"It's just an old house, James," I said, trying to act like I wasn't interested. "Anyway, the floor is probably caving in, and you'll break a leg. Then I'll be in trouble for letting my little brother get hurt."
The fading light and a Batman mask couldn't hide the disgust in his eyes.
"Little brother? I'm bigger than you are. Anyway, there's only eleven months between us. I'm almost twelve - old enough to take care of myself. You're just scared."
I snorted. "You won't be twelve for five more months. Now come on. Mom said we could trick-or-treat tonight for one hour. We didn't get much at those last two houses, and we've used up half our time. I don't want to waste time looking at a stupid old abandoned house."
Rumors around school claimed the place was haunted, but James and I had been told to stay away from it because it was unsafe. Dad said the house was supposed to be torn down this summer, but the Historical Society was trying to save it. Supposedly, it was the first house in Deerfield, Arkansas, and I could believe it. The roof of the porch sagged like it was ready to fall down and all of the windows were broken. The Historical Society had kept the grass mowed, but a scraggly old scarecrow hung from a pole to protect the cornfield beside it. We lived at the edge of town and the houses were far apart. The sidewalk stopped at the end of the iron fence to the old house. I didn't believe in ghosts, but it looked like an interesting house. Down the road was the creek where James and I spent most of our summer days. Every time we passed that house I wanted to see what it looked like inside, but that nosy old Simpson woman lived right across the street. She was probably watching us right now.
"Come on," I repeated. "We'd better get going."
Right then one of the upstairs windows glowed with light. It was only for an instant, and then it was gone. Chill bumps broke out on my arms underneath the poncho. I pushed back my sombrero and rubbed my eyes. Was it my imagination?
"Did you see that?" James whispered, taking a step closer to me.
"I didn't see anything," I lied. "Now let's get going." I turned away from the house.
James tugged at my arm. "Look!"
I couldn't believe my eyes. A girl about my age was sitting on the porch roof just outside the upstairs window. Why hadn't I noticed her before now? I leaned on the old iron gate.
"Can you get down?" I called to her.
I guess she was too scared to respond, because she just sat there, her arms wrapped around her legs, staring at us. I looked at James.
"You stay here. I'll see if I can help her down."
James followed me through the gate. "No way, man."
I stopped near the porch. In the dim light I could see her still huddled there.
"Can you crawl back through that window?" I asked now that I was close enough that I knew she could hear me. She was looking straight at me and her eyes were wide with fear. She continued to stare at me. Her jeans looked worn out, and I could see that she had holes in her shoes. Her blouse looked like something grandma might have worn when she was a girl. I'd never seen her before, of that I was sure.
James nudged me. "I think she's a ghost," he whispered.
I had an eerie feeling he was right, but I laughed. "No. I can't see through her. She's real, all right. She's just scared."
I looked around, trying to think of some way to get on that roof. There was only one way, though. I glanced over at James.
"I'm going inside. I'll go up to that window and get to her that way. You'd better go over and tell old lady Simpson."
James shook his head. "No way. I'm coming with you."
There wasn't time to argue with him. It was getting full dark and that roof didn't look too strong. I stepped up on the porch and it moaned with my weight. I turned the doorknob, and to my surprise, it wasn't locked. The door creaked open, and I stared into the dark room. I waited a few minutes for my eyes to adjust to the dark, and then I saw the stairway. I walked across the groaning wood floor and started up the stairs. Behind me, I could hear James moving.
I tested each step before I put my full weight on it, and then moved to the next one. The stairs creaked and groaned with our steps and I saw something scurry across the steps. Probably a mouse. About halfway up I ran into a cobweb. James was following so close that he ran into me when I stopped.
"Watch where you're going," I said to James as I clawed the sticky fibers from my face.
"How do you expect me to see?" James snapped. "If you weren't scared of your own shadow, you wouldn't be stopping every time you heard a little squeak."
I didn't mention the fact that if he weren't scared he wouldn't be following me so closely. Right then I had something else on my mind. Was there a spider in that web? I could feel something crawling underneath my poncho. I held out the poncho and brushed at my skin, but nothing was there. Then I felt a tickling on the back of my neck.
