Felicity's Curse [A Heartstopper Horror]

Felicity's Curse [A Heartstopper Horror]

by Robin Helene Vogel

12-year-old twins Frankie and Tracy Considine are excited to be moving to Leams, Massachusetts to live in their grandmother's beautiful old house. Typical brother and sister, they're always fighting, pummeling each other and playing tricks. With their mutual thirteenth birthday looming near, Tracy and Frankie have much to look forward to--or so they believe. When…  See more details below


12-year-old twins Frankie and Tracy Considine are excited to be moving to Leams, Massachusetts to live in their grandmother's beautiful old house. Typical brother and sister, they're always fighting, pummeling each other and playing tricks. With their mutual thirteenth birthday looming near, Tracy and Frankie have much to look forward to--or so they believe. When their beloved dog, Muffin, disappears, they begin to wonder if this was the right move after all. Tracy's friend, Carol, is distant, odd--but she did just turn 13, so perhaps that's all it is. Tracy hears strange sounds coming from the woods, but everyone insists it's her imagination, and Frankie teases her mercilessly about it. Bizarre events begin to occur: Girlfriends turn up with frightening tattoos; a young boy abruptly disappears; a fortuneteller warns her that those she most trusts are not to be trusted. Tracy rationalizes away all her doubts, eagerly looking forward to her 13th birthday party. Frankie learns about Leams' unusual, horrifying history and realizes his sister's life is in danger. He must save her--and himself--from what is destined to happen. Will Tracy and Frankie escape their fate, or will they be the next victims of the town's tragic curse?

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Chapter One
"The Loch Ness Monster!" Daddy chuckled. "Big, green, mean, lives in the ocean and feeds off people faster than you can say 'jaws'!"

"Bigfoot!" Mom said. "Tall, dark, not at all handsome, very hairy. Every mother's nightmare--leaves huge, muddy footprints wherever he goes!"

"Dracula!" Frankie exclaimed. In a thick, terrible accent, he said, "He vants to suck your blood and prefers A positive to any other flavor!"

"Casper the Friendly Ghost," Tracy said weakly. "Doesn't scare anyone--just wants to be everyone's friend."

Tracy bit her lip. Talk about wimpy--she always came out last in these long-trip games, way too slow on the uptake. The subject had been 'terrifying creatures'. Casper? Why not Wolfman or Frankenstein? There were so many better choices; why did she pick Casper? "Frankenstein!" she shouted triumphantly. "Your real name, brother!"

"Too late!" Frankie sang. "No second chances!"

Tracy glared at him. Her twin brother had been born three and a half minutes ahead of her and insisted the whopping 210 seconds not only made him her "big" brother, but superior in every way.

Like their mother, they both had deep-set green eyes and black hair. Tracy wore hers long and straight, parted on the side. Frankie kept his clipped crewcut-short with a tail in the back. Both of them had long, skinny bodies and deep dimples in their chins, also inherited from Mom's side of the family. Somehow, it all looked a lot better on him than it did on her, Tracy mused, and that made her so mad! Back on Long Island, all her girlfriends (including her best friend, who was intelligent enough to know better), were starting to talk about how cute he was. Theykept asking her to set up group dates with him. Tracy couldn't see what the big deal was. To her, he was just a trouble making "older" brother whose only purpose in life was to drive her crazy!

Now he was smirking at her, his sarcasm button cranked up high. He put on a lisping little girl's voice and said, "Oh, wow, sis, Casper sure strikes terror in my heart! Talk about a horrifying legendary creature. I'm trembling in my Nikes!" In his normal, obnoxious 12-year-old tone, he added, "I think this calls for one of my famous rhymes, don't you?"

"Oh, no," Dad groaned.

Mom said warningly, "Frankie, don't!"

Ignoring them, Frankie chanted, "Tracy, Tracy Considine, if you've a brain, give us a sign, five foot seven, eyes of green, a sister to make fun of today--and every day in-between!"

