Sneak Peek of Hauntingly Familiar

Hauntingly Familiar

Virginia Renaud

Copyright © Virginia Renaud 2012

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be represented, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior permission in writing of the copyright holder


Forward– A fly on the Wall

Author’s Note:

The story you are about to read is a tale of my childhood. It really happened. I grew up in a haunted house that probably looked like every other house in those days. It wasn't your typical rambling Victorian, neglected by its owners and sadly in need of renovation. It was a modern, well built, North American Rancher. Quite beautiful for its day, it didn't look like your typical haunted house. In fact, my mother often joked, in the early days of our move, that she felt rich just being able to move into a place like that.

I still think fondly about that old house, but someone asked me recently if I had the chance to move into it … would I?

Not on your life.

The reasons? Well, I believe they'll become apparent.

As it happens, I am not, nor have I ever been a fly on the wall. Oh, it wasn’t for lack of trying, of course. The skill of eavesdropping was a developing part of my repertoire back in 1979, but there are limitations. Therefore, the following conversation is a work of fiction, pieced together from half-sentences spoken aloud by my parents in unguarded moments over the years, and things my sister probably wishes she's kept to herself. Of these unguarded moments, there've been few, but each one noteworthy. Today my parents’ answer, is still that this is a flight of fancy and my wild imagination at its best.

I will leave it to you to judge for yourself.

The events that inspired this story awakened in me an unquenchable thirst for the paranormal. As I look back today, a conversation I had with my brother-in-law several months ago still echoes resoundingly in my head.

“I still don't understand what happened. It's weird, after all these years, even after writing this book,” I told him.

“Maybe you aren't meant to,” he said, as he broke eye contact with me and stared out the window. “Maybe you were supposed to learn something about yourself.”

It is my sincere hope that you enjoy reading Hauntingly Familiar as much as I have enjoyed writing it. Bear with me while I tell you how my paranormal adventure began.


 Chapter 1

“David, it’s been three months.”
“And four days,” the young man said to his friend. 
“Hey, don’t shoot, I’m the good guy remember? But look, can we talk sense here? Three months is too long to put your life on hold. Grief will take its own time, I got that, but bills won’t wait. Have you been back to work yet?”
“No,” he admitted. “The business can go for awhile without me, but … look, I can’t sleep, and as long as that’s an issue, I can’t do my job. I can’t even form a coherent thought, much less give out good advice. Besides, the last thing I want to look at is a pool. I just see …” David’s expression grew tight and he blinked fiercely.
“Look, I’m not trying to pry, but how are you paying the bills?” The taller man’s tanned features showed his concern. “Do you need money?”
“No. We’re fine.” The clipped comments left no room for discussion. “Look, I know you’re just trying to help, but selling? I mean, man you don’t understand what you’re saying. Our business is here, and ….”
“The business is downtown,” Tony interrupted. “You don’t have to leave the area, but it might be a good idea to let go of the house.”
“You don’t know what this house means to us.” David kicked savagely at the gravel under his feet and looked over his shoulder at the modest farmhouse. “At least it used to.”
The tall man inhaled and exhaled slowly. He wasn’t here to fight. “You’re right. I’m not in your shoes and I can’t judge. But it’s just a house, David, really. Maybe it’s time to consider Plan B. Look here, this is 1979. House prices are climbing in a way I’ve never seen before. The cash would come in handy and you know it. Besides, changing your address isn’t giving up.”
“Tony, just drop it, okay?” the young man replied, his face tired. “I wouldn’t know where to start, what to say … I can’t even concentrate, much less negotiate. This whole thing is tearing us apart. It’s harder still on Becca. Nothing’s been right since the accident.”
“Yeah,” Tony shuffled his feet and ran a manicured hand through his dark hair. His gold rings caught the sunlight for a moment and David winced, remembering their high school promises to each other about ‘striking it rich’. Looked like Tony had a handle on that one.
“But you know,” David continued.  “You’re right about one thing.”
“It’s not fair. You got that part right.” A fierce light seemed to kindle in the man’s eyes for a moment. “I’ll think about what you said, and talk it over with her.” Tony’s mouth opened in shock.
“That’s all I can promise,” David said, raising a hand to forestall his friend.
 “It’s enough. Look, I want to help you. Geez, I’m watching you fall apart, and it’s killing me!”
David’s head jerked up and he stared at his friend. It was many years since high school, but that deep connection was still as strong as ever. Could he really care that much? Was he trustworthy? He wished he knew Tony better. Maybe if he hadn’t been so wrapped up in the business. No, he couldn’t start thinking like that. He’d travelled too many times already down that road. Things were hard, but they were likely to get harder, and with every nut coming out of the woodwork claiming to help he had to be wary, didn’t he? Absently his gaze came to rest on the shiny patent leather shoes his friend now wore and he laughed in spite of himself.
“Nice farm shoes.”
Tony had the grace to look uncomfortable. “Yeah, well, yours is the only farm I’m visiting today. No barn tours.” The men smiled at each other, remembering their days of fast cars and crazy schemes.
David was the first to break eye contact. Those days were long since passed. In fact, it felt like a lifetime ago. His world had been ripped apart, and all that was left behind was a house he didn't want to live in and a wife who had turning into someone he didn't even know anymore.
What did he have to lose?
“Hey Tony” he said, running one hand through his short hair. “I guess there's nowhere to go but up, right?”
Tony squinted at his friend suspiciously. “Are you saying ... what?”
“I guess it's time to move on.”  