"What are you doing now?" James asked with a snort, "fighting with a ghost?"
"I think there's a spider on me."
Silence. James hated spiders with a purple colored passion. I could hear movement in the darkness behind me and I smiled to myself. Now I had him brushing off imaginary bugs. I continued up the stairs, one hand before me to catch the spider webs. All the while I kept thinking about that glow in the window. It was that room ahead - the one where the girl was waiting outside the window. Maybe she had a flashlight - except she didn't have one with her on the roof. Maybe she had dropped it. Maybe she left it in the room. I was hoping the last was right. I could use a good flashlight right now.
Something touched my shoulder lightly, as if a hand were placed there briefly. I jumped and spoke over my shoulder. "All right, James. Stop fooling around." I waited for his reply. "James?"
Nothing. I turned and peered down the stairs. "James?" I said louder. "Where are you? Stop trying to scare me." My voice was a few octaves higher than normal, and I cleared my throat. I wasn't about to play this silly game. "You'd better be waiting outside when I get back down."
I climbed that last step and paused on the landing. The moon must be coming up, because that room had a faint glow. Good, I needed the light. I started for the doorway and then stopped again. Why wasn't the rest of the house flooded with moonlight? Why only that room? I could feel the hair rising on the back of my neck.
"James?" I spoke softly. Had he managed to get around me and into the room ahead of me? But there was no reply.
I took my time getting into that room. It was bathed in a soft light, kind of foggy and cool. I wasn't going to waste any time in there. I stepped to the window and looked out on the roof. The girl was gone.
I swallowed a lump in my throat and glanced around the room. Maybe she slid off the roof while we were coming up. Maybe she was in the yard. That's when I heard it - a soft moaning sound coming from the corner.
I hit every other stair going down and darted across the floor. Behind me, I could hear someone moaning in a soft eerie voice. "Don't leave me alone."
I stopped. "James?"
"Out here!" James called from the yard. "Hurry up! Let's get out of this spooky place."
I darted out the door and crossed that porch in a single leap. "Do you see the girl?" I asked as we ran for the gate.
"That wasn't a girl," James said, and I could see the whites of his eyes in the dark. "It was a ghost!"
We squeezed through that gate side by side and left it hanging open as we lit out for home. I wasn't in any mood to argue the issue at the moment. We didn't go half the length of the sidewalk in front of the house before someone started laughing behind us. James and I slid to a stop and turned around. I was glad they couldn't see my face, because it was burning hot.
"You should have seen yourselves!" Tom squealed as he bent over with laughter.
"Yeah," Larry echoed and giggled. "I've never seen anybody get down stairs so fast!" He threw his head back in a peal of laughter that could have been heard a block away.
I laughed shortly. "Yeah, that was a good one. How'd you do it?"
Larry and Tom took turns telling how they'd set up the light and put some dry ice in the room for fog. How Tom had cupped his hands around his mouth and called softly. Larry laughed again.
"I knew you'd come into the house when I flashed that light."
I shrugged. "It was the girl that made me come into the yard. Who was she?"
"The girl?" Larry and Tom asked at the same time.
Tom glanced at Larry and then at me. "What girl?"
I eyed them both suspiciously. "All right, the game is over. Who was the girl on the roof? It was dangerous doing that, you know. She could have fallen off the roof."
Tom stared at me, and it looked to me like Larry turned a little pale in the moonlight. "There wasn't any girl."
Tom laughed nervously. "Oh, I get it. Now you're trying to scare us. It won't work."
James turned and looked back at the house. "There was a girl. She was sitting on the roof to the porch. Right over there," he pointed. "We both saw her."
A soft glow of light pulsed in that window, and then it was gone. A full yellow moon hung over the old house and a bird or something silently crossed in front of it. Was someone else in on their Halloween scare, or was the girl really a ghost? We never knew, but from then on, when someone said something about a ghost in that house, I never laughed.
This story can be purchased in the collection of short youth stories "YOUTH YARNS."