It looks like the place had been abandoned only yesterday. Everything still. Waiting. Silent. No popcorn can be heard popping. No children screeching as they get spun around on the tilt-o-whirl. No sticky fingers from too much cotton candy.
The child went missing almost 20 years ago. The last sighting of her was of a wide, happy grin and her parents shooing her toward some game or another. Just hoping for a few minutes of peace from their daughter’s endless energy. How could they know they’d never see her again? Of the news coverage and cameras that would follow them around for weeks? Of the devastating heartbreak, anger, and loneliness as one of them abandons the other to their grief?
The leaves being blown along the boardwalk sound like the pitter-patter of children’s feet as they run through the carnival games. I kick aside a hot dog wrapper and wonder how long they searched before they stopped looking for me. When did my stuffed animals get put into storage and then eventually thrown out? How long before their hearts stopped breaking every time they caught a glimpse of another happy child in her parent’s arms?
The memories distract me from my true purpose here. With a shake of my head I make my way to the park across the street. So many families. So many little girls. I straighten with purpose as I scan the crowd searching for the perfect one.
Everything’s going to be fine. That was her mantra. Whether silently or out loud, she repeated this phrase to herself at least a hundred times a day. It got her through morning rush hour, pointless staff meetings, or while running errands when she’d rather be taking a hot bath. Her life revolved around fine.
She knew her doctor was lying when he said the lump meant nothing. The procedures were routine. The medication was suppose to make her hang her head over the toilet for two days after every treatment. He told her everything was going to be fine.
She watched from afar as everyone nibbled on cake, awkwardly staring at each other as they stood around her living room. They had moved her furniture to make room for all the people from work who showed up more for the free food then any sense of mourning. The only tears came from her mother, who was burying her only child today. But the roses were lovely and it was nice to know that someone had cared. She would be missed.
The figure in the light at the end of the tunnel turned back to her, “See. I told you everything was going to be just fine.”
Her voice echoed off the staircase towards the glass dome forty feet above her head. The ghost took a deep breath, or what it remembered as breathing, and moaned loud enough to shake the antique picture frame off the walls.
The girl jumped. But, after a moment, she pushed back her shoulders and stopped her quivering lips. She finally took a step towards the formal dining room, still set with the family’s final dinner.
The ghost had to think fast. She was getting away. With a whirl wind of ether, he made all the glass in the china cabinet shatter and reign down in the little girl’s hair. She ducked, tightening her shaking arms around her head until the tremors stopped.
Again, she stood, squared her shoulders, and kept moving towards the forgotten door at the back of the house. A voice only she could hear called to her.
The ghost was running out of time. He stretched his mind back into a different life, found the right words, and scrawled them on the window pane above the kitchen sink. A warning to go no further.
The girl was not quite at the age of being able to read such words, or to understand their meaning. She shrugged her shoulders, took the key off the hook by the door, turned it in the lock, and tip-toed down the cellar stairs.
The door creaked shut behind her.
The ghost hung his head in shame. He had failed to save another one.