This little tale was an impromptu response to a fellow blogger’s prompt. He asked that I tell him a story. I asked what kind of story, and his response was “a fictionalized account of real life.” The following is the story I told him.
The house was situated a quarter mile back from the main road, though there was a straight shot from the front window to the traffic beyond. For the most part, people steered clear of the little house set apart.
It’s not that it wasn’t part of a larger community; it was. But the occupants never acclimated to the area, nor had the townsfolk ever warmed to them. It certainly didn’t help matters that the woman was a bit touched in the head. She could be spotted walking the sidewalks, muttering to herself, wringing her hands, her eyes glazed over as though she wasn’t focused on anything.
At least not on anything anyone else could see.
Following the general rules of communities such as these, the local gossips cast aspersions on the small family which consisted only of the woman and her three children: one boy and two girls. No one knew if the father was in the picture or if, in fact, the woman had simply conjured them up. Such can be the nature of small town gossip.
On the day of the Annual Harvest Festival, nearly all of the townsfolk gathered around the main square: bobbing for apples, getting face paintings of cornucopias and pilgrims, carving pumpkins, taking hayrides in old Farmer Wilkerson’s rig, the usual Harvest Festival activities taking place on Main Streets all across America.
All save The Spooks that is, which is what the townsfolk had taken to calling the little family that avoided social functions without fail. It was a relief, really, because people grew quiet, wary, fearful even when the family was around, say in the grocery or the little three room schoolhouse.
On this particular day, the woman was out on the porch, rocking rocking rocking in her chair. She stared out at nothing.
At least not anything anyone else could see.
The boy and the younger daughter had wandered off to the nearest neighbor’s orchards to relieve the leaf strewn grounds of their sweet apples and tart pears. The elder girl was in the back of the house, taking a bath.
She locked the door before getting undressed, as anyone with an older brother is wont to do. Stepping into the bath, the hot water turned her pale skin a deep shade of pinkish red. As steam fogged the mirror over the sink, her ever-present anxiety elevated. Thoughts of Bloody Mary and other schoolhouse nonsense flitted through her mind. But she cast them away and commenced washing. She was a bit hurried in her actions now, though.
The house was quiet. Too quiet. The others were gone, but the mother should have begun preparations for dinner by now. Wringing out her washcloth over and over, squeezing it along her arms and upper body, the girl rinsed and prepared to finish her bath.
And then it happened.
She gripped the washcloth so tightly that her fingernails dug painful crescents into her palm. Mouth agape, she watched as the knob on the bathroom door slowly, silently twisted. First all the way to the right. Then all the way to the left.
The lock was still in place. This shouldn’t be happening. It’s simply not possible.
She held her breath and was struck by the fact that there were no sounds at all as the knob turned again and again, moving slowly as through molasses.
She finally found her voice and called out, “James!? Caroline?! Mama??” No one responded to her calls, but the knob slowly ceased it’s turning.
Cautiously rising from the now tepid bathwater, the girl wrapped her dripping body in a ratty towel and tiptoed toward the door. Heart pounding at her rib cage, she unlocked the door and jerked it open.
Eyes wide, she clutched her hand to her chest and backed into the bathroom.
When James and Caroline returned with potato sacks full to bursting with their contraband, Mama was nowhere to be found.
The worried duo found their sister wearing Mama’s nightgown and slowly rocking in Mama’s rocking chair on the porch. Try as they might, they could get nothing out of her.
The girl’s eyes had glazed over, and she muttered unknown words in a barely perceptible whisper. Ceaselessly wringing her hands, she stared off at nothing.
Or at least not at anything anyone else could see.