“Emily!” Rachel called out, her voice weak and frail. “Help me, Emily!”
The little girl frowned as she hurried into the room. The elderly woman was lying on the floor, tears rolling down her cheeks.
“I’ve fallen, Emily. I can’t get up.”
Tears came into the eyes of the little girl. She couldn’t speak, but she gently caressed Rachel’s wrinkled brow. It would have been so easy to keep her here; all she had to do was do nothing. Most likely no one would find them in time, and she would have been her companion forever.
The woman sobbed with pain, and Emily knew that she couldn’t do it. She would have to do something, but didn’t know what she could do. Finally, she had an idea. It wasn’t easy, but she managed to push the thing her sister called a telephone off of the table.
The cordless phone landed by Rachel’s side, and she smiled gratefully before pushing a series of buttons and summoning help. “Thank you, Emily.”
Emily smiled sadly. She knew that once help arrived, her sister would leave, nevermore to return. There was so much she wanted to say in the scant moments that they would have together. Instead, she simply touched her hand.
“I love you, Emily,” Rachel choked. She seemed to know that they would never see each other again. “Don’t ever forget that.”
“I’m sorry!” The whispered reply stunned both of them.
“No, Emily.” Rachel’s voice was surprisingly firm. “It’s all right.”
The little girl’s tears matched those of the injured woman. “I love you, my Rachel!”
Rachel smiled, and it seemed as if tears of joy mingled with those of pain. There was a noise from outside. “Take care, my little Emily. I’ll always love you.”
Emily lightly stroked her cheek. She knew she had done the right thing, but it was so hard to see her go. The front door began to open. A man’s voice called out, “Miss Martin? Where are you?”
After a final, wistful glance, she vanished from the room. With her sister leaving, there was no reason for her to remain in the little house, so she returned to the place that had been her own first home. But as time passed, and a new family moved in, she found it impossible to stay away.
“There! Perfectly perfect!” Trixie exclaimed, carefully tossing a freshly plumped cushion on the sofa. “What do you think?”
Honey smiled fondly, casting a glance at the framed photograph on the mantlepiece. “I think you’re a good woman, Trixie. That’s what I think.”
She met her friend’s gaze and shook her head. “No, I’m not. Do you have any idea how hard it was to put that up there? But Erica deserves some memory of her mother.”
“And she’ll have it,” Honey assured her. “One day she’ll realize just how lucky she is to have had two wonderful mothers.”
Trixie smiled, but then sighed wistfully. “I hope so, Honey, but what if she doesn’t? I mean, what if I’m not a good wife or mother? What if everyone is right?”
“Trixie!” Honey rebuked gently, pulling Trixie down to sit beside her on the loveseat. “You know better than that! Look at how much they both love you.”
“I hope so. I’m trying, Honey, but I think I just listened to Brian and Mart for too long.”
“Don’t.” Honey stated emphatically. “I love my husband, but he was wrong about this.” She swallowed hard, still not comfortable addressing the man her friend had married three months earlier by anything other than the title she had used for so long. “Dell loves you for you- and it’s more obvious every day.”
“I know,” she replied softly. “But deep down, I’m still comparing myself to her, and I keep coming up short.”
“Heather wasn’t perfect, Trixie. And honestly, you’re the only mother Erica has ever really known. Just think of where she would have been if it weren’t for you.”
“With his mother,” she answered, wrinkling her nose in spite of herself. “I know she loves Erica, but still….”
Honey smiled. “They both love you, Trix. And it’s going to be so wonderful having you living here again!”
“Definitely!” Trixie nodded emphatically. “I know this old house still needs a lot of work, but it’s so nice being back in Sleepyside!”
“It’s good having you back! It’s almost like old times again.”
She laughed softly. “Almost, but not quite. If anyone had told me back then….” She trailed off as a car door slammed in the yard. She quickly gave her friend a hug. “Thanks, Honey. I needed that.”
Honey returned the gesture. “Anytime, anytime at all. What else are best friends for?”
Trixie smiled gratefully. The door flew open before she could answer, but she knew deep down that no words were needed between the two of them. Within seconds, she heard, “Mommy Trixie! Look what Gramma gave me!”
“Did you remember to tell her thank you?” Trixie asked, tightly hugging the seven-year old girl that had run into her arms.
Erica nodded emphatically. “I did.” She turned to the man bemusedly shutting the door. “Daddy, may I go show Emily?”
“Go ahead,” he answered in resignation, greeting Trixie with a quick kiss while Erica ran out of the room carrying the doll her grandmother had given her.
Conscious of Honey’s eyes on them, she blushed, but relaxed when Dell smiled his understanding. He sighed wearily. “Oh, am I glad to be home!”
“Was it that bad?” Trixie asked, returning his smile.
He chuckled. “No, but between my mother and Erica, I’m beat. From the looks of this room, both of you must be, too.”
“Yeah,” Trixie admitted, “but I think I’m finally through rearranging and decorating.”
“For a while, anyway,” Honey laughed. She glanced at the clock. “Well, I need to get going. I’ll see you Monday, Trixie, and it was good seeing you, Captain.”
“Take care, Honey,” he told her, sighing when the door was firmly closed behind her. “Trix, will any of your friends ever call me by my name?”
“Do you really want me to answer that?” she asked dryly. “Because I very seriously doubt it.”
“Doubt that I want you to, or doubt that they will?” he teased, pulling her down beside him on the sofa she had so recently arranged.
She lightly kissed him. “If anyone ever does, Honey will probably be the first, and she can barely manage it when talking to me, let alone to your face.”
He pulled her into his arms. “Well, we both knew that it wouldn’t be easy.”
“I know,” she agreed, resting her head on his shoulder. “But nothing easy is ever worth having, is it?”
“No,” he answered softly. “Not at all.”
After a moment of a silence that needed no words, she pulled away from him. “Why don’t you go check on Erica while I make dinner?”
“No, I’m taking you two out tonight. I thought we could try that new Chinese place, and then run over to the hardware store. We’ve got to do something about the doors not latching.”
