As soon as my mommy and daddy back out of the driveway, Anna tells me to lock the door with the deadbolt and chain.
“What about Maggie?” I ask.
“I’m the babysitter tonight,” Anna says.
The others gather the candles and matches. Anna says she has a new game for us and keeps it in a white bag. We follow her up the stairs.
Once in the attic, Anna pulls up the trapdoor and draws the curtain over the window. It’s freezing up here, and our breath turns into clouds, and my fingers burn with ice. It’s cold and dark when we play our games.
Anna directs us to our spots in the center of the room. We settle in a row, oldest to youngest.
“I want to be the leader!” Edith complains. “I’ve been in the woods the longest!”
“Shut up!” Anna tells her. “I’m the leader because I’m the oldest. Besides, I know how to play this game!”
“What’s the game?” Edith wants to know.
“It’s special,” Anna says. “I found it just for her.”
“Me?” I ask.
“Yes, it’s an initiation.”
“It’s what?” I ask.
“You want to be one of us, don’t you?” Anna tips her head and waits for me to nod.
Taylor is crying. She cries a lot. I light the candles, and she calms down. Edith is never scared and never cries. I think it’s because she’s from the woods and is used to the dark. I don’t think Anna knows how to be scared.
Anna is smiling and places the bag on her lap, and Taylor starts to cry all over again.
“Shut up, Taylor,” Anna yells. “You’re such a baby! Shut up, or I’ll blow out the candles!”
Taylor sticks her thumb in her mouth, and I pat her head.
“How do you know how to play?” Edith asks.
“I read it in a book,” Anna says and shows her a book.
The game begins the same way all the others do, with Anna dragging the piece of white chalk behind us, drawing a circle. But this time, she is drawing something else in the middle.
“What’s that?” I ask.
“It’s going to be a star,” Edith says.
“No! Don’t! Stop!”
“Shut up, Taylor!” Anna says. She tells us to sing the song, so we do.
“The more we are together, together, together, the more we are together, the happier we’ll be!”
When Anna is finished drawing, she sits in the middle of the star and holds the white bag. She tells us to close our eyes and hold out our hands. We do.
She takes from the bag a small heavy thing and passes it. We each touch the cold metal. We hold it and feel its curves and smooth handle and the round opening of its nose.
Anna takes it back and then tells us to hold out our hands again and to keep our eyes closed. We do.
I feel something drop in my hands. It’s small and tube-shaped, with a flat bottom on one end and a rounded tip on the other. It smells like the fireplace. Ann takes it back.
“Keep your eyes closed,” Anna tells us. We do.
I hear a click and then feel the heavy thing in my hand again.
“Here, you have to hold it like this, now,” Anna says and helps me. “Steady…steady…”
I feel cold metal press against my forehead.
Taylor is crying harder.
“Shut up!” Anna says. “Keep your eyes closed, it’ll only be a second!”
I hear the wind. It seeps through the roof and the cracks in the walls. It whistles and whistles and seems to make the light bulb grow brighter and brighter.
“Hurry,” Edith cries.
The wind howls and howls, it shrieks until my ears hurt and until the light bulb breaks and the candles blow out. Everybody screams.
The wind stops howling. The heavy thing is taken out of my hands. We wait in the dark for something to happen. I blink, but I can’t see any of them in the blackness. I blink but then can’t open my eyes.
Far away, I hear banging. The banging gets louder until it seems I’m sitting on top of each knock. I hear my parents calling my name.
I hear the creak of the trapdoor opening and hear the ladder spilling out. I still can’t open my eyes.
My daddy carries me downstairs to the couch. My mommy rubs warmth back into my arms, legs, and face until I open my eyes.
“For crying out loud!” Daddy yells. “What is going on around here?”
“Honey?” Mommy says, “What happened? Did you forget your babysitter was coming over? You deadbolted the door, and she couldn’t get in.”
Maggie, the teenager from next door, is sitting on the chair by the fireplace. She wrinkles her nose at me.
“And what about these?” Daddy yells. He points to the candles. “And where on earth did you find this?” He showed me the gun.
“Where’s Anna?” I say. “Where are Edith and Taylor? We can’t leave them up there, Taylor’s afraid of the dark!”
“What are you talking about?” Daddy yells. “Who’s that? Are they the idiots who brought the gun?”
“Honey, have you met some friends already?” Mommy asks. She holds my hands. Her hands are much warmer than mine. I can see the whites of her eyes all the way around.
I tell them who my new friends are. I say Anna lived in my room once, but now she lives in the attic, and Edith is from the woods. And I tell them Taylor’s the missing girl buried beneath the swimming pool next door.
“Who?” Maggie asks. She stands up, and her eyes are wide. “Did you say, Taylor?”
Then Maggie begins to scream.