Read an Excerpt
The House on Cherry Street, Book Two
By Rodman Philbrick, Lynn Harnett
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1995 Rodman Philbrick and Lynn Harnett
All rights reserved.
The baby-sitter didn't believe in ghosts. "Don't be silly," she said. "There's no such thing as a haunted house."
Her name was Katie, and she was a teenager with red hair and an attitude—meaning she thought I was a total dweeb for trying to tell her about the ghosts in the house on Cherry Street.
"Don't say I didn't warn you," I said stubbornly.
She smirked at me and then shaded her eyes, looking up at the decaying mansion my family had rented for the summer. "What a place!" she said. "It really is kind of spooky looking."
My parents didn't believe in ghosts, either, and they'd left Katie in charge while they went away on a business trip. Not that I needed a babysitter or anything. At twelve I can pretty much look after myself. But my little sister Sally was only four and the ghosts were very interested in her.
"I better go inside," Katie announced cheerfully. "Check things out."
And then she marched up the steps and walked right through the door of that creepy old house as if nothing could possibly hurt her.
Maybe it couldn't. Maybe the haunting would be as invisible to her as it had been to my parents, who blamed everything on my "overactive" imagination.
Maybe. But I didn't think so.
As the door shut behind Katie the glass in the windows shivered. And so did I.
"Sally?" I said, calling to my little sister. "We better go in, too."
That's when I noticed that something was wrong with Sally's face. Her expression was stiff and her eyes were blank. As if she was in a trance or something.
A chill zapped me.
"Sally?" My voice was shaky.
Sally's head jerked to one side and then the other, like a puppet. Her eyes smoldered and glowed.
I fought the urge to leap away from her.
Then she opened her mouth and spoke. "I'm not Sally."
The voice that came out of her mouth was rough, as if it hadn't been used in a long time. And it had a hollow ring. As if it was coming from the inside of an empty tomb.
Sally's face scowled at me and the strange voice growled again. "My name is Bobby and I'm dead," she said.
I was paralyzed. I wanted to run. I wanted to scream.
My little sister was possessed!CHAPTER 2
Her face was like a mask. A mask that looked just like my little sister. Except for the eyes.
"Sally?" I said. "Please talk to me."
Her face scowled at me. Out of her mouth came that strange rough voice again. "I'm not Sally. My name is Bobby and I'm dead, dead, dead!"
She danced away, taunting me.
"Where's my sister?" I demanded.
I recognized the voice coming from Sally. I'd heard it night after night, crying in the hallway outside my room. It was the voice of a child ghost and I had never figured out what it wanted.
But lately I suspected what it wanted was Sally. And now it had her.
"My name is Bobby," it repeated, and Sally danced farther away from me.
I shivered, remembering when I'd first seen the ghost. It was the first day we arrived. We were driving up the long driveway under the tall whispery pines and I saw his pale, sad face.
A little boy peering at us from the attic windows. Little Bobby, who'd been dead for years and years.
Of course, no one believed me then.
They still didn't believe me. And the ghost had been careful to make sure they wouldn't. Now he had taken possession of my sister.
"Let me talk to Sally," I demanded, my voice cracking with fright.
Bobby wasn't an evil ghost, I told myself. At least Sally never thought so. She thought he was just a sad little boy who wanted to be her invisible friend. So what if he'd been dead for years?
So what if nobody else could see him? She could.
Maybe if I could keep him talking I could make him realize what a bad thing he was doing. "I want to talk to Sally, Bobby, where is she?"
Sally pressed her lips together tight. Or Bobby pressed her lips together. I was getting nowhere.
My head was spinning with a million different thoughts.
Bobby must have heard my parents talking about going away to Mayfield on a job and leaving me and Sally alone with a baby-sitter. A seventeen-year-old, red- haired girl who giggled at the idea of ghosts.
He must have been waiting for this chance.
Maybe he'd made friends with Sally just so she'd get to trust him. Then when the moment was right he seized her body and took it over.
Maybe he'd moved in permanently! The idea of this dead thing speaking from inside my sister made me feel like I'd swallowed a chunk of roadkill.
"Look, Bobby, tell me what you want," I said, inching closer. "I can help you if I know what you want."
"Hey, Jason! Sally!"
It was our baby-sitter Katie. She was supposed to be upstairs unpacking. Instead here she was leaning out the front door, grinning at us like she wanted to be friends. Her thick red hair fanned across her shoulders like a halo.
"Come on in and have a snack or something," Katie suggested.
"Uh, in a minute," I started to say. How could I tell her what had happened to my little sister?
Just then a ferocious scowl came over Sally's face. Blood rushed to her cheeks and her eyes seemed to glow with fire.
Something terrible was about to happen.
I reached out to grab Sally, but she was too fast for me.
She let out a scream of rage and charged straight at the baby-sitter.CHAPTER 3
The thing that ran up the steps after the babysitter wasn't my sister, it was a small demon.
"Look out!" I shouted.