Tracy made a fist and gave her brother's arm a swift punch.

"Owwwww!" he cried, an exaggerated yell. He grabbed his arm, rubbed it, rolled his mischievous green eyes, then kicked Tracy's shin.

Muffin, their four-year-old black poodle, let out a sharp warning bark and pressed her nose into Tracy's hand, begging for love, not war amongst her people. She hated when the two of them fought.

"Will you two please cut it out?" Mom asked wearily. "This has been going on non-stop ever since we left Long Island. You'll both be 13 in three days. How about showing some signs of maturity? You're not kids anymore!"

Frankie stuck his tongue out at Tracy and she returned the favor, sticking hers out further, wiggling it at him for several seconds.

"Oooh, I knew it--yours is forked!" Frankie said.

"Oh, that's much better," Mom said sarcastically. "The height of sophistication. Settle down, kids, please. We'll be at Grandma's--our--house in less than half an hour. Then you can snipe at each other in a brand new home!"

Mom rubbed her right arm as if it was bothering her. Tracy noticed a black and blue bruise an inch or so above her vaccination mark and gently touched it with her fingertip. Mom flinched. Her eyes narrowed angrily and she pushed her hand away. "Don't, Tracy, that hurts!"

"Sorry, Mom," Tracy said. The bruise didn't look that bad. Mom's reaction seemed extreme.

"We'll be there in five minutes!" Dad announced.

"Hooray!" Tracy cried. That was great news. As roomy as the new van was, Tracy couldn't wait until they reached their destination. Mom's mother had died five months ago and left them her huge house in a remote Massachusetts town called Leams. Tracy had visited there often over summer and other vacations, and she loved the country atmosphere. It always gave her a delightful sense of peace to go to Leams--and now they were going to be living here all year round! It didn't get any better than this!

Being cooped up with her brother in such close quarters for so many hours was rough, however. He kept winning Travel Scrabble, coming up with words Tracy had never heard of. She couldn't challenge because they had no dictionary. He made such a big deal after each win, banging his chest and kissing his hands, Tracy wanted to toss him out a window. He made fake anagrams of her name on the Scrabble game board, turning Tracy into Arcty, Carty or Craty, just to irritate her.

He constantly called her inflammatory names like Fart Bomb or Dopey, and reveled in playing dumb tricks on her. On one of their rest stops, he asked Tracy if she was thirsty. Surprised by his rare show of concern, she nodded. He handed her a can of soda from the cooler resting on the seat between them. Since thoughtfulness was rarely a part of Frankie's and her relationship, Tracy should have been suspicious, but she always held out hope that, from one moment to the next, he'd turn into a human being. When Tracy peeled open the pull-tab, however, she was showered with sticky soda--he'd shaken it up thoroughly.

Frankie also loved to leap out at her and scream "Boo!" in the loudest, screamiest voice possible. Tracy nearly always fell for it and cried out in fear. He did that to her on two other rest stops, leaping from behind the van or around a corner. At every opportunity, he teased her about her weak bladder and how the family was always forced to make extra stops so Tracy could go to the bathroom. Tracy complained to their parents about all of it, but, tired of playing referees, they'd long ago ordered them to work out their sibling disagreements themselves. "And Frankie," said Dad severely, "you've overdone it this trip. Teasing is one thing, but being cruel is not acceptable--stop it."

"Did you hear that this whole town is supposed to be haunted?" Frankie asked, winking at Tracy. "Every house has its own ghost, vampire and witch in residence, in some cases two or three of each?"

"Frankie..." Mom said warningly.

"Really, Mom," Frankie continued. "I heard this story a bunch of times from the old-timers who hang out around Mr. McGhee's hardware store in town. I think Tracy looks like a witch, don't you? Maybe we can talk them into adopting her! She'd look great in a pointy hat, don't you think?"

"Yeah, right," Tracy retorted. "Maybe if I give them all the allowance I've saved, they'd adopt you. You'd fit right in, casting nasty spells on everyone!"

