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The Final Nightmare
The House on Cherry Street, Book Three
By Rodman Philbrick, Lynn Harnett
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1995 Rodman Philbrick and Lynn Harnett
All rights reserved.
My sister and I were alone. Really alone. And something inside the house on Cherry Street wanted to hurt us, just like it had hurt the baby-sitter.
"Jay-sonnnnn! Jason come here!"
That was Sally, my four-year-old sister. Sally was outside, watching the ambulance take the baby-sitter away after she'd fallen and gotten knocked out.
I'd gone back into the house—a house I knew was haunted—to call my parents. I wasn't going to tell them about the ghost because they'd never believe me.
In as calm a voice as possible I was going to ask my parents to come right home. Come home before it was too late.
But the phone number was gone. I had no idea how to reach them.
"That's it," I said to myself. "I've got to get us out of here."
I headed for the front door, determined not to spend another moment in that creepy old house. No way.
Just as I got to the door, the lock snapped shut!
Eerie laughter echoed from inside the walls. Laughter of a witch who'd been dead for a hundred years. Laughter from an empty tomb.
I pounded my fist on the door. It was no use—the house had taken me prisoner.
"Jayyy-ssssssonnnnnnn!" something whispered from the dark.
It wasn't my sister's voice. It wasn't the voice of anything alive.
"Get out!" I shouted. "Get out of this house and leave us alone!"
Who was I kidding? You can't scare a ghost away by shouting. The thing was here to stay—and now it wanted to keep me here forever, too.
Maybe someday I'd be the ghost in the walls. Maybe I'd be the spirit who wandered around at night, repeating the moment of my death.
I shuddered at the thought—I had to get out before the creeping fear drove me crazy.
"Jason, come quick!"
That was Sally, calling from outside. It sounded like she was in trouble.
I raced to a window, but it slammed shut just as I got there.
Then something moved behind me. I whirled around, but all I could see were shadows. Dark, murky shadows reaching out to touch me.
I closed my eyes. "Get a grip," I told myself. "Your eyes are playing tricks again."
But when I opened my eyes, something was reaching for me.
A hand came out of the darkness and grabbed me.CHAPTER 2
It was my sister. Standing there tugging on my arm as she looked up at me.
"How'd you get in here?" I demanded.
"I walked in the door, silly," she said.
I looked and saw moonlight coming in through the open door. And just a minute before it had been locked.
"Come on," I said, grabbing Sally's hand. "We're getting out of here!"
I expected the door to slam shut just as we got there, but it didn't. It was like the house had decided to let us go for the time being.
As we ran down the driveway, away from the house, I looked back. Expecting to see a small, ghostly face in the window. The face of the little boy who'd died there a long time ago.
But the windows were empty. Like a row of broken glass eyes, as dark as the shadows that lurked inside the house.
"Come on," Sally said, urging me on. "They're almost here!"
"What are you talking about?"
"Mom and Dad," she said. "They're coming back."
I took hold of Sally and stopped her in her tracks. "Hang on," I said. "Don't get your hopes up. Mom and Dad aren't due back until the end of the week."
Sally shook her head and stamped her feet. A sure sign that she was about to have a temper tantrum. For once in my life I couldn't blame her—she'd been awake all night, running from the spirits that had taken over the house. And with the baby-sitter gone she wanted her mommy back, just like any four-year-old.
"Sally, listen to me," I said. "We'll be okay. We'll go over to the neighbor's house and use the phone from there."
The moonlight was fading from the night sky. Soon it would be morning—maybe things would look better in the light of day. But Sally wasn't in the mood to wait.
"They're coming, Jason. Bobby told me they're coming."
Bobby told her. Great. Bobby was the little boy who'd died in the house. Bobby was a ghost. Bobby was scary but he wasn't bad really. Just confused. And lonely. He wanted Sally to stay with him—even if she had to become a ghost too.
Unfortunately, Bobby wasn't the only ghost. There was an evil witch who hated everything, especially children, even dead children like Bobby. And this horrible house wanted to kill me and Sally. I knew now that only ghosts could live here.
Of course my parents didn't believe in ghosts—they thought Bobby was an "invisible friend" my sister had invented. They never heard the phantom voices or saw the skeleton creature that came out of the dark when you least expected it. They blamed it on my overactive imagination, or bad dreams, or the usual creaks and groans peculiar to an old house. And so they had gone away on a business trip, leaving my sister and me with Katie, a teenaged baby-sitter.
Katie hadn't believed in ghosts, either. Not at first. But now she knew better. Better than to ever return to the house on Cherry Street.
"Mommy!" Sally cried. "Daddy!"
She let go of my hand and ran away before I could stop her. I shouted but she kept going, disappearing into the row of tall, shadowy pines that surrounded the house and hid it from the main road.
"Wait for me!"
