“Why do you stay with him?” Mary asked as she glanced
over at Emma, who was sitting beside her on the grass, while she slowly swung
back and forth on the tire swing.
That was a question that Emma found herself asking
more and more often as she thought about how to respond to Mary’s question.
With each passing day, she was finding the gulf between her and Miguel growing ever
wider and more unbridgeable. Most days, she was left to her own devices while
he worked on different parts of the house. Mealtimes had become awkward affairs
permeated by painful silences that often made her want to cringe in her seat
and flee at the earliest possible opportunity.
“You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to,”
Mary said after a long pause.
“It’s not that,” Emma replied as she batted a fly away
from her face while trying to keep her mind focused on the person and
conversation at hand. “You’ve got enough on your own plate to worry about
without me piling on you with all my grown-up problems.”
“I don’t mind,” Mary said. “We’re friends, aren’t we?”
Emma smiled and said, “I’m glad you think that.”
“Then answer my question.”
“Relationships are complicated,” Emma replied slowly, “and
sometimes when problems come up they’re not always easy to fix no matter how
much you care about the other person.”
“Do you still love him?” Mary asked with an arched
brow. When Emma nodded, Mary added, “I thought people who loved each other were
supposed to be happy.”
“We were. It’s just that…when Eva died I…”
careless,” Mary said in a rather tactless way. “If he’d been watching her as
closely as he should have been, she’d still be alive today. You have every
right to be mad at him. It’s his fault she’s dead.”
“No,” Emma replied weakly.
Mary pressed on. “But isn’t that what you’re thinking?
Why defend him?”
“I just want to be fair,” Emma replied as she recalled
Miguel’s account of what had happened. “He told me that he had turned his back
on her just a second before…”
“He’s making excuses,” Mary interrupted. “Do you think
he’ll stay with you now that Eva’s gone?”
“I don’t know,” Emma replied. “With the way things
have been going between us lately, it’s beginning to look less and less likely.”
“I’d never leave you,” Mary said as she got up from
the swing and sat just out of arm’s reach of Emma on the grass. “I like being
here with you. I hate it when you have to go.”
“That’s a sweet thing for you to say,” Emma said in a
cautiously sympathetic tone. “But wouldn’t you rather be spending time with
kids your own age?”
Mary frowned and then shook her head as she said,
“You’re all I need.”
“Don’t you have any friends at school?”
Mary shook her head again. “They all made fun of me
and pushed me around when the teacher wasn’t looking. I hated school and
everyone in it.”
“Have you tried to talk to anyone else besides me
about what’s going on with you at home and at school?”
“No one cares about me except you. I’d stay with you
all the time if I could.”
Emma felt a mixture of concern and pity at Mary’s
words and thought that a hug or a quick hand squeeze might be in order. But
when she asked her young friend if that would be okay, she was surprisingly met
with a fervent rebuff.
“You can’t touch me,” Mary cried out in alarm as she
scrambled away from Emma with undue speed and haste. “Not yet. Too soon.”
“Okay, I’m sorry,” Emma replied with some surprise. “I
didn’t mean to upset you…I just thought it might make you feel better.”
“Are you mad at me? Do you want me to go away now?”
“No,” Emma replied. “I’m happy to stay here with you
as long as you like. I just don’t want you to get into any more hot water with your
stepdad Sam by coming here and talking to me as often as you do.”
“He can’t talk or do much of anything nowadays,” Mary
replied with a malicious grin. “I made sure of that.”
does she mean by that? Emma thought with a shudder as she envisioned
Mary exacting revenge on her stepdad in a myriad of ways.
“I can take care of your husband too if you want me
to,” Mary offered. “You don’t need him anymore. Make him go away, or I will.”
“Please don’t talk like that,” Emma said as she rose
to her feet. “You’re scaring me.”
Just then, Emma heard the patter of paws coming closer.
Oddly enough, the moment she turned to face the little gray mutt that was
bounding toward her, it stopped cold in its tracks, bared its teeth, and began
“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry,” exclaimed a gray-haired
woman who came rushing after the dog. “Dolly’s usually not nearly so
Fearful that the dog might pounce at any moment, Emma moved
to step in front of Mary when she came to the realization that her young friend
was now nowhere to be seen. Where did she
“Hello. My name is Casey. Aren’t you Miguel’s wife?”
When Emma nodded, Casey added, “Your husband has told me so much about you.
It’s so nice to finally meet you in person.”
“Get rid of her,” Emma heard Mary’s disembodied voice
thunder in her ears. “Now.”
going on? Emma thought as she spun around to see if she could
find where the little girl’s voice was coming from. Am I going crazy?
“Are you okay?” Casey asked, looking concerned. “Is
“No, no, I’m fine,” Emma replied with a vigorous shake
of her head. “I don’t mean to be rude but this really isn’t a good time for me.
I think I need to go inside now.”
Oh, Okay,” Casey replied as she watched Emma turn away
and rush toward her house with her head bowed and her arms folded in front of
As Emma walked away, Casey bent down and wagged her
finger at her dog as she said, “Dolly, that was rude. Why did you do that?”
Just then, a ferocious wind began to whirl around
Casey as her dog whined and tucked its tail between its legs. She looked up at
the sky and then towards the lake with a growing sense of unease as she gazed
as water on the surface and took note of the fact that it was perfectly still.
It wasn’t long before things quickly went from bad to worse.
The sound of girlish laughter filled the air as Casey felt
like she was being pulled toward the edge of the lake by a pair of strong,
unseen hands. Try as she might, she found that she was unable to resist the
force that was pushing her inexorably forward. But then, to her great surprise
and relief, the driving wind and the laughter abated just before the tip of her
shoes hit the water’s edge. She quickly said a prayer of thanks as she clutched
her hands to her chest and tried to catch her breath.