Two months later …
The first time I saw the house I was in a bad mood and didn’t really care what was going on. My parents usually did things I wasn’t interested in. I trailed behind them, bored and oblivious. 
The realtor unlocked the solid oak front door. It swung inward with a drawn-out squeak.
That got my attention and my head snapped up in response to the sound.
“Touring haunted houses now?” I muttered.  Mom dropped back beside me and poked me in the ribs.
“Be nice,” she said through gritted teeth.
“Come on in,” the realtor said, moving to one side and waving us into the living room. “You’ll notice this house is a great set-up for parties. Over here you have a wood-burning fireplace, and just in front of it, this is called a conversation pit. It’s very popular just now in all the modern homes. See how it adds to the spacious living room? That recessed area can be used for cozy nights by the fire or adding a little colour to your parties! Nice touch, huh? And there you have a built-in bar to serve your guests. If you’ll just come on over this way, to your right, you’ll see that the large country kitchen has ample cupboard space. Note this convenient pass-through to the adjoining entertainment room.” The tall dark-haired realtor tossed these words over his shoulder as he walked ahead and waved his arms for emphasis.
I had no inkling, no indication, that anything was different about this place. The first few house tours had been mildly entertaining, but by the eighth walk through I was eye-rolling at everything and just wanted to be done. “How long had we been at this?” I thought to myself. “One week? Six? Geez, it felt like forever. Too bad I wasn’t old enough to stay at home by myself yet.”
“All the appliances are in good shape and as you can see, there are two bathrooms and …” he walked further down the hall, throwing open doors as he went. “… three bedrooms in the house. Note the vaulted ceilings and extensive use of sky lights.” He gestured again as he walked, my parents and I trailing behind.
“This is an executive home,” he said. “The wood-burning fireplace will come in handy this winter.” His voice droned on and on. I was only interested in retracing my steps through the front door and getting back to my own room and my new Nancy Drew novel.
Mom walked briskly to the kitchen and began busily pulling open cupboard doors.
“Oh great. We were gonna be here for hours!” I thought.
I pulled out a kitchen chair and plunked myself down in it to wait, crossing my arms in a long-suffering pose, and propping my feet on an adjoining chair. I’d have never done that at home, but Mom seemed too wrapped up to notice.
Suddenly I froze. Rapid footsteps, like someone running, echoed down the hallway behind me. Who could that be?  I could see my father and the realtor talking in the recreation room and Mom was still in the kitchen …wasn’t the place empty after all? I jumped up guiltily, an apologetic smile at the ready to greet the homeowner.  
An empty hallway greeted my puzzled frown. 
“… but of course summer is coming and the piece de resistance,” I heard Tony’s cultured voice building to a crescendo, “… your very own in-ground pool!”
“What?” My confusion disappeared in an instant. This place had a pool? Well, now I was interested. How come I was always the last to know about these things?
I raced to my parent’s side just as the realtor slid open the glass door to wave at the back yard pool with another game-show gesture.
Probably Italian.
My parents came to stand next to him, expressions of both concern and excitement mingling on their faces.
My boredom instantly forgotten, I ran to it, ponytail flying.
“I love it!”
“Virginia!” Mom called, coolly intercepting me. “Back from the edge! It needs a good cleaning and lots of care before anyone goes near it.” She was looking at the greenish waters with distaste.  “They’ve really let it go. You can’t even see the bottom.” She turned back to me. “Please baby, stay back from the edge.”
“They’ve had a tough couple of months, I’m afraid,” The realtor said, pausing to grab a hankie from his pocket. “Excuse me,” he apologized. He sniffed and wiped his eyes and nose before continuing. “Darn allergies.”
“Uh, it’s pretty bad Tony,” my dad said, looking at the pool.
“Oh, a little chlorine and it’ll be perfect!”
 Mom continued to look doubtful, her green eyes still fixed on me, but I was interested now. Time to turn on the charm.
“Mom, just think how great it’ll be, having our very own pool!”
“I know, I know, but there are plenty of other things to see,” she said, looking meaningfully at the realtor. “Tony?”
We moved off down a gravel path that paralleled the pool fence. There were massive trees, huge, green lawns, paddocks for the horses and even a cute little chicken house with fake shutters.  It was so different from anything I’d ever seen. It was greener than anything we had on our whole street and almost eerily quiet.
Eventually we reached the fourteen-stall barn.
The building didn’t just sit there, it loomed. Moss clung to the roof in spots and the wood had weathered to a dark grey. Once the sliding door was opened, the pungent smell of livestock manure wafted out.
Well, no place was perfect.
“Pee-yu!” I backed away, holding my nose. “How many animals are in there?”
The central corridor of the barn looked empty, and the stall doors stood open, awaiting occupants. Small shuffling noises spoke of mice and I stepped closer to my mom. Just to be sure.
“There’s been no livestock in here for quite some time,” Tony said. “But I’m sure it wouldn’t take too much to ….”
His sentence was cut short by a jarring, mechanical sound. I wasn’t the only one wincing and covering my ears. The long mechanical clacking went on and on, but Tony only smiled, raising his hands apologetically and shaking his head.
“Trucks. They get a few big ones along here,” he said, indicating the road out front. “It’s a gravel truck route, but there’s a court order now to shut down the gravel pit, so that noise is only temporary. Can’t happen fast enough if you ask me.”
Was it my imagination, or did our enigmatic realtor’s eyes darken as he spoke? His casual demeanor seemed to disappear in an instant.
Mom sensed it too. “Oh Tony,” she said, laying a hand on his. “What is it?”
“Nothing,” he muttered, shaking his head as though to clear away unwanted thoughts. “Shall we?” We all walked inside the barn. As I turned to look behind me out the barn door, I did a doubletake. A little kid was playing on the road! Wait. Was he on the road or beside it?
“Mom! There’s a kid on the road out there!” I shouted. All eyes were on me as I gestured at the boy I’d seen.
“What kid?” Mom’s face showed her alarm and she rushed toward the door. “A child? Where?” Turning back to me, she looked confused.
“There,” I said, pointing at him again. He was walking now, ambling easily up the driveway towards us. “Who is that? Does he live here?”
“Ginny, I don’t know who you’re talking about,” Mom said. “There’s no one there.” She patted my arm in a gesture meant to soothe and returned her attention to Dad and their examination of the barn.
“Hmm, could be dry rot in here, Tony,” my Dad said, his attention riveted on the wooden cross members of the aging barn. “Have to replace these doors too, and that loft isn’t much to speak of.” Dad poked at wooden beams, peered at ceiling rafters and rolled the barn doors back and forth on their long metal tracks widening the doorway and my view of the young boy.
“Daddy, that kid’s coming over here,” I warned. Dad flicked a gaze at me that said very clearly Not now!
Mom stood to one side, shuffling her feet and looking uncomfortable, her eyes on the interchange between her husband and the realtor.
“Mommy,” I said, pointing at the driveway and the approaching figure. “He’s coming. What do I say?”
“In a minute honey,” she told me. She was nervously watching my Dad as he slowly shook his head.
Tony the realtor continued to talk to my parents, leaving me frustrated and just a little apprehensive about this visitor that somehow escaped detection.
My thoughts were angry. Talk about obsessed, my parents were house crazy!
“I want you to realize that my clients are very motivated to sell,” Tony was saying. Suddenly the tone of his voice shifted and despite the visitor, I found myself staring at him with suspicious eyes. “I wasn’t going to tell you this, but this couple is really interested in moving on quickly. You see, they had a tragedy. Lost their only child a couple of months ago.” 
“How?” Mom said. “Not drowned?” With one hand she reached up to clutch the crucifix hanging around her neck and with the other, she grabbed my hand protectively.
“No, nothing like that. It wasn’t even on the property. The point is, they want to move on. I’m sure you can understand.” Tony shifted his weight uneasily. “I know you’ve seen a lot of houses, but believe me this one is special. It’s well built and in your price-range. Honestly folks, it’s been a very difficult time for them, and they need a quick sale. I promised to help them get back on their feet. You know, this house is so suitable; I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to show it to you. It’s a rancher, like you asked for, so there are no stairs. It’s got a barn for your horses. It’s got a pool for your little daughter there,” he looked at me and grinned. “And it’s a five-acre parcel. It’s priced significantly lower than other properties that size, and it was built six years ago. Frankly, I think it will suit your needs. I know these people and they are ready to deal.”
Dad turned from his inspection of the loft opening and rolled his shoulders. “It’s a lot to consider, Tony, and I do feel for the family but I can’t pay full price, the barn’s not a total write-off, but it still needs work. There’s no way this was built six years ago.”
Tony smiled, “No, the barn was pre-existing, and the price has already been dropped $15,000. You won’t find a better deal. Why don’t we talk about it back in my office?”
Mom stepped forward. “I like it better than the others we’ve seen so far.”
“It has a pool!” I said, not forgetting my selfish focus. “Did you see the pool?”
The adults laughed and smiled at each other, breaking the tension. I smiled too, and in that instant I remembered the boy in the driveway. But even as I scanned the open area to the right and left, I could catch no sight of him. Where had he gone so fast?
“Your other daughter’s into horses, is she not?” Tony said, speaking a little faster. “I almost forgot to show you, there’s a lighted riding ring just over there.” He walked through the open doorway at the side of the barn and stepped gingerly into the barnyard, mud oozing dangerously up the sides of his leather dress shoes. A metal box was mounted on a pole just outside the sturdy split-rail fence and he reached for it. “You’re gonna love this,” he said as he threw the stiff switch and eight large lights came on, illuminating the field like a baseball diamond, transforming the twilight into high noon.
“Whoa,” Dad said. His light brown hair turned suddenly golden as he stepped into the glow of the powerful lamps. The effect was surreal.
I clapped my hands together in sheer delight. “Wow!”
“I can’t deny it, Tony, this place is amazing. Diana’s gonna love that, for sure,” Mom replied, glancing at her husband, still bathed in the bright lights. “I think we’ve seen enough.”
Obviously pleased with himself, our smiling realtor led us back to the house, chatting merrily about the great neighborhood and the excellence of the local school.
I skipped ahead, churning up the loose gravel underfoot.
School! Ugh! Resist! Don’t think about it. I was going to be the new kid … again!
 I was already picturing myself swimming and diving in our very own pool, floating free, my long hair fanned out behind me in the crystal blue waters. I could almost feel the warmth of the sun on my skin.
“Oh!” A woman’s voice cut through my daydream as I rounded the corner of the house and nearly collided with two people coming the other way.
“Hi,” Tony said, catching up quickly. “We were just leaving.” He darted a look at his watch as Mom moved up to take my hand. “Um, I thought you wouldn’t be back until eight.”
“Sorry, my fault. Just needed a couple of things, and I totally forgot you were going to be here.” His clothes looked neat and clean, and his brown hair was cut short, but his eyes were haunted. I think that’s what struck me the most about him. He looked lost.
The woman who clung to his hand was petite, and very thin. Her eyes looked past us, and her straight black hair emphasized the pallor of her skin. Despite the shock of our near collision, she kept her dark eyes averted. In her fist, she held a rumpled up tissue.
 An awkward silence followed, and Mom’s quick nudge indicated that I was making it worse by staring so I put on what I hoped was my best smile and beamed it at her.
Who were these people anyhow? Why were they acting so creepy?
“It’s alright, we’re about done anyhow,” Tony assured them. “We were just on our way to the cars.” He tried to manage a laugh but it came out like a weak cough.
“Sorry Tony, I forgot you were showing the house,” the man said. “I can’t remember much of anything these days.”
Tony scratched at his chin; a five o’clock shadow was already beginning to form. “That’s okay Dave, it’s no problem. I’d like you to meet Elizabeth and William.”  Mom and Dad stepped forward and shook hands with the couple awkwardly, casting glances back at me. Tony smiled and shoved his hands deeper into his pants pockets.
“I’m Rebecca,” the small woman said. She stepped back and a huge sigh escaped her lips as she looked at the house. She looked directly at me, took in my grin and managed a weak smile in return, nervously plucking at the seams on the leg of her faded blue jeans.
“Is this your house?” I asked abruptly and felt my mom stiffen at my side. The previously distant woman focused tired eyes on my face as she answered.
“Yes,” she said, her expression growing tender. “You’re awfully grown up. How old are you?”
“People tell me that lots,” I answered. “I’m nine.”
“It’s nice to meet you. Did you like the house?”
“It’s great,” I told her. “Did you build it? I really like the pool.”
David stepped up and took his wife’s hand in his. “Actually, young lady, I did.” He managed to look embarrassed. “I’m afraid it needs a good cleaning. I haven’t gotten to that, but I will.”
“I think the house is lovely,” intervened my mother. “The country motif is charming.”
The tiny woman smiled, but the action didn’t touch her eyes. Her expression said she wasn’t listening anymore.
“We’re looking forward to a fresh start.” The young homeowner looked at his wife and squeezed her hand. “Rebecca and I have so many memories; it feels like we’re tripping over them. It’s almost like our son is still here with us.”
 The woman dropped his hand and turned away. Suddenly, her shoulders shook and I could hear sobs erupting from her thin frame. She sat down abruptly on the corner of the concrete walkway and stared straight ahead, her eyes seeing nothing as tears poured down her cheeks.
“He is,” she whispered through her sobs.
“Oh no, honey, I’m sorry.” David said, moving to his wife and putting a protective arm around her, holding her to him as she continued to cry.
With his free hand, he extended it to my dad and our realtor. He shook hands briskly with the two men, obviously making an effort to resurrect the situation. “I’m sorry about this; we aren’t trying to make this more awkward than it is. We’re just exhausted.”
“That’s understandable,” Mom said. “You’ve been through a lot. Tony mentioned ….”
Tony stepped forward and cleared his throat. “Things are going well. We’re done here so I’m gonna take these folks back to the office to look at some papers.” Tony turned to my parents. “That okay with you?”
They smiled encouragingly at him and nodded.
The man named David handed our realtor a small paper. “You can reach us at this number; we aren’t staying here anymore.”
“Did you want me to lock up?” Tony asked, holding up the key.
David took the key and waved him off. “It’s alright; I’ll take care of it.”
As we got into the car, I turned sharply, expecting to see them staring after us, but they’d already gone. I looked longingly at the house, feeling strangely attached to it now, imagining the day when I would live there.
Which bedroom would be mine?
Suddenly, an image danced at the edge of my vision. 
A face at the window?
 I rubbed my eyes with gusto but when I looked again there was no one.
Wait. Were those curtains moving before?
I laughed at my own paranoia. What was I thinking? 

