A/N: Hello! Thanks for reading, and especially if you review or favorite this story! While I generally like writing longer stories better, I've been too busy lately to write a longer story, so here's this one shot. I hope you enjoy it. In the (hopefully not-too-distant) future, I also might write some one-shots for Frank and Joe like this.
You Don't Have to Be Alone
"I double dare you, Nancy Drew." Deirdre Shannon folded her arms and glared at the three nine-year-olds in front of her. The dark-haired girl was the same age as they were, but she knew how to draw herself up and make herself look taller.
Nancy Drew, the titian-haired girl to whom Deirdre had been speaking looked from her to the creepy, old house in front of them. It was the Jessup house, which had been empty for as long as anyone could remember and had long been rumored to be haunted. Nancy didn't believe in ghosts - that's how she had gotten into this mess in the first place - but there was something spooky about this old house, especially since they had gathered in front of it in the dark.
"You're not scared, are you?" Deirdre asked as Nancy continued to hesitate. Several other boys and girls who had come with them sniggered.
"Of course, Nancy's not scared!" George Fayne spoke up, her eyes flashing. She was one of Nancy's best friends, and right now she was standing with her arms folded over her chest in imitation of Deirdre's stance.
"Nancy's not scared of anything," added Bess Marvin, Nancy's other best friend and George's cousin. Bess was scared, but there was no reason to mention that now.
"Then why doesn't she prove it?" Deirdre demanded.
"I'm not scared," Nancy said, trying to keep any trace of nervousness out of her voice. "It's just a house. I just...My dad says that taking dares is stupid. Besides, I don't have any right to go into that house. It belongs to somebody else."
"Yeah, a ghost," one of the boys spoke up. He obviously thought himself hilarious because he howled with laughter.
"You're the one who's always saying this house isn't haunted, even everyone knows it is," Deirdre went on, ignoring her less-than-intelligent companion. "If you ever expect any of us to believe it, you're just going to have to go in yourself."
Nancy glanced at Bess and George to see what they thought.
"I guess you'd better do it, Nan," George said. "If you don't, they'll all say you're chicken. I'll go with you."
"Huh-uh," Deirdre said. "Nancy has to go in by herself. That's the dare: for Nancy Drew to go into the haunted house all by herself at midnight and has to stay for ten minutes."
"If you don't want to, Nancy, I don't blame you." Bess wrapped her arms around her as if she was cold. "I mean, I don't believe in ghosts either, but I wouldn't want to go into that place either in the daylight or at night."
One of the kids began imitating a chicken with a low bock, bock, bock, and several others began to join in. Nancy blushed. She told herself she didn't care what the other kids said, and honestly, she didn't. She didn't have to prove anything to them, but she did want to prove something to herself. Her dad always told her that ghosts were just made up to explain things people didn't understand and Nancy believed, but then why did she get a chill every time she thought about going into the Jessup house? She set her jaw. She was going to do it, just to prove to herself that ghosts didn't scare her.
"Okay, Deirdre," she said. "You said ten minutes? Well, start counting."
Without another word, she marched up to the front of the house and tried the door. It was locked, of course, and all the windows were boarded up. She went around to the side to see if she would have any better luck entering there. Two boards had fallen off one of the windows and the glass on the other side had long ago been broken out. Nancy scrambled up through the opening fell face-forward onto the dusty floor.
Rubbing her nose, she switched on her flashlight. Inside, the house looked pretty much like she expected. The only furniture was an old table and an old chair, both of which were covered in decades-worth of dust. The cobwebs hanging from the ceiling were so long that Nancy had to bat them away from her face with her free hand.
Ten minutes, she thought. That would be a long time just standing here with nothing to do. Besides, the kids would all ask her what she had seen, and if she said she had just stayed in one room the whole time, they'd still call her a chicken.
Maybe she was a chicken. There was nothing at all to be afraid of in this old house. There could even be some really cool things, and this would probably be the only time Nancy would ever be inside it. She should definitely look around a little.
There were two doors in the room, one leading straight forward and the other to the left. Nancy started toward the one straight ahead of her. The floorboards creaked underneath her feet, but she told herself that wasn't anything to be afraid of. After all, the upstair hallway in Bess's house creaked, too, and that never scared her before.
She opened the door and shone her flashlight through. This had been the kitchen. The counters, cupboards, and sink were all still there. There was a rustling noise inside one of the cupboards, and Nancy could feel the hair on the back of her neck prickling.
Using all her willpower to steel her nerves, she went forward and threw the door of the cupboard open. Half a dozen tiny eyes were reflected in her flashlight's beam for a moment, and then with a several loud squeaks, they all darted away.
"Ugh!" Nancy said out loud. "Mice."
She wrinkled her nose in disgust and backed away. Then she shone her flashlight around again. The floor in here was also thick with dust, and her heart practically stopped when she saw the distinct outline of footprints leading across it. For a moment, she stood there, staring at the footprints and seriously considering getting back out of there if she could.
"Don't be silly," she told herself out loud, but her voice echoed strangely and made her shiver. There's no such things as ghosts, she added mentally. Anyway, even if there was, everyone says ghosts don't leave footprints.
