Chapter Twenty: The Frame & Foto

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Freddie didn't think. She just acted. First, she shoved the film canister into her pocket. Then she flung everything back into the box and thrust it into the corner. Last, she bolted for the tiny attic door.

She tried to tiptoe, but she could only move so fast and stay quiet.

Footsteps thumped on the creaking stairs between the first and second floors. Then those footsteps crossed down the hall...And then they reached the end.

It was right as the attic door squealed wide that Freddie reached the dollhouse and switched off her flashlight. She was still exposed though—no time left, no time.

Freddie lurched sideways behind a refrigerator box labeled Rita's toys. Beside it were more heaps of National Geographic. Enough to block her if she cowered low.

It wasn't until the person reached the top of the attic stairs and shuffled into the main space that Freddie realized she'd left the door to the secret room open.

SHIT, she screamed inwardly. SHIIIITTTT. But there was nothing she could do now. Nothing except curl as small as possible and cover her mouth to muffle her rough exhales.

The person shambled toward her...Then past. Heavy footsteps. Oblivious and unhurried.

Until they reached the dollhouse.

There they froze, and the room seemed to shrink inward. Freddie stopped breathing. She just listened, listened. Exactly as she knew the other person was doing too.

Listening, listening.

Her heart was a timpani. Her blood roared in her ears, and in quick, skittering thoughts, she tried to map out an escape route. From this angle, she could run for the stairs, staying behind the magazines the whole way.

But the person would be faster. They would reach the stairs before she could.

SHIT.

After an eternity of frozen time, of listening and screaming in her brain, a new sound scraped out. The person was moving again. Ducking into the hidden room in a whisper of fabric against the doorframe.

The door clicked shut.

And Freddie thought she might pass out from relief. She wheezed in a shallow breath. Let her hand fall from her mouth. And for several long seconds—or maybe minutes—she stayed that way. Still listening, still bracing for the person to realize they were not alone.

But nothing happened. Noises like boxes being moved and papers being shuffled filled the space, but that was it.

Which left Freddie with two choices. She could either wait the person out, leave after they were gone...Or she could make a run for it now. The latter option would be loud. There was no way to get around those creaking stairs or the squealing hinges on the attic door.

So Freddie decided she would wait. Even though every second here was agony, it was her safest bet. Plus, if could angle herself just right, she might be able to glimpse who had come in. Was it Sheriff Bowman or was it someone else?

Yes. That was what Freddie had to do.

After carefully checking Buffy wouldn't knock into anything, Freddie unfurled and eased onto her hands and knees. Then she crawled ever so slowly toward the stairs, away from the door. If she waited at the edge of the magazines, then when the person descended, she could peek around and see them from behind.

Every inch Freddie moved, she paused. She listened. But the person in the secret room remained unaware; she was still safe. For now.

She reached the last stack of National Geographic. She tucked in her legs, ready to resume her earlier pose...

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