She crept along the hallway in dappled light, dawn peeking through drapes. A sound ahead made her freeze, her bravery faltering. She had to keep going. If she didn’t, they might catch her. Big brother Jackie had told her to keep going and “don’t look back, Ellie, not for anything.” Her little hands turned to fists.
It had been a long night. Super scary, being alone in the dark, old house. The wind didn’t help. It made the building creak. Its fingers dashed chills all over her little body. Scrawny, even though she was seven, and stubborn to go with it, Mama said.
Her brothers each spent a night in the Benton House. The twins teased her until she was angry enough to show them she was as brave as they were. Braver! They were ten years old when they did it. She ignored their spooky stories of cold places and whispers. Secretly, she curled up in her room with a pillow afterward, when she was alone. She was scared all right, but she wouldn’t show it to them.
Only Jackie, her oldest brother, understood. He held her hand and told her she didn’t have to do it. It was spooky in the abandoned house, he said. When he saw her jaw set, he stroked her hair. His eyes looked sad. That’s when he took her hand and told her not to look back. He told her a lot that afternoon. Nearly changed her mind, but she gulped and held her ground. At least the twins weren’t there to hear or see. Bobby and Thom were only twelve. All they knew was how to make fun of her.
The night was darker than Ellie ever saw. There were chills even when the wind wasn’t shaking the house. Weird noises, too. The worst was the whispery sound, like voices too quiet to hear right. Ellie thought she heard “girl” a few times. It was probably the wind, though, wasn’t it? Jackie snuck her a flashlight and told her to save the batteries. She only turned it on when she got really scared. Its beam swung around her closet hiding place, scouring the walls and corners. Nothing there. Breathe nice and slow, like Jackie said. It helped.
The darkness under the door seemed to reach for her. When it turned gray with the coming dawn, she shed silent tears. Easing from the closet, she saw a dingy, harmless room. Light filtered half-heartedly through tattered curtains. She tried to laugh. It came out as a cough, her body shaking. All she had to do was get out of the house.
The sound ahead in the hallway made her freeze, her tummy tingling. Keep going, she told herself firmly. Jackie said keep going. She swung her fists at her side as she marched down the stairs and through the living room. Ellie ran when the front door was in sight. It fought back when she tried to open it. She almost panicked, but the hinges groaned open. Trembling, knees rubbery, she flew through and down the steps of the porch. Ellie turned and looked at the Benton House. It had so terrorized her. In the half-light of sunrise, it looked old, sad and saggy.
“Ellie, over here, be quick.” Jackie held out his hand over the fence edging the property. Ellie smiled smugly and strutted through the yard. She did it! Bobby and Thom might stop teasing her. At least for a while.
She reached for the gate. It didn’t budge. She tried pushing and pulling. Jackie ran over and grabbed the gate. He leaned against it hard. A quiet scream built in her throat. It died as a cold finger caressed the back of her neck. “No, Ellie! Climb over, keep moving!” Jackie pushed and pulled frantically. Ellie knew it was already too late.
Invisible hands grabbed hold and dragged her away from her horrified brother. Ellie heard the whispering voices clearly. “A girl child! We’ve waited so long. Welcome, welcome.” The voices soothed away her fear. The farther away they lifted her, the more peaceful she felt.
They took her high above the yard. Below, Jackie yanked open the gate. He gathered up a small, limp girl. Curiosity made Ellie hover, watching as he shook his head and cried. Boredom came. She swirled through a window. Her new family waited.