Crummings’ Home for the Dispossessed. A mysterious orphanage on the outskirts of town.
When Emma Winters begins to discover the porcelain dolls hidden within the walls of her new home, dolls that strangely resemble several of her friends, she knows something’s up. It can’t just be a coincidence. The resemblance is uncanny.
In a wave of shock, she realizes her fellow orphans aren’t being adopted at all — they’re disappearing.
What secret is old headmistress Viola Crummings hiding?
Emma must hurry to find out. If not, she may disappear next.
I dashed down the gloomy corridor, my sneakers pounding right along with my heart. The other orphans were probably wondering about all of the noise, but I didn’t care. I didn’t have time to. The vengeful screams behind me told me to keep moving.
I grabbed hold of the wooden banister, turned, and bolted down the stairs. The foyer echoed with every step, with every exhausted breath. I jumped over the last two steps, stuck the landing, and then kept running. I flew across the stone tiles, not daring to look back.
Miss Crummings’ cries rattled my skull. They vibrated through the air, following me down each and every hallway. She sounded so close. At times I wondered if I was just making it all up, imagining those piercing screams.
“Miss Gracie!” I called breathlessly, racing down another hall. “Miss Gracie!”
I called out her name, but she couldn’t hear me. The orphanage was just too big.
I made it to the study. For a moment I just stood there and clutched the door frame, gasping for breath. My chest ached. My legs were tingling. It was as if I had just run a marathon.
Another shriek echoed down the hallway. And it was closer. Miss Crummings was getting closer.
I swallowed the fear that was rising in my throat and hurried into the study. The key was still dangling from my neck. As I dove into the fireplace, I ripped it off and began searching for the keyhole. My nervous fingers brushed over the cold stone. I was shaking all over. Finally, after fumbling for far too long, my thumb sunk into a hole. I pushed in the key and twisted. It clicked perfectly.
I jumped back and waited for the fireplace to slide open, just like it had before. I could hear the slow tap of Miss Crummings’ cane coming down the hall. She was old, but she was also a witch. Age didn’t stop her.
Tap … tap …
“Come on,” I whispered anxiously, placing the leather string around my neck again. I stuffed the key down the front of my jacket. “Come on, come on!”
But the fireplace wasn’t moving. It wasn’t working.
Miss Crummings was so close, I could hear her ragged breathing. I could even smell her. She reeked of old candy and moth balls, a scent that made my nostrils burn.
Tap … tap …
I had no choice. She was just outside the door. I snatched up a brass lamp from off the nearest table, ripping the electrical cord right out of the wall. With one great heave, I threw the lamp at a window, shattering the diamond-shaped panes into a million pieces. Glass sprayed everywhere.
After one final look back, I clambered out the window. Razor-sharp glass tore through my jacket, cutting my skin. But I paid it no mind. I had to get out.
Icy wind stung my face as I dashed across the frozen lawn. My sneakers sunk deep into the snow. The wind cut straight through my clothes. Every inch of my body was frozen stiff. It was so hard to keep moving….
I came to the edge of the woods, pausing in the shadows for only a moment before I squeezed through the spiny trunks. My green hood snagged on a thorn as I passed, but I pulled it free and plunged deeper into the forest. I needed to find Billy. He was the only one who could help me now. I needed to find him.
Before Miss Crummings found me.
I looked up through the tangle of bare branches. The full moon glowed brightly, casting pools of silver light across the forest floor. I kept walking, weaving my way through the trees. Snow had seeped down into my shoes. My socks were drenched, and my toes were aching from the cold.
But suddenly, in one piercing moment, there was a howling in the distance. I was already frozen, but the eerie noise sent a new shiver down my spine.
I held my breath.
And listened …
Another cry echoed through the chilly air. My heart began to race, knowing some kind of beast was out there. I turned and ran, dodging every thorn, every branch.
I needed to find Billy.
My arms were stinging so badly, I had to stop. I rolled up my sleeves and saw that my arms were covered in ruby-red scratches. The broken window had done more damage that I’d thought. I wanted to cry, but I was too exhausted. I gently pulled my shredded sleeves back over my arms, gritting my teeth in pain as the fabric brushed over the fresh wounds.
A twig snapped somewhere in front of me. I jerked my attention forward and fixed my eyes on the darkness. I squinted into the shadows until my eyes ached. But I couldn’t see a thing.
Puffs of foggy breath escaped my mouth as I inhaled and then exhaled slowly. My chest rattled with cold. I could feel my jaw quivering as I stood there, quietly peering into the night.
I couldn’t run. I couldn’t hide. No matter how much I wanted to.
I screamed and nearly fell over backwards as Billy Whittakers came shuffling out into the moonlight.
“Billy!” I shrieked, throwing my arms around him, glad that I was no longer alone. “How did you find me?” I asked, my face planted deep in his warm shoulder.
“You’re bleeding,” he said.
He held me at arms’ length and nodded behind me. I turned and saw that my snowy trail was sprinkled with drops of blood.
Billy tenderly grabbed one of my arms and rolled up the sleeve. And that’s when I lost it. That’s when I started to cry. I couldn’t hold the tears back any longer.
“I followed your trail,” said Billy. “But I didn’t know it was you. I thought it might’ve been that old coyote again.” Billy did a quick sweep of the trees around us. “But then I saw you running up ahead of me. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“No, it’s fine,” I said, wiping away the tears. “I was looking for you.”
Billy examined my arm again and shook his head. “What happened?”
“Broken window,” I said. “I cut it on the glass.”
We both heard it at the same time. Another howl. I could feel my body begin to tremble again, my hands start to shake. The sound was unnerving.
“Come on, let’s get inside,” said Billy, prodding me in the back. “We’ll be safer once we’re off the ground.”
We crossed a shallow stream that was nearly frozen over, and the tree house came into view just moments later, the familiar amber glow flickering high above behind a curtained window. Billy pushed me toward the ladder just as another cry met our ears.
“Quickly now,” he said, his voice more urgent.
I stopped for a moment before climbing up.
“What is that, Billy? What’s out there?”
Billy gazed off into the shadowy distance, back toward the orphanage.