But Katie just stood there. Her friendly smile went kind of limp, like she couldn't believe what was happening as Sally's hard little fists smacked her in the knees.
"Hey!" Katie cried out. "Hey, what are you doing?"
Sally was punching and kicking and scratching like a fierce little animal, and the poor baby-sitter didn't know what to do.
I had to save her—and Sally, too. I ran up the porch steps and grabbed my little sister from behind. Not so rough that I hurt her, but strong enough to pin her arms.
See, I didn't want to hurt her. After all, Sally was just a little kid. So I just tried to stop her from hitting the baby-sitter.
That's when she turned around and smacked me, hard, right in the stomach.
Ooof, the air went out of me and I sat down, holding my stomach. Sally ran off, disappearing inside the house.
"Hey, are you okay?" Katie knelt down, checking me out.
I nodded, struggling to get my breath back.
"What's wrong with your sister?" she asked.
"You don't want to know," I panted.
"Of course I do," she said. "I'm supposed to be in charge of you two until your parents get back."
Just then I heard Sally's little feet running across the kitchen floor. She was heading for the back door!
"Hurry!" I said. "We've got to stop her!"
I started running. Horrible thoughts exploded in my brain. What if Bobby did something terrible? What if he made my sister run into the lake, or out in front of a car?
Then she'd be like him forever. Another little ghost haunting this big creepy house.
I made myself run faster. "No, Sally! Stop!" I cried desperately.
I reached the kitchen just as Sally whipped the back door open.
She was too fast for me. In a second she'd be gone.CHAPTER 4
Sally bolted out the back door and disappeared around the side of the house.
My heart was in my throat as I pounded after her.
She was so fast! Faster than Sally should be. But somehow I had to catch her.
I whipped around the side of the house and saw her instantly. She had leaped up somehow and caught the lowest branch of the cherry tree. Her little legs wiggled as she struggled to pull herself up.
The cherry tree was Bobby's favorite place. He'd gotten Sally up into it once before.
I clenched my teeth against the memory and ran harder. Sally had been up so high, teetering on a skinny branch. And then she'd fallen.
Somehow I'd caught her. I still wasn't sure how, though I'd always thought Bobby helped. The way I figured it Bobby had wanted her to fall, to be his little friend forever. But at the last second, he saved her.
Now he was going to try again.
My lungs were bursting but I managed to shout. "Sally," I yelled. "Stop!"
Her head turned and her hand slipped from the branch. She tumbled to the ground and lay still.
"Sally!" My breath was rasping in my throat. I skidded to a stop and dropped down beside her.
"Ow," said Sally. She started to push herself up. "I'm bleeding," she said in a stricken voice.
Sally's voice! The eyes that looked back at me belonged to Sally, not the ghost. My little sister was back! Relief flooded me and I grabbed her and gave her a big hug.
"Are you okay?" I said, inspecting her knee, where she'd scraped it on the tree.
"What's going on? Is Sally all right?"
I turned around to see Katie approaching with a worried look, like she thought my four-year-old sister might leap up and attack her again.
"She skinned her knee," I said. "But she's back to being herself at least, right, Sally?"
I rose and picked Sally up to head back to the house.
Kate gave us a very weird look. She probably figured the whole family was crazy.
The truth was going to be even harder to believe.
Back in the kitchen I put Sally down in a chair at the table.
"We'd better wash off that knee and get you a Band-Aid," said Katie, obviously glad to have something to do.
Sally looked up at me. "Bobby was scared," she said. Then she looked at Katie who was hovering with a wet towel. "I guess Bobby doesn't like baby-sitters."
"Who's Bobby?" Katie asked brightly.
"He's my friend," said Sally.
Here we go, I thought.
I took a deep breath. "Bobby's a ghost," I said.CHAPTER 5
"A ghost," Katie repeated slowly. "And now he's possessed your little sister. Like The Exorcist, right?"
I remembered that movie. Something about a little girl who gets taken over by devils who make green vomit shoot out of her mouth while her head spins around in a circle.
"No, no," I said. "Bobby's not evil. He's a little boy who died here a long time ago. Sally's made friends with him but as soon as my parents left, he took over her body. See, it was really Bobby who attacked you like that."
Katie stared at me, water from the wet towel dripping down her arm.
"He's never done anything like that before," I said. "It scared me."
"I was sharing," Sally explained, frowning.
Katie made a face. "Is this a joke or what? I'm still waiting for the punch line, Jason."
"No joke. Really. Last night I thought we might be killed. Or sucked into another dimension. It was horrible."
Katie rolled her eyes. "Yeah, right. And today your parents go off on some emergency job on the other side of the state—"
"A firehouse," I said.
"What?" said Katie.
"My parents designed a firehouse in Mayfield. They're architects. That's why we're here. They're designing a town complex for Hartsville. But they got this call from Mayfield that some changes need to be made in the firehouse design—" I stopped.
This wasn't going right at all.
