We always loved going to that old house on the hill. Everyone said it was haunted, but we never listened. Michael, Emma, and me, Summer.
Why did we always go there? I guess we were interested. We didn’t believe in ghosts. Not then. Now we know better. But even more than that, we were attracted to the house. That old wreck of a building, with shutters hanging loose and boards half ripped off. But it was majestic, too. Big, with a tower on each side. It must have been beautiful, once upon a time.
Emma loved leafing through the old, blurred, black-and-white photographs. She especially loved one of a girl about our age, whose face, despite being blurred, Emma insisted was very like her own.
Michael liked fiddling around with the old toys. There must have been children living in that house when it was abandoned. Why was it abandoned? No one knew. And we certainly never stopped to wonder. We didn’t want anyone coming to claim our special hideout. But anyway, there were lots of toys scattered around, old teddy bears and crayons, even an Erector Set, a metal, motor-powered set that almost anything could be built out of. Kind of like Tinker Toys, you know? For older kids, though. Michael really liked fiddling around with that thing. Why? I don’t know. Maybe he felt drawn to it the way Emma felt drawn to that old photograph.
The way I felt drawn to the old clothes.
* * *
I just loved leafing through the old dresses, trousers, and shirts. Somehow, some of them fit me, and there was nothing I liked better than modeling my favorite frilly creations. I fantasized that I lived in the twentieth century, around the time people would’ve lived in this house. Sometimes I felt as though I was born into the wrong century. I had this absurd fascination with the early twentieth century. Maybe it came from the old house. It would’ve been built around that time. I don’t know.
We loved that old house. Whenever we could, we’d go up the hill and hang out there, exploring the three floors and the attic, or just sit on the porch steps and talk.
Today was one such day.
“I’ll race you up the hill!” I called to Emma and Michael. I was already running and reached the porch steps first, followed by a breathless Emma and a panting Michael.
“No fair!” Emma pouted. “You had a head start.”
“Don’t be so whiny, Emma, let’s just go inside,” said easygoing Michael.
We barged through the door. As usual, I went immediately to the old dresses, Emma to the photographs, and Michael to the toys.
But after a while of trying on the old dresses, I realized I felt bored. “Hey, guys,” I said, “let’s do something else for once. Let’s go down to the basement. We never explored down there before.”
Emma jerked her head up, eyes wide. “But that’s the part they say is haunted!” Although we had thoroughly explored every inch of the three floors and the attic, we had never set foot in the basement.
“Don’t be such a scaredy-cat,” I said encouragingly. “You don’t believe in ghosts, do you? The parents probably started those rumors to keep kids from coming up here.”
Michael’s eyes were troubled. I knew that if he said no, Emma would agree, so I started working on him, getting him to crack. “Come on, Michael,” I encouraged. “Are you scared? There’s nothing to be afraid of. We should really go down there. I mean, why not? Please, Michael. Pretty please?”
Michael looked away for a moment. I silently prayed that he would say yes. I really wanted to see what was down there, but if thirteen-year-old Michael said no, eleven-year-old Emma would go along with him, and, although I hardly dared admit it, even to myself, I was too chicken to go down by myself.
“OK,” Michael finally agreed. I let out a mental whoop. Out loud, I thanked him seriously and, grabbing my flashlight, led the way downstairs.
Cobwebs draped the mantelpiece of a fireplace and hung from the corners. I swung my flashlight around, peering everywhere. I accidentally kicked up some dust, and we all sneezed and choked on it. I could see why we hadn’t gone down there before. Behind me, Emma shivered and said, “Oooh, Summer, this is spooky. Let’s go back upstairs.”
I’ll admit it, I did consider that. But twelve years old was too old to believe in ghosts, so I just said, “Let’s stay a little longer. I want to see what’s down here.”
Although I was afraid, I looked into each corner, only to meet disappointment. The cobwebs I had seen before seemed to be the only ornament that graced the basement with their presence.
But then I strode to the fireplace, the others close behind.
There was no fire in the fireplace, and, by the looks of things, there hadn’t been one since the house was abandoned. I breathed a quiet sigh of relief. There. That proved it. The place wasn’t haunted. Ghosts would’ve built a fire, right? Or wouldn’t they? Did ghosts get cold, anyway?
