Home, Sweet Haunt
TWO MONTHS LATER
Nora used to have a normal life. It was so normal it was boring. She went to school, did her homework, hung out with her friends, had dinner with her family, and avoided her irritating younger brother.
That was before. Before the fire swept through their apartment and her parents changed into nervous freaks.
The fire was in late August. When the school year started in September, her parents wouldn’t let her or Lucas out of the apartment. Seriously. Not even into the hallway.
They wanted to be with Nora and Lucas all the time. Protect them from the world. Nora’s parents, who had
never been afraid of anything, were suddenly afraid to let their children out of their sight.
For weeks after the fire, Nora insisted that “lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice,” but her parents said she was wrong.
Her father understood weather patterns. He told Nora that the Empire State Building was hit by lightning as many as one hundred times each year. Her mother was frantic with worry that something bad might happen again.
Nora tried everything she could think of to convince them they were being overprotective. But they wouldn’t bend.
Her mother quit her job to homeschool them. Her father quit his job to stay at home as well. They disconnected the Internet. Never replaced the TV, cell phones, or computers that had melted in the flames. Their furniture was charred and all their clothing smelled like barbecue. It didn’t matter how many times the shirts and pants were washed.
Nora longed for the old kind of normal. She wished things would go back to the old kind of boring. She’d never complain again.
“Pssst.” Lucas stuck his shaggy brown head into Nora’s bedroom. He was wearing pajama pants and a matching shirt. “Whatcha doing?”
Nora sighed. Before the fire her brother had bugged her, but at least she hadn’t had to spend all day, every day, with him.
It was on Nora’s tongue to say None of your business and toss Lucas out of her room, but she knew that the fire and everything after had been hard for him, too.
Before, Lucas had been creative, adventurous, and an expert at talking his way out of trouble. Stuck in the apartment, Lucas had no use for his skills. With nowhere to go and not much to do, he channeled all his energy into annoying Nora.
Unfortunately, Lucas had a lot of energy to channel.
Her mother told Nora to be nice.
It was hard, super hard, but since she didn’t have any one else to hang out with, she tried her best.
Instead of booting her brother out of the room, Nora moved over on the bed to let Lucas sit next to her. In exchange for promising her parents that she’d be nice, Nora had gotten permission to push her bed over by the window. The lock still didn’t open, but at least she could
look outside. There were a few shops and a park across the street.
Lucas piled Nora’s pillows so that he could lie down and look outside at the same time. “Still staring out the window every morning?” her brother asked.
“And afternoon,” Nora said.
“You never give up, do you?”
That wasn’t really a question, so Nora didn’t reply. It was 7:37. Three more minutes. She didn’t want to miss seeing her friends. This was the only way.
A few days after the fire, Nora had tried calling them on the only phone (cell or otherwise) that wasn’t destroyed in the fire—the one in her parents’ bedroom—but the connection was always bad. Although she could hear them perfectly, they could never hear her. Figuring the heat from the flames had melted the wiring, Nora asked her parents to contact the telephone company. That was around the time they called a “family meeting” to announce that they were both quitting their jobs, staying at home, and letting the less important bills lapse. They could no longer afford phones, Internet, and cable TV.
“I have to try,” Nora told Lucas. “Maybe if Hallie and Lindsay finally look up at my window, they will see me
and come over. There’s no way my friends could have forgotten me already.”
Seven thirty-eight. She couldn’t be distracted. “You can stay here,” she told Lucas, “but no talking.”
Lucas said, “Even if they did see you, Mom and Dad would never—”
Nora whipped her head around and shot him an evil look. “Shhhh.” She put a finger to her lips.
Lucas changed the subject. “Forget about them. We can have an adventure together today. I found this really great—”
“Quiet!” Nora hissed, interrupting him for the second time. “I have to pay attention.” Just past the park was an apartment building much like Nora’s. The exterior had the same old-fashioned classic brickwork, but the inside had been renovated. None of their windows were stuck shut, and all their wiring worked.
Hallie and Lindsay lived in that building. In apartments on the same floor, next door to each other.
Nora had only one minute twenty-three seconds to get their attention. That was how long it took them to leave the building, walk by the park, and turn the corner toward school.
Today was the day they’d look up.
Nora could feel it in her bones.
Halloween had always been their favorite holiday. The three of them had celebrated it together every year since kindergarten. They played pranks on each other; every Halloween was a competition to see who could get the biggest scream. There was the annual haunted house at the recreation center and then they’d all go trick-or-treating in Hallie and Lindsay’s building. The night would end with a sleepover at Hallie’s apartment and an all-night scary movie marathon. Tonight was the first time Nora wouldn’t be there.
Chatting about costumes and candy would definitely make Hallie and Lindsay think of her. They’d both tilt their heads and glance at her window.
It was going to happen. Nora was sure. And she’d be there to wave to them.
“I’m just saying,” Lucas began again, “when the fire department came, they used the old plans to the apartment building like a map. They left the blueprints here. There’s a—”
“SHHHH,” Nora commanded.
Forty-two seconds until Hallie and Lindsay would be
on the street. She raised her hand and held it flat against the pane. Nora was ready to start waving.
“Your room used to be a butler’s pantry room.” Lucas stared at the side of Nora’s face. “Did you know that? These apartments were built to have servants who cooked and cleaned! The kids never had to do chores.” Lucas tried to get her attention as he said, “All your baby animal and band posters cover the original wallpaper.”
“Whatever.” Nora didn’t care. She refused to look at him. Lucas continued yammering, but Nora stopped listening. Completely focused on the street below her window, she saw the shadows of her friends darken the sidewalk before she saw them in person.
“Hallie Malik!” Nora screamed at the top of her voice. She waved both her arms wildly. “Lindsay Sanchez! Up here!”
