Missy might be both cunning, scheming and a tad stupid, but above all she is curious. She would never admit it though. This morning she’s also bored. Her prissy sister is still having all the fun, going abroad and sleeping at all these fancy hotels while she has to baby sit her grand niece. And the dang dog. But they are both off to school, now. Taïga was over the moon when Missy allowed her to take Tramp to school…
Sighing she pushes the door to Taïga’s room. She’ll just take a peek now the wretched girl is off to school. Dust a little and stuff. Her eyes stray over the tidy room. It seems that Taïga has forgotten her gym bag. Or maybe she didn’t have PE today. Whatever. Absentmindedly she picks it up but decides on taking a quick peek inside before storing it away. Wow, there is a lot of stuff in there. She empties the bag on the floor and starts going through the various items. Drawings, books, dirty socks and an iPad. Picking it up she wonders about the weight. It’s heavy for such a slim thing.
‘Lot’s of heavy secrets in there, don’t you think so, Miezul Nopţii?’
The cat doesn’t answer, only jumps up onto the bed and installs itself between two pillows on the smooth cashmere bedspread. Missy turns the tablet this way and that, until she touches something that lights up the screen.
‘Oups! I didn’t mean to turn it on… But now that it is working, I’ll just have a quick look…’
She unsuccesfully tries to read Taïga’s mails, but there is another application the little girl has left open.
‘Interesting… What is this? Facebook? She hasn’t got many friends now has she…’ Missy frowns, looking at the handful of contacts from Bigwood Falls. ‘I’ll just help her a little…’
Excitedly she touches the screen, staring in wonder at the many possibilities.
‘Hmm… Maybe I could meet someone handsome on the Internet? Ooh… There are pictures, too. Sure beats sending letters…’ Missy fiddles with the iPad, creating herself numerous accounts on FB, Twitter, Tinder and several dating sites – generally succeding in screwing up everything possible. Without wanting to, of course!
Time goes by ever so quickly when you’re having fun, but the iPad running out of power pulls Missy back to reality. Checking her watch she gasps. She should return the tablet to Taïga’s things before she gets back from school. She realizes she hasn’t taken a shower, nor eaten today. And the dog is still outside, barking and whining. Grabbing some cookies in the kitchen, she hurries to the bathroom.
‘Bah! I’ll just keep the tablet in my bag for a while. Oh my, time is running. I have some poltergeists to exorcise at the văduvă Petrescu’s tonight!’
She dashes into the bathroom, munching on a cookie and turning on the shower. The sound of the water hitting the tiles is efficiently shutting out the noise of the barking dog.
Missy is on her way out when Taïga gets back from school. Toma has accompanied her as he has work to do for Missy. He stops politely to listen to his employer’s instructions. He has cut down some old bushes the other day, and she wants him to tidy up in the backyard.
After picking up the branches he joins the little girl in the empty house to see if she needs some help with her homework. She’s glad he asked. Romanian geography and history is so complicated. She glances at him, wondering if she should tell him what has been on her mind for a while now… But Toma has become a little intimidating. He seems to have outgrown the happy boy she got to know during Easter camp. Not only in size – he must have grown at least four inches and his arms are all hairy – but his voice is not the same neither. Cracking and breaking, making it hard for her to keep a straight face. Somehow she knows that it would annoy him if she giggles, so she doesn’t. If only he would cut his hair…
Toma can see she’s struggling with the geography exercises and he is happy to help her with what he finds extremely easy. While she’s correcting the last part, he stretches and rubs his belly.
‘Aba, I’m hungry! You don’t happen to have something to eat?’
Taïga hates being alone in Missy’s house when it’s dark outside so she would love to have Toma stay a little longer. She knows she’s not supposed to use the stove on her own, though. But she’s not on her own if Toma is there, is she?
‘We can make pasta? Or an omelet?’ she proposes.
Toma shakes his head. ‘No… I like the idea of using that old firepit of yours in the backyard. I filled it with the branches your great aunt asked me to clean away and we could grill something.’
‘Barbecue,’ Taïga corrects him and he grins at her.
‘Yeah. Barbecue something.’
‘I know – hot dogs!’ Taïga exclaims happily.
Toma takes his things and stands up. ‘Good idea! I’ll go light the fire in the backyard.’
