Inside the Team RoJo fort, Ro researched away at the table, taking notes, smiling, very excited by what she was reading. Suddenly, Jo burst through the door, looking for the hoodie he'd taken off while helping Dad rake leaves.
"Hi. Getting a little chilly. Mom and I are carving another pumpkin on the picnic table. Wanna come help?" Jo said.
"Maybe later, I'm kind of busy right now," Ro answered, scrolling down her laptop screen.
"What's up?" he asked Ro, who continued scribbling notes into her tablet so fast the tip of her pen looked like a blur.
"I'm reading about this hotel in Arizona that's haunted."
"You mean there are ghosts living there?"
"Yep. BEN Owl found the link on the computer when I was looking up stuff about Halloween."
"Do you believe in ghosts?" Jo asked, straddling the bench next to his sister, curious.
"Well, Mom and Dad say there's no such thing. But with all the magical stuff that goes on in our family, I don't see why there couldn't be ghosts."
Jo nodded, thinking over Ro's logic. "You may be right."
"There's this hotel in an old mining ghost town – Jerome. It's supposed to be haunted and it has a bunch of different ghosts in it."
"Really?" Jo asked, leaning in to see the screen of the laptop. "It doesn't look like a haunted house."
"Any house can be haunted, not just spooky-looking places you see at Halloween," Ro said. "This hotel is for real. People can rent rooms there, and sometimes the ghosts appear to them. And they play tricks on the maids – open and close doors, call their names and stay invisible, all kinds of stuff."
"Wow! How far away is Arizona?"
"Oh, about 2316 miles away as the crow – or in this case, owl – flies," BEN Owl said from Ro's left shoulder, and Jo looked up at his wise face from Ro's right side and whistled.
"That sure is a long way from Pennsylvania!" Jo said.
"Yes, it certainly is," BEN Owl said, and gave a little pondering hoot.
"There are a couple of old men ghosts who people have seen, but on the third floor, there is supposed to be a little boy ghost – about six years old," Ro told her brother all about everything she'd learned.
"Wouldn't it be cool if we could visit him?" Jo said.
"Why can't we?" BEN Owl said to the children's surprise.
"Um, 2316 miles away," Ro reminded him softly.
"Well, it's a long flight, I'll admit, but I think Sir WHIP and I could handle it," BEN Owl said.
"Wait! It doesn't have to even be a flight!" Jo said, excitedly, and Ro's eye began to sparkle, as she caught onto his meaning.
"We have to tell Mom and Dad what's going on," Ro said, already swinging her leg up and over the bench and swiveling around. Within seconds she was in the kitchen where Mom was making a cup of tea after finishing up the pumpkin outside.
"Hi Mom. I was researching a haunted hotel in Arizona this morning and Jo came in. I was telling him about a little boy ghost who lives on the third floor of the hotel, and he thought it would be cool to visit the hotel and meet him. BEN Owl thought that he and Sir WHIP could handle the flight, but Jo said it would be easier…"
"To use the crystal ball?" Mom finished the sentence for her daughter, nodding. "He's right. That kid is really latching onto the magical talents of our family," she said, smiling. "Remember, it's chilly here in October, but it's like summer in Arizona. Please be careful. It's not an abandoned hotel, is it?"
"No! You can stay there just like any other hotel – this one's just haunted."
Mom chuckled. "You might want to remember your cameras, just in case the little boy appears to you."
"Yeah! That's right!" Ro said, and called out the back door to Jo. "Get our camera, my notebook and a pen into a backpack in the fort, please! Then come inside and change into some shorts and a tee shirt – it's hot in Arizona!"
"Okay!" Jo said, returning inside the fort as BEN Owl flew over from the fort roof to land on Ro's shoulder before she closed the door.
Mom glanced over, and seeing BEN Owl, smiled and said, "You promise to keep an eye on them, old friend?"
"Of course! They shall be safe on my watch, I promise."