"You'd be the first I'd turn into a toad, I promise!" Frankie said. "Oops, too late!"

Tracy was about to elbow him in the side when Daddy pulled the van into the maple tree-lined driveway of their mother's childhood home. He drove slowly up the narrow dirt road and parked in front of the giant cream-colored colonial that Mom had lived in until she got married. Mom and Dad had been grammar and high school sweethearts, had gotten married right after high school and lived in one wing of this house until the twins turned three. When Daddy was offered a terrific job on Long Island, they packed up and moved, but Mom always vowed they'd go back to Leams to live someday, and here they were!

"Yuck, Boondocks City," Frankie said, frowning. When he learned of the impending move, he insisted he would only come along because he couldn't afford his own apartment on Long Island. "I bet the nearest game room is in the state capital!"

"Not that far," Mom said. Her light green eyes glowed. She and Daddy both looked really happy. They'd been complaining for a long time that Long Island was too crowded and confining. Mom especially missed her old friends, seemingly all of whom had stayed in Leams, married local guys and were raising their children.

The old house was going to need a lot of work to make it comfortable. Daddy had transferred to a branch office of his Long Island company only a few miles from Leams (with a huge raise), so after Grandma's will was settled, the family agreed to make the move to the six-bedroom home--as long as everyone agreed Tracy would have a room on the opposite side of the house from Frankie. "I can't believe we're here!" Mom said excitedly. "We're home! Isn't it beautiful?"

It was a lovely place, country-serene. The huge colonial house was surrounded by multi-colored flowerbeds on all four sides. Beyond was the panorama of the woods, towering oaks, willows and maples leaning against a cloudless, azure summer sky.

Muffin leapt out the instant Tracy shoved the door open. The poodle ran, barking wildly, towards the back of the house. Frankie and Tracy, afraid she'd get lost, chased after her, alternately calling "Muffin!" in sing-song voices.

When they caught up with their dog in the back yard, she was sniffing around the remains of a campfire, whimpering. Tracy noticed something mixed in with the ashes and kneeled down to check it out more closely. She covered her mouth with her hand and gasped, her heart galloping in her chest. "Frankie!" she gasped. "Look! It's bones...a pile of bones!"

Chapter Two

Her brother kneeled down and fearlessly sifted his hand through the cold ashes. He scooped up a couple of the fire-blackened bones and squinted at them. The light wasn't bright enough for close examination, so he ran out to the side yard where the sun shone. Tracy followed closely behind, already thinking they should have stayed in their cramped little house on Long Island.

"Oh, Tracy, you're not going to believe this!" he said, his eyes big green marbles. "This is just terrible!"

"What are they?" Tracy asked, too terrified to look. "Baby's bones?"

"No, worse!" he rasped.

"What could be worse than baby bones?" Tracy demanded, her stomach turning over sickly.

"Chicken bones!" he chortled, and burst into laughter at the fury on her face. "Someone must have had a barbecue! They sacrificed a bird bought off the grocery store shelf and cooked it right in our backyard!"

"Actually," said a voice right behind them, "they look more like cat or dog bones. A lot of animals have been running away lately. Seems to be an epidemic."

Frankie and Tracy whirled around in tandem. "Carol Sullivan, is that you?" Tracy asked. "It's great to see you! Did you hear? We're going to live here, stay from now on--isn't that great?"

Tracy stepped forward to give Carol her usual bear hug and was surprised when she backed away. Where was the big, welcoming smile Carol always flashed at her? She didn't look pleased to see her at all!

Muffin, normally the friendliest, mellowest pet in the world, stared balefully at Carol, backed off, and started barking ferociously. She acted as if she'd seen her worst enemy, Buffy the Siamese cat, who'd lived next door to them on Long Island.

"Muffin?" Tracy called, puzzled and embarrassed. "It's Carol, girl, come on, stop that. You know Carol!"

