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Let the Games Begin This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

“Dare?” I asked tentatively. Immediately I knew that was the wrong answer. Justin grinned mischieviously. “Never mind! I choose truth!”
“No backing out, Juliana,” Daniella, reminded, also grinning. She leaned back and looked at myself, Justin, Ethan, and Violet. “What should we dare her to do?”
I looked pleadingly at Violet, the most sensitive and likely to give me a mild dare. She looked away, obviously onto my plan.
“Well, Master of Dare, what should we make her do?” Justin looked to Ethan. Instead of trying to plead, I glared at him.
He chuckled and winked at me, making me shudder mentally. I’m going to get something bad, I just know it. “She has to…” He paused for effect. “Go to the haunted house and spend the night there!” Violet squeaked.
I looked over to the end of the street, where an abandoned house sat, its windows boarded and lawn over-grown, terror growing in my stomach. There were stories that said anyone who moved there would mysteriously die in their home, and kids who would go there for a dare would come out crazy. Or not at all. Of course, there was no proof, but the way the stories were told, anyone would believe them.
“You gonna back down, Juliana? You know what the penalty for backing down is, right?” Daniella said.
I gulped and nodded. The penalty was to do everyone’s homework for the rest of the year. Normally I’d take it, but it was only October! “I’ll do it.”
“Uh-um… should she really be doing this?” Violet spoke, her high voice shivering. “I mean… It’s the haunted house…”
“Relax, Violet,” Ethan said, patting the small girl’s head. “Those are just rumors to keep people out. It isn’t really haunted.”
“How do you know? You’ve never been in there! We all know you’d’ve boasted about it,” I challenged. “Why don’t you come with me, since this was your dare.”
“I’m so in!” Ethan replied, meeting my challenge with a glare.
“I’m coming, too!” Justin replied, looking eager.
“Don’t leave me!” Daniella put in. “And Violet!” Violet squeaked again. “Oh, come on. It’ll be fun!”
“Uh-um… Ok… Sure. I’ll do it!”
Ethan stood up and held his hand out for me. I eyed it for a second before standing up on my own. Justin pulled on Ethan’s arm to stand up. Daniella and Violet stood up, Violet a head shorter. “To the haunted house!” Ethan declared, marching to the end of the street. We followed, only Justin marching along.
It wasn’t until we got to the front of the lawn that nerves started to get the best of us. I even thought I saw Ethan’s legs shake a little.
The house was spookier up close. The white paint was chipping, showing the old wood underneath, holey from termites. The boards covering the windows had scratch marks, as if it had been attacked by something. The door was partially off its hinges and waving slightly in the small breeze. A bigger wind blew through, and the door banged back into place, making Violet jump.
“Ok, Juliana. Since this is your dare, you have to be the first one in the house,” Ethan said, a slight shake in his voice.
I paled a bit, but the fact that Ethan was nervous made me feel a little better. Give him a taste of his own medicine. That phrase kept me going up the old cement sidewalk, the cracks over taken by decades of weeds. I pushed the door gingerly, and it swung open silently and quickly.
The inside was worse than I thought. There was a rotting staircase to the second floor, some of the stairs hanging off or missing completely. The floorboards were creaky, and I feared they would drop me into the basement at any wrong movement. The hall to the left was covered in cobwebs, the one next to the staircase had dusty furniture, and the one to the right was completely empty. It seemed too big on the inside.
“I’m in!” I shouted, my voice shaking and higher than normal.
Daniella was the first one in, showing the least amount of fear. Violet was shivering behind her. Justin looked like he would cling to Ethan if anything scraed him, and Ethan looked a little pale.
Another gust of wind blew by, and it whistled through the cracks in the boarded up windows and through the holes in the walls. “Geeeeet ooouuuuut,” it whispered. I shuddered. “Get out!” It was louder this time, and the door slammed shut without a breeze.
Violet squeaked loudly and hugged Daniella. “What was that?!”
“It was just the wind, Violet. It’s okay…” Ethan replied, sounding as if he was talking more to himself than anyone else.
Daniella screamed and jumped away from the group. “Something just brushed my leg!”
Ethan chuckled nervously. “Don’t be silly, Daniella.”
“I’m not!” She screamed, her face pale as paper.
“Geeet ooouuuut,” came the whisper again, but there was no breeze.
“Gl-gladly!” Justin ran to the door and tried opening it, but it wouldn’t budge.
“Toooo laaaate.”
I shivered. The house had suddenly become as cold as a freezer. “Guys! It happened again!” Daniella shouted, obviously panicking. A wisp of silver smoke was wrapped around her ankle. I was frozen to the spot, unable to take my eyes off it as it climbed her leg and engulfed her completely. Daniella’s mouth was open in a silent scream as the smoke pulled her down the right hallway.
Violet tried running after her, but I managed to grab her arm. “Don’t!”
“Yoouuu’re aaallll neeeext,” the mysterious whisper said, and Violet clung to me.
I turned to the guys, but Justin was missing. Ethan was staring at the retreating trail of smoke going down the left hall. It had taken my twin.
“Violet…” Ethan murmured. I grabbed his hand, to make sure he didn’t disappear, and turned. She was gone, too.
“Leeet theee gaaaamessss beeegiiiiin.”





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