Ellie sat in Toby's treehouse. They still called it Toby's treehouse though he hadn't used it for the longest time. He went out with his friends instead and came home too late, sometimes smelling of alcohol, which drove Ellie's parents mad. She'd heard the rows.
Ellie thought they were all crazy, all of them. She liked to sit in the treehouse, liked being on her own. It was good training, since she was going to be a spy, stake-out duty in the treehouse, seeing how still and quiet she could lie.
She'd pinched binoculars from her dad's drawer, the ones he used for birdwatching. She had a book full of notes too. Her Aunty Lyn had given her a book; Harriett the Spy. Only Ellie was going to be even better and smarter, not leave her book lying around like that Harriett.
So far the book didn't have much in it. Just maps of where Fluffbucket, the Henderson's cat, had done his business, bits about Mrs. Pesticcio's frequent visits to her mailbox and Michael Downland skateboarding up and down his parents' drive. The best thing that had happened so far was when she'd seen old Mr Guldfeldt stand in his garden and pick his nose. He'd stared at what he'd dug out on his finger and then popped it in his mouth. Ellie, laughing so hard she almost rolled out of the treehouse, had to stuff her hand into her mouth or he'd have heard her for sure.
Now though, she got to watch a new family move in. Their stuff had all been delivered, two huge truckloads, the day before. She'd hoped they might have a girl her age. There was no one else her age in the street, the nearest being Michael, and they had a kind of war going on. Now, she saw there were only three of them, a dad and mom and a teenage girl. The teenage girl was staring about like she couldn't believe in what she saw.
Ellie watched as they got out of their car. The dad checked out something on the drive while the mom started grabbing boxes out of the back, calling to him. They both ignored the girl, who just stood and stared hatefully and fiddled with the zipper on her jacket.
Ellie couldn't quite hear what they were saying. She crept forward a little, wriggling on her stomach. The mom was just handing the dad a large box. As Ellie watched, one of the flaps came up and she saw for a moment what was inside.
And it was alive.