Muffin's barks turned to deep, ugly growls. Tracy had never heard her make sounds like that before, and it chilled her despite the 90 degree heat. The dog started nipping at Carol's sneakers. Carol, who'd always been the type to nurse stray animals back to health, kicked out viciously at Muffin, connecting with her side.

"Hey!" Tracy said, shocked. "Don't hurt her!"

Muffin whimpered once and attacked Carol again. Her angry howls echoed over the green and brown fields and bounced off the distant trees as she caught one of Carol's white shoelaces in her mouth, shook her head from side to side and ripped off the tip.

Frankie quickly scooped up their howling dog and ran her into the house. When he returned, he was shaking his head. They could still hear her long, wailing cries pealing through the open windows. "She's never acted like that except with Buffy, that nasty cat who teased her back home," he said. "Sorry about the shoelace, Carol, I guess it's the heat..."

"I shouldn't have kicked her," Carol muttered, but she looked as if it was something she felt she should say rather than really wanted to say.

Tracy had always hung out with Carol during summer and Christmas vacations in Leams. Now, Tracy studied her, trying to figure out what was different about her. She was at least two inches taller than both Frankie and Tracy. She had a trim waist and the beginnings of what her Long Island friends laughingly called "womanly swellings" in her hips and chest. Her white-blonde hair was pulled back in a sleek ponytail, but her blue eyes were missing the spark of excitement Tracy had come to know meant she was looking for trouble. She was wearing her usual summer uniform--cut off jean shorts and a black T-shirt (oddly, long-sleeved in this heat). What was it--the proud way she squared her shoulders? The serious curve of her mouth in contrast to the crooked grin Tracy was used to? A snobby, false sense of maturity?

"Wow, you look so much older than you did the last time we were here!"

Tracy said. Out of the corner of her eye, Tracy saw Frankie gazing at Carol. He'd always joined in their tomboy games in the past, but now he was giving her an admiring once-over, as if he were really seeing her for the first time.

"Carol, let me compliment you on turning into a real woman," he said evilly, nudging his sister with his elbow. "Poor Tracy must need fertilizer or something, she's still as flat as a board--all over! I think they made a mistake when she was born and I actually have a brother, not a sister!"

Tracy aimed another punch at Frankie's arm; he flinched away and caused her to miss. Instead of the nasty retort Tracy expected, the heated verbal blast that always reduced Frankie to ashes, Carol acted as if it she hadn't heard any of the insulting things he'd said about her. She used to dive right into their brother-sister squabbles, defending Tracy as a fellow girl and brother-hater!

"I turned 13 last month," she said quietly, as though she'd read Tracy's mind. She looked and sounded so grown-up, eons past girlhood (past her!), it made Tracy feel abandoned and lonely.

Carol's eyes were focused beyond them, on the woods. Even though she was responding to what they were saying, Tracy had the feeling she was with them in body only. They'd only seen her on Christmas break; how could anyone change so much in such a short time? Was there that much of a difference between 12 and 13? It was going to happen to Tracy in a few days; would her personality undergo such drastic change?

"Carol, turning teenager really looks good on you," Frankie praised, "You seem a lot older than Tracy. I like it!"

Carol gave him a small grin, her first since she'd come upon them--but it didn't reach her eyes.

"What were you saying about these being puppy or kitten bones?" Tracy asked, eager to change the subject. She'd never seen her brother act so silly about a girl before! Tracy didn't like it; he suddenly seemed like a stranger, too.

"Oh, nothing, really," Carol said hastily. Suddenly, she was acting almost scared, secretive, as though she'd said something she shouldn't. She began rubbing her upper right arm as though it were bothering her. "A few people have been reporting missing cats and dogs. Karen's kitten, Poppy, got out the other night and hasn't been seen since. You know how superstitious people are around here--they get bored and have nothing better to do than recite tales of animal sacrifice when evil ruled the area way back when. The animals probably just ran away." She was rubbing her upper arm more vigorously than ever, her eyes darting back and forth.

