Authors: Mary Downing Hahn
"Sorry, Em, but I don't know which way home is. Do you?" Sissy didn't pretend to be sorry or even worried. If anything, she seemed pleased with herself.
Emma began to cry. "Don't take me where the bones are. I don't want to see them."
"Bones, bones, bones," Sissy chanted. "Teresa wants you and Ali to visit her, stay with her awhile, keep her company."
"No," Emma cried.
I reached toward my cousin, but my arm wasn't quite long enough to touch her. I didn't dare move closer, for fear of upsetting the canoe.
"It's okay, Emma," I said. "She's just teasing you. We're almost home already." I hoped I was right, but I couldn't see the shore, a tree, the dock, or anything else.
Emma hugged the doll. "Me and Edith are scared."
Sissy laughed. "Give me Edith. She won't be scared if
Emma clutched the horrid thing to her chest. "If I give her to you, will you take us home?"
Emma turned to me. "Should I?"
"You'd better." Sissy answered before I had a chance to say a word.
Emma thrust the doll at Sissy. "Now take me home," she begged. "I'll do anything you say, just take me home."
Sissy sat still, the paddle in her hands, the doll beside her. "How bad do you want Edith?"
"Stop teasing her," I said. "Just take us home."
Sissy ignored me. "What if I throw Edith in the lake? Do you want her enough to jump in and get her?" She dangled the doll over the water. "Should I drop her?"
"No!" Emma cried. "No, Sissy, don't. Give her to me!"
I lunged past Emma at Sissy just as the doll flew out of her hands and splashed into the lake.
"Look what you made me do," Sissy yelled.
"I didn't make you do anything. You threw that doll—I saw you!"
While the two of us shouted at each other, Emma leaned out of the canoe, desperately reaching for the doll. Before I could stop her, she toppled into the lake. I saw her hair spread like seaweed on the surface—and then vanish. At the same moment, the canoe rocked wildly back and forth and tipped over.
As I plunged down into the cold dark water, I searched frantically for Emma. Through the murk, I glimpsed a swirl of hair, a pale face, an outstretched hand. Kicking hard, I swam toward her and grabbed her arm. The two of us sank together, weighed down by our wet clothes. Emma struggled like a fish trying to escape a net, but I held her tight.
I won't let you drown,
I'll save you. I'll save both of us.
Using every bit of strength, I swam up toward the dim light of the gray sky. We came to the surface gasping for air. Emma clung to me, coughing and choking, too weak to struggle.
I swam to the overturned canoe and tried to get a good grip on it.
"Hold on," I told Emma.
"I can't," she wept. "I can't. It's too slippery."
"You have to!"
Just on the edge of the fog, Sissy circled us, drifting in and out of sight like a shark coming in for the kill. Slowly, she swam nearer, shoving the doll ahead of her.
I put my arms on either side of Emma to keep myself between her and Sissy. "Stay away from us!" I yelled.
Sissy pushed the doll closer. "It's nice in the water, Em. If you come swimming with me, I'll give you Edith—all yours forever. No takebacks."
Emma looked at me, and I shook my head. "You can't swim."
"Don't worry. I'll hold you up." Sissy swam close enough to grab Emma's hand. The doll floated nearby, her stained face barely visible in the dark water. "If you want to be my friend," she said, "you have to do what
say. Not what Ali says. Not what Dulcie says."
"Go away." Emma tugged her hand free of Sissy's grip. "I'm scared of you."
Shivering with cold and fear, I watched Sissy. Framed by long wet hair, her face was sharp and bony, her skin white, her eyes shadowy. The hands holding the doll were bony. If only she'd vanish into the water and sink to the bottom, where she belonged. If only Emma and I were safe in the cottage, drawing or reading by the fire, warming ourselves with hot chocolate. If only, if only, if only....
"Why are you here?" I whispered. "What do you want from us?"
Sissy swam even closer. Once more, I moved between her and Emma. I could hear my cousin's intake of breath. Her skin was cold.
"I want you to make Dulcie and Claire tell the truth," Sissy said. "They should be punished for what they did. It's not fair. They're grown up, and I'm—" She broke off and glared at me. "It's all their fault. Make them tell. Or they'll be sorry."
I stared at her, perplexed. "What can they tell? They weren't in the canoe with you."
