“Mommy, mommy!” Lynn’s small daughter burst into the kitchen “Can I have a sammich and some milk? I want to eat lunch outside in the sandbox with Wendy.”
“Of course honey,” replied Lynn. “Do you want some for Wendy too?”
“No mommy,” giggled the girl. “You know Wendy doesn’t eat.”
Lynn put together a quick peanut butter sandwich and took a box of milk out of the fridge, knelt down and handed them over. Her daughter took the food, hugged her mother and kissed her cheek.
“Thanks mommy!” Maisey beamed at her as she hurried out the door and into the back yard with a bright smile.
Lynn watched her daughter run out to the sand box in the back yard. She was a little concerned about Wendy. Wendy was not her daughter, rather she was Maisey’s imaginary friend and, of late, Lynn was noticing something strange happening, if something broke down or failed Maisey was always blaming Wendy for it. Lynn realized that, for a six year old, this was not an uncommon habit, especially since Wendy had appeared shortly after they had moved into their new home. It was early summer and Maisey, being an only child, was lonely, so an imaginary friend was an understandable occurrence.
The kinds of things Maisey claimed Wendy was responsible for, however, was what caused Lynn her most serious concerns. Most imaginary friends took the blame for broken lamps, spilled milk and messy rooms but, according to Maisey, Wendy was responsible for blown out lights, faulty air conditioning and sudden drafts. Another thing that disturbed Lynn was Maisey’s description of what Wendy looked like. The way Maisey described her, Wendy was about five years old, very thin, with long, straight, black hair, nearly white skin and where Wendy’s eyes should be Maisey told her it was just a dull black color, like her construction paper.
As Lynn watched her child play she smiled and dismissed her fears with a shrug of her shoulders. Despite her strangeness at least Wendy, the imaginary playmate, distracted Maisey from other, less pleasant circumstances of both of their lives. Since Wendy’s appearance Maisey had not asked about her father or why they’d had to move here in the first place. Lynn was grateful for this, preferring to leave those topics alone for the time being.
She imagined that the drunken outbursts, broken furniture, fights and beatings could not have gone entirely unnoticed by their young daughter. Most certainly Maisey had not forgotten the faded bruises she’d received from her own father. It had been the very reason Lynn had packed up everything she and her daughter had owned, emptied the bank accounts, took the car and fled.
Even she had not known where they were going to end up so they drove from place to place looking for a good settling point with what remained of their dwindling funds. Three weeks of motel rooms and take-out meals had landed them here, three states away and standing in front of an old, but nice, rent to own home with good job prospects in the nearby town of Evansville.
The house was very spacious for such a good price and the real estate agent seemed relieved that it had sold, assuring her that they were very flexible about late payments if she could not find a job immediately. It was all part of a home buyers security plan the company had put in place recently, he had said. Either way it seemed perfect, there was a good sized back yard, a sandbox and swing set for Maisey and a greenhouse and flower bed for her to enjoy herself. The real estate agent had assured her that the schools in the area were excellent when Maisey was ready to enroll in the fall. Everything seemed to finally be falling into place for them. Lynn sighed and smiled, the imaginary friend phase would pass and life could only get better from here.
James was furious! How dare she leave like that! The police were no help at all. The accounts and car were both jointly owned so, according to the cops, she hadn’t stolen anything. They had seemed rather pointedly unsympathetic to his dilemma even though he knew many of them by name. The police were always being called by the neighbors claiming domestic abuse. He had only allowed her joint ownership in the first place so she could do all of the paperwork and bail him out of jail whenever he landed in it. Most certainly not so she could steal his money, his car and his daughter as he slept and run away with them! He was the man of the house and they were to do what he said, when he said it and no questions asked! On those occasions when she got above her station he had to knock her down a peg or two, so she knew her place. That little brat of his had actually dared to question his punishment of her mother! She’d deserved what she had gotten too! His wife had had no right to leave, taking what she did and, more importantly, do so without his express permission and for that she was going to pay!
