Plink plink. Plink, plink. Flap.
Plink plinkity plinkity. Rat-a-tat-tat. Flap flap.
“What the…” Bart sat up in bed, trying to focus his eyes in the dark room. He turned toward the window. The shade, buffeted by the wind, was flapping back and forth in rhythm with the rain hitting th window pane. Don’t forget to close all the windows tonight if it rains as it’s expected to. Bart heard his mother’s voice in his head. “Oh, great,” he grumbled aloud. He slid out from under the covers and sat for a moment on the edge of the bed. Jeez, what a night, he thought, remembering his friends filing out the door silently–well, not so silently, in Tony’s case–and himself sweeping up the shards of the lamp. There wasn’t anything he could do about the ripped tutu. He didn’t know how to sew. He could’ve asked one of the girls to do it, he guessed, but at the time he’d just wanted all of them gone–even Lisa. Why do they have to act so stupid, he thought. You could’ve told Bob and Tony not to bring the beer, another voice whispered in his brain. But that wouldn’t have been cool…
The shade flapped again. He stood up with a groan and shut the window. Then, opening his bedroom door, he went to check the other windows in the house.
He was down in the kitchen when he heard the bump. He stood still and listened. There it was again. A loud thumping. It was coming from the rec room. “Oh, jeez. Now what?” he said. He opened the basement door and flicked the light switch. But the light didn’t go on. He tried it again and a third time. Then his mother’s voice echoed in his head once more: The switch in the basement seems to be faulty. He signed and went back to the kitchen and fished a flashlight out of a drawer. He turned it on as he reached the basement door and started down the stairs.
Boorump. The sound came again.
A wave of cold hit him. The hairs on his neck prickled. He stopped dead, clutching the stair railing with one hand. The logic that had asserted itself the week before in his bedroom was failing. He shuddered.
King Bart. Bark the Hawk. Ha, he told himself. You’re real brave, Hawkins. Wouldn’t the Phantoms love to see their star quarterback now. He stood still another moment. Then, setting his chin, he edged down another step. It’s probably just the boiler acting up, he thought. No, it’s not on. The water heater then. Another step. There’s got to be a logical explanation. Another step. There, I made it. He turned right into the room that housed the boiler and heater. He inspected them with the flashlight, but nothing seemed wrong. He walked out and on toward the rec room.
It was dark and quiet. He played his flashlight over the furniture, the bar, the stereo, the TV, the knickknack shelves. Nothing was wrong here either. Then he noticed a box in a corner lying on its side. A bit of frothy pink tulle spilled from it. It rustled gently. The tutus. Bart had put the box on a low table when he’d cleaned up.
It must’ve fallen off, he told himself. See, a logical explanation. And you let yourself get scared of…
Boo-rump! The noise was so loud the walls shook. Bart’s flashlight flew from his hand and across the room. It way in the middle of the floor, its feeble light aimed at the tutu box.
Bart didn’t know whether to pick the flashlight up or leave it and run. After a few seconds, which seemed like hours, he moved toward the light and froze.
The tutu was sliding slowly out of the box. “Tony,” Bart squeaked. “Is that you? Bob? Is this a joke?”
The only answer was a rustle of satin and tulle as the tutu began to rise, headless, armless, legless, and advance toward him.
He screamed and staggered backward, banging his leg on a chair. Then he whirled around, stumbling toward the stairs.
He fled up them, through the kitchen, up another flight, and down the hall. He flew into his bedroom, slammed and locked the door behind him, turned on one, two, all the lights, and shaking, crawled into bed, face to the wall. I’m going crazy, he thought, panting. Then, no, I’m dreaming. That’s it. I’m still asleep and I…
Cold enveloped the room. Oh my God, what was that?
Bart’s blankets were sheets of ice. He didn’t want to turn around, but he had to. He did it slowly, his eyes darting wildly around the room. Finally, they hit on the closet door. It was open about an inch. As he stared, it slid open an inch further.
No. Oh no! Wake up, Bart. Come on, wake up. He slapped at his face.
But the door continued to move. Soon it was open enough for him to see his dirty football uniform lying on the floor with the helmet on the shelf above. He watched in horror as the uniform began to straighten itself out and come toward him.
“No!” he yelled. “No!” He scrambled as far back against the headboard of the bed as he could. But the uniform kept coming.
Click! Now what, he thought, and almost laughed hysterically at himself. His eyes flashed on his bedroom door.
Sure enough, it was opening. He saw a blaze of hot pink, and behind it streaks of electric blue, red, purple, and green. The tutus! They’d found him.
“Mom! Dad! Somebody help me!’ he bellowed as the tutus and the uniform reached him. The lights went out. His arms and legs flailed. Perfume and sweat clogged his nostrils. He was being smothered by yards and yards of cloth. He gasped for breath.
Suddenly, a voice rang out. “Oh, for goodness’ sake, Stryker, leave him alone.”
Bart gasped again, but he felt the tutus, the uniform slide away. Panting and shivering, he lay with his eyes shut. The room was silent now, but still cold. Slowly he opened his eyes.
The lights were still out. The room was dark, except for a faint glow at the foot of his bed. it’s not over, something in his brain whispered. Not yet.
He was right. The flow brightened, pulsing silver. It gathered, a roiling, shifting shape.
Terrified, Bart moaned. He couldn’t move–he could only watch–as the glow trembled, wiggled, rounded. A form began to emerge–the form of a tall, slim, and rather pretty teenage girl in a long, old-fashioned dress with a ribbon in her hair. She smiled at him apologetically and said in a silvery voice, “I’m sorry about all this, Bart. Truly sorry.”
He stared at her, blinked, and stared again. And then he thought, Well, Hawkins, it looks like 1351 Hexum is haunted after all.