It was an old stone well, and dry. It sat next to the carriage house, visible from the window over the kitchen sink, and had held nothing but snow, leaves and rain water since the Parker Road creek was diverted in 1943. If anyone had bothered to look, they would have found it was connected to the house via a large, rusted underground pipe. The pipe came into the basement just under the kitchen, in a small windowless room, behind the stairs that came down from the pantry floor. A forgotten room. Not hidden, simply forgotten. Abandoned junk stacked in front of the door and never moved again. For decades.
It was in this forgotten room where December awoke. She didn’t know where she was. It smelled moldy, and it was cold and damp. The floor beneath her felt like dirt. Somewhere water was dripping.
“Just like the kitchen sink,” Sue Ellen said, startling her.
“I got bored all by myself, so I came to find you.”
“How long have I been here?”
“Hours and hours,” Sue Ellen sobbed. December couldn’t see anything, but she knew Sue Ellen was shivering in her pink tutu.
Hours and hours seemed about right to December. Her legs had fallen asleep, and the seat of her pajama pants was soaked through to the skin. She was trying to wiggle awake her feet and legs when she remembered she had wet herself. The realization made her cry, the fat tears running down her face and neck and soaking her collar. She was not a baby anymore, she was nine years old. She hadn’t wet the bed since she was six. Something must have scared her, but she couldn’t remember what, at least not right away. It came back to her slowly, there in the dark, like pieces of a dream floating up to the surface of her waking memory. She couldn’t quite see the whole picture, but she remembered her mother shaking her violently like a rag doll and spitting on her as she screamed “You little bitch! Do you know what you’ve done?” To think of it again made her quake and cry out in the dark.
The dripping was coming from her right. Feeling along the wall, she found something hard and round and hollow, wet at the bottom, sticking out of the wall at waist level. A large pipe. It formed a shallow puddle on the dirt floor beneath it. December knelt down and could see a faint blue-white glow at the other end. The pipe wasn’t large, but December tried it out and found her shoulders fit inside. It was enough. It was scratchy at first, but seemed smoother the farther in she went.
Sue Ellen didn’t like it. She cried to her from the dark little room to come back. December imagined she must be hopping around frantically in her perfect pink tutu, yanking tendrils of hair out of her ballerina style bun. Maybe even clutching that ever-inflated red balloon to her chest, her constant companion. December didn’t look back. She couldn’t see Sue Ellen in the black anyway. She crawled on, twisting forward slowly toward the blue moonlight ahead. Cold but wonderful fresh air carried stray snowflakes down the pipe. This way out she had found seemed to be taking much longer than she thought. The slow twisting forward was hard work, and she was tired and hungry. Sue Ellen’s cries faded ever so slowly, from a loud whine to a tinny buzz, and then were lost in the low rushing of the wind coming in. December pressed on.
Barney thought at first he was dreaming. He had fallen asleep again, and woke up at 3am to find fluffy snow coming down slowly. Movie snow, his wife would call it.
He rubbed at his eyes and wiped the sweat off the window. He saw movement at 28, but not inside. Next to the carriage house, the snow was moving. A small hole was forming, the two feet of hard snow folding down in on itself in glacier-esque chunks. As he watched, a hand reached out and grabbed stiffly for purchase, and in slow motion a girl climbed out of the frozen ground, barefoot, in wet pajamas.
Barney’s binoculars revealed purple lips and grey skin. December, hair fiery red against the snow and her ghostly pallor, appeared to him as just that – another ghost of Blackberry Lane. She was able to stand for only a blink before collapsing, exhausted, onto the cold ground.
Barney hadn’t seen her for a month, it seemed. He hadn’t seen anyone come or go, had only seen shadows move behind the curtains at night. Then, one night last week, there were no shadows, because there were no lights on. Even the light on the carriage house was dark when dusk fell. The shadows behind the curtains were replaced with the occasional movement of light; sometimes it appeared to be candlelight, and sometimes the beam of a flashlight bouncing around. The power was out at 28, but the rest of the houses on Blackberry Lane were lit. Barney concluded someone had not paid their power bill.
And now the girl had materialized out of the snow, alone. No more movement came from 28. Barney’s gut told him to call 911. His pre-paid phone couldn’t be traced, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t still try and track down the source of the call. Especially with the girl in her current condition. Something bad was going on inside 28, he was sure of it, and he sure as shit wasn’t taking the fall for it. Still, she needed help. He grabbed his phone off the floor and hit speed dial 1.
“Barney?” Her voice was groggy with sleep.
“Yeah, babe, it’s me.”
“What time is it?”
“About three in the morning. I need your help, Liz.”
“Can you meet me somewhere? I’ll give you the address.”
“Hold on, let me get a pen.”
When she got back, he rattled off the address.
“Bring towels and blankets, okay?”
“Okay,” Liz replied. Barney had made stranger requests before.
“Hurry, Liz,” he said. “I’ll be waiting by the front door when you get here.”
Stepping into his reliable steel-toed boots and shrugging on his pea coat, Barney stepped out into the cold night. Outside, the cold hit him hard in the face. It was a bitter, painful cold, and one of the coldest winters in recent years. It made him wish he had thought twice about shaving off his beard the day before.
He made his way as quick as he could through the trees. He was grateful to find the creek that acted as a natural property line was not only shallow, but mostly iced over. In short order he was standing at the edge of the trees, not 20 feet from the girl. She was breathing, he could see that much. With each breath a cloud of smoke hung suspended above her lips, seeming to freeze there before being melted by the next.
From the shadows, Barney took in the hulking structure before him, examining each window for movement. When he was satisfied no one was watching, he emerged from the trees and went to the girl, kneeling beside her in the snow.
“Little girl, can you hear me?” he said. She didn’t move or acknowledge him.
“I’m going to help you. Everything’s going to be ok.”
As quick as he could, Barney lifted the girl into his arms and held her close to him, then disappeared once more into the safety of the trees.