His first evidence that she had stopped running and settled in somewhere was that her mail stopped coming to his address. She had changed her mailing address. Up to this point he’d been scouring the area looking for her in every Hotel, Motel and Inn he could find within a hundred miles, failing in this he expanded his radius to two hundred miles but still had no luck in finding any trace of her. Simmering with growing fury he wondered just how far she had gone, and finally decided he would have to work smarter, not harder in order to find her. So, when, in mid-summer, her mail stopped arriving, he just smiled to himself, knowing it was time. He bought a throw away cell phone, low jacked it to a tracking program on his own phone’s GPS, he then packed it in a small box, put her name on it along with his address and mailed it as a three day delivery at a post office across town. Now all he had to do was watch and wait and the package would lead him directly to her. Soon, very soon, she was going to pay for what she’d done, her and that little brat of hers!
When the box arrived, addressed to her but in James’ handwriting, she immediately threw it in the trash unopened. It could have been ten thousand dollars in cash and she would have still thrown it away. She wanted nothing from him. It worried her more than a little that anything from him had actually made it to her here but since it wasn’t certified he couldn’t track it to her. More than likely it was just more threats and abuse, it was all he ever had done in the past few years.
He had been so sweet and attentive when they were dating and she had been drawn like a fly into his spider’s web. Things changed almost immediately after the honeymoon, but they had been subtle at first. By the end of the first year his verbal abuse was a daily occurrence, blaming her for everything and accusing her of things she had never even thought of before, much less done. Eighteen months in was when he hit her for the first time, for a year after that she had fought back time after time and he would withdraw, always begging forgiveness and apologizing.
The physical abuse took a hiatus when she got pregnant with Maisey, but it was not until after her little girl was born and the beatings continued that she realized it was not for love of her and the baby that he had stopped, but rather, because she had had to have regular doctor visits. He was cold and calculating and she was trapped. As long as she was shielding Maisey she would put up with anything, but the day he actually laid a hand on her was the day she had decided that enough was enough, she would not put up with any more and they left. She wanted nothing he had to offer and they were far happier without him.
Luckily the box would be taken away with the rest of the trash when the garbage truck arrived in a couple of hours. It would be gone and good riddance to bad rubbish. She felt free for the first time in years and had no intention of ever returning to that life. Maisey had made a couple of friends who lived within walking distance but Wendy was still on the top of the list.
She had moved over twenty-five hundred miles away? James was actually impressed. She really meant to leave forever! The unbelievable gall of her! He arranged to take a week off from work, claiming a family emergency, not totally untrue, she really needed some serious punishment! She was practically begging for it! James figured that Lynn believed she was safe and her guard would be down, being so far away from him and her punishment. She should know better than that, she should know him better than that.
James’ glee at the thought of catching up with Lynn as easily as this dimmed significantly when he pulled into the parking area of the landfill. He swore loudly and pounded on the steering wheel. He calmed himself and thought hard about it. There was still a chance he could find her. He was in the right general area so they couldn’t be far away! If he could just find the package containing his phone, it might still be among her garbage and that would certainly have her current address.
As he was getting out of his car, ready to track down the signal, he caught a glimpse out of the corner of his eye of a small child staring at him, when he turned to look he saw nothing and, so, put it out of his mind. As he moved over the piles of garbage toward the signal on his phone, he got an eerie feeling, like he was being watched but, as he looked about, he saw no one. Much to his disgust, he had to dig down through four feet of household garbage, but he found that his package was still intact. The little yellow strip covering the old address was still readable.
He felt the victory elate him and he could almost feel his hands closing around her presumptuous throat. He was going to choke the life out of her, squeeze her neck until her eyes bulged and blood vessels burst, until he saw the very life leave her eyes, though not before making her watch that traitorous little brat of hers go the same way first! That would hurt her even more than her own death. He savored the knowledge of the pain and helplessness that he was going to inflict upon her, that she would know that she could never best him, no matter what she did and she would pay the ultimate price for betraying him!
