Aurora debated whether she was dead or alive.
She birdwatched from her bedroom window, the smoke from her cigarette wafting in the air around her like a cloud. The lake outside stood eerily still. No wind, no ripple in the gray, murky waters. Fog hovered above the surface, ready to engulf a monster soon to arise.
Aurora backed away from the window and ground the cigarette into the ashtray, rubbing her sunken eyes before walking across the dark and creaky wood toward the bed.
She was the only one inside this dilapidated, gargantuan house her mother had bought a month ago. Now her mother was dead, and Aurora needed a place to stay, having been evicted from her apartment downtown.
This home, too broken to repair, had somehow sparked an interest in her mother.
Aurora sank into the mattress as if she would never leave it again. But hours later, she woke with a start from a clutter of noises. Odd. The closest neighbor lived a mile away. She took a deep breath and sat up while wiping hair from her pallid face.
The sky had faded to a black hue, and she wasn’t the only one awake. Her iPhone lit up the dark room, and when she looked at the screen, it was a picture of her — asleep.
Aurora jolted, causing the phone to topple from her grasp as she scrambled away, pressing her back against the headboard as she scanned the area.
No one was here.
Her eyes dragged shut, her chest heaving.
It’s nothing. It’s nothing.
She slid out of bed, the cold hardwood floor sending chills up her core. Aurora locked the doors with a full awareness that anyone who truly wished to break inside, could, with a simple kick to the door.
Her friend Eden knocked for dinner, and only then had she opened the door.
Eden hopped inside. “I brought wine!”
“Thank God you’re here. This house is so lonely.”
They ate together, finishing the bottle of wine quickly. Aurora admitted what she discovered on her phone today, which Eden found rather peculiar and frightening.
“Do you want me to spend the night?”
She shook her head. “No, no. I’m sure it’s nothing. I’m probably just going crazy. My mom’s passing was so sudden and–”
“Unexpected,” Eden finished, leaning over the table. “She was so healthy–”
“And then an unexpected stroke. It’s weird, isn’t it? My mother buys a house right when I get evicted, and then she dies, leaving me with it.”
Eden shrugged, sipping her glass of wine. “Coincidence.”
With the photograph and the noises that had woken her up, Aurora wasn’t entirely convinced it was a coincidence. But she buried that thought deep into her mind and chugged the rest of her wine, feeling it slip down her throat.
“It’s lonely out here,” Eden commented.
“It’s creepy. No one will hear me scream for help.”
Eden laughed. Then she left.
Strands of Aurora’s black hair fell over her bony shoulders as she cleaned the dishes from dinner. The water shot from the faucet down into the dark, black drain.
Footsteps and children’s laughter rang through the house, causing the plate in her hands to clatter into the sink and shatter.
Then it stopped, and then voices came.
“GET OFF HER!”
Aurora bolted toward the sounds, letting the water continue to run. She halted in the living room, spinning in a circle in search for the voices. Nothing.
More sounds of laughter and pattering footsteps knotted her stomach.
“Hello?” she called out.
The answer was the famous song.
Ring around the rosy.
Pocketful of posies.
A coat closet door swung open and a cluster of papers fell from the top shelf. The children finished the song in a whisper as Aurora inched toward the papers.
At the whisper of the last word, the back door whisked open, an icy breeze whooshing through the room. Aurora ignored it as she heard some more laughs which frightened her to the point of feeling tears prick her eyes. She bent down and picked up a journal and some news clippings.
Papa’s drinking again. It’s so bad, he’s beating Mama and Rose. There’s a lot of blood. More than last time. He keeps saying it’s Mama’s fault Rose and I can’t go to school — ’cause Mama’s whoring around with Rose’s teacher. But it’s Papa who lost his job. He’s scarier now. I’m scared he’ll start hitting me, too. But I think Rose will protect me. She’ll keep me safe.
Aurora read the news clipping.
MAN MURDERS HIS WIFE AND DAUGHTERS, THEN HIMSELF
There was a photograph of the family on their porch — on Aurora’s porch.
Too focused on this content, Aurora didn’t notice there was someone behind her — a ghost, the father, the killer.
He took her. And no one heard her scream.
And it finally all made sense as Aurora hop, hop, hopped over the jump rope with the girls, almost satisfied the house wasn’t so lonely anymore.