They had known about the fire. They had even known the stories the neighborhood kids all seemed to tell about how some night you could still smell the smoke and still see figures at the windows, even when no one lived in the old house. But the Mason family didn’t have a choice. It was what they could afford. The house had been rebuilt, of course. There were all sorts of safety features built in now. Everything was as safe as they could possibly make it. But that did nothing to stop the sounds in the night. Tanya Mason, five years old and exuberantly excited to have her own room for the first time ever, had carefully set her horses out on the new desk that sat in her room as a promise of starting school at the end of the summer. Now, she lay on her bed in the dim light of her night-light and listened. There were the scratches in the walls. Everyone knew about those. Her Daddy said it was probably mice and had laid traps. There were the bangs from the basement. Daddy had called the oil man and he’d said the furnace was just fine. But here was the part that only Tanya knew about: the voices
Another late night spent in the library meant another night alone as far as Kathy was concerned. The patrons had long since left and she had set up the old radio to add some music to the air while she worked on some clean-up and repairs in the children’s room. Running the vacuum over the floor, she sang along to the music and tried to ignore the overwhelming feeling like she was being followed. Then she noticed the toys cleaning themselves up. All but the one shabby doll that hung in the air as though carried. Kathy took a deep breath and flicked the vacuum off. Walking over towards the toy corner, she spoke softly, almost not believing herself.
It was as if the boy’s name was a spell. There were the messy red curls over the freckled cheeks and bright blue eyes. There were the half fastened over-alls and stained, striped shirt.
“I was helpin’, Miss Kathy. On account Mama a’ways says it’s good to clean up toys when you play with ‘em.”
Her hands were shaking but she managed to get them under control. So, the library really was haunted…by an old woman who checked in books and a little boy who put his toys away. Well, it could have been worse.
“When we’re all done cleaning, would you like me to read you a story?”
“Oh golly, Miss Kathy, that’d be real nice.” He hugged the little doll tight and smiled up at her. “Can you read the one ‘bout the pokey little puppy?”
The child would have powers. She had promised herself that when he had been born. This child would have powers one way or another. No matter what it took, she would not let her son be one of the few Normals of Scuttle Bay. Even if she was, even if her husband was. The question was how. It wasn’t in his blood, that much was clear. That left magic and science as her options. From the day he was born, she started in with everything she had. Vitamibe, spellwork, offerings left for Faeries and gods alike. None of it worked. Finally, she took her infant son to the coast. A pirate wreck lay deep under the water still and she could just barely see the shadow there. Holding the child by the ankle, she held him in the water. He would have powers. He would be a hero. He would make it in this place. Of that, she was convinced. The boy stopped moving. She pulled him out, a mad gleam in her eye. What great powers would he manifest? But his eyes were glassy and dull and he didn’t move
A shot rang out in the still of the night and the children froze, toys falling from hands to clatter or bounce across the wooden floors of the old hospital. An older woman in a white dress walked towards the window, adjusting the little white hat that topped her graying hair as she moved. Looking out, she sighed.
“Nothing to worry about, little ones. Just the echoes repeating.”
The children moved to pick their toys back up as a young man walked into the room, his camera held up to pan it around the room.
“Is there anyone here with me?”
The nurse chuckled and watched as the children swarmed him, jumping up and down to get his attentions and tugging at his clothing.
“Dude!” He yelled back over his shoulder. “The EMF in here is going crazy.”
the ball the ground the hand
a shrill whistle blows
llllllllooooooonnnnnnggggggg and LOUD
He didn’t know what the package sitting in his trunk was and he didn’t need to know. Knowing was dangerous. Knowing made you suspicious when you made it to border checkpoints. Certainly, you couldn’t be too calm when you crossed or the border guards would notice. They always did. Just the right amount of innocence mixed with caution. That was the ticket. Everyone was doing something wrong, something forbidden. Just don’t look like you’re doing something big. Rolling down his window, he saluted the guards and then put his hands both back on the wheel.
“Anything to declare?”
The guard leaned in, a frown on her face but her expression otherwise masked by mirrored sunglasses.
“Trying to be a smart alec?”
“No, sir. Uh…Ma’am.”
She looked into the back seat and then nodded.
“Move on through.”
Relieved, he drove past the checkpoint. Now his curiosity could be piqued, he could pull off in the no man’s land and find out what he was carrying. After all, the true destination would be on the package.
He pulled off onto a side road and drove for a bit longer before he got out and opened the trunk. A small girl blinked up at him, her brown eyes solemn.
“Are we there, Mister?”
“What do we do?”
His voice was quiet, barely a whisper tucked in at my side. Looking down, I could see that his whole body was shaking. Or was it mine? We were pressed so tightly in that darkness that it was hard to tell.
“We’ll be alright, Danny, I promise. Just…just trust me.”
It was a lie. The look in his eyes, though, the way they shone. He believed me. That was the worst part of it. He believed me. I put an arm around the little boy’s shoulders and tried to think. 500 yards, a barbed wire fence, two guard towers with searchlights, and guard patrols. That was assuming they didn’t have the horrors out tonight. My promise weighed heavily on my heart as I stood.
“Come on, see that window? I’m going to hoist you up.”
We’d never make it. It was too far, we were too weak, and he was too small. They would see him, they would see me. And even if we made it, what then? I heard a sound and grabbed his arm. Crunching. Something was crunching nearby. Almost like something moving over gravel. Offering up a silent prayer to whoever might be listening, I hung on the window ledge and looked out. The outer perimeter was on fire and a line of tanks was bearing down. It was impossible and yet there it was. Freedom.