The light was waning and with it the warmth of day. Tomorrow he would begin by watching them, their habits and patterns to know when they were the most vulnerable and the best time to strike! As he worked his way back toward the parking area he kept feeling more and more like he was being watched and once he thought for a moment that he saw the strange little girl again, not moving, just standing and staring at him. He hastened his trip back to his car and could not get in fast enough. Weird, he thought to himself, just weird! James found an open room at a motel, but not before taking a brief detour to a liquor store, he got settled in and was, in short order, feeling no pain. From the deeper shadows flat black eyes silently watched him in his stupor, the normally flat line of the mouth turning slightly downward.
Over the next few days Lynn did not seem to notice the careful observations that her estranged husband was making of her movements, so she went about her regular life without a care in the world. Maisey was happy, she was happy and school started in just over a month, this was a good beginning. James fumed and could feel his rage grow at her happiness and health. It openly challenged his authority, she should not be happy unless he decided to make her happy! He kept his anger in check as it grew. He knew that the time would soon be ripe to make them pay for their defiance! Their blatant disrespect!
Only once did his anger falter, he had been watching Maisey play in the sand box. One moment she was playing by herself and the next that strange, pale little girl appeared beside her, staring directly at him. It seemed as if a cold anger lanced out from beneath her brows, piercing him to his core and making his blood run cold. Even though he could not see her eyes through the deep shadows of her face he knew they watched him. A chill ran down his spine and he blinked, and then she was gone again. Maisey continued playing as though the little girl had never been there. He was about to blame the hallucination on his drinking when he remembered that he had been staying reasonably sober during the daylight hours of the past several days so that he could do this with precision and not under the haze that alcohol caused. Besides, going to jail over drinking and driving would spoil his plans. Whatever was going on, it was not the booze causing it.
Finally the day had arrived, James had her schedule down pat, Tuesday mornings Lynn dropped Maisey off at a sitter’s house, about half of an hour away, while she went to her part time job. They would both be home in a few hours’ time and no one would expect to see them again until Wednesday afternoon. He would be long gone before anyone suspected anything was even wrong. Creeping through the bushes at the back of the property, where no one would witness his approach, he carefully dug two shallow, oblong holes in the large sand box, one just big enough to fit each of them. He laid the shovel down beside the sandbox, dusted himself off so he didn’t track sand into the house and risk tipping his hand. He would wait for them to come home and strike when they least expected it. He checked his watch; they would be home very soon. The digging had taken more time than he’d originally thought it would. He crept in through the back door and looked for a good hiding place, being careful to not disturb anything inside.
Lynn stopped to pick up Maisey on the way back from work, chatted with the sitter for a couple of minutes and, after buckling Maisey in, was dismayed to find that the car wouldn’t start. After several failed attempts to get the engine to turn over Lynn just sighed and put her down head on the steering wheel in exasperation.
“Mommy?” said Maisey from her booster seat “It’s ok mommy. Wendy did it.”
“Wendy did it?” asked Lynn, looking back at Maisey “How did Wendy do it?”
“I dunno mommy.” replied the girl “She just did her look and it stopped.”
“Her look?” said Lynn, now somewhat interested “What look?”
“I dunno mommy.” shrugged the girl “She does her look and things happen. She said it’s her special trick.” Maisey smiled as if that explained everything “Wendy said to try it again in fifteen minutes.”
Lynn turned forward again, shook her head, and took in a deep breath. She knew that if she kept trying to start it that she would run the car’s battery down. Perhaps it was low on charge or the engine was flooded. Anyway, a fifteen minute wait might solve the problem and it would please Maisey to know she would listen to her, and Wendy’s advice. So they would wait, it was ok they were not in a hurry to go anywhere today anyway.