It had been days, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the strange, very sad people at the farmhouse and the curious face in the window that I did or didn’t see. So wrapped up in my own thoughts, I was fully in the room before I realized the implications of the scene around me. Our usually pristine dining room table was strewn from one end to the other with overlapping pieces of paper and my parents sat, huddling over each one anxiously. Tony was seated across from them, equally intent, his strong aftershave wafting over to me as he gestured and smiled.
That man seemed to enjoy paper far too much.
They weren’t paying any attention to me, so I made myself busy with whatever came to hand, trying to tell myself that there were lots of other houses. Trying very hard not to think about the house that could be ours.
I knew the papers could mean only one thing. This was the part Dad called “negotiating.” Apparently, the house sat on five acres of land. I knew that was a lot, but I couldn’t grasp how big that was. I was used to living within easy sight of our neighbors, our back yards touching.
Fields surrounded the new house. Lots and lots of fields. After living so close to our neighbours, it was a strange and exciting prospect to have all that space.
“Diana, did you see the pool?” I asked, unable to keep it from my mind.
“Yeah, how could I miss it? It’s green.”
“I know, but Dad already said he’d fix it. It’s going to be so fun!”
“If we get it,” she reminded me. “It’s not final yet.” She and I slouched on the sofa in the living room, the television playing a Three’s Company episode.
“When you went out there yesterday, what did you think? Didn’t it feel like home?” I asked her. Diana shrugged. “Did Tony show you the outside lights?” I couldn’t stem the constant flow of questions.
“What? Oh yeah, the lights. Yeah, they’re good. I think Koko would love it.” Diana laughed. “She’s going to think she’s a show horse when … sorry, if she gets inside that riding ring. Can’t you just imagine her prancing around like she’s the Queen?” We both laughed at the mental image of the somewhat paunchy brown and white Pinto attempting to prance.
As our laughter died down, I sighed happily. “I can’t believe it! Our own pool!”
“Hang on a sec, kiddo,” Diana cautioned. “There’s a whole house attached, you know. Besides,” she jerked a thumb at the kitchen, “they’re still negotiating.” A small frown touched her face. “It did feel familiar, though, almost homey, like I’d been there before. It was weird. I honestly felt like I would turn around and see my own things in the bedroom.” She shook her head. “Strange how that.” She stopped suddenly and looked at me, her expression a bit startled. “Hey sis, did you get the feeling ….”
“Of what?” I interrupted.
Straightening the waist of her sweater, she averted her eyes. “Never mind,” she said, shaking her head for emphasis. “It’s nothing. Just … nothing.”  
“Diana,” I asked slowly, “did you meet the owners?”
“No,” she replied. “Did you?”
“Yeah, I think so. They came right when we were leaving. The lady was really sad and she actually started crying, right in front of us. I felt really bad for her.”
“Oh wow. Really? How come?”
“Well, Mom and Dad said they lost their kid, and that’s why they were selling the house. I thought that meant he ran away, but now I don’t know.” I wasn’t sure how to say what had been whirling around in my head for two days, so I just blurted it out. “Diana, did you see any kids there when you went with Mom and Dad to see that house?”
“You mean the farm house?”
“Yeah. Was there a little boy there?”
“Don’t be stupid. Nobody’s living there right now. He must have been a neighbour.”
“Inside the house? Look who’s being stupid!”
“What are you talking about inside? There was nobody inside. Geez!”
“Look, I saw someone inside the house; I’m not making this up. I think it was the same person I saw in the driveway, before. Remember I told you?”
“Oh yeah, that little kid you saw near the barn? That’s crazy. He was just a neighbour. And what would anyone be doing inside an empty house? Did you tell Tony, or Mom and Dad?”
“And why not?”
“Well, Tony said the owners lost their kid. From the way that woman was crying ….”
“Maybe the kid died,” I said. “People say ‘lost’ when they mean ‘died’, don’t they?”
“Oh, well yeah,” she said. “Maybe he did die. So what?”
“So maybe, what I saw ….”
My sister let out a low whistle, followed by a mocking chuckle.
“So that’s why you didn’t ask? Because their only kid might have died, and you might have seen a little boy in their house, only there shouldn’t be anyone in the house? Where did you perhaps see this supposed person?”
“At the bedroom window when we were leaving. I saw his face.”
Diana was shaking her head. “You just thought you saw something. Other stuff can look like faces, sometimes. Maybe the window was dirty.”
I sighed. “It was there one minute and gone the next, Diana. The curtains opened, I saw a face, and then they closed again. It gave me shivers.”
“Oh, puh-lease,” she said. “Maybe their niece or nephew is staying with them.”
“Nope. They aren’t even staying there. They told us so.”
“Okay, so what does that prove? Who’s the kid?”
“I dunno.”
“Hmm,” she said. “I know where this is going, my dramatic sister. Ever hear of the power of suggestion? I suppose you think you saw a ghost? Stuff like that doesn’t really happen.”
I slumped and looked off to my left with a deep sigh. “Fine. Don’t believe me.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t,” she said, flipping her curly hair over one shoulder and fixing me with a superior look. “So what then? You think the place is haunted? Oooh-creepy!” She waggled her fingers at me and rolled her eyes, making me laugh. “You’re so gullible! You watch too much T.V.”
“Okay, don’t rub it in. Maybe I did imagine it.” I sank down further into the sofa cushions and tried to put it out of my mind. “You watchin’ this?” I asked her, a couple of minutes later.
“Yeah, don’t turn it off,” she said, eyeing me.
“And you say I watch too much T.V.,” I said as I went down the hall to read and settled down with my newest mystery. After a few pages, though, all I could think of was the house. Who was that mysterious boy I saw in the bedroom window? Could it have been a real person? And what about that little boy I noticed standing in the driveway? He was definitely real. Did the people have a second son? If so, why were they keeping him a secret? Something didn’t add up.
As evening approached, Mom and Dad’s excitement intensified.
Diana stirred the contents of a large cook pot, her light red hair falling to her shoulders in waves. I turned my head to one side and squinted at her. She looked like someone in a grocery store ad. I stifled a laugh and turned to walk away.
“Not so fast shorty,” she said, still stirring. “I still need you to set the table. Mom!  Dad! Can we clear the table for dinner?”
“What?” Mom answered.
“The table,” Diana said, pointing. “Can we clear it?”
“Oh, sure,” she said, hurrying to the table to scrutinize the piles of paper. “Just put all these papers … um, on the coffee table in the living room, I think. We’ll move them back after supper.” She looked behind her at the doorway to the next room. “Daddy’s mixing me a drink, I’ll be right back.”
“Okay, we’ll set the table then.” Diana turned to me as Mom moved into the other room. “Of course, when I say we I really mean you.”
“Thanks,” I replied sticking my tongue out at her.
Although we never took telephone calls during dinner, Tony’s calls were the exception. He called several times, interrupting supper so often that my sister and I were finished long before our parents had taken their first bite.
Later, the friendly realtor was back in our home, and Diana and I cleared the dinner dishes. Mom and Dad grinned excitedly at each other, as the previous stacks of papers were replaced.
I hung back in the doorway, trying to be quiet so no one would tell me to run along.
“It’s a done deal. We just need signatures.” Tony’s strong voice rang with triumph.
“I can’t believe it!” Mom’s voice fairly squeaked.
“Well, that’s it kids!” Dad said, calling to my sister and I.
“We’re moving, you guys!” Mom added, rushing forward to grab both of us in a big group hug. “We’ve got the house!”
“Yup. Now we just gotta sell this one and then we’re off to the farm!” Dad seemed excited at the prospect of gentleman farming.
I could hardly believe my ears. Tony’s “done deal” phrase had me giggling out loud. Even Diana was smiling. I had a tough time falling asleep that night.
“Dad,” I said, the next morning at breakfast. “Um, I’ve been thinking. These people with the house, you said they don’t have kids?” The problem of the little boy was still stuck firmly in my head.
Mom and Dad exchanged a startled look and Mom turned to me. “No honey, not anymore. They lost their only child. Remember?”
“Yeah … about that. What do you mean lost? He ran away?”
The adults exchanged long looks. “No,” mom said. “He passed away.”
“Oh.” I chewed my lip and thought about my earlier conversation with Diana. “That means he died, right?”
“Oh. Do they have other kids?”
“I’m quite sure they don’t,” Dad said gravely. “Why?”
“Well, remember we were looking at the barn, and I said I saw a little kid in the driveway? Remember Dad?”
My father nodded, still frowning slightly. “Yes, and?”
“Well, the way he walked up the driveway, it just seemed to say, I live here. Then, after, when we were going home, I turned around to look at the house again and I swear, I saw him, in the bedroom window.”
“Inside the house?” Dad asked, his eyebrows rose in surprise. “Quite impossible.” He shook his head emphatically. “The house was empty. There was no way anyone could get inside. You couldn’t have seen that.”
“I know what I saw, Dad.”
My statement hung in the silence as the seconds ticked by. Mom and Dad frowned at me and then at each other, obviously wondering if I was making this up and why.
“The mind plays funny tricks sometimes,” Diana said, breaking the awkward silence. “Patterns and all that. People have done studies on it.”
“You were tired,” Mom agreed. “It was a long emotional day for all of us.”
“Yeah, your baby blues are still bloodshot, kiddo,” Dad said. Even Diana chuckled at that.
“Let’s not have any more talk about seeing things, we all need to get started on our day,” Mom said. “We have a lot to do. Tony wants an Open House by Saturday.”
“But Mom,” I protested. That ‘seeing things’ comment made me mad.
“I know what you think you saw, Virginia, but it’s just not possible. Think about it logically.”
I frowned hard and headed down the hall. The low rumble of adult voices was still audible, even through my closed door. I could guess what they were saying. My “wild imagination” was their favorite topic. 
Over the next three weeks, I rarely saw my parents without a dust rag, a paintbrush or a screwdriver in their hands. What couldn’t be spruced up was carefully packed or hauled off to the dump. The spring sunshine called to my mother and she spent long hours outdoors, planting pansies. Two huge plum trees in full flower dominated our front yard. Our house had never looked this good.
Although the mystery of the strange boy was still uppermost in my mind, I knew better than to talk about it to my family.
Our first Open House attracted a lot of attention. Fifteen business cards were left piled on the counter when we got back from our trip to the ice cream parlour. To a nine year old, a spontaneous trip to the ice cream parlour was the best and most memorable part of the process, but my parents had a different perspective. I remember feeling that their reactions were very strange.
“I’m a wreck,” Mom said as we sat down on the red vinyl seats, ice cream cones in hand.  “Right now, people are going through my house, pointing out its flaws. I hate it.”
Dad turned to his wife. “Try not to think about that, dear. All it takes is one, right?” Dad nodded at her and winked at me, taking a bite of his ice cream. “We have time, don’t worry.”
“I know,” she said, holding his hand in hers and smiling. “It’ll work out, won’t it?”
Dad squeezed her hand, “Sure it will.”
“The end of the month is nearly here,” Mom said to my sister, as they sat together in our living room one evening, several weeks later. “It’s making me nervous. I don’t know why the house isn’t sold yet.”
 I turned back to the open pantry cupboard and continued rummaging. “Don’t worry Mom, the right people are coming tomorrow.” It didn’t seem like a problem to me. 
Diana turned around to make a face at me and I heard my mother’s gentle answering chuckle. “If you say so, honey.” She always treated my affirmative statements this way. I was used to being humoured. It didn’t bother me much.
