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Authors: Mary Downing Hahn

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BOOK: Deep and Dark and Dangerous
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"Then why do you think I want to wear it?" Sissy asked.

Poor Emma was in over her head, and she knew it. Shoulders drooping, she walked back to her room, dragging the sweatshirt behind her.

"That wasn't very nice," I told Sissy. "Maybe you should go home—like Emma told you."

Without answering, Sissy did a little dance around the living room. She turned and spun, hair and towel flying, then collapsed on the couch.

"I used to have this book." Sissy picked up
The Lonely Doll
and leafed through it, pausing now and then to look at an illustration. "Where do you think Edith's parents are? Does she live all by herself?"

"I don't know. It never says."

"It's kind of strange, don't you think? A little girl living alone, and then these bears come along, and Mr. Bear's like her father and Little Bear's like her brother, but there's still no mother."

Sissy waited to hear my opinion. "I never really thought about it," I admitted.

"It bothered me when I was little," Sissy said quietly. "But now it's just another silly kid story." She tossed the book aside and looked around the living room. "Where's the TV?"

"We don't have one. My aunt hates TV She says it rots your mind."

"She sure has some stupid ideas." Sissy slid down lower on the couch, stretching her skinny legs way out in front of her. "I don't have a TV, either. I was really hoping you did."

I felt a little twinge of hope. Maybe she would stop coming around now that she knew there was no TV to watch. "I'm going to see if Emma's okay," I said.

"She's one spoiled kiddo," Sissy said.

"It takes one to know one," I muttered under my breath.

I found Emma in her room, surrounded by heaps of clothing she'd pulled out of her bureau. Holding up a faded red sweatshirt, she said, "Do you think Sissy will like this? It even has a hood."

"Oh, Emma," I sighed. "Stop trying to please her. She promised to be nice, remember? And now she's being her usual horrible self."

Ignoring me, Emma ran down the hall to the living room. "How's this, Sissy? It used to be Mommy's. It's too big for me, but I bet it's just right for you."

Sissy took the sweatshirt and slipped it over her head. "It's kind of ugly, but at least it's not yellow."

"Want to play a different game? We have Clue and checkers and Parcheesi and—"

"I'm bored by board games." Sissy laughed. "Get it? Bored and board?"

Emma laughed to please Sissy, but I don't think she understood the joke. Not that it was very funny. I didn't even bother to smile.

"Where's your mother?" Sissy asked Emma.

"She's in her studio." Emma frowned. "Some bad teenagers wrecked it last night. They ruined all her paintings, and Mommy got mad."

Sissy glanced at me and smoothed her damp hair behind her ears. "It was probably kids from Union Mills. They're always doing stuff like that. My sister dated a boy from there, but Daddy chased him off. He was no-good white trash, Daddy said."

For a second, a look of sadness crossed Sissy's face, but it was gone so fast, I wasn't sure if I'd really seen it.

Emma nodded as if she knew all about the no-good white trash in Union Mills, but Sissy leaned toward me, her cold eyes fixed on mine. "Did Dulcie call the cops?"

I shook my head. "Not yet."

"It would be a waste of time. They'd never figure out who did it. If you want to know the truth, the cops in this town are morons."

I slid away from her, tired of her know-it-all attitude about everything. "What makes you think you know anything about the police?"

"Just listen to this." Sissy scooted toward me, closing the gap between us. "Did Dulcie ever tell you about Teresa?"

"The girl who drowned in the lake?"

Emma stared at me. "Teresa's dead?"

"That's what usually happens when you drown," Sissy said, laughing again at her own joke.

I'd forgotten Emma didn't know, but it was too late to take the words back. "It was a long time ago," I told her, "way back when your mom and my mom were little."

"Poor Teresa, poor, poor Teresa." Emma shuddered and moved closer to me.

I put an arm around her. "It's very sad," I whispered to her, "but don't cry, please don't."

Emma sniffed and wiped her eyes with her hands. With one finger, she touched Teresa's name on the game board. "She wrote this," she told Sissy. "She played here before ... before she..."

"Before she
died,
" Sissy finished Emma's sentence. Turning to me, she said, "You know what else? The cops never found Teresa's body.
That's
how dumb they are. Teresa's parents couldn't even bury her!"

Emma pressed her face against my side and covered her ears. Almost as shocked as Emma, I hugged my cousin and stared wordlessly at Sissy.

