One day after school, the girls, along with Carrie, decided to go skinny-dipping in a pond. Two boys decide to spy on them, and Carrie comes across them as they try to get closer to the pond. The boys try to cover it up by telling Carrie they were looking for willow twigs for fishing poles, and Carrie calls for Laura to give them her fishing pole. Startled and embarrassed, the three girls duck under to hide from the boys, who run away in shame. After a while, Laura and Mary come back up, but cannot find Ellen who is trapped under the surface and drowns as Mary and Laura try to find her. That night, after the sisters tell everyone that Ellen disappeared, they begin a search in the creek, where the men find Ellen's body at the bottom of the pond.
A short funeral is held, and as she leaves with her husband, a distraight Mrs. Taylor blames Laura for Ellen's death accusing her that if she hadn't invited Ellen to tag along to go the pond she would have lived and simply been home with her. Disturbed and guilt ridden, Laura is comforted by her father, who tells her that things simply happen sometimes and to not blame herself for them. Feeling better, Laura decides to go to Mrs. Taylor's house to bring her flowers despite Mary telling her that they need to get to school. As Laura cuts through a supposedly crazy man's house, Old Man Busby, Mary demands she go right back to school as soon she is done. Once she arrives, Mrs. Taylor, who is beginning to become overwhelmed in her grief, begins to imagine Laura as Ellen. As Laura decides she needs to leave for school, Mrs. Taylor tricks her into going down to the root cellar to get some food for her. As soon as Laura does so, she pulls up the ladder and shuts the door, trapping her down there.
Meanwhile, Mary tells Pa that Laura did not come to school that day and how she cut through Busby's land to get to Mrs. Taylor's house despite having been told to stay away from him. Pa and his friend then decide to search for Laura. Mrs. Taylor lies to the men when they come up to her and tells them that she was sleeping and that Laura never came by. As they leave, she quickly disposes of the flowers that Laura gave her and her school books and quickly places them at Old Man Busby's house, framing him for Laura's disapperance. Charles and the man move on to Old Man Busby, finding the evidence. Meanwhile, Mrs. Taylor goes downstairs to the root cellar, where Laura is sitting in a corner, frightened. She tells Laura to put on Ellen's old dress, and unties Laura's braids to look like Ellen's long hair. Mrs. Taylor then makes Laura to say, "I love you, Momma." Mrs. Taylor soon begins to believe Laura as Ellen again and makes her promise to never leave her.
With no luck, all the men begin an unsuccessful search party much to Pa's worry. Disappointed, Pa and Ellen's father, not knowing what his wife had done, decided to go home and to start the search party again the next day. Mrs. Taylor is starting to go crazy, and soon buys twelve birthday candles and a girl's doll at the general store for "Ellen." Mrs. Oleson, very confused by this behavior, becomes worried. The next day, on the continued search party, one of the men hears a noise. It is Old Man Busby, hiding in a tree. He jumps down and is chased by the men in the search party. Ellen's father shoots him in the head, having by then believed he caused his daughter's death, and he is taken to Doctor Baker. The men visit him while he rests and Pa demands to know where Laura is as they found her school books at his house. Busby only says that he found his daughter's books there when he got there and only wanted to look at the pictures, and becomes unconscious.As they begin to leave, Mrs. Olsen rushes in and frantically tells them Mrs. Taylor was there buying birthday candles and said that "Ellen" had brought her flowers yesterday. The men begin to realize what had happened and rush out. Back at the cellar, Laura and Mrs. Taylor have a birthday party for "Ellen", with a chocolate cake and twelve candles. Mrs. Taylor tells Laura to make a wish, and Laura tricks Mrs. Taylor into making a wish, too. When Mrs. Taylor closes her eyes, Laura runs up the ladder and out of the house, with Mrs. Taylor chasing after her. Laura makes it to Ellen's grave before she trips and Mrs. Taylor tackles her continuing to call her Ellen. Laura insists to her that Ellen is dead, and that only God can help her. Ellen's mom finally realizes that Ellen is at peace, and becomes insane again. Laura sees her father riding in and rushes to her father, who hugs her in relief, and tells Mr. Taylor that his wife is at their daughter's grave. He joins here as they both make peace with Ellen's passing.
Laura soon goes to Mr. Busby's house and gives him her picturebook, which he loves, and makes peace with him as she then leaves for school.
Behind the Scenes
Ellen Taylor was played by Mia Bendixsen.