"What's the matter?" Tracy asked. "You keep rubbing your arm like it hurts or itches." Carol had always been a tomboy; one summer, she'd broken her arm when climbing to the top of the centuries-old oak tree in their Grandma's backyard. They'd all signed her cast.

"No," she said. "It's nothing. Listen, I have to go now. I'll see you two later."

"Can we get together and catch up on what's been going on with each other?" Tracy asked. "After dinner, maybe?"

"I don't think so," Carol said. "Some other time. Donna's 13th birthday is today. I 'm going to her party tonight."

"Donna Barnett?" Tracy asked. "I know her really well! Maybe I could come to the party with you. I'm sure she wouldn't mind."

Carol's face darkened. "I don't think so. It was invitation only. I'm sure you understand it would be rude for me to just bring you there."

Knowing how friendly Donna and her family were, Tracy felt sure there wouldn't be a problem, but she could tell by the closed expression on Carol's face that she wouldn't consider it.

"Oh," Carol said unenthusiastically, "here comes Todd."

Why was Carol giving her younger brother the same deadly stare she'd turned on Muffin when she kicked her?

Todd, a tag-along 11-year-old, was racing towards them, calling "CAROL!TRACY!FRANKIE!" over and over, as if it was one long name. His black, unruly hair flew backwards behind him, his voice screeching like nails on a blackboard. When he reached them, he fell to his knees, gasping for air. He glanced at the pile of bones sitting in the dead, blackened logs and shivered, then turned away quickly. "Hey, Tracy, Frankie, I hear you guys are staying for good!" he said breathlessly.

"That's right," Tracy said, ruffling his hair. She'd always had a soft spot for Todd. When Tracy was seven and he was five, he gave her a bouquet of dandelions during a family picnic and asked her to marry him.

"Great!" he said. He looked at his sister warily and said hesitantly, "Hi, Carol. You going back to the house for dinner?"

"Yes, I am," she said. "Right now, as a matter of fact."

"Maybe I'll hang out with Tracy and Frankie for a little while," Todd said. He sounded offhand, but his eyes were flashing a different message altogether. He looked like he was expecting Carol to hit him and kept inching away from her. Unlike Frankie and Tracy, though, they had never indulged in physical fights.

"No, I don't think so," Carol said sternly. She grasped his hand in a tight grip and hauled him to his feet. "You're coming home with me now, Todd!"

Her voice was so mean and uncompromising! Todd and Carol had always had a big-sister/little brother competition going, but she sounded like she despised him! Seeing Frankie and Tracy staring at her, confusion on their faces, she smiled falsely and said, "He's become so difficult since he turned 11, a real problem child. We can't do a thing with him!"

That didn't sound like the well-behaved little boy Tracy had grown up with!

"Don't you talk about going through changes since a birthday!" Todd shouted. Carol flashed him a withering warning glance and he closed his mouth instantly. He gulped and stared at the ground, his chin quivering.

"I'm coming, Carol," he said quickly. "Great to see you two," he said, but his wide gray eyes were saying something else, blaring an alarm he dared not put into words. As Carol pulled him towards their beautifully restored home up on the hill, something--a little piece of paper--fell from his hand and dropped onto the grass. Something made Tracy wait until they were out of sight to stoop and pick it up.

"Mmmmmm," Frankie said admiringly, "I thought we had a dysfunctional brother-sister relationship! Carol sure has changed--she looks great!"

Leave it to her oblivious brother to completely miss the fact that Carol had turned into a weird stranger since last summer! Tracy waved him away and unfolded the tiny piece of paper. The words, in Todd's sprawling grammar-school handwriting, leaped out at her the way the message in his eyes had tried to: RUN AWAY BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE! RUN AWAY NOW!