Of course, on the whole, a non-ghostly entity leaving the footprints was hardly more comforting, but Nancy was sure she could handle anything that wasn't supernatural. She had even solved a few mysteries. True, they were mostly small things, like props disappearing from the elementary school play or sabotaged flower gardens, but she knew she could handle something bigger if need be. She decided to follow the footprints and see where they went.
They led into the next room. As soon as Nancy went into it, she had another fright. She could distinctly hear music. It wasn't loud, but she knew it was the sound of a piano being played. The notes were hollow and eerie from the distance. Nancy bit her lip. This was getting worse all the time.
Then she noticed that it was even worse than she thought. The footprints went to the middle of the room to a square space where the dust was much thinner, though it wasn't gone entirely. Then they just disappeared.
A cold shiver ran up Nancy's spine as she followed the prints to the place where they vanished. There had to be an explanation somehow. People didn't just disappear, not unless they were...ghosts.
Just as Nancy reached the spot where the prints ended, she heard a creak around her. She whirled around just in time to see the door she had just come through inching closed of its own accord. Then she saw it: a white figure almost eight feet tall that was next to the door. Nancy jumped back, and suddenly the floor shifted underneath her feet. She screamed just as she plunged into a dark abyss.
Bess, George, and the others gathered around the house heard Nancy scream. George was down the front path and at the window where Nancy had gone through in a moment.
"Nancy! Nancy!" she called through the open window. There was no answer.
Upon realizing that Nancy was in trouble, Bess had forgotten her fears and followed George. "What do we do?"
George started to climb through the window, but Bess caught her arm.
"If we go in there, whatever got Nancy might get us," she argued.
George tried to shake her arm free. "Who says anything got Nancy? She probably just saw something that scared her."
"Nancy?" Bess asked.
That was a point George couldn't argue with. Nancy was never scared of anything, at least not scared enough to scream. Whatever was in there must be pretty scary. Suddenly, the whole idea of ghosts wasn't sounding so crazy.
"Let's go get her dad," George said, relieved to think of an idea that didn't involve her and Bess having to go into that creepy house. "He'll know what to do."
The Drew home was only a couple of blocks away. It only took the girls about two minutes to run there. As they went past, they noticed Deirdre and company slinking away, most of them murmuring and a few of them crying.
George jumped onto the Drews' porch, clearing the steps in one bound. Then she started pounding on the front door with both fists, shouting, "Mr. Drew! Mr. Drew!"
A few moments later, the door opened to reveal Hannah Gruen, the Drews' housekeeper, on the other side. She was still struggling into a bathrobe. "George Fayne and Bess Marvin! What on earth are you trying to do?"
"Nancy went into the old Jessup house," George panted. "Almost ten minutes. She screamed. Don't know what happened."
"I think a ghost got her," Bess added.
By this time, Nancy's father, Carson Drew, had arrived on the scene. He only caught Bess's contribution to the story. "What are you girls doing here at this time of night? What's this about a ghost?"
The two of them repeated the story to Carson.
"What?" he said when they'd finished. "Nancy wasn't supposed to be out. I thought she went to bed."
"We all sort of snuck out for this meeting," George confessed, shame-faced. "See, Deirdre Shannon said we'd all be chicken if we didn't do it."
"We'll talk about that later," Carson said. "You say Nancy went into the house and then she screamed?"
Bess and George both nodded.
"You'd better hurry, Mr. Drew," Bess told him. "There's no telling what could be happening to Nancy this very minute."
"Okay." Carson still wasn't quite sure what was going on, but he knew one thing: if Nancy was in trouble, there was nothing that could keep him away from helping her. He pulled a coat on over his pajamas and slipped on a pair of sneakers that he had kept by the door to wear for jogging in the mornings. Then he followed his daughter's friends down the street to the old house with Hannah Gruen following behind in her bathrobe.
By this time, all the other kids had run off. George showed Carson the window where Nancy had climbed in, and he told her and Bess to stay outside with Hannah. Then he climbed through, shining the flashlight that George had handed him around.
"Nancy?" he called, but his daughter didn't answer.
It wasn't hard to pick out her footprints. Carson followed them through a door into the kitchen. There they were joined by a set of adult prints. Carson's heart hammered a little harder. If there was an adult in the house when Nancy had entered, she could be in danger.
He followed the two sets of footprints into another room. They went halfway across and then ended at the edge of a square hole. Carson ran forward, clearing the entire distance in two strides. Then he knelt at the edge of the hole and shone the flashlight into it.
"Nancy?" he asked.
Nancy was sitting at the bottom of the hole, hugging her knees against herself. As she looked up at her father, her eyes were wide and her face was pale underneath a layer of dirt.
"Are you okay, Nancy?" Carson asked her.
"Yeah," Nancy said. "I'm fine, Dad. I lost my flashlight when I fell down here, but I didn't get hurt."
"That's okay, Nancy." The hole wasn't deep and Carson was able to lower himself down into it. He crouched down next to Nancy, not entirely convinced that she was all right. "What are you doing down here, honey?"
