Josh & I hated our new house.
Sure, it was big. It looked like a mansion compared to our old house. It was a tall redbrick
house with a sloping black roof & rows of windows framed by black shutters.
It's so dark, I thought, studying it from the street. The whole house was covered in darkness,
as if it were hiding in the shadows of the gnarled, old trees that bent over it.
It was the middle of July, but dead brown leaves blanketed the front yard. Our sneakers
crunched over them as we trudged up the gravel driveway.
Tall weeds poked up everywhere through the dead leaves. Thick clumps of weeds had
completely overgrown an old flower bed beside the front porch.
This house is creepy, I thought unhappily.
Josh must have been thinking the same thing. Looking up at the old house, we both groaned
Mr. Dawes, the friendly young man from the local real estate office, stopped near the front
walk & turned around.
"Everything okay?" he asked, staring 1st at Josh, then at me, with his crinkly blue eyes.
"Josh & Amanda aren't happy about moving," Dad explained, tucking his shirttail in. Dad is a
little overweight, & his shirts always seem to be coming untucked.
"It's hard for kids," my mother added, smiling at Mr. Dawes, her hands shoved into her jeans
pockets as she continued up to the front door. "You know. Leaving all of their friends behind.
Moving to a strange new place."
"Strange is right," Josh said, shaking his head. "This house is gross."
Mr. Dawes chuckled. "It's an old house, that's for sure," he said, patting Josh on the shoulder.
"It just needs some work, Josh," Dad said, smiling at Mr. Dawes. "No one has lived in it for a
while, so it'll take some fixing up."
"Look how big it is," Mom added, smoothing back her straight black hair & smiling at Josh.
"We'll have room for a den & maybe a rec room, too. You'd like that — wouldn't you, Amanda?"
I shrugged. A cold breeze made me shiver. It was actually a beautiful, hot summer day. But
the closer we got to the house, the colder I felt.
I guessed it was because of all the tall, old trees.
I was wearing white tennis shorts & a sleeveless blue T-shirt. It had been hot in the car. But
now I was freezing. Maybe it'll be warmer in the house, I thought.
"How old are they?" Mr. Dawes asked Mom, stepping onto the front porch.
"Amanda is 12," Mom answered. "& Josh turned 1 1 last month."
"They look so much alike," Mr. Dawes told Mom.
I couldn't decide if that was a compliment or not. I guess it's true. Josh & I are both tall & thin
& have curly brown hair like Dad's, & dark brown eyes. Everyone says we have "serious" faces.
"I really want to go home," Josh said, his voice cracking. "I hate this place."
My brother is the most impatient kid in the world. & when he makes up his mind about
something, that's it. He's a little spoiled. At least, I think so. Whenever he makes a big fuss about
something, he usually gets his way.
We may look alike, but we're really not that similar. I'm a lot more patient than Josh is. A lot
more sensible. Probably because I'm older & because I'm a girl.
Josh had hold of Dad's hand & was trying to pull him back to the car. "Let's go. Come on.
Dad. Let's go."
I knew this was one time Josh wouldn't get his way. We were moving to this house. No doubt
about it. After all, the house was absolutely free. A great-uncle of Dad's, a man we didn't even
know, had died & left the house to Dad in his will.
I'll never forget the look on Dad's face when he got the letter from the lawyer. He let out a
loud whoop & began dancing around the living room. Josh & I thought he'd flipped or
"My Great-Uncle Charles has left us a house in his will," Dad explained, reading & rereading
the letter. "It's in a town called Dark Falls."
"Huh?" Josh & I cried. "Where's Dark Falls?"
"I don't remember your Uncle Charles," Mom said, moving behind Dad to read the letter over
"Neither do I," admitted Dad. "But he must've been a great guy! Wow! This sounds like an
incredible house!" He grabbed Mom's hands & began dancing happily with her across the living
Dad sure was excited. He'd been looking for an excuse to quit his boring office job & devote
all of his time to his writing career. This house — absolutely free — would be just the excuse he
& now, a week later, here we were in Dark Falls, a 4-hour drive from our home, seeing our
new house for the 1st time. We hadn't even gone inside, & Josh was trying to drag Dad back to
"Josh — stop pulling me," Dad snapped impatiently, trying to tug his hand out of Josh's grasp.
Dad glanced helplessly at Mr. Dawes. I could see that he was embarrassed by how Josh was
carrying on. I decided maybe I could help.
"Let go. Josh," I said quietly, grabbing Josh by the shoulder. "We promised we'd give Dark
Falls a chance — remember?"
"I already gave it a chance," Josh whined, not letting go of Dad's hand. "This house is old &
ugly & I hate it."
"You haven't even gone inside," Dad said angrily.
"Yes. Let's go in," Mr. Dawes urged, staring at Josh.
"I'm staying outside," Josh insisted.
He can be really stubborn sometimes. I felt just as unhappy as Josh looking at this dark, old
house. But I'd never carry on the way Josh was.
"Josh, don't you want to pick out your own room?" Mom asked.
"No," Josh muttered.
He & I both glanced up to the second floor. There were 2 large bay windows side by side up
there. They looked like 2 dark eyes staring back at us.
"How long have you lived in your present house?" Mr. Dawes asked Dad.
Dad had to think for a second. "About 14 years," he answered. "The kids have lived there for
their whole lives."
"Moving is always hard," Mr. Dawes said sympathetically, turning his gaze on me. "You know,
Amanda, I moved here to Dark Falls just a few months ago. I didn't like it much either, at 1st. But
now I wouldn't live anywhere else." He winked at me. He had a cute dimple in his chin when he
smiled. "Let's go inside. It's really quite nice. You'll be surprised."
All of us followed Mr. Dawes, except Josh. "Are there other kids on this block?" Josh
demanded. He made it sound more like a challenge than a question.
Mr. Dawes nodded. "The school's just 2 blocks away," he said, pointing up the street.
"See?" Mom quickly cut in. "A short walk to school. No more long bus rides every morning."
"I liked the bus," Josh insisted.
His mind was made up. He wasn't going to give my parents a break, even though we'd both
promised to be open-minded about this move.
I don't know what Josh thought he had to gain by being such a pain. I mean. Dad already
had plenty to worry about. For one thing, he hadn't been able to sell our old house yet.
I didn't like the idea of moving. But I knew that inheriting this big house was a great
opportunity for us. We were so cramped in our little house. & once Dad managed to sell the old
place, we wouldn't have to worry at all about money anymore.
Josh should at least give it a chance. That's what I thought.
Suddenly, from our car at the foot of the driveway, we heard Petey barking & howling &
making a fuss.
Petey is our dog, a white, curly-haired terrier, cute as a button, & usually well-behaved. He
never minded being left in the car. But now he was yowling & yapping at full volume &
scratching at the car window, desperate to get out.
"Petey — quiet! Quiet!" I shouted. Petey usually listened to me.
But not this time.
"I'm going to let him out!" Josh declared, & took off down the driveway toward the car.
"No. Wait—" Dad called.
But I don't think Josh could hear him over Petey's wails.
"Might as well let the dog explore," Mr. Dawes said. "It's going to be his house, too."
A few seconds later, Petey came charging across the lawn, kicking up brown leaves,
yipping excitedly as he ran up to us. He jumped on all of us as if he hadn't seen us in weeks &
then, to our surprise, he started growling menacingly & barking at Mr. Dawes.
"Petey — stop!" Mom yelled.
"He's never done this," Dad said apologetically. "Really. He's usually very friendly."
"He probably smells something on me. Another dog, maybe," Mr. Dawes said, loosening his
striped tie, looking warily at our growling dog.
Finally, Josh grabbed Petey around the middle & lifted him away from Mr. Dawes. "Stop it,
Petey," Josh scolded, holding the dog up close to his face so that they were nose-to-nose. "Mr.
Dawes is our friend."
Petey whimpered & licked Josh's face. After a short while, Josh set him back down on the
ground. Petey looked up at Mr. Dawes, then at me, then decided to go sniffing around the yard,
letting his nose lead the way.
"Let's go inside," Mr. Dawes urged, moving a hand through his short blond hair. He unlocked
the front door & pushed it open.
Mr. Dawes held the screen door open for us. I started to follow my parents into the house.
"I'll stay out here with Petey," Josh insisted from the walk.
Dad started to protest, but changed his mind. "Okay. Fine," he said, sighing & shaking his
head. "I'm not going to argue with you. Don't come in. You can live outside if you want." He
sounded really exasperated.
"I want to stay with Petey," Josh said again, watching Petey nose his way through the dead
Mr. Dawes followed us into the hallway, gently closing the screen door behind him, giving
Josh a final glance. "He'll be fine," he said softly, smiling at Mom.
"He can be so stubborn sometimes," Mom said apologetically. She peeked into the living
room. "I'm really sorry about Petey. I don't know what got into that dog."
"No problem. Let's start in the living room," Mr. Dawes said, leading the way. "I think you'll be
pleasantly surprised by how spacious it is. Of course, it needs work."
He took us on a tour of every room in the house. I was beginning to get excited. The house
was really kind of neat. There were so many rooms & so many closets. & my room was huge &
had its own bathroom & an old-fashioned window seat where I could sit at the window & look
down at the street.
I wished Josh had come inside with us. If he could see how great the house was inside, I
knew he'd start to cheer up.
I couldn't believe how many rooms there were. Even a finished attic filled with old furniture &
stacks of old, mysterious cartons we could explore.
We must have been inside for at least half an hour. I didn't really keep track of the time. I
think all 3 of us were feeling cheered up.
"Well, I think I've shown you everything," Mr. Dawes said, glancing at his watch. He led the
way to the front door.
"Wait — I want to take one more look at my room," I told them excitedly. I started up the
stairs, taking them 2 at a time. "I'll be down in a second."
"Hurry, dear. I'm sure Mr. Dawes has other appointments," Mom called after me.
I reached the second-floor landing & hurried down the narrow hallway & into my new room.
"Wow!" I said aloud, & the word echoed faintly against the empty walls.
It was so big. & I loved the bay window with the window seat. I walked over to it & peered
out. Through the trees, I could see our car in the driveway &, beyond it, a house that looked a lot
like ours across the street.
I'm going to put my bed against that wall across from the window, I thought happily. & my
desk can go over there. I'll have room for a computer now!
I took one more look at my closet, a long, walk-in closet with a light in the ceiling, & wide
shelves against the back wall.
I was heading to the door, thinking about which of my posters I wanted to bring with me,
when I saw the boy.
He stood in the doorway for just a second. & then he turned & disappeared down the hall.
"Josh?" I cried. "Hey— come look!"
With a shock, I realized it wasn't Josh.
For one thing, the boy had blond hair.
"Hey!" I called & ran to the hallway, stopping just outside my bedroom door, looking both
ways. "Who's here?"
But the long hall was empty. All of the doors were closed.
"Whoa, Amanda," I said aloud.
Was I seeing things?
Mom & Dad were calling from downstairs. I took one last look down the dark corridor, then
hurried to rejoin them.
"Hey, Mr. Dawes," I called as I ran down the stairs, "is this house haunted?"
He chuckled. The question seemed to strike him funny. "No. Sorry," he said, looking at me
with those crinkly blue eyes. "No ghost included. A lot of old houses around here are said to be
haunted. But I'm afraid this isn't one of them."
"I — I thought I saw something," I said, feeling a little foolish.
"Probably just shadows," Mom said. "With all the trees, this house is so dark."
"Why don't you run outside & tell Josh about the house," Dad suggested, tucking in the front
of his shirt. "Your Mom & I have some things to talk over with Mr. Dawes."
"Yes, master," I said with a little bow, & obediently ran out to tell Josh all about what he had
missed. "Hey, Josh," I called, eagerly searching the yard. "Josh?"
My heart sank.
Josh & Petey were gone.
1st I called Josh. Then I called Petey. But there was no sign of either of them.
I ran down to the bottom of the driveway & peered into the car, but they weren't there. Mom
& Dad were still inside talking with Mr. Dawes. I looked along the street in both directions, but
there was no sign of them.
"Josh! Hey, Josh!"
Finally, Mom & Dad came hurrying out the front door, looking alarmed. I guess they heard
my shouts. "I can't find Josh or Petey!" I yelled up to them from the street.
"Maybe they're around back," Dad shouted down to me.
I headed up the driveway, kicking away dead leaves as I ran. It was sunny down on the
street, but as soon as I entered our yard, I was back in the shade, & it was immediately cool
"Hey, Josh! Josh — where are you?"
Why did I feel so scared? It was perfectly natural for Josh to wander off. He did it all the time.
I ran full speed along the side of the house. Tall trees leaned over the house on this side.
blocking out nearly all of the sunlight.
The backyard was bigger than I'd expected, a long rectangle that sloped gradually down to
a wooden fence at the back. Just like the front, this yard was a mass of tall weeds, poking up
through a thick covering of brown leaves. A stone birdbath had toppled onto its side. Beyond it, I
could see the side of the garage, a dark, brick building that matched the house.
He wasn't back here. I stopped & searched the ground for footprints or a sign that he had run
through the thick leaves.
"Well?" Out of breath. Dad came jogging up to me.
"No sign of him," I said, surprised at how worried I felt.
"Did you check the car?" He sounded more angry than worried.
"Yes. It's the 1st place I looked." I gave the backyard a last quick search. "I don't believe
Josh would just take off."
"I do," Dad said, rolling his eyes. "You know your brother when he doesn't get his way.
Maybe he wants us to think he's run away from home." He frowned.
"Where is he?" Mom asked as we returned to the front of the house.
Dad & I both shrugged. "Maybe he made a friend & wandered off," Dad said. He raised a
hand & scratched his curly brown hair. I could tell that he was starting to worry, too.
"We've got to find him," Mom said, gazing down to the street. "He doesn't know this
neighborhood at all. He probably wandered off & got lost."
