Just Your Imagination by Morgan Jane Mitchell
© 2013 Morgan Jane Mitchell
She felt a tingle of excitement. No one had wanted to hear her story in a very long time. Mary had almost forgotten all the particulars, but when she closed her eyes, she was able to walk around her ailing mind to pick up the clutter. Looking under discarded daydreams she found just enough to piece the tale together. The memories were worn squares of fabric but would do. It took a moment longer for her to sew the bits to one another properly, into something coherent. Next she laid the finished product in front of her over her lap like a quilt. Seeming straightening her gown, she examined her own hands. Time had made them shrivel like a long bath. Her age wouldn’t give her story the credibility it deserved and her throat tightened at the thought of being challenged. Clearing her throat, she thought maybe she should make some excuse and go back to her room for a nap.
“Gram, please.” Fanny had her two best friends over from school. She was thirteen now and could be trusted to look after her elder and entertain the girls the old woman supposed. “I promised you would.”
The old woman gathered the blanket of her memories again. It was Halloween after all, the only time anyone ever indulged in such foolishness and let her to talk about what had happened so long ago. “Your Father.” Mary met her granddaughter’s eyes and searched to make sure the young girl grasped the meaning of those two words.
“We won’t tell.” Fanny assured her taking and squeezing her soft frail hand. The girl’s friends made noises of agreement in between giggles.
Mary took a breath. She could feel her own heart race but started before she lost the courage. “When I was young we loved ghost stories and no one told a better ghost story than my sister.”
“What was her name again?” Fanny asked.
“Rachel,” Mary answered steadily smiling at the memory of her sister. The girls giggled and the old woman’s resolve almost faltered. Had they heard the tale from Fanny already? Mary observed her granddaughter giving her friends a look of warning that quieted them down. She would go on. “Rachel had a magic about her. Her mind was full of stories or she was so clever she was able to make them up when she pleased. I used to think she just enjoyed scaring the socks off me and my cousins because she could quickly tear the stories from her mind just like my older brother would tear switches from the tree and chase us.”
“Sounds like Heather,” one of the Fanny’s friends remarked.
“It didn’t have to be Halloween to hear one of my sister’s tales. She took care of the lot of us. Our days were filled with silly games and our nights with the mysterious. We stayed at my grandmother’s house mostly.”
“Fanny,” the girl knew she was named after her Great-great Grandmother.
“Yes, but we called her Mamaw. Mamaw’s house was filled with relics that were oddities to young children such as us. She had a coo-coo clock that displayed its magic every hour. We didn’t know how it worked so Rachel told us of the little men that lived in there and ran the clock. Above Mamaw’s rocker was a rain lamp. Enchanted oil flowed over and over surrounding a glorious miniature Greek statue of a goddess, it was beautiful. Rachel told us the lamp was the hour glass of our grandmother’s life. That she would die if we stuck our finger in the oil and messed up the flow. Then there were the dolls. My Mamaw loved porcelain babies. They all looked like chubby faced toddlers dressed up like beauty queens in little velvet dresses.”
“Like toddlers in tiaras,” the girls laughed.
The old woman shrugged not getting their joke and continued, “Yes, my sister had a story for everything. What an imagination! But it was the stories she told in the laundry room that made us lose sleep at night. In the half basement there was a small room only large enough for a washer and dryer, on opposite sides, facing each other and a door to swing in between them. Above the dryer were shelves filled with canning supplies and jar after jar of something. You could never really tell what was being preserved in those jars or for how long it had been there. Rachel told us that the tomatoes were rabbit hearts waiting for their turn in a special brew.”
“Your grandmother didn’t like all this nonsense, did she?” Fanny reminded her grandmother.
Mary had to think for a moment. She hadn’t quite recalled that part yet although there was something important about it. She thought she had been doing her best to tell her story but sighed at her blunder. That was, after all, the whole point to it. Her Mamaw didn’t like Rachel’s imagination one bit. “No, if my Mamaw was at home she’d scold us for such tomfoolery. Where was I?”
“The laundry room.” All the girls said.
“Ah, yes. Four or five of us kids would crowd in the laundry room and close the door. The room was already dark in the daytime being windowless and paneled in wood but at night with the door closed, it was pitch black, except for the glow. Behind the dryer was a faint blue light you could only see in the dark that mystified us all until Rachel told us all about it. She said behind my grandmother’s dryer was a door just big enough for a child’s soul to go in and out of. “
“And where were they going?” Fanny smiled.
The old woman realized she was entertaining the girls just as Rachel used to entertain her. But her story was a true retelling, she wasn’t making up tales. She had nothing to fear. “Rachel said that my grandmother’s lost babies were buried under the house. See my Mamaw had lost two sets of twins in the mist of having eleven children. Rachel said that their souls would pass through the door and live in my Mamaw’s porcelain babies and that was why my Mamaw loved her dolls so.”
One of the girls snorted and rolled her eyes, “that’s not creepy. It’s sad and sweet, not creepy.”
The old woman perked up. “That was just the first explanation. It soon changed.” Mary shook her head. “Next, the dolls weren’t benevolent souls of lost children at all but rather envious of us for living. The sweet doll my grandmother gave me, the one that played music and rocked a baby was said to sneak out of my bed at night and go back to hell through that door. And later on, any child that went missing, Rachel said was buried under my grandmother’s house and now they possessed her precious perfect dolls to plot their revenge on the feeble old woman.”
