“Are you guys up there?” I call up to the treehouse in Billy’s
backyard, the official headquarters of the Fantastic Phantasmic
Detective Agency, our blossoming business for ghostly clients.
“Yeah, come on up. We have another case,” comes Billy’s muffled
response. So I climb up the boards nailed in the side of the tree that
serve as a ladder and crawl inside the small wooden room.
Billy and Toby are sitting at the table we built last summer, watching
the ticker tape feed out of the spirit communication machine Zeaflin
gave us after we completed our first case with him. Zeaflin is an
UnderWorld realm walker, a sort of undead bounty hunter who can traverse
the realms of the living and the dead. He provided this telegraph-like
machine so our ghost representatives, Mary, and her husband, John, can
communicate with us in the living realm.
Mary and John reside in the OtherWorld StopOver, a place much like a
living town except that it has shops and restaurants designed
specifically for the newly departed. They set up a branch of our
detective agency there, and this is how we acquire our spiritual clients
in need of living assistance. Mary and John gather the facts, then
forward the details to us through the spirit communication device and we
answer via crystal ball. Of course, being only thirteen years old
(almost fourteen, in Billy’s case), our clientele is a bit limited to
cases near home. Or to those that we can solve using our medium, Mr.
Billy tears the ticker tape message from the machine and looks it over.
“What’s it say?” I ask, crossing over to join the boys at the
Billy lets out a disgusted snort. “Some lady wants us to retrieve her
cat from the pet cemetery in Morrisville,” he replies, handing the
tape to Toby. Toby sets down his root beer bottle to accept the tape,
his lips move faintly as he reads it over.
“Is the cat dead or alive?” I ask, hoping it’s alive and took up
residence in the cemetery after its owner died. It should be easy to
catch, if that’s the case.
“Dead,” Toby responds without further elaboration.
My heart sinks. This probably isn’t going to be an easy case then.
Our last experience in a people graveyard ended up with us being chased
by a bunch of shimmery ghosts who were desperate to escape the cemetery.
Turns out that graveyards are a kind of limbo for ghosts. They can’t
leave it if they enter it as a ghost unless they latch onto a realm
walker and he carries them out. In our last visit to a cemetery, we had
to hide Zeaflin in an urn, covered in the ashes of a spirit named Walter
in order to sneak him past a crazed mob of ghosts. If Walter hadn’t
helped, I doubt we’d have gotten out of the cemetery without a major
battle. Of course, Zeaflin returned the favor by arranging for Walter
to be summoned out of the cemetery and into his old house, where he now
happily haunts a family of three small children and their parents.
“Guys, what if the pet cemetery is like a people cemetery and the cat
can’t leave? How would we get it out? It’s not like we have a cat
realm walker for it to possess,” I say.
“Easy,” Billy responds. “We summon it out with Mr. Monsento.”
“But how? We don’t have the required personal item,” I point out
before I realize what their answer will be--what it always is with these
Billy grins. “We’ll have to dig it up and get the collar.”
Toby leans forward. “Or take one of its bones if it doesn’t have a
collar,” he chirps, with a gleam in his eye.
What is it with these boys and digging up graves? Toby suggested
digging up a people grave to obtain a personal item in a previous case.
Fortunately, we didn’t need to do that since the person had donated
his skeleton to the local college and all we had to do was sneak into
the school lab and steal a toe bone for the summoning.
“But what if the animal ghosts are all milling around the cemetery,
just like the people ghosts were doing in our last case with Zeaflin?”
I fret. “Worse yet, what if the cat sees us digging him up and
attacks us or something?”
Billy rolls his eyes. “Don’t be such a girl, Abs,” he responds
with an annoyed sigh.
I give him a hard look. “I hate to be the one to break it to you,
Billy, but I am a girl.”
“That doesn’t mean you have to act like one,” Billy retorts.
Tired of this line of conversation, I stand up abruptly to leave.
Toby jumps up to intervene. “Hey, cool it, you guys! Let’s just
visit the cemetery first, scope it out and see if there even are any
animal ghosts. Maybe animals don’t haunt graveyards like people
“Then why does this client say she wants us to retrieve her dead cat
from there?” I respond. “I doubt she means for us to bring her a
cat skeleton.” At least I hope that’s not what she means!
