MYSTERIOUS WINTER TRIP

Chapter Four

"Why won't this damn door open?!" Richard yelled, kicking it. He grabbed his big toe and fell against the wall. "Ow! Damn it!"

"Stop saying bad words!" I said, kicking the door myself. I hurt my big toe too, but instead of just falling against the wall, I fell in the tub on my butt. The water burned my butt and my back and my hands. "Damn it!" I yelled. It was the very first time I'd ever said a bad word in my entire life.

"You stop cussing, stupid!" Richard said, looking around. He pointed to the top of the shower door. "I think there's enough room to get through there," he told me.

"It's too high up," I said, getting up. "We can't reach it." The opening was just beyond Richard's reach, even standing on tiptoes.

"I'll boost you up to it," he said. "Climb over and drop down and get Mom and Dad!"

I looked up. The opening was way above my head. "It's too high," I repeated. "I'll fall and hurt myself."

"You'd rather get cooked?" he demanded. The water was boiling hot and we were starting to blister like we had sunburns. He put his hands together. "Step into my hands and I'll push you up."

"Put your hands lower," I said, lifting up my foot so high I almost fell over backwards again. He bent over a little and I put one foot in his hands. He started to lift.

"Damn you're heavy!" he said. "Go on a diet, fatso!"

"I'm not fat!" I cried, placing one hand on the shower door and the other on his head to keep my balance as he lifted me up. Okay, my tummy did stick out, but hey, I was only six. It was baby fat, right?

I placed my other foot on his shoulder. He had to lean against the wall to keep from falling over. My fingers finally touched the top of the shower door. But I couldn't pull myself up. I never could do a chin up right.

"Ugh!" Richard complained. "Lean on the door! You're squishing me!"

"I'm not fat!" I repeated. Oh, who was I kidding? I was so fat! Never did become what you'd call "svelte." More like "zaftig." But that's another story.

I finally managed to get one foot over the door. I sat up there like a gargoyle, afraid to drop down because there was nothing to land on but the sink and the toilet, and they would both hurt if I fell on them.

"Get down already!" Richard yelled.

"I'll fall!" I cried.

"Come on!" he shouted. "I'm getting cooked alive in here!"

"I can't get down!" I insisted.

"Grab the edge with both hands, put your other foot over the top, and let go!" he said.

I grabbed the top of the door with both hands, but it wasn't easy getting my other foot over the top. Richard pushed on it until he couldn't reach it anymore. Finally I got it over and looked down. It looked so far to the floor! I lowered myself until my arms were straight, hanging against the shower door like a giant naked pink bat, then finally closed my eyes and shouted something I'd heard in one of Daddy's cowboy movies. "Geronimo!" I landed on my feet, but they skidded out from under me and I fell on my butt again. "Owie!"

"Stop complaining and try to open the bathroom door," Richard yelled.

I tried the doorknob. It wouldn't turn! I looked around. The window! Mommy had left the bathroom window open to "air out" the room. I hurried to the window and looked out. And down. It was even further down than it had been from the shower door, but there was snow down there to break my fall. Even though I was buck naked, I didn't get my clothes out of the hamper and put them back on. Maybe I subconsciously thought if they were in the dirty clothes hamper then they were dirty and I shouldn't put them back on again after taking a bath. Anyway, I knew there were no other people around.

I heard Richard screaming for help. He sounded like he was really in pain now. So I climbed onto the windowsill, grabbed the edge like I did with the shower door, and tried walking down the wall with my bare feet. Unfortunately I wasn't Spider-Man, and knew I couldn't climb all the way down. So I looked around for a nice big, hopefully soft pile of snow, yelled "Geronimo!" again, and dropped into it.

The sudden change from extreme heat to extreme cold made it impossible for me to catch my breath for a second. Then I took a deep breath and screeched "Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh! Cold cold cold!" I climbed out of the snow, shaking it off of me, and ran to the backdoor. I knocked and called, but got no answer. I ran around to the front door and tried knocking. After a minute I heard footsteps. Then the door opened. "Who's there?" Daddy demanded. Then he saw me, and then he said a bad word. "Penny?! What the hell are you doing outside in the snow, naked?!"

That was right, I was still naked. I know it's silly, but I found myself wishing I'd put on something, even just Mommy's scarf. Then I remembered my brother. "Daddy!" I cried. "Richard's locked in the bathtub and he can't get out!"

"Penny, really!" Mommy yelled, pulling me inside. "Playing in the snow naked! Are you trying to make yourself sick, young lady?"