I tried again. "My mom and dad can't see the ghost, or hear him, either. Sally sees him and I can see him sometimes. At night I hear him crying. And there's this skeleton thing in a black cloak with glowing eyes. I think it may be the ghost of an old witch who died here. They never found the body."
Katie sighed. "Your parents were right," she said. You do have an active imagination. Too bad I don't believe in ghosts."
"You should go," said Sally, making a pruny face. "Bobby doesn't like baby-sitters."
"That does it." Katie finally noticed the towel dripping down her wrist. She threw it in the sink. "I've seen kids get up to a lot of tricks but you two are something else. Dreaming up this elaborate story just to scare me. Well, it won't work!"
As she flounced out of the kitchen I knew we were on our own. And it didn't make me feel strong or grown-up or anything like that. Not at all. It made me feel alone.
Sally got down from her chair, ready to start playing again. She didn't seem to be worried about anything—maybe she didn't even realize she'd been possessed!
She looked at me, her eyes full of trust.
I put my hand on her shoulder and looked into her face. "Did you let Bobby take you over before? Did you give him permission or did he just do it?"
Sally shrugged off my hand. "I want Winky," she said. Winky was her stuffed bunny.
"Sally, wait a minute. Do you think Bobby will do that to you again?"
"Bobby is my friend," Sally said, acting stubborn and not wanting to look at me. She started for the door.
"I know he's your friend," I said desperately. "But Sally, could you keep him out if you wanted to?"
Sally hunched her shoulders up around her neck and didn't answer.
The door swung closed behind her, leaving me alone.
A faint chill tickled the back of my neck. As if something was watching me from the shadows.
I turned but there was nothing there.
Then it happened.
Softly at first, then louder, weird, cackling old-lady laughter rose up inside the walls.
Very faint, but I could hear it. Ghost laughter. And the joke was on me.CHAPTER 6
I decided not to let Sally out of my sight the rest of the day. She wanted to play outside under the cherry tree, so I hung around, watching her do make- believe stuff with Winky and her other dolls and stuffed animals.
It was boring but to tell you the truth, I was glad to be out of the house. Glad to be away from the noises in the walls and the cackling laughter that only happened when I was alone.
After a while Katie came outside to check up on us.
"What a lovely cherry tree," she said, shading her eyes against the sun. "It looks really old."
A gust of wind came up and scattered the last of the tree's blossoms.
"I don't think I've ever seen a cherry tree with blooms so late. It's nearly the end of June," said Katie.
I didn't tell her what I suspected—that the ghost had played in that weird old cherry tree when he was still alive. And that he still haunted it now that he was a ghost.
"Hey, think quick!"
I ducked as a baseball went whipping by my head, just missing me. It was Steve, my friend from next door. "Come on," he said. "Let's go down to the ball field and practice."
Steve was an awesome pitcher and I was okay on third base—a pretty good hitter, if I do say so myself. I wanted to play ball so badly I could taste it. It would be great to get away for a while and leave this spooky place behind. But I couldn't.
"I've got to keep an eye on my sister," I told Steve.
"Go ahead," Katie encouraged me. "I'll watch Sally."
"I don't really feel like it," I said, scuffing my sneakered toe in the grass.
"Come on," said Katie tauntingly. "You're not scared Sally will be possessed again while you're gone, are you?"
"Possessed?" echoed Steve, wide-eyed. He was a little bigger than I, built solid. Ghost talk made him look round all over—round eyes and round mouth in a round face.
Katie laughed. "Jason's got quite an imagination. He tried to scare me this morning pretending Sally was possessed by a ghost."
"Wow!" said Steve, looking at me. "The little boy ghost or the old lady ghost?"
Katie's eyes blazed. "Not you, too!" She tossed her head, swinging her shoulder-length, red hair, and stalked off into the house.
Steve raised his eyebrows at me. "I guess she doesn't believe in spooks, huh?"
"Not yet," I said, glancing back up at the house.
Steve and I played catch for a while, right there in the yard. He kept rearing back and throwing hard and it was all I could do to get the glove in front of the ball.
"Definitely big league material," Steve said, very pleased with himself. "Don't worry, you can still be my friend when I get voted best pitcher in the bigs."
"Thanks a bunch," I said. "You'll probably charge for autographs."
While we practiced, Sally kept busy by herself, holding up Winky and talking to that dumb stuffed rabbit.
"Winky," I heard her say. "Tell Bobby to come out and play."
Great! I was trying to get rid of the ghost and she wanted to play with him!
Just then Steve's mother called him.
"Gotta go," he said, picking up the ball. "See you later, alligator."
"In a while, crocodile."
Steve was barely out of sight when Sally announced that she was going inside. "Bobby's lonesome," she explained, picking up her dolls.
I was left alone, standing under the cherry tree, looking up at the house. The old building seemed to loom over me, and the windows were like eyes.
Excerpted from The Horror by Rodman Philbrick, Lynn Harnett. Copyright © 1995 Rodman Philbrick and Lynn Harnett. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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