"Done deal, then; now scoot and get changed! Do you want a couple peanut butter sandwiches in case you get hungry?" Mom said as Ro moved toward the kitchen door on her way to change, and Jo burst in the back door.
"Yes, please!" Ro and Jo both sang out at once, and Jo tore through the kitchen, Kato meeting him in the hallway and following him into his room. "Wanna come, Kato?" Mom heard her son say as he shimmied out of his jeans and then into shorts that he found in his drawer, along with a tee shirt. Kato yipped, wagging his tail, and followed Jo back out into the kitchen, where Mom was tucking some peanut butter sandwiches into the backpack that Jo had hung on the back doorknob when he'd come inside.
Within minutes Ro and Jo, BEN Owl and Kato stood around the crystal ball on the table inside the fort, watching its mists swirl and then clear up. They could see the haunted hotel as clear as it appeared in the picture online, and Ro beamed. "This is going to be so cool!"
Ro and Jo held hands, BEN Owl perched on Ro's shoulder, Jo's other hand holding onto Kato's collar, and they felt themselves begin to shrink, when suddenly, the fort door burst open and in leapt Sir WHIP!
"You guys were planning a trip without me?" he asked, sounding like his feelings were kindof hurt.
"We thought you were still asleep – there were no lights on in your house in my room when I looked," Jo said.
"I was meditating with the lights off."
"Oh. What's that?" Jo said, and Ro nudged him.
"It doesn't matter right this minute! We were all ready to leave."
"Oh, yeah. Sir WHIP, we are leaving to visit a haunted hotel in Arizona. You game?"
"Sure! I have many ghost friends."
"You do?" Ro and Jo said at the same time, surprised.
"Well of course! I have dragon friends who live around castles in Europe, and a lot of those castles are haunted. We'll have to visit them sometime."
"But right now we're on our way to Arizona," Ro said, and taking Sir WHIP's clawed hand, the team felt themselves shrink and shrink until they were small enough to fit inside the crystal ball…
…and then grow and grow until they were normal size again, so they could explore the hotel and hopefully make a friend of the little boy ghost.
"Wow," Ro said, looking around. "That crystal ball is sure smart. We are on the third floor of the hotel!"
"Yeah. It always seems to know just where we want to go and poof! There we are!" Jo agreed.
They walked quietly up the hall, hoping that they wouldn't get in trouble for being there, since they weren't exactly guests of the hotel.
Turning a corner, they saw no one, and decided to walk to the next corner and see what was around it. Halfway there, the air in the middle of the hall began to shimmer, and then a sort of fog appeared.
The fog gradually began to take the shape of a boy. A little boy ghost!
Ro and Jo froze in their tracks, Sir WHIP in Jo's pocket, and BEN Owl on Ro's shoulder lurching at the sudden stop. Kato, not realizing his friends weren't beside him, walked right on up to the glimmering little boy, and sniffed his feet and knees.
The little boy smiled and began to fade.
"No wait! Don't go! We're friends!" Ro called out, but not too loudly, since she wasn't supposed to be there, really.
The little boy heard her, and tilted his head, still smiling. He shimmered a little brighter, though Ro, Jo, Sir WHIP, BEN Owl, and Kato could all see the wall behind him.
"We came a long way to meet you. We read about you on the computer…" Jo said, and Ro interrupted him.
"He isn't going to understand what a computer is."
"Oh. Yeah, that's right," Jo murmured, and then said, "We read about you, and thought it might be a little lonely here for you, being the only little kid gho…" he stopped before he could say the whole word 'ghost,' thinking it might frighten the little boy or hurt his feelings.
"Ghost. It's okay. I know I'm a ghost," the little boy said, still smiling, and he sort of floated toward Jo and Ro, Kato backing up, not taking his eyes off the little boy. Small and see-through or not, the boy was still a stranger and it never hurt to be careful.
"I really like your dog. I haven't seen one in a long time – the hotel doesn't allow pets," the little boy said, squatting down to gently pet Kato.
