"Bye! See you tomorrow!" I called out to my car-pool driver. I ran up the front steps into the house.
"Mo-om! Come here!" Mom appeared in the hallway, covered in paint.
"What do you want?" she asked.
"I won that tennis tournament, so I get a free meal at that new pizza place, Renata's," I answered.
"That's a relief," said Mom. "I'm painting the kitchen, and it reeks in there. We'll use the meal tonight."
"Cool!" I said. "Can Manny come, too?" Manny is my best friend, even though he is a boy.
"Um ... Sure. Joe can bring Cliff, too," said Mom.
"Oh, fine," I said without too much grumbling. Joe is my 10-year-old brother, who is a pain. It's even worse when he gets with Cliff, his best friend.
On the way to my room, I grabbed the phone so I could call my friend. By the time I got off the phone, Mom had changed, Joe had gotten home from swimming lessons, and we were on our way. Little did I know it was about to be one of the scariest times in my life.
"So," asked Manny, "where are we going for dinner?"
"Renata's Pizza Palace," I answered. Joe asked Mom to turn on my Alanis Morissette CD, so she flicked on the radio. I sat back in the plush seat and adjusted my seat belt. It was quiet. All I could hear was Alanis Morissette.
Suddenly, the CD player started making weird clicking noises. As Mom leaned over to fix it, a truck swerved right in front of us!
"Mom, look out!" I shrieked.
I closed my eyes and braced myself for the crash. Forcing my eyes open, I saw to my relief that the truck had swerved into the other lane, although it was still weaving crazily.
"Whoa ... " Manny stated. His sandy brown hair was standing straight up, his green eyes wide with fright.
"Those blasted drunk drivers!" Mom said angrily. She should know about drunk drivers. She's the county coroner and has seen the damage they can do.
When we reached Renata's, I stepped out of the car and took a deep breath. I started for the door when a dark-haired girl in a rumpled pink outfit jumped out from behind a tree.
"Stay away!" she choked out. "Stay away!"
She darted back behind the tree.
Strange kid, I thought.
The restaurant was small, and we were the only customers. We had just gotten settled when Mom's beeper went off. "Darn it," she muttered. "I'm gonna go use a phone, Lizzie, okay?" she asked.
'Kay," I replied. I looked at the waiters. They all wore black pants and shirts, which was all right, I guess, but they all had on these weird white masks. They looked like a mime's worst nightmare.
A waitress walked up to our table to take our order. We ordered a pizza with extra cheese and mushrooms, and some bread sticks.
Before the waitress left, I asked her if she knew who the girl I had seen outside was. Her neck muscles tightened.
"Afraid not," she said coolly.
My mom came back to the table, a grim look on her face.
"I have to go," she said. "A girl was killed in a car accident near here. Her name was Shannon Wilson."
"Did they say what she looked like?" I asked, my stomach turning to ice.
"They said she had dark hair and was wearing a pink outfit," said Mom. "Go ahead and eat. I'll be back soon."
I barely heard her last words. The girl I saw outside was Shannon's ghost!
Our pizza came not long after Mom left. I stared thoughtfully as my friend made a dent in the pie. Could I have really seen Shannon's ghost? Or was it someone else? I massaged my temples, trying to think straight.
"Amph oo goaf keet?" Manny interrupted my thoughts.
"What?" I asked.
He swallowed and said, "Aren't you going to eat?"
"Oh. Yeah." I took a piece of pizza and began picking at it with my fork.
CLANG! BONG! "ARRGGHH!"
Something was going on in the kitchen! Cliff ran into the kitchen, and then we heard a scream!
I burst through the kitchen doors and saw our waitress reaching menacingly toward Cliff, a bloody knife in her hand. The body of a woman lay on the floor. For a moment I was frozen with fear.
Then, without thinking, I ran up to his attacker and sank my teeth into her arm. The knife clattered to the floor. To my horror, the blood running down the waitress' arm was green!
"Run!" I shouted. We ran out of the restaurant, with Manny and Joe right behind us. I slammed the doors and shoved a stray tree limb through the handles. I could hear the creatures beating on the doors. We took off through the trees and almost ran right into the girl in the pink outfit. It was Shannon's ghost!
"Who are you?" I demanded shrilly.
"I'm Claire Wilson," the girl answered.
"Claire Wilson? Shannon's sister? You're twins!" I yelped.
Claire nodded sadly. "The monsters in the restaurant got our mom. We ran and ran. A truck hit Shannon. I kept running." She was in shock, poor thing.
"How do we stop them?" asked Joe. I looked back at the building and saw kerosene cans stacked against it.
"Anyone have any matches?" I asked.
After the fire was out and the fire engines and police cars had left, everyone piled into the car to go home shaken, but all right.
As we were driving down the deserted highway, I heard the roar of a truck behind us. I turned, and the last thing I remember is seeing the leering white mask of the driver.
Stefanie, 10, is a fifth-grader at Pinellas County Jewish School.