They didn’t tip their heads.
The glass pane was thin. Several cracks had formed from the fire. It wasn’t much of a barrier.
If she listened really closely, Nora could hear them talking about Kyle Murphy, a boy in their school. So why couldn’t they hear her shouting their names like a maniac?
Nora noticed that Hallie was wearing a costume to school. In fact, as the girls stepped into the sunlight, Nora could see that both girls were wearing the outfits they’d all picked out together back in July.
Leggings and neon-colored lace tank tops. High-heeled shoes and teased-up hair. They were pop stars. This was so unfair.
Nora was supposed to be the third of their musical trio. They were going to lip-sync to their favorite song at the Halloween party at school.
To complete their outfits, the two girls were wearing matching yellow jackets with hand-embroidered flowers down the back and along one sleeve. Lindsay had found them in a small shop when she went to visit her grandmother in Mexico. She’d texted back pictures, and Nora and Hallie agreed they were perfect.
Lindsay was supposed to bring back three, but after the fire, she never stopped by to drop off Nora’s jacket.
“Hey, did you get me a jacket?” Nora shouted toward the street below. “I’ll wear mine, too. Just bring it over!”
She leaned toward the windowpane, screaming “Hey!” and “Hello!” and the girls’ names over and over. But they didn’t react.
“It’s Halloween!” Nora shrieked. “Remember?! Remember me?!”
In frustration Nora clenched her hands into fists, when Lucas suddenly reached out and grabbed both Nora’s arms.
“No!” he shouted at her, pulling her arms down. “Don’t!”
“I only have a few more seconds.” Nora yanked her hands out of his. “They’re crossing in front of our apartment building.”
“But the glass.” Lucas dove on top of Nora, pinning her arms to the bed. “It’s weak.”
He was smaller than she was. Nora easily rolled him off of her and pushed past him. She pointed one hand at the door while preparing to smack the glass with her other. “I’m only going to make a loud noise.”
“It’ll shatter!” Lucas screamed at the same time Nora yelled, “Get out of my way!” She kicked him hard in the shin. Lucas grabbed his leg. “Ow!”
Nora knew he wasn’t really hurt. Lucas had always been an excellent actor.
While Lucas made a show of rolling around and groaning, Nora bolted forward. Peeking out the window,
she could see that the girls had already passed the park. Thirteen seconds until they disappeared from sight. This was it. This was her chance.
“No!!!” Lucas screamed, grabbing his sister around the waist.
Nora pushed him away with her bare feet and popped up behind the window frame. She gave the glass a huge banging pound with both fists simultaneously.
The banging sound was loud like Nora had hoped. And, just like Lucas said it would, the glass also crumbled into a million little pieces.
Nora did a quick check of her arms. No shards of glass stuck in them. No scratches either. Nora took advantage of the broken window.
“Hallie! Lindsay!” Nora leaned out the empty frame to see them looking up toward her broken bedroom window. Nora finally had their attention. “Happy Halloween!” she called down.
Hallie looked at Lindsay, eyes wide.
Lindsay glanced at the window, then at Hallie. Her mouth hung open in a perfect O.
Nora raised her hands above her head. “Come over later! Trick-or-treat in my building tonight! I’ll ask my
parents. I’m sure they’ll let me go with—” She lost her balance. “Aughhhhh!” Nora flailed as she fell forward and farther out the window.
Lucas grabbed Nora around the waist and pulled her back an instant before she fell, ten stories to the pavement below.
“No, no, no! Let go of me!” Nora kicked him in the shin and tore out of his arms. She peered out the window frame.
The street was empty.
Her friends were gone.
Nora spun on her brother, who was sitting on the edge of her bed holding his leg. “Get out of my room. Get out and never come back!”
“I saved your life.” Lucas stood up, leaning on his left leg. “You could have fallen out the window. You should be thanking me.”
“They didn’t answer me!” Nora screamed. “They won’t come over for trick-or-treating, and I’ll never convince Mom and Dad to let me go out with them. No candy. No scary stories. Halloween is ruined! It’s all your fault!” She threw a pillow off the bed at Lucas’s head. He ducked and she missed. By a mile.
Her terrible throw made Lucas laugh. He laughed so hard tears filled his eyes. When Nora scooped up a second pillow and tossed it again, he stuck out his tongue before dodging her throw.
“WAR!” Nora declared. She leaped on her brother and wrestled him to the ground.
He was small, but quick.
Lucas managed to roll away from Nora, swooping a pillow off the floor as he made his escape. With a wallop, he hit her soundly in the side of the head.
“Ooof!” Nora grunted, grabbing the other pillow and swinging it back at Lucas with all her might.
Direct hit. The pillow smacked Lucas square in the chest, throwing him backward. The seam burst open. Nora dove forward, hitting him over and over again with the torn pillow until feathers were everywhere.
Lucas chuckled as he hit her again with his own pillow. That pillow also ripped, and more feathers poured into the room.
Back and forth they went, swinging at each other until the pillowcases were empty. Then they started throwing handfuls of feathers at each other.
“I win!” Nora exclaimed, holding her brother’s arms
behind his back. “And now you will suffer.”
“You did not win! I did!” Lucas giggled. With a mighty shove, he tipped her over and tried to hold her firm.
“This isn’t funny.” Nora was struggling against his grasp when their mother walked into the room.
“What is going on here?” Nora’s mother glanced around before calling, “Frank!” to her husband down the hall.
“Laura, I—” Mr. Wilson began as he reached Nora’s bedroom. His voice dropped. “Whoa.”
Nora and Lucas were wrapped together on the floor, a tangled mess of arms and legs.
The room was covered with white feathers. It looked like it had snowed.
The window was broken.
And shattered glass covered Nora’s bed.