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Ten-year-old Lindsay Snyder woke rigid with fear. For a moment, she didn't know where she was. The room was as dark as coal and hot, terribly hot. Then she realized she wasn't home in Savannah where the air conditioner cooled the worst of the summer heat. She tried not to be afraid, but she was.
The ghost stories she'd heard at camp that summer returned to haunt her. A sudden chill raced down her spine as she recalled the tale of Crazy Man Charlie who was said to tear out people's eyes…before he murdered them. Somehow, Crazy Man Charlie had found her. Everyone else must be dead. Everyone but her. The dream remained vague, and she tried to remember the details and couldn't.
Slowly she sat up in the darkness, prepared to confront whatever danger awaited her. As she did, she remembered she was at her grandparents' house with her parents and two sisters. They'd arrived that evening after driving for what seemed like days and days to North Dakota.
Her eyes had begun to adjust to the night, and Lindsay climbed out of the makeshift bed in her grandma's sewing room. She tiptoed past her two sleeping sisters and down the hallway to the kitchen for a glass of water.
A sound came from the living room and she froze at the thought of meeting Crazy Man Charlie face-to-face. Holding her breath, she flattened herself against the refrigerator door.
Then Lindsay saw her Grandma Gina, silhouetted in the moonlight that streamed through the big window. The heavy curtains were pulled open and her grandma stood by the brick fireplace, head bent. Lindsay would have rushed to her for a hug and told her all about the crazy man and how scared she'd been, but she didn't know her Grandma Gina as well as she did her Grandma Dorothy. So she stayed in the kitchen, waiting for her grandmother to notice her.
Except her grandma hadn't heard Lindsay and didn't know she was there. Lindsay could see that her grandmother held something in her hand, but she couldn't tell what it was. Grandma Gina moved closer to the fireplace, but it wasn't light enough for Lindsay to see what she was doing.
Lindsay's eyes widened as her grandmother leaned forward and touched the fireplace. A sort of scraping sound followed and a brick slid out. It was a hiding place! A secret hiding place.
Fascinated, Lindsay watched as her grandmother slipped whatever she held in her hand inside the opening. The brick made the same sound as it went back into place.
Her hand over her heart, Grandma Gina whirled around. "Good heavens, child! You frightened me."
Lindsay hurried into the living room, and toward the fireplace, but she couldn't figure out which brick her grandmother had moved.
"What are you doing up?"
Lindsay looked away from the fireplace. "I had a dream about Crazy Man Charlie."
"I heard stories about him at summer camp." She ran her fingers along the fireplace, trying to work out which brick had moved. "What did you hide in here, Grandma?"
"It's nothing, child."
"But I saw the brick move."
Her grandmother shook her head. "It was…just a trick of the moonlight."
"But Grandma, I saw."
Her grandmother crouched down, meeting her eyes. "The stories frightened you."
Her wrinkled face was marked with the streaks of tears that glistened in the moonlight. "Grandma, are you crying?"
"No…no," her grandmother insisted. "Why would I be crying?"
"But that's what it looks like." Lindsay raised her hand to her grandmother's cheek and brushed her fingertips tentatively against the soft skin.
Her grandmother tried to smile, but her lower lip quivered.
"Are you sad?" Lindsay asked.
"A little," she whispered, and hugged Lindsay close, so close she could feel the beating of her grandma's heart.
"I'll draw you a picture, and then you won't be sad anymore."
"You sweet, sweet child. Now let me take you back to bed."
She released Lindsay and led her into the kitchen, where she took a glass from the cupboard and filled it with water.
Her grandma had let the tap run and the water was nice and cold. Lindsay gulped it down, then put the glass on the counter. "What did you hide in the fireplace?" she asked again. She didn't understand why Grandma Gina was pretending like this.
Her grandmother gently stroked the hair from her face. "You didn't see anything."
"But I did." Walking over to the fireplace, Lindsay tried really hard to find the spot her grandmother had touched. She pushed and prodded at various bricks, but nothing moved.
Her grandmother joined her. "Lindsay, look at me."
Lindsay turned around.
Her grandmother crouched down again. The tears were back in her eyes and she hugged Lindsay tightly. "What you saw is our secret, all right?"
"But I want you to forget all about it."
Lindsay didn't know if she could.
Her grandmother held Lindsay's face in both hands and stared at her intently. "Promise me you'll never tell anyone what you saw."
"All right, Grandma, I won't tell anyone. I promise."
"Good." She kissed Lindsay's cheek. "Now let me tuck you back into bed…."