“Casey, it’s been too long. Did you miss me?”
The hairs on the back of Casey’s neck instantly stood
on end at the sound of the oddly familiar voice while her dog whined ever more
loudly at her side.
“Tell your mutt to shut up before I break its neck and
throw it in the lake.”
“Leave her alone,” Casey replied as she snatched the dog
up into her arms and then glanced at the young female form which was somehow
floating just above the water. It was Mary.
Casey’s jaw dropped and her eyes widened as her brain tried to make
sense of the incomprehensible scene that was unfolding right in front of her
eyes. Mary was wearing the same pleated skirt and tattered navy blue sweater
that Casey had often seen her old classmate wear to school over fifty years
earlier. But her disheveled hair, sickly white and translucent skin, and malevolent
smile clearly put Casey on notice of Mary’s nefarious intentions as far as she
“You don’t look at all happy to see me. Why is that?”
Before answering, Casey glanced at Mary’s old house
and then asked, “What do you want with that young woman?”
“Why should I tell you?” Mary replied with a sneer.
“You saw what Sam was doing to me and what did you do? Nothing. He beat me almost
every day and sent my mommy away.”
“What does that have to do with her?” Casey asked
while pointing to the house.
“She’s nice to me. Did you know that she lost her
daughter? She was so sad when I first met her. But she’s getting better now,
and it’s all because of me.”
Alarm bells immediately rang in Casey’s head as the
pieces of the puzzle that had been floating around in her head quickly fell
into place. “Emma has a husband that loves her. She belongs with him.”
“Not for long,” Mary replied. “And when he’s gone,
it’s going to be just her and me.”
“No, Mary,” Casey said with all the courage she could
muster. “You have to let her go.”
“She’s mine!” Mary screamed as Casey was sent reeling
into the water by a stinging blow to the chest. After flailing on the surface
of the water for a moment or two, she was dragged underneath it by what felt
like a pair of iron weights shackled to her ankles. The words I’m dying, were the last conscious
thoughts she formed in her mind just before her world went black.
Less than two hours later, Miguel found himself
walking through the sliding doors of the emergency room at Kensington Memorial
Hospital. He had been approached less than half an hour earlier by a visibly
shaken woman in her thirties who identified herself as Kendra, the daughter of George
and Casey Wick, in his driveway. She told him that her mother had nearly
drowned in the lake that afternoon and was asking for him. Although he was
tired and hungry, he readily agreed to follow the Wicks’ daughter to the
Once there, Miguel went straight to the ICU and was
greeted by George with a hearty handshake just outside Casey’s hospital room.
“She’s lucky to be alive,” George said, shaking his
head. “If it hadn’t been for a couple that just happened be walking by the lake
when she hit the water then I think I would have lost her for sure.”
“Thank God they were there to pull her to safety in
time,” Miguel replied as he patted George’s shoulder. “Do you know what
George nodded. “I’ll leave it to Casey to give you the
details. I tried to convince her to wait but she was adamant about having
either me or my daughter bring you here tonight. She told me that it was a
matter of life and death.”
Miguel nodded gravely and said, “Would it be okay for
me to go in and see her now?”
“I think the nurse is just finishing up checking her
vitals. Let me check.”
matter of life and death? Miguel thought as he paced back and
forth in the hallway and wondered about what Casey so urgently needed to tell
him. Within minutes, George emerged from the room behind the nurse and motioned
for him to come inside Casey’s semi-lit room.
Casey looked fragile and weak as she lay in bed while
hooked up to various monitors. A faint smile crossed her lips as he moved
closer. “Miguel, I’m so glad you’re here.”
“I came as soon as I heard what happened to you,” he
replied as sat in a chair by her bed.
“Thank you. How is your wife?” Casey asked in an
“Fine, I think,” Miguel replied with a quizzical look.
“I haven’t seen her since lunchtime. I was working on the basement with a
contractor most of the afternoon and had just come from Home Depot to get more
supplies when your daughter asked me to come here.”
The rising fear he saw in Casey’s eyes as he watched
her reaction to what he’d just said immediately filled him with dread.
wants her. I know it,” Casey said as she reached out to Miguel. “You have to
get her out of that house before it’s too late.”
wants her?” Miguel asked as he
grasped Casey’s hand.
saw Mary,” Casey replied as tears began to well in her eyes. “The girl that
used live there when I was a child. She looked exactly like she did back then. I
know it sounds impossible but it’s true. And…and she wants Emma. Don’t you
see?” He did. She quickly added, “She tried to get rid of me because she
thought I’d get in the way of her plans. I tried to escape but she was too
strong and pushed me into the lake. She was holding me under when that couple
pulled me up. I thought I was going to die.”
exchanging a few more words, Miguel rose from his chair and thanked her before
leaving the room. To his great surprise, George volunteered to go back to the
house with him and offered to ask a retired priest that he knew to meet them
there to bless it. “If what Casey said is true,” George offered as they both
stepped out onto the hospital parking lot, “it won’t hurt to have a man of the
cloth with us to cleanse that place while we’re there.”
was a little past seven o’clock in the evening by the time Miguel turned his
car right onto the narrow, tree-lined street leading to his house. All seemed
quiet and peaceful as he drove up to his driveway and parked. Still, he found
himself fumbling for his house key in his haste to get out of the car and check
on Emma. He made the sign of the crows when he looked to his left while exiting
his car and saw George being approached by a white-haired gentleman in black
clerical clothes. But when he turned toward the front of the house, any
semblance of calm that he may have felt was instantly shattered by the sight,
through the picture window, of flames wreaking havoc in his living room.
my God,” George exclaimed as he caught up to Miguel. “Your house is on fire!”
And indeed it was, in more ways than one.