She nodded. “I know. I’m sorry, and I know it’s the wind, but it’s not a good feeling when I keep hearing doors slamming when I’m here by myself. And well, I’m always worried about Erica slipping outside without one of us knowing.”
“Well, Erica knows better than to go outside without permission,” he assured her, then whispered in her ear, “I’m more worried about her coming inside our room!”
Trixie blushed, and he gave her a squeeze. “You do know I love making you blush, right?”
“I’ve noticed,” she answered wryly, extricating herself with a smile. “Go on and get Erica ready while I freshen up. The sooner we leave, the sooner that door gets locked.”
“Erica!” he called out immediately, and they both burst into laughter.
The mirth was short-lived, however, when, moments later, Trixie heard a childish voice raised in protest at the thought of leaving Emily home all alone. Deciding it would be best if she didn’t get involved, she made herself sit down at her dresser while the voices continued to come through the open door.
“Emily can come, too,” Dell assured his daughter, and after years of experience, Trixie could recognize the note in his voice that meant he was struggling to be patient. She sighed, hoping that his “invitation” would solve the problem.
“She says she can’t come, Daddy,” Erica said a moment later. “She wants me to stay and play with her.”
Trixie flinched. In the month that they had been living in the small house they had purchased from Rachel Martin, it seemed that Erica had started to slip into a dream world as she became more and more enthralled with the idea of “Emily”, a little girl she claimed to have met the day they moved in. Assuming that she simply needed time to adjust to the radical changes in her life, they had decided to play along, hoping that the imaginary friend she had created would disappear when she started going to her new school in September.
“No, Erica. You’ll have all day tomorrow to play. Right now, we’re going to dinner.”
“Daddy!” she protested again. “We can’t leave Emily all alone!”
There was a long moment of silence, and despite her intentions to stay away, Trixie left the dresser and sat on the edge of the bed so that she could see into the little girl’s room. She smiled at the sight her husband made as he knelt down beside his daughter and wrapped an arm around her. This- this was the side of him that he never let anyone else see.
He spoke quietly, his impatience overshadowed by a very real concern for the child. “Erica, honey, you know Emily’s not real.”
“She is, too, real, Daddy,” Erica answered seriously. “I play with her all the time!”
“No, honey. I know it’s fun to pretend sometimes, but you know that Emily’s really only make believe.”
“No, she’s not!” the little girl insisted. “And she doesn’t like it when people say she’s not real, either!”
Trixie found herself shivering as a sudden blast of cold air blew through the rooms, and to her surprise, Erica looked frightened as she threw her arms around his neck. “Can we go, now, Daddy? Emily just left, and I think she’s mad.”
“We’ll leave as soon as you put your shoes back on,” he assured her with a hug. “Go on in the living room when you’re ready, while I see if Mommy Trixie’s ready to go.”
“Hurry, Daddy! I don’t want to be here if Emily comes back tonight. She’s not nice when she’s mad!”
“Then put your shoes on,” Dell sighed. He quickly walked through the door separating her room from theirs. “Are you about ready, Trix?”
“Yeah,” she agreed, stepping into the loafers she had put beside the bed.
He closed the door behind him, and Trixie could see the intense worry on his face when he took her in his arms. “We’ve got to do something, Trixie. This just isn’t normal.” His words were barely loud enough for her to hear, and she knew that it was painful for him to admit it.
“No,” she whispered softly. “But Dell, what can we do? She’s really frightened!”
“I know she is.” His shoulders sagged, and she tightened her arms around him. “Maybe we really do need to take her to that psychologist my mother keeps mentioning.”
“Daddy!” Erica banged on the door. “Let’s go!”
Trixie kissed his cheek and pulled away, whispering, “We’ll talk about it later, okay?” At his nod, she raised her voice so that the child could hear. “I think we better hurry. Someone sounds hungry!”
Erica giggled nervously. “Let’s go, please?”
“All right,” Trixie answered, smiling as she opened the door. “Let’s go.”
“You know Emily’s not real,” he had told her, but the child had disagreed. Emily smiled, knowing that no one would be able to convince her otherwise. Still, they would do whatever they could to take Erica from her.
“No!” Emily spoke aloud, both as a test of her voice and as a reaffirmation of her determination. She had let them take her beloved Rachel away. She couldn’t lose Erica as well. Not if it meant an eternity alone.
She straightened her shoulders, thankful for the increased strength she had felt since befriending the child. She would start with a slight warning, but she knew that she would need all of her strength before the battle was won and Erica was hers.
“Look at her,” Trixie whispered softly as they pulled into their driveway later that evening. “She’s sound asleep.”
He nodded, turning to see his daughter’s head leaning against the window glass. “It’s been a long day for her.”
Trixie smiled, but frowned when she stepped out of the car. “Um, Dell? Didn’t we turn the lights off when we left?”
“I did,” he replied, glancing at her curiously. “Well, all except the porch light.”
“Are you sure about that?” she answered, forcing herself to stay calm.
Dell looked towards the brilliantly lit house. His expression darkened, and he commanded, “Stay here with Erica. I don’t like the looks of this.”
She started to speak, but simply nodded. It was true that someone needed to remain outside with the child, but she suspected that even had they been alone, he still would have prevented her from entering the house. She sighed, reflecting that some things would never change.
“What’s going on?” Erica asked groggily, rubbing her eyes with her tiny fists. “Why aren’t we going in?”
“We will in a few minutes, munchkin. Do you want to go sit with me on the swing?” Trixie asked, grasping for something to distract the little girl.
Erica nodded, tightly holding to her hand as they walked across the yard. They sat in silence for a few minutes, while Trixie desperately wondered what he had found that was taking him so long.
It wasn’t long until Erica squirmed and whispered, “Look, Mommy Trixie. Emily’s on the porch!”
Despite herself, Trixie found herself looking that way. She sighed softly, holding the child tightly to her. “Erica, can you do me a favor?”
“Uh-huh,” she answered solemnly. “What?”