She sat back, enjoying the effect of her story. "Poor old Teresa. Her bones are still out there someplace, deep down in the dark, dark water. All cold and lonely."

"Is Teresa a ghost?" Emma asked in a shaky voice. "Do her bones come out?"

"Maybe." Sissy kept grinning. "Maybe not. Who knows?"

The room seemed to grow cold and damp and shadowy, and I held Emma tighter. I knew I should tell Sissy to shut up and go home, but I didn't. Jeanine hadn't said Teresa's body was still in the lake. Maybe she'd left that out because she didn't want to scare me. What else had she kept to herself?

Sissy pushed herself even nearer to me and grinned. Her face was so close I could see the cavities in her small yellow teeth. "Want to hear the best part?"

Ignoring Emma's whimper, I nodded, as eager to hear as she was eager to tell.

"Everybody thinks your mothers were with Teresa the day she drowned," Sissy said. "After all, she fell out of your grandfather's canoe. What was she doing taking it out all by herself?"

"Make her stop," Emma whispered to me. "I don't want to hear any more."

"It's okay," I told her, my eyes held fast by Sissy's. "You can go to your room if you don't want to hear."

Emma shook her head and again hid her face against my side.

"Teresa's mother told the police to talk to your mothers," Sissy went on. "But the cops were too dumb to get anything out of them."

She paused a second. "Some people say Dulcie pushed Teresa into the water, and then she and your mother left her there to drown—that the canoe washed up on some rocks, and they walked home and lied and lied and lied. They said they'd never been out of the cottage, they hadn't seen Teresa, they didn't know why she took the canoe.
That's
why they never came back here—they were scared of what they'd done."

While she'd been talking, Sissy's voice had risen higher and higher. Shaking with anger, she paused and took a deep breath, then another, and another, her chest heaving under the sweatshirt.

"Your mothers should be punished for what they did to Teresa," she said in a calm voice. "Murder—that's what they did.
Murder.
"

"How do you know all this?" I felt cold, achy, weak in the knees, as if I was coming down with the flu. Or maybe something worse—fatal, even. If Sissy meant to scare Emma and me, she'd done it.

"People still talk about Teresa," Sissy said with a shrug. "Unlike your mothers, nobody in Webster's Cove has forgotten her."

Turning to Emma, Sissy pulled her hands away from her ears and whispered, "Oh, and lots of people have seen Teresa's ghost. On foggy days, they hear her calling, '
Help, help, don't let Dulcie drown me.
'"

Emma covered her ears again and started rocking back and forth, humming loudly to keep from hearing.

I shoved Sissy away from Emma. "Shut up!" I yelled. "Shut up! It's not true, you liar." I raised my hand to slap her face, but she spun out of my reach, laughing.

"Teenagers didn't wreck Dulcie's paintings," Sissy crowed. "Teresa did. She's still here. You know it, and so does Dulcie."

"No," Emma wailed, "no!"

"Teresa could be
anywhere,
" Sissy went on. "She could be in this room right this minute, hiding in the shadows, just waiting to drown you like your mom drowned her. She could come through the window and get you in the middle of the night, she could—"

"Get out of this house, Sissy!" I rushed at her again, wanting to hit her hard, to hurt her, to make her admit it was all a lie.

"I'm going, I'm going." Pulling the hood of the red sweatshirt over her hair, Sissy stuck out her tongue and ran into the rain. "Watch out for Teresa!"

Emma hurled herself into my arms. "Teresa can't get me, she can't drown me. Not unless I go to the lake where her bones are. And I'll never go there again."

I hugged her shivering body. "Sissy made it all up," I murmured into her ear. "The next time she comes over, we'll tell her to go away. We won't let her in."

Emma cried herself to sleep in my lap. Sissy had exhausted her. She'd exhausted me, too, but I was too upset to sleep. I wanted to believe what I'd told Emma. It was a lie, all a lie. Our mothers had told the truth, they hadn't been in the canoe that day. Teresa was dead and gone—she wasn't in the house, she hadn't wrecked the studio.

But no matter how hard I argued with myself, I had a feeling that at least some of what Sissy had said was true. Hadn't I dreamt about Teresa night after night? Didn't ghosts come to people in dreams and demand justice?
Tell the truth,
the note had said.
Tell the truth or else.

Or else what?

