Jean went to the kitchen. She pulled a bottle of red wine from a little rack they kept on the counter. She knew she wasn’t delusional, and nothing she felt told her the boy was a danger to her or her family. But she didn’t know how much more of this she could take.
The next morning was Saturday. Waking up she couldn’t believe the clock when she saw it was nine a.m. It had been a long time since she had slept after eight. Walking through the living room she found Maggie watching her cartoons. In the kitchen while making coffee she heard noise from the garage. Peeking in, she saw it was John. He had a ladder out and was leaning against a stack of boxes taking a break. “Hey, you’re not at work.” Jean said, legitimately surprised. “I have been feeling bad. I know I haven’t been around much or helped with the move. So I decided to get the holiday boxes up. When I was done, I hoped we could take Maggie to the park or something.” “That would be great.” Jean was astonished. John walked over and held Jean. “Well, I was going to go in this morning, but then I saw the empty bottle by the sink. Looks like someone had a late night and I am sorry if I am the reason.” Jean told him apology accepted while giving him a big hug. She didn’t want to talk about what she had seen. Having her late night solo drinking on John’s conscious suited her fine. She was happy to know he still cared; she had had her doubts.
“Hey check this out.” John said turning around. He grabbed a small box from the top of a large one. “I was up in the rafters checking to see if that old piece of plywood was strong enough to hold our stuff and found this.” He handed her a box the size of a department store shirt box. It was very old and faded by time and moisture. It had a cellophane window on top but the contents were hidden by a layer of dust. Moving back to Jean’s side, John took a rag and wiped the top. “Cool, huh. It’s a Halloween costume, has to be really old too. I remember coming home with one like this when I was a kid.” Jean felt her heart sink as John’s words and actions revealed what part of her already knew. On the bottom were the words “Little Vampire” and looking at her through the window was the same face she had seen the night before. She handed the box back to John. “I need to go check on Maggie.” Jean said hastily. Before going back inside she gave John a kiss on the cheek and told him again thanks for being home.
Jean had one of the best days since moving in. Jean, John, and Maggie made it to the park, spending time like a real family. It helped subdue Jean’s dread that was building with the approaching evening. At dinner she held back from talking about Justin to Maggie. She didn’t need John thinking she was crazy; he didn’t have a very open mind about such things. But she needed to know more about what Maggie was experiencing. Putting Maggie to bed that night, she asked if Justin ever visited her after bedtime. “Oh no, he has to be in bed before dark. Or the bad lady gets mad.” “Well if you see him again, you come and get me ok? Mommy needs to talk to him.” “Ok mommy.” Maggie seemed elated with her mom’s acknowledgment of Justin.
John had finally succumbed back to his office and lap top. But Jean didn’t mind, they had a great day. She took some of Maggie’s dirty clothes to the garage. On top of the washer John had left the costume box. She picked it up and opened it. The mask was white plastic with a poorly painted vampire face. Under the mask was a black plastic cape. She lifted the mask out of the box to examine it. She couldn’t explain why but as she held the frail plastic, she felt a strong urge to put it on. Jean pulled the elastic strap down and brought the mask to her face.
She was back in the dream, the child again reaching for the old man. The voice was frightening as ever, her little heart was pounding. The hands dragged her to the bathroom flipping her around. The face before her was contorted by an irrational anger. A brunette woman about Jean’s age was screaming at her an inch from her face. “You don’t go near him you little bastard.” Jean heard a trembling voice that wasn’t hers say: “Sorry Ms. Alice.” “Sorry is not good enough.” The woman said furiously. She then pushed Jean, who fell backwards. Jean felt a jolting pain as the side of the tub slammed against the back of her head. She was lying on the floor unable to move. All she could see was the base of the toilette. Jean could hear water running. Then the hands picked her up. She could see the face again it was calm but the eyes were vacant. She felt cold water as she was put in the tub. Still unable to move she watched the face disappear under a cloud of red. She could feel her lungs involuntarily struggle for breath and fill with water. She was dying, and then the real her started to become lucid again. She remembered being in the garage and putting on the mask.
