By Kay Ziegler
While October was warm, the wind was blustery. It sent golden and fuchsia leaves shivering to the ground. Orbs of sweet, juicy persimmons hid amongst these leaves as if to fend off hungry opossums, desperately starved dogs, or industrious humans who want to mash the fruit into pulp for puddings, cakes, and cookies.
Hands stuffed into the pockets of her denim jacket, Dana wandered through the grove with a bucket, half-filled with the fruit, hung on the crook of her arm. The gusts rustled through the trees, sending more leaves and persimmons plopping down. Looking up at the sky, Dana yelled, "Stop it!" As of making a response, the winds blew again, sending more fruit falling.
Grumbling, Dana headed to the hallow where the persimmons rolled. As she wandered along, her toe caught on something. The pony-tailed woman went flying. "Oomph," Dana gasped as she landed. To her dismay, she watched at her bucket rolled, leaving a trail of persimmons in its wake.
"No," she moaned. Sitting up, Dana looked behind her. Sticking out of the ground was the a wooden box’s corner. "Where'd that come from?"
The summer had been hot and dry. These drought conditions caused much of the top soil to blow away, thus revealing all sorts of treasures. That’s probably why the box had shown up.
On all fours, the brunette cleared the dirt and brittle leaves away, Dana managed to tug the box from its grave. In the fading light, she stared at the shoe-box shaped item. It was a plain thing; the only ornamentations were a brass latch and lock and a snake eating its tale and three stars settled into the circle carved on the lid. “Wow,” breathed the young woman.
A screech owl hooted in the distance, making Dana jump. Seeing the bird sitting in a stripped elm, she sighed and stood. With the empty bucket in one hand and the box in the other, the woman headed up the hill to the house she shared with her parents, Robin and Marissa, and younger brother, Jeremy.
Feeling eyes trailing her, Dana glanced around. The neighborhood was a quiet one. Little crime happened on this block (as far as she knew). The kids were friendly, if not a little rowdy. It was a picture of suburban bliss.
But, whenever she passed one of her neighbor’s homes, a small square thing covered in peeling white paint, Dana would involuntarily shiver. It didn’t help the shack’s owner always seemed to be lurking on its steps.
He never said anything; not even, ‘Hi, my name’s Bob’ (or whatever his name was). He never smiled. He just blankly stared out at the field. Dana had tried to be friendly. She’d often said, ‘Hello’ to him. She usually waved, if he was looking in her direction. The scrawny, blonde-headed man never reacted.
Again, Dana caught him looking at her. She raised a hand and waved. Not staying to see if he waved or not, left the bucket at the door, she entered the house and found her dad eating dinner.
“Hey, where’s mom and the brat,” she asked.
“They went out. I think they were going to the movies for Jer’s history class,” Robin replied after swallowing his bite. “You find any persimmons?”
“Yeah, but I dropped the bucket. I lost ‘em all. It was too dark to pick ‘em back up,” Dana said. “But, look what I tripped over!” She brought the box over to the table and sat it down in front her dad.
“Cool. You okay?”
“Yeah,” she said. “I’m gonna go do some homework.”
“Have fun,” Robin said as Dana went to her room.
Placing the box on the desk next to her laptop she grabbed the anthology for the class, a pad of paper, and a pen. Sitting down, she flipped on her reading light and opened the book to an Emily Dickinson poem. Halfway through one of pieces, the lights began to flicker.
“Great,” Dana whispered, turning to the door. “Hey dad!”
“Yeah?” Robin called from the kitchen. “I know. I think we might have a loose fuse. I’m gonna go take care of it.”
“OK,” she said. About to go back to her reading, she saw a shadow. It was a flash of movement in the shape of a girl. Swallowing, the woman placed her reading down and slid off the door. Seeing another zip of movement, Dana went to the door.
“Hello,” Dana called. No answer, but she saw the shadow again. Repeating the greeting, she jumped as the lights went completely out and then came back on a moment later. With the light, the shadow was gone.
“All fixed!” Robin called.
“Good,” Dana said, lying down on her bed. Grabbing the book, she started reading the poem again, but she soon fell asleep and only woke in the morning.
Choosing a sweater, jeans, and fresh under garments, Dana went to the bathroom. She heard her brother rattling around in the kitchen as her mom did her morning work out in front of the television and her dad worked on a model air plane. It was the typical Saturday morning.
Stripped from her clothes, she turned on the shower and soaped up. After fifteen minutes under the hot water, Dana got out. Drying, she slipped into her clothes. At the sink, she grabbed her toothbrush and toothpaste. Running the bristles under the water, she looked at the foggy mirror. Gasping, the woman dropped her things. Written in the steam was, HELP ME.
“You little twerp,” Dana screamed after going into the kitchen.
Jeremy looked up from his bowl of day-glow colored cereal. “What did I do,” he asked.
“What do you mean, What did I do? You wrote help me in bold letters on the mirror,” she retorted.
“I didn’t do it. I’ve been in here the whole time, making breakfast. Besides, what do I need your help with? Maybe we’ve got a ghost?”
Dana rolled her eyes. “Whatever,” she said, grabbing a banana and toasting a waffle. Eating the food in haste, she went back to the bathroom, put her touch up on, and brushed her teeth. Just then, there was a honk. “I’m going out with Sandy,” she called to her parents as she threw on her jacket and getting her purse.
After a day of shopping at the mall, study time at the library, and lunch of pizza Dana came home. Sitting in front of the TV, she listened to the local news and studied The Raven.
“Halloween will be crisp and clear, folks, but make sure you wrap up your little ones. It’ll be cold,” said the weatherperson. “There will be a 10 percent…” In the midst of the weather forecast, the program went off. Black and white snow and a loud screeching sound filled the air. Clicking the sound volume down, Dana stared at the TV.
In front of the snow was a girl dressed in a sundress. Her hair hung around her shoulders - limp and stringy. “I want to go home! Help me,” she screamed, her arms hanging at her sides. With that, the picture came back.
Heart pounding, Dana went to her room. Her loose leaf papers were covered in scrawls of Help Me! She grabbed the box and a screwdriver. Forcing the lock off, she opened the lid.
Pasted to the inside was an address with the name Charlotte Porter – she lived a block away. The contents of the box were a cross, a decorative comb, a rock, a drawing of an owl, and a faded photo of a girl. She pushed the box away, but continued to stare at the picture. It was the girl from the television.
Closing the lid, Dana headed to the front door. “I’ll be back,” the young woman called. Running down the street, she found the address easily. It was a brick home with mums in the front. Climbing the stairs, she knocked.
“Hello,” called a confused woman after she opened the door. “Who are you?”
“I’m Dana Miller. Does Charlotte Porter live her?”
“Dead? I…I found something hers,” Dana said offering the box.
“I remember when Charlotte buried that. Soon after, she disappeared and was never found. Where did you find it?”
“In the persimmon grove behind my house,” she explained after the woman took it.
“She played there often. Thank you for returning this too me,” the woman said, closing the door.
Dana ran home, but before entering, she looked out. Men in black suits with flashlights and shovels were at the white house. Going closer, she saw graves unearthed. She watched as the blonde-headed man was brought out in handcuffs.
Feeling a hand upon her shoulder, Dana turned, but saw no one. “Thank you,” someone whispered. It was so quiet, it could’ve been the wind that rustled and leaves fell. But she knew in her heart that wasn’t the case.
“You’re welcome, Charlotte,” Dana said, entering her home.