My eyes reacted first, opening to plot a course for my near-paralyzed limbs; I staggered awkwardly across the plush carpet, soft and absorbing the soles of my feet as I traversed the room. Movement again. One of the oversized mice the same one? must have been watching me from the shadowy hallway. It disappeared quickly as I’d seen it, down the dark passage, or elsewhere; I couldn’t tell for sure, but it appeared that the scurrying objects were making their movements down that direction, so my intent was to cross the living room to what I thought may have been another room beyond, where I might cloak myself, to remain unapproached by anything scurrying from within or stealing life from without.
The disturbingly proper living room passed to my right; an odd euphony sounded to my left, contrasting the house’s infectious moodiness – down the hall – rhythmic, hopping tones, “Happy is the song! You can sing along! It’s a diddle-daddle-day! Startled, I choked a bit on my saliva, stricken with sudden anger at the empty-headed fool who struck play on that drivel while doom approached from beyond the door with its sign and the dancing trees. My progress sped toward what I assumed was a dining room, and I entered, relieved for a moment not to find burgundy anything, but relief burned under hot panic, like thread in a flame. Somebody was in the room.
You can easily make a melody! In a diddle-daddle way!
Wrenching fear held fast my spine; there, far side of the room, a figure swayed, too drenched in shadow to identify, but it swayed, almost absently to the annoying musical din. Human? Animal? Spirit? This sensation – that of uncertainty over where to go, because I could not leave the house for fear of the looming unknown, could not move forward into the sight of the swaying figure, could not move at all because my brain’s synapses collapsed in terror.
The figure slowed its movement, or more changed its movement from lateral to vertical, and now I was aware that the figure was much shorter than me. It was rising, rising, perhaps stretching, and now I could see something flash in the dark. Shock and relief intertwined in my throat, suffered me a pitiful exclamation.
“Oh!” I croaked, as I saw that the swayer was standing before a large oval mirror, and I could only now make out a face in that mirror, reflected hazily in the dim, her back to me. The figure was a girl – a young girl, blonde hair set back in a pink clip, face soft and freckled, no plasticizing makeup, no earrings adorning; she was not yet old enough for these, at least not as girls were for her time. What time?
She caught my reflection in the looking glass; her lips parted in a gasp, revealing a mismatched set of front teeth. She did not turn her face; I assumed she was afraid of me, a strange man in her home, but following her surprise at spying my reflection, her face did not change to one of dismay; she did not try to run; she did not duck from my sight. She only stared at me, an ominous glare, her lips pulled together into a pout – young, darling little face downturned just so; her eyes did not part from me, distressing me terribly. I glanced away a few moments, hoping she would take the opportunity to dart from the room, but I heard no movement from her, just the grating tune that incessantly played down the hall, and when I looked back, she stared at me still. I would have thought her frozen in fear, even as I was, but her expression did not read as one of fright. That pout – it almost could be described as a smile.
“You should be hiding.” Her young voice was as much an assault on my ears as the awful music, for places like these – austere, stationary houses with haunted front lawns and mysterious eruptions – these are not places for young, untainted children, but she was here, peering at me with eyes like cold slivers and something of a sing-song in her words.
“Why should I hide?” I asked, ashamed of the quiver in my voice.
Cocking her head slightly, “You don’t know?” Her back was still to me, but her eyes in the mirror didn’t waiver.
“Who am I hiding from?”
Now she turned, and I saw her more fully, no longer stretching herself to see me in the mirror. I’d have considered her a pretty girl, were it not for her offensive grin, and I thought I heard tacit laughter from beneath her lips.
“What’s going on?” I asked. She was certainly laughing. “Who am I supposed to be hiding from?!” I raised my voice, and my question was punctuated by another thundering eruption from outside, closer now. The little girl’s laughter crescendoed to a bellow; I saw her pinkish flesh streak across the dining room, and I last saw her wisp of golden hair disappear into the nebulous hall.