"How can you be so dumb?" Sissy gave me a look of pure hatred. "Dulcie and Claire lied! They're
Emma looked from me to Sissy and back again. "What did Mommy lie about?"
"I was there," Sissy went on. "And so were they. I remember—and so do they!"
"Where were they?" Emma cried, her voice shrill with confusion and fear. "Tell me, Sissy, tell me!"
Sissy looked at me, not Emma. "Tell Dulcie what happened today." Each word dropped from her mouth, as hard as stone. "Don't leave anything out. Not the doll, not the canoe, not me. Then ask her what happened to Teresa."
"My mother and my aunt would never hurt anyone."
"No?" Sissy mocked me with her grin. "Oh, before I forget—make sure Dulcie knows the canoe belonged to your grandfather. He called it 'The Spirit of the Lake.' Good name, don't you think?"
Turning her back, Sissy swam away into the fog, taking the doll with her.
"Come back!" Emma cried after her. "You'll drown."
"You can't drown twice," Sissy called, her voice muffled by the water.
"Sissy," Emma called again. "Sissy!"
No one answered. No one came swimming out of the fog.
Emma clutched my arm. "Is Sissy really Sissy? Or is she somebody else?"
I hesitated, unsure how much she'd figured out. Finally, I said, "Deep down inside, I think you know who Sissy is."
Emma nodded slowly. "'You can't drown twice,'" she said, echoing Sissy's words.
I drew her closer to me, holding her tight. The water was cold, and our arms ached. I only hoped that someone would find us before we lost our grip on the canoe.
Just as daylight began to fade, a wind sprang up and blew the fog away, shred by shred. Not far off, I saw a motorboat headed in our direction.
"Help," I shouted, desperate to be seen. "Help, help!"
Emma yelled, too.
A man on the boat turned and looked in our direction. "There's two kids over there," he yelled to another man. "Hanging on to a canoe."
The boat turned and made its way toward Emma and me. In a few moments, strong hands pulled us out of the water and into the boat.
"Is your name Alison O'Dwyer?" the man asked.
"Yes, sir. And this is my cousin, Emma Madison. We—"
"It's the missing girls!" he shouted to his friend. "The ones we heard about on the radio. Call the harbor police. Let 'em know they're okay."
He wrapped us in blankets and poured hot tea from a thermos. Emma and I took the cups gratefully, warming our hands as we drank. I thought I'd never stop shivering.
"What the devil were you doing way out here?" he asked. "If the fog hadn't lifted when it did, we'd have passed right by and never seen you."
Emma burrowed into my side like a newborn kitten seeking warmth, leaving me to make up a credible story.
"We saw the canoe on the shore," I began, "and we thought it would be fun to try it out. But we didn't really know how to paddle, and we got lost in the fog. It was a stupid thing to do."
"It sure was," the man agreed. "The whole town's been looking for you two."
I squeezed Emma's hand, but neither of us said a word. We just huddled together under the scratchy wool blankets and watched as Webster's Cove came closer and closer.
At least half the town was waiting for us on the dock. As soon as the men tied the boat up, Dulcie ran to us. Her hair was a wild mass of uncombed curls, and she'd been crying. Sweeping up Emma, blanket and all, she held her tight. "Emma, Emma," she sobbed. "Thank God, you're safe."
I stood there, all alone. After what I'd been through, I needed comforting, too, but I had a sinking feeling I wouldn't get it from Dulcie. At any moment, I expected her to blame me for everything.
Suddenly, Ms. Trent was at my side, hugging me. "Ali, why didn't you wait for me? If anything had happened to you..." She hugged me again, even tighter.
Dulcie looked at me over Emma's head, as if she'd just remembered I was there. "
have some explaining to do," she said.
A policeman took her aside and began asking questions that I couldn't quite hear. Dulcie beckoned to me, and Ms. Trent squeezed my hand as if wishing me good luck. As my one friend disappeared into the crowd, Dulcie bundled Emma and me into the car.
"The police think you two should be checked at the emergency room," Dulcie said. Without looking at me, she secured Emma in her child safety seat and drove to the hospital.
A nurse led Emma and me to an examining room, where we stripped off our wet clothes and put on paper gowns about ten sizes too big for me and twenty sizes too big for Emma. Both of us were still shaking with cold.
A doctor examined us. She pronounced me fine, except for a touch of hypothermia, which would have been worse if we'd been in the water much longer. She said Emma was still running a fever, and might have strep throat as well as mild hypothermia.