“Don’t mention Emily to Daddy tonight, okay? He’s not in the mood for playing right now.”
“I’m not playing,” Erica protested quietly. “Mommy Trixie, why won’t he believe me? And why can’t you see her? She’s almost always in the house!”
To her dismay, Trixie realized that Erica had honestly convinced herself that Emily was really there. The child continued, “I like her when she’s nice, but she scares me when she gets mad. Yesterday, when we were in the back yard, Reddy came running up from Uncle Mart and Aunt Di’s house, but she doesn’t like dogs. I wanted to play with him, but she just looked at him and it scared him away.”
“Trixie! Erica!” Dell called from the porch, and although part of her dreaded what he might say, she was also grateful for the interruption. The revelation she had just received actually frightened her more than the thought of someone inside their house.
“Can we go in now, Daddy?” Erica asked as she walked up the steps.
“You can go in the living room,” he told her, his troubled eyes meeting Trixie’s worried ones. “How would you like to spend the night with Aunt Di and Uncle Mart?”
She nodded happily. “Can I?”
“You may,” he corrected automatically. “But I don’t want you to leave the living room until they get here to pick you up.”
With Erica comfortably ensconced on the sofa with her new doll, Dell pulled Trixie into the hallway. “Mart’s on his way to get Erica. I had to call Dan, and I don’t want her here while he’s making out a report.”
“What happened?” Trixie whispered. “Were we robbed?”
“Nothing seems to be missing, but someone definitely broke in. Go look in our room.” He paused for a brief moment. “But don’t touch anything!”
She wrinkled her nose at him, then hesitantly opened the door, completely unprepared for the havoc she found. Drawers were open, their contents scattered over the room. An almost overpowering odor drew her attention to where the bottle of perfume Dell had given her the previous Christmas lay shattered on the floor amongst the debris.
“Oh, Dell!” she gasped in horror, forcing herself to walk into the midst of the destruction. A cold draft blew through the room, and she shivered as she made herself glance at the mirror that was part of her dresser.
Tears came to her eyes as she realized that long cracks snaked through the glass. The heirloom piece had once belonged to her grandmother, and had been handed down from her mother as a wedding gift. She knew the glass could be fixed, but it would never be the same.
A movement caught her eye, and to her astonishment, she realized there was now another reflection beside hers in the mirror, that of a young blonde girl dressed in the fashion of almost a century earlier. The wavering figure smiled smugly, waved, and vanished. The faint sound of childish laughter reached her ears, and Trixie screamed.
What I feared most as a child
Was the coming of the night
Now my horrors have become quite real
My nightmares breathe new life
‘Cause I’m shakin’ and I’m thinkin’
Of something evil lurking
And waiting for me in the house
Yes, I’m shakin’ and I’m thinkin’
Of something evil lurking
And waiting for me in the dark
“Calm down, Trix,” Dell pleaded, wrapping his arms around her. “I’m right here.”
She finally managed to quit screaming, but she still was unable to stop shaking. “The…., the…, the mirror….”
“We can fix it, baby,” he assured her, holding her tightly to him.
“No!” she shook her head. “It… it….” She took a deep breath, wishing her heart didn’t feel like it was trying to escape her body. “I saw her, Dell! She was in the mirror!”
At that moment, Erica ran into the room, calling out for Trixie. “What happened?” She saw the disaster area and began to cry. “I’m sorry, Mommy Trixie! I didn’t want her to do it!”
“Go back to the living room, Erica!” Dell told her as Trixie sobbed on his chest. “Mommy Trixie will be all right.”
“I’m sorry, Daddy,” she whispered, hanging her head. “But I told you Emily’s not nice when she’s mad!”
Something suddenly clicked in Trixie’s mind as she remembered the long golden curls on the figure she had seen. “Emily!”
“Trixie,” Dell’s voice sounded pleading. “Erica, in the living room, now!”
The child quickly left the room, tears streaming down her face. Trixie clutched him tightly. “Dell, I saw Emily! In the mirror!”
He strengthened his hold on her, but it was obvious that he didn’t believe her. “What did you see, Trixie?”
“I saw her! Don’t you see?” Tears streamed down her own face as she wondered why she had never realized the connection before. The doors closing by themselves, the constant drafts, Erica’s sudden imaginary friend – everything was suddenly making sense. “Erica hasn’t been making all of this up! Emily is real!”
“Now, baby, I know this isn’t easy for you, but you know there was no one else here.”
“Yes, there was!” Trixie insisted. “I know what I saw!”
“All right,” he soothed, stroking her hair. “Let’s get you in the living room. Mart should be here for Erica any minute, and you can tell me when they’re gone.”
“I need to talk to her, Dell,” she replied as she pulled away from him.
He put a hand on her arm, and she realized that in what appeared to be a crime scene, he had trouble reconciling his worry as a husband and father with the stubborn practicality that made him such a good policeman. “Please, Dell. We should have listened to her!”
He shook his head slowly, but didn’t speak. Hand in hand, they returned to the living room where Erica was still crying softly.
“It’s all right, Erica,” Trixie tried to assure her as she put her arm around the weeping child. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“I’m scared, Mommy Trixie! I don’t want Emily to hurt you anymore!”
“She won’t hurt me, munchkin,” she spoke with all the confidence she could muster. “But tell me about her. What does she look like?”
They were interrupted by the ringing of the doorbell. Erica ran to glance out the window before opening the door to let in Mart and Dan. Trixie managed to halfway smile at them, and she was grateful that Dell took them both into the bedroom. “Erica? Can you tell me what Emily looks like?”
She nodded reluctantly. “She looks kinda like me, but her hair’s blonde and not black. And she dresses funny.”
“She’s always wearing a dress. She never wears blue jeans like I do. But it’s long and ribbony.”
“Ribbony?” Trixie asked, actually smiling as Erica wrinkled her nose and nodded.
“Uh-huh. You know, here and here and here.” She pointed to her neck, wrists, and waist.
Trixie took a deep breath as she remembered the dress she had seen on the child in the mirror. “Does she have a last name?”
