July 4th was a week gone, but Travis still had fireworks. His mother was all, “You’re not setting those off here.” We laughed when Travis acted out his mom. He was a riot. Problem was no way could we go to any of our houses with the fireworks, either. Someone would call Sheriff O’Bannon. We didn’t need him up in our business.
Brian picked the Milford place. It was for sale, had been since last summer. This year they weren’t even taking care of the lawn. The place had that empty-a-long-time look now. “How do we get in?” quavered Polly.
Brian dug into his pocket and pulled out a couple thin metal sticks. “I have a key,” he grinned. Travis bumped knuckles with him and Clay laughed. Polly gave me a look, but I shrugged it off.
The Milford place was way out on the edge of town. Travis set off his bottle rockets and stuff. The boys jumped around. Polly and I clapped. In Elksville, this was an exciting day. Breaking into the house made it more exciting. Brian fiddled with the lock on the back door and a long minute later, turned the handle. We piled in, kicking up dust and coughing.
The place was deserted, but the old furniture was still there. I tried to ignore the scuttling in the walls. Chills shook me and my tummy flipped. I went to Polly, who stood in the middle of the living room with her arms wrapped tightly around her middle. Her eyes were big and blue, the whites showing around them. “When can we leave, Laurie?” I shook my head. We always did things as a group. She whispered, “I don’t like it here.”
“It’s gross,” I nodded. Polly gave me an odd look, kind of impatient, and she walked back to the door. The boys were off exploring upstairs. I was pretty sure I heard one of them treating a bed like a trampoline. This was going to take a while.
Bookcases lined the walls of the living room, making it a small library. My favorite place in town was the library, but this one had books I never saw before. I ran my hand over the spines of a bunch of leather bound books labeled Harvard Classics and sighed. One day I would own a library like this. I twirled, taking in the view of all the books, hundreds of them, and sighed again. A moaning sound undercut my sigh, joining in.
Cold wound around my belly before washing through me. I felt my long hair rustle as it passed by. Scared, I tried to shake the feeling off. I wanted to bolt from the room when a book fell off a shelf. It landed so hard, I jumped like a gunshot went off. Automatically, I bent to pick it up. As I did, the shelf emptied itself, books bouncing off the back of my head and shoulders, knocking me down to the floor.
“Are you okay?” Polly’s anxious voice came from the back of the house, nearly a shriek.
“I’m good, Polly. Ready to go?” My voice was strong, even confident. I had not opened my mouth to speak, though. My voice came from the bookcase. I looked up and stared, a silent scream in my throat.
“Yes, oh yes, Laurie, let’s go!” Polly cried. While I got up, I heard her calling for the boys. She yelled their names to be heard above the racket they made. As though I rushed through a long tunnel, I stepped toward the sinister bookcase, my friends’ voices dimming in the distance. I stood before it, resting a hand on the now-empty shelf, casually kicking the books away. Inwardly, I marveled at my calm, at my knowing what to do.
“Release me.” The whisper lingered on the air of the empty room, soaking into me until my insides trembled. “Release me.”
I reached out my hand. I pressed the palm against the wall. There was an answering pressure. As I took my hand away, I could see the imprint of a hand against the other side of the wall. I gulped and tried to turn away, to run away. My feet were rooted. Whipping back to stare at the impossible handprint, I saw it fade.
Unearthly cold filled me, slow and true, from my belly out. I was shut aside, somehow pushed away in my own mind. My vision hazed and another’s vision cleared. I watched as the other tested moving hands, then feet. Her glory flowed through me, spiking my fear.
“Polly,” I heardfelt myself say. “Send Clay to fetch Sheriff O’Bannon. Quickly now.” My voice was harsh, hurried and deep. Through a distorted lens, I saw Polly wring her hands and back away, then flee up the stairs. Clay came down, stared at me and was off like he had a butt full of birdshot.
“Laurie,” I feltheard this other speak to me. “I can’t sustain this. You must tell Sheriff O’Bannon I am Anita Milford. I did not run off with that carpenter. My husband killed me. My body is in that wall.” I felt the other weep and weaken. “Tell the sheriff… if he doesn’t believe say he was called Rooster and I never forgot his kiss under the bleachers.”
Next I knew, Dr. Rooney was waving some hateful stink under my nose and I tried to scramble away. Sheriff O’Bannon’s face loomed close. “Okay now, Laurie?”
“She’s in the wall,” I forced out in a whisper. “Anita Milford. She’s in the wall.” His eyebrows frowned. “She said you’re Rooster and you kissed her under some bleachers. Mr. Milford killed her and put her in the wall.” The sheriff swallowed hard.
They all jumped when a big sigh came out and swirled around the room. I just lay there, tension seeping away at her relief.