Allie Nichols knew she was dreaming, but that didn’t make the feeling of being trapped in a burning building any less terrifying. Flames surrounded her, scorching her skin, licking at her clothing and hair, sucking the oxygen from the room and from her lungs until she couldn’t breathe. Frantic, blinded by smoke and coughing, she crawled across an endless floor toward a door. When she got there, the doorknob was too hot to touch. Someone was on the other side of that door, someone who would die unless she got through. But she couldn’t, she couldn’t. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t reach the door, and it was going to be too late. And then—oh no, no, no!—the ceiling came crashing down and she was trapped, and then it was too late.
Allie woke up with a sob, drenched in sweat, the taste of ashes in her mouth. She lay still, willing her heart to stop pounding, but the nightmarish urgency and the feelings of fear and desperation lingered. Not wanting to be alone, but not wanting to disturb her parents, either, she went down the hall to her little brother Michael’s room and crawled into bed with him.
“Mmmm,” he murmured sleepily.
“Okay if I get in with you for a while, Mikey?” Allie whispered.
Allie snuggled up to the curve of his warm, little four-year-old body and took a deep breath. What a dreadful dream! At first it had seemed to be happening to her. But then, in the strange logic of nightmares, she had felt as if she were watching and it was someone else who was struggling toward that door.
Who? And who was on the other side, waiting to be rescued? She couldn’t imagine, and at last grew tired of trying. Concentrating instead on the soft, even rhythm of Michael’s breathing, she finally fell back to sleep.
The vividness and power of the dream were still with her, though, when she woke up to find Michael staring at her curiously. “How come you’re here?” he asked.
“Don’t you remember when I came in?”
Michael shook his head. “Did you have a bad dream?” he asked.
“About the tree monster?” Michael asked, his eyes growing big and round.
“No,” said Allie, giving him a hug. “Not that dumb old monster. Remember? I told him he better not show up in your dreams or mine ever again or else.”
Michael giggled. “Oh yeah. Dumb monster!”
“My dream is all gone now,” Allie said, lying. Michael had a powerful imagination, just as she did. Sometimes he scared himself with his own fantasies. She didn’t want to get him started again on his old, bad dreams about the tree outside his window coming to grab him while he slept. “Come on. Let’s get some breakfast.”
The dream stayed in the back of Allie’s mind while she and Michael ate their cereal.
When their parents joined them in the kitchen, Michael announced proudly, “Allie was in my bed this morning.”
“Trouble sleeping, sweetie?” Allie’s mother asked with concern.
“A little,” Allie answered evasively. She had been trying especially hard not to give her parents any reason to worry about her, since she’d nearly died during a class field trip to Fossil Glen just three weeks before.
Allie had never figured out quite how to explain to them that the whole Fossil Glen episode had come about because she’d been helping a ghost. Now that some time had gone by, it seemed even harder to bring up the subject. Allie was afraid that her parents would start worrying again that she didn’t know the difference between fantasy and reality.
It was asking a lot to expect them to believe that the ghost of an eleven-year-old girl named Lucy Stiles, who had been murdered, had come to Allie for help in proving it. Allie didn’t know if she’d be able to accept it if it hadn’t happened to her.
The only person who knew the whole story was her best friend, Dub Whitwell. Thank goodness for Dub, she thought, not for the first time. If it wasn’t for him, she might worry that she was crazy.
As Allie walked to school, her frightful dream replayed in her mind. She tried to concentrate during language arts, but the dream kept drifting through her thoughts, accompanied by the faint smell of smoke.
She was finally roused from her reverie when Mr. Henry announced that the school’s annual Elders Day celebration was coming up the following week. A groan rose from the class.
Mr. Henry just smiled. “I know, I know,” he said calmly. “You’ve done Elders Day in May of every school year since kindergarten. And you’re tired of it. So I was thinking that instead of having each of you bring a special older friend to school for the day, as you’ve done before, we’d do something different this year.”
Joey Fratto let out a cheer. Karen Laver muttered, “This better be good,” but, as always, she made her comment too soft for Mr. Henry to hear.
Allie sat up and listened attentively. Mr. Henry was the best sixth-grade teacher in the school, the best teacher she had ever had. He had a way of making almost every subject fun and interesting. No matter what Karen said, Allie had a feeling Mr. Henry’s plan for Elders Day was going to mean excitement.
Excerpted from The Ghost and Mrs. Hobbs by Cynthia Defelice.
Copyright © 2001 by Cynthia C. DeFelice.
Published in 2001 by Square Fish.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.