“My name is Mary. I died just a little over twenty-five years ago now,” the little girl began.
“How old are you?” I asked her. Zak sat down beside me in the center of the bedroom. We had moved into the room figuring it would be better in there with the moonlight streaming in through the window.
“Twelve,” she answered.
“Twelve?!” I gasped in disbelief. And here I thought she had been no older than 10. Her dark curls and large, round eyes are what must have made her appear younger to me.
She nodded continuing with her story on how she died. “That riddle I gave you to solve? It wasn’t really a riddle at all. It was the story of my death,” she answered sadly.
I nodded having already guessed that one. Zak remained silent beside me as he listened intently to every word Mary spoke.
“Only the Ol’ Man Jenkin’s mansion I told you about was actually this house. I died right here behind the MacMiller house. It was no lie that I was a very brave girl for my age. Whenever I would hear another boy or girl say they had been too scared to do something, I went and did it. But it was only because I wanted to make friends,” Mary stated sadly.
“My parents and I had just moved to Sunfire Falls and they forced me to go to school during the middle of the school year. I pleaded with them to wait until the next school year, but they were afraid I would fall too far behind and have to redo a year. Because my family was rather poor, my mother handmade all of my dresses even this one. The one I took to my grave,” she said twirling around in a circle to show us.
“The other kids made fun of me for it though saying that my mother stitched together rags and pieces of trash. And because I was new to the school, I didn’t know how to act around such hateful comments. Whenever I told my parents, they just said to smile and be friendly. They told me to be brave. So I did. I started doing the things that others couldn’t in the hopes that they would see how easy it was, but they didn’t see it that way at all. They saw it as me boasting about my courage and whenever I tried to explain it to them they wouldn’t listen. It made them hate me even more.
“But one day near the end of the school year, all the kids in my class same up to me and told me about that creepy story of the bony hand dragging you down into the grave at midnight. They dared me to go and stick a dagger by the grave to prove I was there. And even though I had heard the house was haunted, I still wanted to go in the hopes that maybe they would accept me. So, I stole my dad’s pocketknife and snuck out of the house near midnight to made my way to the old MacMiller house since I lived in that tiny house next to the motel I didn’t have to walk too awfully far.”
“You lived in that house?” I questioned in shock, thinking of the old ramshackle house that the motel had turned into a storage shed of sorts.
Mary nodded. “Being out alone at night scared me. The darkness itself scared me, but I finally reached the house and snuck around back to the small graveyard where the original MacMiller’s were buried including Mr. James MacMiller himself. He was the man who built this house originally and was the one who supposedly dragged unsuspecting victims into his grave. So, doing what any brave girl would do who wanted to make friends, I ran up to his grave, kneeled down, and stuck the knife into the ground. It was so dark that I wasn’t sure where I had stuck the knife, but I had prayed I stuck it near the gravestone. Except when I went to turn away…I couldn’t move.
“I felt something tugging at the hem of my dress and I began to cry thinking that the rumors had in fact been true. That I was now about to be dragged into his grave and to my death. My mind raced with these thoughts and I could hear my heart race faster and faster; feel it pounding harder and harder against my chest as I continued to try and pull myself away. Before I knew what had happened, I could feel that I was no longer trapped and I could move around freely. That’s when I saw my body lying on the ground and I knew then that I was dead.”
Zak and I stared at Mary as she finished her story Tears had begun to well up in my eyes at the horrid thought of dying in such a way.
“So you were right,” she sighed. She twisted her fingers around the doll’s curls. “I had accidently stuck the pocketknife through my dress and pinned it to the ground. I tried to escape for so long up until the moment my heart gave out from the fear of imagining what was holding me back.”
Zak glanced over at me then and lifted his lips in a sad smile. He wrapped his arm around my shoulders and pulled me against him allowing me to rest my head on his shoulder.
“I had remembered seeing that tear in your dress from when you had twirled around before and that is what gave me the final clue that I needed to solve the riddle,” I explained to her and Zak.
Mary nodded in understanding. “I figured you were smart enough to solve it. I just had to give you a little incentive so you wouldn’t waste your time and mine making ridiculous guesses.”
My eyes went wide. “Are you saying that you wouldn’t have killed me after my five minutes were up?”
“Oh no, I definitely would have, but I would have given you one more chance to get it right,” she smiled innocently.