It takes a while to get the fire started. The wood is damp due to the abundance of rain the last weeks, but finally it gets going even if it is smoking a lot in the beginning.
Toma is proud of himself. The evening is chilly, as usual in Vulturu, but the fire is cozy. He brings down the chairs from the porch and disposes them in a circle around the fire pit, just as they used to do during Easter camp. He thinks it’s a pity they’re being all alone, so he draws out his cell from his pocket and scrolls through his list of contacts. He hopes he hasn’t erased the Easter camp numbers…
There were no hot dogs in the fridge, but Taïga found some marshmallows tucked away in a cupboard. They have just started roasting them, when they are interrupted.
‘Ah, there you are, Taïga!’
‘Great, can we have some marshmallows, too?’
‘Hi Jen! Hi Mitch! What are you doing here?’
Toma smiles like the Cheshire cat. ‘I thought you would like having your friends over.’
Taïga beams, handing out marshmallows. ‘Cool! Just like Easter camp! Will you tell us a scary story, Toma?’
‘I just might have heard about an evil-’
‘Bună! Can I have some?’ A boy from school has suddenly shown up in the backyard.
‘Sictir, Daniel! Get lost!’
Daniel shrugs, but doesn’t move. ‘Word’s out you’re having a party.’
‘Party?’ Taïga is dumbstruck. She looks at Toma who shrugs apologetically, shaking his head in denial.
Daniel reaches out his hands towards the warmth of the fire. ‘Yeah. It’s all over Facebook.’
‘But I haven’t…’ Taïga looks at Daniel in bewilderment, but even as she speaks, some other kids from her school are starting to drop in.
‘I’ll fix this.’ Toma jumps up from his chair and heads for the house where he left his backpack with his own tablet.
He checks his Facebook account, and immediately sees Taïga’s party invitation. ‘Ce pula mea – what the fuck?
He brings it outside, and drags Taïga into a quiet corner to show her. ‘Poftim, here you are.’ He hands her his tablet, pointing at the incriminating text.
‘But I’ve never posted this,’ Taïga says, almost crying.
‘It’ll be all right. I’ll put an end to this now, I’ll send Daniel and his buddies home.’
Taïga widens her eyes. Music is blaring from a group of teenagers turning around the corner.
‘La naiba! Dammit!’ Toma hurries towards the new arrivals, ushering the protesting kids back towards the front of the house.
He stops and stares at the commotion on the driveway. Like wildfire, word has spread Taïga’s alone at home and cars, bikes, scooters are parked all over the front lawn and the sidewalk. Taxis are letting out what seems like a never-ending flux of partygoers. There is no way Toma alone can stop the people from milling in and soon the backyard is crowded. Someone’s even brought a kegger and a portable DJ stand.
Toma works his way back through the throng, only to find Taïga desperately trying to stop people from going inside. He bends down, asking her to get the keys and lock the doors. ‘At least we’ll keep it outside, until we find a way to stop this madness.’
She does what is asked of her and soon the house is secured. ‘I want to erase the message, Toma.’
Toma nods and hands her his tablet. They walk over to a quiet corner by the henhouse and sit on the ground. Taïga logs in and looks questioningly at Toma.
‘Let me show you. But it’s probably too late anyway…’
‘Măi… What are you two doing? Am I interrupting something?’ A cute, but annoyed, girl is looking down at them. Taïga recognizes the girl from Easter Camp. The one Toma tried to impress.
‘Err… Servus, Adriana,’ Toma splutters.
‘Smile, Toma. I’m getting proof you’re hanging with kids,’ she says icily in Romanian, holding her cell up.
‘Cut it off, Adriana. You know I’m helping out with her Aunt’s garden. That’s all!’ Toma scrambles to his feet, adding in English, ‘Taïga, you remember Adriana? My girlfriend.’
Cu copii – with kids… The words echo in Taïga’s head, but she nods politely. ‘Bună.’
Adriana ignores her, concentrating on Toma.
Toma’s girlfriend is giving him a hard time, and Taïga doesn’t want to hang around anymore. She leaves them quarrelling and sets out in search of her friends. An extremely pale girl her own age is looking intently at her and she stops.
‘Hey! Who are you? Are you new here?’ she calls out in rather bad Romanian.
But the girl doesn’t answer. Music suddenly blares out, followed by a loud cheer. Taïga’s attention is drawn to the DJ booth and when she looks back again the girl has disappeared.