Toby looks thoughtful. “You’re probably right,” he concedes.
“I wish we had a spirit binding box. Then we could just suck the
ghost cat up and carry it out,” Billy says.
“Well, we don’t. Besides, we don’t even know if spirit binding
boxes work on animal ghosts,” I respond. Billy gives me a half-shrug
“If we retrieve the cat, does Mary give any details regarding how we
would transfer it to our client in the StopOver?” I ask. Toby shakes
“It just says to let them know when we have the cat and arrangements
for pick up will be made at that time,” he replies, looking over the
ticker tape again.
“I certainly can’t keep a ghost cat at my house and I doubt that you
guys can either. Sure, maybe our parents won’t be able to see it, but
maybe they will. It’s too risky,” I point out. “Mr. Monsento
would have to take it in until Mary arranges the transfer, and I doubt
he’d be happy about that.”
“Like Toby said, let’s just go to Morrisville and check out the pet
cemetery first, before worrying about how to catch the cat or what to do
with it afterward,” Billy replies. “Maybe we can get Mr. Monsento
to drive us over there. It’s kind of expensive to take the train and
I’m not sure how often it runs in the afternoon. Probably not that
I glance at my watch. It reads 1 pm. If Monsento agrees to drive us to
Morrisville, we should have plenty of time to check out the cemetery and
still be back by 4 pm, if not sooner. And if there are dog and cat
ghosts milling around the cemetery, I’d prefer to have Monsento around
to stop the boys from doing anything rash.
“Okay, Billy. If you can convince Monsento to drive us to the pet
cemetery, I’m in,” I say. We all head down the tree house ladder to
climb onto our bikes and ride over to Monsento’s house.
The workmen are just finishing up installing my new front door when I
see Abby, Toby, and Billy riding up the sidewalk. The young detectives
are definitely a study in contrasts. Abby, with her red ponytail, green
eyes, and freckles, looks like she could be cast on the Andy Griffith
Show as Opie’s older sister. Billy sports blonde curls and dashing
baby blues, while the other boy, Toby, is the polar opposite of Billy,
with his dark brown hair and eyes. Come to think of it, I fit right in
as the medium for this motley crew, with my salt and pepper hair and
gray eyes. Yeah, we’re definitely a band of misfits, all right.
“Hey Mr. Monsento!” Billy calls out, propping his bike up against
the side of my porch, next to the stairs. “Getting a new door?” he
asks. Abby and Toby add their bikes to Billy’s and follow him up the
“Had no choice, kid,” I reply, watching the workers pack up their
tools. “That is, unless I want Zeaflin’s symbols scratched in my
door forever. They won’t sand off and I doubt my landlord will be
amused if he stops by and sees his door all marred up.” One of the
workers glances up at me.
“Did you try 80-grit?” he asks.
I give him a look. “Yes, I did.”
The worker shrugs. “It should have come off easily with 80-grit.”
I give him another look and he shrugs again.
The other worker rises from the toolbox, his packing up complete.
“What do you want us to do with the old door?” he asks.
“Put it in the shed out back,” I reply, figuring it’s probably
best not to have those symbols wind up on someone else’s doorstep. I
can chop the door up for firewood in my spare time. That’s if these
kids ever give me any spare time. The four of us wait on the porch
while the two workers cart my old front door to the back shed. They
return shortly with the work order for me to sign and then pile into
their pickup truck and drive away.
“Come on, kids. I’ll get you a glass of lemonade,” I offer,
grabbing hold of the doorknob of my new door to open it for the
Billy shakes his head. “No time for that, Mr. Monsento. We were
hoping you could give us a ride out to Morrisville,” he responds.
“Is that so? And why do you need to go to Morrisville?” I ask.
“Mary sent us another case,” Toby says, handing me a ticker tape
from their spirit communication machine. I read it over.
“A ghost cat named Fluffy, huh? Are you sure you kids are game to go
back into a cemetery?”
“As long as Zeaflin doesn’t come with us,” Abby replies. “Or an
animal realm walker, if they exist.” I nod in agreement. It was bad
enough trying to smuggle Zeaflin past a bunch of angry people ghosts in
the cemetery; I’d prefer not to repeat that with animal ghosts.