Emma stirred and woke up. "I want Mommy," she said sleepily.

As she slid off my lap, I peered into her eyes. "I know Sissy scared you, Em, but don't tell your mother what she said."

Emma looked puzzled. "But—"

"Please promise you won't tell." I held her tightly to keep her from running down to the studio. "Dulcie doesn't want to hear anything about Teresa. You should have seen her face when Jeanine Donaldson started talking about her. She was so upset, she walked off."

"But suppose the ghost gets in our house? Suppose it's ... already here?" Emma peered fearfully at the familiar living room. Her eyes lingered on shadowy corners.

"Teresa's not here." I tried to sound sure, but it was all too easy to picture Teresa watching us from the hall, perched on the steps, maybe, or here in the living room, hovering near the Candy Land board where she'd once written her name. As Sissy had said, she could be anywhere.

"She got in the studio," Emma whispered. "She drew the bones. Mommy should know she was there. Teresa might hurt her."

"Teresa can't hurt anyone. She's—" I stopped myself from saying "dead." Gripping Emma's shoulders so tightly she winced, I said, "Promise not to tell."

When I released her, Emma relaxed her shoulders and let her head slump. Without looking at me, she muttered, "Okay."

I pulled her hands from behind her back before she had time to uncross her fingers. "That's cheating, Em. Promise again."

In a low voice, Emma said, "Are you sure Teresa won't get us?"

"I'm positive," I lied. At this point, I had no idea what Teresa might do. Maybe she was real, maybe she wasn't. Maybe she wanted to hurt Dulcie, maybe she wanted to hurt Emma and me, maybe she was just drifting around in the rain and the mist. It was hard to look at my cousin and pretend I wasn't just as scared as she was.

Emma's eyes welled with tears, but she drew her finger back and forth across her heart. "I promise not to tell Mommy." Her voice was so low I could barely hear her.

Hoping I could trust her, I gave her a hug. Then, making an effort to speak in a normal voice, I asked, "Would you like a glass of juice? And a chocolate-chip cookie?"

Emma followed me to the kitchen and sat at the counter while I fixed our snack. She took a small bite of the cookie and a tiny sip of juice. Then she pushed both away. "Not hungry," she mumbled.

I toyed with my cookie, no hungrier than Emma. Outside the leaves rustled, and I shivered.
Go away, Teresa, go away. Leave us alone.

13

The next morning, the rain stopped, but the mist hung on. I was beginning to think Mom hadn't exaggerated the lake's bad weather. Or the hordes of mosquitoes and gnats that seemed immune to bug sprays.

When I came downstairs, I saw Dulcie staring out the window at the water. After a while, she said, "I'd better get back to work."

She'd cleaned up most of the mess and discovered that the paintings weren't as badly damaged as she'd thought. Except for the one she'd smeared with black paint, she'd managed to clean them.

After she left, I sat at the table and enjoyed a cup of coffee with plenty of sugar and cream. Mom never let me drink it at home, but Dulcie said caffeine wouldn't hurt me. She lived on it herself. Emma was still sleeping—she'd been awake all night with bad dreams, but she wouldn't tell Dulcie what they were about. I was pretty sure Sissy's story had inspired her nightmares. I'd dreamed about Teresa myself. This time I thought the girls in the canoe were Mom and Dulcie, but I wasn't sure. I still couldn't see anyone's face clearly.

Between the sighing of the wind and the dark day, I felt lonely and sad. In an effort to escape my mood, I opened
To Kill a Mockingbird.
I was more than halfway through, but I hadn't read much before I fell asleep with my head on the open book.

The sound of the back door opening woke me up. I turned and saw Sissy standing a couple of feet away. She was still wearing Emma's red sweatshirt.

"What are
you
doing here?" I didn't bother to hide my annoyance. "Emma's asleep, but even if she was wide awake, I wouldn't let you near her."

"I didn't come to see Emma. I came to see
you.
"

"Why?"

She twirled the sweatshirt hood's drawstring. "I didn't have anything else to do."

"Well,
I
have plenty to do."

"Like what?"

"Like read this book, for one thing."

Sissy craned her neck to see the title. "To
Kill a Mockingbird.
I never read that. Is it good?"

Determined to ignore her, I held the book in front of my face and tried to read.

"I guess you're mad about what I said yesterday," she mumbled.

BOOK: Deep and Dark and Dangerous
6.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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