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Misadventures in Ghosthunting by Melissa Yue

Emma Wong is struggling to tell her parents about a lot of things.
Getting a D on her math test, for one. Seeing ghosts, for another.

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The first rule of dealing with ghosts is you don’t.

Which is why, when I crept down the stairs, I didn’t look in the mirror hanging above the table on the landing, and I definitely didn’t catch a glimpse of an eerie figure darting out of view. I also didn’t look over my shoulder into the dark, empty hallway behind me, head pounding, before I eased my way down the stairs. And when I snuck another peek at the mirror, I didn’t see two eyes peering down at me. The pounding in my head intensified.

When I sighed, the house seemed to sigh with me.

Some people think you have to believe in ghosts to see them. Well, if it worked one way, it worked in reverse. I didn’t believe in ghosts, and neither did my family. A vivid imagination, Dad called it. Too many computer games, Mom said. My grandma, Mah Mah, staunchly refused to talk about ghosts at all. One mention of the G-word and she was spooning medicinal soup into your mouth in less than five seconds flat to chase away whatever delusions you had.

So, ghosts didn’t exist. Period.

I had real problems to worry about, like how I was going to hide my final exam in math, and the big red D at the top of the paper. Thankfully, Mom was vacuuming the kitchen for the third time that week, so I managed to sneak past her and into the living room.

As soon as I did, my headache vanished. Relieved, I slunk over to the ancestral altar. The altar stood in the corner of the living room. It was three layers tall with intricate curls carved into the dark cherrywood, and it bore its plate of four stacked oranges in solemn solitude. I tried to ignore how it seemed to glare down at me, silently carrying the judgment of all my ancestors like they never got a D on an exam before.

Carefully, I slid out the bottom drawer of the altar, the one that no one in my family touched, not even my grandma, and I slipped my folded test paper inside.

Then I shut the drawer.

I peered over my shoulder, heart racing. Thankfully, the vacuum was still running.

Look, it’s not like I wanted to hide my test. It’s just that Mom would have gone nuts if she saw it, and then I’d have to call the ambulance to save her poor heart. I was doing her and Dad a favour. It was only until I could buy a red marker that matched what the teacher had used, and then I’d turn that D into a B and everyone would be happy. I’d head over to the corner store after school and pick one up.

“Emma,” Mom said from behind me, and I shot up. She had her arms crossed, and she was looking at me with her Disappointed Mom™ frown. I plastered a serene smile on my face.

“Morning, Mom.”

“What are you doing?”

I looked up at the altar behind me and cleared my throat.

“Paying my respects to the ancestors?”

Mom’s frown deepened. “You know you’re not supposed to touch the altar. Mah Mah says—”

“—I’ll invite bad luck into the house if I mess with the altar,” I finished with a sigh.

Even though Mah Mah didn’t believe in ghosts, she was a firm believer in superstitions. From making sure our beds weren’t pointed towards the bedroom doors (it looked like we were dead) to making sure we never stuck our chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice (because the gods were going to mistake our fresh rice bowls for offerings for the dead), a lot of it had to do with making sure we didn’t associate with death, and all the unlucky things that trailed behind it. She even made me carry around a stash of protective talismans in my backpack—little rectangular papers with great, sweeping characters written in black ink. The altar was especially off limits. No one explicitly said why, but an unspoken agreement had been planted around it: touch the altar and Mah Mah ends you. I shivered. Luckily, Mah Mah was nowhere in sight. She was probably out in the backyard, watering the garden before the summer sun grew too hot.

“Hurry up, then, otherwise you’ll be late for school. It’s the last week before summer vacation.” Mom dusted off a speck of nothing from my shoulder. “And make sure you come straight home after. Your cousin Dylan’s red egg and ginger party is tonight, and we still have to get you an outfit.”

I barely stifled a groan. My cousin Dylan was a hundred days old now, so that meant we had to celebrate with a red egg and ginger party, and that meant a family gathering where I was going to be pinched and prodded within an inch of my life. But today was the day I’d promised to go over to my best friend Michelle’s house to help her with the last tweaks on her DiverBot project. I didn’t think I’d be needed back at my house until dinnertime. “But—”

Mom marched back into the kitchen and took out my packed lunch from the fridge. She shook it at me. Glumly, I took it.

“Mah Mah will take you to the mall since your dad and I will be working,” she said, scrutinizing the hastily closed top of my lunch bag. She un-velcroed it, then velcroed it back with precise movements and a satisfied smile. “Pick something nice up, okay?”

I was torn. Michelle had said the project was a matter of life or death. “I can pick something up on my own.”

“Mah Mah will go with you,” she repeated firmly. “Are you taking your bike to school?”

I bit my bottom lip. Mah Mah had coughed up a storm last night, and I didn’t want to bother her in case she was getting sick. “Mom—”

“Ride carefully,” she said. “And make sure your helmet straps are tightened properly.”

Before I could say anything else, she turned the vacuum back on. A loud whirring filled the space, and I swallowed my brewing frustration. She never listened to what I wanted to say.

I lugged on my backpack and left the house to grab my bike. I kept it in the tin-roof shed in the side yard. Outside, the breeze nipped at my ears, and I shivered. Something felt different in the wind today. It left a creeping chill on my skin, which was weird, because even on the coldest days of winter, being in the garden around the house had only ever made me feel warm.

I’d helped Mah Mah plant many of the flowers and shrubs. Being in our garden smelled like instant noodles sneakily eaten after school before Mom and Dad got home. It sounded like Mah Mah’s calm voice instructing me how deep to dig into the cool, damp soil. It was warmth and sunshine, even on cloudy days. We’d built the garden up so that the hydrangea bushes clustered around the house like a protective fortress, and the plum trees reached towards the sky like spires. Even the neighbourhood deer seemed to steer clear out of respect—or, you know, because Mah Mah had ambushed them with her gardening rake enough times that they finally got the hint.

I shivered again, trying to shake off the feeling of ice in my veins. I wheeled my bike out of the shed, and promptly stopped.

Under the shadows of my house, a boy was standing in the middle of Mah Mah’s hydrangea bushes. His face was cast in darkness. It almost looked like he was standing in the bushes, which would’ve been really hard to do, since I discovered how dense they were when I fell into them last

month while I was helping Mah Mah re-mulch the bushes to protect them from drying out in the summer heat.

“Can I help you?” I asked suspiciously.

Excerpt from Misadventures in Ghosthunting, Copyright © 2024 by Melissa Yue. All rights reserved.

Misadventures in Ghosthunting will be available in bookstores across Canada and online on August 27, 2024

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Misadventures in Ghosthunting by Melissa Yue

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Misadventures in Ghosthunting by Melissa Yue

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