James quickly searched the house for a good room in which to hide. The second floor consisted only of bedrooms and bathrooms and closets and a single stairwell leading to the attic. He briefly considered the attic but didn’t want to risk them hearing a squeaky board above their heads and finding him there. As he glanced out of the window beside the attic stairwell and into the back yard it looked, from this angle, as though the sand in the sandbox was smooth, flat and even, he tilted his head and stared, he couldn’t see either of the graves he had just dug and the shovel was missing! After a short while he convinced himself that it was an optical illusion and continued with his search.
The ground floor revealed more bedrooms, closets, a bathroom, a sewing room, living room and kitchen. There was a stairwell to the basement, he presumed, because it was locked and bolted. Nothing he saw seemed unused and he could not determine at a glance which bedrooms were, or were not, in use. All of the rooms were tidy and clean, they had not finished unpacking yet, so not many personal items were to be found anywhere but the living room. On his second trip through the main hall on the ground floor he noticed a door on the right that he had missed before. As he looked at it, it seemed older and more ornate than the more modern doors along the rest of the hall, if not for that difference he might have bypassed it once again.
He was beginning to open it slowly and peer inside when he heard the front door swing open and then close again. They were home! There was no time left, he had to hide quickly! Whatever was behind this door was it; he would have to make do. He heard a little girl’s voice, it was muffled but it did not sound like Maisey’s. He slipped quietly inside the doorway and turned around, leaving the door open just a sliver so he might see a little and hear better. He paused, listening as closely as he could, almost straining to catch the slightest noise. Still, undisturbed silence was his only reward. His attention began to be drawn away when the room temperature dropped suddenly, it had become bitter cold. He shivered and could see his breath hanging in the air. For the first time he turned and peered into the room he was hiding in. It was dark and lightless, he groped for a light switch and found one, flicking the switch on, dim lights illuminated a child’s bedroom, laced with gossamer curtains of cobwebs, hanging from the ceiling to a floor, thick with dust, the air was thick and musty smelling. There were curtains on the wall but no windows above the sills. Bedclothes hung over the bed frame, molded and tattered beneath the heavy layer of dust, wall paper peeling and yellowed with age, a half rotted rocking horse and toy chest rested against a far wall. On the bed he could just make out the lump of a small form beneath the blankets, a tiny, skeletal hand that clutched a rotting rag doll was all that was visible of the occupant.
“What in the hell?” muttered James as he took half of a step forward. The temperature sank further and his fingers began to go numb. Suddenly the little girl appeared right in front of him, materializing out of nowhere, but this time she was grinning malevolently at him, naked hatred evident in her expression, her teeth, all of them, long and sharp, her thin arms and claw like fingers reaching for him. Terror seized him and he lurched backward, with a startled cry, trying to avoid the strange and menacing girl. A biting gust of wind started to blow. It seemed to him to come straight through the walls, freezing him to his core. The girl seemed unaffected by it, her black hair flying around her pallid white face and her flat black eye sockets, fathomless in the void their depths opened unto him. As he surged toward the exit, the door suddenly slammed closed, striking his head and shoulder and throwing him to the floor. He glanced toward the door as he rolled onto his back, he saw it just long enough to see it fade away, leaving behind no more than a blank wall where it once stood. Now it was completely gone and there was no way out for him. The pale apparition stood over him as he looked up, there was a surge of power, a shower of sparks and all went dark, all that was left that he could see was that deathly pallid face, faintly glowing with a ghastly pale light, a horribly distorted mouth, stretched wide and open beyond anything that any face had a right to, filled with rows of needle like teeth, descending down on him. Throwing his arms up over his face, he screamed in terror and once the wail died away all was once again quiet.
Maisey reached out and softly touched Lynn’s arm, Lynn, not expecting the touch, started for a moment and then, smiling, turned to look at her daughter.
“Wendy says it’s ok to start the car mommy,” announced Maisey. “She says everything is ok now.”
Lynn turned the key and the car started.