"Well, Miss Nonsense of America!" Mart hooted from the backseat of the Bob-White station wagon. "You’ve done it now!"
Trixie flushed. It was one thing when Jim teasingly called her that, but it was an entirely different story when it came from the mouth of her almost twin.
"I don’t know what you’re talking about," Trixie said with a sniff and a toss of her sandy curls.
"Let me clue you in then, squaw…" Mart began, but Brian, sensing the onset of another infamous argument between his younger siblings, intervened.
"What Mart means is," Brian said, with a stern look at his brother, "is that it looks as though we’re a little lost."
Trixie frowned and looked down at the map she held. According to the directions she had carefully copied down, the cider mill should have been here. Unfortunately, all that sat at the spot was an old farmhouse. A slight distance from the farmhouse was a barn, its open doors revealing a carriage, the type of which was popular in the nineteenth century. On the bank of the nearby pond was a rowboat that looked very much like the Water Witch.
"We’re not lost, Brian," Dan said, a mischievous look in his eyes. "We know where we are. It’s the cider mill that’s lost."
Six of the seven members of the club chuckled at Dan’s joke, but Trixie scowled as she looked at the map. "It should be here," she insisted. "And now we’re going to miss the scavenger hunt!"
"Maybe we could go inside and ask for directions," Honey suggested in a soothing voice as she peered up at the farmhouse. Although it seemed well maintained, it also somehow appeared vacant…abandoned. Woods surrounded the house, and the oaks and maples were already boasting fiery reds and golden yellows that glowed under the October sun. A field to the east of the house was bare.
"I guess we’d better," Trixie answered Honey with a reluctant sigh.
"Who wants to go?" Jim asked. "I don’t think all of us need to go barging up there."
Di surprised the group by volunteering immediately. At their startled looks, she explained. "The house looks like a classic. I bet there’s a lot of neat antiques inside, and I was hoping to get a peek at them."
Mart smiled affectionately at the dark-haired beauty. "And if they’re fakes, you’ll be able to spot them, even without Trixie’s magnifying glass," he said, referring to a mystery that Di had helped Trixie and Honey solve with her knowledge of antiques.
Di smiled at Mart. "Well, I don’t know about that," she said modestly.
Impatient as always, Trixie interrupted the conversation. "Well, it’s settled then. Di and I will go to the house and ask for directions." She was already halfway out of the car, and Di had to scramble to catch up with her friend.
As the two teenagers made their way toward the farmhouse, the air became eerily still. As Di looked up at the house, she suddenly felt a strong sense of foreboding, and she felt a chill to her very core. "I’m not so sure about this," she said.
"What do you mean?" Trixie demanded. "I thought you wanted to look at antiques."
"I do, but I suddenly got a feeling that we are not welcome at this house," Di explained, an apprehensive look on her face.
"There’s nothing to be afraid of, Di," Trixie reassured her friend. Then, at that moment, a cloud covered the sun just as a strong, cold wind picked up and blew through the yard.
"Really?" Di asked, stopping. "Then what was that?"
Trixie smiled. "It’s October. Sudden winds are common in October."
"But it had been so still before. Creepy still."
Trixie tugged on Di’s arm impatiently to get her to follow her. "It’s October," she repeated stubbornly. "It’s no big deal."
Di reluctantly followed her friend onto the covered porch, which ran the entire length of the front of the house and wrapped around to the side. Trixie tried the doorbell, but it didn’t work, so she lifted her hand to knock on the door. But, before her knuckles met wood, the door swung open. Trixie frowned.
"Something is not right, Trixie," Di hissed. "Let’s get out of here!"
Trixie ignored a little niggle of doubt and said, in a voice more confident than she felt, "It must not have been shut tight, and that gust of wind blew it open is all."
She grasped the door handle and poked her head inside. "Hello?" she called. "Anybody home? Your front door is open." Not hearing a response, Trixie stepped tentatively inside. "Hello? Anybody home?"
She turned to Di. "I don’t think anyone’s home."
"Then shut the door and let’s go," Di said urgently, already heading toward the porch steps.
"I want to explore," Trixie stated.
