The Marauders are back! We apologize for the extended absence; we had maps to create, castles to explore, and Animagus lessons to complete (Sara’s still stuck somewhere between a human and a unicorn). From my understanding, Alex has recently dived into the dark arts, so beware! And I, of course, have been behaving like a model citizen.

To get back into the swing of things, we may be writing about a little bit of everything. And since Halloween is coming up, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a little horror. So without further ado, I give you The Dame of Dowsend.

 

The Dame of Dowsend

By M.G. Knight

            There it was again. That haunting melody, the long high notes of a woman’s voice drifting through the cool, damp air. The hairs on my arms stood on end.

“Who is it, Scarlett?” Lily hopped up and down in front of the window, trying to see. Her stuffed ducky quacked with each hop.

“It’s nothing,” I said, trying to ignore it. “Just a woman on the street.”

But the street in front of our house was empty, the long path leading into Dowsend deserted; there was nothing strolling along its top but starlight.

“Oh.” Lily stopped hopping, her face falling. “I thought it was her.”

As though on cue, the singing stopped, snuffed out with the childish hopes of a four-year-old.

“Mom’s gone, Lily.” It still hurt to remind her, still made a big ball of heated something stick to the back of my throat. “She can’t ever come back.”

Lily considered, her head cocked. “But I saw her. ‘Member?”

I did remember. Lily saw her for days after the accident, bellowing every night that mommy was outside her window. She never was.

My gaze roamed over the lime-green paint Mom had helped me pick out, the stupid Gremlins bedspread I just had to have, the posters and music notes we had spent hours putting on the walls, moving them back and forth, up, down, and around until they were all crooked and corner-crinkled. I smiled.

And there, leaning against the dresser, was my violin, untouched and dusty.

Lily saw it, too. “Will you play, sissy? Pleeeeassse. Three songs.” She held up her little fingers—only two—for emphasis. “Then I go to bed.”

I gently unfolded her third finger. She looked at it as though discovering a new planet. “No. I’ll read you one story,” I put down two of her fingers. “Then you’ll go to bed.”

The lower lip immediately made an appearance. “You never play!” Lily shot over her shoulder as she ran across the hall to her room. “Never ever!”

It was almost true. I had played a lot before, when Mom was still teaching me. But not now.

Sighing, I followed Lily to her room, already succumbing to the ten thousandth reading of The Three Little Pigs. Sure enough, it was open and waiting on her bed. After she had finally fallen asleep five readings later, I shuffled down the hall. The laundry was piling up again, and there wasn’t anything to cook for Lily tomorrow. I opened one of the cupboards. A single pack of crackers met my frown. Inside the fridge, there was only a carton of milk, the photo of Janet Hinkley on its front looking out at me. She was the eighth to have gone missing in the past year. I glanced at the kitchen’s back door. It was locked.

In the living room, there was the noise of the front door opening, followed by the usual sound of keys hitting the tabletop. “Honey? Are you up?” Dad’s footsteps proceeded across the hall before he swung open the kitchen door. He looked tired. He forced a smile. “How was your day?”

I didn’t want to tell him, but the words escaped my mouth. “We heard the singing again.”

The smile disappeared. “Not that again. Sweetie, you’re too old for this.”

“But, Dad, we both hear it. It’s creepy.”

Dad rubbed the stubble on his chin, considering. “It could be a neighbor, someone playing music, anything.”

I shifted uncomfortably. “Lily thinks it’s Mom.”

Dad’s hand halted halfway over the dining room table’s chair. “You know better, right, hon?”

“Dad, I’m fourteen. I know. But she still gets her hopes up, so every time she hears that singing—”

Dad collapsed into the chair. The kitchen light made the shadows beneath his eyes darker. “I don’t know what else to do. The sheriff has checked around twice. He hasn’t seen anything.” I opened my mouth. “Or heard anything,” Dad finished.

“Then what if it is a ghost, Dad? Not Mom, I know. She couldn’t sing to save her life, but everyone at school talks about this woman. She drowned all her kids and then—” I shivered. “—she killed herself.”

Dad laughed. “The Dame of Dowsend? That story is still going around? Is she still poverty stricken or is she rich now?” For a second, with his head tilted back and his eyes half closed, he looked like Dad before. “I think you’re too old for that story, too.”

“Then what is it?” I watched him stride across the kitchen to the fridge. He cursed when he saw its singular contents.

“I’m not sure, but with all these missing kids I want you both to be careful. Just in case.” His eyes were serious. And sad.

The implication hung heavy in the air; he didn’t want to lose us, too.

“We will, Dad.”

“Good. Now I’m going to get these scrubs off.” He stretched on his way to the shower. “Don’t forget I work sixteen tomorrow,” he called as he padded down the hall. “We’ll go grocery shopping Saturday.”

“Pizza it is,” I called back. At least Lily would be happy.

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“I saw her. I saw Mommy. She was waving. She wants me.” My blood chilled.

“Lily,” I said as gently as I could. We were outside, having followed the trail in the wood behind our house to Lily’s favorite spot. “Mom is dead.”

“No, she’s not!” The last word was a high screech. “She wants me!”

