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Funny: My best friend walking up to me in front of the boy who likes her and saying, “Honey, I’m home!”
Funnier: Another friend falling into my lap and my best friend looking at me dead serious saying, “How could you?”
Funniest: My best friend when we were kidnapped. Period.
Scary: My grandmother in the morning.
Scarier: My best friend when she’s angry.
Scariest: What happened when we were kidnapped. Period.
Painful: Fireworks, a picnic, evil cousins, and small spaces.
More Painful: Watching my best friend cry.
Most Painful: …You’ll find out.
I had a dream last night. I’m sure a lot of people have dreams, but mine was different. It directly relates to the story.
We were on a beach on Long Island. We were in the water, searching for shells. It was a bay. The waves were small. I found a green one, only it wasn’t just green. It was the exact shade of green that my best friend calls her favorite. It was the color of Peridot, her favorite birthstone even though her birthstone is actually Diamond.
I smiled at the shell. It was a scallop, also her favorite. I spun and held it out in front of me, “Zelda, look….”
She was gone. I couldn’t find her anywhere, no matter how hard I looked, no matter where I looked. The water around me was empty, lapping over and around nothing but the sand and my shins. I glanced down at the shell, convinced that the blame belonged to it. Only, it wasn’t a shell anymore. It was a gold coin. On one side, facing me was an engraving of Zelda's tombstone, dated for July 4. Her epithet was ‘Living is a Horrid Habit.’
I flipped the coin over. Glinting in the light was another tombstone; only it was shaped like a cross and only held two words, two syllables.
The water lapping around my shins turned red. The sand on the beach turned black. All the shells turned silver. I glanced up at the sun in time to see a circular shadow cover it, almost like an eclipse. I couldn’t see the sand or water anymore. All I could see were the shining silver shells, scattered beneath me like the stars that were supposed to be in the sky but weren’t. It was as if I was standing on the sky, with the ground above me.
I was almost starting to relax when a hand closed over my mouth and a voice whispered, “Got you.”
That was when I woke up. As you can imagine, I scared myself awake with that one, especially since I have heard those two words once before when Zelda seemed to disappear.
I told you my dream for one reason and one reason only: to help explain why we were skating down the most deserted street in town with backpacks full of things we used to scare the members of a July 4 sleepover.
I know the question you want answered, or at least one close to it.
How does the dream relate to that?
There’s one thing that connects the two together: a gold coin.
You see, Zelda’s father gave her a necklace with a gold coin as the pendant when she was three. On one side, it said ‘Follow Your Heart’ and on the other, it had her name, ‘Zelda Simmons.’ She loved that necklace and almost never took it off. She even slept with it on.
Two years ago, we were invited to the annual Fourth of July sleepover Jasmine Owens hosted. She invites fifteen people, and we were two of the so-called lucky ones. It was a night of food, fun, and celebration, and we totally didn’t regret it.
As usual, Zelda was wearing the necklace. We settled down to sleep, and she kept it on. In the morning, it was gone. We searched high and low, and we couldn’t find it. When school started, Jasmine’s charm bracelet now sported a gold coin. When someone asked why it had Zelda’s name on it, she’d say it was a gift.
Zelda put up a fight, with me at her side. We lost. She cried herself to sleep for a week.
So, Zelda wanted her coin back, and I wanted revenge. We decided that the best time would be the next sleepover. We planned, and at the next Fourth of July sleepover we executed a series of pranks that resulted in Zelda getting her coin back without them knowing it was us.
So that’s how we ended up skating down the most deserted street in town, and the biggest hill, with backpacks full of things we used to scare and prank the members of a sleepover. Of course, it was only the things we retrieved, such as marbles, spray paint, a few fake spiders and mice, yarn, and an extremely strong magnet. Oh, you can’t forget the strobe light, miniature smoke machine, tape of scary noises, and popsicle sticks (you really don’t want to know).
When I told you I wanted revenge on that girl, I meant it. Most of the other girls at the sleepover were simply the lucky ones invited. I don’t blame Jasmine for calling 911 either, but she was a little late for that.
Anyway, that’s how we ended up where we were, and that’s where the story begins.
Zelda looked at me, a slow, mean smiled forming on her lips. I admit her voice scared me a little, even though she simply taunted, “You can run but you can’t hide.”
I laughed, turning onto the final road and bracing for the steepest and biggest hill in town. I adjusted my backpack, my eyes on the road in front of me. Zelda zipped passed, pushing off to gain speed as the hill grew steeper and she shot farther and farther ahead of me. I didn’t even bother trying to catch up as gravity took hold, pulling me as fast as I would ever go on skates. I, for one, was worried about breaking myself.