Di stopped on the top step and turned to her friend. Trixie’s response was not unpredictable, but it was usually Honey, and not Di, who had to deal with Trixie’s curious streak and wanton disregard for personal safety. She sighed, knowing that she could never let her friend go in there alone, in spite of—or maybe because of—her feeling of foreboding. With one last longing glance at the BWG station wagon, she joined her friend on the other side of the threshold.
The girls found themselves in a very simple entryway. The floors were hardwood, with a simple braided throw rug in front of the door. To the left stood an old-fashioned coat tree and umbrella stand. No coats hung from the wooden hooks, but an old umbrella stood in its stand. A set of stairs led upstairs to their right. The wooden balusters of the staircase banister were clearly handcrafted, and the newel post was decorated with a plain wooden ball.
"Hello? Anybody home?" Trixie called again.
When there was no answer, Di said, "Okay, Trixie. You’ve explored, I don’t see any antiques, we’re intruding on someone else’s house, and we should go now."
But her words fell on deaf ears. "What if someone is in the house and hurt, Di? We should make sure." Trixie could reason her way into or out of just about any situation.
Di sighed, acknowledging the truth of Trixie’s words. "Fine, but can’t we get the boys?"
Trixie snorted. "You know how the boys are. Mart will tease me mercilessly, and Jim and Brian have no sense of adventure."
"That’s not true, Trixie," Di chided. "Both Jim and Brian are great sports. They just have a healthy dose of responsibility is all."
"Yeah, that’s true," Trixie agreed. "But we can explore this place quickly and then just get them if we need help."
The girls moved past the entry hall and into a large, open area. To the left was a simple kitchen, with cast iron pots and pans hanging on the walls and wood stove in one corner. In front of them was the dining room, a large trestle table and benches filling most of the room. A large window afforded a view of a small grassy area bordered by the woods. To the right was a large living room. Only a counter separated the kitchen from the dining room, and a wooden railing and a step separated the dining room from the living room. The large, open effect was a pleasing one.
It was in the living room that Diana was in heaven. Despite herself, she was drawn to the room with its lovely, Eastlake furniture. The room held a couch, two end tables, a coffee table, and two needlepoint corner chairs. A brass Rayo lamp sat on each end table on either side of the couch. On the wall above the couch hung a still life painting of fruits that reminded Trixie very much of the one that had hung at Ten Acres before it had burned to the ground. She had found Jim’s great aunt’s diamond ring behind that painting, and she was tempted to poke this painting just to see if it swung open to reveal a wall safe.
As Di reverently touched the nineteenth-century furniture, Trixie controlled her urge, realizing that looking for wall safes and ensuring no one was hurt inside the empty house were two very different things.
"Di? I’m going to head upstairs to check things out, okay?"
Di reluctantly turned her attention away from the furniture. "I’ll come with you," she said, and the two girls headed back through the entryway and up the stairs.
As they reached the top of the stairs, a sudden rush of freezing air blew across them. There were no windows in the upstairs hallway and all three doors were shut. As Di clutched her arm, Trixie looked around for the possible source of the wind. She could find none.
She opened her mouth to call out to see if anybody was there, but before she had a chance, a piercing scream filled the air. She and Di glanced at each other and then ran to the closest door, throwing it open to reveal a simply decorated bedroom with more Eastlake furniture, but no possible source for the scream. The second door revealed the same. When the girls tried the third door, another bedroom met their gaze, but this time they saw a girl of about twelve standing in front of the bed. Her dark hair was plaited into two long braids, and her clothes were straight out of the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog—circa1897.
The girl smiled at them, a cold, chilling smile, and took a step forward. As she did, a disembodied voice filled the air.
"Not these. Not these two."
At that the girl stopped moving forward, disappointment washing over her plain features. Then, as Trixie and Di stared in horrified fascination, the girl simply vanished. The two teens stood rooted to the spot, unable to move or speak.
Then, from nowhere, a voice in a child’s timber but with an unspeakable evil underlying it said, "Leave my house now."
Trixie and Di were only too happy to obey and raced down the stairs and out of the house. When they reached the front porch, they were shocked to see the scene before them.
Joining the Bob-White station wagon in the driveway was the Lynches’ sleek black sedan, the Beldens’ station wagon, and about a half-dozen police cruisers. The October sun no longer hung in the sky. Instead, a full Hunter’s Moon shown above them.