Mr. Dawes locked the front door & stepped down off the porch, pocketing the keys. "He
couldn't have gotten far," he said, giving Mom a reassuring smile. "Let's drive around the block.
I'm sure we'll find him."
Mom shook her head & glanced nervously at Dad. "I'll kill him," she muttered. Dad patted
her on the shoulder.
Mr. Dawes opened the trunk of the small Honda, pulled off his dark blazer, & tossed it inside.
Then he took out a wide-brimmed, black cowboy hat & put it on his head.
"Hey — that's quite a hat," Dad said, climbing into the front passenger seat.
"Keeps the sun away," Mr. Dawes said, sliding behind the wheel & slamming the car door.
Mom & I got in back. Glancing over at her, I saw that Mom was as worried as I was.
We headed down the block in silence, all 4 of us staring out the car windows. The houses we
passed all seemed old. Most of them were even bigger than our house. All of them seemed to
be in better condition, nicely painted with neat, well-trimmed lawns.
I didn't see any people in the houses or yards, & there was no one on the street.
It certainly is a quiet neighborhood, I thought. & shady. The houses all seemed to be
surrounded by tall, leafy trees. The front yards we drove slowly past all seemed to be bathed in
shade. The street was the only sunny place, a narrow gold ribbon that ran through the shadows
on both sides.
Maybe that's why it's called Dark Falls, I thought.
"Where is that son of mine?" Dad asked, staring hard out the windshield.
"I'll kill him. I really will," Mom muttered. It wasn't the 1st time she had said that about Josh.
We had gone around the block twice. No sign of him.
Mr. Dawes suggested we drive around the next few blocks, & Dad quickly agreed. "Hope I
don't get lost. I'm new here, too," Mr. Dawes said, turning a corner. "Hey, there's the school," he
announced, pointing out the window at a tall redbrick building. It looked very old-fashioned,
with white columns on both sides of the double front doors. "Of course, it's closed now," Mr.
My eyes searched the fenced-in playground behind the school. It was empty. No one there.
"Could Josh have walked this far?" Mom asked, her voice tight & higher than usual.
"Josh doesn't walk," Dad said, rolling his eyes. "He runs."
"We'll find him," Mr. Dawes said confidently, tapping his fingers on the wheel as he steered.
We turned a corner onto another shady block. A street sign read "Cemetery Drive," & sure
enough, a large cemetery rose up in front of us. Granite gravestones rolled along a low hill,
which sloped down & then up again onto a large flat stretch, also marked with rows of low grave
markers & monuments.
A few shrubs dotted the cemetery, but there weren't many trees. As we drove slowly past,
the gravestones passing by in a blur on the left, I realized that this was the sunniest spot I had
seen in the whole town.
"There's your son." Mr. Dawes, pointing out the window, stopped the car suddenly.
"Oh, thank goodness!" Mom exclaimed, leaning down to see out the window on my side of
Sure enough, there was Josh, running wildly along a crooked row of low, white gravestones.
"What's he doing here?" I asked, pushing open my car door.
I stepped down from the car, took a few steps onto the grass, & called to him. At 1st, he
didn't react to my shouts. He seemed to be ducking & dodging through the tombstones. He
would run in one direction, then cut to the side, then head in another direction.
Why was he doing that?
I took another few steps — & then stopped, gripped with fear.
I suddenly realized why Josh was darting & ducking like that, running so wildly through the
tombstones. He was being chased.
Someone — or something — was after him.
Then, as I took a few reluctant steps toward Josh, watching him bend low, then change
directions, his arms outstretched as he ran, I realized I had it completely backward.
Josh wasn't being chased. Josh was chasing.
He was chasing after Petey.
Okay, okay. So sometimes my imagination runs away with me. Running through an old
graveyard like this — even in bright daylight — it's only natural that a person might start to have
I called to Josh again, & this time he heard me & turned around. He looked worried.
"Amanda — come help me!" he cried.
"Josh, what's the matter?" I ran as fast as I could to catch up with him, but he kept darting
through the gravestones, moving from row to row.
"Josh — what's wrong?" I turned & saw that Mom & Dad were right behind me.
"It's Petey," Josh explained, out of breath. "I can't get him to stop. I caught him once, but he
pulled away from me."
"Petey! Petey!" Dad started calling the dog. But Petey was moving from stone to stone,
sniffing each one, then running to the next.
"How did you get all the way over here?" Dad asked as he caught up with my brother.
"I had to follow Petey," Josh explained, still looking very worried. "He just took off. One
second he was sniffing around that dead flower bed in our front yard. The next second, he just
started to run. He wouldn't stop when I called. Wouldn't even look back. He kept running till he
got here. I had to follow. I was afraid he'd get lost."
Josh stopped & gratefully let Dad take over the chase. "I don't know what that dumb dog's
problem is," he said to me. "He's just weird."
It took Dad a few tries, but he finally managed to grab Petey & pick him up off the ground.
Our little terrier gave a halfhearted yelp of protest, then allowed himself to be carried away.
We all trooped back to the car on the side of the road. Mr. Dawes was waiting by the car.
"Maybe you'd better get a leash for that dog," he said, looking very concerned.
"Petey's never been on a leash," Josh protested, wearily climbing into the backseat.
"Well, we might have to try one for a while," Dad said quietly. "Especially if he keeps running
away." Dad tossed Petey into the backseat. The dog eagerly curled up in Josh's arms.
The rest of us piled into the car, & Mr. Dawes drove us back to his office, a tiny, white,
flat-roofed building at the end of a row of small offices. As we rode, I reached over & stroked the
back of Petey's head.
Why did the dog run away like that? I wondered. Petey had never done that before.
I guessed that Petey was also upset about our moving. After all, Petey had spent his whole
life in our old house. He probably felt a lot like Josh & I did about having to pack up & move &
never see the old neighborhood again.
The new house, the new streets, & all the new smells must have freaked the poor dog out.
Josh wanted to run away from the whole idea. & so did Petey.
Anyway, that was my theory.
Mr. Dawes parked the car in front of his tiny office, shook Dad's hand, & gave him a business
card. "You can come by next week," he told Mom & Dad. "I'll have all the legal work done by
then. After you sign the papers, you can move in anytime."
He pushed open the car door &, giving us all a final smile, prepared to climb out.
"Compton Dawes," Mom said, reading the white business card over Dad's shoulder. "That's
an unusual name. Is Compton an old family name?"
Mr. Dawes shook his head. "No," he said, "I'm the only Compton in my family. I have no idea
where the name comes from. No idea at all. Maybe my parents didn't know how to spell
Chuckling at his terrible joke, he climbed out of the car, lowered the wide black Stetson hat
on his head, pulled his blazer from the trunk, & disappeared into the small white building.
Dad climbed behind the wheel, moving the seat back to make room for his big stomach.
Mom got up front, & we started the long drive home. "I guess you & Petey had quite an
adventure today," Mom said to Josh, rolling up her window because Dad had turned on the air
"I guess," Josh said without enthusiasm. Petey was sound asleep in his lap, snoring quietly.
"You're going to love your room," I told Josh. "The whole house is great. Really."
Josh stared at me thoughtfully, but didn't answer.
I poked him in the ribs with my elbow. "Say something. Did you hear what I said?"
But the weird, thoughtful look didn't fade from Josh's face.
The next couple of weeks seemed to crawl by. I walked around the house thinking about
how I'd never see my room again, how I'd never eat breakfast in this kitchen again, how I'd
never watch TV in the living room again. Morbid stuff like that.
I had this sick feeling when the movers came one afternoon & delivered a tall stack of
cartons. Time to pack up. It was really happening. Even though it was the middle of the
afternoon, I went up to my room & flopped down on my bed. I didn't nap or anything. I just
stared at the ceiling for more than an hour, & all these wild, unconnected thoughts ran through
my head, like a dream, only I was awake.
I wasn't the only one who was nervous about the move. Mom & Dad were snapping at each
other over nothing at all. One morning they had a big fight over whether the bacon was too
crispy or not.
In a way, it was funny to see them being so childish. Josh was acting really sullen all the
time. He hardly spoke a word to anyone. & Petey sulked, too. That dumb dog wouldn't even pick
himself up & come over to me when I had some table scraps for him.
I guess the hardest part about moving was saying good-bye to my friends. Carol & Amy
were away at camp, so I had to write to them. But Kathy was home, & she was my oldest & best
friend, & the hardest to say good-bye to.
I think some people were surprised that Kathy & I had stayed such good friends. For one
thing, we look so different. I'm tall & thin & dark, & she's fair-skinned, with long blonde hair, & a
little chubby. But we've been friends since preschool, & best best friends since fourth grade.
When she came over the night before the move, we were both terribly awkward. "Kathy, you
shouldn't be nervous," I told her. "You're not the one who's moving away forever."
"It's not like you're moving to China or something," she answered, chewing hard on her
bubble gum. "Dark Falls is only 4 hours away, Amanda. We'll see each other a lot."
"Yeah, I guess," I said. But I didn't believe it. 4 hours away was as bad as being in China, as
far as I was concerned. "I guess we can still talk on the phone," I said glumly.
She blew a small green bubble, then sucked it back into her mouth. "Yeah. Sure," she said,
pretending to be enthusiastic. "You're lucky, you know. Moving out of this crummy neighborhood
to a big house."
"It's not a crummy neighborhood," I insisted. I don't know why I was defending the
neighborhood. I never had before. One of our favorite pastimes was thinking of places we'd
rather be growing up.
"School won't be the same without you," she sighed, curling her legs under her on the chair.
"Who's going to slip me the answers in math?"
I laughed. "I always slipped you the wrong answers."
"But it was the thought that counted," Kathy said. & then she groaned. "Ugh. Junior high. Is
your new junior high part of the high school or part of the elementary school?"
I made a disgusted face. "Everything's in one building. It's a small town, remember? There's
no separate high school. At least, I didn't see one."
"Bummer," she said.
Bummer was right.
We chatted for hours. Until Kathy's mom called & said it was time for her to come home.
Then we hugged. I had made up my mind that I wouldn't cry, but I could feel the big, hot
tears forming in the corners of my eyes. & then they were running down my cheeks.
"I'm so miserable!" I wailed.
I had planned to be really controlled & mature. But Kathy was my best friend, after all, &
what could I do?
We made a promise that we'd always be together on our birthdays — no matter what. We'd
force our parents to make sure we didn't miss each other's birthdays.
& then we hugged again. & Kathy said, "Don't worry. We'll see each other a lot. Really." & she
had tears in her eyes, too.
She turned & ran out the door. The screen door slammed hard behind her. I stood there
staring out into the darkness until Petey came scampering in, his toenails clicking across the
linoleum, & started to lick my hand.
The next morning, moving day, was a rainy Saturday. Not a downpour. No thunder or
lightning. But just enough rain & wind to make the long drive slow & unpleasant.
The sky seemed to get darker as we neared the new neighborhood. The heavy trees bent
low over the street. "Slow down. Jack," Mom warned shrilly. "The street is really slick."
But Dad was in a hurry to get to the house before the moving van did. "They'll just put the stuff
anywhere if we're not there to supervise," he explained.
Josh, beside me in the backseat, was being a real pain, as usual. He kept complaining that
he was thirsty. When that didn't get results, he started whining that he was starving. But we had all
had a big breakfast, so that didn't get any reaction, either.
He just wanted attention, of course. I kept trying to cheer him up by telling him how great the
house was inside & how big his room was. He still hadn't seen it.
But he didn't want to be cheered up. He started wrestling with Petey, getting the poor dog all
worked up, until Dad had to shout at him to stop.
"Let's all try really hard not to get on each other's nerves," Mom suggested.
Dad laughed. "Good idea, dear."
"Don't make fun of me," she snapped.
They started to argue about who was more exhausted from all the packing. Petey stood up
on his hind legs & started to howl at the back window.
"Can't you shut him up?" Mom screamed.
I pulled Petey down, but he struggled back up & started howling again. "He's never done this
before," I said.
"Just get him quiet!" Mom insisted.
I pulled Petey down by his hind legs, & Josh started to howl. Mom turned around & gave him
a dirty look. Josh didn't stop howling, though. He thought he was a riot.
Finally, Dad pulled the car up the driveway of the new house. The tires crunched over the
wet gravel. Rain pounded on the roof.
"Home sweet home," Mom said. I couldn't tell if she was being sarcastic or not. I think she
was really glad the long car ride was over.
"At least we beat the movers," Dad said, glancing at his watch. Then his expression
changed. "Hope they're not lost."
"It's as dark as night out there," Josh complained.
Petey was jumping up & down in my lap, desperate to get out of the car. He was usually a
good traveler. But once the car stopped, he wanted out immediately.
I opened my car door & he leaped onto the driveway with a splash & started to run in a wild
zigzag across the front yard.
"At least someone's glad to be here," Josh said quietly.
Dad ran up to the porch &, fumbling with the unfamiliar keys, managed to get the front door
open. Then he motioned for us to come into the house.
Mom & Josh ran across the walk, eager to get in out of the rain. I closed the car door behind
me & started to jog after them.
But something caught my eye. I stopped & looked up to the twin bay windows above the
I held a hand over my eyebrows to shield my eyes & squinted through the rain.
Yes. I saw it.
A face. In the window on the left.
The same boy was up there, staring down at me.
"Wipe your feet! Don't track mud on the nice clean floors!" Mom called. Her voice echoed
against the bare walls of the empty living room.
I stepped into the hallway. The house smelled of paint. The painters had just finished on
Thursday. It was hot in the house, much hotter than outside.
"This kitchen light won't go on," Dad called from the back. "Did the painters turn off the
electricity or something?"
"How should I know?" Mom shouted back.
Their voices sounded so loud in the big, empty house.
"Mom — there's someone upstairs!" I cried, wiping my feet on the new welcome mat &
hurrying into the living room.