Zak softly laughed. I loved how I could feel his chuckle vibrate through his chest and into me.
“By that time, I would have kicked the door in to come and rescue you,” he reassured me.
“How odd for a princess to be saving the damsel in distress when it should be a prince on a white steed,” I teased glancing up at him under my lashes.
“How about a rogue knight on a black stallion instead?”
The image of Zak riding in upon a black stallion popped into my head making me look away as I felt a blush heat my cheeks.
“So how did you become trapped here then?” Zak inquired looking back at Mary.
Mary narrowed her eyes. “I’ll only answer that question because it has nothing to do with what we spoke of earlier,” she growled.
My head snapped up then. They had spoken earlier? Is that where Mary had gone when she had left me in the room alone to think? I glanced between her and Zak. What had they talked about I wonder?
“I died never having made the friends I so desperately wanted to have. In a way, I guess you could call that unfinished business, but because no one ever comes here because of the rumors of it being haunted…it made it very difficult to make any friends. I thought I had started making friends with Caroline, James’ daughter, but she was taken a while back,” Mary explained with a distant look in her eyes.
“You said that before that she had been taken. What do you mean?” I asked reiterating my question from earlier.
“Her soul was consumed by the evil that grew inside her. She was no longer of her own thought or mind. The darkness now controls her. That is why her father locked her soul away in the basement. So she couldn’t harm others and ultimately herself.”
“Her father locked her away?” Zak asked. I could tell by the way his back straightened that his interest had been piqued.
“Yes. He told me that Caroline hadn’t immediately died when she fell down the stairs. She merely became paralyzed, but during that time she was alive and unable to move hate consumed her soul. She blamed her parents for not spending more time with her and playing with her the way she had begged them to each day. That the only time they had begun paying attention to her was when she had become bed-ridden. He said shortly before she died, he took her down into the basement and had a witch of sorts perform a spell that would trap her soul here in the basement so that she couldn’t cause harm to the others and damage her soul even more.”
“That poor girl,” I sympathized.
Mary shrugged. “I tried to talk with her each day after I found out I was trapped here at the house as well, but she would never fully open up to me nor call me friend,” she admitted dejectedly. “Even in the afterlife it seems I can’t make friends.”
“You said the darkness was consuming you as well, but why at such a slower rate?” Zak fired off at her causing Mary to step back at the sudden question.
“I promised to only ans—”
“It’s ok, Mary,” I interrupted.
“Fine,” she huffed annoyed. “Because when I died, my heart wasn’t consumed with hate at what the children did to me. I felt pity towards them that they felt the need to push such a dare onto a child who only wanted to make a friend in her new town. Over the years though, I grew to hate my parents because I felt it was their fault I had died. If they hadn’t have been poor and if mother had not made my dresses from recycled clothing material, then I wouldn’t have been in that situation to begin with. Not only that, but I was still without a friend in the world. I couldn’t even attend my own funeral to see who all had shown up and that angered me. I had a good guess though that only my parents attended the funeral since they had cut ties with each of their families once we had moved here.”
Mary fell to her knees in front of me shocking me at her sudden close proximity to me.
“But then I saw you,” she smiled. “I knew that you could save the small part of my humanity that I am stilling holding tightly onto. I knew that you could help me step out of this darkness consuming my soul and reach for the light. I could tell by the warm glow of your soul that the darkness could not reach you and instead coiled away from you in fear and pain. It’s that light that I know will help me leave this place.”
I stared at her in shock. Me? She thought I was the one destined to help her? That I could pull her out of the depths of Hell to reach Heaven? I wasn’t Castiel from Supernatural. I couldn’t just pull damned souls out of Hell and place them back where they needed to be.
“Oh, I- I don’t think I can…”
“You can!” She shouted in frustration. “I know you can! Please, all I need is a friend. I know that if I can gain at least one friend then I won’t have to be stuck here anymore. I won’t have to live with this pain and hate slowly eating away at me. Just please,” she begged as tears formed in her eyes.
“I don’t know what you want me to do,” I sighed in defeat. I hadn’t been able to help the other spirits I had come across in my lifetime, but maybe I could help her.
Her smile was so wide I swear it reached from ear to ear. It made me happy to see her eyes sparkle with pure happiness instead of tears for once.
“Just follow my instructions.”