I squatted down. “Lily. Mom is gone, and you need to be careful. Kids are missing.”

Lily turned away, stomping to the little grove she always played in. It was a creepy place, really. Small trees and flowers grew in a perfect line in its middle. No leaves flourished on the trees around them, and it was always unbearably quiet save for the trickling water of the creek nearby.

“Lily?”

Lily ignored me. She was inspecting the line of plants. “New flower,” she said, pointing to the end, where a vibrant marigold swayed in the breeze. She would know, but I wasn’t so sure.

“Lily, why do you like this place so much?” I asked, wrinkling my nose.

Lily looked up at me. “Mommy’s place,” she said, then she continued up the line, patting each tree or flower as she went. “Wanna play dolls?”

I could only guess her and Mom had come there before, and that perhaps she had been responsible for the weird lineup of plants. Now Lily associated it only with her. I plastered on a smile.

“Okay, but only if you make a promise.”

“Promise?”

“Yes. That you don’t come outside on your own.”

Lily scrunched up her face, thinking. “Promise.”

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That night, the singing came again. High, haunting. It woke me from bed as if someone had thrown a bucket of ice-water on my face.

Hush-a-bye. Don’t you cry.

Go to sleep, my little baby.

When you wake you shall have

All the pretty little horses.

Blacks and bays, dapples, grays,

All the pretty little horses.

 My breath caught in my lungs, the rest stilling to a halt throughout my body.

She was there, in the street facing away. The moonlight shimmered off her white gown, off the wet hair plastered to her head, off the red-tinted water dripping from her lowered hands.

A scream built in my chest.

Across the hall, Lily began to shout. “Mommy! Mommy!”

As if she had heard, as if she knew exactly where I was, the woman’s head snapped my way. Her eyes were black holes drawn into a pale, water-wrinkled face. Her mouth was open like a doll forever screaming, the lips never moving to form the lyrics with which she sang.

The air found its way through my body. I stumbled away from the window, pushing myself to my feet to run, run, run, across the hall to Lily, to my little sister who was waving madly at that thing that was nothing like our beautiful mother.

I scooped her off the bed, away from the window, away from the now-empty street, clutching her to my chest as I fell against the far wall.

“Scarlett, she’s there. See her? See her?” Lily kicked, wiggling to try to view the window.

I was shaking so hard I couldn’t move, couldn’t stand. I could do nothing but hold my sister and gape at the shadows from the trees, stretching, reaching across Lily’s room.

The small bit of night sky through the window turned black as something smacked against the pane. I whimpered, holding Lily closer as a wet hand scrabbled at the glass and a water-wrinkled face pressed against the fragile, clear boundary.

Strings of hair covered her face as it twitched back and forth, the eyeless holes searching.

“Scarlett, Mommy’s home. Lemme see her.”

I could only stare, my mouth opening and closing.

Scarlett!” Just as Lily turned, the face disappeared. Stars twinkled above the midnight-darkened branches, peeking down at us.

“She’s gone,” I whispered. My voice sounded abnormally loud in the quiet house.

Lily’s face twisted. She began to cry.

When Dad came home three hours later, Lily had cried herself to sleep on his bed. I was completely awake, staring at the bedroom wall. When he entered the room, bewildered, I hugged him tighter than I had in years.

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“Dad, I know what I saw.” I glanced through the open kitchen doorway, where I could just make out Lily sitting a foot from the box TV, watching Looney Toons.

“Scarlett, I believe you. But I do not believe it’s a ghost.” Dad rubbed his face. He looked even more stressed than normal. The start of grays was poking out from the black mass of hair on his head. “Maybe I should stay home tonight.”

I could see him mentally calculating, thinking about the 150 dollars we had just spent on food, the money we’d need for school in a few weeks, and the regular pile of bills he waded through every first of the month.

“It’s okay, Dad,” I said, looking at his green scrubs. Today had been the first day in weeks I had seen him wear anything else. “We need the money.” The pain on his face was unbearable. I looked away.

“Scarlett, no more going outside. I want you both inside at all times.” He put his hands on my shoulders. “I know you were going to see Ashley today, but you need to stay here unless one of her parents can pick you up.”

I frowned. I hadn’t seen Ashley all summer, and we had been planning on having a movie night since her parents were gone for the weekend. Her new VHS of The Goonies was first on our list. Lily was going to throw a tantrum.

“Okay, Dad.”

“I have tomorrow off. We’ll stop in at Sheriff Williams’s and have a chat with him.” I could see the doubt playing at his face. Dad might believe me, but the sheriff most certainly wouldn’t. Especially when I got to the part about the eyeless, gaping ghost.

“Okay.”

“Don’t answer the door. Keep everything locked.” He was already pacing, looking at the open windows.

“Dad, it’s too hot to close the windows.”

He nodded. “As soon as it gets dark, then.” He sighed, stopping to look at me. A small, sad smile crossed his face. “You grew again.”

I stood straighter, showing off my new height. Dad squeezed me, kissed Lily goodbye, and tickled her until she was practically crying from laughter.