She was at the window, staring out at the rain, looking for the movers probably. She spun
around as I came in. "What?"
"There's a boy upstairs. I saw him in the window," I said, struggling to catch my breath.
Josh entered the room from the back hallway. He'd probably been with Dad. He laughed. "Is
someone already living here?"
"There's no one upstairs," Mom said, rolling her eyes. "Are you 2 going to give me a break
today, or what?"
"What did I do?" Josh whined.
"Listen, Amanda, we're all a little on edge today — " Mom started.
But I interrupted her. "I saw his face, Mom. In the window. I'm not crazy, you know."
"Says who?" Josh cracked.
"Amanda!" Mom bit her lower lip, the way she always did when she was really exasperated.
"You saw a reflection of something. Of a tree probably." She turned back to the window. The rain
was coming down in sheets now, the wind driving it noisily against the large picture window.
I ran to the stairway, cupped my hands over my mouth, & shouted up to the second floor,
"Who's up there?"
"Who's up there?" I called, a little louder.
Mom had her hands over her ears. "Amanda — please!"
Josh had disappeared through the dining room. He was finally exploring the house.
"There's someone up there," I insisted &, impulsively, I started up the wooden stairway, my
sneakers thudding loudly on the bare steps.
"Amanda — " I heard Mom call after me.
But I was too angry to stop. Why didn't she believe me? Why did she have to say it was a
reflection of a tree I saw up there?
I was curious. I had to know who was upstairs. I had to prove Mom wrong. I had to show her I
hadn't seen a stupid reflection. I guess I can be pretty stubborn, too. Maybe it's a family trait.
The stairs squeaked & creaked under me as I climbed. I didn't feel at all scared until I
reached the second-floor landing. Then I suddenly had this heavy feeling in the pit of my
I stopped, breathing hard, leaning on the banister.
Who could it be? A burglar? A bored neighborhood kid who had broken into an empty
house for a thrill?
Maybe I shouldn't be up here alone, I realized.
Maybe the boy in the window was dangerous.
"Anybody up here?" I called, my voice suddenly trembly & weak.
Still leaning against the banister, I listened.
& I could hear footsteps scampering across the hallway.
The rain. That's what it was. The patter of rain against the slate-shingled roof.
For some reason, the sound made me feel a little calmer. I let go of the banister & stepped
into the long, narrow hallway. It was dark up here, except for a rectangle of gray light from a
small window at the other end.
I took a few steps, the old wooden floorboards creaking noisily beneath me. "Anybody up
Again no answer.
I stepped up to the 1st doorway on my left. The door was closed. The smell of fresh paint was
suffocating. There was a light switch on the wall near the door. Maybe it's for the hall light, I
thought. I clicked it on. But nothing happened.
My hand was trembling as I grabbed the doorknob. It felt warm in my hand. & damp.
I turned it &, taking a deep breath, pushed open the door.
I peered into the room. Gray light filtered in through the bay window. A flash of lightning
made me jump back. The thunder that followed was a dull, distant roar.
Slowly, carefully, I took a step into the room. Then another.
No sign of anyone.
This was a guest bedroom. Or it could be Josh's room if he decided he liked it.
Another flash of lightning. The sky seemed to be darkening. It was pitch-black out there
even though it was just after lunchtime.
I backed into the hall. The next room down was going to be mine. It also had a bay window
that looked down on the front yard.
Was the boy I saw staring down at me in my room?
I crept down the hall, letting my hand run along the wall for some reason, & stopped outside
my door, which was also closed.
Taking a deep breath, I knocked on the door. "Who's in there?" I called.
Then a clap of thunder, closer than the last. I froze as if I were paralyzed, holding my breath.
It was so hot up here, hot & damp. & the smell of paint was making me dizzy.
I grabbed the doorknob. "Anybody in there?"
I started to turn the knob — when the boy crept up from behind & grabbed my shoulder.
I couldn't breathe. I couldn't cry out.
My heart seemed to stop. My chest felt as if it were about to explode.
With a desperate, terrified effort, I spun a-round.
"Josh!" I shrieked. "You scared me to death! I thought—"
He let go of me & took a step back. "Gotcha!" he declared, & then started to laugh, a
high-pitched laugh that echoed down the long, bare hallway.
My heart was pounding hard now. My forehead throbbed. "You're not funny," I said angrily. I
shoved him against the wall. "You really scared me."
He laughed & rolled around on the floor. He's really a sicko. I tried to shove him again but
Angrily, I turned away from him— just in time to see my bedroom door slowly swinging open.
I gasped in disbelief. & froze, gaping at the moving door.
Josh stopped laughing & stood up, immediately serious, his dark eyes wide with fright.
I could hear someone moving inside the room.
I could hear whispering.
"Who — who's there?" 1 managed to stammer in a high little voice I didn't recognize.
The door, creaking loudly, opened a hit more, then started to close.
"Who's there?" I demanded, a bit more forcefully.
Again, I could hear whispering, someone moving about.
Josh had backed up against the wall & was edging away, toward the stairs. He had an
expression on his face I'd never seen before — sheer terror.
The door, creaking like a door in a movie haunted house, closed a little more.
Josh was nearly to the stairway. He was staring at me, violently motioning with his hand for
me to follow.
But instead, I stepped forward, grabbed the doorknob, & pushed the door open hard.
It didn't resist.
I let go of the doorknob & stood blocking the doorway. "Who's there?"
The room was empty.
It took me a few seconds to realize what was making the door move. The window on the
opposite wall had been left open several inches. The gusting wind through the open window
must have been opening & closing the door. I guessed that also explained the other sounds I
heard inside the room, the sounds I thought were whispers.
Who had left the window open? The painters, probably.
I took a deep breath & let it out slowly, waiting for my pounding heart to settle down to
Feeling a little foolish, I walked quickly to the window & pushed it shut.
"Amanda — are you all right?" Josh whispered from the hallway.
I started to answer him. But then I had a better idea.
He had practically scared me to death a few minutes before. Why not give him a little
scare? He deserved it.
So I didn't answer him.
I could hear him take a few timid steps closer to my room. "Amanda? Amanda? You okay?"
I tiptoed over to my closet, pulled the door open a 3rd of the way. Then I laid down flat on
the floor, on my back, with my head & shoulders hidden inside the closet & the rest of me out in
"Amanda?" Josh sounded very scared.
"Ohhhhh," I moaned loudly.
I knew when he saw me sprawled on the floor like this, he'd totally freak out!
"Amanda — what's happening?"
He was in the doorway now. He'd see me any second now, lying in the dark room, my head
hidden from view, the lightning flashing impressively & the thunder cracking outside the old
I took a deep breath & held it to keep from giggling.
"Amanda?" he whispered. & then he must have seen me, because he uttered a loud "Huh?!"
& I heard him gasp.
& then he screamed at the top of his lungs. I heard him running down the hall to the stairway,
shrieking, "Mom! Dad!" & I heard his sneakers thudding down the wooden stairs, with him
screaming & calling all the way down.
I snickered to myself. Then, before I could pull myself up, I felt a rough, warm tongue licking
He was licking my cheeks, licking my eyelids, licking me frantically, as if he were trying to
revive me, or as if to let me know that everything was okay.
"Oh, Petey! Petey!" I cried, laughing & throwing my arms around the sweet dog. "Stop! You're
getting me all sticky!"
But he wouldn't stop. He kept on licking fiercely.
The poor dog is nervous, too, I thought.
"Come on, Petey, shape up," I told him, holding his panting face away with both my hands.
"There's nothing to be nervous about. This new place is going to be fun. You'll see."
That night, I was smiling to myself as I fluffed up my pillow & slid into bed. I was thinking
about how terrified Josh had been that afternoon, how frightened he looked even after I came
prancing down the stairs, perfectly okay. How angry he was that I'd fooled him.
Of course. Mom & Dad didn't think it was funny. They were both nervous & upset because the
moving van had just arrived, an hour late. They forced Josh & me to call a truce. No more
scaring each other.
"It's hard not to get scared in this creepy old place," Josh muttered. But we reluctantly
agreed not to play any more jokes on each other, if we could possibly help it.
The men, complaining about the rain, started carrying in all of our furniture. Josh & I helped
show them where we wanted stuff in our rooms. They dropped my dresser on the stairs, but it only
got a small scratch.
The furniture looked strange & small in this big house. Josh & I tried to stay out of the way
while Mom & Dad worked all day, arranging things, emptying cartons, putting clothes away.
Mom even managed to get the curtains hung in my room.
What a day!
Now, a little after 10:00, trying to get to sleep for the 1st time in my new room, I turned onto
my side, then onto my back. Even though this was my old bed, I couldn't get comfortable.
Everything seemed so different, so wrong. The bed didn't face the same direction as in my
old bedroom. The walls were bare. I hadn't had time to hang any of my posters. The room
seemed so large & empty. The shadows seemed so much darker.
My back started to itch, & then I suddenly felt itchy all over. The bed is filled with bugs! I
thought, sitting up. But of course that was ridiculous. It was my same old bed with clean sheets.
I forced myself to settle back down & closed my eyes. Sometimes when I can't get to sleep, I
count silently by twos, picturing each number in my mind as I think it. It usually helps to clear my
mind so that I can drift off to sleep.
I tried it now, burying my face in the pillow, picturing the numbers rolling
past ...4. ..6. ..8...
I yawned loudly, still wide awake at 2:20.
I'm going to be awake forever, I thought. I'm never going to be able to sleep in this new
But then I must have drifted off without realizing it. I don't know how long I slept. An hour or 2
at the most. It was a light, uncomfortable sleep. Then something woke me. I sat straight up,
Despite the heat of the room, I felt cold all over. Looking down to the end of the bed, I saw
that I had kicked off the sheet & light blanket. With a groan, I reached down for them, but then
I heard whispers.
Someone was whispering across the room.
"Who — who's there?" My voice was a whisper, too, tiny & frightened.
I grabbed my covers & pulled them up to my chin.
I heard more whispers. The room came into focus as my eyes adjusted to the dim light.
The curtains. The long, sheer curtains from my old room that my mother had hung that
afternoon were fluttering at the window.
So. That explained the whispers. The billowing curtains must have woken me up.
A soft, gray light floated in from outside. The curtains cast moving shadows onto the foot of
Yawning, I stretched & climbed out of bed. I felt chilled all over as I crept across the wooden
floor to close the window.
As I came near, the curtains stopped billowing & floated back into place. I pushed them
aside & reached out to close the window.
I uttered a soft cry when I realized that the window was closed.
But how could the curtains flutter like that with the window closed? I stood there for a while,
staring out at the grays of the night. There wasn't much of a draft. The window seemed pretty
Had I imagined the curtains billowing? Were my eyes playing tricks on me?
Yawning, I hurried back through the strange shadows to my bed & pulled the covers up as
high as they would go. "Amanda, stop scaring yourself," I scolded.
When I fell back to sleep a few minutes later, I had the ugliest, most terrifying dream.
I dreamed that we were all dead. Mom, Dad, Josh, & me.
At 1st, I saw us sitting around the dinner table in the new dining room. The room was very
bright, so bright I couldn't see our faces very well. They were just a bright, white blur.
But, then, slowly, slowly, everything came into focus, & I could see that beneath our hair, we
had no faces. Our skin was gone, & only our gray-green skulls were left. Bits of flesh clung to my
bony cheeks. There were only deep, black sockets where my eyes had been.
The 4 of us, all dead, sat eating in silence. Our dinner plates, I saw, were filled with small
bones. A big platter in the center of the table was piled high with gray-green bones,
& then, in this dream, our disgusting meal was interrupted by a loud knocking on the door,
an insistent pounding that grew louder & louder. It was Kathy, my friend from back home. I could
see her at our front door, pounding on it with both fists.
I wanted to go answer the door. I wanted to run from the dining room & pull open the door &
greet Kathy. I wanted to talk to Kathy. I wanted to tell her what had happened to me, to explain
that I was dead & that my face had fallen away.
I wanted to see Kathy so badly.
But I couldn't get up from the table. I tried & tried, but I couldn't get up.
The pounding on the door grew louder & louder, until it was deafening. But I just sat there
with my gruesome family, picking up bones from my dinner plate & eating them.
I woke up with a start, the horror of the dream still with me. I could still hear the pounding in
my ears. I shook my head, trying to chase the dream away.
It was morning. I could tell from the blue of the sky outside the window.
The curtains. They were billowing again, flapping noisily as they blew into the room.
I sat up & stared.
The window was still closed.
"I'll take a look at the window. There must be a draft or a leak or something," Dad said at
breakfast. He shoveled in another mouthful of scrambled eggs & ham.
"But, Dad — it's so weird!" I insisted, still feeling scared. 'The curtains were blowing like crazy, &
the window was dosed!"
"There might be a pane missing," Dad suggested.
"Amanda is a pain!" Josh cracked. His idea of a really witty joke.
"Don't start with your sister," Mom said, putting her plate down on the table & dropping into
her chair. She looked tired. Her black hair, usually carefully pulled back, was disheveled. She
tugged at the belt on her bathrobe. "Whew. I don't think I slept 2 hours last night."
"Neither did I," I said, sighing. "I kept thinking that boy would show up in my room again."
"Amanda — you've really got to stop this," Mom said sharply. "Boys in your room. Curtains
blowing. You have to realize that you're nervous, & your imagination is working overtime."
"But, Mom—" I started.
"Maybe a ghost was behind the curtains," Josh said, teasing. He raised up his hands & made
a ghostly "oooooooh" wail.
"Whoa." Mom put a hand on Josh's shoulder. "Remember what you promised about scaring
"It's going to be hard for all of us to adjust to this place," Dad said. "You may have dreamed
about the curtains blowing, Amanda. You said you had bad dreams, right?"
The terrifying nightmare flashed back into my mind. Once again I saw the big platter of
bones on the table. I shivered.