"What's that about Richard?" Daddy demanded as Mommy dragged me to the fireplace and wrapped a blanket around me.

"He's locked in the bathtub and he can't get out!" I repeated. It seemed like I was repeating myself a lot lately. "Get him out before he gets cooked alive, Daddy!"

Daddy started walking towards the bathroom door. "If this is another trick to scare you, he's in big trouble," he said. I followed, holding the blanket around me, because I really was freezing by now. To my surprise, the bathroom door opened. Daddy tried to open the shower door. "Richard!" he yelled. "Stop playing around and open this!" There was no answer. I started to cry. Was Richard dead now?

Finally I heard him say faintly, "Help! I want out!" Then I heard Richard crying. I couldn't remember him ever crying before. Certainly not in front of me.

Daddy had to hit the door several times and really struggle before he could get it open. Richard had been leaning against the door, and when it opened he fell out. Mommy screamed and caught him before he hit the floor. He was red all over, and not because he was embarrassed. Daddy picked him up and set him down on the toilet.

Daddy said another bad word as he tried to turn off the water. "Why is the water so hot?" he demanded.

"The ghost was trying to cook us!" I sobbed. "It locked us in and wouldn't let us turn off the hot water!"

"That ghost again," Daddy said, still trying to turn off the hot water. "I knew it. This is a prank that backfired, isn't it?"

"No it's not, Daddy!" I told him. "The door wouldn't open and the water thing came off when we tried to turn it off. Richard didn't do that!"

Daddy ignored me and ran out of the room. He came back with a big wrench and after a lot of work finally got the water turned off. It had overflowed the tub and was all over the floor, and was still very hot, so Mommy, Richard, and I all got out of the bathroom.

"Oh, Richard," Mommy said. "You're all burned!" She pulled open my blanket and for the first time noticed the burns on me. "You too, Penny!" she cried. She hurried off to get the stuff she put on us when we got sunburned.

Richard suddenly remembered he was naked and covered himself with his hands. I took off the blanket and handed it to him. "Here," I said, realizing it embarrassed him a lot more than it embarrassed me. He wrapped the blanket around himself, even though he was still soaking wet.

Mommy came back with the burn lotion and gave him some. "Rub it all over and then I'll rub some on your back," she said. She then started rubbing some on me. It hurt worse than last summer when I'd lost my bikini top and gotten burned all over. I'd never burned my butt before. At least I don't think so.

Once we were both covered with lotion, Mommy sent us to our room to put something on. Richard got dressed fast. I got dressed more slowly, deciding to wear pants instead of a dress because, even though I'd just been cooked, I'd been frozen after that, and was still cold. I wrapped a blanket around myself. Richard, who hadn't gone out in the snow, wasn't freezing like me. He sat down on the bed next to me and looked at the floor.

"Richard?" I said softly. He didn't look at me. "The ghost wasn't playing pranks on us, was he?"

Richard sighed. "No," he agreed. "It was trying to hurt us. Maybe kill us." He looked towards the door, then lowered his voice. "We have to figure out a way to get Mom and Dad to leave this place! The next time it might do something even worse!"

I laid down on the bed and closed my eyes. "But they don't believe in ghosts," I said.

"I know," Richard agreed, leaning back against the wall. "Dad thinks I was scaring you in the shower and the door just got stuck and the faucet came off. You don't think I was, do you?"

"No way!" I said, shaking my head. "You didn't even know I was there. If you did you wouldn't've let me see your ding-a-ling."

"Shut up," he said. "And you'd better not tell anybody we got stuck in the shower together."

"Don't worry," I said. "That even embarrasses me, and I just ran around outside naked."

Mommy had wanted to take us to a doctor to see if we were hurt badly, but the phone didn't work. It was a long, scary trip back down and to the nearest town, so Richard and I both said we were fine. It wasn't much different from getting sunburned all over, after all, and that had happened to us every year as far back as I could remember. She decided to just watch us carefully and make sure we were okay.

We helped Mommy and Daddy put some things away in the house, even though Richard and I really didn't want to stay there any longer than possible, had lunch, then were allowed to do what we wanted the rest of the day. What we wanted, of course, was to get out of there, but that clearly wasn't going to happen. So far the ghost, or whatever it was, had only bothered Richard and me. Mommy found the can opener in the wrong drawer, but just thought I'd moved it. Richard said it was because grown ups don't believe in things like ghosts or magic, so they try to find a realistic explanation for anything strange that happens.