"I was being dumb," Nancy admitted. "Deirdre Shannon was telling some kids that this house was haunted earlier today, and I told her it wasn't. Then she dared me to go inside at midnight and prove it. I knew it was dumb, Dad."
"Then why did you do it?" Carson asked, as he was still confused about that part of the story.
Just then, there was a sound of tiny, scratching feet. Nancy scrambled up and threw her arms around her dad's neck. Knowing he was there made her feel a lot better, but she was still scared.
"Please get me out of here, Dad," she said.
Carson hugged her. "Hey, honey, there's nothing to be scared of. That was just a mouse."
"I know," Nancy said. "But there were other things, too. There were footprints and music, and the door closed all by itself, and there was a ghost, and then the floor fell away. I know you always say there's no such thing as ghosts, but I'm not sure anymore."
Carson hugged her again, and then he took both her hands in his. "It's easy to feel that way when you're all alone and it's dark and you're in a place like this, but there really aren't any ghosts. There's an explanation for everything you saw and heard, I promise."
"Then what is it?" Nancy asked.
"Well, we can find out about the footprints right now while we look for your flashlight." Carson stood up and swept his flashlight beam around the room, but he let Nancy keep holding onto his free hand. The room was a cellar with a concrete floor, as covered in dust as everywhere else. Carson spotted Nancy's flashlight lying in a corner. Then he looked around for any more footprints. There was a trail of them leading from just underneath the trapdoor.
Unlike the rest of the house, the cellar had a number of boxes piled up in it. The footprints led around to several of them, and then finally to a door. Carson opened it and saw that it led to cement stairs that no doubt led outside.
"See, Nancy?" Carson said. "Someone came in upstairs, went through the trapdoor, walked around the cellar, and then went out through this door. He probably didn't latch the trapdoor right, and that's why it fell open when you stepped on it."
"But why would anyone come into this house?" Nancy asked.
"I don't know." Carson had to admit being curious about that himself, but right now convincing Nancy that there were no ghosts was more important. "Come on. We've still got to see about that music you heard, the door, and the ghost."
He was about to help Nancy up through the trapdoor, but then Nancy darted away to look in one of the boxes. If there was one thing stronger than fear for her, it was curiosity.
"Dad, look," she said as she shone her flashlight over the surprising contents of the box. It held a number of expensive watches and bracelets. "Why would all that stuff be in here?"
"I'm not sure, unless…" Carson paused. "Unless it's stolen. Come on. We'd better get out of here before whoever's been hiding this stuff down here comes back."
He lifted Nancy out of the trapdoor and then scrambled up after her. Remembering the ghostly figure she had seen next to the door, Nancy flashed her light at the spot. For a moment, she shuddered as she saw that the figure was still there, but then she saw that it was only a coat hanging up on a hook.
"Is that your ghost?" Carson asked when he saw Nancy looking at it.
Nancy nodded, beginning to feel a little embarrassed about the whole thing. "I guess it's not really a ghost after all. But if it isn't, who closed the door?"
"I don't think anybody did," Carson told her. "Here, hold very still for a second."
Nancy did so, and she could feel air moving past her. "There's a draft," she realized. "It blew the door closed."
"But what about the music?" Nancy asked. "I heard someone playing a piano."
"The Richardsons live next door," Carson said. "Their house is old, and so is this one. Millie Richardson plays the piano. She was probably up late, practicing."
"That makes sense," Nancy agreed. Now that her father had explained away all her fears so easily, she was feeling very foolish indeed.
The two of them returned to the window where Hannah, Bess, and George were anxiously waiting for them. When they saw that Nancy was with Carson and was all right, they each gave her a hug, even George, who usually tried to avoid such shows of affection. After that, they returned to the Drew home. Nancy was sent to bed, while Carson drove Bess and George to their own homes.
The next day, each of the girls received a pretty severe talking to from their parents about sneaking out at night and trespassing on a dare. However, it wasn't very many days later that the River Heights Gazette carried a story about a ring of jewel thieves who had been captured after a young girl named Nancy Drew had discovered their cache of stolen goods.
Nancy blushed red as her father read her the story from the paper. "I still feel bad about sneaking out," she said, "and I feel pretty dumb for being so scared."
Carson laid the paper down. "I'm glad you feel that way about the sneaking out. Now I think I can trust you not to try something like that again. As for being scared, you shouldn't feel dumb about that."
"But there aren't any ghosts," Nancy said. "You showed me that. It's pretty dumb to be scared of something that isn't even real."
"But I told you something else, too," Carson reminded her. "I told you that it's easy to feel scared when you're alone. You know, anytime you're scared, you can always come to me. You don't have to be alone to face your fears. But you know, it's a good thing to know what it's like to be scared. You know, there's a lot of people who are scared of ghosts and other things that aren't real, and it's not just because they're silly. There's all kinds of reasons for it, and you won't get very far helping them if you just think they're dumb for being scared. I think you understand that now."
"I do, Dad." Nancy grinned. "I also learned something else."
"Next time someone says there's a ghost, I'll know how to look for a logical explanation about it."