"It's so damp in here," Mom said.
"A little sunshine will help dry the place out," Dad said.
I peered out the window. The sky had turned solid gray. Trees seemed to spread darkness
over our backyard. "Where's Petey?" I asked.
"Out back," Mom replied, swallowing a mouthful of eggs. "He got up early, too. Couldn't
sleep, I guess. So I let him out."
"What are we doing today?" Josh asked. He always needed to know the plan for the day.
Every detail. Mainly so he could argue about it.
"Your father & I still have a lot of unpacking to do," Mom said, glancing to the back hallway,
which was cluttered with unopened cartons. "You 2 can explore the neighborhood. See what
you can find out. See if there are any other kids your age around."
"In other words, you want us to get lost!" I said.
Mom & Dad both laughed. "You're very smart, Amanda."
"But I want to help unpack my stuff," Josh whined. I knew he'd argue with the plan, just like
"Go get dressed & take a long walk," Dad said. "Take Petey with you, okay? & take a leash
for him. I left one by the front stairs."
"What about our bikes? Why can't we ride our bikes?" Josh asked.
"They're buried in the back of the garage," Dad told him. "You'll never be able to get to
them. Besides, you have a flat tire."
"If I can't ride my bike, I'm not going out," Josh insisted, crossing his arms in front of his chest.
Mom & Dad had to argue with him. Then threaten him. Finally, he agreed to go for "a short
I finished my breakfast, thinking about Kathy & my other friends back home. I wondered
what the kids were like in Dark Falls. I wondered if I'd be able to find new friends, real friends.
I volunteered to do the breakfast dishes since Mom & Dad had so much work to do. The
warm water felt soothing on my hands as I sponged the dishes clean. I guess maybe I'm weird. I
like washing dishes.
Behind me, from somewhere in the front of the house, I could hear Josh arguing with Dad. I
could just barely make out the words over the trickle of the tap water.
"Your basketball is packed in one of these cartons," Dad was saying. Then Josh said
something. Then Dad said, "How should 7 know which one?" Then Josh said something. Then Dad
said, "No, I don't have time to look now. Believe it or not, your basketball isn't at the top of my
I stacked the last dish onto the counter to drain, & looked for a dish towel to dry my hands.
There was none in sight. I guess they hadn't been unpacked yet.
Wiping off my hands on the front of my robe, I headed for the stairs. "I'll be dressed in 5
minutes," I called to Josh, who was still arguing with Dad in the living room. "Then we can go out."
I started up the front stairs, & then stopped.
Above me on the landing stood a strange girl, about my age, with short black hair. She was
smiling down at me, not a warm smile, not a friendly smile, but the coldest, most frightening smile
I had ever seen.
A hand touched my shoulder.
I spun around.
It was Josh. "I'm not going for a walk unless I can take my basketball," he said.
"Josh — please!" I looked back up to the landing, & the girl was gone.
I felt cold all over. My legs were all trembly. I grabbed the banister.
"Dad! Come here — please!" I called.
Josh's face filled with alarm. "Hey, I didn't do anything!" he shouted.
"No — it's — it's not you," I said, & called Dad again.
"Amanda, I'm kind of busy," Dad said, appearing below at the foot of the stairs, already
perspiring from uncrating living room stuff.
"Dad, I saw somebody," I told him. "Up there. A girl." I pointed.
"Amanda, please," he replied, making a face. "Stop seeing things — okay? There's no one in
this house except the 4 of us .... & maybe a few mice."
"Mice?" Josh asked with sudden interest. "Really? Where?"
"Dad, I didn't imagine it," I said, my voice cracking. I was really hurt that he didn't believe
"Amanda, look up there," Dad said, gazing up to the landing. "What do you see?"
I followed his gaze. There was a pile of my clothes on the landing. Mom must have just
"It's just clothes," Dad said impatiently. "It's not a girl. It's clothes." He rolled his eyes.
"Sorry," I said quietly. I repeated it as I started up the stairs. "Sorry."
But I didn't really feel sorry. I felt confused.
& still scared.
Was it possible that I thought a pile of clothes was a smiling girl?
No. I didn't think so.
I'm not crazy. & I have really good eyesight.
So then, what was going on?
I opened the door to my room, turned on the ceiling light, & saw the curtains billowing in
front of the bay window.
Oh, no. Not again, I thought.
I hurried over to them. This time, the window was open.
Who opened it?
Mom, I guessed.
Warm, wet air blew into the room. The sky was heavy & gray. It smelled like rain.
Turning to my bed, I had another shock.
Someone had laid out an outfit for me. A pair of faded jeans & a pale blue, sleeveless T-shirt.
They were spread out side by side at the foot of the bed.
Who had put them there? Mom?
I stood at the doorway & called to her. "Mom? Mom? Did you pick out clothes for me?"
I could hear her shout something from downstairs, but I couldn't make out the words.
Calm down, Amanda, I told myself. Calm down.
Of course Mom pulled the clothes out. Of course Mom put them there.
From the doorway, I heard whispering in my closet.
Whispering & hushed giggling behind the closet door.
This was the last straw. "What's going on here?" I yelled at the top of my lungs.
I stormed over to the closet & pulled open the door.
Frantically, I pushed clothes out of the way. No one in there.
Mice? I thought. Had I heard the mice that Dad was talking about?
"I've got to get out of here," I said aloud.
The room, I realized, was driving me crazy.
No. I was driving myself crazy. Imagining all of these weird things.
There was a logical explanation for everything. Everything.
As I pulled up my jeans & fastened them, I said the word "logical" over & over in my mind. I
said it so many times that it didn't sound like a real word anymore.
Calm down, Amanda. Calm down.
I took a deep breath & held it to 10.
"Josh — cut it out. You didn't scare me," I told him, sounding more cross than I had meant to.
"Let's get out of here," he said, staring at me from the doorway. "This place gives me the
"Huh? You, too?" I exclaimed. "What's your problem?"
He started to say something, then stopped. He suddenly looked embarrassed. "Forget it," he
"No, tell me," I insisted. "What were you going to say?"
He kicked at the floor molding. "I had a really creepy dream last night," he finally admitted,
looking past me to the fluttering curtains at the window.
"A dream?" I remembered my horrible dream.
"Yeah. There were these 2 boys in my room. & they were mean."
"What did they do?" I asked.
"I don't remember," Josh said, avoiding my eyes. "I just remember they were scary."
"& what happened?" I asked, turning to the mirror to brush my hair.
"I woke up," he said. & then added impatiently, "Come on. Let's go."
"Did the boys say anything to you?" I asked.
"No. I don't think so," he answered thoughtfully. "They just laughed."
"Well, giggled, sort of," Josh said. "I don't want to talk about it anymore," he snapped. "Are
we going for this dumb walk, or not?"
"Okay. I'm ready," I said, putting down my brush, taking one last look in the mirror. "Let's go
on this dumb walk."
I followed him down the hall. As we passed the stack of clothes on the landing, I thought
about the girl I had seen standing there. & I thought about the boy in the window when we 1st
arrived. & the 2 boys Josh had seen in his dream.
I decided it proved that Josh & I were both really nervous about moving to this new place.
Maybe Mom & Dad were right. We were letting our imaginations run away with us.
It had to be our imaginations.
I mean, what else could it be?
A few seconds later, we stepped into the backyard to get Petey. He was as glad to see us as
ever, leaping on us with his muddy paws, yapping excitedly, running in frantic circles through
the leaves. It cheered me up just to see him.
It was hot & muggy even though the sky was gray. There was no wind at all. The heavy, old
trees stood as still as statues.
We headed down the gravel driveway toward the street, our sneakers kicking at the dead,
brown leaves, Petey running in zigzags at our sides, 1st in front of us, then behind. "At least Dad
hasn't asked us to rake all these old leaves," Josh said.
"He will," I warned. "I don't think he's unpacked the rake yet."
Josh made a face. We stood at the curb, looking up at our house, the 2 second-floor bay
windows staring back at us like eyes.
The house next door, I noticed for the 1st time, was about the same size as ours, except it
was shingle instead of brick. The curtains in the living room were drawn shut. Some of the upstairs
windows were shuttered. Tall trees cast the neighbors' house in darkness, too.
"Which way?" Josh asked, tossing a stick for Petey to chase.
I pointed up the street. "The school is up that way," I said. "Let's check it out."
The road sloped uphill. Josh picked up a small tree branch from the side of the road & used it
as a walking stick. Petey kept trying to chew on it while Josh walked.
We didn't see anyone on the street or in any of the front yards we passed. No cars went by.
I was beginning to think the whole town was deserted, until the boy stepped out from behind
the low ledge.
He popped out so suddenly, both Josh & I stopped in our tracks. "Hi," he said shyly, giving us
a little wave.
"Hi," Josh & I answered at the same time.
Then, before we could pull him back, Petey ran up to the boy, sniffed his sneakers, & began
snarling & barking. The boy stepped back & raised his hands as if he were protecting himself. He
looked really frightened.
"Petey— stop!" I cried.
Josh grabbed the dog & picked him up, but he kept growling.
"He doesn't bite," I told the boy. "He usually doesn't bark, either. I'm sorry."
"That's okay," the boy said, staring at Petey, who was squirming to get out of Josh's arms. "He
probably smells something on me."
"Petey, stop!" I shouted. The dog wouldn't stop squirming. "You don't want the leash — do
The boy had short, wavy blond hair & very pale blue eyes. He had a funny turned -up nose
that seemed out of place on his serious-looking face. He was wearing a maroon long-sleeved
sweatshirt despite the mugginess of the day, & black straight-legged jeans. He had a blue
baseball cap stuffed into the back pocket of his jeans.
"I'm Amanda Benson," I said. "& this is my brother Josh."
Josh hesitantly put Petey back on the ground. The dog yipped once, stared up at the boy,
whimpered softly, then sat down on the street & began to scratch himself.
"I'm Ray Thurston," the boy said, stuffing his hands into his jeans pockets, still staring warily at
Petey. He seemed to relax a little, though, seeing that the dog had lost interest in barking &
growling at him.
I suddenly realized that Ray looked familiar. Where had I seen him before? Where? I stared
hard at him until I remembered.
& then I gasped in sudden fright.
Ray was the boy, the boy in my room. The boy in the window.
"You — " I stammered accusingly. "You were in our house!"
He looked confused. "Huh?"
"You were in my room — right?" I insisted.
He laughed. "I don't get it," he said. "In your room?"
Petey raised his head & gave a low growl in Ray's direction. Then he went back to his serious
"I thought I saw you," I said, beginning to feel a little doubtful. Maybe it wasn't him.
Maybe. . . .
"I haven't been in your house in a long time," Ray said, looking down warily at Petey.
"A long time?"
"Yeah. I used to live in your house," he replied.
"Huh?" Josh & I stared at him in surprise. "Our house?"
Ray nodded. "When we 1st moved here," he said. He picked up a flat pebble & heaved it
down the street.
Petey growled, started to chase it, changed his mind, & plopped back down on the street,
his stub of a tail wagging excitedly.
Heavy clouds lowered across the sky. It seemed to grow darker. "Where do you live now?" I
Ray tossed another stone, then pointed up the road.
"Did you like our house?" Josh asked Ray.
"Yeah, it was okay," Ray told him. "Nice & shady."
"You liked it?" Josh cried. "I think it's gross. It's so dark &— "
Petey interrupted. He decided to start barking at Ray again, running up till he was a few
inches in front of Ray, then backing away. Ray took a few cautious steps back to the edge of the
Josh pulled the leash from the pocket of his shorts. "Sorry, Petey," he said. I held the growling
dog while Josh attached the leash to his collar.
"He's never done this before. Really," I said, apologizing to Ray.
The leash seemed to confuse Petey. He tugged against it, pulling Josh across the street. But
at least he stopped barking.
"Let's do something," Josh said impatiently.
"Like what?" Ray asked, relaxing again now that Petey was on the leash.
We all thought for a while.
"Maybe we could go to your house " Josh suggested to Ray.
Ray shook his head. "No. I don't think so," he said. "Not now anyway."
"Where is everyone?" I asked, looking up & down the empty street. "It's really dead around
He chuckled. "Yeah. I guess you could say that," he said. "Want to go to the playground
behind the school?"
"Yeah. Okay," I agreed.
The 3 of us headed up the street, Ray leading the way, me walking a few feet behind him.
Josh holding his tree branch in one hand, the leash in the other, Petey running this way, then
that, giving Josh a really hard time.
We didn't see the gang of kids till we turned the corner.
There were 10 or 12 of them, mostly boys but a few girls, too. They were laughing & shouting,
shoving each other playfully as they came toward us down the center of the street. Some of
them, I saw, were about my age. The rest were teenagers. They were wearing jeans & dark
T-shirts. One of the girls stood out because she had long, straight blonde hair & was wearing
green spandex tights.
"Hey, look!" a tall boy with slicked-back black hair cried, pointing at us.
Seeing Ray, Josh, & me, they grew quiet but didn't stop moving toward us. A few of them
giggled, as if they were enjoying some kind of private joke.
The 3 of us stopped & watched them approach. I smiled & waited to say hi. Petey was
pulling at his leash & barking his head off.
"Hi, guys," the tall boy with the black hair said, grinning. The others thought this was very
funny for some reason. They laughed. The girl in the green tights gave a short, red-haired boy a
shove that almost sent him sprawling into me.
"How's it going, Ray?" a girl with short black hair asked, smiling at Ray.
"Not bad. Hi, guys," Ray answered. He turned to Josh & me. "These are some of my friends.
They're all from the neighborhood."
"Hi," I said, feeling awkward. I wished Petey would stop barking & pulling at his leash like
that. Poor Josh was having a terrible time holding onto him.
