Carrie Halston was playing in the garden when she saw something she shouldn't have, and that was what cost her her life.
It was a beautiful day in August. The sun was high and hot-too hot for the frilly dress her mother had insisted she wear. Through the windows of the house she could hear the strains of “Beautiful Dreamer” drifting from the gramophone her father had brought home the week before.
She liked the song. It was sad, it seemed to her, but very pretty.
She picked a handful of daisies from the formal planting and went to look for her mother, wondering when her sister would be finished making the lemonade.
The fish pond attracted her attention, and she stopped to stare into its murky waters. She loved the great shimmering fantail goldfish, their bodies as large as her hand, their tails like bridal veils, trailing out behind them. Laying the daisies on the bench, she went to get the little jar she had hidden out here the week before.
It was so much fun to watch the fish eat.
She sprinkled some food on the water and pursed her lips with delight as the golden figures floated to the surface, graceful and ghostlike. Kneeling at the edge of the pond, Carried reached for one of the fish, knowing she could never catch it, but unable to resist trying anyway.
Suddenly she slipped, and her whole arm plunged into the pond. She pulled it back as if she had been burned. Now she had done it. Her mother would be furious because she had spoiled her pretty dress.
A lump of panic forming in her throat, she replaced the cover on the jar and returned it to its hiding place.
What should she do?
She gathered her daisies and looked around frantically.
Near the summerhouse was a hiding place, a clump of bushes where she would be safely out of sight until her sleeve had dried. Then maybe she could brush away the incriminating green.
Carried hated it when her mother was angry with her. Mommy was so lovely, so pale and pretty. But when she was angry, her eyes grew wide and frightening, and her breath began to come fast. Sometimes she would even faint. That was what Carrie hated most of all; she felt guilty whenever it happened.
Parting the branches of her secret place, Carrie stepped into the cool shade. She had sneaked an old pillowcase out here early that summer; now she spread it on the ground so she could sit without getting her dress any dirtier than it already was.
She laid the daisies on her lap and began to wait.
A ripple of laughter from the summerhouse made her look up. It was her mothers' voice. She sounded happy. Maybe she was in a good mood!
Carrie looked at the daisies. They were starting to wilt a little. What if they were ruined before she could give them to her mother?
She listened carefully. There was the laugh again.
Maybe Mommy wouldn't be angry. Maybe she would like the daisies so much she wouldn't say anything at all about the dirty sleeve.
Hope rising in her heart, Carrie Halston parted the bushes and stepped into the sunlight. She let out a little gasp.
Carrie!” cried her mother, her voice filled with dismay.
Then the other one began to chase her.
Still clutching the daisies, the little girl ran back along the path to the fish pond.
“Mommy!” she cried. “Mommy, I need you!”
But there was no answer. It would be more than fifty years before Carrie Halston's mother answered her.
Lisa Burton tiptoed down the hallway of the old house, carrying a bag of potato chips, a two liter bottle of orange soda, and a pair of glasses. Her cat, Smoky, twined between her feet as she walked, barely missing being stepped on.
“This is the dumbest vacation in the history of the world,” Lisa muttered as she entered the bedroom she shared with her little sister.
Carrie, seated at the card table in front of the Monopoly game, rolled her eyes in agreement.
Outside the rain continued to fall in a slow drizzle.
Lisa sighed as she sat down to the game-their eighth in five days. Five days of rain. Five days of being trapped in a house she had never wanted to come to, with a kid sister who was sweet but, after all, only a kid, and with a father who was acting more like a caged bear by the hour as the words for his book continued to elude him.
Martin Burton was a physics professor, not a writer. But for years he had had an idea for a science fiction novel. However his summers were usually spent teaching, allowing him little time for any writing other than the academic papers he had to produce to fulfill his requirements at the university.
So he had been happy when he had gotten a grant that would free him to spend the summer working on his big project, rather than teaching. And the family had been happy for him. Then their grandmother, Dr. Alice Miles, had called with the news that she had rented the house she used to summer in as a girl, and wouldn't it be wonderful if they could all spend some time together on Sayers Island?
Before Lisa knew it, she had been yanked away from her home and her friends for the entire month of August.
Actually, it was one particular friend she would really miss. Things had just been starting to click with Dennis Rivera when she had had to leave. She sighed. He was so gorgeous; he certainly wasn't going to spend the summer feeling lonely.
Lisa's mother kept telling her that if there was anything real between them, Dennis would still be available when the summer was over. Lisa couldn't seem to explain to her that there had been only the chance for something-a chance she had very much wanted to see grow. Lisa had the feeling that even when her mother was a kid she had been old-fashioned. Maybe it was those romance novels she was always reading. True love seemed to have a better shot at surviving in those pages than it did in the real world.