When the door shut behind him, I turned to Lily, watching as Elmer Fudd tiptoed across the screen. “Be very, very, quiet,” he warned. I shivered.

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The cassette recorder was sitting on my desk, ready and waiting. Lily was in the tent I had made next to my bed, her little, sleeping body silhouetted by the flashlight inside. The blankets hid the window from view.

Hush-a-bye, don’t you cry—

My hand halted, stopping mid page in Double Love.

I scrambled over the bed to my desk, holding my breath as I fumbled with the buttons on the cassette recorder.

Go to sleep, my little baby.

I found the right button, pressed it down.

When you wake, you shall have

All the pretty little horses.

 The voice was fading, as though the singer were walking away. Reluctantly, I looked out the window.

It was a dark night, the moon hidden behind clouds, yet I could still make out her soaked, white dress in the street, slowly making its way around the curve to the other end of the house.

I glanced at Lily. She was still fast asleep. Now was my only chance to get proof, real proof, that I wasn’t crazy. I tiptoed out my bedroom door and down the hall, following the singing, the cassette silently whirring in its rectangular shell.

Blacks and bays, dapples, grays

All the pretty little horses.

Hush-a-bye. Don’t you cry.

When you wake, you shall have

All the pretty little horses.

Shifting the curtains, I peeked out of the living room window, holding the recorder up high.

The singing stopped. The street, winding its way off in the distance towards Mrs. Smith’s, was empty.

The house was silent.

I stood at the living room window, my muscles bunched together, my toes curled hard against the soft carpet.

There was a click, the sound of a deadbolt sliding.

Someone was at the kitchen’s back door.

“Lily,” I breathed. The cassette recorder slid in my fingers as I ran down the hall, past the closed entrance leading to the kitchen, past Dad’s room and into mine, into the tent we had made, reaching to the little pile of blankets in its center.

But Lily wasn’t there.

“Coming, Mommy!” Lily sang from down the hall and in the kitchen, from where she was opening the kitchen door.

The recorder fell from my hands.

“Lily, no!” I screamed.

“It’s okay, Sissy,” Lily called from so, so far away. I was running before I could think about it, towards the groan of the kitchen’s back door and the fresh, new sound of crickets as it swung open. “I’m not going alone; I’m going out with Mommy.”

“Lily!” I was screeching so loudly the sound tore at my throat, a clawed monster trying to escape my body. “Do not go out there! Lily!

I burst through the kitchen’s entrance. The back door sat open.

“Lily?” My skin crawled, my knees shook.

Nothing. Nothing except the sound of crickets in the night.

I grabbed the biggest cutting knife I could see as I walked to the exit, my every nerve awake, my hands clammy as I pushed open the screen door.

Lily was nowhere to be seen.

My heart was beating uncontrollably in my chest, thumping so hard it hurt. I could call the cops. The phone was right there, inside on the kitchen wall. But Lily—

There was a scream, the sound of gurgling, like—

Like someone was drowning.

“Lily!” I stumbled down the back steps, toward that awful, choking sound, toward the wood, the knife gripped in my hand.

Hush-a-bye, don’t you cry.

Go to sleep, my little baby.

When you wake, you shall have

All the pretty little horses.

Lily!” I was running so fast my feet were blurs against the dark grass, the twigs and rocks that scraped at my soles barely noticeable. My feet hit the dirt path in the wood, bringing me to the bend right before Lily’s favorite spot. The gurgling stopped. Terror, cold and slithering, crept over me.

Blacks and bays, dapples, grays.

When you wake, you shall have

All the pretty little horses.

And then silence, the innocent chuckle of the creek the only thing to be heard.

I stopped, shaking, afraid to go around the bend of trees. The crickets and cicadas slowly resumed their nightly song.

I took one footstep. Another. Another.

Lily’s spot was even more grotesque at night. The bare limbs of the trees looked like claws scraping against the clouds. The grove, hidden deep in shadow, held any number of ghosts.

I swallowed, suddenly aware of the sweat trickling down my face and back as the night’s cold wind blew upon it.

Something was moving down in the grove, a white something that crawled about among the flowers and trees. It looked up at me, the eyes still missing, the mouth still opened, the skin still puckered. It reached up one dripping, clawed hand—and it vanished.

I dropped to the ground, my entire body shaking, jumping when a toad hopped against my bare toe.

“Lily?” My voice was a whisper barely heard over the trees’ creaking and quaking limbs.

She didn’t answer. I had the horrible feeling she would never answer me again.

On buttery legs, I slowly made my way down the incline, the knife held out in front of me. Lily was nowhere to be seen, but something yellow lay on the ground.

I slowed, staring at her stuffed ducky in the center of the grove as I followed the single line of trees and flowers, touching each as I went down the line.

“One,” I counted, shaking more and more with each step. “Two . . .”

I continued down, touching the petals and leaves with trembling hands. “Eight,” I said in a voice so weak it couldn’t have possibly belonged to me.

The marigold’s yellow petals were soft beneath my fingers. I looked next to it, to the last member in line, the ninth and final flower. The moon made its appearance, brightening the space in which I stood.

A white, beautiful lily, drenched in water, twinkled under the moonlight.

 

 

 

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