"That's sad," Ro said, dropping to her knees to join her new-found friend in the Kato-petting. Kato began to relax as the boy found the sweet spot behind his ears.
"I'm Ro, and this is my little brother Jo, BEN Owl, and Sir WHIP, our dragon friend."
"What a wonderful toy dragon! His eyes move and everything!" the boy said, standing back up again, and leaning to take a closer look at Sir WHIP in Jo's pocket. Just as he moved closer, Sir WHIP puffed a little smoke toward the boy. "Holy cannoli!" the boy said, jerking backwards. "How did he do that?"
With that Jo lifted Sir WHIP out of his pocket and sat him gently on the floor. Within moments Sir WHIP began to grow to the size of the little boy, who stood, astonished, as a real live dragon grew before him, blowing smoke rings from his nose.
"Because, young man, I am Sir Winston Howard Ignatius Pendragon – or as the children call me, Sir WHIP. And your name would be?"
It took a moment before the boy found his voice again, so surprised was he at the sight of a dragon in the hallway of a hotel, but finally he said, "Timmy. My name is Timmy."
Ro and Jo smiled at Timmy as he continued to stare at Sir WHIP, amazed.
"It's nice to meet you, Timmy," Ro said.
Timmy stood up, curious about BEN Owl, sitting so still on Ro's shoulder. "He's beautiful! You said his name is Ben Owl – like Benjamin Franklin?"
"Well, though Benjamin Franklin was an amazing man, my full name is Bellerophon Euclid Nicodemus Owl, and I am descended from Athena's owl's line.
Timmy continued to smile. "You and Sir WHIP have really long names, huh?" Not realizing who Athena was, but nevertheless impressed that BEN Owl, like his sparkly orange friend, could speak.
"It must be interesting being a ghost," Ro said, trying to satisfy her curiosity without being impolite.
"Oh, it sure is! I play tag with house flies, I say hello to the maids and then disappear, I go behind them and turn the lights on as soon as they turn them off, you know, the usual trickster stuff."
"Isn't that kindof mean?" Ro asked through quiet giggles.
"Oh no! They know I'm playing with them, and they always laugh," Timmy said. "Watch!"
Timmy told the Team RoJo friends where to stand so they wouldn't be seen, and as the maid came up the hall with her cart full of cleaning supplies, clean linens, and laundry bin, he started his shenanigans.
One maid, named Angie, started laughing the first time a light went on behind her as she started out of a room. She stood with her hands on her hips, smiling, shaking her head back and forth and said, "Okay little one, you got me! Come out, come out wherever you are!"
Suddenly, Timmy appeared before her, giggled and wiggled his fingers in a mischievous little wave, then vanished – at least for Angie. Ro and Jo could still see him plain as day.
"See?" Timmy said, returning to his friends around the corner in the hallway. "They know I'm just playing a game with them."
"It's really cool to be a ghost! You get to play all day, never have to do chores or homework, never have to take a bath…" Jo said, and stopped when he saw sadness in Timmy's eyes.
"The only thing wrong is I can never leave this hotel."
Ro said, "With all your friends here, and all the fun you have do you really want to?"
"Sometimes. I used to have a friend whose papa built him a treehouse in back of his house. I got to play in it a couple of times and it was so much fun!"
"A treehouse, huh?" Jo said, and Ro could hear ideas beginning to form in her brother's head.
"Yes! It was fantastic! Nobody could see us up there – it was like a secret hiding place. We had all kinds of pretend adventures – that we were pirates on a ship, that we were bank robbers hiding out, that we were bears in a cave, watching people below – it was terrific!"
"So you want a place of your own where you can play and pretend?" Jo said. "Would that make you happier?"
"So happy!" Timmy said, shimmering more brightly before his new friends.
Jo nodded, rubbing his hands together. "Would you settle for a rooftop fort?"
Timmy's eyes clouded with confusion. "Well, sure, but what are you talking about? Where would we get the supplies to build such a thing?"
