Alice didn’t believe in ghosts. At least, that’s what she kept telling herself as she followed her giggling group of friends down the dark back alley that led to The Stanley House, their town’s one reputed haunted house.
As they approached the building, the moon suddenly came out from its shroud of clouds, shining on the austere facade of the house as if to spotlight their destination. The Stanley House had broken windows and a half caved-in roof, but it still managed to look elegant, even imposing, despite the fact that it was so damaged. It was fashioned of red brick and white latticework, though the latticework had grown sadly drab and dingy with age. The two large windows in the upper story of the house gave it a somehow menacing look, as if their darkened recesses were sunken eyes. Alice wiped her sweaty palms on her jeans and steadied her grip on the flashlight.
The ringleader of the group, Gwen, suddenly stopped as she reached the main gate. She looked over her shoulder at Alice, who had fallen behind. “Not scared, are you, little Alice?” she cooed, her normally gorgeous face wraith-like in the moonlight.
“N-no…” Alice replied, hating herself for stuttering.
“Good,” Gwen replied. And then she pushed open the gate.
The gate swung open despite a very creaky protest and Alice gulped, the sound audible even over the creaking. She hoped the other girls — Gwen especially — didn’t hear.
Thankfully, Gwen’s mind was on other matters. She tossed her white blond hair over her shoulder and pouted. “Stupid gate,” she said as she peered down at her hand. “Made me break a nail.”
One of the girls in their group, a petite redhead with a baby face, suddenly turned to Alice and smiled. “I bet Gwen’s scared, too,” she hissed.
Alice smiled at her, trying to remember her name. Teresa…? Tabitha…? Tess! It was so hard to keep track of all of the new names and faces she’d met since her recent move to Northern California. Let alone match the right name to the right face. Gwen had been her first friend. If she could even call her that. She’d invited her out to dinner, out shopping, out swimming, and Alice had been delighted to say yes every time.
Tonight’s invitation was the first she wished she’d turned down. But it was too late now.
The other two girls in their group, a pair of blond twins Alice could never tell apart, pushed the gate further open. One of them turned to Gwen with a taunting smile. “Not scared are you?” she teased.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Althea,” Gwen huffed. “You and Tweedle-Dee are probably more scared than me. Probably even more scared than Alice!”
Gwen and Althea laughed as Alice felt her cheeks burn, while “Tweedle-Dee” muttered, “I have a name, you know. Alanna is a perfectly good name.”
Tess patted Alanna’s shoulder. “You have a very pretty name, Alanna. Don’t worry about it. They’re just being cats.”
Althea and Gwen suddenly broke free of their group and ran towards The Stanley House, howling like banshees. They flicked their flashlights on and off, scattering light like so much confetti. Tess sighed. “Great. I told them not to draw attention to themselves. Next thing, we’ll have the cops chasing us out of here.”
Alice nodded, her attention suddenly caught by a movement up above. A flutter in a window.