As it started getting dark, I turned to Richard and asked, "What are we going to do about tonight? Mommy and Daddy won't let us sleep with them again."

Richard closed his eyes and I could tell he was trying to think of something. Finally he opened his eyes and said, "We put our tents and sleeping bags someplace in the house in case we go camping some night. Maybe we can talk Mom and Dad into letting us sleep in the living room and play that we're camping out."

"Maybe," I said. "But what if the ghost comes in the living room? It got in the bathroom so it probably can go anyplace."

Richard made a face. I guess he hadn't thought of that. "Let's worry about that if it happens," he said after a minute.

Mommy wasn't too sure about it, but Daddy said it was fine as long as we didn't get too close to the fireplace. "Just remember, young man, no more scaring your baby sister or your butt will be even redder than it is now."

So we searched all over the house and finally found our sleeping bags, which we put on the living room floor close enough to feel the warmth of the fireplace but not so close that sparks might set them on fire. After dinner I went into our room and changed into pajamas before it got too dark, then hurried back into the living room. Had I seen a faint greenish cloud or was it just my imagination? I didn't know and didn't want to find out!

After Mommy and Daddy said goodnight and went to bed, I huddled in my sleeping bag and looked over at my brother, who was just a couple of feet away. I suddenly thought of something. "Richard?" I whispered so Mommy and Daddy wouldn't hear us. "If the ghost shows up, how do we get out of our bags really fast to run away?"

"Anyway we can," he whispered back, which didn't make me feel the slightest bit better.

There was a clock over the fireplace, and the light from the fire gave just enough light to be able to see it. Unfortunately it also was just enough to cast weird, spooky shadows all around the room. I ducked down into my sleeping bag so that it covered my eyes so I couldn't see anything but dark. I laid there in the dark for what seemed like a long, long time. Finally I peeked at the clock. I'd just learned how to tell time a little while ago. Almost eleven o'clock. An hour before midnight. Even though the ghost had attacked us in the daytime, Richard's scary stories had made me afraid of midnight. And that was why I decided I had to get up now, before it was midnight. I had to pee-pee.

"Richard?" I whispered. "Are you still awake?"

"I was about to fall asleep," he complained. "What do you want?"

"I have to pee-pee," I admitted.

"So go pee," he said.

"I'm scared to go in that bathroom alone in the dark," I admitted.

"So go outside and pee in the snow," he said, rolling over. "I'm not getting up."

That actually sounded less scary than going to the bathroom. I waited until almost half past eleven, hoping something would happen so I wouldn't have to go alone. Then I sighed and got up. I went to the front door and opened it. It was so cold! But I couldn't hold it any more, so I went outside. I peed in the snow, then started back towards the front door. I yelped as I saw a figure standing on the steps.

"Quiet, you idiot!" Richard hissed. "You want to wake Mom and Dad and have them wonder what we're doing out here at midnight?"

"It's not midnight yet," I said. "Is it?"

"Practically," he said, turning towards the door. "Come on and get inside before you get me in trouble again."

That wasn't fair. I had defended him the last time he'd gotten in trouble. But it was dark and scary, and I was really freezing, so I hurried up the steps. I was afraid at first that the door would lock itself and not let us back in, but it acted like a normal door. I shivered and hurried to my sleeping bag. I climbed in and tried to get warm. I was still cold and wriggled a little closer to the fireplace, kind of like a worm.

"Don't get too close," Richard told me. "If you catch fire I'll throw you out in the snow again."

I stuck my tongue out at him and gave him a raspberry. "Pbbbbbbbttttttt!"

He gave me one back, then told me to go to sleep already.

I sank into my sleeping bag and closed my eyes. I was almost asleep when I heard something. What was it? Then I heard it again. A footstep. Was Richard walking around? Did Mommy or Daddy come to check on us? I waited, afraid to look in case it was the ghost again. So far I hadn't seen it and Richard had said it was like a cloud, but maybe it could get solid and walk around if it wanted to? Ghosts did that in lots of stories.

The footsteps came very slowly closer. Closer. Closer. I squeezed my eyes shut and shook. "R-r-Richard?" I stuttered. "Help!"

"Will you be quiet?" I heard my brother say. "I told you, I…"

Why did he stop like that? Why didn't he say anything else? Did he fall asleep while he was talking to me? Or…or did something make him stop? Something really, really scary? I didn't want to look, but I had to. I peeked just the tiniest bit, but couldn't see anything in the dark. Then I forced myself to look at the clock. It was now midnight.

And that's when I saw the green misty cloud…