The old DJ turntable has taken some time to hook up, but once the high speakers are connected loud music fills the quiet spring evening. Soon everyone is dancing and having a good time.
Taïga is dancing and laughing with her friends when she catches sight of the pale, ethereal girl again. She stands alone in the crowd but nobody seems to notice her.
‘Who is she?’ she asks Daniel, but he doesn’t listen, he’s too busy making fun of the dancing teens. Taïga starts towards the girl but bumps into Jen on her way over.
‘Jen! Can I ask you something? Who’s that girl over there, in the butterfly skirt?’
‘What girl?’ Jen munches on some burnt Marshmallows, grinning with sooty teeth. ‘Awesome party! I thought they’d never get the music going and-’
‘The one in the butterfly skirt. Long silvery white hair, rather pretty,’ Taïga interrupts, nodding towards the unknown girl.
Jen looks around her. ‘I can’t see any girl fitting your description… BTW, have you seen Mitchell?’
‘Nope…’ Taïga is thinking hard. The girl is standing over there, ignored by the kids next to her. She just stares ahead, looking eerie and sad. Could I be the only one seeing her?
Mitchell has sneaked inside before the doors were locked, curious to find out more about his secret crush. He quickly heads for the stairs and the first door he pushes open is the right one.
Bingo! This must be her room… nice toy box. He opens it but there are only rags inside. Girl stuff probably. Maybe she uses them to fix clothes for her dolls…
He slumps down on the beanbag in shape of some kind of monster. Cool. He looks around him, his gaze settling on a painting of a horrible witch looking straight at him with malevolent eyes. Mitchell jumps to his feet, stammering an excuse.
Wow… I could have sworn she was looking me straight in the eyes – for real! That’s right out scary… Taïga said she had a painting of her ancestor on the wall, but she must have been kidding!
He laughs nervously. Heading over to the bedside table he checks through the drawers. His skin pricks and he throws a furtive glance over his shoulder at the painting, wondering how Taïga could possibly sleep with something as hideous on the wall.
Mitchell looks around him. The sound of the party is muted up here. Not knowing the doors have been locked, he worries that he doesn’t have much time before someone comes looking for the bathroom or something stupid like that. He lingers, thinking…
Where would a girl hide her secret stuff?
A few minutes later it feels like he has looked everywhere. Except under the bed…
He falls on his knees and scrutinizes the darkness. I think I can see something…
Reaching under the bed he grabs the object he’s been looking for.
But suddenly there’s a slight movement and he grabs the object, rapidly backing out from under the bed, hurting his head when he scrambles to his feet. ‘Ouch…’ He rubs his head with his free hand and blinks. He’s staring straight into a pair of glowing, red eyes. He doesn’t even realize that he lets go of the soft leather bound diary.
A bizarre scraping sound is coming from behind him.
What the heck was that?
Swallowing deeply, trying to keep his eyes on the darkness under the bed, he turns slowly around, facing the painting. Claw-like hands are reaching out towards him and with a muffled scream he aims for the door.
Mitchell can’t get out of Taïga’s room fast enough. He fumbles for the door handle and finally succeeds in scrambling out onto the landing and hurtling downstairs.
The front door is locked, but he opens a window and jumps out right onto one of Granny’s flowerbeds with budding tulips. There’s no way he’ll stay in the vicinity of the house. Scared he takes his bike and pedals all the way home as fast as he can.
After a few songs Toma takes over the role as DJ – mostly to impress his girlfriend.
‘Pump it… PUMP IT!!!’
Toma is pumping his fist in the air to the beat, urging the mass of rhythmically moving teens on.
Taïga is having the time of her life. Laughing, jumping and swirling to the rhythm of the music.
The feared Poliția Română has finally showed up, sirens blaring. If the neighborhood weren’t awaken before, now they sure are and curtains are curiously moving in the windows of the adjacent houses. The two police officers have out of the car and walked around the house to the backyard where they surprised stop taking in the scene of the improvised rave.
Suddenly a shout makes them all scatter, leaving litter in their wake. Soon the only sign off the party are some red plastic cups strewn on the lawn and a few leftover teenagers who dazed are hovering around not sure about what action to take.