She fought against the paralysis with everything she had. Finally succeeding she pulled the mask off. Jean found herself sitting on the floor against the washing machine. Her skull was throbbing. She felt a little blood and a bump on the back of her head. There was blood on the corner of the washer as well. She put the mask back in the box and put the lid on it. Not wanting Maggie to get a hold of it, she put the box on top of the cabinet above the washer.
Jean went inside to her bedroom, taking a seat on the edge of the bed to think. She knew these things were real. There was no doubt in her mind that a child was killed in the house. She had to do something but didn’t know what. She couldn’t call the police until she knew more. On Monday after taking Maggie to school, she decided to call the listing agent. She wanted to see if she could get any info on any previous owner. Martha was not much help, she said the seller was an attorney working on behalf of a trust and she didn’t know who the original owner was. Hanging the phone up, she felt stuck. Going to stand up she saw some mail on the table. It was in the spot where John leaves his keys. Jean figured he had probably meant to drop it in the box on the way out. Picking it up she noticed John had wrote “not at this address” on one of the envelopes. It was from Sunny Acres retirement community and addressed to a Ms. Alice Stone.
Jean looked up the retirement home online, they were close. She almost called but didn’t know what to say. She decided to figure that out on the way down there. In the garage on the way to the car she found the mask. It was on the floor next to its box which had fallen. She didn’t want to get rid of the mask but didn’t want to leave it, so she shoved the mask into her bag and threw the box into the garbage.
Sunny Acres looked like a large apartment building. The lobby consisted of a single receptionist desk and a few chairs. Past the desk down a short hall sat two elevators. It was a shot in the dark but somehow she knew she was in the right place. “Hi, I am here to see Alice Stone.” “Are you a relative?” asked the gray haired lady behind the desk. The receptionist looked as though she might be a resident as well. “Yes, my name is Martha. I’m her niece.” Jean wasn’t quite sure why she lied but it worked. After a quick call the lady told her the room was number 612 on the hospice floor.
The elevator opened to another desk, where a woman with black broad rimmed glasses was going over paper work. She lifted her head to ask Jean if she needed help. Jean said she was there for Ms. Stone and the woman pointed down the hall to her right. As Jean walked down the hall she felt it looked like a hospital floor with a false façade. All the professional decorating did little to hide the cold institutional feel. Finding room 612 in the middle of the hall, Jean hesitated before knocking. She didn’t know what she hoped to achieve but she knew she didn’t have any other ideas. She needed answers; she needed to be able to sleep again. Jean knocked on the door and waited. Part of her expected that horrible voice but instead heard a very weak “come in”.
Inside smelt like hospital disinfectant. The room looked like a normal apartment except for the bed in the middle of it. An old gray-haired woman lay with her head to the side. She was straining to see who it was coming in. “Come in and sit down.” Jean took a seat next to the bed. The woman rolled her head over to see her. She was very old but Jean knew that face, it was burnt into her brain forever. The old lady looked at Jean quizzically. “Who are you? I don’t know you. Are you a bill collector? I know you’re not my niece; I don’t have any kids either. Don’t you lie to me.” “No Ms. Stone, my name is Jean. I think I moved into your old house, over on Euclid Ave.” So you bought the old place. What do you want with me?” “I have been having some strange experiences and wanted to see if you know anything about a boy that may have lived there, named Justin.” “How did you…” the old lady looked stunned but only for a second. “So that’s what this is about. I always knew this would come back to haunt me. That boy was a curse on me.” The woman’s face turned from concern to almost a grin, her voice although still weak had hints of its former self. It was giving Jean the chills. “Did you find something in the back yard?”