I took off as fast as I could, but slipped and fell on the slick pine needles. WHAM! I landed hard enough to knock the wind out of me.
When I got my breath back I'd lost sight of my little sister.
"Sally," I called out. "Come back!"
But there was no answer. Could that evil old witch-thing be chasing her? Sally wouldn't run from little Bobby. She didn't know anything about ghosts. She thought Bobby was her friend.
Sally didn't understand how he wanted her to be his friend forever—to be a ghost like him.
I almost reached the road before I caught sight of Sally again. She was jumping up and down at the side of the driveway in her pajamas, clutching her stuffed bunny and shouting, "Mommy! Mommy!" over and over.
Dropping down beside her, I said, "Sally, you shouldn't run from me like that."
"But Mommy and Daddy are coming," said Sally, pointing down the road. "I saw them."
Saw them? Impossible.
"You couldn't have, Sally," I said. "You can't see the road from the yard."
But Sally kept bouncing up and down, looking down the road like she expected Mom and Dad to drive up any second.
Well, at least we were away from the house. The sun was high enough now so it almost cleared the tops of the trees. In a little while we could go to Steve's house and use the phone.
Steve's family spent summers in the house next door. He'd help me figure out what to do.
Then I saw a glint of metal as a car rounded a bend in the road. My heart skipped a beat.
Hardly anybody drove down here. There was nothing at the end of Cherry Street but the lake. The only houses were a few summer cottages and our gabled old monstrosity.
I caught another glimpse of the car. This time there was no doubt. It was definitely our family station wagon! I wanted to leap for joy like Sally.
Then I remembered. The house was a total wreck. Our baby-sitter was in the hospital. And Mom and Dad didn't believe in ghosts.
How was I going to explain it all?CHAPTER 3
The car jolted to a stop. My dad had the window rolled down and he was leaning out and grinning at us.
"The job got through sooner than we expected," he said. "How did you know we were coming?"
"What a nice surprise!" said my mom, getting out of the car. Then suddenly her smile faded and was replaced by a look of concern. "What's Sally doing in her pajamas and no shoes?"
Dad checked out Sally and frowned. "You've got some explaining to do, Jay. And now that I think of it, where's the baby-sitter? Don't tell me you sneaked out here without telling her."
"Um," I said. "Yeah, well, you see ..."
How was I going to tell them that a ghost had injured our baby-sitter?
"Bobby was in trouble," said Sally helpfully. "Katie hit her head."
"Ah, what happened is, Katie got hurt," I said uneasily. "I had to call an ambulance. They took her to the hospital."
"When? How badly is she injured?" Dad asked urgently.
"Do her parents know?" asked Mom.
"Pretty bad," I said. "She was unconscious. It just happened. I couldn't call anybody because, um, the phone is out of order."
Mom and Dad looked at each other, horrified.
"But, Jason, what happened?" demanded Mom.
I tried to explain but Mom and Dad just looked more bewildered and upset.
"Get in the car," said Dad finally. "We'll check with the hospital, Carol. Then we'll fetch Katie's parents and go see how she is."
I was so relieved to have them home I almost forgot about what a wreck the house was until I was settled in the backseat headed up the driveway.
Should I try now to explain? No time. Besides, they wouldn't believe me until they saw it for themselves. I'd tell them everything as soon as we got to the house. At least now they'd have to admit I wasn't making it up about the ghosts.
As we drove under the pines, sunlight glinted off the windows of the house—just exactly like the first day we'd arrived.
But wait! The house didn't have any glass in the windows. They'd all blown in last night! Every one of them!
But now each pane was smooth and perfect, sparkling in the early morning sunshine.CHAPTER 4
Mom and Dad hurried toward the house while I hung back, getting their suitcase out of the car. Sally put her hand in mine as Mom and Dad climbed the porch stairs.
I braced myself. Mom had the front door open. Any second now she would let out a yell when she saw all the furniture and antiques that had been smashed up during the night of horror.
Mom disappeared inside. Dad, too. They didn't make a sound.
Sally and I looked at each other.
"Bobby fixed it," she said. "He fixed everything, even the phone."
"Not this time," I said. "No way. It was like a bomb went off in there."
"You'll see," she said, smiling secretly.
We went up the porch and into the house and stopped in the broad front hallway. Everything was back in its place.
The living room couch and chairs had been moved back to where they belonged around that ugly, barf-colored rug my mother liked so much. The tinkly lamps were back on their tables, the broken vases and candlesticks and china figures were back on their shelves, perfectly whole.
I shouldn't have been surprised. It had happened once before. At night during the worst of the haunting the air was thick with flying objects exploding into smithereens against the wall or ceiling or floor. Then in the morning it was like nothing had happened.
But I thought this time it would be different. This time Katie had been hurt—the house had tried to kill us, not just scare us away. For me that changed things.
