Molly. She's Molly. Molly Camrin. Cam-e-ron, if she's writing it on her homework paper, but Camrin if she's saying it. Sometimes words are stupid that way. Molly Cameron, she writes neatly above her times tables.
She passes Mommy while Mrs. Thompson takes her class to recess. Mommy doesn't look at her any longer than at anybody else in the class, and it takes her a moment to remember that Mommy is Ms. Cam—Can—Carson, Mommy is Ms. Carson and she's Molly Camrin and Molly Camrin doesn't have a mom.
On the edge of the field, there's a bunch of trees. A few of them are close enough together that it's dark there even at midmorning. While Mrs. Thompson is dealing with Stan and Rick scuffling by the monkey bars (and Mary would be on Rick's side, because Stan was making fun of Linda's frizzy hair and Linda isn't big enough to hit Stan herself, but Molly doesn't hit people), Wayne dares Molly to come sit in the dark place. Everyone else has, he says. She doesn't know if that's true. It doesn't matter. The dark can't hurt her. (Things in the dark can, but Molly doesn't know that, and Mary knows the things in the dark don't usually come out in daytime or where there are lots of people.)
This is the ghost tree, Wayne says. He dares Molly to come back to the dark place after sunset to hear the story, and she says Daddy will be worried and won't let her come. Wayne asks if she's scared. She doesn't know whether Molly's scared and she doesn't care. Mary isn't scared. Mary's curious.
Mary sneaks out of the house they live in while they're here. It's not hard because Mommy and Daddy are absorbed in the death certificates Daddy brought home. Mary steals the saltshaker on the way out, because it's small enough to hide. Molly turns on her flashlight halfway to school and Molly turns it off when she meets Wayne and Philip. (Mary would ask what Wayne's so scared of that he had to bring a friend. Molly would just be glad there's more people, because Molly might not be scared of the ghost tree at midmorning but Molly's definitely scared of the ghost tree after dark.) Molly sits down in the dark place and listens to Wayne tell the story.
When Wayne's big brother's friend's cousin went to school here, there was a girl in his class. One day she disappeared, and nobody knows what happened to her. Except Randy told Wayne she's buried right here in the dark place—Molly would shriek, so she shrieks. And sometimes, Wayne says, girls who look like her come to the ghost tree and nobody sees them again.
She asks what the girl's name was, because not knowing might not make the story wrong, but knowing means the story's probably true.
Sarah, Wayne says. Sarah Perry.
That's one of the names on the death certificates Daddy brought home.
She asks how Randy knows Sarah's buried here. Because Randy saw Sarah's ghost here, Wayne says. Blonde like Molly and wearing a blue dress.
How does he know, she repeats. Did anyone try to dig her up? She digs a little hole in the ground, curious, and Philip grabs her hand, looking a little sick and a lot scared.
It's May and it's warm out, and suddenly it's very cold. She's coming, Philip says, and he tries to make her run. She lets him drag her along, Wayne right behind them, for a block, till she says she should go home. She goes down a street that isn't the way Wayne and Philip are going, waits, and goes straight back to the ghost tree. Mary—if nobody's watching, she doesn't need to be Molly—digs some more, with a stick and with bare hands, and shivers.
A little girl in a blue dress appears, like a television going from off to static to on. Sarah. Mary pulls out the saltshaker, spilling some, and swings it at her. Some of the salt goes through Sarah and she disappears. Mary digs faster.
Mary finds something little and hard. She turns on her flashlight to see what it is and it looks like a bone. Mary digs a little more till she finds another one, just to be sure this is what Daddy and Mommy are looking for. She shouldn't be out here by herself. She shakes salt over all the ground in the dark place, then takes the littler bone to show Mommy and Daddy and runs home.
Mary isn't even out of the school yard when Sarah appears. Mary grabs the saltshaker again and flings salt and Sarah disappears before it hits, then comes back, and there's no more salt—
Mary wakes up in a hospital, and her head's all fuzzy so she blinks stupidly at the nurse for much too long before she remembers Molly is her. Daddy comes in then, and when the nurses aren't looking Daddy helps her walk out to where Mommy's waiting in the car.
Daddy says Mary shouldn't have ever thought of hunting by herself, especially when she knew Daddy and Mommy were on the same hunt. Mommy says Mary did very good for her first hunt.