"I'm thinking," Jo said, rubbing his hand on his chin like Gramps Blaze or Poppop sometimes did when they were deep in thought, planning their own projects. "How do we get up on the roof?"
Timmy took them up there, and they found it was mostly flat.
Jo smiled and said, "perfect." Then he closed his eyes and thought really hard until another shimmery person appeared before him. Ro's whole faced beamed in delight. "Poppy!" she said, and leaped at him. He made himself solid enough for her to hug, and Jo hugged him as well.
"So you must have woken me out of a sound sleep for a reason, huh?" he asked, and Jo nodded.
"We sure did! Can you tell me how to build a fort up here, and how to get the supplies?"
"Wow! That's a tall order. Building a fort is no easy thing, and the supplies, well, the supplies would be tricky. We might need Gramps Blaze for that – he can create the stuff you'll need, being a wizard and all."
"So we need Gramps Blaze for the stuff, and you for the plans?" Ro asked, already thinking hard, contacting Gramps Blaze with her mind. Soon her kindly wizard Gramps stood next to her floating Poppy, and the two men shook hands just before Ro and Jo bombarded Gramps Blaze with hugs.
Then Team RoJo, Gramps Blaze, and Poppy got down to business as Timmy watched, surprised and delighted by all their magic.
Wood and nails, paint and rollers appeared out of thin air as Poppy told Gramps Blaze what was needed.
Ro, Jo, Timmy, Kato, BEN Owl, and Sir WHIP watched – only Timmy with wide, astonished eyes – as the fort began to take shape.
Within fifteen minutes the small house was built, including windows on every side, an insulated roof, and AstroTurf beneath it to make it soft to sit on inside, and sort of like a little yard outside. It was painted to match the hotel, like a little penthouse all Timmy's own.
"Do you think the hotel people will let me keep it?" Timmy said, clapping in delight as he floated in and out of the fort, giggling.
"Of course! Because they won't be able to see it," Gramps Blaze explained. "I put a spell on the whole thing so no one can see it but you and your friends."
"Holy cow!" Timmy said, hugging Gramps Blaze and Poppy for the awesome thing they had done for a little ghost boy. "Thank you!"
"And we will come back and play with you!" Ro said.
"But we have chores and homework and magic stuff too, so maybe not every day," Jo said. "But whenever we can!"
"I can hardly wait! Let's play now!" Timmy said, clapping.
Gramps Blaze said, "I think I heard your dad say something about the trash needing to be taken out on my way over Pennsylvania. You may want to play for a little while, and then hurry home and do chores as soon as you get there."
Ro and Jo promised that as soon as they got back home they would do everything quick-as-a-bunny, and Ro concentrated hard and put that promise in Mom and Dad's heads.
Gramps Blaze and Poppy faded away after hugs from everyone, children and magical animals alike, leaving Ro and Jo to play for hours with their ghostly friend. They became explorers, pirates, miners, spies, astronauts (Ro and Jo spilled the beans about space shuttles and space stations, pictures from Mars, the whole thing.), and cops and robbers. Even Kato, BEN Owl, and Sir WHIP got in on their games.
As the hot sun got lower and lower in the Arizona sky, Ro and Jo began to think about home. "We're really glad we came here to meet you, Timmy," Jo said, panting a little, from running around on the roof all day, playing game after game with his friends.
"It's been a fantastic day!" Timmy said. "The best in my whole life! So much more fun than even the treehouse! Thank you for my fort!"
"We will come back and play soon!" Ro said, hugging the little boy ghost, trying to keep her arms from passing through him.
Then Ro, Jo, Kato, BEN Owl, and Sir WHIP stood close together and began to fade from Timmy's sight as he waved, a big smile on his face.
As Ro and Jo and their friends floated out of the crystal ball into their fort in their yard, Timmy floated into his own fort on the hotel roof in Arizona, all of the friends already planning their next adventures in their heads.
TD – 10/16/2016