We didn’t like staying with them. By “we” I mean my sister and me and by “them” I mean our aunt and uncle. Our father called us one afternoon. Our mother was in a car-accident and he had to stay with her at the hospital. He said an aunt and uncle—we’d never heard of them before—lived on a farm a few hours from us and would take us in until my mother got better.
It was summer. We knew no one where we were taken. Each day was the same. My aunt banged on our door at about 7:30—even on weekends—and breakfast was waiting. My uncle went to work on the farm and our aunt stayed in the house. At lunchtime, she drove us into town, each day, to shop for dinner. She didn’t chat with anyone and we were not allowed to interact with children we saw. When we got back, my sister and I were given simple chores, which kept us busy. At six, we sat down for dinner, saying grace. When that was done, we washed the dishes and then had an hour of TV—there were only three channels—and an hour for reading. Then we were sent to bed. On Sunday the four of us drove to church but when we got back to the farm my sister and I had to play in the barn for an hour after lunch.
Each night our father called. We each spoke to him for five minutes. He was vague about how mother was doing, but seemed more optimistic each day, saying maybe she’d be well enough for us to speak with her. We both lied and said we were having a wonderful time on the farm but didn’t lie when we told him we loved him and mother and couldn’t wait to get home.
Things changed early in the second week. On Monday night, my sister crawled into my bed and told me, “I don’t like when he walks around at night.” I’m a heavier sleeper than she is so I didn’t notice.
“It was last Thursday when it started. I heard something fall downstairs, I guess. It woke me up. I heard him curse and then he came upstairs.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“That’s what I thought. But it happened the next night too. On Saturday, I couldn’t sleep.”
“Is that why you fell asleep in church?”
“Yeah. I have no idea what time it was but I didn’t hear anything drop. Instead I heard a door creak.”
She was starting to shake. I asked, “Up here or downstairs?”
“Did you hear anything else?”
“I think I heard Auntie go down and bring him back up. I heard him say, ‘I’m sorry but I thought it was them,’ something like that.”
As I held her hand she continued.
“So, last night after we were supposed to be in bed and I knew you were asleep, I snuck up and opened the door a crack.”
“So you could see their door and the stairs?”
“Exactly. I might have dozed off, but I woke when I heard their bedroom door open. I saw him go downstairs. I was afraid Auntie would wake up so I waited, but I didn’t hear anything. Then the door creaked open and then it closed. I went down the stairs, real slowly so I wouldn’t make a sound, and one of the kitchen lights was on.”
“Why didn’t you wake me?”
“I don’t know. You were asleep. Anyway, it lit up that small hallway to the dining room and when I went there I saw there was a door. It was kind of built into the wall. I’d never noticed it before.”
“Nor had I.”
“Right, so it was open a tiny bit. There’s someone down there. It scares me.”
She returned to her bed, but I couldn’t sleep and I don’t think she could either. At about two I asked if she was awake and she was. I got up and she followed. I opened the door and peeked out. It was clear. We slowly went down the stairs, feeling our way in the dark.
I found the door. She was behind me. I opened it slowly. All was quiet. I found a light switch at the top of the stairs and put it on. The light blinded us as we went down. We turned at the bottom.