There was a thump on the roof. Ellie assumed it was snow, but she could not be sure. When she was home alone, every noise was exaggerated, and her imagination sprinted away towards the unrealistic and silly. That thump could be a burglar...or snow. The dark night could hold many surprises, especially surprises for one.

Maybe two. Her dog, Nelly, was snoring besides her bed, a great help if that thump was a burglar. She was small and ran away at the slightest scare. Ellie ran her hands through her thick, rough fur, reassuring herself. Everything is fine. It was nothing. Her parents were gone for the night, off to some party. It wasn't her first night without her parents, but it was her first night without Ben.

Ben, her older brother, now deceased. He was seventeen, about to graduate, when he died. It was at a party, where, like all of his other friends, he had gotten completely wasted and unsuitable to drive. But he was supposed to have been watching Ellie, who was thirteen and dogless, alone to defend herself from the possible dangers of a wealthy surburban neighborhood.

She had never forgiven herself. He was the one who would listen to her problems, give her advice, and help her with her homework. And at the time she needed him most, when she was so close to starting high school, he was gone. He would have left, for college, for Yale, but Yale was just a phone call away. And he had promised her that if she called, unless he was with someone or in class, he would listen to her.

And she would never find out whether that promise would be kept. But she understood. There were burglars, occasionally, who would try to enter these enormous homes and pilfer some of the wealthly businessman's wife's fine jewelry, enough to support the burglar's simple lifestyle for a month or two. And Ben didn't want to see Mother and Dad mad, since they would take away his car or give him some other punishment. Not that he would listen, but it was the thought that counts.

It had been two years since Ellie's parents trusted her with staying home alone overnight. They would send her over to her friend Sam's house, which she didn't mind, but Sam's parents did. Ellie staying over meant that Sam's parents had to stay too. Ellie's parents were protective like that. Even though they would pay Sam's parents, they would still complain. They didn't like to play the babysitter.

But she and Sam had been fighting over Nathan, the boy who she had liked for a year. Sam was convinced that Nathan flirting with her in history meant that he liked her, not Ellie. So Ellie stayed home with Nelly. Ellie and Nelly, crimefighters on snowy nights.

Nelly, her baby doggy. Nelly, her new best friend and playmate. Who would actually eat her homework and sleep in her bed, keeping her warm on these chilly winter nights. It got cold in Maine in December.

Two nights ago, there had been a huge snowstorm, dumping a foot onto her yard. The roads had been cleared; it was a Friday night, and she was probably the only kid in Colby High who couldn't go to Sam's party, because, she, Sam's best friend, had been uninvited. It felt awful.

Her iPod was blaring some rap song, but she couldn't get in the mood to dance. There was continous thumping on her roof, and it made her nervous. And it brought back memories of Ben and snowball fights, a thump against her back. Or Sam and her jumping on Sam's huge king bed, dancing to crazy techno music on almost every Friday night since eighth grade, a thump of the walls. And in those scary movies, where thumps meant scary monsters jumping out of corners and the main character screaming.

Something hit her window. She jumped. Something was out there. Even Nelly noticed. She had woken up, and her head was cocked towards the window. Ellie squirmed under her sweatshirt. She was nervous. But she was too old for this. She peeked back from behind the curtain. Nothing was there.

Although the snow spoke in thumps, the imagination sees it as so much more.