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Halloween Party: Chapter 20

It was like a scene from a nightmare, Niki thought as she watched her friends scream and writhe, trying to blot out the terrible sounds. Even Terry had his eyes squeezed shut, his hands pressed tightly to his ears.

When the smoke began to filter into the room, the hysteria grew even greater. Alex and Murphy began beating on the window bars, clawing at them. Both boys had blood all over their hands and running down their arms, but they didn’t seem to notice.

Niki could feel the vibrations from the tape through her body. But there was no terror in it for her. Rather, she felt almost as if she were standing back, watching something happen on a stage.

She did know she was in mortal danger, that all of them were.

The smoke coming in under the door was growing thicker. Niki knew that they didn’t have much time. She pressed her palm to the door. It was already hot.

Somehow, they had to find a way out. Maybe if they all worked together, they could break down the door, or bend back the grating.

She touched Terry’s shoulder. “Terry!” she said. “We’ve got to do something!”

He just stared at her, his eyes full of pain and confusion. He couldn’t hear anything she was saying, and he obviously couldn’t think straight.

She tried Alex next, but like Terry he couldn’t hear her. He turned away and went back to pulling on the grating with Murphy. “Has everyone lost their minds?” she said out loud. And realized that, in a way, they all had. Trisha and Angela were huddled together in a corner, sobbing, and Ricky was standing in front of the door, his eyes closed tightly, screaming.

None of her friends would be able to help her, Niki realized.

Maybe David would come soon with the police, but he’d been gone a long time. So many things could have happened to him that she knew she couldn’t count on him now.

It was up to her.

Trying not to panic, and trying to ignore the growing clouds of smoke, she forced herself to think logically.

The door was too heavy to break through. She went over to the window and pushed in between Murphy and Alex. The grating was thick and immovable.

She stepped back and forced herself to take two or three deep breaths of the clear air coming in from the window. By now the smoke in the room had become thick as fog, and her friends were completely lost in their hysteria.

Justine had planned her revenge well.

If only there were another way out. If only there were a skylight, or a heating vent, or— Her eyes fell on a handle set in the wall. A small spark of hope jumped within her. It might be just a cupboard. But maybe . . .

She opened the small door and almost cried with relief.

It was part of the old dumbwaiter system that Justine had talked about. The dumbwaiter basket appeared to be much too small to hold a person, but Niki was slender, and besides, Justine had said that was how she’d gotten her into the basement.

With a sinking feeling Niki realized she wouldn’t be able to lower the basket herself. It was designed to be lowered manually by someone pulling on a rope attached to a pulley. She would have to find help. But could she break through to any of her friends?

Terry was still sitting with his hands pressed tightly over his ears. She shook him, roughly. When he turned at her, she shouted as loud as she could. “Terry! You’ve got to help me!” He continued to stare at her blankly.

“Terry!” she called again. “Please! It’s up to us!”

She searched his face, willing him to understand. Terry blinked and then suddenly his eyes cleared. He looked at her with understanding.

“Funny Face,” he said.

The tape was much too loud for him to hear her. She pulled on his arm and led him over to the dumbwaiter. She pointed to herself, then to the basket, and pantomimed pulling on a rope. By now Alex had come over, too, and both boys were staring at her as if she had lost her mind.

“You can’t!” Terry said. “It’s too dangerous!”

Niki read his lips easily, but shrugged off his warning. She pointed to the dining-room door, where smoke was pouring in thicker and thicker.

“She’s right!” Alex shouted. “It’s our only chance!”

Reluctantly Terry nodded his agreement.

Good, Niki thought with relief. But would it work?

Together, Alex and Terry boosted her up to the entrance to the dumbwaiter. She took a deep breath and crawled into the basket. It was a tight fit, but by keeping her knees tucked up under her chin she was able to sit almost comfortably.

“Ready!” she shouted, her heart pounding furiously.

Alex began to operate the pulley. She could feel the ancient mechanism creaking and groaning under her weight. Would it hold her?

Suddenly the dumbwaiter basket caught on something. Looking up, she could see Alex and Terry pulling on the ropes, trying to free it.

It wouldn’t budge.

The air in the shaft was hot and smelled of smoke. The fire was spreading quickly. If the basket didn’t begin moving soon she would smother there inside the walls of the old house.

Knowing it was risky, she began to rock back and forth. She knew that it would either free her or cause the basket to fall the rest of the way to the basement.

With a sudden, sickening lurch, the basket dropped several inches.

Niki felt as if her heart had stopped, then she relaxed as the basket resumed its steady progress downward. At the bottom she pushed hard on the inside of the cupboard door and scrambled out.

The air was much cleaner there, and for a moment she just breathed. Then she switched on her flashlight and shone it around the dark, musty room.

The basement was shaped irregularly, and contained what seemed to be dozens of nooks and cupboards. How had Terry ever found her down there?

At last the flashlight showed the basement stairs, and she quickly ran up them, only to find that the door was scorching hot. If she opened it, she’d be incinerated.

There had to be another way out. There had to be!

Again she shone the flashlight around. Something dark and furry skittered off to one side, and Niki jumped. At last she saw the outlines of a window, and rushed over to it. Her heart sank in dismay.

It was boarded up.

Niki wanted to cry. After everything that had happened, to be trapped there, to die there . . .

Stop it! she told herself. Don’t give up now.

Her friends were all depending on her. Terry was depending on her. Somehow, she had to find a way out.

She propped the flashlight so it shone on the boards over the window and began pulling at them, her fingernails all breaking. Finally one of the boards began to work loose, and she could see the dark shape of an overgrown bush outside.

She pulled harder and harder. At last the board came free.

The space wasn’t quite big enough for her to escape through, but if she could get one or two more boards loose, she might be able to wriggle out and go for help.

She began pulling on the next board, trying not to think about how long it was taking.

She had nearly pulled it free when she felt a hand squeeze her ankle.


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