"This is George Carpenter," Ray said, pointing to the short, red-haired boy, who nodded. "&
Jerry Franklin, Karen Somerset, Bill Gregory . . ." He went around the circle, naming each kid. I
tried to remember all the names but, of course it was impossible.
"How do you like Dark Falls?" one of the girls asked me.
"I don't really know," I told her. "It's my 1st day here, really. It seems nice."
Some of the kids laughed at my answer, for some reason.
"What kind of dog is that?" George Carpenter asked Josh.
Josh, holding tight to the leash handle, told him. George stared hard at Petey, studying him,
as if he had never seen a dog like Petey before.
Karen Somerset, a tall, pretty girl with short blonde hair, came up to me while some of the
other kids were admiring Petey. "You know, I used to live in your house," she said softly.
"What?" I wasn't sure I'd heard her correctly.
"Let's go to the playground," Ray said, interrupting.
No one responded to Ray's suggestion.
They grew quiet. Even Petey stopped barking.
Had Karen really said that she used to live in our house? I wanted to ask her, but she had
stepped back into the circle of kids.
My mouth dropped open as I realized they had formed a circle around Josh & me.
1 felt a stab of fear. Was I imagining it? Was something going on?
They all suddenly looked different to me. They were smiling, but their faces were tense,
watchful, as if they expected trouble.
2 of them, I noticed, were carrying baseball bats. The girl with the green tights stared at me,
looking me up & down, checking me out.
No one said a word. The street was silent except for Petey, who was now whimpering softly.
I suddenly felt very afraid.
Why were they staring at us like that?
Or was my imagination running away with me again?
I turned to Ray, who was still beside me. He didn't seem at all troubled. But he didn't return
"Hey, guys — " I said. "What's going on?" I tried to keep it light, but my voice was a little shaky.
I looked over at Josh. He was busy soothing Petey & hadn't noticed that things had
The 2 boys with baseball bats held them up waist high & moved forward.
I glanced around the circle, feeling the fear tighten my chest.
The circle tightened. The kids were closing in on us.
The black clouds overhead seemed to lower. The air felt heavy & damp.
Josh was fussing with Petey's collar & still didn't see what was happening. I wondered if Ray
was going to say anything, if he was going to do anything to stop them. But he stayed frozen &
expressionless beside me.
The circle grew smaller as the kids closed in.
I realized I'd been holding my breath. I took a deep breath & opened my mouth to cry out.
"Hey, kids — what's going on?"
It was a man's voice, calling from outside the circle.
Everyone turned to see Mr. Dawes coming quickly toward us, taking long strides as he
crossed the street, his open blazer flapping behind him. He had a friendly smile on his face.
"What's going on?" he asked again.
He didn't seem to realize that the gang of kids had been closing in on Josh & me.
"We're heading to the playground," George Carpenter told him, twirling the bat in his hand.
"You know. To play softball."
"Good deal," Mr. Dawes said, pulling down his striped tie, which had blown over his shoulder.
He looked up at the darkening sky. "Hope you don't get rained out."
Several of the kids had backed up. They were standing in small groups of 2 & 3 now. The
circle had completely broken up.
"Is that bat for softball or hardball?" Mr. Dawes asked George.
"George doesn't know," another kid replied quickly. "He's never hit anything with it!"
The kids all laughed. George playfully menaced the kid, pretending to come at him with the
Mr. Dawes gave a little wave & started to leave. But then he stopped, & his eyes opened
wide with surprise. "Hey," he said, flashing me a friendly smile. "Josh. Amanda. I didn't see you
"Good morning," I muttered. I was feeling very confused. A moment ago, I'd felt terribly
scared. Now everyone was laughing & kidding around.
Had I imagined that the kids were moving in on us? Ray & Josh hadn't seemed to notice
anything peculiar. Was it just me & my overactive imagination?
What would have happened if Mr. Dawes hadn't come along?
"How are you 2 getting along in the new house?" Mr. Dawes asked, smoothing back his
wavy blond hair.
"Okay," Josh & I answered together. Looking up at Mr. Dawes, Petey began to bark & pull at
Mr. Dawes put an exaggerated hurt expression on his face. "I'm crushed," he said. "Your dog
still doesn't like me." He bent over Petey. "Hey, dog — lighten up."
Petey barked back angrily.
"He doesn't seem to like anybody today," I told Mr. Dawes apologetically.
Mr. Dawes stood back up & shrugged. "Can't win 'em all." He started back to his car, parked
a few yards down the street. "I'm heading over to your house," he told Josh & me. "Just want to
see if there's anything I can do to help your parents. Have fun, kids."
I watched him climb into his car & drive away.
"He's a nice guy," Ray said.
"Yeah," I agreed. I was still feeling uncomfortable, wondering what the kids would do now
that Mr. Dawes was gone.
Would they form that frightening circle again?
No. Everyone started walking, heading down the block to the playground behind the school.
They were kidding each other & talking normally, & pretty much ignored Josh & me.
I was starting to feel a little silly. It was obvious that they hadn't been trying to scare Josh &
me. I must have made the whole thing up in my mind.
I must have.
At least, I told myself, I hadn't screamed or made a scene. At least I hadn't made a total fool
The playground was completely empty. I guessed that most kids had stayed inside because
of the threatening sky. The playground was a large, flat grassy field, surrounded on all 4 sides by
a tall metal fence. There were swings & slides at the end nearest the school building. There were
2 baseball diamonds on the other end. Beyond the fence, I could see a row of tennis courts, also
Josh tied Petey to the fence, then came running over to join the rest of us. The boy named
Jerry Franklin made up the teams. Ray & I were on the same team. Josh was on the other.
As our team took the field, I felt excited & a little nervous. I'm not the best softball player in
the world. I can hit the ball pretty well. But in the field, I'm a complete klutz. Luckily, Jerry sent me
out to right field where not many balls are hit.
The clouds began to part a little & the sky got lighter. We played 2 full innings. The other
team was winning, 8 to 2. I was having fun. I had only messed up on one play. & I hit a double
my 1 st time at bat.
It was fun being with a whole new group of kids. They seemed really nice, especially the girl
named Karen Somerset, who talked with me while we waited for our turn at bat. Karen had a
great smile, even though she wore braces on all her teeth, up & down. She seemed very eager
to be friends.
The sun was coming out as my team started to take the field for the beginning of the 3rd
inning. Suddenly, I heard a loud, shrill whistle. I looked around until I saw that it was Jerry
Franklin, blowing a silver whistle.
Everyone came running up to him. "We'd better quit," he said, looking up at the brightening
sky. "We promised our folks, remember, that we'd be home for lunch."
I glanced at my watch. It was only 1 1 -thirty. Still early.
But to my surprise, no one protested.
They all waved to each other & called out farewells, & then began to run. I couldn't believe
how fast everyone left. It was as if they were racing or something.
Karen ran past me like the others, her head down, a serious expression on her pretty face.
Then she stopped suddenly & turned around. "Nice meeting you, Amanda," she called back.
"We should get together sometime."
"Great!" I called to her. "Do you know where I live?"
I couldn't hear her answer very well. She nodded, & I thought she said, "Yes. I know it. I used
to live in your house."
But that couldn't have been what she said.
Several days went by. Josh & I were getting used to our new house & our new friends.
The kids we met every day at the playground weren't exactly friends yet. They talked with
Josh & me, & let us on their teams. But it was really hard to get to know them.
In my room, I kept hearing whispers late at night, & soft giggling, but I forced myself to ignore
it. One night, I thought I saw a girl dressed all in white at the end of the upstairs hall. But when I
walked over to investigate, there was just a pile of dirty sheets & other bedclothes against the
Josh & I were adjusting, but Petey was still acting really strange. We took him with us to the
playground every day, but we had to leash him to the fence. Otherwise, he'd bark & snap at all
"He's still nervous being in a new place," I told Josh. "He'll calm down."
But Petey didn't calm down. & about 2 weeks later, we were finishing up a softball game with
Ray, & Karen Somerset, & Jerry Franklin, & George Carpenter, & a bunch of other kids, when I
looked over to the fence & saw that Petey was gone.
Somehow he had broken out of his leash & run away.
We looked for hours, calling "Petey!" wandering from block to block, searching front yards &
backyards, empty lots & woods. Then, after circling the neighborhood twice. Josh & I suddenly
realized we had no idea where we were.
The streets of Dark Falls looked the same. They were all lined with sprawling old brick or
shingle houses, all filled with shady old trees.
"I don't believe it. We're lost," Josh said, leaning against a tree trunk, trying to catch his
"That stupid dog," I muttered, my eyes searching up the street. "Why did he do this? He's
never run away before."
"I don't know how he got loose," Josh said, shaking his head, then wiping his sweaty
forehead with the sleeve of his T-shirt. "I tied him up really well."
"Hey — maybe he ran home," I said. The idea immediately cheered me up.
"Yeah!" Josh stepped away from the tree & headed back over to me. "I'll bet you're right,
Amanda. He's probably been home for hours. Wow. We've been stupid. We should've checked
home 1st. Let's go!"
"Well," I said, looking around at the empty yards, "we just have to figure out which way is
I looked up & down the street, trying to figure out which way we'd turned when we left the
school playground. I couldn't remember, so we just started walking.
Luckily, as we reached the next corner, the school came into sight. We had made a full
circle. It was easy to find our way from there.
Passing the playground, I stared at the spot on the fence where Petey had been tied. That
troublemaking dog. He'd been acting so badly ever since we came to Dark Falls.
Would he be home when we got there? I hoped so.
A few minutes later. Josh & I were running up the gravel driveway, calling the dog's name at
the top of our lungs. The front door burst open & Mom, her hair tied in a red bandanna, the knees
of her jeans covered with dust, leaned out. She & Dad had been painting the back porch.
"Where have you 2 been? Lunchtime was 2 hours ago!"
Josh & I both answered at the same time. "Is Petey here?"
"We've been looking for Petey!"
"Is he here?"
Mom's face filled with confusion. "Petey? I thought he was with you."
My heart sank. Josh slumped to the driveway with a loud sigh, sprawling flat on his back in
the gravel & leaves.
"You haven't seen him?" I asked, my trembling voice showing my disappointment. "He was
with us. But he ran away."
"Oh. I'm sorry," Mom said, motioning for Josh to get up from the driveway. "He ran away? I
thought you've been keeping him on a leash."
"You've got to help us find him," Josh pleaded, not budging from the ground. "Get the car.
We've got to find him — right now!"
"I'm sure he hasn't gotten far," Mom said. "You must be starving. Come in & have some lunch
& then we'll—"
"No. Right now!" Josh screamed.
"What's going on?" Dad, his face & hair covered with tiny flecks of white paint, joined Mom
on the front porch. "Josh — what's all the yelling?"
We explained to Dad what had happened. He said he was too busy to drive around looking
for Petey. Mom said she'd do it, but only after we had some lunch. I pulled Josh up by both arms
& dragged him into the house.
We washed up & gulped down some peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. Then Mom took the
car out of the garage, & we drove around & around the neighborhood searching for our lost pet.
With no luck.
No sign of him.
Josh & I were miserable. Heartbroken. Mom & Dad called the local police. Dad kept saying
that Petey had a good sense of direction, that he'd show up any minute.
But we didn't really believe it.
Where was he?
The 4 of us ate dinner in silence. It was the longest, most horrible evening of my life. "I tied
him up really good," Josh repeated, close to tears, his dinner plate still full.
"Dogs are great escape artists," Dad said, "Don't worry. He'll show up."
"Some night for a party," Mom said glumly.
I'd completely forgotten that they were going out. Some neighbors on the next block had
invited them to a big potluck dinner party.
"I sure don't feel like partying, either," Dad said with a sigh. "I'm beat from painting all day.
But I guess we have to be neighborly. Sure you kids will be okay here?"
"Yeah, I guess," I said, thinking about Petey. I kept listening for his bark, listening for
scratching at the door.
But no. The hours dragged by. Petey still hadn't shown up by bedtime.
Josh & I both slinked upstairs. I felt really tired, weary from all the worrying, & the running
around & searching for Petey, I guess. But I knew I'd never be able to get to sleep.
In the hall outside my bedroom door, I heard whispering from inside my room & quiet
footsteps. The usual sounds my room made. I wasn't at all scared of them or surprised by them
Without hesitating, I stepped into my room & clicked on the light. The room was empty, as I
knew it would be. The mysterious sounds disappeared. I glanced at the curtains, which lay
straight & still.
Then I saw the clothes strewn all over my bed.
Several pairs of jeans. Several T-shirts. A couple of sweatshirts. My only dress-up skirt.
That's strange, I thought. Mom was such a neat freak. If she had washed these things, she
surely would have hung them up or put them into dresser drawers.
Sighing wearily, I started to gather up the clothes & put them away. I figured that Mom
simply had too much to do to be bothered. She had probably washed the stuff & then left it here
for me to put away. Or she had put it all down, planning to come back later & put it away, & then
got busy with other chores.
Half an hour later, I was tucked into my bed wide awake, staring at the shadows on the
ceiling. Some time after that — I lost track of the time — I was still wide awake, still thinking about
Petey, thinking about the new kids I'd met, thinking about the new neighborhood, when I heard
my bedroom door creak & swing open.
Footsteps on the creaking floorboards.
I sat up in the darkness as someone crept into my room.
"Amanda — ssshh — it's me."
Alarmed, it took me a few seconds to recognize the hushed whisper. "Josh! What do you
want? What are you doing in here?"
I gasped as a blinding light forced me to cover my eyes. "Oops. Sorry," Josh said. "My
flashlight. I didn't mean to — "
"Ow, that's bright," I said, blinking. He aimed the powerful beam of white light up at the
"Yeah. It's a halogen flashlight," he said.
"Well, what do you want?" I asked irritably. I still couldn't see well. I rubbed my eyes, but it
"I know where Petey is," Josh whispered, "& I'm going to go get him. Come with me?"
