They closed the curtains and covered the mirrors, drawing in close and tight and safe. This wasn’t a time for the living, sun in the sky or no. This was one of the four days that belonged to the others, the dead and the never-so, the ones who dwelled in a distant place the living would only see when time had finished marching and their personal hourglass was empty of sand. This was her time. And it had been her time since 1927 and a boy with none of the manners he ought to have. Her hair was still bobbed short and her skirt still swirled around her knees, or at least it did on these days. Any other day and you’d never have picked her out of the crowd of college co-eds. Today, she was free to be herself though and to dance to a record that hadn’t been played anywhere but her mind since that year. Today, she smiled at a pretty girl and held out her hand, promising forever to the newly dead.
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
Every time he looked into the rearview mirror, the same girl was sitting in the back of the bus. It didn’t matter what day, what time, what route. As long as it was the same bus, he would see her sitting back there. He never saw her get off. At the end of the day, he would pull into the depot and park the bus. There she was in the mirror, but when he got off, he was alone. He never knew who she was or why she was there, just that she was.
It was raining. The wipers squeaked as they moved back and forth and back and forth. He didn’t have time to look back to see if she was there, not with how much he had to focus on the road. The rain was getting harder and harder and it was becoming harder and harder to see.
Her voice cut through the air and he slammed his foot on the breaks. The bus screeched to a halt, people jostling by the abrupt stop. The train blasted its horn as it streaked past, just barely in front of them. It wasn’t until that moment that he realized the barriers hadn’t come down. If it hadn’t been for that voice. He looked up into the rearview mirror and saw the girl smiling at him. Then she nodded slowly, confirming that it had been her as she faded away.
. “And don’t come back, y’hear?”
The door slammed hard behind her as the young woman stumbled out into the night. This place, the home of her childhood, was gone forever. For her, at least. She hoisted her bag up onto her shoulder and walked towards the street. There wasn’t really a plan in her mind, not yet. It was too hard, too hard to think and to plan. Stopping, she turned and looked up at her old window and saw the face looking back out. That was the girl who lived here now. With a sigh, she turned and started down the street hoping that the crossroads would hold an answer. A few more steps brought her to the glow of the street lights. With a sigh, she entered the circle illumination and faded away.
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?”
Today was one of the stories no one ever tells because there are none who would believe save for those who bore witness. We were pressed by the rebel forces, penned down behind our meager fortifications of fallen trees and farmer’s fences. Shots rang out on all sides and a haze filled the air. That was when I saw the figures step in to fill out our ranks. They were clad in blue, same as my own Massachusetts regiment, but these men were a breed apart. The man beside me put a hand on my shoulder and grinned at my surprise, for he was my own great-grandfather, decades gone to his rest. Bolstered by the numbers of this greatest generation of soldiers, we rallied. I swear to you, the sound of horses was in our infantry charge and I saw a tall man astride a white horse in the vanguard, his saber raised high. The rebels broke and ran, leaving the day to us. But none will ever believe, I fear. Even now as I commit it to paper and ink, it sounds like a flight of fancy. But I will never forget.
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.”