Finally Read online

  Then I hear it. Creak … creak … groan. My hand freezes in midair, a Tootsie Roll halfway to my mouth. That noise sounded like it came from the house, not the TV. I hit the mute button on the remote. For almost a full minute I don’t move a muscle. When I don’t hear anything scarier than the gentle hum of the dishwasher, I relax back into the chair again, shaking my head. Leave it to me to freak myself out over nothing. Just as I’m about to un-mute the show, I hear creak … creak … and then, slam! Suddenly I’m a foot in the air. I have literally jumped out of my seat, nearly toppling my soda in the process. All my senses are on red alert. That was NOT my imagination! Heart pounding, I tiptoe into the hall, and peek around the corner at the front door. I can tell from here that it’s still locked from the inside. That’s a good sign.

  Or is it? What if the intruder were smart enough to lock it behind him before he crept up the stairs to hide in my closet or under my bed?

  Or what if it weren’t the front door that slammed, but one of the bedroom or bathroom or closet doors? That would mean someone would have had to be in the house before my family left. But how would he have gotten around unnoticed? Unless … unless he’s a disembodied spirit!

  I run back to the family room and grab the cordless phone from where I’d left it on the coffee table. With shaky hands, I punch in Mom’s cell phone number, then push myself as far into the corner of the room as my body will go.

  After a few rings she picks up. Before I can say anything, I hear a muffled “No throwing Hot Lips in the car, Sawyer. That’s very dangerous.”

  “Mom!” I whisper as loudly as I dare.

  “Rory? Why are you whispering? Hold on, let me put on my hands-free.” More muffled voices ensue as I wait for Mom to find her earpiece. Breathe, I command myself, just breathe. Finally, after what feels like forever, she says, “Still there?”

  “I’m here, I’m here!” I whisper frantically. “This might be the last time we ever speak!”

  “And why’s that?” she asks, not sounding particularly concerned for someone who didn’t want me to stay home alone in the first place.

  I cup my hand around the mouthpiece. “I heard some strange noises.”

  “What kind of noises?”

  My eyes dart left and right. “Like creaks and a slam.”

  “Well, the creaks are probably just the house settling.”

  “Settling? Settling for what?”

  “Just what an old house does. Groans and creaks sometimes.”

  “But our house isn’t that old!” I argue. “And what about the slam?”

  “Did you check the front door?”


  “Do you hear anything right now?” she asks.

  “No,” I admit.

  She pauses to tell Sawyer not to kick the back of her seat. I grip the phone tighter and wonder where my mother’s priorities lie. Save her only daughter from a homicidal maniac ghost, or teach Sawyer a lesson on proper car manners?

  “Okay,” she instructs, “go check the bathroom in the hall upstairs. Sometimes when the window’s open, a strong wind sucks the bathroom door closed.”

  My eyes widen. “You want me to go up there alone?”

  “You’ll be fine. Take the phone with you.”

  “So I can hit him with it?”

  She laughs, which wasn’t the response I’d been after. “Just go check. I promise you’ll be okay.”

  Clearly I’m more expendable than I would have hoped. “All right, I’ll go. But if I don’t come back, tell Sawyer he can have Throckmorton.”

  “I’m sure he’d like that.”

  I try to make my feet move, but they seem to be stuck to the carpet. “And tell Dad I’m sorry I stole a dollar from his wallet when I was eight to buy ice cream from the Good Humor man.”

  “You got it. Any other wrongdoings you want to confess to?”

  My shoulders sag. My first twelve years have been pretty law-abiding. “No,” I reply. “I guess that’s it. Wait! Once when I was seven, we were driving home from Grandpa’s and I pretended to be asleep when we got home so you’d carry me to bed.”

  “I knew you weren’t sleeping.”

  “You did? How?”

  A car honks loudly and Mom mutters something at the driver before saying, “You pulled off your glasses and put them on your night table before I laid you down. Now go upstairs already. We’re only a few blocks away from the party.”

  “Okay, okay.” I creep over to the stairs as silently as possible, cringing as my foot lands on a loose floorboard. “Still there?” I whisper into the phone.

  “Still here,” she assures me. I begin my climb, making sure to put very little weight on my feet to avoid more creaking. I can hear “Itsy Bitsy Spider” playing on the car’s CD player. For some reason I find this comforting. What kind of ghost would want to possess my body while a nursery rhyme is being played? Then I stop short. If this were a horror movie, that’s EXACTLY the kind of music they would play while the kid gets possessed!

  “Mom,” I hiss as I reach the top of the stairs, “can you turn the music off?” She doesn’t answer. I realize from the muffled noises that she must have put the phone down to gather her stuff for the party. So much for protecting me. I guess I’m on my own. Pressing my back against the wall, I slide toward the bathroom. When I reach it, I take a deep breath and swing my head around until I’m facing the door. It’s closed! I hear Mom’s voice calling my name so I bring the phone back to my ear. “I’m here.”

  “So? Was it the bathroom door?”

  “I don’t know,” I say, inching away. “It’s closed.”

  “Well, open it!”

  I’m about to argue about the preciousness of life, and how there’s so much I haven’t experienced, but then I decide to just suck it up and act my age. Before I can change my mind, I reach for the knob and swing the door open. And what do you know, a stiff breeze from an open window greets me. A huge wave of relief washes over me and I lean against the counter.

  “All clear,” I report.

  “Good. You’ll be all right?”

  “I’ll be fine.”

  “See you in a few hours.”

  “Thanks.” We hang up, and I quickly make my way back to the family room where The Simpsons awaits. I take a big swig of the soda and am about to settle back in the chair when … squeak, creak, groan. It can’t be the bathroom door again, since it’s closed. I huddle in the chair, hug my knees, and hit the redial button. After about ten endless rings, Mom picks up. “I’m at the party, Rory, what is it?”

  Now that she’s on the phone, I sort of regret calling. I have to think fast. “We never, um, you know, just talk anymore.”

  No response.

  I forge ahead, ignoring the sound of musical chairs in the background. “So, um, tell me about your, uh, life and stuff.” I squirm as I await her reply.


  “Yes?” I ask meekly.

  “Do you need me to come home?”

  “No!” That came out sounding much more convincing than I’d expected. But if she came home now, I’d never live it down. She probably wouldn’t let me babysit, either, if I can’t even stay home alone in my own house in the middle of the day.

  “Are you sure?” she asks.

  “I’m sure. Really, I was just kidding. Have fun at the party.” I hang up before I can dig myself in deeper, and pull my cell out of the pocket of my sweats. When I turn it on, the screen flashes 14 MISSED CALLS. If I hadn’t turned it off, I’d have been up all night convincing people I don’t sell pizza! I type a text to Annabelle, trying to remember all the texting shortcuts she went over with me.