone falling off a cliff, and dropped the saucepan. Custard flew. It went in yellow dollops and strong gouts, through Sally, across Fenella’s insect legs, and along the kitchen floor right up to the silver door. The other two ladies screamed as well at the sight of it.
    â€œOh, dear,” Fenella said briskly. “What a pity.” She turned and picked her way, slithering a little in the river of custard, to the door. She pushed through the door. Thump. Sally dived after her.
    Mrs. Gill broke out screaming again behind the door. “Oh, look at that! It went through the door! Did you seeeee? It went throooough!”
    She was clearly audible beyond the green door as Fenella eased herself and her armful of food carefully through that. Imogen and Cart sped to meet her.
    â€œOh, good!” said Cart, seeing the food. “What’s that noise?”
    â€œFenella, you are clever,” said Imogen. “Who’s screaming?”
    â€œMrs. Gill,” said Fenella. “She’s covered me in custard. I think she must be psychic.”
    â€œWhat do you mean?” asked her sisters.
    â€œPsychiatric then,” said Fenella, who was never sure about difficult words. “Physical. You know.” She went carefully to the table and eased her armful down on it. Cart caught a skidding bowl full of tinned tomatoes. Imogen caught the block of cheese as it toppled from under Fenella’s chin.
    â€œYes, but what happened ?” they demanded.
    â€œShe thought Sally was with me,” said Fenella.
    Neither Cart nor Imogen showed the slightest sign of guilt. They laughed, Cart heartily, Imogen waterily. “But Sally’s not here! What do you mean, Fenella?”
    Fenella never explained anything properly. She had once told Sally she didn’t know how. She peeled a slice of corned beef off a cold fried egg and did her best. “She thought Sally was a ghost and threw custard all over the floor.”
    This puzzled Imogen. “I didn’t know you got rid of ghosts with custard.”
    Cart was puzzled, too. “But Sally can’t be a ghost.”
    â€œCan’t she?” asked Fenella. “Look at Oliver.”
    The smell of food had roused Oliver, and he had woken to discover Sally here again. He heaved up, rumbling and dribbling a little, and waltzed toward the table, looking rather menacing. He can’t bite me, even if he tried , Sally said uneasily.
    â€œHe walks just like a camel,” said Imogen. “He swings his legs out sideways.”
    â€œThat’s his deformity,” said Cart. “I think he’s just hungry.”
    â€œDoting fool!” said Fenella.
    Oliver took advantage of the situation to pass his nose across the table and work his magnetizing trick again. After an almost unnoticeable pause for swallowing, he was growling again.
    â€œIt’s not fair,” said Fenella. “Cold fried eggs are almost the only thing I like!”
    Cart pushed Oliver’s nose away and began sorting out what food he could eat. She had to supplement cold roast potatoes and tinned tomatoes with four tins of dog food. Oliver took a lot of feeding. When Cart dumped the plates down on the floor for him, it seemed to reconcile Oliver somewhat to Sally’s peculiar presence. His growling subsided. The tail end of him swayed sedately, while the blurred fore end bent busily to pushing the plates around the floor. The other three settled to supper. Sally watched wistfully. She did not exactly feel hungry, but it would have been nice to eat something, too, for company. And it did irritate her, the way Fenella, after picking at everything on the table, refused to eat anything but cold baked beans.
    No wonder your stomach sticks out so! Sally said to

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