The next day brought a few more people to our house, including a couple who’d been once before. I beamed at them as we crossed paths at the front door. “Hello again,” I said, remembering them immediately.
“Hello to you,” the man and his wife answered politely.
“We're going for ice cream,” I told them, matter-of-factly, as we filed out the front door.
They seemed to think that was funny and giggled behind their hands.
“Enjoy yourself,” they called, disappearing further inside my home.
When we got back, I was sent to change my ice-creamed shirt, but I clearly heard Mom’s exclamation all the way down the hall.
“Oh! They loved it!” She said.
I smiled and hummed to myself. The right people had come after all. I knew they would.
A couple of days later, a spring storm unleashed its fury all over Mom’s delicate flowers, the rain that hit the windows did so with a staccato beat. It poured all day, casting darkness over the house even at midday. I watched as blossoms drifted to the ground. Mom was in a black sort of mood so I kept the information about the destroyed pansies to myself.
Mom and Dad called this bad mood “negotiations.”
I wasn’t sure what it meant, but I guessed that it had something to do with Tony and his piles of paper. Every time they mentioned that word, Tony usually showed up with more paper, and they would sit around the table for hours, talking. Since this was labeled “adult talk” I wasn’t a welcome participant.
As though I’d been able to conjure him up just by thinking, the sudden shrill ring of the doorbell jarred the air, and Tony the realtor appeared on our doorstep. He was grinning, his teeth very white against his tanned skin and the backdrop of the storm outside. I grinned back at him, secretly wondering if his hair ever moved. His black hair lay slicked back against his head, perfectly combed and unmoving even in that terrible gale.
“The nice couple that toured through the other day has offered to buy our house,” Mom told us, as she and Dad moved to the kitchen table with Tony.
“Told ya,” I said. “Nothing to worry about.”
“Yes honey, so you did.” Mom grinned at me for a moment and shook her head. “Another of your lucky guesses, huh? Well,” she straightened up and pushed at her pinned-up hair. “We have some papers to sign, and some phone calls to make. TV off, if you please.”
Diana switched off the TV in the living room and retreated to her room. I peeped a quick look at the kitchen, but the sight of all the papers on the table made my eyes glaze over. Paperwork! Again! Yuck, they could have it.
“KIDS!” Dad’s shout sometime later, brought me back from the world of amateur sleuthing and I reluctantly put down my book. “Get in here, we have big news!”
Dad was on his feet, his face wreathed in smiles. Mom stood at his side, her smile even bigger.
“What’s going on?” Diana said, coming up behind me.
“What do you guys think of this?” Tony answered, entering the room. In his hands, he held a large red-lettered sign that read: SOLD.
Our family was moving.
That summer was the first time I ever truly knew the meaning of “overwhelmed.” Moving day approached and I started living out of cardboard boxes, as my things rapidly disappeared. Dad, as anxious as I was, seemed to make excuses to drive past the new house almost every day. Of course, I went with him. It felt like I was moving in to a rich person’s house.
“Drive slow Dad,” I admonished. I stared hard at every window and examined the long expanse of gravel in both driveways.
“What are you looking for?” he asked, a grin covering his face.
 “Just looking.” I couldn’t tell him the real reason. He’d only laugh and say I was acting crazy, but I knew he was there. Why was he hiding?  As each day passed and still I saw nothing, I was starting to think maybe Dad was right.
It was moving day at last, and we were first to arrive at the new house, our station wagon crammed to the ceiling with boxes, plants and clothing.
“It’s almost like I’ve lived here before.” I said, spinning in a circle, my arms wide.
Mom laughed. “I’ve never seen you so happy!”
Even Diana found nothing to complain about. She and I wandered through the empty rooms, noting the dents in the carpets where furniture had once stood.
“Well, it’s quiet now, but just wait ‘til the moving van gets here,” my sister said. “Then you’ll know the real meaning of chaos.”
“Everybody go and move your cars, Dad quickly announced to the growing number of friends and relatives. “The movers are finally here. Just pull up to the barn. Use the second driveway, it leads straight there.”
“What?” exclaimed my Uncle Ted, “you own that too?”
“Such as it is,” chuckled my Dad. “Came with the house. Every property has its eye sore.”
“What about that ratty-lookin’ house next to it?” Aunt Phyllis wanted to know.
“No, that’s not ours. That property is owned by our neighbour to the south. They’ve got all this land in crops, so they’ve got no time to fool around with an abandoned house.”
“But don’t you think it’s creepy?” Aunt Phyllis said.
“Not particularly Phyllis. Umm … were you moving your car or did you want me to take care of that for you?”
“Alright, alright I’m going.”
The living room had a weird square depression at one end, just in front of the fireplace that my sister called “the pit.” It was carpeted the same as the surrounding floor and looked like you could bust an ankle if you weren’t looking. With a name like “the pit” it didn’t even sound appealing. But Diana thought it was great, and currently, it was the only space not piled high with boxes so I jumped down to investigate.
Laid flat out on the carpeted surface, I closed my eyes, thinking how life would be different here.  Of course, I’d have to go to a different school and that would be awful, but I’d been the new kid before. I knew what to hide and how to act. Dad did say I could have my own horse, so that was something, anyhow, but ….
My thoughts abruptly detoured as a sharp sound intruded. It was out of place in a home where I was the youngest child. Did I imagine it? Sitting up slowly, I’d almost convinced myself I was just overtired when I heard it again. Distinctly. The happy giggle of a toddler made me stand up and spin around. My youngest cousin was eight and that didn’t sound like him. Who else was here?
Checking around the house, I realized I was alone. All the adults, it seemed, had taken a break and they were out on the large back lawn, sipping from beer bottles and plastic cups. I felt my body relax. Obviously sound carried in the country. Laughter can float in from anywhere, my logical mind told me.
“Hey Ginny, come join us!” Dad’s voice rose above the din.
I started for the open back door, but before I could go through, a flash of colour passed by the opposite window. I only caught a glimpse but knew it had to be my young cousin, Bradley.
“Ginny, you coming out?” Dad called. “Mom made punch.”
“In a minute Dad,” I replied through the open doorway. I was already moving towards the front of the house, intent on catching my younger cousin unawares when Dad’s next statement made me freeze in my tracks.
“You better get your fill of the punch before Peter and Brad show up. Your Aunt Denise is bringing them over soon. You know what those boys are like!”
So who just went past the window? In a state of frustration, I flung open the front door, revealing an empty yard and a line-up of cars and trucks. Not a soul lingered.
More than an hour later, my cousins arrived.
The rest of the day was filled with stilted sentences, frustration, and a growing sense of unease. The latter was all mine.
 Mom said to “be helpful”, but since my Aunt Phyllis' idea of helpful was to give me weird jobs, I ended up drifting towards the back door, intent on escape.
Think. I just had to think.
“Has anyone seen the box labeled pots and pans?” Mom asked, her head partially inside a kitchen cupboard. “It was right here a minute ago and now it’s gone! How can I cook the hot dogs for our lunch if I can’t find a pot?”
“William, the back door keeps re-locking, is there some mechanism that I’m just not seeing?” Aunt Julie was trying to get back into the house with an armload of linens and she was locked out … again. Dad rolled his eyes and jogged over to help.
“Liz, where’s the keys to the station wagon? The van’s here with the second load and it’s in the way again.” Aunt Phyllis asked as she wafted through the room, her gaze searching for Mom.
“Oh, for Heaven’s sake!” Mom said harshly.
“Somebody better think about lunch, I’m getting hungry!” Uncle Jack announced loudly.
“If I could find those pots, you’d already have it!” Mom snapped.
“Watch your back, coming through!” Yelled a man in blue coveralls on one end of Mom’s elaborate sofa. Mom jumped up to direct him, dropping the dish she’d been carefully unwrapping, letting it fall back into the box with an ominous sound of breaking glass.
“No, no, the living room’s this way!” She pointed, dodging ahead of the men.
 “Where do you want this?” Another mover asked, awkwardly holding a black leather armchair in his grip. “In here?” He started down the hallway as Mom came running once again.
“In the master bedroom,” she called to the disappearing coveralls as she ran down the hall after him.
“Which one is the master bedroom?” he yelled back.
“Where does this go?” said another coverall behind me. “It’s got no label.”
In the midst of the chaos, Uncle Ted hefted a box to his shoulder and grunted with the effort. “Whew! You got a lotta junk, Will!”
Dad wiped his hands on the front of his jeans and smiled. “That happens when you have a family, Ted. Your turn’s coming. I’m gonna laugh when you and Phyllis move. Then we’ll really see some junk! I remember what your room looked like.”
“Sure, sure, keep laughing,” Uncle Ted replied, grinning.
“Ginny,” Dad called, noticing me by the back door. “Don't just stand there, pitch in.” Turning back to my uncle, he said, “so? One more truckload?”
“One?” The big man scoffed. “Mom must’ve dropped you on your head when we were kids! Look around you; this is just the first wave.”
Dad groaned and followed his brother through the open door as I ducked out the back. My boy cousins had finally arrived, only to disappear just that fast, with a soccer ball in hand. I found a flowering tree behind the house with a perfect “v” shape about six feet up the trunk. I figured I could hide out there and peek through the branches at the house.
It looked funny to see all the people rushing past the windows, trying to cram all our stuff into a house that now looked too small to hold it. I was pleased with my concealed perch. No one would notice me there. And maybe I could put all those strange wonderings to rest if I just thought about them awhile.
As I prepared to climb, something unusual caught my eye. A large cardboard box sat on the grass all alone. A hastily scribbled label said “pots and pans”. Since the moving van and all the people were coming and going from the other side of the house, I realized no one was going to find it there.
“Mom,” I called, hauling open the sliding glass door at the back of the house. “I found your box.”
“What honey? What box?”
“The pots and pans box you were looking for.”
“Finally!” She interrupted. “Where?”
“Outside on the grass,” I pointed to my right, indicating the patch of lawn to the north of the house.
“What? Out that side? Well, of all the ridiculous … thank you sweetie,” she said, running up to me and giving me a huge hug. “Lunch is saved! Now you don't try and lift it. That sucker's heavy.”
As I turned away, I heard her holler for Uncle Jack, directing him to the errant box.
My new tree was located on the edge of the north lawn, adjacent to the fenced pool deck. After awhile, sitting there didn’t seem like such a good idea. My legs cramped from the awkward position, and I felt like any moment someone would holler at me for not helping. Maybe my cousins had come back and were looking for me. Or maybe pigs had learned to fly.
 I wiggled my way around to jump down.
And that's when I saw him.
He was small and pale, maybe six years old. He stood about 20 feet away, and watched me intently. 
I looked back at him for a moment, trying to decide if this was the same kid I’d seen before.
“Hi,” I called out waving awkwardly with one arm while I hung on to the tree with the other.
The boy just stood there, and if he said anything, I didn’t hear it. What was he staring at? I turned instinctively to check behind me, but there was nothing.
When I turned back again, he was gone.
I shook my head in wonder. What was going on?
A moment later, my attention was diverted by another coverall carrying something white in through the door at the far side of the house.
“My bed!” I exclaimed and jumped down.