Trixie and Di had stared at each other. What the heck had just happened? They made their way down the steps and toward the Bob-Whites, who were standing in a cluster near the station wagon.
Jim was the first to spot the girls. He came running, with the other club members on his heels, the two girls’ parents not far behind. Soon, the frightened girls were engulfed in bear hugs. When everyone seemed to realize the girls were safe, the barrage of questions began.
Finally, Peter Belden, with his daughter in his arms, put a stop to the chaotic chatter. "One at a time, please," he requested in his authoritative voice. "First, are you girls okay?"
At their nods, Jim asked, "Where have you been?"
"Inside the house," Trixie answered, too confused to say anything more. "Why didn’t you look for us if you were so worried?"
"We did!" the other five members of the Bob-Whites chorused together. "But it’s a wreck in there," Jim added. "The floor was rotting out, and the walls are practically falling down, so it was hard to look for you without endangering ourselves. The police couldn’t do much better."
Trixie and Di exchanged looks. "Everything looked safe to us," Trixie said. "Di wanted to see the furniture in the living room and—"
"Furniture?" Dan interrupted. "There’s no furniture in there."
"Yes, there is," Di said. "It’s beautifully preserved Eastlake furniture from the 1890s. It’s just gorgeous."
The Bob-Whites and the girls’ parents exchanged looks and then turned back to Trixie and Di. "So, you were in the living room the whole time?" Edward Lynch asked.
Trixie and Di shook their heads, and Trixie explained, "We went upstairs to see if anyone was hurt, because—"
This time it was Brian who interrupted. "Upstairs? You went upstairs?"
"But, Trixie," Honey objected, "the stairs were completely rotted. Most of the stairs were missing, and it’s completely impossible to climb them."
"They were fine, and we did climb them," Trixie said stubbornly, wondering whether she had lost her mind, or her friends had. "Didn’t we, Di?"
Di nodded, her violet eyes were filled with confusion. "I don’t understand," she said in a lost voice. "We were only in there ten minutes."
"Ten minutes?" Mart said, stunned. "Di, you’ve been missing for ten hours."
"What did I tell you?" the booming voice of a policeman filled the shocked silence. "These girls are lucky to have escaped the ghost of Margaret Rose."
Trixie noted the looks on her friends’ and family’s faces as the policeman joined the group. Clearly, this was not the first they had heard of this Margaret Rose. "Ghost?" she asked.
The policeman, whose name tag read "Butler", answered her. "Every year on this day, we get a report of a girl going missing on this property. Local legend has it that a little girl was murdered in this house on this day back in 1898—newspaper accounts and police reports, what few there are, seem to corroborate this story. At least, the police reports indicate that the original owners’ daughter went missing on this date, and the father was suspected of murdering her. As the girl’s body was never found, charges were never pressed. Legend has it that the girl was murdered and now she lures other girls to this spot each year on the anniversary. Some people say that the little girl is looking for other girls to play with in the great beyond. Others say that the girl tries to offer up an innocent victim in her place so that her father will spare her life. Either way, none of the missing girls have ever been found. You’re the first I’ve ever known to escape."
Trixie and Di stared at each other, remembering the little girl and the voice that had spoken to her.
Not these. Not these two.
Had they almost become sacrificial lambs in some century-old murder-mystery? Was the little girl they had seen really Margaret Rose? Was the voice her father’s voice? Why had they been spared?
As if reading their thoughts, Office Butler said, "I think you’re lucky you went in there together. Had either one of you been alone…"
Trixie and Di stared at each other. Could that be it? Had they been spared because they were together? The two turned around and stared at the farmhouse, which looked more foreboding than ever in the moonlight.
They would probably never know…
* * *
Author's notes: This is an entry for Wendy and Dana's VTC Writing Challenge, which is Jix CWC #19. Many thanks to Wendy for suggesting this challenge and getting my creative juices flowing! It was a lot of fun to whip this short little guy out over the weekend. :) This story was, however, self-edited for sake of time--sorry for any mistakes! For those keeping track, the word count is exactly the maximum of the challenge--2500 words!