lj idol season nine | week 22 | 1560 words
Sweep The Leg
When we lived in the old house by the lake, we could hear voices at night—like secrets whispered behind walls, not quite loud enough for words to make it through.
"Nonsense, there's no one here but us," Granny Alice would say, whenever we mentioned the noise. "Not for miles."
We were only there for the summer. Daddy ran out on us after Easter, so Mama had to go to work. Now that school was out, there was no one to look after us during the day. We'd never been to Granny Alice's new house, but we liked her and it was only for a few months. Still, it wasn't quite like we'd imagined.
We had no pets and there were no other children nearby, so there was little to do. Ellie and I would make up games, or swim in the lake. Our grandmother worried: "Not too deep," she'd say, and we always agreed though we went out as far as we wanted anyway. What could possibly happen, there at the end of a long dirt road in that far-off piece of nothing?
During the day, the house was quiet, and it was easy to imagine that the sounds we sometimes heard were just a trick our minds played on us when it grew dark.
"Whose house was this before it was yours?" I asked.
"We never met them," Granny Alice said. "The house was empty for a year before your Grandfather Jake heard it was for sale. He bought it for our retirement."
"But why did you want to live here? It's so far away from everything."
Our grandmother nodded and sighed. "It certainly is…."
Grandpa Jake died last year and Mama had never lived here, so I'd supposed I'd never find out.
That night, the voices came again, and this time they were loud enough to wake me. It was late—so late the moon had already passed over my room and left it basement-black. I crept under the covers, feeling safer there, somehow. This time the sounds weren't just murmurs.
I could hear my name.
"Billy," they said (though there could be lots of Billys, couldn't there?) "Billy Halvord!"
I bolted out of bed and ran into our grandmother's room. "Granny Alice," I said, "There's people calling me from inside those walls!"
Granny Alice turned on a lamp. "What, now? Billy, you know that isn't real. We've discussed this."
"Granny, they know my name."
Granny Alice frowned. "Well, that's a new one," she said. "All right, you can sleep in here the rest of the night."
I got under the covers, and listened hard, but I didn't hear any more voices. I found out that Granny Alice snores, though.
The next day, I didn't tell Ellie what had happened. She was littler than me, and she scared easy. We spent the morning playing hide-and-seek and skipping rocks across the lake. After lunch, it was hot enough to go swimming.
The edge of the lake was always warm, and a few feet out the bottom was covered with soft, slippery mud. We splashed around for a while, and swam and floated a little ways down the shore. Ellie wanted to play Marco Polo, even though she couldn't swim as fast as me and usually had to be the finder for most of the game. She'd get mad before long, and then we'd quit.
I took the first turn as the finder, like I always did. "Marco!" I yelled. "Polo!" Ellie called from somewhere off to my left. I swam toward the sound and yelled "Marco!" again. I waited.
"Polo!" Ellie said, from somewhere behind me. I moved closer to the shore. "Marco!" I said, and waited. She didn't answer. "Marco!" I shouted.
Still nothing. I opened my eyes and looked all around me, turning in circles, watching the water for any signs of where Ellie might be. There were ripples off to my right, so I swam over there and ducked my head under for a better look.
Ellie was down near the bottom, struggling in a stretch of weeds.
I lifted my head and took a big breath, and dived under to help her. She was trying to pull the weeds off of her legs and get loose, and I yanked on everything that was touching her. Finally, she broke free, and the two of us kicked toward the surface.
Ellie coughed and gasped, and we looked at each other with panicked eyes. "I—I want to get out," she sputtered. I let her grab my shoulders with her hands, and I towed her to the water's edge. We sat down in the dirt to catch our breath.
"You okay?" I asked.
Ellie nodded, her eyes huge. "I don't like this place, Billy."
I thought about last night. "Me neither."
We agreed we wouldn't tell Granny Alice what had happened. We went back to the house to dry off, and Ellie still didn't look so good. I asked Granny Alice if Ellie could have some chocolate milk.
"What? Speak up, Billy—you know I can't hear half the things you kids say."
Afterwards, Ellie and I read books on the back porch until dinner, and it was bedtime before I knew it. I'd been dreading it all day.
My room was hot and stuffy, too warm for the covers. I stretched out on top of them with my flashlight and a book, determined to stay awake. Eventually, I heard Granny Alice come upstairs to go to bed, too.
I must have fallen asleep, because it was dark when I heard my name again: "Billy."
I didn't say a word.
"Billy, come and play."
I felt something brush along my leg and then grab me hard around the ankle, and I screamed loud enough to wake the nearest town. I pulled and pulled, but I couldn't get away. "Help!"
The door opened, and Ellie came running in with Granny Alice. "Granny, something's got me!" I said.
Granny turned the light on, and there it was—a dark boy-shaped thing at the foot of the bed, and another standing next to it.
Ellie and I both screamed, and I threw a pillow at the boy-thing holding onto me. He just laughed.
Granny Alice leaned forward and swatted them both. "You get out of here this instant!"
"But we want Billy to play with us," the one standing there said. It didn't sound nice, the way he said it.
"Go on home," Granny yelled. "Get!"
The two boy-things walked into the wall and disappeared, but the words, "This is our home" leaked on through.
"Granny?" I croaked out.
"Come on, kids," Granny Alice said.
We gathered our pillows and Ellie's stuffed rabbit, and went out to Granny Alice's car. We slept a little more here and there, but we couldn't get comfortable. Mostly, we just waited for it to be daylight again.
By nine o'clock, the day was growing hot, so we rolled down all the windows. Granny Alice looked at the two of us, and got out of the car. "It's time to fix this mess," she said.
Ellie and I followed close behind her, afraid to let even the sun discover our shadows. Granny marched up the porch stairs and through the door, holding a shovel from the garage. "Who's in here?" she said.
There was no reply.
We went from room to room, and found the two dark boy-shaped things bouncing on my bed. Guess once they'd been seen, they didn't bother to hide.
Granny pointed the shovel at them. "Leave this house."
"Cain't," the taller of the two said.
"This is our room," the other one said. "We lived here with our Ma and Pa, 'til we drowned out there in that lake. Ain't left here since, and we ain't gonna."
"We'll see about that," Granny Alice said. She jabbed at them with the shovel and they fled back into the wall, muttering angrily. Granny stood there a minute, frowning, then she said, "Billy, get your things. You too, Ellie."
I put my toys and as many clothes as I could into my suitcase. Ellie came back with her luggage, stuffed animals spilling out of her arms. We followed Granny to her own room, where she gathered pictures and jewelry and clothes, and then she sent us out to the car while she made more trips to throw things in boxes and put them in the trunk of the car.
"All right," she said. She picked up a gas can. "You kids stay here, now. I mean it." Granny Alice went back into the house.
It seemed like she was gone for a long time, but finally she came out the front door. Smoke started leaking out the upstairs windows.
She got in the car. "Let's go," she said.
"Granny Alice, I think the house is on fire!" I said.
"It had certainly better be." Granny Alice backed out of the garage and headed toward the long road leading to the highway. "Looks like I'm moving to the city again," she said. "Think your Mama'll let me stay at your place and sleep on your sofa?"
Just then, it seemed like the most wonderful idea I'd ever heard. Ellie and I smiled so big our faces were like to split.
"Yes, ma'am, she surely will!"
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