“Uh-huh! Everyone has a last name, Mommy Trixie.”
“I know that, munchkin.” She tweaked Erica’s nose, desperately trying not to let her own fear and turmoil affect her. “But do you know what it is?”
The child thought hard for a moment, then shook her head. “I can’t remember, but it starts with an “M”, ’cause we have the same initials.”
Trixie felt a chill go up her spine, and she spoke softly. “It’s okay, munchkin. Did she ever tell you about her family?”
“Uh-huh.” Erica frowned, and tears came to her eyes. “She’s all alone, Mommy Trixie. Both her mommy and daddy died, just like my other mommy did. But Emily didn’t have another mommy like I have you. She just had a sister that left her, too.”
“It’s all right, Erica,” Trixie assured her, pulling her into her lap. She looked up in time to see the sober expression on Mart’s face as he walked into the room.
“Erica? Ready to go?” Mart inquired, resting a brotherly hand on Trixie’s shoulder. “Aunt Di promised to have warm brownies waiting for us when we get home.”
Erica smiled briefly at the thought of her favorite treat, but tears continued to course down her cheeks as she looked up at him. “I can’t leave Mommy Trixie, Uncle Mart.”
“I’m all right, munchkin,” Trixie told her, hugging her tightly. “Right now, I need you to go with Uncle Mart while Daddy and I talk to Uncle Dan. But save me a brownie, okay?”
“I’ll try,” she promised soberly, reluctantly relaxing her grip. “If Uncle Mart doesn’t eat them all.”
“We’ll save her two, how about that?” Mart asked.
Erica nodded. She squeezed Trixie’s neck one last time. “I love you!”
“I love you, too,” Trixie answered immediately, kissing her cheek. “Now you wait here while Uncle Mart helps me get your clothes for tomorrow.”
Motioning for him to follow her, she stepped into Erica’s untouched room. “Did Dell tell you what happened?”
Mart nodded and cleared his throat, and she could see the concern in his eyes. “Trixie, are you all right?”
“This house is haunted, Mart. I saw a ghost in my bedroom! Do you think I’m all right?”
He bit his lip. “Um, Trix, I know you believe in ghosts and all, but do you really think it was a ghost that vandalized your house? That’s just not possible!”
“It isn’t?” She raised her eyebrows at him as she grabbed a small suitcase from Erica’s closet. “Then you tell me why someone broke in and demolished my bedroom! I saw her, Mart, and she was laughing at me!”
“But why? This obviously wasn’t the work of poltergeists, and the other ghosts you claim to have seen were trying to protect either you or their home. Why would this one be so destructive?”
“It’s a child!” she explained, absentmindedly throwing clothes in the suitcase. “A child that, from what I’ve always heard, was spoiled and selfish. You remember the stories Dad told us when we first met Miss Rachel. Right before we left tonight, Dell and Erica had a talk about Emily not being real. She was really scared, Mart. Even Dell admitted that much!”
“All right,” he sighed. He shook his head. “I don’t like it, but it’s possible, I guess. I do know that you can’t stay here tonight. Is Dan here to make a police report?”
She nodded, tears in her eyes. “When Dell called the station, we hadn’t seen Emily, so we thought someone had broken in. Dell can’t handle the case because it’s our house involved, and Dan just happened to be the one on duty tonight.”
“Good. He’ll have to follow regulations, but you can trust him to help. Why don’t you two finish up with him, and then come spend the night with us? Di can call the others over for breakfast, and we’ll have a good old-fashioned Bob-White meeting.”
“Like they’ll believe me?” She shook her head. “We do need to have a meeting, soon, Mart. We need to all get together now that we’re all back in Sleepyside. But not over this. Brian and Jim already think I’ve lost my mind. This would just prove it to them.”
“Well, the four of us, then. You know we’ll do whatever we can.”
“I know,” she whispered, overwhelmed by his unexpected support and understanding. “Thank you.”
“You’ll always be my little sister, Trixie.” Mart gingerly gave her a hug. “But could you do me one favor?”
“I’ll try.” She glanced at him, frowning as she remembered making the exact same request of Erica less than an hour earlier.
“Pack something other than bathing suits?” he asked, striking a pose of martyrdom. “I’m sure Di will let Erica play in the twin’s wading pool in the morning, but she can’t sleep in a swimsuit!”
Trixie looked down at the clothes she had put in the small case. Another memory came to her mind, and she met Mart’s twinkling eyes. “What is it about ghosts and bathing suits?”
“No clue,” he chuckled. “Especially since they were both female. How does one little girl have so many, anyway?”
“You wouldn’t believe all the clothes she has, Mart. Between me and Dell, and the fact that she now has three grandmothers all striving to outdo the others…,” Trixie sighed ruefully as she picked out more suitable clothing for her step-daughter. “If you think that’s bad, just look in her toybox.”
“Like I can talk?” he reminded her. “After all, my kids have the Lynches for grandparents, remember?”
She smiled despite herself. “Yeah, Di told me once that she thinks they’re trying to compensate for what they couldn’t give her when she was little.” The little bit of ease she felt, however, disappeared when she looked up to see Dan standing in the doorway.
“Make your sister hurry, Mart. I can’t wait all night to take her statement.” He smiled to show he was joking, but his tone belied the concern in his voice.
“Yes, you can, Mangan,” he replied lightly, taking the suitcase she handed him. “I’ll see you two later on?”
“Probably,” she nodded. “I’ll call you if we don’t make it.”
Moments later, Mart left with Erica, and Trixie turned to Dan. “Where’s my husband?”
He hesitated for a moment, then answered quietly. “Out in the yard. He’s still trying to figure out how a vandal came inside.”
Her face fell, and she sank wearily down onto the loveseat. Of the Bob-White males, Dan had proven to be the most supportive of her relationship with his boss, and, as he seated himself in the rocking chair that Miss Martin had left behind, he shook his head sympathetically. “Give him time, Trixie. You know how stubborn we cops are.”