“Hey, Lisa! Take your turn!”
Lisa blinked. “Sorry. I guess I was daydreaming.”
“About that hunk we saw on the beach last Saturday?”
Lisa blushed. “No, not about some guy on the beach!” she snapped.
“Well I don't know why not,” said Carrie impishly. “He was cute. I'll take him if you don't want him.”
Lisa laughed in spite of herself. “Forget it, kid. You're only ten.”
Carrie sighed. “I know. But I can dream, can't I?”
“Don't be so precocious. It's not healthy.”
“Healthy? I don't even know what precocious means.”
“Maybe we'd better drop Monopoly and switch to Scrabble. It wouldn't hurt you to get your nose inside a dictionary once in a while.”
“I take it back,” said Lisa. “You're not precocious. You're warped.” She smiled. “You're right about that guy, though. He was cute. Only he's a local. I don't think they like us summer people.”
“Summer people, schmummer people. Boys like girls and girls like boys. He was looking back at you, you know.”
Lisa felt herself blushing again. “Do you notice everything?” she asked in exasperation.
Carrie nodded. “Uh-huh. Even how red your face is getting.”
“Twerp!” cried Lisa. She threw a potato chip t her sister.
Carrie threw one back. In a matter of seconds potato chips were flying back and forth across the Monopoly board and both girls were shrieking with laughter. When the potato chips were nearly gone Lisa cleared Boardwalk and Park Place, and bounced a handful of little green houses off Carrie's forehead.
Carrie retaliated with a hotel from Marvin Gardens.
Even as the battle was escalating, Lisa knew it was a bad idea. But five days of sitting in the house and watching the rain streak the windows, tiptoeing around so they wouldn't disturb their fathers, and playing endless rounds of Monopoly had left her like a tightened spring.
Just as the hilarity reached its peak, their father appeared at the door. “Lisa!” he barked. “Carrie!”
Carrie sprang to her feet, bumping the table as she did. Orange soda began pouring across the Monopoly game. Lisa quickly righted the bottle. But the game was already soaked.
“What is going on in here?” roared their father.
Suddenly their mother appeared behind him. Taking the situation in at a glance, she laid a gentle hand on her husband's arm. “Why don't you let me handle this, Martin? You go back to your work.”
“Work? How can anyone work with all this racket? Would you two try to be a little more courteous? And careful!”
He turned and stormed away from the room.
“I'm sorry, Mom,” said Lisa. She was on the verge of tears. “I don't know what happened. We just got carried away.”
“Hey, maybe we got Lisa'd away,” said Carrie defensively.
“Carrie, be quiet,” said her mother. “Look, get this mess cleaned up-and I mean cleaned up properly-and then we'll talk about it. I'll see you downstairs in a little while.”
Lisa sighed. Her mother was angry. Well, she couldn't blame her for that. She and Carrie had acted pretty childish. But Lisa also got the feeling that her mother understood what had been behind the uproar. Maybe they wouldn't be in too much trouble.
She looked at her sister. “Let's get busy, twerplet.”
Carrie fetched the paper towels. Lisa got some water.
They began mopping up.
“I'm afraid this is all my fault,” said Alice Miles. “I feel so bad. I just wanted everyone to have a good time here in the old place.”
Lisa hated to see her grandmother upset. On the other hand, she had to agree with the old woman. It was her fault. she was the one who had dragged them here. On the other other hand, Lisa knew that she herself had done little to improve the situation. For her grandmother's sake, she would have to try harder.
“Now, Mother,” said Mrs. Burton, patting her mother's hand. “It was a perfectly lovely idea. Martin is just cranky because his writing isn't going well. And this weather has us all on edge. She paused. “Perhaps you and I should try to help the girls pass their time a little more wisely.”
Lisa's mother looked at her pointedly. Lisa felt her stomach sink a little. Though her mother wasn't terribly angry, she certainly wasn't pleased with the two of them.
She turned her eyes away and looked out the window. The rain was still coming down. It's not fair, she thought sullenly. At least they all have some reason to want to be here-Daddy to finish his book; Gramma because she used to live here and she's on some memory trip; Mom and Carrie because it's more fun to be away in the summer than at home. And Smoky doesn't care where he is, as long as we feed him. If they don't like the rain, too bad. At least they wanted to be here. All I want is to be home with Dennis.
“Perhaps we could take the girls to the movie over in Bridgeport,” suggested her grandmother.
“We've seen it,” said Lisa.
“Well, was it any good?”
“Oh,” said Dr. Miles softly. Lisa felt guilty again.
