"Booooooooo—oooooooooookkkkk-" Winfred Sanderson's voice travelled through the graveyard and into her own house as she quickly changed from flesh to stone. The skin bound pages and single eye flew from its stand and out the window of the cottage, speeding towards its master's call; it never reached her. As the sun slowly, yet all too quickly for the three witches, rose, newly erected statues exploded into a cloud of shimmering dust. The book fell onto the hallowed ground. The pages curled inwards as unseen flame turned them from yellowed parchment to blackened ash. The skin decayed. The eye melted. Only the pupil remained. Dirt shifted from the ground and surrounded the remnants of the eye, hiding it from the children who waved to the ghosts' exiting the cemetery's eastern gate.
Chapter 1: An Owl Arrives
Dani Dennison turned her disbelieving gaze first to the owl that sat on her windowsill then to the letter she now clutched in her hand. The owl began to spread its wings in preparation for flight. Dani reached out a hand to stop it, "Hey, wait!" But the bird was already zooming off to the East, becoming a speck in the distance before finally disappearing into the morning sun.
A knock came at her bedroom door. "Dani, time to wake up! You planning on sleeping all day? It's my last day with my little sis, the least she could do is spend it with me!" Dani sprang away from the window and rushed to her door, burying her face in her brother's chest. Max laughed. "Jeez kid, I'll miss you too, but this is my favorite T-Shirt you know."
"Max…" Dani looked up from his chest into his smiling face. However the smile disappeared as he saw the unshed tears building behind his sister's eyes. He grabbed her shoulders and looked at her with concern.
"What's wrong? I'll only be on my trip for a little while, you know. And after that I'll only be an hour away."
Dani tried to speak, but suddenly her throat felt as dry as Billy Butcherson. No, drier. Billy had managed to do more than gasp and break into tears. Max led the distraught eleven year old to the bed and pulled her into his lap, stroking her hair soothingly and murmuring words of comfort as she sobbed. This had become a routine sight in Dani's room in recent years, usually in the wee hours of the morning, but Max felt instinctively that this was not the result of a flashback or nightmare.
"Max! If you want clean clothes to take with you tomorrow, you better bring them down now!" Jenny Dennison called as she climbed the stairs, toting an already half full basket of laundry on her hip.
"I'll get it in a minute, Mom!"
"I'm doing laundry now, not "in a minute." I don't know how you're going to survive without me to remind you to pick up after yourself. Honestly, you're nineteen, going away to your second year of college in a less than a month, you should be able to manage a little—" She cut off as she reached her daughter's room. "What's wrong with Dani?"
"She's just a little upset about me going away. Let me handle it."
"I'm fine, Mom. Can you just leave me alone?" Dani's voice was muffled by her brother's shoulder, but the pleading look and the mouthed words "Nightmare" Max gave their mom, knowing it to be the best way to get his mother to leave them alone though he felt it was not the real cause of Dani's emotional upset this morning, conveyed the message. The first couple of times Dani had suffered from nightmares her parents had tried to comfort her, but their efforts only made the tears come faster. Then she'd call for Max. He would scoop her up in his arms and carry her to his room in the attic. Dave and Jenny never knew what happened after that as he would lock the door behind him. They had listened at the door for a while, but the two would talk in such low voices that neither parent could clearly define the words. The whispers would stop around dawn when, they assumed, the two fell asleep.
She sighed and turned, knowing that her staying would be of no use. She headed downstairs to the kitchen where her husband leaned against the counter, gingerly sipping a steaming mug of coffee. "Where are Max and Dani?" He asked, looking over the rim of his cup.
"I guess one of the nightmares again."
"Again? She hasn't had one in months. I hoped…I didn't hear her last night. Did you?"
"No, I didn't. I wonder if we should dig out her old baby monitor, since Max won't be here."
"You know Dani would never agree to that. She still doesn't want us to know what it's about."
When they had asked Dani what the nightmares were about and she had adamantly refused to tell them, they had accepted her lack of answers, thinking that the dreams would fade as time wore on. When after months the nightly horrors still had not died down, her parents brought it up again, suggesting that Dani see a therapist. But Dani and Max both told them that it was something they could handle, if just given some space. For the most part the children were right; Dani had not suffered from any bad dreams of late and, until this morning, had appeared cured of whatever had plagued her.
Max came down the stairs just then and rushed to the phone, his face pale. His parents called out to him, but he seemingly didn't hear them as he dialed Allison's number. "Hey, Allison, it's Max. Dani, uh…" he looked to his parents. "She had another nightmare. Could you get over here? Fast? Oh, and bring salt, I'm not sure that we have enough here to uh…" again he turned towards Jenny and Dave, "calm her down."