Series: Knitbone Pepper Ghost Dog: Book 3
By Claire Barker
Chapter one – Dead Bored
“I’m soooo booored,” howled Knitbone Pepper, paws over his eyes. “Bored, bored, bored.”
“Me too,” moaned Martin the hamster, slashing his tiny sword back and forth in frustration. “I’m more bored than a bored thing.”
It was a damp and drizzly Sunday morning, with rain trickling down the windowpanes, drop by drop. Orlando the monkey gave a huge yawn. He carefully selected a teaspoon from his handbag and banged his head with it.
Starcross Hall of Bartonshire, England, had shut its huge doors for the winter. So recently full of tourist squeals and laughter, the house had fallen into a deep slumber once more. Dust sheets had been hauled over the hat collections and the Hats Off to Starcross sign had been taken down.
The cafe chairs were stacked and the souvenir shop was shut. The corridors yawned and the empty rooms dozed.
Lord and Lady Pepper, exhausted after such a busy summer season, had popped on their lavender-snooze eye masks, gone to their bedroom and had fallen, face down, into a deep sleep for days. Other than the tick-tock of the library clock, the whole house was quieter than the grave.
Valentine the hare gazed out of the window at the drifting autumn leaves, hoping he looked wistful and handsome. “It’s strange without the visitors, isn’t it?” he mused, brushing his long ears and arranging his whiskers artfully. “It’s a bit spooky.”
“I do miss the excitement,” sighed Winnie Pepper in wonder, looking at a large, framed
poster on the wall. “Did Circus Tombellini really come to Starcross, or was it just a brilliant dream?
It was so magical to see the old place come alive, even though it was only for the summer…”
Gabriel the goose flapped his wings impatiently and tutted. “Heavens to Betsy, everyone! The exhibition has only been shut for a week!” he honked, straightening the Open Again in the Spring sign on the hall window. “Honestly, the way you lot are going on you’d think someone had died! Geddit? DIED! It’s a joke. It’s funny, you see, because we’re ANIMAL GHOSTS! Ha ha!”
But Knitbone didn’t see the funny side. As he plodded up the steps to their attic, he thought to himself that a week without the exhibition already felt like for ever. It wasn’t just the lack of visitors either. Winnie was back at school and he missed her all day long. It wasn’t fair – he only saw her in the mornings. And in the evenings. And at weekends. And the time he spent staring at her whilst she slept. Aside from those times he hardly saw her at all.
It’s not that he wasn’t grateful to be a ghost – being a Beloved was the best thing ever – but the summer had been so much fun. At the top of the stairway he turned and howled. “But now there’s nothing to do, Gabriel! Dogs need things to do!”
“Goodness gracious ME, Knitbone Pepper!” said Gabriel, waddling up the stairs behind him. “As both a Beloved and a member of the Spirits of Starcross, there’s never any time to be bored! Being guardians of heart and home is very time-consuming. There are lots of jobs to do.”
“Like what?” asked Martin sulkily, clambering onto the top step and eyeing the goose accusingly with his telescope.
“Well, you know…” said Gabriel, ruffling his wings defensively. “Lots of things, like…um…sorting socks…dusting…hoovering…”
Everyone groaned and Knitbone nudged the attic door open with his nose. Martin raced inside and promptly dived into a packet of comforting ginger nuts. After adventures with ghost tigers, circuses and international jewel thieves, the prospect of housework was duller than dishwater.
Swinging himself up onto an old packing case, Orlando reached out and unpinned the circus postcard from its place on the wall. It had a boy and a tiger on the front.
He pressed his face to the picture and a tear rolled down his monkey cheek. “Orlando miss snaggletooth tigerface. Orlando love him.” He gave a little sniff. “Orlando miss him.”
“We all miss Roojoo,” sighed Knitbone. “Read the postcard again.”
Orlando read it out, slowly, with dramatic pauses for sobs.
Dear Winnie, Knitbone, Gabriel, Valentine, Orlando and Martin.
We are now in Germany. The gingerbread here is delicious and most energizing! I’ve been making new friends along the way. I’ve bumped into a few more Beloveds. As you say:
“A Beloved in need is a friend indeed!”
Word is getting about…
Love and hoops of fire,
There was a long, fed-up silence. Winnie reached into her pocket and took out the gift that Bertie, the circus ringmaster, had given her. Holding the beautiful pocket watch up in the autumn light, she read the inscription out loud: “Friendship is Timeless”. She gave a small sigh and even Gabriel’s good mood began to sag a little. The atmosphere hung limply in the air, like a day-old party balloon.
“I find, in challenging circumstances such as these,” Gabriel parried, “that books can be very helpful.” He reached for The Good Ghost Guide, which he had re-shelved in the Beloved’s attic room for convenience.
“You’re a librarian goose. You always think books are very helpful,” sighed Knitbone, walking in a circle on the spot and plonking down, spreading out in a puddle of glum.
“That is because they are. And kindly remember, Knitbone Pepper, that this isn’t any old book, it’s THE book. We need something to keep us busy until the spring and this book will have the answer. For example,” he said, his blue eyes twinkling, “there’s a whole section on hobbies. That’ll lift our spirits!” Gabriel flicked to the right page and jabbed a wing tip at it. “There! You see? Starting at A.”
