Jean turned back to see if Maggie was talking to her. “Let’s go out back and play.” Maggie said holding her teddy while sprinting through the door. Jean stepped into Maggie’s doorway; something fell next to her feet. Looking down, it was the stuffed bunny she thought Maggie had been speaking to. Worried someone would trip she bent over and picked it up. It was warm in the house but oddly the toy’s fabric was very cold to the touch. Jean placed it on the bed and got back to putting things away. Throughout the day when Jean watched Maggie, she appeared to be playing with an imaginary friend.
Dinner time came with John absent again. While eating, Jean decided to ask Maggie if she had a new friend. “His name’s Justin, he’s four. He’s doesn’t talk very good yet.” Jean was put back a little by the details. Maggie had a good imagination but this was different. “I saw you playing but I didn’t see Justin, is he a pretend friend sweetie?” Jean asked while trying not to show the concern she was feeling. Maggie didn’t seem to act as though she found the conversation the least bit odd. The girl sat enjoying her mashed potatoes. “No, he’s not pretend. He likes to hide.” Maggie said looking up and a bit serious to her mom. Jean asked, “Is he shy?” doing her pretend serious face back. Maggie whispered, “He’s hiding from the bad lady.”
Jean asked her daughter more about the bad lady and Justin. Maggie was vague but said the bad lady used to live in their house. While talking Maggie started asking about her Dad and why he was never around. Jean felt herself using John’s own excuses but without the conviction he had. Usually Jean would be saddened by this conversation, at the moment she didn’t mind a change of topic.
That night Jean had the awful dream again. The dream was always the same. It started out in the kitchen, ending with the bone chilling voice and hands grabbing her. While trying to get back to sleep, a pitter patter in the hall startled Jean. It was the sound of little feet scurrying, a sound she knew well. She felt sadly nostalgic; she hadn’t heard Maggie’s footsteps sound like that for a long time. She looked at John, he was sound asleep. Jean jumped up to go check on her little girl. She found Maggie sleeping sound in her bed. There was no evidence she had been up. Out in the hall on her way back to her room Jean heard the sound again, behind her.
“Is that you sweetie.” Jean softly called out. Walking back past Maggie’s room she peeped in again only to see Maggie hadn’t moved. A bit confused she decided to check the rest of the house. “Could it be an animal?” she wondered. Suddenly she jumped when she heard a knocking come from the living room. She paused in the dark at the edge of the hall and listened. Thump, thump, thump. She knew that sound, it was her mother’s antique wooden rocker. Many times she had to ask Maggie not to rock in the chair. If Maggie rocked too hard, it caused the back of the chair to hit the wall. Thump, thump. Her mind was telling her it was nothing but a part of her feared there was an intruder, or something else. Hesitantly she peered around the corner. At the same time she reached for the light switch and turned on the light. In the other corner of the room was the rocker and it was rocking just like when Maggie was playing in it. She watched it for a moment letting her eyes adjust. Then suddenly it stopped.
Jean convinced herself it was just her imagination and turned to go back to bed. Seeing a little figure in front of her, she stopped. “Sweetie what are you doing up?” she started to realize it wasn’t Maggie before she finished the sentence. In front of her was a small boy wearing a brown corduroy suit. The kind of suit from embarrassing children photos of the late seventies. His face was covered by a plastic Halloween mask. Jean bent down to address the child from eye level. “Are you Justin?” Her voice shook as she spoke. The boy turned around. Jean could see the mask was held on by a thin elastic string surrounded by patches of hair and bare skull. He ran as only a toddler can, awkwardly but endearing. Before the end of the hall, he disappeared into the air. Jean put her hand to her mouth to cover a gasp.