The pumpkin sat on the doorstep, staring at them all through glowing eyes. A wicked, toothy grin spread across its carved face.
The Captain stared back, his own face set in stoic determination, swagger stick tucked under one arm. He coughed sharply.
'Ahem. Well. This is most unorthodox, but I'm sure there's a perfectly rational explanation. We must find Alison at once.'
Behind him, the other ghosts stood in a baffled cluster, peering at the pumpkin with various levels of fear, offence and suspicion. Moments ago, they'd been gathered in the drawing room for a game of charades when something had thrown them, all at once and quite forcefully, out onto the driveway.
It hadn't taken long to identify the culprit: plump, bright orange and grinning smugly from its perch outside the door.
'Alison's gone out, mate,' Pat said. He stood, hands on hips, beside the captain. 'Mike too. They must have lit the candle on the way out.'
'This is ridiculous!' protested Fanny. She marched up to the door, skirts swinging, only to be thrown back onto the driveway in an undignified heap.
Robin roared with laughter. Julian snorted. Fanny stood up and brushed herself off, her face contorted in fury.
'I shall not be denied entry into my own house by a vegetable!'
'T'is not a vegetable,' Mary's voice was hushed with reverence. 'T'is a charm for keeping spirits away.'
Kitty was on the edge of tears, her voice quivering. 'Whyever would Alison want to keep us away? I thought she liked us!'
Beside her, Thomas looked equally panicked. He glanced around at the others, wide eyed. 'Surely she can't want rid of us all?'
'Well, maybe you,' said Julian, smirking.
Thomas glared at him.
'I'm sure it's a misunderstanding,' Pat cut in diplomatically. 'How was Alison to know that this would happen? I used to carve a pumpkin with the boys for Halloween. It's just an old tradition - I never would've thought it actually worked! Look, if Mary says it's a charm, there must be way to undo it.'
He turned to Mary, who was wringing her apron tightly in her hands. She looked thoughtful for a moment, then said: 'You has to keeps it lit, elsewise the spirits, they gets through.'
'Excellent, Mary!' said the Captain.'We put the light out. Capital idea!'
Mary gave a small, proud smile. 'Well, s'just what I's heard...'
The Captain pointed his swagger stick at Robin. All eyes turned to the caveman, whose heavy furs shifted as he shrugged.
'Don't look at me. Only do electrics.'
'Blast.' The Captain turned sharply to point to his next recruit. 'Julian? Perhaps we could exinguish it by pushing it over.'
Julian rolled his eyes, waving a hand to push the swagger stick away. 'Oh, I see how it is. I'm always the one doing the heavy lifting, eh? Well, stand back.'
He walked somewhat gingerly up to the lantern and crouched down beside it. The others showed no intention of standing back, but huddled anxiously behind him. He flexed both hands, frowned in concentration, and pressed his fingers to the pumpkin - only to pull them back with a yelp.
'I say!' cried the Captain. 'The bally thing's armed!'
'Last time I do anything for you lot,' Julian grumbled, wincing as he inspected his burned fingers.
'What do we do now?' wailed Kitty. 'We shall never get back inside!'
'Well,' said a voice from somewhere near Thomas' ankles. 'Alison should be back eventually. And that candle won't burn forever.'
Thomas jumped. 'Humphrey! How long have you been there?'
'The whole time. I got thrown out too, you know. Not sure where the body is - gone for a nightime stroll, I bet. Mind picking me up, anyone?'
Thomas bent down, ignored Humphrey's protests - 'Ah, anyone but you, preferably...'- and scooped him up in one arm, not unlike a rugby ball. Humphrey let out a resigned sigh.
'Anyway, I reckon it's just a matter of waiting,' he said from the crook of Thomas' elbow. 'Not that that's anything new to me.'
'Hang on,' said Julian suddenly. 'If we're stuck out here, shouldn't the downstairs lot be here too? And what about that creepy girl from the pantry? Maybe the spell only works on part of the building.'
Fanny scoffed. 'That makes no sense whatsoever. It's all one house, is it not? My house, I might add, from which I now appear to be barred by this-'
'She's right,' someone called from not far away. 'It does the whole house.'
A second small assembly had gathered at the top of a set of outdoor steps that led down to the cellar. They looked, to Julian and Pat's eyes at least, not unlike students assembled for a fire drill - if said students were covered in dirt and sores. Close by them stood a smaller, forlorn looking figure, clutching a doll.
'You've been here this whole time?!'
'We didn't see the point in saying anything,' said the one called Mick. 'You all seemed too busy shouting and such.'
'This used to happen a lot back in the day, you know,' one of the women said. 'When folks moved back to the village after the plague was gone, they'd all light turnips on All Hallows Eve and we'd get thrown right out of town, right into the forest.'
'Ha, me remember that,' Robin chuckled. 'Was funny. Me minding own business in forest and boom!' He threw his hands in the air and brought them down, wiggling his fingers to illustrate. 'Raining peasants.'
'I... see,' said the Captain slowly. He cleared his throat again and addressed the plague ghosts. 'And are you aware of any countermeasures? Ways to break through this, ah, spiritual defense?'
'Not really,' said Mick. The rest of the plague pit mumbled and nodded sagely in agreement. 'We just waited until they threw all them turnips away.'
'See,' said Humphrey from Thomas' arm. 'Forget Robin and Julian. It's my ghost power that will help us all here.'
'And what is that, exactly?' Fanny asked, frowning.
Humphrey laughed dryly. 'Patience.'
There was an uncomfortable silence, during which Kitty sniffled. The pumpkin flickered in the doorway, a sentry protecting Button House from the restless spirits of the dead.
'Anyone up for a ghost story?' said Pat.