"Huh?" I looked at the little clock on my bed table. "It's after midnight. Josh."
"So? It won't take long. Really."
My eyes were nearly normal by now. Staring at Josh in the light from the halogen flashlight, I
noticed for the 1st time that he was fully dressed in jeans & a long-sleeved T-shirt.
"I don't get it. Josh," I said, swinging around & putting my feet on the floor. "We looked
everywhere. Where do you think Petey is?"
"In the cemetery," Josh answered. His eyes looked big & dark & serious in the white light.
"That's where he ran the 1st time, remember? When we 1st came to Dark Falls? He ran to that
cemetery just past the school."
"Now, wait a minute — " I started.
"We drove past it this afternoon, but we didn't look inside. He's there, Amanda. I know he is.
& I'm going to go get him whether you come or not."
"Josh, calm down," I said, putting my hands on his narrow shoulders. I was surprised to
discover that he was trembling. "There's no reason for Petey to be in that cemetery."
"That's where he went the 1st time," Josh insisted. "He was looking for something there that
day. I could tell. I know he's there again, Amanda." He pulled away from me. "Are you coming
My brother has to be the stubbornest, most headstrong person in the world.
"Josh, you're really going to walk into a strange cemetery so late at night?" I asked.
"I'm not afraid," he said, shining the bright light around my room.
For a brief second, I thought the light caught someone, lurking behind the curtains. I opened
my mouth to cry out. But there was no one there.
"You coming or not?" he repeated impatiently.
I was going to say no. But then, glancing at the curtains, I thought, it's probably no more
spooky out there in that cemetery than it is here in my own bedroom!
"Yeah. Okay," I said grudgingly. "Get out of here & let me get dressed."
"Okay," he whispered, turning off the flashlight, plunging us into blackness. "Meet me down
at the end of the driveway."
"Josh — one quick look at the cemetery, then we hurry home. Got it?" I told him.
"Yeah. Right. We'll be home before Mom & Dad get back from that party." He crept out. I
could hear him making his way quickly down the stairs.
This is the craziest idea ever, I told myself as I searched in the darkness for some clothes to
& it was also kind of exciting.
Josh was wrong. No doubt about it. Petey wouldn't be hanging around in that cemetery now.
Why on earth should he?
But at least it wasn't a long walk. & it was an adventure. Something to write about to Kathy
& if Josh happened to be right, & we did manage to find poor, lost Petey, well, that would be
A few minutes later, dressed in jeans & a sweatshirt, I crept out of the house & joined Josh at
the bottom of the driveway. The night was still warm. A heavy blanket of clouds covered the
moon. I realized for the 1st time that there were no streetlights on our block.
Josh had the halogen flashlight on, aimed down at our feet. "You ready?" he asked.
Dumb question. Would I be standing there if I weren't ready?
We crunched over dead leaves as we headed up the block, toward the school. From there,
it was just 2 blocks to the cemetery.
"It's so dark," I whispered. The houses were black & silent. There was no breeze at all. It was
as if we were all alone in the world.
"It's too quiet," I said, hurrying to keep up with Josh. "No crickets or anything. Are you sure
you really want to go to the cemetery?"
"I'm sure," he said, his eyes following the circle of light from the flashlight as it bumped over
the ground. "I really think Petey is there."
We walked in the street, keeping close to the curb. We had gone nearly 2 blocks. The school
was just coming into sight on the next block when we heard the scraping steps behind us on the
Josh & I both stopped. He lowered the light.
We both heard the sounds. I wasn't imagining them.
Someone was following us.
Josh was so startled, the flashlight tumbled from his hand & clattered onto the street. The light
flickered but didn't go out.
By the time Josh had managed to pick it up, our pursuer had caught up to us. I spun around
to face him, my heart pounding in my chest.
"Ray! What are you doing here?"
Josh aimed the light at Ray's face, but Ray shot his arms up to shield his face & ducked back
into the darkness. "What are you 2 doing here?" he cried, sounding almost as startled as I did.
"You — you scared us," Josh said angrily, aiming the flashlight back down at our feet.
"Sorry," Ray said, "I would've called out, but I wasn't sure it was you."
"Josh has this crazy idea about where Petey might be," I told him, still struggling to catch my
breath. "That's why we're out here."
"What about you?" Josh asked Ray.
"Well, sometimes I have trouble sleeping," Ray said softly.
"Don't your parents mind you being out so late?" I asked.
In the glow from the flashlight, I could see a wicked smile cross his face. "They don't know."
"Are we going to the cemetery or not?" Josh asked impatiently. Without waiting for an
answer, he started jogging up the road, the light bobbing on the pavement in front of him. I
turned & followed, wanting to stay close to the light.
"Where are you going?" Ray called, hurrying to catch up.
"The cemetery," I called back.
"No," Ray said. "You're not."
His voice was so low, so threatening, that I stopped. "What?"
"You're not going there," Ray repeated. I couldn't see his face. It was hidden in darkness. But
his words sounded menacing.
"Hurry!" Josh called back to us. He hadn't slowed down. He didn't seem to notice the threat
in Ray's words.
"Stop, Josh!" Ray called. It sounded more like an order than a request. "You can't go there!"
"Why not?" I demanded, suddenly afraid. Was Ray threatening Josh & me? Did he know
something we didn't? Or was I making a big deal out of nothing once again?
I stared into the darkness, trying to see his face.
"You'd be nuts to go there at night!" he declared.
I began to think I had misjudged him. He was afraid to go there. That's why he was trying to
"Are you coming or not?" Josh demanded, getting farther & farther ahead of us.
"I don't think we should," Ray warned.
Yes, he's afraid, I decided. I only imagined that he was threatening us.
"You don't have to. But we do," Josh insisted, picking up his speed.
"No. Really," Ray said. 'This is a bad idea." But now he & I were running side by side to catch
up with Josh.
"Petey's there," Josh said, "I know he is."
We passed the dark, silent school. It seemed much bigger at night. Josh's light flashed
through the low tree branches as we turned the corner onto Cemetery Drive.
"Wait — please," Ray pleaded. But Josh didn't slow down. Neither did I. I was eager to get
there & get it over with.
I wiped my forehead with my sleeve. The air was hot & still. I wished I hadn't worn long
sleeves. I felt my hair. It was dripping wet.
The clouds still covered the moon as we reached the cemetery. We stepped through a gate
in the low wall. In the darkness, I could see the crooked rows of gravestones.
Josh's light traveled from stone to stone, jumping up & down as he walked. "Petey!" he
called suddenly, interrupting the silence.
He's disturbing the sleep of the dead, I thought, feeling a sudden chill of fear.
Don't be silly, Amanda. "Petey!" I called, too, forcing away my morbid thoughts.
"This is a very bad idea," Ray said, standing very close to me.
"Petey! Petey!" Josh called.
"I know it's a bad idea," I admitted to Ray. "But I didn't want Josh to come here by himself."
"But we shouldn't be here," Ray insisted.
I was beginning to wish he'd go away. No one had forced him to come. Why was he giving
us such a hard time?
"Hey — look at this!" Josh called from several yards up ahead.
My sneakers crunching over the soft ground, I hurried between the rows of graves. I hadn't
realized that we had already walked the entire length of the graveyard.
"Look," Josh said again, his flashlight playing over a strange structure built at the edge of the
It took me a little while to figure out what it was in the small circle of light. It was so
unexpected. It was some kind of theater. An amphitheater, I guess you'd call it, circular rows of
bench seats dug into the ground, descending like stairs to a low stagelike platform at the
"What on earth!" I exclaimed.
I started forward to get a closer look.
"Amanda — wait. Let's go home," Ray called. He grabbed at my arm, but I hurried away, & he
grabbed only air.
"Weird! Who would build an outdoor theater at the edge of a cemetery?" I asked.
I looked back to see if Josh & Ray were following me, & my sneaker caught against
something. I stumbled to the ground, hitting my knee hard.
"Ow. What was that?"
Josh shone the light on it as I climbed slowly, painfully, to my feet. I had tripped over an
enormous, upraised tree root.
In the flickering light, I followed the gnarled root over to a wide, old tree several yards away.
The huge tree was bent over the strange below-ground theater, leaning at such a low angle that
it looked likely to topple over at any second. Big clumps of roots were raised up from the ground.
Overhead, the tree's branches, heavy with leaves, seemed to lean to the ground.
"Timberrr!" Josh yelled.
"How weird!" I exclaimed. "Hey, Ray — what is this place?"
"It's a meeting place," Ray said quietly, standing close beside me, staring straight ahead at
the leaning tree. "They use it sort of like a town hall. They have town meetings here."
"In the cemetery?" I cried, finding it hard to believe.
"Let's go," Ray urged, looking very nervous.
All 3 of us heard the footsteps. They were behind us, somewhere in the rows of graves. We
turned around. Josh's light swept over the ground.
There he was, standing between the nearest row of low, stone grave markers. I turned
happily to Josh. "I don't believe it!" I cried. "You were right!"
"Petey! Petey!" Josh & I both started running toward our dog.
But Petey arched back on his hind legs as if he were getting ready to run away. He stared at
us, his eyes red as jewels in the light of the flashlight.
"Petey! We found you!" I cried.
The dog lowered his head & started to trot away.
"Petey! Hey — come back! Don't you recognize us?"
With a burst of speed. Josh caught up with him & grabbed him up off the ground. "Hey,
Petey, what's the matter, fella?"
As I hurried over. Josh dropped Petey back to the ground & stepped back. "Ooh — he stinks!"
"What?" I cried.
"Petey — he stinks. He smells like a dead rat!" Josh held his nose.
Petey started to walk slowly away.
"Josh, he isn't glad to see us," I wailed. "He doesn't even seem to recognize us. Look at him!"
It was true. Petey walked to the next row of gravestones, then turned & glared at us.
I suddenly felt sick. What had happened to Petey? Why was he acting so differently? Why
wasn't he glad to see us?
"I don't get it," Josh said, still making a face from the odor the dog gave off. "Usually, if we
leave the room for thirty seconds, he goes nuts when we come back."
"We'd better go!" Ray called. He was still at the edge of the cemetery near the leaning tree.
"Petey — what's wrong with you?" I called to the dog. He didn't respond. "Don't you remember
your name? Petey? Petey?"
"Yuck! What a stink!" Josh exclaimed.
"We've got to get him home & give him a bath," I said. My voice was shaking. I felt really
sad. & frightened.
"Maybe this isn't Petey," Josh said thoughtfully. The dog's eyes again glared red in the beam
"It's him all right," I said quietly. "Look. He's dragging the leash. Go get him. Josh — & let's go
"Yow get him!" Josh cried. "He smells too bad!"
"Just grab his leash. You don't have to pick him up," I said.
Josh was being stubborn again. I could see that I had no choice. "Okay," I said. "I'll get him.
But I'll need the light." I grabbed the flashlight from Josh's hand & started to run toward Petey.
"Sit, Petey. Sit!" I ordered. It was the only command Petey ever obeyed.
But he didn't obey it this time. Instead, he turned & trotted away, holding his head down low.
"Petey — stop! Petey, come on!" I yelled, exasperated. "Don't make me chase you."
"Don't let him get away!" Josh yelled, running up behind me.
I moved the flashlight from side to side along the ground. "Where is he?"
"Petey! Petey!" Josh called, sounding shrill & desperate.
I couldn't see him.
"Oh, no. Don't tell me we've lost him again!" I said.
We both started to call him. "What's wrong with that mutt?" I cried.
I moved the beam of light down one long row of gravestones, then, moving quickly, down
the next. No sign of him. We both kept calling his name.
& then the circle of light came to rest on the front of a granite tombstone.
Reading the name on the stone, I stopped short.
"Josh — look!" I grabbed Josh's sleeve. I held on tight.
"Huh? What's wrong?" His face filled with confusion.
"Look! The name on the gravestone."
It was Karen Somerset.
Josh read the name. He stared at me, still confused.
"That's my new friend Karen. The one I talk to on the playground every day," I said.
"Huh? It must be her grandmother or something," Josh said, & then added impatiently,
"Come on. Look for Petey."
"No. Look at the dates," I said to him.
We both read the dates under Karen Somerset's name. 1 960-1972.
"It can't be her mother or grandmother," I said, keeping the beam of light on the stone
despite my trembling hand. "This girl died when she was 12. My age. & Karen is 12, too. She told
"Amanda — " Josh scowled & looked away.
But I took a few steps & beamed the light onto the next gravestone. There was a name on it
I'd never heard before. I moved on to the next stone. Another name I'd never heard.
"Amanda, come on!" Josh whined.
The next gravestone had the name George Carpenter on it. 1975-1 988.
"Josh — look! It's George from the playground," I called.
"Amanda, we have to get Petey," he insisted.
But I couldn't pull myself away from the gravestones. I went from one to the next, moving the
flashlight over the engraved letters.
To my growing horror, I found Jerry Franklin. & then Bill Gregory.
All the kids we had played softball with. They all had gravestones here.
My heart thudding, I moved down the crooked row, my sneakers sinking into the soft grass. I
felt numb, numb with fear. I struggled to hold the light steady as I beamed it onto the last stone in
RAY THURSTON. 1 977-1 988.
I could hear Josh calling me, but I couldn't make out what he was saying.
The rest of the world seemed to fall away. I read the deeply etched inscription again:
RAY THURSTON. 1 977-1 988.
I stood there, staring at the letters & numbers. I stared at them till they didn't make sense
anymore, until they were just a gray blur.
Suddenly, I realized that Ray had crept up beside the gravestone & was staring at me.
"Ray — " I managed to say, moving the light over the name on the stone. "Ray, this one
is . . . you!"
His eyes flared, glowing like dying embers.
"Yes, it's me," he said softly, moving toward me. "I'm so sorry, Amanda."
I took a step back, my sneakers sinking into the soft ground. The air was heavy & still. No one
made a sound. Nothing moved.