“I know,” she whispered, determined not to let him see just how hurt she was that Dell hadn’t believed her words. “So, what do you need me to tell you?”
By the time he had finished the routine questions she knew he had to ask, Dell had come back inside and taken her hand. Conscious of his skepticism, she barely managed not to pull away.
As soon as they were alone, he took her in his arms. “How are you?”
She pushed away and looked down at the floor. “Will you ever learn that you can’t be a policeman twenty-four hours a day? I needed you, and Erica needed you, and you wouldn’t listen to either of us!”
“Trixie,” he spoke defensively. “I’m trying! Do you have any idea how hard it’s been for me to find our home vandalized? To see Erica move into a dream world? And then to hear you claim that you’re seeing ghosts….”
“It was one ghost, and I did see it!” she interrupted. “Do you have any idea how it feels knowing you don’t believe me? I know I should be used to it, but it hurts, now, Dell. I’m not that stupid teenager anymore. I’m your wife, and you still don’t believe me!”
Tears streamed down her face, and she struggled to catch her breath. Hesitantly, he pulled her closer to him. “I’m sorry,” he answered softly. “Trixie, I’ve been a cop for over twenty years. You’ve been through the academy; you’re a detective yourself. You know that one of the first things you learn is that every thing has a logical explanation.”
“But it doesn’t!” she protested, her continued sobs muffling her voice. “When I was fourteen, I saw Sarah Sligo trying to protect Lisgard House! She spoke to me! Then, another ghost saved my life the next summer! I know that they’re real!”
He began to stroke her hair. “Then why do you think this one destroyed our bedroom?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted, finally looking him in the eye. “I know you don’t believe I saw her, but I’m frightened. Just suppose I’m right? You remember how scared Erica was when we left this evening. If Emily was capable of the destruction in our bedroom, what will she do to Erica?”
Emily smiled at the look of fear that crossed the man’s rugged features, although deep within herself, she felt a sudden pang of guilt. She shook her head. No. She had nothing to feel guilty for. Erica could still remain with them, if she chose, just as she had remained with her Rachel for so many years.
No! Suddenly Emily was the one afraid as she heard them mention having Erica stay somewhere else until they could find another place to live. Even though she knew he wasn’t fully convinced she was even there, he would swiftly address the possibility of a threat to his beloved daughter.
She would have to do something. But what? She silently slipped away, knowing it was too soon to again reveal her presence.
“So we’ll stay with Mart and Di tonight?” Trixie asked.
He nodded. “Then we’ll try to figure out what to do in the morning. I want to see what Miss Martin has to say before we make any hasty decisions.”
She half-way smiled. It helped knowing that he was starting to at least consider that she might be right. She quickly hugged him, then started to stand. “If you want to give them a call, I’ll…,” she swallowed hard, suddenly remembering that she really didn’t want to go back in that room. “I’ll go pack what we need.”
“No.” He shook his head. “You call Mart. I’ll go get our clothes.”
“Thank you,” she whispered.
He gently pulled her back down beside him. “Trixie, I want you to do one thing for me.”
She looked at him with a question in her eyes. “I’ll try.”
“I know that there’ll be times when we don’t agree. This was the first time since we got married, but you and I both know it won’t be the last.” He snorted. “Hell, we’ve been arguing almost since the day we met.”
“I know,” she admitted, her voice sounding small to her own ears.
“But I want you to remember one thing, Trixie, no matter what happens or what we say in anger.” He took her hands in his and looked deeply into her eyes. “I love you.”
Tears again began to stream down her cheeks, and he gently brushed them away. “I don’t want you to ever doubt that.”
“I love you, too,” she answered softly, willingly moving into his embrace. “I always will.”
Time seemed to stand still as they held tightly to each other, their lips meeting in an ever deepening kiss. Thoughts of ghosts and vandals fled their minds as they became conscious only of each other.
She wandered around the house that had once been her home, sobbing as she slipped inside the room that had been her bedroom. Why had she done that? She hadn’t meant to scare them away, just to frighten them into believing she was real. No. She had to admit that she had wanted to punish them, too. They had tried to take Erica away from her.
Her tears subsided as she realized that they would surely have to bring her back, even if only long enough to pack her belongings. Surely they wouldn’t deny her that much!
Emily almost smiled. She had already been preparing her, so she knew that she would follow willingly enough. All she needed was a few minutes so that they could slip away unnoticed.
“Trixie? Are you sure you’re up to this?” Dell asked her early the next morning.
She nodded slowly. “Diana’s right, Dell. We can’t keep something like this from the others.”
“No, we can’t,” he told her softly. “They’re your friends and family, but the seven of you are a team. If anyone can get to the bottom of this, it will be the Bob-Whites.”
“You really believe that, don’t you?” she asked, tears coming to her eyes.
He gave her a quick hug. “I always have believed in you, Trix. I just couldn’t let you see it.”
She gave a small smile, returning his embrace. It had taken her several years, but she had finally come to understand that the lectures and admonitions he had given her had been borne of his desire and duty to keep her and her friends from harm.
They pulled apart at the sound of the doorbell, and he squeezed her hand as they left the room Mart and Diana kept ready for guests. Trixie stopped him just outside the swinging door that led into the kitchen, whispering, “Are you sure you have to go in this early?”
He bent down to kiss the top of her head. “I’ll just be a couple of hours, and if you need me, I’m just a phone call away.”
She took a deep breath. “I’m being silly, Dell. These people are my family, after all.”
“Isn’t that what I told you earlier?” he reminded her gently, giving her one last squeeze before guiding her through the doorway. “Good morning, everyone.”
“Morning, Daddy, Mommy Trixie!” Erica chirped from the table, turning reproachfully to the man sitting beside her. “See, I told you they’d get up!”
“That you did,” Dan chuckled, tugging on one of her curls. “You even managed to save them some breakfast, didn’t you?”
“Uh-huh!” She giggled at Mart’s wounded look. “Aunt Di makes yummy waffles!”
