She had a look in her eyes of a once-excited puppy, only to be struck and scolded. It was as if a flame had been lit in her mind, but had abruptly been stomped on. She gazed out of the attic window of the old, once grand Victorian house across the street. I had watched her arrive alone by taxi the previous morning. It was stormy and the sunshine was nowhere in sight. As far as I knew, the old house was abandoned. The neighborhood children often dared each other to enter the old house on Halloween night, but nothing ever happened. The house was not haunted, just patiently waiting to be remembered.
Yesterday afternoon, as I was sipping my coffee and reading the New York Times, I was thinking about that little girl. She couldn’t have been more than six or seven years old, yet she seemed to be completely alone. I put down my Times and walked into my small kitchen, where I struggled to reach into the high cupboard, the one above the stove. I rummaged around for a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup; a sure comfort for that small child and surely she was in some need of comfort. I put on my old, worn-out Birkenstock’s and the sweater my sister had made for me. I hadn’t worn it in years. It smelled of baby powder and musty, like a campfire.
I knocked on the old, rotting wooden door of the old house, and waited for a full three minutes outside on the wet concrete with no response. As I retreated, I suddenly became aware of an odd prickling on the back of my neck, like I was being watched. And I was. As I slid my eyes up to the attic window, I caught a brief glimpse of a face and an alarmingly bright curtain of blond hair. This strange child intrigued me greatly. What was this girl doing all by herself in that eerie, creaking house? Why did she look so sad? Where were her parents? She knew I was there, so why didn’t she open the door? I meant not to harm her, only to help her and satisfy my curiosity. After pondering aimlessly for a few minutes, still standing outside in the rain, I decided to not press the matter, and to try to approach the child tomorrow.
That night, as I lay restlessly on my futon, my thoughts often went in circles as they often do. Where did she come from? She’ll be freezing! Will she be afraid in that house? Should I call Child Services? Where was her home? My answerless questions buzzed in my head for what seemed like hours, until finally I was lulled to sleep by the endless rain pitter-pattering on my window.
It was Halloween night, 1995. My heart pounded violently against my chest and threatened to burst. Darkness filled my lungs and choked me as my face scrunched up against the wind. Jeering voices filled the air: “Go on Becca, do it!! Don’t be a chicken!!” As I turned around, I saw Ricky Eilee, my childhood tormentor, dancing in circles, flapping his arms like a chicken. My secret crush, Nick, was standing nearby and laughing his head off. Fury gripped me like a hungry lion and I fiercely turned back to face the old, falling down, Victorian-styled house, my cold hands clutching the cobwebbed metal gate so hard my fingers ached.
“I’m gonna do it, Ricky! Shut up!” I called over my shoulder as I charged ahead, up the cracked walk to the old house. Part of me was screaming in protest, but the rest was blurring in anger, so much so that I didn’t mind that I was less then five feet from the door. How dare they laugh at me? Like they wouldn’t be a little scared too! My fingers gripped the doorknob timidly, as if they were in their old world, and wrenched open the door with so much force that I almost yanked it clear off the rusty hinges. Inside stood a small little girl, in a white dress, staring deep into my eyes. Her hair was the color of the sun emerging after a wicked storm, and hung in pristine curlicues around her freckled face. Her eyes were shimmering and changing, like whitecaps in the ocean slamming against tired rocks, or the sky on a perfect, cloudless day.
I awoke with a start, shivering in my thin blankets. I remembered when Ricky had dared me to enter that old house on Halloween, but they’d played a trick on me. They had put a witch dummy hanging right inside of the entryway. I’d nearly fainted I was so scared, and Nick made fun of me the rest of my life. It was morning now, and I could still hear the rain pounding on the roof, like a monster pounding on my door. The girl’s face from my dream was etched into my mind, until I tried to examine it; then it would slide away like water in my hands.