Chapter Three

Her hands trembling so hard she nearly dropped the note, Tracy passed it to Frankie. He laughed. "Always a joker, that kid," he said, and tossed the paper over his shoulder.

"Doesn't this message seem the least bit strange to you?" Tracy asked, retrieving the note and tucking it in her pocket.

"No. It's just a prank. You know Todd, always with the 'beware the monster' pranks. He's famous for them."

"And you don't think Carol was acting strange at all?"

"If that's strange, give me strange every time. I think I'm in loooove!"

"You're useless," Tracy griped. "Did you see what she did to Muffin? She never treats animals that way!"

"Yeah, but Muffin never acted so freaky around her before," he pointed out. "She attacked her as if she'd never seen her before. Muffin treats strangers better than she treated Carol!"

"I guess," Tracy said. "I'm starving. Let's go see what Mom made for dinner."

"Race you!" he said, and sprinted away. Tracy, right on his heels, quickly caught up.

About 50 yards from the house, Frankie tripped over something and fell on his stomach, laughing. Tracy bent down to clear away some leaves and dead grass and uncovered a hinged door, maybe three feet square, built into the ground. "Hey, look at this!" she said. "Help me open it."

It took a lot of combined effort, but they pulled hard on the rusted ring and it finally gave way with squeaky protest. They stared down into the dark.

"Steps!" Frankie said. "I wonder where they go!"

"Frankie! Tracy! Dinner!" called Mom.

"We'll have to explore it some other time," Tracy said, disappointed. They closed the door and covered it with its camouflage.

Neck and neck, they headed for the house. Frankie beat her into the kitchen by half a footstep.

"Hi!" Mom greeted. "Daddy's gone to the store for some paint. I saw you two talking to Todd and Carol. Did all of you get reacquainted?" She'd whipped up a macaroni and cheese casserole and was spooning it into bowls on the chipped white porcelain counter.

"Uh huh," Tracy said. "Both of them were acting really strange, though, Mom."

"How so?" she asked. Muffin was pawing at the screen door, whining to be let out.

"Carol turned 13 and she's putting on like she's a completely different person," Tracy complained. "She treated me like we were meeting for the first time--and she didn't like me much!"

"Admit it, you're just angry because she didn't defend you like she used to. She's a brand-new, really hot teenager who wants me and doesn't know it yet," Frankie exclaimed. "Mom, Tracy's just jealous she hasn't...developed as nicely as Carol has."

Tracy started to tell Mom about Todd's bizarre note. She was interrupted when the phone rang. Mrs. Considine practically pounced on it. She lowered her voice so neither of them could make out what she was saying, but Tracy figured it was Dad and they were exchanging lovey talk. As soon Mom hung up, she held the door open wide. Tracy caught a hint of sadness in her eyes, but it disappeared quickly.

Muffin hurtled out, barking joyously.

"Mom, no, she'll get lost!" Tracy said, jumping to her feet. "She's used to our fenced yard back home, she'll..."

"It's OK, Tracy," Mom said firmly. "Dogs have instinct. She'll come home just fine." Her eyes still looked sad, and she rubbed her black and blue shoulder absently.

Through the kitchen window, Tracy fearfully watched Muffin dart, barking endlessly, into the woods behind the house. What was with Mom now? Back on Long Island, if their dog wasn't fenced in, she was chained or leashed! They never let Muffin wander around this way--and Mom had been the worst stickler about it!

Even her starving twin brother paused while greedily gobbling up macaroni and cheese, his laden spoon poised halfway between mouth and bowl. "You know, Mom, Muffin's not too swift in a new place..." he started to say, but hunger took over and he wolfed up what was on the spoon, barely chewing before he swallowed. No help there. Tracy kept her eyes focused on their retreating pet and prayed she'd find her way home. She'd never been a Lassie kind of dog; she looked lost and baffled when they walked her onto an unfamiliar block!

