Sarah wrapped her arms around herself, shivering. The wind was bitingly chilly, and it kept worming its way up her sleeves and through the open space where she was missing a button. She tugged on her little dog Ollie’s leash, and he trotted toward her, flashing her a doggy grin.
“Come on,” she said, and they headed toward the woods.
But just as Sarah went to enter the woods, she heard a voice say, “I wouldn’t go in there if I were you.”
She turned to see two kids standing behind her, a boy and a girl. Sarah guessed they were twins.
“Why not?” she asked.
“You’re new, so you wouldn’t know,” said the girl.
“Know what?” said Sarah, growing irritated.
“Well, the woods, they’re… haunted,” said the boy. Sarah laughed.
“It’s true!” said the boy.
“Yeah, we’re not kidding,” said the girl seriously. “By the way, I’m Meg, and this is my brother, Mac.”
“I’m Sarah,” said Sarah, “and I don’t believe in ghosts.” She brushed her sandy curls from her forehead and looked down at Ollie. He tilted his head and sat down, waiting patiently for their walk to begin. She bent down to ruffle his ears and then turned back to the woods.
“People have seen things in there,” said Meg, her voice hushed, “if they go in after dusk. Dark figures dancing around a campfire… a strange man playing even stranger music… people say that he plays music so terrible and wonderful it disturbs the dead.”
Sarah rolled her eyes. “It’s probably just some guy camping out.”
Mac and Meg looked at each other.
“Once,” Mac said, “someone went in and never came out.”
“Maybe they got lost,” Sarah suggested. “Anyway, there’s no such thing as ghosts, and I’m going to go for a walk in the woods. Just you wait and see, I’ll be perfectly fine.”
“Well, we warned you,” said Mac darkly.
“OK,” said Sarah, and she and Ollie strode into the woods.
It was nice in the woods, quiet and peaceful, with all the trees forming a leafy canopy overhead. Sarah and Ollie took a long, lovely walk through the trees, and soon it began to get dark. “We’d better get back,” Sarah told Ollie, “or Mom and Dad will be worried.”
He yipped and followed her back the way they’d come. They’d only gone a little ways when Sarah caught a whiff of smoke on the breeze. She soon spotted the flicker of fire ahead. She remembered what the twins had said to her about the woods being haunted and wondered if they were out here trying to scare her. She crept forward quietly, and then she heard the music. It was beautiful. It danced on the breeze and seemed to call to her. She followed the sound and came to a little bonfire. The smoke seemed very thick and dark, but as she stepped forward, the music stopped and the darkness dispersed.
A man was sitting at the bonfire, holding a fiddle in his hands and watching her. He was an old, old man, old and weathered with many wrinkles on his face, but his smile was that of a child’s. His eyes were bright and shiny as mirrors, and they had clearly seen many things.
“I have waited a long time for you,” he said. He took his fiddle and laid it in a case. He held the case out to her.
“You want me to take your fiddle?” she asked, confused.
“You are the one,” the man said solemnly. “You are my successor.”
“What do you mean?” She was even more confused now.
“I’ve been waiting for the perfect person to pass this down to,” said the man. “Now remember, there must be a flame, and everything must be back as it was before sunrise.”
He placed the fiddle case in her hands.
All of a sudden, the fire went out, and a rustling noise filled her ears. Scared, she turned and ran, Ollie scampering after her.
When Sarah had left that part of the woods behind her, she looked down at the fiddle case in her hands. Then she looked down at Ollie.
“Do you think that man was a ghost, Ollie?” she asked.
Ollie tilted his head.
“Yeah, I didn’t think so either. He was just a little odd. Nice of him to give me his fiddle, though.” Ollie wagged his tail, and they went home.
After eating dinner with her parents, Sarah and Ollie went up to Sarah’s bedroom. Sarah read a book for a while and then decided to go to bed. She got on her pajamas and lay down to sleep. But she couldn’t. Finally she got up and took the old man’s fiddle out of its case. As she turned over the pretty instrument, she remembered what the man had said: “There must be a flame.”
She went and got a tall red candle and lit it. She put it on her bedside table and thought, Now what? Then she realized, Of course. I have to play the fiddle.
Sarah knew nothing about playing the fiddle, so the first few notes she screeched out sounded awful. But then she felt almost like someone was guiding her hands and showing her what to do. Soon she was playing a beautiful song. It sounded bright and lively, like a jig. She was really enjoying playing the music when all of a sudden her shadow peeled itself off the wall and started dancing!
