The amber glow of the setting sun and the crunch of bicycle tires on dead leaves sent shivers down her spine.
“Roger, I don’t think I’m going inside when we get there,” Chelsea told her friend who was riding next to her on the narrow bike path.
“Why not? It’s just an old house Chel; you don’t believe those ghost stories do you?”
“I don’t know,” she mumbled.
“Look, the others are set on ghost busting this house but I‘m just going to watch them make fools of themselves looking for spirits. It’ll be fun.”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Come on Chel; there’s nothing in there to scare us and I promise you’ll be laughing at your fear,” Roger pleaded in his best twelve year old, puffed up, confident way.
They turned down the street of the old abandoned house; it lay at the end in a cul-de-sac.
Chelsea’s eyes grew round as saucers seeing the old Evans place. There hadn’t been a family living in that house for decades and yet the city hadn’t torn it down, because some relative still owned it and paid the annual taxes on it; that’s what her father told her. The neighborhood called it an eyesore and at every community meeting they asked for it to be demolished but, because it technically wasn’t abandoned, the city could do nothing about their complaints.
The six friends skidded to a stop by the old house and got off their bikes then set them on their kickstands.
“Okay; this is it; are we ready?” Paul asked, turning on his flashlight.
“I’m ready,” Pepper said with an eager giggle and turned on her flashlight too.
Pepper’s real name was Pamela but she’d been called Pepper since she was five because she loved to season everything she ate with pepper.
“Me too,” Rachel agreed and sidled up to Paul, having a schoolgirl crush on him since the last school year, she sighed and looked back at Chelsea with a grin and a thumbs up.
Chelsea smiled back but she wasn’t going inside that house.
“I think I’ll stay here and watch our bikes,” she said under her breath.
“What?” Carlos the oldest of the group at thirteen shook his head at her, ‘Oh no, we all go inside.”
“Sorry? No, I’m not going in there,” Chelsea insisted and gave him her most adamant look. It always told her parents she wasn’t going to change her mind, and her friends had learned to accept her stubborn streak too.
Carlos gave her an annoyed frown.
“You’re going to miss all the fun staying out here.”
“Then you can tell me all about it later, and I’ll share the fun then,” she replied, crossing her arms in her usual stance of immovability.
“Fine be a party pooper; let’s go inside and leave scaredy-cat out here,” Carlos told the others.
“Are you sure Chel?” Pepper asked.
“Yeah, go on…I’m good out here,” she told her concerned friend.
Rachel had already walked up the steps following Paul to the front door and didn’t know Chelsea had decided to wait outside.
Roger shook his head at her.
“I wish you’d get over it and come inside,” he tried again, hoping to change her mind.
“Nope; not happening,” she told him.
Roger shrugged and, with a sigh of resignation, followed the others up the stairs of the old house.
Chelsea heard the front door creak on its old hinges as they opened it and her heart pumped harder in her chest when her five friends walked inside and closed the door.
She was alone on the front lawn and it wasn’t any less scary outside in the unkempt yard on a dark and moonless night.
She began to hum to keep herself from worrying.
“What’s that tune?”
Chelsea nearly jumped a foot when she heard the voice not far behind her. She turned to find a teenaged boy leaning against a tree a few feet away. It was too dark to see his features and she didn’t know how he’d snuck up on her without her hearing his footsteps on this quiet street.
“Who are you?’ she asked him.
“Douglas Evans,” the boy said with a smile and stepped away from the tree into the lamplight.
He was older than Carlos, Chelsea thought but how much older she couldn’t say. She could say; she’d never seen this boy in the neighborhood before and since his last name was Evans; she knew her friends were going to be caught sneaking around his family’s property.
“Oh, you’re an Evans, huh? I guess this is your family’s home?” She nodded to the house.
“Yes,” he said and walked over to her. “Why are you standing out here with all of those bicycles?”
“Oh those…,” Chelsea looked at the six bicycles and couldn’t think of a reasonable explanation other than the truth, and she didn’t want to tell him that.
“I’m waiting for my friends they’ve gone exploring and I didn’t want to go.” That was true and sounded reasonable she thought but only if he didn’t ask her where they went exploring.
“What’s your name?’ he asked.
Chelsea was relieved he hadn’t pursued the other question and smiled at him
“I’m Chelsea but my friends call me Chel.”
“Chel, almost like shell add it to sea and rearrange it and you’d be seashell; I like it.”
“What? No, it’s not seashell it Chelsea.” She insisted and gave him her best you’re an idiot look.
He laughed and shook his head.
“Haven’t you ever played the name game?”
“The what game?”
“You take part of your name and try to rhyme it, or define it, with another name, to get a new name. Like Douglas; Doug rhymes with hug and if I add lass, you’d have hug-lass and yes, I would like to hug…a lass,” he whispered with a wicked smile and wiggled his eyebrows at her.
“That’s pretty far reaching to get to that,” she gave him a skeptical look but she did feel the hot blush creep up her cheeks and turned away just as she heard the front door’s hinges creek. She knew her friends were going to be caught by Douglas and she turned back to him, to explain why her friends were in the house, but he wasn’t there; she looked up and down the block and didn’t see him anywhere.
“Hey Chel you were right you didn’t miss anything; that house isn’t haunted it’s just an old dusty house.” Roger told her as he kicked up the stand on his bike and got on it.
“Yeah, a waste of our ghost-busting time,” echoed Carlos as he got on his bike too and turned it around to head home.
Paul and Rachel were holding hands as they got to their bikes but Chelsea hadn’t blinked or taken notice of anything; she just stared down the street.
Pepper was giggling about how everyone had tried to scare each other once they knew there weren’t any real ghosts in the house but Chelsea continued to stare down the street.
“Come on Chel, what are you waiting for? We’re heading home like you wanted.”
“Yeah, okay,” Chelsea blinked and nodded to Roger.
She got on her bike but her eyes strayed back to the tree where Douglas had stood and then to the house. Where had he gone, and why did she think her friends were wrong about there being no ghosts in that house?
"A kind of cute one," she mumbled as she pedaled faster to catch up with her friends.