I'm surrounded by death, I thought.
Then, frozen to the spot, unable to breathe, the darkness swirling around me, the
gravestones spinning in their own black shadows, I thought: What is he going to do to me?
"Ray — " I managed to call out. My voice sounded faint & far away. "Ray, are you really
"I'm sorry. You weren't supposed to find out yet," he said, his voice floating low & heavy on
the stifling night air.
"But — how? I mean ... I don't understand. ..." I looked past him to the darting white light of
the flashlight. Josh was several rows away, almost to the street, still searching for Petey.
"Petey!" I whispered, dread choking my throat, my stomach tightening in horror.
"Dogs always know," Ray said in a low, flat tone. "Dogs always recognize the living dead.
That's why they have to go 1st. They always know."
"You mean — Petey's . . . dead?" I choked out the words.
Ray nodded. "They kill the dogs 1st."
"No!" I screamed & took another step back, nearly losing my balance as I bumped into a
low marble gravestone. I jumped away from it.
"You weren't supposed to see this," Ray said, his narrow face expressionless except for his
dark eyes, which revealed real sadness. "You weren't supposed to know. Not for another few
weeks, anyway. I'm the watcher. I was supposed to watch, to make sure you didn't see until it
He took a step toward me, his eyes lighting up red, burning into mine.
"Were you watching me from the window?" I cried. "Was that you in my room?"
Again he nodded yes. "I used to live in your house," he said, taking another step closer,
forcing me back against the cold marble stone. "I'm the watcher."
I forced myself to look away, to stop staring into his glowing eyes. I wanted to scream to
Josh to run & get help. But he was too far away. & I was frozen there, frozen with fear.
"We need fresh blood," Ray said.
"What?" I cried. "What are you saying?"
"The town — it can't survive without fresh blood. None of us can. You'll understand soon,
Amanda. You'll understand why we had to invite you to the house, to the . . . Dead House."
In the darting, zigzagging beam of light, I could see Josh moving closer, heading our way.
Run, Josh, I thought. Run away. Fast. Get someone. Get anyone.
I could think the words. Why couldn't I scream them?
Ray's eyes glowed brighter. He was standing right in front of me now, his features set, hard &
"Ray?" Even through my jeans, the marble gravestone felt cold against the back of my legs.
"I messed up," he whispered. "I was the watcher. But I messed up."
"Ray — what are you going to do?"
His red eyes flickered. "I'm really sorry."
He started to raise himself off the ground, to float over me.
I could feel myself start to choke. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't move. I opened my mouth to
call out to Josh, but no sound came out.
Josh? Where was he?
I looked down the rows of gravestones but couldn't see his light.
Ray floated up a little higher. He hovered over me, choking me somehow, blinding me,
I'm dead, I thought. Dead.
Now I'm dead, too.
& then, suddenly, light broke through the darkness.
The light shone in Ray's face, the bright white halogen light.
"What's going on?" Josh asked, in a high-pitched, nervous voice. "Amanda — what's
Ray cried out & dropped back to the ground. "Turn that off! Turn it off!" he screeched, his
voice a shrill whisper, like wind through a broken windowpane.
But Josh held the bright beam of light on Ray. "What's going on? What are you doing?"
I could breathe again. As I stared into the light, I struggled to stop my heart from pounding
Ray moved his arms to shield himself from the light. But I could see what was happening to
him. The light had already done its damage.
Ray's skin seemed to be melting. His whole face sagged, then fell, dropping off his skull.
I stared into the circle of white light, unable to look away, as Ray's skin folded & drooped &
melted away. As the bone underneath was revealed, his eyeballs rolled out of their sockets & fell
silently to the ground.
Josh, frozen in horror, somehow held the bright light steady, & we both stared at the grinning
skull, its dark craters staring back at us.
"Oh!" I shrieked as Ray took a step toward me.
But then I realized that Ray wasn't walking. He was falling.
I jumped aside as he crumpled to the ground. & gasped as his skull hit the top of the marble
gravestone, & cracked open with a sickening splat.
"Come on!" Josh shouted. "Amanda — come on!" He grabbed my hand & tried to pull me
But I couldn't stop staring down at Ray, now a pile of bones inside a puddle of crumpled
"Amanda, come on!"
Then, before I even realized it, I was running, running beside Josh as fast as I could down the
long row of graves toward the street. The light flashed against the blur of gravestones as we ran,
slipping on the soft, dew-covered grass, gasping in the still, hot air.
"We've got to tell Mom & Dad. Got to get away from here!" I cried.
"They — they won't believe it!" Josh said, as we reached the street. We kept running, our
sneakers thudding hard against the pavement. "I'm not sure I believe it myself!"
"They've not to believe us!" I told him. "If they don't, we'll drag them out of that house."
The white beam of light pointed the way as we ran through the dark, silent streets. There
were no streetlights, no lights on in the windows of the houses we passed, no car headlights.
Such a dark world we had entered.
& now it was time to get out.
We ran the rest of the way home. I kept looking back to see if we were being followed. But I
didn't see anyone. The neighborhood was still & empty.
I had a sharp pain in my side as we reached home. But I forced myself to keep running, up
the gravel driveway with its thick blanket of dead leaves, & onto the front porch.
I pushed open the door & both Josh & I started to scream. "Mom! Dad! Where are you?"
We ran into the living room. The lights were all off.
"Mom? Dad? Are you here?"
Please be here, I thought, my heart racing, the pain in my side still sharp. Please be here.
We searched the house. They weren't home.
"The potluck party," Josh suddenly remembered. "Can they still be at that party?"
We were standing in the living room, both of us breathing hard. The pain in my side had let
up just a bit. I had turned on all the lights, but the room still felt gloomy & menacing.
I glanced at the clock on the mantel. Nearly 2 in the morning.
"They should be home by now," I said, my voice shaky & weak.
"Where did they go? Did they leave a number?" Josh was already on his way to the kitchen.
I followed him, turning on lights as we went. We went right to the memo pad on the counter
where Mom & Dad always leave us notes.
Nothing. The pad was blank.
"We've got to find them!" Josh cried. He sounded very frightened. His wide eyes reflected his
fear. "We have to get away from here."
What if something has happened to them?
That's what I started to say. But I caught myself just in time. I didn't want to scare Josh any
more than he was already.
Besides, he'd probably thought of that, too.
"Should we call the police?" he asked, as we walked back to the living room & peered out
the front window into the darkness.
"I don't know," I said, pressing my hot forehead against the cool glass. "I just don't know what
to do. I want them to be home. I want them here so we can all leave."
"What's your hurry?" a girl's voice said from behind me.
Josh & I both cried out & spun around.
Karen Somerset was standing in the center of the room, her arms crossed over her chest.
"But — you're dead!" I blurted out.
She smiled, a sad smile, a bitter smile.
& then 2 more kids stepped in from the hallway. One of them clicked off the lights. "Too
bright in here," he said. They moved next to Karen.
& another kid, Jerry Franklin — another dead kid — appeared by the fireplace. & I saw the girl
with short black hair, the one I had seen on the stairs, move beside me by the curtains.
They were all smiling, their eyes glowing dully in the dim light, all moving in on Josh & me.
"What do you want?" I screamed in a voice I didn't even recognize. "What are you going to
"We used to live in your house," Karen said softly.
"Huh?" I cried.
"We used to live in your house," George said.
"& now, guess what?" Jerry added. "Now we're dead in your house!"
The others started to laugh, crackling, dry laughs, as they all closed in on Josh & me.
"They're going to kill us!" Josh cried.
I watched them move forward in silence. Josh & I had backed up to the window. I looked
around the dark room for an escape route.
But there was nowhere to run.
"Karen — you seemed so nice," I said. The words just tumbled out. I hadn't thought before I
Her eyes glowed a little brighter. "I was nice," she said in a glum monotone, "until I moved
"We were all nice," George Carpenter said in the same low monotone. "But now we're
"Let us go!" Josh cried, raising his hands in front of him as if to shield himself. "Please — let us
They laughed again, the dry, hoarse laughter. Dead laughter.
"Don't be scared, Amanda," Karen said. "Soon you'll be with us. That's why they invited you
to this house."
"Huh? I don't understand," I cried, my voice shaking.
"This is the Dead House. This is where everyone lives when they 1st arrive in Dark Falls. When
they're still alive."
This seemed to strike the others as funny. They all snickered & laughed.
"But our great-uncle — " Josh started.
Karen shook her head, her eyes glowing with amusement. "No. Sorry, Josh. No great-uncle.
It was just a trick to bring you here. Once every year, someone new has to move here. Other
years, it was us. We lived in this house — until we died. This year, it's your turn."
"We need new blood," Jerry Franklin said, his eyes glowing red in the dim light. "Once a
year, you see, we need new blood."
Moving forward in silence, they hovered over Josh & me.
I took a deep breath. A last breath, perhaps. & shut my eyes.
& then I heard the knock on the door.
A loud knock, repeated several times.
I opened my eyes. The ghostly kids all vanished.
The air smelled sour.
Josh & I stared at each other, dazed, as the loud knocking started again.
"It's Mom & Dad!" Josh cried.
We both ran to the door. Josh stumbled over the coffee table in the dark, so I got to the door
"Mom! Dad!" I cried, pulling open the door. "Where have you been?"
I reached out my arms to hug them both — & stopped with my arms in the air. My mouth
dropped open & I uttered a silent cry.
"Mr. Dawes!" Josh exclaimed, coming up beside me. "We thought — "
"Oh, Mr. Dawes, I'm so glad to see you!" I cried happily, pushing open the screen door for
"Kids — you're okay?" he asked, eyeing us both, his handsome face tight with worry. "Oh,
thank God!" he cried. "I got here in time!"
"Mr. Dawes — " I started, feeling so relieved, I had tears in my eyes. "I — "
He grabbed my arm. "There's no time to talk," he said, looking behind him to the street. I
could see his car in the driveway. The engine was running. Only the parking lights were on. "I've
got to get you kids out of here while there's still time."
Josh & I started to follow him, then hesitated.
What if Mr. Dawes was one of them?
"Hurry," Mr. Dawes urged, holding open the screen door, gazing nervously out into the
darkness. "I think we're in terrible danger."
"But — " I started, staring into his frightened eyes, trying to decide if we could trust him.
"I was at the party with your parents," Mr. Dawes said. "All of a sudden, they formed a circle.
Everyone. Around your parents & me. They — they started to close in on us."
Just like when the kids started to close in on Josh & me, I thought.
"We broke through them & ran," Mr. Dawes said, glancing to the driveway behind him.
"Somehow the 3 of us got away. Hurry. We've all got to get away from here — now!"
"Josh, let's go," I urged. Then I turned to Mr. Dawes. "Where are Mom & Dad?"
"Come on. I'll show you. They're safe for now. But I don't know for how long."
We followed him out of the house & down the driveway to his car. The clouds had parted. A
sliver of moon shone low in a pale, early morning sky.
"There's something wrong with this whole town," Mr. Dawes said, holding the front passenger
door open for me as Josh climbed into the back.
I slumped gratefully into the seat, & he slammed the door shut. "I know," I said, as he slid
behind the wheel. "Josh & I. We both—"
"We've got to get as far away as we can before they catch up with us," Mr. Dawes said,
backing down the drive quickly, the tires sliding & squealing as he pulled onto the street.
"Yes," I agreed. "Thank goodness you came. My house — it's filled with kids. Dead kids & — "
"So you've seen them," Mr. Dawes said softly, his eyes wide with fear. He pushed down
harder on the gas pedal.
As I looked out into the purple darkness, a low, orange sun began to show over the green
treetops. "Where are our parents?" I asked anxiously.
"There's a kind of outdoor theater next to the cemetery," Mr. Dawes said, staring straight
ahead through the windshield, his eyes narrow, his expression tense. "It's built right into the
ground, & it's hidden by a big tree. I left them there. I told them not to move. I think they'll be
safe. I don't think anyone'll think to look there."
"We've seen it," Josh said. A bright light suddenly flashed on in the backseat.
"What's that?" Mr. Dawes asked, looking into the rearview mirror.
"My flashlight," Josh answered, clicking it off. "I brought it just in case. But the sun will be up
soon. I probably won't need it."
Mr. Dawes hit the brake & pulled the car to the side of the road. We were at the edge of the
cemetery. I climbed quickly out of the car, eager to see my parents.
The sky was still dark, streaked with violet now. The sun was a dark orange balloon just
barely poking over the trees. Across the street, beyond the jagged rows of gravestones, I could
see the dark outline of the leaning tree that hid the mysterious amphitheater.
"Hurry," Mr. Dawes urged, closing his car door quietly. "I'm sure your parents are desperate
to see you."
We headed across the street, half-walking, half-jogging, Josh swinging the flashlight in one
Suddenly, at the edge of the cemetery grass. Josh stopped. "Petey!" he cried.
I followed his gaze, & saw our white terrier walking slowly along a slope of gravestones.
"Petey!" Josh yelled again, & began running to the dog.
My heart sank. I hadn't had a chance to tell Josh what Ray had revealed to me about Petey.
"No— Josh!" I called.
Mr. Dawes looked very alarmed. "We don't have time. We have to hurry," he said to me.
Then he began shouting for Josh to come back.
"I'll go get him," I said, & took off, running as fast as I could along the rows of graves, calling
to my brother. "Josh! Josh, wait up! Don't! Don't go after him! Josh — Petey is dead!"
Josh had been gaining on the dog, which was ambling along, sniffing the ground, not
looking up, not paying any attention to Josh. Then suddenly. Josh tripped over a low grave
He cried out as he fell, & the flashlight flew out of his hand & clattered against a gravestone.
I quickly caught up with him. "Josh — are you okay?"
He was lying on his stomach, staring straight ahead.
"Josh — answer me. Are you okay?"