"Continue with Emma's medicine," she told Dulcie. "Bundle them both up nice and warm, give them hot soup, hot tea, and plenty of love. They've had a terrible experience."
An hour or so later, I faced Dulcie across the kitchen table. By then, Emma was in bed, sound asleep.
Clutching her coffee mug in both hands, she seemed more unhappy than angry. In a way, that was worse. "Tell me why you took Emma out in that canoe," she said. "Without even a life jacket."
I fidgeted with my place mat as if it were vital to keep its edge parallel to the edge of the table. "Promise you won't be mad."
"Why shouldn't I be mad?"
I moved the place mat a bit to the right and then back to the left. "After you called Ms. Trent," I said in a low voice, "I left her house and went to look for Emma. I found her by the lake with Sissy. Sissy wanted to take her for a ride in an old canoe."
Watching Dulcie closely, I added, "It was called 'The Spirit of the Lake.' Sissy said it used to be Grandfather's canoe."
"Yes ... that's what my father named it." Dulcie held the mug tightly, her whole body tense. "But it can't be the same canoe. He got rid of it after we stopped coming here."
"Sissy had that doll with her—the one you threw in the lake. She said if Emma got in the canoe, she could hold it. I tried to stop Emma, but she wouldn't listen to me. Finally, I got in, too." I shifted the place mat a fraction of an inch. "I didn't know what else to do."
Dulcie sat with her head in her hands. I couldn't see her face. "Go on," she said.
"Sissy paddled way out into the fog. We couldn't see the shore—we could hardly see each other. She started teasing Emma with the doll. And then she threw it in the water and the canoe turned over and..."
Dulcie got up and left the kitchen. She didn't look at me. She didn't say anything. She just walked out.
I stayed at the table, turning the place mat round and round aimlessly. Even though Dulcie had loaned me her warmest fleece bathrobe, I was still cold. Once I glanced at the window, fearing Sissy might be watching me, but the glass panes reflected the kitchen, hiding the darkness outside—as well as anything lurking there.
Finally, Dulcie came back. She sat down and shoved a photograph toward me. It was the same one I'd found at home, only it wasn't torn. There was Mom with a sad face, there was Dulcie beside her with a big grin, and there was the third girl, the one torn out of Mom's copy. Her face was almost hidden in the shadows, but her light hair caught the sunlight. Smirking with satisfaction, Sissy held the doll Edith, brand-new, her hair perfect.
Dulcie touched the photo with the tip of her finger. "That's Teresa Abbott, the girl who drowned in the lake."
To Dulcie, the girl was Teresa, but to Emma and me, she was Sissy. Even though I'd already figured it out, I shuddered.
Dulcie seized my hands and stared into my eyes. "Is Teresa ... the girl you call Sissy?"
"Yes," I whispered.
"It can't be," Dulcie whispered. "It can't. I don't believe in ghosts, I don't
to believe in ghosts, but..." For a moment, she sat there speechless. "But there's no other explanation. Is there?"
I shook my head. Outside in the darkness, the wind rose, and something tapped the windowpane. I turned to look, expecting to see Sissy's face pressed against the glass, her thin fingers knocking to come in. But nothing was there.
Dulcie picked up her cup to drink, but her hands shook so badly she put it down without taking a sip. "It was the worst thing I ever did. I've tried to forget about it, pretend it never happened." Her voice dropped so low I could barely hear what she said. "But I can't forget her. And neither can your mother."
"Sissy doesn't want you to forget," I said.
Dulcie bent her head over the photo. "The doll," she said. "Edith. Mother gave it to Claire on her eighth birthday."
"But why is Sissy holding it?" I asked.
"Teresa loved to tease Claire with that doll. She'd snatch it way from her and make her beg to get it back. The more your mother cried, the more Teresa tormented her."
I stared at her, shocked. "You were the oldest. Why did you let Sissy pick on Mom like that?"
Dulcie studied the three girls in the photograph. "It's not a nice thing to say, but I used to be jealous of your mother," she said. "She was always sweet and nice, and I wasn't. Most people liked her better than me."
I wanted to sympathize with my aunt, but it hurt to learn that she let Sissy torment my mother. As an only child, I had all sorts of notions about sisters and how they took up for each other—blood being thicker than water and all that.