Preview of The Forgiving (part 4 of 4)
Here is the last part. Once again, it’s not fully edited, so if you spot any errors, be sure to comment. So without further ado, part four of chapter one of The Forgiving. (click for part 1)
“Little girl!” the first figure said in a hoarse voice that seemed to cross an impossible distance to reach Molly’s ears.
Still panicked, she pulled and squirmed. She tried to get her head back through the gate, but her ears caught on the bars. Despite the pain, she kept pulling and finally freed herself just as the two figures reached the edge of the light.
The street lamp illuminated the first figure’s bloodstained clothes, but the light ended at the shoulders and didn’t reveal a face. The second figure hung back in the darkness, almost invisible.
Her ears burned from being pulled through the bars. “Are, are you a ghost?” she stammered, afraid the things had no substance and would pass through the gate and steal her away.
“Ghosts are make-believe, sweetie.” A blood-caked hand reached further into the light and pointed. “Right over there, hanging on that tree…”
Molly looked over to the gnarled cheery tree by the wall. On the backside, a key hung high on an iron spike.
“There’s a key. All you have to do is get that key and you can free us.”
Molly shook her head. Human body odor wafted from the other side of the gate and concealed something even fouler underneath. She put her hand to her nose to ward off the stench. She didn’t think ghosts would smell.
“No-no-no, be a good girl. Molly, you’re a good girl, aren’t you?”
I am a good girl, she thought. “Do you have Dolly? I lost her. I lost Dolly to the House.”
The blood-caked hand reached back, and for a moment, because of the light and shadows, the figure looked as if it had no arms and no head. Then the reaching hand pulled out a lost corn-husk doll from the darkness.
Molly gasped. “You have her!”
The husk dress was slightly flattened, but with primping, it could be restored to its original shape.
Molly glanced around (no one was watching) and then cautiously crept up to the gate. She reached through the bars. “She’s mine!”
The blood caked hand held Dolly out, but not far enough so Molly could reach it.
“First, the key.”
Tears pricked the little girl’s eyes. She nodded.
She rushed over to the cherry tree. She stretched on her tippy-toes. She was growing fast (her mother always said so), but still wasn’t tall enough to reach the key. It was just too high.
She squatted and grabbed a stick from the ground. She used it to knock the key off the spike. “Take that!”
She didn’t see where the key landed—the fat, knotted trunk of the cherry tree blocked the light from the street lamps—and so she searched blindly through the decaying leaves, careful not to dirty her nightgown. Mother can’t know I’ve been outside! she thought, not realizing she’d already gotten grease across her chest and back when she’d tried to squeeze through the bars.
On the ground in the dark she felt sticks, more leaves, roots, cheery pits, a tiny slug (Ew!), and there, in her cold fingers, the key. “Yes!” With the key, she rushed back over to the gate, and then stopped a few feet short, seeing the dark figures afresh. They were frightening. They were dirty. They made it hard to breathe.
“Hurry!” said the figure holding the doll.
Molly looked down at the key in her hand and gripped it tight. She looked up and down the deserted street. She started to tremble. “If mother sees me…” She resisted the urge to wipe her dirty hands on her clothes. She felt cold, as if the night air had just dropped twenty degrees.
The doll tilted from side to side as if giving Molly a quizzical look. The bloody fingertips that animated Dolly had stained the doll’s delicate husk dress.
“Just a bit further. Your dolly needs you.”
Molly hoped the blood would come out of Dolly’s dress with just water, but she’d still love the doll either way.
There was no time to waste, she decided. She knew her vigilant mother sometimes checked in on her in the middle of the night to whisper a prayer, “Keep my baby safe,” and maybe to straighten the quilt. If Molly didn’t return soon, she might be missed. In fact, her mother could already be searching the house or charging down the street, angry with Molly for being a disobedient child.
Molly need not have worried. At that moment, her mother slept, dreaming of the end of the world.
The two figures behind the bars were just dark forms in dirty clothes. No rattling chains, no shrieking, no ghostly glow. Their eyes didn’t burn red in the dark. They weren’t monsters, Molly decided. They were just people who wanted free from Jacobi House. Who was she to keep them locked in?
With renewed determination, she stepped forward with the key outstretched, ready to make a trade.