I grabbed him by the shoulders & tried to pull him up, but he kept staring straight ahead, his
mouth open, his eyes wide.
"Look," he said finally.
I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that Josh wasn't knocked out or something.
"Look," he repeated, & pointed to the gravestone he had tripped over.
I turned & squinted at the grave. I read the inscription, silently mouthing the words as I read:
COMPTON DAWES. R.I.P. 1950-1980.
My head began to spin. I felt dizzy. I steadied myself, holding onto Josh.
It wasn't his father or his grandfather. He had told us he was the only Compton in his family.
So Mr. Dawes was dead, too.
Dead. Dead. Dead.
Dead as everyone else.
He was one of them. One of the dead ones.
Josh & I stared at each other in the purple darkness. Surrounded. Surrounded by the dead.
Now what? I asked myself.
"Get up. Josh," I said, my voice a choked whisper. "We've got to get away from here."
But we were too late.
A hand grabbed me firmly by the shoulder.
I spun around to see Mr. Dawes, his eyes narrowing as he read the inscription on his own
"Mr. Dawes — you, too!" I cried, so disappointed, so confused, so . . . scared.
"Me, too," he said, almost sadly. "All of us." His eyes burned into mine. "This was a normal
town once. & we were normal people. Most of us worked in the plastics factory on the outskirts of
town. Then there was an accident. Something escaped from the factory. A yellow gas. It floated
over the town. So fast we didn't see it . . . didn't realize. & then, it was too late, & Dark Falls wasn't
a normal town anymore. We were all dead, Amanda. Dead & buried. But we couldn't rest. We
couldn't sleep. Dark Falls was a town of living dead."
"What — what are you going to do to us?" I managed to ask. My knees were trembling so
hard, I could barely stand. A dead man was squeezing my shoulder. A dead man was staring
hard into my eyes.
Standing this close, I could smell his sour breath. I turned my head, but the smell already
choked my nostrils.
"Where are Mom & Dad?" Josh asked, climbing to his feet & standing rigidly across from us,
glaring accusingly at Mr. Dawes.
"Safe & sound," Mr. Dawes said with a faint smile. "Come with me. It's time for you to join
I tried to pull away from him, but his hand was locked on my shoulder. "Let go!" I shouted.
His smile grew wider. "Amanda, it doesn't hurt to die," he said softly, almost soothingly.
"Come with me."
"No!" Josh shouted. & with sudden quickness, he dived to the ground & picked up his
"Yes!" I cried. "Shine it on him. Josh!" The light could save us. The light could defeat Mr.
Dawes, as it had Ray. The light could destroy him. "Quick — shine it on him!" I pleaded.
Josh fumbled with the flashlight, then pointed it toward Mr. Dawes's startled face, & clicked it
"It — it's broken," Josh said. "I guess when it hit the gravestone. . . ."
My heart pounding, I looked back at Mr. Dawes. The smile on his face was a smile of victory.
"Nice try," Mr. Dawes said to Josh. The smile faded quickly from his face.
Close up, he didn't look so young & handsome. His skin, I could see, was dry & peeling &
hung loosely beneath his eyes.
"Let's go, kids," he said, giving me a shove. He glanced up at the brightening sky. The sun
was raising itself over the treetops.
"I said let's go," Mr. Dawes snapped impatiently. He loosened his grip on my shoulder & took
a menacing step toward Josh.
Josh glanced down at the worthless flashlight. Then he pulled his arm back & heaved the
flashlight at Mr. Dawes's head.
The flashlight hit its target with a sickening crack. It hit Mr. Dawes in the center of his
forehead, splitting a large hole in the skin.
Mr. Dawes uttered a low cry. His eyes widened in surprise. Dazed, he reached a hand up to
the hole where a few inches of gray skull poked through.
"Run, Josh!" I cried.
But there was no need to tell him that. He was already zigzagging through the rows of
graves, his head ducked low. I followed him, running as fast as I could.
Glancing back, I saw Mr. Dawes stagger after us, still holding his ripped forehead. He took
several steps, then abruptly stopped, staring up at the sky.
It's too bright for him, I realized. He has to stay in the shade.
Josh had ducked down behind a tall marble monument, old & slightly tilted, cracked down
the middle. I slid down beside him, gasping for breath.
Leaning on the cool marble, we both peered around the sides of the monument. Mr. Dawes,
a scowl on his face, was heading back toward the amphitheater, keeping in the shadows of the
"He — he's not chasing us," Josh whispered, his chest heaving as he struggled to catch his
breath & stifle his fear. "He's going back."
"The sun is too bright for him," I said, holding onto the side of the monument. "He must be
going to get Mom & Dad."
"That stupid flashlight," Josh cried.
"Never mind that," I said, watching Mr. Dawes until he disappeared behind the big leaning
tree. "What are we going to do now? I don't know — "
"Shhh. Look!" Josh poked me hard on the shoulder, & pointed. "Who's that?"
I followed his stare & saw several dark figures hurrying through the rows of tombstones. They
seemed to have appeared from out of nowhere.
Did they rise out of the graves?
Walking quickly, seeming to float over the green, sloping ground, they headed into the
shadows. All were walking in silence, their eyes straight ahead. They didn't stop to greet one
another. They strode purposefully toward the hidden amphitheater, as if they were being drawn
there, as if they were puppets being pulled by hidden strings.
"Whoa. Look at them all!" Josh whispered, ducking his head back behind the marble
The dark, moving forms made all the shadows ripple. It looked as if the trees, the
gravestones, the entire cemetery had come to life, had started toward the hidden seats of the
"There goes Karen," I whispered, pointing. "& George. & all the rest of them."
The kids from our house were moving quickly in twos & threes, following the other shadows,
as silent & businesslike as everyone else.
Everyone was here except Ray, I thought.
Because we killed Ray.
We killed someone who was already dead.
"Do you think Mom & Dad are really down in that weird theater?" Josh asked, interrupting my
morbid thoughts, his eyes on the moving shadows.
"Come on," I said, taking Josh's hand & pulling him away from the monument. "We've got to
We watched the last of the dark figures float past the enormous leaning tree. The shadows
stopped moving. The cemetery was still & silent. A solitary crow floated high above in the clear
blue, cloudless sky.
Slowly, Josh & I edged our way toward the amphitheater, ducking behind gravestones,
keeping low to the ground.
It was a struggle to move. I felt as if I weighed 5 hundred pounds. The weight of my fear, I
I was desperate to see if Mom & Dad were there.
But at the same time, I didn't want to see.
I didn't want to see them being held prisoner by Mr. Dawes & the others.
I didn't want to see them . . . killed.
The thought made me stop. I reached out an arm & halted Josh.
We were standing behind the leaning tree, hidden by its enormous clump of upraised roots.
Beyond the tree, down in the theater below, I could hear the low murmur of voices.
"Are Mom & Dad there?" Josh whispered. He started to poke his head around the side of the
bent tree trunk, but I cautiously pulled him back.
"Be careful," I whispered. "Don't let them see you. They're practically right beneath us."
"But I've got to know if Mom & Dad are really here," he whispered, his eyes frightened,
"Me, too," I agreed.
We both leaned over the massive trunk. The bark felt smooth under my hands as I gazed into
the deep shadows cast by the tree.
& then I saw them.
Mom & Dad. They were tied up, back-to-back, standing in the center of the floor at the
bottom of the amphitheater in front of everyone.
They looked so uncomfortable, so terrified. Their arms were tied tightly down at their sides.
Dad's face was bright red. Mom's hair was all messed up, hanging wildly down over her
forehead, her head bowed.
Squinting into the darkness cast by the tree, I saw Mr. Dawes standing beside them along
with another, older man. & I saw that the rows of long benches built into the ground were filled
with people. Not a single empty space.
Everyone in town must be here, I realized.
Everyone except Josh & me.
"They're going to kill Mom & Dad," Josh whispered, grabbing my arm, squeezing it in fear.
"They're going to make Mom & Dad just like them."
"Then they'll come after us," I said, thinking out loud, staring through the shadows at my poor
parents. Both of them had their heads bowed now as they stood before the silent crowd. Both of
them were awaiting their fates.
"What are we going to do?" Josh whispered.
"Huh?" I was staring so hard at Mom & Dad, I guess I momentarily blanked out.
"What are we going to do?" Josh repeated urgently, still holding desperately to my arm. "We
can't just stand here & — "
I suddenly knew what we were going to do.
It just came to me. I didn't even have to think hard.
"Maybe we can save them," I whispered, backing away from the tree. "Maybe we can do
Josh let go of my arm. He stared at me eagerly.
"We're going to push this tree over," I whispered with so much confidence that I surprised
myself. "We're going to push the tree over so the sunlight will fill the amphitheater."
"Yes!" Josh cried immediately. "Look at this tree. It's practically clown already. We can do it!"
I knew we could do it. I don't know where my confidence came from. But I knew we could
& I knew we had to do it fast.
Peering over the top of the trunk again, struggling to see through the shadows, I could see
that everyone in the theater had stood up. They were all starting to move forward, down toward
Mom & Dad.
"Come on, Josh," I whispered. "We'll take a running jump, & push the tree over. Come on!"
Without another word, we both took several steps back.
We just had to give the trunk a good, hard push, & the tree would topple right over. The roots
were already almost entirely up out of the ground, after all.
One hard push. That's all it would take. & the sunlight would pour into the theater. Beautiful,
golden sunlight. Bright, bright sunlight.
The dead people would all crumble.
& Mom & Dad would be saved.
All 4 of us would be saved.
"Come on, Josh," I whispered. "Ready?"
He nodded, his face solemn, his eyes frightened.
"Okay. Let's go!" I cried.
We both ran forward, digging our sneakers into the ground, moving as fast as we could, our
arms outstretched & ready.
In a second, we hit the tree trunk & pushed with all of our strength, shoving it with our hands
& then moving our shoulders into it, pushing . . . pushing . . . pushing . . .
It didn't budge.
"Push!" I cried. "Push it again!"
Josh let out an exasperated, defeated sigh. "I can't, Amanda. I can't move it."
"Josh—" I glared at him.
He backed up to try again.
Below, I could hear startled voices, angry voices.
"Quick!" I yelled. "Push!"
We hurtled into the tree trunk with our shoulders, both of us grunting from the effort, our
muscles straining, our faces bright red.
"Push! Keep pushing!"
The veins at my temples felt about to pop.
Was the tree moving?
It gave a little, but bounced right back.
The voices from below were getting louder.
"We can't do it!" I cried, so disappointed, so frustrated, so terrified. "We can't move it!"
Defeated, I slumped over onto the tree trunk, & started to bury my face in my hands.
I pulled back with a gasp when I heard the soft cracking sound. The cracking sound grew
louder until it was a rumble, then a roar. It sounded as if the ground were ripping apart.
The old tree fell quickly. It didn't have far to fall. But it hit with a thundering crash that seemed
to shake the ground.
I grabbed Josh & we both stood in amazement & disbelief as bright sunlight poured into the
The cries went up instantly. Horrified cries. Angry cries. Frantic cries.
The cries became howls. Howls of pain, of agony.
The people in the amphitheater, the living dead caught in the golden light, began
scrambling over one another, screeching, pulling, climbing, pushing, trying to claw their way to
But it was too late.
Their skin began to drop off their bones &, as I stared open-mouthed, they crumbled to
powder & dissolved to the ground, their clothes disintegrating along with them.
The painful cries continued to ring out as the bodies fell apart, the skin melted away, the dry
bones collapsed. I saw Karen Somerset staggering across the floor. I saw her hair fall to the
ground in a heap, revealing the dark skull underneath. She cast a glance up at me, a longing
look, a look of regret. & then her eyeballs rolled out of their sockets, & she opened her toothless
mouth, & she cried, "Thank you, Amanda! Thank you!" & collapsed.
Josh & I covered our ears to shut out the ghastly cries. We both looked away, unable to
keep watching the entire town fall in agony & crumble to powder, destroyed by the sun, the
clear, warm sun.
When we looked back, they had all disappeared.
Mom & Dad were standing right where they had been, tied back-to-back, their expressions
a mixture of horror & disbelief.
"Mom! Dad!" I cried.
I'll never forget their smiles as Josh & I ran forward to free them.
It didn't take our parents long to get us packed up & to arrange for the movers to take us
back to our old neighborhood & our old house. "I guess it's lucky after all that we couldn't sell the
old place," Dad said, as we eagerly piled into the car to leave.
Dad backed down the driveway & started to roar away.
"Stop!" I cried suddenly. I'm not sure why, but I had a sudden, powerful urge to take one last
look at the old house.
As both of my parents called out to me in confusion, I pushed open the door & jogged back
to the driveway. Standing in the middle of the yard, I stared up at the house, silent, empty, still
covered in thick layers of blue-gray shadows.
1 found myself gazing up at the old house as if I were hypnotized. I don't know how long I
The crunch of tires on the gravel driveway snapped me out of my spell. Startled, I turned to
see a red station wagon parked in the driveway.
2 boys about Josh's age jumped out of the back. Their parents followed. Staring up at the
house, they didn't seem to notice me.
"Here we are, kids," the mother said, smiling at them. "Our new house."
"It doesn't look new. It looks old," one of the boys said.
& then his brother's eyes widened as he noticed me. "Who are you?" he demanded.
The other members of his family turned to stare at me.
"Oh. I . . . uh . . ." His question caught me by surprise. I could hear my dad honking his horn
impatiently down on the street. "I . . . uh . . . used to live in your house," I found myself answering.
& then I turned & ran full speed down to the street.
Wasn't that Mr. Dawes standing at the porch, clipboard in hand? I wondered, catching a
glimpse of a dark figure as I ran to the car.
No, it couldn't be Mr. Dawes up there waiting for them, I decided.
It just couldn't be.
I didn't look back. I slammed the car door behind me, & we sped away.