Toma doesn’t seem fazed, he’s calmly waiting for them, arranging the discs scattered around. Taïga wants to hide, but she knows she can’t leave Toma to take the blame for something that happened at her place. By accident.
She swallows and watches from afar as the police officers shake Toma’s hand and small talk for a moment. After a little while, one of them salutes and disappears around the corner. Toma waves her over, and a little timidly she advances.
‘Tată, el e Taïga Grey.’
‘Bună, Taïga! Îmi pare bine sã vã cunosc!’ (Nice to meet you)
Taïga understands the word Tată – dad – and her jaw drops. Incredulous, she stares at the bearded police officer. Toma’s dad is a cop? ‘Bună…’ she answers, a little hesitantly.
Toma talks rapidly to his father who nods, scratching his well-kept beard. Taïga understands some words here and there, but can’t get any sense out of what they are saying.
Mr. Balcescu turns to her and says with a heavy accent, ‘I am sorry to put end to party, but we got call from neighbors.’
Taïga looks at him from under her bangs, waiting for him to continue, but his colleague is arriving. Looking around him he calls out with a loud voice telling everyone lingering around that it’s time to leave. A couple of teens making out on the porch are lurched back to reality and quickly disappears. In less than five minutes the backyard is empty. He adds something in a low voice to Mr. Balcescu. Taïga makes out her Aunt’s name and Toma answers with a shrug and shaking his head, all the while talking rapidly in Romanian. His body language tells her that he just said that Missy isn’t home. That there’s no adult at home in fact.
‘Is this your home? Don’t you think you are a little young to party?’ The colleague says sternly, making Taïga shrink back. She is too scared to answer. What will Granny say when she finds out?
Toma breaks in, ‘Îmi pare rãu (Sorry). It wasn’t her fault, dad. I don’t know how all these people found out that she was alone tonight.’
The police officers stare sternly at Taïga. ‘Hmm… Is not good. This time, OK, but no try again,’ Toma’s father says.
‘I won’t, sir. I promise,’ Taïga stammers, tears on the verge of brimming over.
He looks at her for a moment as if he wanted to add something else, then he just nods and turns toward his son, continuing in Romanian. ‘I want you to stay until an adult comes home, son. And it’s only fair if you helped cleaning up this mess. I’ll give you a ride back, just call me.’
‘I’ve got my scooter, dad.’
‘OK. But go straight home afterwards. We’ll talk about this in the morning.’
‘Yeah, sure. Thanks, dad.’
‘Salut-o pe bunica ta de la mine.’ (Say hi to your grandmother from me)
Taïga nods, biting her lip to refrain from starting crying.
Toma turns to her with a penitent smile on his lips. ‘I’m sorry the party went out of hands… I just can’t imagine who posted the invitation in your name.’
‘It’s OK. I guess. Things happen…’
‘Yeah… Well… We’d better get started on cleaning this mess up.’
An hour later the garden is even cleaner than it was before the party and Toma takes his leave, a little reluctantly because there’s still no sign of Missy and he had promised his father to stay until the old lady got home.
Taïga tries to reassure him. ‘I’ll be all right. The doors are locked and Missy will soon get home. I just wanna go to sleep…’
Toma scrutinizes her tired little face, deciding there can’t be any danger in leaving the little girl on her own. ‘OK… See you around. Salve!’
‘Salve!’ She closes the door and locks it behind him. On her way upstairs, she glances out and can see him disappear into the night on his old scooter, as usual forgetting to turn on the lights.
Emotionally drained, Taïga staggers upstairs. She hardly notices the diary on the floor, her attention being drawn to Tramp, who is lying on her bed with an expression of guilty pleasure. Taïga scrambles onto the bed hugging and kissing the dog on his scraggy head. Reassured by the presence of the dog, she falls asleep before her head hits the pillow and gives in to a dreamless, heavy sleep.
She doesn’t wake up when Missy comes home in the wee hours equally drained both emotionally and physically. She has spent the night at the văduvă Petrescu’s house, being very busy indeed. She never thought the old widow was serious when she hired her to exorcise a ghost. But the easy money rapidly turned out to be a real ghost hunter mission, Missy’s first, and after what she went through tonight, she is not ready to start again. She places the container with the very real poltergeist in the basement before going to bed. Exhausted and exhilarated at the same time, trembling with nerves…
Part I – End of Chapter 31