This story is by Carlene Griffith and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I finished washing my dinner dish and was preparing to sit down to read by the lantern’s glow when a blinding light flooded my room. I cowered in the corner waiting for the burn in my eyes to pass when I heard the gasp of a delighted woman and the deep voice of a man.
“It’s an original,” he said.
“It’s perfect! I’ll take it,” said the woman.
I snuck to my double-paned window to catch a glimpse of the couple. The woman was pretty. She had red full lips and a fur stole around her shoulders. I watched the gaze of her large brown eyes as they examined the wooded landscape and the babbling brook that ran alongside the farmhouse. As she turned in my direction, I ducked below the pane and held my breath.
“There’s just something magical about it, don’t you think?” she asked.
“Here ma’am, let me take care of that for you,” said the man.
My legs crumbled beneath me as I crouched there, and I listened as the sound of rustling paper overshadowed the rest of their conversation. Before I knew it, the darkness returned.
I dreamt that night of my mother. She had warm soft cheeks and smelled of ‘Sand and Sable,’ her favorite perfume. She hugged me.
“Now, come right back,” she said as I skipped off. I didn’t know it would be the last time I would ever see her.
My heart raced as my mother’s sweet smile was replaced by the scowl of Mrs. Crawley, the old crone who abducted me. She had been our neighbor for only a brief time when she took a liking to me. She offered me treats and asked me to come and visit her. I never wanted to go, but my mother insisted that I was to be polite; she was my elder, after all.
I awoke, breathless with my body trembling in fear, just like that day.
A bright light filled the small room again. However, it was softer. My eyes easily adjusted this time. I threw my patchwork blanket off and rushed to the window. I could see inside the woman’s home from the window now. No one appeared to be home, so I changed into my day clothes to go have a better look around.
She had expensive things. A glistening chandelier hung from the ceiling over a mahogany table. An ornate Persian rug covered the hardwood floors. Crystal goblets and delicate plates decorated a dustless china cabinet. The door on the far end of the room appeared to lead into a kitchen where I could hear someone humming and the clanging of pots.
The only thing out of place in the entire room was an odd frayed bear left idly on the floor. I had one like that too. Except for mine had a lop-sided ear. Snickers, our calico cat, had gotten ahold of it one night and decided it looked better without its appendage. I disagreed, however, and was forced to perform emergency surgery with my underdeveloped sewing skills. Teddy never looked the same, but at least he could hear.
The chicken’s impatient clucking from the barn drew my attention away from my leering. I had my daily chores to attend to. I did not have much, unlike this household, but at least I had my little routine. Daily, I would gather the eggs, milk the cow, feed the geese, draw water from the brook, and read. Mrs. Crawley may have confined me here, but at least I had a shelf full of books to keep my mind occupied.
I seldom knew what time it was. Every day seemed to bleed into the next, but with this new family, I was more able to keep track. The woman’s name was Susan and her husband, Albert. The bear belonged to their only child; a little girl named Marjorie. I gathered she was around seven years old. Still young enough for her bear to be her constant companion. She reminded me of my friend Hilda. She was the only one my parents allowed me to have over.
I was headed to her house to ask if she could come to dinner the day I was abducted. Mrs. Crawley stopped me before I could get there. She grabbed me from behind and covered my mouth with a cloth, muffling my scream. What happened after that, I cannot remember. All I know is that I have been here ever since I woke up that day.
“There’s something odd about it,” announced Marjorie’s sweet little voice outside my window.
“But do you like it, dear? I painted it myself,” said a familiar voice that sent an icy chill down my arm and tears down my cheeks.
It was Mrs. Crawley, the witch.
“I’m working on another,” said Mrs. Crawley. “Would you like to see?”
A burning fury built in the pit of my stomach. No, I could not allow her to do this to another child. Not sweet little Marjorie. Not anyone.
I had to warn Susan. Marjorie was in danger. I had to stop her.
But how when no one knew I was here? No one had seen me. I ran to the door to open it, but it was bolted tight.
“I painted one for another child, just like you,” said Mrs. Crawley. I ran back to my window. Mrs. Crawley’s sinister eyes looked right at me with a glint of pleasure.
I tried to scream, but I had no voice. She smiled right at me, teasing. There was nothing I could do, and she knew it.
“I see nothing wrong with that, Mrs. Crawley. That is if you want to go, Marjorie?” asked Susan as she crossed in front of Mrs. Crawley with her back to me.
“No!” I screamed inside my mind as drops of sweat ran down my neck. I surveyed my room. I had to get their attention. What could I do?
My book lay open on the table with the lantern’s glow casting shadows on the wall. That was it.
I grabbed the lantern and brought it to the window, hoping the glow would catch someone’s attention.
Forgetting herself, Mrs. Crawley let out an unexpected snort, surprising everyone. Susan must have noticed her eyes drawn to the painting as she turned to see me standing in the painted window. I stood there holding up the lantern.
“What is that?” asked Susan, eyeing the painting closely. “I don’t remember the girl being in the painting when I bought it.”
“Of course, the girl has always been there,” chuckled Mrs. Crawley. “I painted it myself. Come, let me show you my new one,” she said, attempting to usher them away.
Susan turned away again, “Oh, of course. It’s just funny that I don’t remember.”
My chest hurt as gasps for breath turned to sobs blinding my eyes. I had to do something more. I had to stop them from leaving the room.
I watched as the flame flickered inside the lantern. Without another thought, I knew what I had to do.
I flipped open the latch on the side of the lantern and pulled out the candle. I dropped the lantern letting it crash to the floor, as I tilted the candle letting the wax drip down my wrist. The flame grasped the lace of my sleeve and worked its way up.
Marjorie gasped and pointed at me as flames engulfed my blouse.
A searing pain pierced my skin, and I screamed without a sound. I grabbed the window’s curtain to hold on; I dare not move.
Susan turned, and I pointed with my other arm to Mrs. Crawley. Flames made their way across my chest and into my hair and up the curtains. Billows of red smoke spread throughout the farmhouse room, engulfing everything.
I could see the red glow reflected in Susan’s brown eyes as the painting burst into flames and I knew. She could see me.
For the first time since Mrs. Crawley cursed me into the painting, someone saw me. I could only hope my death would save Marjorie from the same fate.