“Thank you, sweetie.” Diana smiled warmly as she put another plate on the table. A car door slammed, and she peeked out the window. “Since you’re through eating, would you go let Honey in for me, please?” She turned to Trixie. “Jim’s on his way, but Honey said Brian got called in to the hospital early this morning. He’s supposed to come over as soon as he can get away.”
“Thanks, Di. We really do appreciate everything you and Mart have done.”
“Nonsense, Trixie!” Diana retorted. “That’s what family’s for!”
“Then I’m glad you’re part of the family,” Trixie assured her, flushing when she realized just how that could be taken. “I mean, I’m glad you are, anyway, but….”
Mart chuckled. “Relax, sis. We know what you mean.”
“Trixie Molinson!” Honey exclaimed, her eyes flashing as she walked into the room. “Why didn’t you let me know something had happened?”
Trixie had the grace to blush. “I’m sorry, Honey, I really am! It’s just….” She trailed off as Honey enveloped her in a hug.
“Are you all right?”
“Yeah,” she nodded, relieved that her best friend and partner truly wasn’t upset with her. “I think so. At least more so than I was last night, anyway.”
“So what exactly happened? Did you really see Emily Martin?” Honey asked quietly, sliding into the chair Mart pulled out for her.
Despite the heat of the summer morning, Trixie shivered as she remembered seeing the figure in the mirror. “It was horrible, Honey! In the middle of all that mess, seeing that little girl waving at me, then hearing her laugh….”
“You heard her, Trixie?” Diana interrupted.
“I heard a child laughing,” she replied. “There’s no way it was Erica, either.”
At that moment, Erica walked through the door, pulling Jim by the hand. “I let Uncle Jim and Aunt Joeanne in too, Aunt Di. Is that okay?” Without waiting for an answer, she turned him loose and climbed up in her father’s lap. “Mommy Trixie? What wasn’t me?”
“Nothing for you to worry about right now, munchkin,” Trixie answered, trying to keep her voice light. She glanced first at the clock, and then at Mart. “You know what, though?” She stood, holding out her hand. “It’s just about time for The Rugrats. Think Uncle Mart might let you watch it with the twins?”
At Mart’s nod, she took a deep breath. “Dell? Why don’t you go ahead and tell everyone what we wanted to tell them? I’ll be right back.”
His eyes met hers, and warmth filled her veins at the knowledge that he understood. She quickly led Erica from the room. It wasn’t long before the three children were happily engrossed in their cartoon, and she soon returned to the kitchen.
The murmur of low voices stopped as she entered the room. Suddenly she felt like a teenager again as she saw the mixture of concern and skepticism on their faces, and she glared at them. “All right, the first person to make a Ghostbusters joke has had it!”
Mart’s eyes twinkled mischeviously as he looked at her. “There’s something strange in the neighborhood,” he warbled.
“Who ya gonna call?” Dan added, his baritone joining with Mart’s tenor as they chorused, “Ghostbusters!”
“Very funny, you guys,” Trixie retorted dryly, finding comfort and reassurance in the familiar banter. “With that out of the way, I’m assuming you all know what happened?”
“I told them, Trixie,” Dell assured her. “And I hate to leave you, but I’ve got to get to the station. Do me a favor and keep your cell phone turned on today?”
She nodded automatically, but then flushed. “Um, I can’t, Dell. I forgot to charge the battery again.”
He sighed, and Honey spoke up. “I’ll have mine on, Captain. You can call her on it.”
“Thanks,” he replied, accepting the scrap of paper she handed him with the number. He stood and brushed Trixie’s cheek with a goodbye kiss before leaving for work.
Once he was gone, Trixie groaned. “Guys? It’s safe to look again.”
Honey grinned, and Diana giggled as the three men slowly turned away from the window. “Don’t pay them any attention, Trixie. I think it’s sweet!” Diana said.
“So, what do we do now?” Honey changed the subject as Trixie shot Diana a grateful look.
“Dan? It’s officially your case, isn’t it?”
He nodded, frowning. “We took all the official evidence last night, so I guess technically we can start cleaning up. We’ll all help, won’t we?” He looked expectantly at the others.
“Of course we will!” Honey exclaimed while the others nodded. “With all of us helping, it shouldn’t take long at all. Didn’t the captain say it was all in one room?”
“Yes,” Trixie answered softly. “Look, everyone, I really appreciate this. I know it hasn’t been easy for you to accept some of the decisions I’ve made, and for me to suddenly admit that I’m seeing ghosts, well, I can’t blame you for being skeptical. But I really did see her, guys, and I’m scared. Not only did she pretty much destroy my bedroom, but she’s somehow convinced Erica that they’re friends!”
“How is she handling this, Trixie?” Jim spoke up quietly.
She shook her head. “She seems fine now, but she was literally terrified when we left the house last night to go eat. We managed to calm her down, but it wasn’t like either of us thought there was a threat. I mean, Emily was just an imaginary friend, you know? But then I saw her in the mirror, and well, my screams weren’t exactly comforting.”
“Okay, assuming we really are dealing with the ghost of Emily Martin, what do we do then?” he asked. “What was the purpose in the damage she did?”
“To get even with us?” Trixie suggested. “Right before we left, Dell and Erica had a ‘discussion’ about Emily, and he plainly told her that Emily didn’t exist. That was when Erica became frightened, and told us that that always upsets her.”
“Hold on – telling Erica that Emily isn’t real upsets Emily?”
“Yeah.” She nodded soberly. “But what I don’t understand is that this isn’t the first time we’ve told her that. Why now?”
Dan shook his head. “We’re not equipped to handle ghosts, Trixie. We’ll help, but I don’t think any of us know the why or the how.”
“I’ve got an idea,” Joeanne spoke up shyly. “Maybe if you could talk to her…”
“But how?” Trixie asked. “So far, Erica is the only one she’s spoken to, and there’s no way I’m letting her near Emily again.”
“What about a seance?” Joeanne answered, refusing to make eye contact with her husband. “When Mrs. Smith’s son died, there was a medium who came and held one for her. Mom wouldn’t allow me to attend, but the people who did go said that he was really there.”