 Chapter 3

About three days after the big move, I awoke to the sound of my parents having a discussion. My usual method of discovery leaned towards eavesdropping. An amateur sleuth in the making, I’d read every mystery book I could get my hands on, so I had a few tricks up my sleeve. One of them was to grab a blanket or scarf and muffle the sound of my breathing so I could get closer and hear every word.

“Added to that, I found all the lights on again!” Dad was discussing quite loudly this morning.

“Shush,” muttered Mom. “The kids are still sleeping.”

“Well I find it bloody frustrating when I work hard to bring in money and all night long, it's being wasted. The house was ablaze with light again last night! What are these kids thinking? Do they have any concept of how expensive electricity is nowadays?”

“I don’t understand it myself, Will. I double-checked before I went to bed and there weren’t any lights on at all in the rest of the house. The kids must’ve gotten up later.”

“They know the rules. Just because it’s a new house, that doesn’t change anything. Heaven only knows how much more this house will cost us; we don’t need wasteful habits making it worse! Someone’s going to answer me about this, I can assure you!”

Of course, by someone, I knew he meant Diana and me.

Later, after the discussion died down and a suitable period of silence followed, I made a sleepy-eyed entrance into the kitchen. Dad was seated at the kitchen table with his newspaper.

“Good morning sleepyhead,” Mom said, greeting me affectionately with a warm hug. “Sleep well?”

I smiled to myself. I could win an award.

“Sort of,” I said. “It’s cold in there.”

“Oh,” she said, looking nervously at Dad.

“Well, by all means let’s turn up the furnace too,” he replied, his tone heavy with sarcasm. “What’s a few more dollars poured down the drain?” With that, he slammed down his paper and left the room.

Even though I knew why Dad was ticked off this morning, I chewed my lip and wished I could take my comment back. His actions were surprising. This wasn’t the Dad I was used to. Mom caught my eye and smiled comfortingly. “Don’t worry. Daddy didn’t sleep well last night. Look, I’ve made pancakes! Eat up!”

When Diana finally put in an appearance that morning, Dad re-appeared from the living room where he’d obviously been stewing over the problem.

“Now see here you two,” he said as we sat at the kitchen table, backs and faces straight. “You both know there’s no parading around the house after bed time. I don’t appreciate it when you leave lights on all night.”

“What?” Diana said. “Why are you looking at me? I was in bed.”

“Well I didn’t do anything,” I said. “I was too busy freezing.”

Dad’s dark look told me to drop it.

“Look, the lamps in this house are perfectly good and they do not suddenly turn themselves on in the middle of the night.” His deep blue eyes were angry-looking behind the wire-rimmed glasses he always wore. “Are you trying to tell me you have no idea how all the lights in the living room, dining room, kitchen and family room were left blazing last night after Mom and I turned them all off and went to bed?”

Diana and I looked at each other in surprise. Lights going on by themselves? Neither of us knew what to say. We were as confused as anyone.

“Dad, I was in my room all night. I was exhausted. You’ve been working us like dogs!” Dad narrowed his eyes as Diana went on. “When I went to bed the house was dark.  I never touched any of the lights, out here,” she said. “Why would I?”

My parents turned the full effect of their “tell-me-or-else” look on me. But I was no more help than she’d been. My only crime was eavesdropping, not turning on lights in the dead of night.

“I was in my room, Dad,” I said. “My lights were off. I was trying to sleep. Honest!” I wondered if Mom and Dad believed me, the looks they directed at each other were skeptical. “Daddy, I wasn’t out of bed.”

“Well, whatever the case, both of you need to understand that this light business had better not happen again.”

“Yes Dad,” we answered.

“Will, this heat issue in Ginny’s room sounds serious,” Mom said. “We can’t have her roaming the halls all night, trying to get warm.”

“Who’s roaming?” I complained.

“Never mind Virginia,” Mom said.

“I’ll look into it,” Dad promised. “Good thing summer’s around the corner. We’ll be looking for ways to cool down. Which reminds me, I’ve got to find a pool man!”

That night, Dad presented me with a new portable heater for my room, and two peaceful, warm nights passed. Coincidentally, there were no additional lighting issues either. Dad seemed to feel vindicated, but continued to grumble about “electrical anomalies.”

“The house isn't exactly old,” he commented. “I'd expect this sort of stuff in an older home.”

There were three bedrooms in the house, and being the smallest person, I got the smallest room. It was set in the exact center of the house and strangely enough, it had no windows.

Mom said it looked like it was built as an afterthought.

It was not the ideal bedroom for a little girl, but I hung colorful posters on the walls and once my furniture was all in place, it looked kind of cute. The biggest problem was, there were no windows. With the help of stuffed animals, it looked bright and cheerful, but no amount of decorating made it any more comfortable. Being at the center of the house, Dad said it should have been ‘like an oven’ but it wasn’t. Sometimes, long after everyone had gone to bed, the air in my room would grow gradually cooler, until it felt like I lived inside a refrigerator. The plummeting temperature was enough to wake me up, and I would fight with the covers, wrapping myself up tight to try and stay warm. The small porcelain heater Dad gave me glowed red with purpose and the promise of delicious heat, as I cranked it up to maximum, but, inexplicably my breath still steamed into the air, the tip of my nose stinging with the sudden cold. Still other times, I had no need of a heater, throwing off my bed covers in the middle of the night and awakening with a halo of sweaty hair.

As if by coincidence, several of our lamps seemed to develop a life of their own, going on and off at random, usually resolving to stay on sometime after midnight. Mom and Dad slept with their door open so they could figure it out, but despite sleeping lightly and prowling the house after midnight, Dad never caught anyone. He was fit to be tied.

One night, around one a.m., I’d been trying to get to sleep for hours, but my body trembled with a paralyzing fear I didn’t understand. Why did I feel so scared?

 I wrestled between being brave and seeking help. Eventually, I padded barefoot across the hallway to tap on my parent’s open door.

“Hmm, what is it?” Dad answered.

“Daddy? Mom?” I whispered. “It’s me.”

“Come in sweetheart,” Mom said, instantly awake.  I crept into the room, shadows looming large in the corners. The moon gave off a faint glow through the curtains and I used this to navigate to the side of the bed where my mother lay.

“What does she want?” Dad’s voice suddenly rumbled in the darkness.

“It’s alright, Will,” Mom whispered to Dad as I approached her in silence. “It’s just Ginny. Go back to sleep.” Her hand strayed to my head and she stroked my hair lovingly, beckoning me to join her on the edge of the massive bed. “You have a nightmare?”

I shook my head and bit my lower lip. “I just can’t sleep.”

“Aw honey, it’s a new house. There are plenty of new noises but we’re safe. You’ll be alright. Can you go back to bed?”

My eyes widened at the thought.

Mom smiled comfortingly as she registered my fear. “Alright, well, you’re a little old for this, but I’m too tired to argue; you can curl up here. Let’s get some rest.”

Without another word, she moved over next to Dad and I crawled under the covers. The warmth of my mother’s body had transferred to the sheets beneath me and I soon felt my muscles begin to relax.

“Gin,” Mom asked quietly. “Did you leave a light on?”

“No,” I mumbled sleepily.

Dad was up and out of bed in an instant. “Damn,” he muttered.

“What?” I dragged myself back from the edge of sleep to understand what was going on.

“Never mind sweetie,” Mom said, stroking my hair in a gesture I remembered from earliest childhood. “Go to sleep.” Unable to fight it, I soon fell into a dreamless sleep.


“She has her own bed,” Dad said at breakfast the next morning. “She needs to learn how to stay there.”

I started to answer, but a quick look from Mom hushed me and I returned to my Cheerios.

“Will, I know you’re irritable this morning. That light thing is perplexing, but please don’t take it out on her. Just try to relax. It’s a new place, full of new noises and she’s reacting, that’s all. This will pass. Besides, we have more important things to worry about,” she told him, moving off towards the sink. “Like this faucet for instance. It was on again this morning, and water was pouring down the drain when I got up to make coffee. Handle pushed right up to the top. The kids haven’t been near it.”

Dad sighed, “I’ll go get my toolbox.”

“Will that really help?” Mom asked, a weary look on her face.

“It’s all I can think of,” he mumbled, leaving the room in search of his tools.

During the daytime hours, I spent my time divided between unpacking boxes and exploring the vast backyard of my new home. We had five acres of land and I was determined to explore it all. I felt comfortable there, as though I’d known this place before, but when I tried to tell my Mom about it, I wasn’t sure she understood.

“It’s weird, but I just keep thinking I’ve been here before,” I told her.

“You have,” Mom said. “We took a tour of it together. I remember how fascinated you were with the place.”

“But it’s different than that, Mom. It’s like I’ve already lived this.”

“Oh, that’s called déjà vu honey; when I walked through, I felt it too. People have that all the time. It feels … different, doesn’t it?” She smiled and touched my cheek. “I don’t know why, but I keep thinking about your sixth birthday party. Can’t seem to get it out of my head.” She squinted at the sunshine, streaming through the windows. “Maybe I’m just remembering what the realtor called it when he showed it to us: a party house.”

As comfortable as the daytime hours were, nighttime seemed to bring with it new levels of tension.

Everyone in my family seemed to be feeling the strange unease. Worse still, was the fact that I ended up at my parent’s bedside in the small hours of the night, more than I ever had in our previous house.