Knitbone looked down at the page and raised a doubtful eyebrow. “Armadillo Collecting? Ant Farming? What are you getting at, Gabriel?”
The goose tutted. “Not those, THAT one.”
He pointed to a different word.
Valentine spelled it out. “A-R-C-H-A-E-O-L-O-G-Y.” He looked up and cocked his long ears to one side. “What’s that?”
“That, my dear friend, is a hobby where you look in the ground for buried treasure.” Gabriel’s feathery chest puffed out, a sure sign he was about to say something clever. “The official term is an archaeological dig.”
Straight away, Knitbone’s ears pricked up and he sprang to his feet. Dig? In the dirt? Now Gabriel was talking! Suddenly everything was starting to look up.
They went straight to the old conservatory.
Once a sunny Victorian wonder, it had been left languishing in the dark for nearly a century. Now it looked like a gloomy sunken ship, palm trees towering towards the glass ceiling like wonky masts. It was a secret garden, where all sorts of plants had been allowed to run wild; twisting and rambling unchecked, creating a thick jungle of strange blossoms and fruits. Rich in rubbish and junk, experience had taught Knitbone that it would be the ideal spot for a bit of treasure hunting.
A few years earlier he and Winnie had found a priceless dinosaur bone in there and nearly sent it to the Natural History Museum – until Lady Pepper had gently pointed out that it was, in fact, just a lamb chop.
Moving the old black and white floor tiles, Valentine used his powerful back legs to dig big holes and Gabriel used his beak to rifle about in the dirt. They quickly found precious pennies and a few muddy pieces of jigsaw. Martin was covered in so much soil
that he looked just like a little potato.
Orlando, using a spoon from Lady Pepper’s old handbag, carefully unearthed a smooth, round object.
He gasped and held it aloft. “Eez a mushroom made of ancient woodenness!” he breathed, full of wonder, his round eyes shining.
“No it’s not, you noodle,” said Martin flatly, inspecting the object. “It’s a doorknob. Keep digging.”
By the end of the morning they had quite a hoard of treasure/rubbish. Coloured bottles, pieces of plates, ring pulls and broken tiles were piled up in a wobbly tower. Gabriel recorded them all on his clipboard. Martin dug up a tiny toy soldier and Orlando unearthed a blue plastic owl. Overcome with emotion, he lovingly christened it “Twit”, and swore to love it for ever.
Knitbone spent most of the morning with his nose down a particular hole, snuffling, snorting and digging. He got very excited, thinking he might have found a sword or at the very least a giraffe bone, but in the end it just turned out to be a thing that looked like a bit of old drainpipe.
It was most disappointing.
“What have you got there, Knitbone?” asked Winnie, wiping her muddy hands on her knees. Knitbone carried it over and plonked it at her feet. Winnie picked it up and looked carefully at it.
It wasn’t a pipe, because it had glass in both ends.
“Knitbone, you clever old thing,” said Winnie, peering through one grubby end and laughing
in surprise. “I think you’ve found some sort of telescope.”
Knitbone wagged his tail. He didn’t think that a telescope was anywhere near as exciting as a giraffe bone, but if Winnie was pleased then he was pleased.
“Aha!” honked Gabriel, his beak covered in mud like badly applied lipstick. “Good work, Knitbone. Perfect timing in fact, as the next hobby in the book is – Astronomy! Studying the stars!” He flapped his wings in excitement. “To the library!”
The Beloveds obediently trooped out of the conservatory and along the corridor, leaving a trail of muddy footprints. They were ready to get stuck into the reference books.
And get stuck in was exactly what Winnie did, rather like glitter to glue.
Knitbone knew she was the cleverest girl in the whole world, but even he was surprised by
her sudden hunger for all things astronomical. From that Sunday afternoon on she gobbled up books on supernovas and black holes like they were cupcakes, reaching for another before she’d finished the last one. Winnie read and read, devouring and scoffing and stuffing her brain with information as if she couldn’t get enough. She gushed about spiral galaxies and raved about the wonders of cosmic snowballs. From dawn until dusk she pondered dark matter, flare stars and space dust.
The others, slightly alarmed and not quite so captivated, briskly moved on from the As to the Bs, which meant Basket-weaving, Bowling in the Ballroom and Being Bored. But Winnie Pepper only had eyes for the stars.
Knitbone Pepper's beloved owner Winnie is fascinated by the stars after Knitbone digs up an ancient telescope. So when a heartbroken ghost horse asks for help finding her owner - a world-famous astronomer - Knitbone looks to the skies for a dazzling answer...
“Funny and beautifully illustrated.”
The Daily Express
Claire Barker graduated from Bath Spa University with a degree in English Literature and History. She studied illustration for a further two years and worked as a teaching assistant for several more. Claire used to live on narrowboats but now lives with her family on a small, untidy farm in deepest, darkest Devon. When she’s not busy writing or illustrating she spends her days wrestling sheep, battling through nettle patches and triumphantly catching rogue chickens.
Visit clairebarkerauthor.com to find out more.
“More giggles and woofs in the third highly appealing ghost dog adventure.”