“It’s worth a try, Trixie,” Diana added. “They’re not all fakes like the one we went to at Lisgard House; some of them really do touch the ethereal plane.”
“But who would we get?” Mart queried. “None of us know any mediums – phony or otherwise.”
Honey held up her hand in protest. “Actually, we do, or at least Trixie and I do. Trix, you remember Wilhelmina James, don’t you?” She paused, waiting for her friend’s nod. “There was an article about her in a magazine not long ago. She was apparently asked to resign from that Institute she worked for when her book came out, because in it, she claims that not only has she seen and studied ghosts, but that she can even contact and talk to them. According to the article, she’s still a psychic investigator, though.”
“Wait a minute, Honey, are you sure that she’s real, though? I seem to remember it was too easy for her to jump to conclusions about the stuff that went on out there,” Trixie asked, studiously ignoring the men’s sudden simultaneous need to clear their throats.
Honey frowned. “Well, it seems that she’s come a long way since then, but I admit that I wouldn’t care to repeat that whole thing either. Even now, the memories of thinking I’d gone back in time….”
“Hold it, gang,” Jim spoke up. “Before we worry about that, let’s at least go and see what we can find at the house. I’m sure Trixie will feel better with it all cleaned up anyway.”
“Maybe we should,” Trixie admitted reluctantly, not wanting to admit that she really wasn’t looking forward to having to tell her husband that she wanted to have a seance.
They all jumped as Honey’s cell phone suddenly began to ring. After a quick glance at the number, she passed the phone to Trixie, who quietly stepped outside.
When she returned some moments later, she sank heavily into her chair. “Dell was supposed to talk to Miss Rachel this morning.” Tears began to run down her face.
“Trixie?” Honey asked, automatically putting an arm around her. “What happened? What did she say?”
“He couldn’t talk to her, Honey,” Trixie wept. “Miss Rachel…, Miss Rachel’s in the hospital. Brian told him that she’s dying.”
People. The little house was suddenly full of people; people everywhere. Emily saw Erica in the midst of them and was torn between rejoicing and feeling afraid. Joy that Erica was actually there, but fear that she was surrounded by so many strangers. How was she supposed to get her alone?
Then she suddenly realized that Erica was alone – she had gone into the one room in the house that no one would dare follow. Emily wrinkled her nose. It had been bad enough, she remembered, when that room had its own little building outside. She would never understand why people would want an outhouse inside!
Still, the opportunity was too good to miss. Silently, taking extra care not to let her presence be known to the adults, she slipped through the wooden door. “Erica!”
“Emily!” the child shouted in a whisper. “You scared me!”
“I’m sorry,” she apologized. “There’s something I want to show you, and I couldn’t get to you out there.”
“I know.” Erica shook her head sadly. “Why did you do it, Emily? Now I’m not allowed to talk to you anymore.”
“At least they believe you now,” Emily reminded her. “But it doesn’t matter. We’re friends, right?”
“Of course we are! You’ll always be my best friend, Emily!”
“And you’re mine,” she replied. “Can you get outside? Then we can go for a walk together.”
The child looked at her doubtfully. “I’ll try, but Mommy Trixie’s watching me. It’ll be hard to get away.”
“Leave it up to me, Erica. I’ll get her attention, and then you slip out. I’ll meet you by the fence.”
“No more breaking things, Emily!” Erica hissed. “I don’t want Mommy Trixie to cry again!”
Emily gave her word, then slipped out since Erica refused to move from the strange chair that she sat upon until she left. No matter. It wouldn’t be long until Erica had no more need of such things than she did.
A cold gust of wind blew through the house, and she slammed the kitchen door as hard as she could. While not as loud as it once would have been, the noise still drew everyone together. Emily crooked her finger at Erica, and they both seized the chance to go outside.
Emily started walking, telling Erica stories about the beauty of the thing she had found. Erica stopped at the fence. “Emily, you know I can’t leave the yard!”
“We won’t be gone long, Erica,” Emily promised her. “It’s just a little piece from here.”
“But I don’t want to get in trouble!” Erica protested.
Inwardly, Emily screamed at the delay. It just wasn’t right that in an eternity of timelessness, time was running out. Quickly, she urged her to follow. “You got outside all right, Erica! No one will even miss you before you’re back.”
Erica soon lost her reluctance, and followed her friend through an opening in the fence.
“We must hurry, Erica. It won’t stay pretty for very long.”
The path they took was overgrown, and Emily could tell that Erica was growing frightened. “It’s all right, Erica. We’re almost there.”
“It’s hard to walk, Emily. Why is the ground so wet and muddy?”
“That’s just the path. Come this way. It isn’t so rough.”
Erica obediently turned with her friend. “Is it near here?”
“Just a little farther. You’ll love it, I promise.”
“I hope so. Then we have to go back home. Daddy and Mommy Trixie will miss me, I know.”
Just then, Erica began to slide on the muddy incline. “Help me, Emily! I’m falling!”
“Don’t be frightened, Erica. You have to go that way. I’m right behind you.”
“But there’s water down there! I’m scared of the water!”
“But there’s no reason to be frightened,” Emily tried to soothe her. “Don’t you know I’ll take care of you?”
“Help me, then!” she cried. “I can’t stop falling!”
“Go to the water, Erica,” Emily commanded desperately, trying to block out the sounds of a frantic search in the distance. “Please, Erica, do it for me!”
“I can’t! I’m scared, Emily!” she screamed. “Help me!”
Emily stood torn, knowing that she could manage just enough force to make Erica drop to her death in the deep water below. Suddenly, she realized that she couldn’t do it. She couldn’t help her, but neither could she hurt her. It didn’t matter, after all. Someway, somehow, the child’s mother had found a way to do what her own family had failed to do so many years before. As Erica called out for her mother, Emily gave her one last longing glance and vanished, knowing she was doomed to spend eternity alone.
“Erica? Erica?” Trixie called out desperately, hoping against hope that the child would answer. Tears stung her eyes as she noticed footprints leading through a previously unknown broken board in the fence. “Help me find her!”