“It’s Friday, let’s relax tonight,” said Dad. “Lord knows we could all use it. There’s a TV special on. That channel comes in great with our new antenna.” He and Mom opened cupboards and peered into the fridge. “What do you guys want to have for supper?”

“Yay! Movie night!” I cried. “Can we have pizza?”

“Well … yeah. Why not?” Dad agreed.

Later, with TV trays before us, we chomped on pepperoni pizza and watched the screen as police cars careened violently after the bad guys, who always seemed just out of reach.

I munched my pizza appreciatively. “This is great, Dad!” I said. “Who’s that guy in the red car again?”

Dad laughed and rolled his eyes. “You’re as bad as your mother; can’t you keep the story line straight?”

Mom went back and forth to the kitchen several times during the course of our movie, coming back with napkins, forks, knives and drinks.

“Elizabeth, you’re missing it!” Dad called as she disappeared from the room yet again. “If you don’t see this part, then the whole movie won’t make sense. You’ll be asking more questions than Ginny.”

His only answer was the sound of glassware clinking together and a sharp clicking, as of plates being stacked. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched him grow irritated as he waited for Mom’s response. The kitchen in this home shared a wall with the family room. It had a pass-through over the sink, like a window without glass that looked directly into the adjoining family room. It conveyed sound easily between the two rooms, so you could always tell when someone was around. Dad frowned. We could all clearly hear the sound of someone washing dishes in the kitchen, yet Mom didn’t say a word.

Dad turned around to peer through the opening. “Honey, leave those dishes, you’re gonna miss the whole thing. The girls will clean ….” He was standing now, his pizza forgotten. “Liz! Where did you go? Don’t you hear me?”

“Coming,” her voice carried from the hallway beyond the kitchen. “What’s the problem? Can’t a girl go to the washroom now?”

“What?” Dad stared at her in wonder as she came into the room, patting her hair into place. Absently scratching at his chin, he turned around and sat back down. “Oh, I wondered where you’d gone, that’s all.”

Diana and I frowned at each other. We were just as puzzled by Dad’s behaviour as we were about the sound of dishwashing. Clearly there was no one in the kitchen.

“Dad, uh …” Diana ventured.

“Sound carries,” he mumbled, turning back to the TV. “Whoah, did you see that? There they go again!” He pointed at the screen excitedly in an obvious attempt to change the subject.

But someone had been in the kitchen a moment ago and if it wasn't Mom, then who was it? I had a hard time concentrating on the movie after that.

Later, Mom brought out a deep-dish apple pie, still warm from the oven.

“Mmm!” I said. “I love your apple pie! It’s the best!”

“What a wonderful idea this was,” said Mom. “I feel almost normal!” She laughed and began serving the pie, as my sister and I eagerly held out our plates. But out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that Dad wasn’t laughing. 

“Liz,” he said, “Do you remember earlier when I was calling you?”

“Yes,” she answered, calmly re-inserting errant apple slices back inside the pieces she’d cut.

“Were you in the washroom the whole time I was calling you?”

“Of course, dear, where else would I be?”

“Not in the kitchen mucking about with the plates and glasses, for instance?” He raised his eyebrows at her as though he’d caught her in a fib.

“What?” she asked. “What’s that supposed to mean? I thought the girls were doing the dishes tonight? That’s what we talked about.” She turned to look at Diana, then me, our heads bent over our plates. “Girls?”

“Yeah, we’re gonna do ’em after we’re done eating, Mom.” Diana told her.

“There,” she said, turning back to Dad. “Problem solved. Now, was there anything else, or can I relax with my pie?”

Later that evening, with the movie over, Dad shook his head and muttered to himself as he followed his wife into the living room, grabbing the newspaper as he went.

The next day, Mom was in the kitchen, diligently unpacking even more boxes into the ample cupboard space. “Look at all this room,” she said dreamily. “I’ve wanted to do this since the first day, but there are always so many things to be done around here!” She wasted no time ripping the packing tape off of about ten cardboard boxes.

“Now you’ll know where everything goes, Ginny,” she said, handing me a stack of dessert plates. “You and Diana still have to do dishes and I don’t want to hear you telling me there’s no room to put stuff away. Just look at this kitchen! It’s huge!”

I sighed and started plotting a dishwashing mutiny.

In answer to the unpredictable lights, Mom changed out every light bulb, calling it a precaution while Dad went from plug to plug with some kind of hand held device he called a “meter.” He said he was checking for “electrical anomalies” but I was just glad they didn’t blame me anymore for leaving on the lights.

The “blame game” in which my parents tried to find the lighting culprit, had gotten them nowhere. It seemed there was a lamp in the living room that now had the reputation of being “tricky” and the switch in the family room was labeled as being “sticky”. Anything else was simply ignored and switched off when necessary. No one really wanted to talk about it.


“Diana how’re those stalls coming?” said my Dad a couple of days later at lunchtime. “Did you mount those locks on the stall doors, like I asked? Those horses of yours are costing me a fortune the longer they stay at that boarding place. Let’s see if we can’t get them into the barn by the weekend, hmm?”

“Okay. Do you think the barn is secure enough, Dad?”

“It’ll have to be for now. Too many other things to do around here. That leaky faucet is making me crazy. It just won’t stay fixed.”

“Okay,” she said, with a resigned tone. “So how are we getting them here without a horse trailer?” She asked.

“We’re borrowing one from a neighbor down the road,” Dad replied. “He's a friend of your Uncle Ted's. His trailer's big enough to take both horses in one trip.”

“Well, I hope Koko behaves herself,” Diana commented, running her hand through her wavy hair. The natural curls bounced up and over the top of her head, effectively giving her a ‘mane’ of her own.

My sister was the designated horse person in our family. She knew a lot about horses and their myriad of accessories. A few years prior to our move, she’d acquired a full-sized horse. Her name was Koko and she was a curious mixed-breed of quarter horse, Morgan and Pinto, making her strong, belligerent and easily the most cantankerous animal I’d ever known, but her stamina and pride were unmatched. The first time our eyes met, the large barrel-chested beast had taken an instant dislike to me. So intent was she on this hatred that she had learned to kick sideways, no doubt so she had a better shot at nailing me in the leg as I walked past. For horse shows, Diana patiently braided red ribbons into her mane and tail, telling all who ventured near that she was a kicker. I viewed this as an understatement and told her she needed to paint the whole horse with that color! Most people were surprised to discover that this horse was not only a kicker, but a stomper, a leaner and just a bad attitude on horse legs!

My pony Charlie had been my sister’s first horse. He was a squat, brown and white Shetland with a heart of gold. He had enormous dark eyes lined with white eyelashes and his white mane stuck out at wild angles, no matter how many times I tried to brush it into some sense of style. He was slow and patient, often giving a little wheeze when I had to tighten the girth strap on my saddle. Both horses were being lodged in a field at a friend’s house until we could bring them home.

“Look kiddo,” Diana said to me, as I followed her out to the barn the next day. “I’m finished school, except for a few exams, but you’ve got a couple more weeks left. You’d better get back inside and get ready. Is Mom driving you?”

“But I don’t want to go to school, it’s so boring!” I complained. I still wore my pajamas, but I’d pulled on my cowboy boots over my bare feet.

“You can help me later; the horses aren’t even here yet. Dad and I go to get them next Saturday. There’ll be lots of stuff to do once they arrive, I promise.”

Sighing to myself that life wasn’t fair, I returned to the house and got ready for school. “What’s the fun of living in a new house if you have to go to school every day?” I asked Mom as we sat in the car on the way to school. “Technically, half of the chores are mine, you know.”

Mom chuckled to herself and shook her head, both hands on the steering wheel and her eyes on the road. “Anxious, aren’t we? You always want everything yesterday!”

“School’s already done for the year. There’s nothing to do, we’re just marking time. Wouldn’t you be bored?”

“You’ll have plenty of time after school is over,” she said. “Besides, you’re going to a new school in the fall, this is your last chance to spend time with your classmates and build some lasting memories. Wasn’t your teacher talking about a year-end party?”

“Sure,” I said, my tone sarcastic. “Probably something like a petting zoo. She seems to think we’re children!”

“I swear, Ginny, you’re nine going-on sixteen!”

No matter how many times I heard that, Mom’s favorite phrase always made me smile.


“Come on Mom, I just want to go look around,” I whined a few days later after breakfast. I was the last one up, the rest of my family already busy with their own Saturday agendas, the summer sun glowing through the filmy white curtains, warming the room.

“What if you step in a gopher hole or something?” Mom replied. “You could twist your ankle. How would you get help? I don’t feel good about that.” Mom, a city girl and a self-proclaimed mud-hater got her country living information from the books she found at the library.

“A gopher hole, Mom? Are you kidding? Do we even have gophers around here?” I asked sarcastically. “What about if I stay in the yard where you can see me?”

“Oh, alright … fine.” She returned her attention to the huge tangle of clothes hangers protruding from a laundry basket on the floor. “I’ve got to get this sorted out. I swear your father must’ve packed this.” I gave her a quick sideways look to see if she would say anything else.

“Go on,” she said, waving her hands at me in a sweeping motion. “Stay in the yard … and watch for reckless gophers.” This last part was delivered with a short chuckle, and I smiled back, grabbed some sneakers and bolted for the back door.

I ran down the gravel path to the cross-fenced paddock and the green fields beyond. The warm air was tinged with the smell of fresh-cut hay, dandelions and manure. Technically, I counted this as the yard, but Mom probably wouldn’t, so I moved fast.

Soon, I emerged into the large oval-shaped riding ring, surrounded by the tall light posts at each corner. It smelled better there, and the cedar shavings crunched underfoot. I looked back briefly at the house, but there was no sign of Mom.

“Free for the moment,” I thought.

Just as I ducked through the last fence into the back field, I saw a familiar flash of color. Quickening my pace, I approached warily.

“Hey,” I called out. Was there someone there by those bushes? It was hard to tell. As I drew nearer, I saw a familiar sight. It was a small boy. He had wind-blown, dark hair and was dressed in blue jeans and a brown short-sleeved shirt. He stood uncertainly near the fence that separated our property from the neighbours, watching me approach. His body language said he was ready to run.

“Well, hello again,” I said, giving him a friendly wave. Wasn’t he a bit young to be out there by himself? Again! By now, I was sure he was the same kid I’d seen that day in the driveway. Maybe I’d finally get those answers I was looking for.