Sarah froze, her mouth falling open in shock. The shadow stopped dancing and watched her expectantly, so she started playing the song again. Then Ollie’s shadow jumped off the wall, too! Ollie yelped in surprise as his shadow chased him around the room.
Sarah’s shadow went to the window and threw it open. Her shadow made a strange rustling noise, like leaves in the wind, but soon Sarah began to understand it—it was a language! The shadow was calling out into the night, inviting more shadows to come. Soon more were pouring in through the window, singing and dancing along to Sarah’s music.
Ollie barked, and then Sarah realized she could understand him, too!
“Get these shadows out!” he whimpered. “I don’t like them.”
For a moment, Sarah was surprised, but then she said, “It’s OK, Ollie.” But he just whined and hid behind her legs as a cat shadow hissed at him.
Sarah kept playing the fiddle. It’s magic! she thought.
Then her shadow stepped forward. Sarah paused her fiddle playing. “Come with me,” said the shadow, extending a hand. Sarah reached out and took it hesitantly. It was more like water than an ordinary, solid hand—it was half solid and cool and flowing. Sarah let her shadow lead her over to the window and stepped onto a moonbeam. To her surprise, the moonbeam felt solid beneath her feet. She picked up Ollie and ran out the open window on the moonbeam.
“Isn’t this amazing?” Sarah said excitedly.
“No!” Ollie yelped. “It’s terrifying!” He buried his face in his paws.
Soon, Sarah, Ollie, and their shadows were above the clouds. Sarah stepped onto the clouds to find that they were solid too. She set down Ollie, who frolicked around. “I guess it kinda is nice up here,” he said.
The others shadows came up the moonbeams, joyful. Sarah started to play the fiddle again, and all the shadows cheered. One of them plucked a few stars from the sky as easily as if they were picking berries from a bush, and they threaded the stars on a strand of moonlight. They set it on Sarah’s head like a crown. They rolled moonlight into balls and played catch with them, and Ollie caught one and chewed on it until his mouth started to glow. They laughed and played with the moon watching them, and just as the horizon began to turn pink, Sarah lay down, exhausted but happy, on a pile of fluffy clouds, Ollie snuggling up beside her. Gently, the shadows lifted them up and carried them down the last moonbeams into their bedroom.
“You need to go back to your places,” said Sarah sleepily, yawning. “Everything must be as it was before sunrise.” That was what the man had said.
The shadows looked at each other.
“No,” said Sarah’s shadow boldly.
“But aren’t you tired?” asked Sarah.
“Yes, we are. But we like being free.”
The sun was rising.
“Please?” Sarah begged, but they shook their heads.
“Sarah,” whispered Ollie, “play them a lullaby.”
So Sarah picked up her fiddle one last time and began to play. The shadows started yawning. They slowly drifted away and floated out the window one by one. Ollie’s shadow crept onto the wall behind Ollie, and Sarah’s shadow moved toward the wall as well. But then it turned back.
“You’ll let us free again tomorrow night, won’t you?” it asked.
“Yes,” said Sarah.
And then the shadow slid back where it belonged, and the little candle burning on the bedside table went out.
Sarah awoke with a start. She looked at her clock. It was noon. She looked around her room. The fiddle was safe in its case. The window was shut. Ollie lay snoring at the foot of the bed.
“What a strange dream,” Sarah said aloud.
Just then, the doorbell rang. Sarah got up and threw on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt and went to answer it. It was the twins from the day before.
“Hi,” said Mac.
“Hi,” said Sarah.
“So, you didn’t see anything… weird in the woods?” asked Meg.
“No,” said Sarah. “There was a man playing a fiddle. I guess people thought he was a ghost. That’s it.”
The twins glanced sheepishly at each other. “I guess we were wrong then,” said Mac.
“Hey,” said Meg suddenly, “do you want to come out and play? Us neighborhood kids are having a four-square tournament.”
“Sure,” said Sarah, surprised but pleased. She clipped on Ollie’s leash and headed out.
As they walked along, Mac squinted down at Ollie. “Um, Sarah? Is your dog’s mouth glowing?”
Sarah looked down at Ollie. Sure enough, his tongue was glowing very faintly. She smiled.
“Of course not,” she said. “Dogs’ mouths don’t glow. That’s ridiculous.”
Meg laughed. “You must be seeing things, Mac,” she said. “Now come on, let’s hurry, or they might start without us!”
They hurried off, laughing. And their shadows slunk after them.