She told her mother about the underground stairway. "Oh, yeah, that's been there for years," she said. "Supposedly, it was built during Revolutionary War time to hide Colonial soldiers from the British. I'm not sure, but I think it ends in our basement. You'll have to explore it with Daddy sometime. Don't go alone. I don't know how safe it is."

The phone rang. Mom answered it, spoke softly for a few moments, then said, "Tracy, it's Donna."

"Oh, good," Tracy said, reaching for the phone. "Maybe I can talk her into inviting me to her party."

To Donna, everything was thrilling and wonderful; she talked with exclamation points at the end of every sentence, even in normal conversation. "Traceeee!" she roared. "Welcome home! I'm so glad you're staying this time! We'll go shopping and to the park and to school together! It's going to be such a blast!"

She was a little more than Tracy could take at the end of such a tiring day, so she got right to the point. "Thanks, Donna, it's great to be here. Say, I hear you're having a party tonight. Any chance you could squeeze in another guest so I can celebrate your first teen birthday with you?"

Donna's enthusiastic voice dropped several decibels. "Oh, Tracy, uh, Tracy, Tracy...hold on a second, my Mom's calling me!"

Tracy didn't hear anyone calling her friend, but she waited patiently for more than five minutes before Donna returned to the phone. She sounded much more restrained. "Sorry, Tracy, no can do. We can get together tomorrow, maybe, huh? And I know your birthday's in two days. I bet your mother's going to give you a party, too. Everything's set, I'm sure you understand. See ya!"

Tracy dropped the portable phone into its cradle on the counter and said, "Mom, that's not like Donna at all. I've known her to invite strangers to her parties. I don't get it."

"Maybe they made reservations at a restaurant or something," Mom said. "I'm sure there's a good reason she didn't ask you to come."

"I suppose," Tracy said, but it still didn't make sense. "Any sign of Muffin?"

Mom stared out the window, not meeting her daughter's eyes. "No, dear, I'm sorry."

Tracy's worst fears were confirmed when, at bedtime, Muffin hadn't returned to the house. After Frankie and Tracy conducted a fruitless search of their property and surrounding woods while it was still daylight, Tracy sprawled fully clothed on her mattress (Dad hadn't put her bed frame together yet) and cried into her pillow. Muffin always slept with her. Tracy missed the dog's cuddly, warm body next to hers.

Tracy fell asleep and launched into the most dreadful, detailed dream she'd ever had: Carol, her face twisted into a monstrous snarl, caught Muffin in the woods. She snatched the dog into her arms, choked her to death, then cut off her head with a sharp knife, poured her still-warm blood into a fancy silver goblet and passed it around a circle of laughing, dancing, faceless people. They drank deeply, savoring her poor dog's blood. They saw her watching them and advanced on her, arms outstretched. "You're next, Tracy!" they shouted. "You're next!"

Tracy awakened with a scream, the remnants of the nightmare still dancing vividly in her brain, flashing behind her eyes. Clammy sweat coated her body. She sat up, grabbed a tissue and wiped her face.

That's when she heard what at first sounded like singing in the distance. Her third-floor room overlooked the woods behind the house. Tracy wiped her wet chin and neck and climbed out of bed. Straining, she pushed the sticky wooden window open it as far as it would go and leaned out, listening carefully. It wasn't singing; it was a combination of music--and chanting. It caused the hair on the back of her neck to stand up, an unpleasantly nauseous sensation in her stomach. The sound grew in volume, filling the humid night air, deep, terrifying. Tracy pressed her hands over her ears, but could not block it out. In the distance, the outskirts of the woods, someone had built a towering bonfire; she could see the flames leaping into the sky. The wind carried the smoke into her nostrils, making Tracy cough, then sneeze several times.

The chanting stopped abruptly. Tracy heard a plaintive, wolf-like howl--Muffin? The sound made all the muscles in her body clench in terror; she couldn't move, speak or even dare to breathe.

The howling trailed off. For three heartbeats, there was silence.

The air was rent by a girl's prolonged scream of agony!

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