“No, I didn’t.” Jean said disturbed by the sudden omission. Alice turned her gaze away from Jean “I don’t care anymore, my life is gone. They can’t take away or do anything to me now. Not even my dignity, I lost that when I couldn’t make it to the bathroom any more. Well what is it? What the hell do you want?” “I just want to know anything you can tell me about Justin.” “Justin. I’ll tell you all about the brat. I don’t know why it’s any of your business, I don’t care.” Her voice had almost its original wretchedness now. Jean no longer wanted to be in the same room with her, but she had to stay, she needed to hear. “If you must know, my late husband knocked up some tramp just before we met. We got married late in life, especially his. It was my second marriage. He says he didn’t know about the boy. I guess she was a real party gal, in to the drugs. One day she shows up on our door step with this boy and says Richards the father! She’s crying, really turning it on. Leaves the boy there, we never saw her again, not a word. Well I had made it clear when we got married I didn’t want kids of my own and I sure as hell wasn’t going to take care of some whore’s kid. I didn’t even think it was possible for Richard at his age, that’s one of the reasons I agreed to marry him! He liked the boy from the get go, I could see it in his eyes. Oh, did me and him yell and scream at each other. We had some fights after but that was the one and only time he ever threatened divorce. I wasn’t going to give up everything I had worked so hard for, not to that little bastard.” She turned her face back towards Jean. “You should have seen him around that boy, always wasting money on him, defending him, it made me sick. When Richard fell ill about a year later I wasn’t sorry at all, by then I hated him and that boy. In fact, Richard getting sick would have been a blessing if it wasn’t for that boy.” Jean stayed silent but knew the old lady could see the discomfort in her face. She thought a confession like this would have been remorseful but the old lady seemed to be relishing the story. It almost seemed as if she actually thought Jean should have felt sorry for her.
“Well one day the boy was running around the house with this stupid mask on. Richard had got him it for Halloween. He was running around the house getting into things he shouldn’t and I had had enough.” Lying there looking at Jean from her pillow Alice smiled a gloating smile. In a scornful tone she asked, “So do you know what I did? I killed that little son of a bitch. Drowned him and buried him in the yard. Richard was as good as dead himself by then, so there wasn’t one person on earth who knew or cared about the little brat. No one came looking, well not until you.” “I have one more question, Alice.” Jean said solemnly while standing up. “Well what’s that it’s almost time for my nap.” Jean began pulling the mask out of her bag. “Do you remember this?” “Where did you get that I thought I had thrown that out.” The old woman’s face turned to concern. “I want you to see something” Jean said pulling the elastic string out so she could slide the mask onto the old woman’s head. Alice put up a feeble fight until the mask was on, then her arms went limp to her sides. Jean stood back slowly coming to grips with what she had down. After a few minutes of complete silence the old woman began to convulse. She made gasping and gargling noises before finally laying still. Jean retrieved the mask and left as quickly as she came. All the way to the elevator she thought for sure someone would stop her. But while looking into the open doors as she passed and watching the employees and residents, she realized something; this was a place people were sent to be forgotten. When someone did find Alice, a new vacancy was marked in a file somewhere and that was it.
Back at home Justin became Jean and Maggie’s secret friend. If Maggie got in trouble for making a mess, she blamed Justin. Sometimes she was telling the truth. Jean did her best to make Justin feel welcome. He was still shy around Jean but there were times when she knew he was there. Justin inspired Jean to do some research into the paranormal. She found a local psychic online who specialized in helping lost souls find the other side. Jean scheduled him to come out for a consultation when John and Maggie were out of the house. She was skeptical at first, purposely being vague. All she told him was she thought there was a ghost in the house. It took an hour of trying to coerce Justin into talking to him, then as if from the air the physic new Justin’s name and age. After he appeared to be communicating with Justin, he went into what Jean thought was a bit of theatrics. He described a light and told Justin where he could find it. Speaking like he was talking to a very young child, he encouraged Justin to go to the light.
Jean thought it all was a bit of showmanship until Maggie came to her the next day. The girl said Justin had come to her to say good bye, saying his dad had come to get him. She told her mom he didn’t have the mask on and that he was really happy.” He’s a cute kid, mom.” Maggie said sounding surprised, Jean giggled and smiled at her daughter’s description, as tears rolled down her cheeks.
The dreams didn’t come back and a new happiness was felt in the house for weeks. Until the night when Jean woke to a feeling of panic and fear, she sat up in bed. She was trying to calm herself when Maggie screamed from down the hall. She ran to her daughter’s bedside to find her sitting up crying. John came just behind Jean and asked from the doorway what was wrong. Jean picked Maggie up hugging her and asked as well. “We have to leave; we have to get out of the house!” Maggie said hysterically. “Why sweetie, why do we need to leave?” Between tears Maggie answered, “Because she said so.” “Who sweetie, who said so?”Jean asked while rocking Maggie to comfort her. Maggie pointed behind her dad: “Ms. Alice.”