He walked toward me, but suddenly stopped short. His whole manner was hesitant.

“It’s okay,” I told him. “Come on, I could use a friend.”

He pointed at his chest questioningly.

“Yeah, you,” I laughed. “You see anyone else out here?” He walked toward me and his lips parted in a smile, revealing pearly white baby teeth. I guessed his age at probably about five or maybe six.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Bobby,” he said, his voice near to a whisper.

“Call me Ginny,” I told him. “Haven’t I seen you before? You live around here?”

“Um … I think so.” He was frowning at me in a confused sort of way.

Trying to put him at ease, I continued. “I just moved in. This place is great!”

“Yes,” he agreed, smiling at last and looking around.

“You looking for someone?”

He nodded, then seemed to change his mind and shook his head ‘no’.

“Okay,” I laughed. “Have you been here before?”

“Yes!” he answered eagerly.

“So what are you doing out here then?” I asked.

The frown returned quickly and I hastily added, “Not that it matters.”

I stuck my hands in the back pockets of my shorts and squinted into the sun. “It’s great out here, isn’t it? Hey, I’m gonna look around, I heard there’s some horse trails. You want to come?”

The boy nodded slowly.

The new property held treasures, like a tiny creek and winding horse trails. The creek waters were so clear I could clearly see the tiny, round pebbles, in shades of green, brown, grey and blue, lining the creek bed. It meandered through the property at an angle, crossing the back field, shielded by small, leafy saplings and blackberry bushes with slowly ripening fruit on them. At first I walked cautiously, not wanting to leave him behind, but soon, it became obvious he had been there before, and he was just as comfortable with the place as I was. We crawled under the low-hanging tree boughs together, and slid on our heels down the angled, muddy embankments of the winding creek.

“It’s not fair,” I said to him, giggling as I tried to brush the caked mud off my knees. “I’m filthy and you haven’t got so much as one spot!”

The boy was openly grinning now.

I sat, throwing small rocks into the gurgling creek waters. The satisfying splash brought a smile to both our lips. I watched him out of the corner of my eye. Each time I picked up another stone, he’d peer at it carefully, stretching his neck for a better look before it launched into the water.

“You like rocks?” I asked.

He nodded. “A lot.”

I darted a quick glance at him out of the corner of my eye.

He was so small to be here alone.

“So do your Mom and Dad know you’re here?”

“No,” he replied sadly.

“Oh,” I said, trying to sound understanding. “Had a fight? Are you running away?” Again, he seemed too young for that, but what did I know?

“No!” His answer was quick and sharp and it brought a frown to my face.

“Well okay then, relax,” I told him. “I won’t tell. Honest.”

He seemed to settle down after that, and we spent the time in companionable silence, with just the sound of the rushing water filling our ears. Awhile later, we wandered back toward my house. The direction didn’t seem important. We were comfortable in each other’s company.  It occurred to me more than once that this boy had to be older than I first thought. While his body was that of a six year old at best, his manner was considerably older. He seemed to say a lot without uttering a single word.

“Let me show you my tree,” I said as we ducked through the last fence. “The branches are just perfect for sitting in.”

“Oh yeah,” he whispered. “I know this one.”

I tilted my head in wonder, but said nothing. He’d been here before. Probably a friend of the boy who died, I thought sadly.

We walked past the chicken coop and his head turned sharply to the left. “What’s that?” He asked, looking at me intently.

I nodded at the chicken barn. “We’ve got babies, you wanna see?” Carefully, I pulled open the spring-loaded door and we peered in. A heat lamp cast its red glow over the bodies of the young chicks as they wandered around their enclosure, peeping at each other.

“Dad wants to be a real farmer so we’re raising chickens. He got them yesterday. They're so tiny, aren't they?” A sudden loud clucking drew my attention on the other side of the partition. “Those three hens were here when we bought the place. They lay eggs every day.” I paused to shudder and make a face. “Laying eggs … yuck!”

Bobby laughed and the musical sound got my full attention. I’d heard that sound before, but where?

We stayed awhile, poking long stalks of grass through the wire mesh of the fence. Bobby giggled with delight as the hens plucked each one from my grasp, carrying it across the yard, their bodies swaying ponderously as they ran.

His laugh was so familiar.

Suddenly, the screen door banged. “Uh-oh, there’s Mom, let’s go before she remembers some chore I forgot to do!” I said, pointing at my Mom as she emerged from the back door. We ran back to the nearest paddock and ducked through.

“You’re really familiar with this place, aren’t you?” I asked him.

He turned sharply to me and his eyes, blue as they were, seemed to look right through me. I shuddered involuntarily and his smile turned to a frown again.

“You’re cold?” he asked. The concern in his voice was strange. Most six year-old couldn’t care less how I felt, unless it was somehow preventing them from having fun.

“I-I don’t know. Just all of sudden … weird right? It’s summer and I’m cold.” I laughed, but Bobby didn’t. He simply stared.

“What are you looking at?”

“You,” he said, his expression still serious.

What a charmer, I thought. Laughing, I reached out to tousle his hair in an imitation of my big sister, but he drew back.

“No!” he said sharply.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Did I scare you?”

He didn’t answer. Hmm, I thought. Let’s try this again.

“Where do you live?”

For an answer, he just narrowed his eyes and frowned at me.

Well? What was his problem?

He looked down at his sneakers, the toes of them peeking out from under his dark denim jeans, the knees almost worn through from use. When he looked up again, his expression was sad.

“What did I say?” I asked.

The small boy shook his head. He stood there a moment, kicking at the rocks we stood on, as though there were words he couldn’t bring himself to say. His little foot didn’t even seem to make an impression.

What a strange little boy he was. Expressive one minute and silent the next.

“Hey, do you like swimming? My Dad’s gonna fix up that pool pretty soon, and we can go swimming together sometime. Would you like that? Do you know how to swim?”

Again, the musical giggle I found so familiar was my only answer. He looked at me with a wondering gaze.

“What?” I asked, suddenly embarrassed. I was confused by his reaction. It was this new community, I thought. Kids wandering around alone. Everybody had horses; maybe going swimming wasn’t as popular as I thought. 

We walked in silence, not caring where our feet took us. Eventually I was startled to find that we had arrived at the neighbor’s cornfield, the stalks already grown waist high. It marked the edge of my property, and I was still a city-dweller at heart so I stopped and watched him continue to walk into the field.

“Hang on a sec,” I called to him. “Is that the way to your house?”

He just seemed to ignore me, plunging into the field, not looking back.

“Um … hey?” I rose up on my tiptoes, but after a minute more, all I could see was the occasional corn stalk bending as he passed, moving deeper into the field. He was shorter than me, and it wasn’t long before I couldn’t see him at all. “Huh, weird little kid,” I muttered to myself. I stood out there hugging my arms around my middle. Why was I so cold on such a warm day? Where did this kid live if a cornfield was a short-cut? The sun cut at the corners of my eyes and I realized that the afternoon was fading. It would be dinner soon and I knew I’d be in trouble if I didn’t get back in time to set the table. I skipped down the path, spewing little rocks out left and right as I ran, smiling. I had a pretty good story to tell at dinner tonight!


 Chapter 4

“Look, I know it’s a busy time of year, but it’s also hot as blazes and besides, my daughter’s birthday is coming soon. I need help getting this pool ready.” Dad was talking on the phone as I walked into the room a couple of days later, and he waved at me and smiled as he waited for the person on the other end to respond.
“Uh-huh …yeah, that’s right. Mm-hmm … yes … well, the problem is, the whole thing is green … yup, dark green … oh … yeah … yeah? Okay … well that makes sense. I’ll try that, but how much am I gonna need? … yeah … the shape? Oval. The measurement is 36 by 18 … oh really? Wow! That much? … Okay, I see … and after that? … Mm-hmm, and how much of that do I need? … And where are you? Yup, okay I got it.” Dad wrote something down on the scrap of paper in his hand. “Okay, I’ll see you in a few minutes. Bye.”
Dad hung up the phone and turned to face me. “Trying to get a pool guy here is harder and more expensive than I thought,” he told me. “But I found a compromise. The fellas at the store are teaching me how to fix the problem myself. I just gotta bring down a sample of pool water and they’ll set me up. Tell your mother I went to town so she doesn’t worry. To hear that guy talk, it sounds like I’m going to become a chemist before all of this is finished,” he laughed.
“We are still planning to have a pool party, aren’t we Dad?” I asked.
“Sure sweetheart, just as soon as I figure out how to make the pool blue instead of green.” With that, he chuckled, picked up his keys and went out the laundry room door.
“I’ll be back in about an hour,” he called back over his shoulder. “Hold off inviting your friends until after I try this magic potion.”
As Dad pulled closed the outer door, I rested my hand against the second interior door that separated the laundry room from the rest of the house. I was deep in thought. It was already practically the middle of summer and no pool! What if he couldn’t make it nice again? Would we have to drain out all the water and start again? How long would that take? What if I couldn’t have my pool party after all? I shook my head and mentally changed gears, frowning. What if I did have the pool party and all of my guests got terrified by ghosts?
Which scenario was worse? 
Later that morning, Mom’s voice carried to me through the pass-through from the kitchen. “Ginny, your sister’s got the flu; I need you to do the horses.” Mom stood at the kitchen counter filling the kettle with fresh water as I reluctantly returned to the kitchen. “Better make sure they have enough hay in the outside feeders, and then you can turn them out into the side paddock.”
I blew at my bangs in exasperation. I had plans today. This was gonna take forever. “Well, before there’s any more drama, you better get going,” Mom said. “When you’re done I’ll have some lunch ready for you.”
With nothing left to do but agree, I set off for the barn.
The feeders consisted of a metal-framed trough, fastened to the fence. Diana usually put a scoop of sweet feed inside to make sure Koko cooperated with the daily routine. The hay was always just thrown down on the dry ground directly beneath.
“No problem,” I said. It was to be the first and last time I would ever do the job alone.
“Okay, I stand corrected. Problem. Big Problem,” I said to myself, looking at the place in the feed stall where the hay should have been. There wasn’t any hay left downstairs, which meant I had to go to the loft.
My rubber boots made clunking sounds as they hit each rung of the old wooden ladder.
“If there’s anybody up here,” I called, “you’d better get lost ‘cause I got work to do.” Talking made me feel a little braver as I headed upstairs into the darkness.
There was a rough-cut hay chute in the center of the loft floor. As I opened it, its rusty hinges squeaked loudly. Light flooded through the opening from the barn below and helped to give me enough light to work by. A flashlight would have been a good idea, but I wasn’t noted for thinking ahead.
 The bale was heavy, but I was nothing if not determined. Tugging and pushing, the oblong hay bale finally reached the edge of the chute.
 I’d seen Diana do this before, and I thought I knew what I was doing. I pushed at the bale from first one side and then the other; finally, I heard a great tearing sound as the large bale fell ponderously down through the chute. I was pleased with my show of strength, but not with the effect. The bale had landed so hard that its twine snapped with the force of impact, scattering hay everywhere … but that wasn’t the worst of it. The wooden trap door of the chute dangled in the opening below, twisting back and forth on one rusty hinge.
Great. I’d broken the chute. Now I was gonna get it.
A small piece of twine was still attached to the trapdoor, but it twisted tantalizingly out of reach. If I could just get that and haul the whole thing back up, I could tie it in place and maybe I could even fix it before Dad found out. I was handy with a screwdriver.
“Okay,” I lay down on my tummy and inched toward the opening. Stretching as far as I could, I still couldn’t touch the twine. I needed another two inches … damn! My waist was level with the edge of the opening and I felt gravity’s tug. I sat up in a hurry. Nix to that.
The narrow column of light coming through the open chute didn’t do much to dispel the gloom in the old loft. The wood was weathered a dark grey and shadows lurked everywhere. A rush of cool air hit me in the face as I straightened up and brushed at it instinctively.
 “I’m gonna go down now,” I called out. I didn’t really know why I said that, but saying it made me feel better. “You’d better leave me alone.”
Poor choice of words.
Backing up to the loft ladder to descend, my pant leg caught on something. I kicked to shake it loose. A nail? A bit of old wood? With a small tearing sound, my leg came free.
Great. I was going to catch it for that now, too.
I peered into the gloom at the head of the ladder trying to see what had grabbed me but all I saw was bits of loose hay and the short railing that bordered the stairway.