Zelda threw her head back and laughed, her eyes closed, and I realized she totally didn’t care if she flew onto her face or not. She just likes the thrill.
We reached the bottom of the hill safely, and I caught up to her as we dodged parked cars and moving buses that passed by. We didn’t turn off the street, following to the last house on the left. Once there, we stopped at the curb, quiet as we could. Her parents were in bed and, as far as they knew, we were in the tree house about twenty yards into the trees that covered her backyard. There was also a fire pit about five yards from the base of the tree.
Zelda and I took off our skates at the edge of her yard. We put them in our backpacks and continued barefoot. When the tree house and fire pit came into view in the moonlight, she paused.
“We did it, sister,” I said quietly.
A few seconds later, she nodded, wiped her eyes, held her head high in a show of dignity, and wrapped her fingers around the gold coin once again hanging around her neck, “Yes. Yes, we did.”
I know you’re wondering where the action is, but when do stories ever start with “at midnight, they bound our hands and threw us in the van?”
Anyway, I said that’s where the story begins, not where everything truly starts.
You’ll find out, though. It’s coming.
Our tree house wasn’t really just a tree house. We’ve spent more nights there than grains of sand on Long Island. It’s where we planned our Halloween costumes for the passed six years. It’s where we kept a multitude of caterpillars. It’s where we’ve ran from a multitude of bees. It’s where we’ve slept every Halloween night since I can remember, no matter how cold.
And last year, we lived there for a week and showered at a friend’s house while on strike against our parents. They made us come home after a huge storm.
So, our tree house deserves a name. We call it Larry.
No, when you step foot on the oak boards in the something-or-other tree, you’re stepping into Fort Bruno. Bruno was Zelda’s vicious little dwarf hamster. She had him for a few months, but then he disappeared. We were four.
I haven’t been to Four Bruno since that night, but I don’t think it matters. I’ll go back one day. I have to.
I’m sure Zelda wants it that way.
I didn’t like those words coming out of her mouth. I glanced over at her. By the light of the fire, her playful smile was downright creepy. I was ready to tell her that I was tired, but she was so excited and so happy that I had to say, “I think we should celebrate.”
“So do I.” I mentally cursed myself. “And I think I know how.” She pulled a book I hadn’t seen from beneath her chair. The first thing I saw was a skull and a spider, and I instantly recognized the book.
“Where’d you get that?”
Of course. Who else does she know that has a copy of Encyclopedia Horrifica on their bookshelf? Who else’s bedroom does she have full access to no matter what?
Zelda opened the book to a pre-marked page. I snatched the book from her hands, my heart clenching. I knew the page, and I especially know her fascination with this aspect of the topic even though she’s scared to death of anything else related to it.
“I think we should call Bloody Mary.”
Yeah, Zelda is terrified of anything to do with ghosts or graveyards, yet she jumps for joy, almost, at the prospect of calling Bloody Mary.
I slammed the book shut and shoved it in my backpack, determined to put it somewhere she would never look. That pretty much meant I had to pick a brother. I was determined to tell her absolutely no until I looked at her. She seemed so eager to call a ghost that may or may not exist and kill her. I changed my response.
“I dare you.”
The challenge was set, but if she declines, she has to tell me the complete truth to whatever I ask her. I started listing questions in my mind to choose from, but I didn’t get very far.
She shrugged, lit one of the candles we keep handy, and used one hand to climb into the tree. I stood up and moved below the entrance, waiting. If she needs to get to the hospital, I need to get her there.
It’s one of the annoying jobs best friends get.
I heard her set the candle down, imagined her standing in front of the oval mirror hanging on the wall. Seconds passed. A faint whisper, shaky yet determined, reached me.
I shifted my feet, glancing around. My eyes flitted across the shadows of the trees. Something felt off, and it had nothing to do with my best friend calling an evil ghost.
She was louder, more confident. Her excitement was a little thicker than I expected. That was saying something, since my expectations were already way into the ‘deranged’ category.
Something seemed to move in the shadows just beyond the glow of the fire. My eyes flicked there, but there was nothing but darkness to be seen.
I could hear the faint creaking of the boards and could guess that she was bouncing in excitement. I could tell that she wanted this ghost to show up real bad, even though it might kill her.
Yeah, Zelda needs help.
And I knew that before I heard her high-pitched scream.