“And just how do you think you are going to catch this ghost cat?
It’s a cat. Or rather, it was a cat, so it’s not likely to follow
you home; cats don’t do that sort of thing. And if cat ghosts are
anything like people ghosts, the cat may not be able to leave the
cemetery,” I inform the kids, wondering if they are planning to dig
this cat up for a “personal item” and then ask me to summon it out.
Not sure I want a piece of that action.
“We just want to check it out first and see what we need to do. We
aren’t even sure ghost cats haunt cemeteries,” Billy responds. I
hold up the ticker tape.
“This implies they do. But I suppose the cat’s owner may not know
for sure. Do you know how much she’s willing to pay?” I ask.
“Not yet, Mr. Monsento,” Billy replies.
“I thought you kids agreed you should get some money up front, at
least to cover any expenses while you work a case. It’s going to cost
me a few dollars in gas to run you over to Morrisville for your little
exploratory expedition,” I grumble.
Abby rolls her eyes and motions to Billy, who pulls a fiver from his
jeans pocket and holds it out toward me. At the price of fuel nowadays
and with the gas mileage my old clunker gets, that might cover half the
expense of the drive out to Morrisville. I decide to float the kids the
rest of the cost. I can always get it back later, after the client pays
us. That’s if we can find this ghost cat, that is. Or at least its
grave. “All right, let’s hit the road then,” I say, tucking the
bill into my pants pocket. I pull out my keys to lock the front door
and we all hop into my car for our visit to the Morrisville pet
I stop at a gas station on the outskirts of Morrisville to ask
directions to the pet cemetery. The clerk behind the counter points at
a two-buck, crudely-drawn map of the Morrisville area that looks like
the product of a kindergarten art project. Well, that or a finger
painting drawn by monkeys; I’m not sure which. I scowl at the clerk
and dig out the two bills, pushing them forward with a disgusted shake
of my head. Now the kids owe me seven bucks I may never see. I grab
one of the “maps” and jump back into the car. Since Billy is riding
shotgun, I hand him the map so he can guide me to the kitty cemetery.
Billy unfolds the map and looks it over, then he points to a small
square on the map with tiny tombstones sketched out in the shape of dog
bones and cat paws at the far left corner of the page. “If the map is
drawn to scale,” Billy says, drawing a line with his finger from the
tiny gas pump, representing our current location, to the tiny
tombstones, “it looks like the pet cemetery is about two miles from
here.” I raise my eyebrows. Small odds that map is drawn to scale,
but I put the car into gear anyway and head down Plantation Road and on
toward Pet Cemetery Drive, as the map outlines.
I stop just shy of Pet Cemetery Drive and gaze down the road. It’s
not paved and it’s overgrown with weeds, not to mention there are some
deep ruts filled with water from our recent spring rains. My car
isn’t four-wheel drive so no way will it make it very far down this
quaint, rustic country lane. I kill the engine. “Sorry kids, we’d
better walk from here. If the car gets stuck in the mud on that road,
we’ll be stranded,” I say. We all pile out of the car and begin the
walk up Pet Cemetery Drive, veering off onto the grassy edge when
necessary to avoid the mud puddles. After about a half-mile, our
destination comes into view.
This pet cemetery obviously isn’t visited very often. The black
wrought-iron fence around it is as overgrown with weeds as the road was,
and it’s badly in need of a paint job. The small tombstones in this
graveyard are all stained green with moss or some sort of mold and some
of them have even started to crumble, peppering the ground with bits of
marble rubble. A few grave markers near the front of the graveyard are
tilting to one side, as if the earth had settled around them and the
stone had sunk partially into the ground. Or maybe the occupants of
those graves, in a final act of denial, tried to shove their tombstones
away and didn’t get the job done properly. Pushing down that
unsettling thought, I look around in all directions. There’s not a
single building in sight, only fields of wildflowers and tall grass. We
are completely alone other than maybe a few animal ghosts, not yet seen.
I feel a small shiver run down my spine. Geez, I really hate
Excerpted from "The Fantastic Phantasmic Detective Agency" by D.L. Dugger. Copyright © 2017 by D.L. Dugger. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.