“Now listen, girls,” said her mother sharply. “I know being stuck here in this weather hasn't been very pleasant. But it's not the end of the world. Nobody with any common sense and brains had any business being bored. There are all kinds of things you can do with your time. Read, write, draw-”
“For five straight days?” protested Carrie.
“All right. It has been a long time. We just have to make the best of it. Your father has waited six years for a chance to focus on this book. He's worked very had to take care of us during that time. Now it's time we turned around and showed him little consideration.”
Lisa felt worse than ever. “You're right, Mom. We'll try. But we really didn't mean to cause trouble. Honest. It just sort of happened.”
Her mother's face softened. “I know, honey. And I know how bored you are. But it seems strange. Your grandmother spent quite a few summers here with no television or stereo, and she survived.”
“Well, what did you do, Gramma?” asked Lisa.
Dr. Miles looked surprised. “Oh, all sorts of things. Let's see. We did go to the movies a lot. Hmmm. that was only once a week, now that I think about it. That still left a lot of time open, didn't it?”
She didn't wait for an answer.
“What else? We listened to the radio, of course. And we talked to each other. I think we talked more in those days than people do now. And we used to play what they called parlor games. Monopoly was invented sometime around them. but some of our games were more imaginative than that. We invented things. Used our minds.”
Suddenly her face lit up.
“I remember one of my favorites. It wasn't a game, really. It was a kind of-well, it was just something you did. It was like a seance. Really very silly. We called it automatic writing.”
“What's a seance?” asked Carrie.
“It's when people sit around and ask spirits to come and visit them,” answered Lisa.
Carrie looked at her grandmother with new respect. “You used to do that?”
Dr. Miles laughed. “Well, we used to try. I was much younger than, and it was quite popular around her for a while.”
“Let's try it.”
Dr. Miles looked at her daughter. Mrs. Burton frowned slightly, then shrugged and said, “Oh, I don't see why not. Go ahead and set things up, Mother.”
Dr. Miles smiled. “I think you'll enjoy this,” she said enthusiastically. “Lisa, you pull down the shades. Carrie, help me move this end table. Judith, would you bring some chairs from the kitchen so we can sit around this little table?”
Lisa smiled. Her grandmother had always seemed young, as grandmothers go. But now she was almost like a child in her excitement. She bustled about, arranging this, shifting that, as if everything had to be perfect for the “phenomenon” to take place-as if the spirits, or the mind, or whatever it was they were trying to call on, wouldn't cooperate if the place was a little out of order.
“There!” Dr. Miles stood back and surveyed the room with satisfaction. “That looks just fine. Now, let's all sit around the table. Who wants to go first? Lisa?”
Lisa shrugged. “Sure, I'll give it a try.”
“Good. Carrie, you go turn off the lights.”
Carrie ran to the wall and switched off the lights, which left the room was surprisingly dark. Carrie, Lisa, and Mrs. Burton took their places around the table while Dr. Miles got a candle.
“Well, at least its not Monopoly,” whispered Carrie. “I was so sick of passing Go I thought I would barf.”
Lisa kicked her sister's ankle and hissed a quick “Shhh!” at her. She didn't want their grandmother feeling any worse than she already did.
Setting the candle in the center of the table, Mrs. Miles looked directly at Carrie and said, “We must be very serious. Otherwise, it won't work. Lisa, put this in front of you.” She handed Lisa a pad of writing paper. “Hold the pencil loosely.”
Lisa did as she was told.
“Now close your eyes.”
Again, Lisa did as she was told. In spite of herself, she began to feel a little tingly. There was something definitely eerie about doing all this in such an old house, on such a dark, dreary day.
“Carrie, Judith, join hands with me. Carrie and I will put our hands on Lisa's elbows, to close the circle.”
Lisa felt the pressure of their fingertips at her elbows. She found it oddly reassuring.
“Now, you two also close your eyes. Close your eyes and concentrate.”
For a moment there was silence. Then Dr. Miles said, “O spirits from the other side, if there are any here who wish to communicate with us, now is the time. Give us your message.”
Lisa felt a shiver skitter down her spine. Then she heard Carrie trying to hold in a snort. She could almost sense her mother's look of disapproval. She wondered how she could do that with her eyes closed.
“Carrie,” said Dr. Miles. “Please concentrate.”
Lisa sat with her fingers loose, her hands resting on the pad. Suddenly she let out a little gasp. She had felt a terrible chill, as though a cold hand had been placed on her neck. Next she heard a loud knock sound, like someone banging on the table.
She tried to open her eyes, and found that they were sealed shut!
The table began to vibrate.
It lurched forward.
Without her telling it to, Lisa's hand began to move.
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