lump formed in Alex’s throat. He was suddenly reliving the painful events from the horrific storm that swept through Timpleville. He’d spent weeks trying to block it out of his mind, but the images were all coming back to him as he listened to Maddy disclose her personal story to the class. There were so many vivid memories. Alex sometimes had difficulty putting them in order: the hard rain, the powerful winds, the flashes of lightening, the white cat, the creek, the old barn, the tornado, the mysterious rescue–
“We assumed nobody lived there,” Maddy continued, “‘cause the place was all old and boarded up. I totally thought I was gonna die out there, so we went inside. The entire house was dark and completely empty. And there was a funny smell, like something was rotting. It was gross. We looked around for a place to sit and rest, but there was no furniture anywhere. Just as we were about to go up to the second floor, we both noticed a light at the top of the stairs. We knew it must have been the light we saw from the road. I wasn’t sure what to do. Neither was my mom. There was no way I was going to go up there.”
“What did you do?” Alex asked.
“What happened next was strange; for some reason, we felt a pull to go up the stairs. My mom and I just couldn’t help ourselves. We had to go up. At the top of the stairs, we saw the light shining through the gap in one of the doors. I had never been so freaked out before in my whole life.” Maddy took a deep breath. Her eyes blinked repeatedly as she tried to put together her next sentence. “For some reason, we had to know what was behind that door.”
Rudy Jerqson quickly lifted his hand. “What was behind the door? Was it the boogeyman?”
“Rudy, enough please. Let her finish,” Mr. Humblewick grunted, shaking his head.
“Well, my mom decided to go for it. She opened the door and we saw a candle sitting on the ledge of a window. In a rocking chair next to the window, we saw someone. It was a woman, but I don’t think she really had a face. We weren’t sure if she was alive at first, but then she spoke. Her voice was kinda weird, almost like she was whispering.”
“What did she say?” Henry’s forehead creased.
“She said ‘hello.’ She just said, ‘hello.’ It was strange.”
The class was absolutely silent.
“That’s it?” Alex squeaked. “She just said ‘hello?’ How did you know she had a family? And the cat, what happened to the cat?”
Mr. Humblewick nodded. Apparently he too wanted to know more details.
“Well, as we waited with her in that room, she finally began to talk. She told us she was waiting, too. She never told us what she was waiting for, but we just assumed it was for the storm to be over. Anyway, she began telling us about her family and how they’d lived in that house for, like, ever. When she told us about the fire and how they were trapped, I totally started thinking that maybe she was a ghost. I mean, how could this, this faceless person live in a house with no furniture except for a rocking chair? It just didn’t make any sense.”
Alex shifted in his seat. “Where was her husband? You said that the woman had a family.”
“I don’t really know. I guess he was out.”
“What about her kids?”
“I dunno, but I’ll tell you what I do know. When the storm finally ended, we wanted to get out of that house like there was no tomorrow. And as we tried to make our way down the hill toward the car, we heard the most frightening sound I have ever heard in my life, a sound I’ll never forget.”
A pencil rolled off a table and lightly bounced off the floor.
“What was the sound you heard, Maddy?” asked Mr. Humblewick, quietly.
Maddy’s eyes began welling up. She blinked again repeatedly.
“The sound of someone screaming. A horrible scream. A deadly, painful scream.”
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