I swung my flashlight to the mantelpiece. The basement wasn’t devoid of any possessions after all. Three framed photographs adorned the mantelpiece. I took them down and blew the thick layer of dust and cobwebs off before handing one each to Emma and Michael. “Let’s take these upstairs into the light,” I said.
The other two were only too happy to obey and raced up the stairs as if they were being chased. I followed more slowly, looking back and swinging my flashlight to make sure no unearthly presence was following us up the stairs. For after I found the photographs, the peaceful old house seemed almost… well, menacing.
We all crowded around the old couch in the living room to look at the photographs. Emma was especially interested, for none of the pictures in the old album she liked to leaf through were framed. And these were much better quality, too. We blew more dust off of them and stared at the unveiled photos. For a moment we were speechless.
* * *
“M-M-Michael,” Emma stuttered, “th-th-that looks like—like me!” Emma pointed to the picture Michael held. He handed it to her, and we both crowded around Emma for a closer look.
She was right. The girl in the picture bore a remarkable resemblance to Emma. She had Emma’s solemn, heart-shaped face, her small, perfect nose, her long, wavy hair, and her long eyelashes framing almond-shaped eyes. The only difference was that, while Emma wore a T-shirt and leggings, the girl in the photo wore an old-fashioned dress—one of the very ones I had seen time and time again!
I gasped and ran to grab the dress. After a quick search, I found it and ran back to the living room with it over my arm. “Emma—look!” I said breathlessly, holding the dress out to her. “It’s the dress the girl in the picture’s wearing.”
With a little gasp of her own, Emma took the dress. “Put it on,” I urged her. She pulled it over her clothes, and Michael and I gasped the loudest gasps of all.
For there could be no doubt that the girl in the photo was Emma. Standing there with her honey-blond waves of hair falling slightly over her face, her expression serious, almost troubled, and in that dress, a simple pink-and-blue knee-length one with a frill along the hem and puffed sleeves, Emma looked exactly like the girl in the photograph.
“Emma—that’s—that’s you,” I half-whispered.
Emma stared at the photograph, then strode to the antique mirror that hung on the wall. She uttered another little gasp. “It is me,” she whispered. “It is.”
Then she fell down in a faint.
Michael and I hardly noticed. We were fighting over the remaining two pictures. We finally ended up with one each. We looked at them, looked at each other, and promptly traded pictures.
I stared at mine, tracing the outline of the girl in the picture. She stared back at me. No, there was no doubt that this girl was me! Too shocked and confused to say anything, I kept staring, tracing the outline with my finger. This girl had a curly bob of hair that fell only to her chin and wide eyes like mine. I touched my own hair. It had used to be that short, but lately I had been letting it grow, and it was almost down to my shoulders by now. The girl in the picture had my snub nose, arched eyebrows, and round face. Her face was so like mine it was just impossible.
Then I looked at the dress the girl was wearing, and that was when I let out a gasp. “The dress she’s wearing—that’s my favorite!” I cried, standing up and dropping the picture on the couch. I raced to the closet where the dresses hung and grabbed the one I was looking for. It was very pale yellow, embroidered with pink, blue, and green butterflies. The skirt was flared and went down to a little above my knees. I pulled it on over my T-shirt and jeans and then went to look at myself in the mirror.
I shook my head in confusion. How was it possible that both Emma and I looked exactly like the girls in the photographs? Then I remembered. Emma! She had yet to wake up. I knelt by her and shook her gently. “Emma!” I called softly. “Wake up!”
She opened her eyes blearily and shook her head. “What the… Oh!” She jumped up and stared at me. “Summer,” she said in an almost reverent whisper, “Summer, you look like that other girl in the picture.”
I nodded, scared and miserable. Just then, Michael joined us at the mirror. He was wearing old-fashioned trousers and a shirt tucked into them over his clothes. I stared at him. I had never seen Michael’s shirt tucked into his pants for the life of me. For a full minute there was silence. Then my gaze strayed to the photograph in Michael’s hand. I looked at him. He didn’t need to say anything. He just nodded.
“People say this place is haunted,” I said in a voice that seemed not to be my own. “And now I think they’re right.” I turned to the others, eyes wide and scared. “I think—I think we’re the ghosts!”