“Children were disappearing?”
“On all official accounts, no. But Rachel would tell us of children who she swore she knew the day before were gone and no one remembered them but her, of course.”
“So, she was saying your grandmother was murdering children?” One of the girls asked.
“Not exactly. She said that it was my Uncle Benny.”
“But you didn’t have an Uncle Benny,” Fanny spoke up to explain.
“Benny was one of the lost babies. Rachel said he never really died but was severely deformed and everyone was ashamed of him. He lived under the house feeding off of children that got too close to my Mamaw’s prize apple tree, the one that bore the apples for her prize winning pies.”
“Your grandmother didn’t like this at all, did she?”
The question lit a match in Mary’s old mind, and she fired the answer quickly. “My word, no. It was bad luck to be talking about the dead like that, downright disrespectful. She told Rachel over and over that she would bring the devil to our house by spreading his lies so.”
“Did that scare her?” The prettier of the two girls spoke up, and the women remembered the girls name was Heather.
“Nothing could scare my sister Rachel. She told my grandmother that she knew the secret knock that the devil used, and she would never answer the door.” The old lady knocked on the wooden table beside her. “It sounded like this, sort of, but the last three knocks have to be a lot faster.” She tapped three times slow and three times fast. “I can’t really do the knock because the devil will knock back.” She shook her head. “Don’t ever answer that knock girls.”
Now Fanny’s friends were gathered beside her at the old woman’s feet. Huddled close, they reminded Mary of her former youthful self and her cousins eagerly listening to one of Rachel’s fictions.
“What happened next?”
“Rachel wasn’t allowed to watch us anymore, me and our cousins. Her stories had put us all in danger according to my grandmother. You didn’t dabble in the occult unless you were willing to be spirited away, she would say. Mamaw said the devil would fall in love with Rachel’s horrid tales and take her away to be his bride. But Rachel was my sister; she still told me the stories. In our father’s house there was only one thin wall between our rooms, and she’d tell them while we lie in bed trying to fall asleep.”
Suddenly there was a knock on the door. The three girls jumped to their feet, all their hearts were pounding. Mary knew they would make sure it wasn’t the devil’s knock just like she always had. She scolded herself in her mind knowing she was flirting with the devil by spreading these stories to the young girls even if she was only telling what had happened.
“Let me in Fanny, I forgot my key,” the old woman heard her son’s voice muffled behind the door.
Fanny’s father’s appearance had put a stop to Mary’s story. The woman pretended to relax into her recliner knowing she didn’t want Phillip to find out she had been telling her story again. Her dose of medicine would be increased and she didn’t like not knowing her own mind. After some heavy whispers from Fanny to keep her friend’s questions at bay, the girls settled on the couch and stared at their phones as usual ignoring the old woman.
Judy, the nurse had come and gone. With Mary tucked away in her room after her liquid dinner of Ensure and a sponge bath, Fanny’s friends joined her and her father for dinner. When Fanny excused herself to the bathroom one of the girl’s curiosities took over and she spoke up. “Mr. Pelt, I didn’t know you had an Aunt Rachel.”
“I don’t have an Aunt Rachel. She is only a figment of my mother’s imagination.” He put down his napkin harshly and left the room.
Ashley looked to the only other person in the room, her friend Heather, and they shared a devious smile. They wanted the rest of Mary’s story and saw their chance. Quickly and quietly they went up the stairs and crept down the long hallway leading to Mary’s room. Ashley thought it was cruel they kept the woman so far away like she was locked in a tower. As long as she had been Fanny’s friend she had only seen the old woman a handful of times and wondered now if the old lady was truly mad and that was the reason the family kept her hidden.
Door after door lay before the girls; they didn’t know which one was the old woman’s. Heather covered her mouth to stifle a laugh before knocking on the third door, three times slow and three times really fast. Ashley slapped her friends shoulder and huffed. She felt the hair on the back of her neck stand on edge and rubbed her arms to make the goose pimples lie down. She shouldn’t be frightened, she told herself as she tapped lightly on the next door twice and listened before trying the knob. “Locked,” she whispered to Heather.
The girls both put up their fists to the next door and hesitated. Both of them knocking would make too much noise. But before they could decide who would give up, they heard a faint echo of a knock themselves, three times slow, three times really fast. Ashley’s heart stopped and fear spread over her expression making her as pale as a ghost, but Heather thought it was funny and swiftly tried the handle.
The next day after school Mary waited eagerly for the girls to arrive. She longed to finish her story. She had made it down the stairs all by herself, so she was not at all surprised by the look of shock on Fanny’s face when the door opened.
“Gram, you scared me. Who helped you down the stairs? Did Judy come early?”
Mary smiled and stretched her neck to look behind her granddaughter. Her spirits fell when she saw Fanny was alone. “Where are your friends, dear? I thought we could finish the story.”
“Are you sure you are feeling well Gram? I’m not allowed to have friends over until father is home. How would I take care of you and entertain company?” Fanny patted her grandmother’s arm.
Mary shook her head and murmured to herself, “I know that Ashley and Heather came over yesterday.”
“Now Gram, that’s just your imagination. Who are these girls, Ashley and Heather?”
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