“Imagination?” I muttered, trying to chuckle. Diana went down this thing all the time.
Another blast of icy air blew my hair back as I stood on the top rung of the ladder, getting my balance. It was summer! Where was this icy wind coming from?
Now I have never liked heights. I have had to deal with my fair share of ladders, perhaps trying to dispel my instinctive fear, but it’s always the same routine. My heart pounds, my palms get sweaty and I can feel my grip loosening. It’s a race to get to the ground, but my shaking legs don’t want to cooperate.
I’ve worked hard to overcome it, taking on impossible tasks in the hope that I won’t be held prisoner by this fear, but it’s always the same.
My life-long fear of heights did nothing to help me that day.
Even with my natural flair for the dramatic, I couldn’t have predicted what happened next.
What light there was illuminated the bottom half of the ladder and I focused on that. Awkwardly groping for the second rung, I heard a bang on the floor right behind me. “What the!” My foot slipped off the top rung and with the other still groping in mid air, I was left clinging to the short support railing by my hands, while both legs struggled to find those elusive ladder rungs.
“Oh, finally!” I said angrily as my feet touched solid wood. I took a slow breath to quiet my racing heart. “Something fell over, that’s all.”
A moment later, my bravado disappeared.
Soft, scuffing noises on the hay-strewn floor made me jump.
 Suddenly, I recognized them for what they were: footsteps. Approaching footsteps.
Squeaking in terror, I groped for the next step, desperate to get away.
I got one foot on the next rung down before I was jerked up by the cuff of one sleeve.
I screamed and fought to get away. Was I caught on something?
My ears strained for any kind of clue, whether I wanted to believe it or not.
Whatever had me, it held me fast! My legs flailed against the ladder in panic, bumping painfully against the rungs where my lower torso hung down in the space below. I was now suspended by my arms, one hand gasping the ladder while the other seemed to hang in space.
With amazing force, my arm and slowly my whole body began to rise.
Panic gripped my insides. I was being lifted toward whatever held me! 
“Stop it!” I screamed. With an energy born of fear and desperation, I twisted my body frantically, fighting to get away.
Suddenly, inexplicably, I fell backwards, released as though whoever had me had decided I wasn’t worth the effort. My upper torso, arm and hand smacked painfully against the hard wooden edge of the ladder and I scrambled for a foothold, nearly tumbling backwards down the ladder. My booted feet found purchase on the rungs at the last second and I wasted no time feeling my way, still without much light, my panic making me awkward, trembling all over.
What was going on?
Something banged loudly against the head of the ladder, only a few feet from my face and I screamed anew.
That’s when the barn lights went out.
I wasn’t aware of falling, but the concrete floor rushed up to greet me with alarming speed.
I remember that I couldn’t breathe for a moment. I was conscious of a searing pain hammering through my body. I tried to move, but couldn’t. Everything was dark. How bad was I hurt? Did that really just happen?
I lay there, frozen in fear, listening for the sounds of pursuit that didn’t come. Eventually, fear won out over injury, and I got shakily to my feet. A low rumble intruded on my clouded mind.
Pain wracked my body. “Wh-who’s there?” I called. I really didn’t want an answer.
The low rumble sounded again. What was that? A truck going past? No … this was closer.
A sharp wave of vertigo assailed my senses and I nearly fell again.  My head ached like I’d been hit with a baseball bat, but all I could think of was getting out of there.
Somehow I found the barn door and limped through.
Impossible as it seemed, no one would be coming to my rescue. I was supposed to be “old enough” to manage these simple chores. Simple. Ha! The absurdity of it made me want to laugh.
 I needed my Mom, I needed my bed…maybe I even needed a doctor. Or a shrink.
Much later, I lay on my bed feeling sore and confused.
I heard voices again, but this time, they were just outside my bedroom door.
“It was a damn good thing she didn’t fall any further, or she’d be much worse off,” it was Dad.
“Well obviously she’s just too little. I blame myself.” Mom replied.
“Now, you couldn’t know she would tackle a full bale of hay, Liz,” Dad replied, the tone of his voice was soothing. “Normally I leave an open bale in the feed stall and I just forgot today, with everything going on … the fact that she got up and walked back to the house is a very good sign. No permanent damage, just a few scrapes and bruises. It’s a farm. Stuff like this happens and she’s a tough kid.”
“Ye-es,” Mom didn’t sound convinced. “But what about those claims? What do you make of that?”
“Dark in there,” Dad said, as though that were explanation enough. “She just tripped that’s all. As for those ramblings of footsteps and being pushed, the simple answer is she’s a natural-born storyteller, we’ve always known that. And remember, she did hit her head, so she’s no doubt a little confused.”
“Thanks doc,” I mumbled sarcastically, my lips feeling thick and clumsy. I leaned back deeper into my pillows and closed my eyes. All I could think about was staying still, but I was angry at his choice of words. Storyteller? Ramblings? Nice. That’s what I get for telling the truth.
The next day, I was a mass of bruises, but being a “tough kid”, I was up and around, doing my chores and not loving it. I was still angry about my parents’ reaction, but there wasn’t one thing I could do about it.
“Now then, whatever possessed you to drag a full bale of hay through that old chute?” Mom put her hands on her hips and stared hard at me.
“There wasn’t any in the feed stall and the horses needed it.”
“And you are incapable of asking for help?”
“Um, no.”
“And have we ever asked you to get hay from the loft by yourself?”
“And all these facts didn’t register with you at all, hmm?”
“Well, I ….”  Mom’s level gaze froze the rest of my sentence.  I realized there was nothing I could really say to that.
“Well, there’s only one thing left to do, I suppose. Come here.” Mom said, her tone conciliatory.
Suspicious, I followed her into the laundry room, where she opened a closet door and exposed a puddle of multi-colored fur, nestled into a cardboard box filled with mittens and toques.
“Ooh!” I squealed, hurting my own head with the sound. “Kittens.” My excitement sent up a wailing discord of kitten mewling and I covered my ears, giggling with newfound happiness.
“Tiger must have had her babies while I was busy with you,” Mom said. “I found her in here this morning.”
“How many?” I asked.
“Five,” Mom said, grinning. “Which one do you want?”
“What? Oh Mom, really? Daddy said we had to get homes for all of them!”
“Your Dad softened once they were born,” she said, grinning. “He and I agreed you could pick one for your very own. You’ve had a rough time. Maybe this little thing will cheer you up.”
I crouched next to the box and looked them over. The mother cat gingerly stepped into the box and arranged herself in a crescent shape around them. Their eyes were still closed and they groped blindly toward their mother. Tiger’s green eyes blinked at me lazily.
“You’re a good little mother, Tig,” I said. “Can I help with one?” Tiger stretched forth one of her white-tipped paws and meowed. “I’ll take that as a yes,” I said. “Mom, look at that orange tabby, isn’t it a doll?”
“Sure is,” Mom said. “It’s a boy doll, though.”
“Boy or girl, it doesn’t matter, he’s adorable!”
“Then you’d better decide what to call him,” she said. “Adorable isn’t really a name.” She laughed softly. “Now remember, you can’t pick them up right now. They’re too small. They need their mummy.” With that, she ushered me out of the room, closing the wooden Dutch door that separated the rooms. 
I was left peering through the squares of glass in the upper half of the door, a grin permanently etched on my face.
I stayed glued to those kittens for the rest of the day, but Mom announced early the next morning that despite my adventures on Saturday, it was time to earn my keep, as she put it.
“Your chores are backing up young lady, so it’s time to get a move-on. Your Dad and sister need your help. The kittens will still be here.”
 “Well, you didn’t know how to work it,” Dad said, addressing my misadventure as we sat at the table for dinner. He rested both elbows on the table and clasped his hands. “You busted the lip off of the underside of that chute when you pushed the bale through. Now I’m gonna have to fix that, too. You shouldn’t have tried doing that alone.”
“Yes Dad,” I replied, wondering how I was ever going to set foot in that barn again without being scared to death.  
“And as for that ladder,” he continued. “Well, I know it’s always too dark in that barn, even in the daytime. I’m wiring up some lights so you can see where you’re going. Can’t have you tripping and falling all over everything.”
I stared at him, open-mouthed. He was putting it all down to clumsiness?
“Diana needs help cleaning the tack tomorrow,” Mom interceded. She looked meaningfully at Dad before continuing. “It’ll be good for you to get back in there right away.”
I was going to have to swallow my fear.  I just hoped it wouldn’t come back on me.