But not for the ghosts who roamed the house on Cherry Street. Now I knew they didn't care who they hurt or how badly.
Sally gripped my hand tightly. "Maybe Katie's head is all better," she said, looking around at the rooms she had last seen littered with broken glass and overturned furniture.
"No, Sally, she's not all better," I said, kneeling down in front of her. I pushed up my sleeve to show Sally the cut I'd gotten last night from flying glass. It wasn't a big cut, but it hadn't magically disappeared, either. "People don't go back together like chairs and lamps. When people get hurt, they stay hurt."
Sally's lower lip trembled.
I felt bad but I had to try to make Sally understand the danger. The ghosts were already dead. Why should they care what happened to living people?
Sally and I followed the sound of voices into the kitchen. Mom was on the phone to the hospital. She looked pale and worried.
"Thank God," she said when she hung up the phone. "They said Katie will be okay. Her parents are already at the hospital."
Relief made my knees turn rubbery. And for some strange reason my stomach felt swirly, like I was going to throw up.
"Jay?" Dad asked. "Are you okay?"
I nodded and took a deep breath.
"You're both exhausted," Mom said. "Why don't you guys take a quick nap while your father and I finish unpacking? We'll wake you up in an hour or so and we'll all have a big breakfast. How does that sound?"
"Sounds good, Mom," I said, yawning. She was right. I was exhausted.
I walked my little sister upstairs and put her to bed. She hugged her stuffed bunny and was asleep before her head hit the pillow.
Out in the hallway I was heading for my bedroom when a door creaked open behind me.
I turned. The attic door had swung open. A cool breeze came down the attic stairs.
Forget it, Jason, I told myself. Go to bed.
But something drew me to that attic door. Why was a breeze coming down from up there? I had to find out.
My feet made not a sound on the steps. Not even a creak.
Sunlight shone yellow through the opening at the top of the stairs. I could see dust hanging thick in the air like a misty curtain.
I stepped into the attic.
I gasped in surprise. And instantly bent over coughing as the dust flowed down my throat. But I didn't care.
The attic was a wreck!
The walls were totally smashed in. There were big holes in the floor.
And Bobby's rocking chair was still there!
The little rocking chair was the only thing that wasn't smashed to bits—everything else was broken or damaged.
Even my parents would have to believe the house was really haunted when they saw this!
I was about to yell for my dad. Then I heard something move behind me. A rustling, sneaky sound in the shadows.
The back of my neck tingled.
I was slowly turning around to look when a horrible voice spoke right by my ear. A creaky, raspy voice of the undead.
"You!" it shrieked. "It's all your fault! I'll get you! I'll get you for good!"
I spun around. My heart leaped into my throat.
The witch-thing was there, eyes glowing from inside her black cloak. The same creature who haunted the place in the dark.
It charged straight for me, snarling.
I was frozen to the spot.
Her eyes burned with fury.
One gnarled claw reached for my throat. In the other she held the sledgehammer. The same hammer that had smashed these walls to bits.
She cackled. Her black eyes glittered with vengeful glee.
I couldn't move.
Cold, bony fingers closed around my neck.
The last thing I saw was the blur of the sledgehammer. Then the world went black.CHAPTER 5
Everything hurt. I was afraid to open my eyes and look.
I strained my ears. Was the witch-thing still there? I couldn't hear a thing.
But I felt her crouching over me, waiting. As soon as I opened my eyes she would pounce.
I lay there for what seemed like forever. My nose began to itch. Then my knee. I tried to work out a plan but the itching filled my whole head. I had to move.
Very carefully I opened my eyes a slit. No witch. I moved my head an inch. Nobody there.
I blew out my breath and jumped up, scratching all over.
She must have really knocked me with that sledgehammer. I hurt in places I didn't know I had.
But she hadn't killed me, even though I knew I had seen murder in her eyes. Maybe she was weaker in the daytime. Yes, that was probably it! The sun sapped her strength.
I hobbled toward the door, working out a new plan in my head. A way to stop the haunting!
Then I heard a thud downstairs. And another.
The floor began to shake with the force of these new blows. Was the witch-thing taking her sledgehammer to the living room?
I was tempted to stay hidden up here until the noise stopped. But whatever was happening downstairs, Mom and Dad would think I was responsible.
I had to try to stop it.
Before I could change my mind, I left the attic. Pausing in the second floor hallway, I couldn't hear anything breaking. No crunches or splinterings or tinkling of glass.
Just BANG! BANG! BANG!
I crept down the stairs to the first floor. There was no one in the living room or the dining room. The sound was coming from the back of the house.
My feet pulled me along the hallway to the kitchen. My mind was blank—it was as if I'd lost control of my body.
The pounding got louder.
Excerpted from The Final Nightmare by Rodman Philbrick, Lynn Harnett. Copyright © 1995 Rodman Philbrick and Lynn Harnett. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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