“Honey, call Captain Molinson,” Jim commanded as they gathered by the fence. “Then call Brian. Tell him it’s an emergency.”
“She’s going to be okay!” Trixie wept, never once stopping as she followed the faint tracks. “She’s got to be!”
“Of course she is!” Mart assured her, his gaze daring anyone to mention the fact that they were headed into the marsh. “She’s too smart not to be.”
“Listen!” Dan snapped. “That way!”
Suddenly they could hear Erica in the distance, her tone frightened and pleading. “I’m scared, Emily! Help me!”
“Erica!” Trixie called again. “Where are you?”
“Help me, Mommy Trixie! I’m falling!”
Regardless of the danger in the marsh, the Bob-Whites tore through the underbrush towards the sound of the small girl’s cries. “We’re coming, Erica! Hang on!”
“Help me!” Erica shrieked. “I’m almost in the water!”
“We’re coming,” Jim called calmly. “Don’t move, Erica. We’re almost there.”
Seconds later, three pair of strong arms reached down to pull Erica from the edge of the quagmire and into Trixie’s waiting arms.
“It’s all right, Erica,” Trixie wept, thinking that she would never let go of this child that had become so precious to her. “You’re safe now.”
The child held tightly to her, her own sobs matching those of her stepmother. “She left me, Mommy Trixie! I was so scared, and she left me there! Why, Mommy Trixie? Why?”
“Because I couldn’t have you,” Emily answered sorrowfully, knowing the child couldn’t hear her. “We could have been friends forever, once you became as I am.”
Tears pricked her eyes as she watched two men run up the path towards the group surrounding Erica. It wasn’t fair. She couldn’t even remember her own father and mother, and Erica had so many people to love her. With her Rachel gone, and now Erica, Emily was left with no one.
She watched from a distance as Erica’s father wrapped his arms around his wife and child. The rest of them started walking back towards the house, talking softly amongst themselves. She knew that it was too late, but she found herself following behind them. Suddenly, she wondered if it wasn’t too late after all.
“So what now?” Mart asked soberly, once the commotion of Erica’s rescue had somewhat calmed down. “You are not staying in this house tonight.”
Trixie’s eyes were red as she looked at Dell. She held tightly to his hand, but didn’t speak.
“No, we’re not,” he answered wearily.
Diana didn’t give him a chance to say anything else. “You’re welcome to stay with us as long as you’d like.”
“That goes for us, too,” Brian added.
“And us,” Joeanne said, squeezing Jim’s hand.
Dan grinned. “Well, I’ve got a sofa-bed you can use.”
Trixie smiled tearfully. “Thanks, everyone. We can’t impose anymore, though.”
“Who said you were imposing?” Diana asked. “We have plenty of room!”
“We do, too,” Honey added. She gazed soberly at her friend. “But I think you need to call Wilhemina. You definitely need to get away from here, but leaving won’t solve anything.”
“Who’s Wilhelmina?” Dell inquired. “Or do I want to know?”
Trixie took a deep breath. “She’s a psychic investigator. Honey and I met her in Minnesota. She was researching the ghost that later saved my life.” Her gaze was steady as she met his startled eyes. “She’s for real, Dell. And Honey’s right. We’ve got to do something.”
“All right,” he nodded. “I’ve seen too much today to doubt that something unexplained is going on here. If you can trust her, call her to come.”
“Thanks,” she whispered, kissing his cheek. “We’ve got to get this settled.”
It had been two days since the little family left the house, and Emily was surprised to see it suddenly full of people again. Erica wasn’t there, but she had seen all of the others before, except for one woman. She couldn’t explain it, Emily knew that no human could harm her, but she felt afraid of the strange woman.
Dusk turned into darkness, and as Emily drifted into the house to see what was going on, she noticed a peculiar odor in the air. Soft music ended when the woman had everyone sit around the table. She lit the candles that were on the table, and switched off the lights.
The flames on the candles gave a soft glow, and Emily suddenly remembered another room filled with candles. No! Didn’t they know how dangerous fire could be? As upset as she was, she couldn’t see the little house burn the way her own home had.
A quick gust of wind was enough to distinguish them, and the room was cast into pitch darkness. Emily jumped as the strange woman spoke her name. “Emily? Are you here?”
It wasn’t easy to speak, but she knew that if she didn’t materialize, she just might manage to find out what they wanted with her. “I’m here.”
“Why, Emily? Why are you here?”
“This is my sister’s home. I came to be with her.”
“Why did you remain?”
“I’m alone!” Emily began to weep. “I couldn’t rest, because I caused the fire! Then my Rachel left me all alone!”
“How did you die?”
“I ran from the fire,” she sobbed. “I fell in a hole in the marsh and drowned.”
Emily heard someone else crying, and then Erica’s mother’s voice. “Why did you lure Erica there, Emily? You knew she would drown!”
“Why, Emily?” the strange woman spoke again.
“I’m all alone! I thought if she died, she could keep me company! She wouldn’t have left me like my Rachel did!”
“I didn’t leave you forever,” a familiar voice spoke softly.
Emily turned in amazement. It couldn’t be.
“I’m here for you now, my little Emily.”
A faint glow in the corner of the room grew stronger, and Emily recognized her sister’s features. No longer was she wrinkled and stooped. No longer was she weak and frail.
Made stronger by hope and joy, Emily materialized next to Rachel. “Oh, I missed you, my Rachel!”
“I missed you, too.” Rachel smiled gently, wrapping her arms around Emily. “I’ve come to take you home.”
“Home, my Rachel?”
“Home, Emily. Mother and Father are waiting on us.”
“Mother and Father?” Emily’s eyes were shining with tears. “Where are they?”
“On the other side, Emily.” Rachel hugged her close. “Just over on the other side.”
Author’s Note: This was originally published as a submission for the first Fright Night challenge and was also the first story posted in this universe. It was heavily inspired by/based upon Mary Downing Hahn’s Wait Till Helen Comes.