Continued from Mist on the Morn
By Lisa McCourt Hollar
|Photo by Sue Midlock|
“Who is this?” Julie held the photo out for her boss to see.
Taking it from Julie’s hand, a look of sadness passed over Frank Swanson’s face. He studied the picture for a moment, taking the few seconds; it would seem, to check his emotions. When he answered, his voice sounded strained. “Agatha. She was my sister.”
“What happened to her?”
He shook his head, frowning. “She disappeared. I was ten at the time, she was seven. It was my birthday and we were supposed to go to the park, but…”
“I’m sorry,” Julie said, “I didn’t mean to bring up bad memories.”
“You didn’t. I think about her every day.”
“And no one knows what happened?”
“No and she wasn’t the only girl to disappear that summer… or for several summer’s after that.”
“How horrible. I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been for your family.”
“You would think.” Frank frowned, a look of disgust replacing the earlier anguish. “My father adjusted well enough. One less mouth to feed, or something like that.”
“NO!” Julie looked shocked. “He didn’t honestly say that?”
“No, of course he didn’t.” Setting the photo back in its spot on his desk, Frank turned towards the window. His office overlooked the square and traffic could be seen flowing up and down the busy road. “But he never talked about her after she was gone. Never pressed for the police to find her. My mother… she had a breakdown after Agatha disappeared. My Aunt came to stay with us. She said to take care of mother.” He snorted at that, his lips turning up in a grimace. “She did a better job taking care of my dad.”
“I’m sorry.” Julie didn’t know what to say. She hadn’t expected to have her boss tell her such personal information. Turning from the window, Frank Swanson noticed her discomfort and chuckled…
“How about that, I bring you in here to discuss whatever is troubling you and end up spilling a family secret; I guess I’m not a very good counselor. And look at the time. I have to get to my meeting with Mrs. Hamblen. If all goes well, I’ll be returning with a hefty check.”
“That’s okay,” Julie said, relieved to see an out. After her boss left, she picked the photo up, studying the image of his sister. Agatha resembled the girl beneath the tree… but it couldn’t be her. Could it?
Julie thought of nothing else the rest of the day, going through her duties in a fog. Mr. Swanson didn’t return and called just before closing to instruct her to lock up before leaving.
“Did you get the donation?” Julie knew that the Art Gallery depended on money from generous contributors to continue running and that Mrs. Hamblen, a recent widow, was very generous with her gifts.
“I’m working on it.” Julie heard a woman’s voice in the background and though she couldn’t see who it was, or what they were doing, she got the feeling that “working on it,” implied something a little more personal that dinner.
“Well, good luck with that.” Feeling uncomfortable with the image of her boss seducing the widow Hamblen for money, she hung up the phone. He was a married man. She’d never met his wife, but she’d spoken with her on the phone. She seemed nice and Julie felt guilty knowing this secret.
“Don’t be silly,” Julie scolded herself. “You don’t know anything. You just have a perverted mind is all. He’s completely innocent and faithful to his wife.”
Yeah, well what was he doing at the motel the night you met him?
“Oh quiet, you,” Julie mumbled to herself. Grabbing her purse, she headed out the door, making sure to set the alarm and lock the door. A storm was brewing and it was nearly dark out as she ran across the street to her car. She was late leaving and the square was nearly empty, most of the businesses already closed for the day. Half way to her car, Julie stopped, searching the shadows for eyes that she felt watching her.
“Again, you’re just being silly,” she said. “You have ghosts on your mind. When you get home, you are going to go and look at that tree and see for yourself that it’s not haunted.”
The drive home didn’t take long. The sun had set, the colors created by the rays mixing with the storm clouds, creating a spectacular view in the sky. Running into the house long enough to grab her camera, she dashed back out the door and down the road. The tree was beautiful in the night and there appeared nothing sinister about it. She knew thought that there had to be a reason that the tree showed up on the film distorted. Julie considered taking more pictures of the tree, but the storm was closing in and she didn’t want to get wet.
“Maybe another day,” she said, disappointed. Julie turned to leave and froze. For just a moment she saw a girl standing there, watching her.
The figure stood there, silent, then faded into mist and disappeared.
“Did I just see that?”
The wind answered her, blowing her hair against her face and shoving her towards her home. Deciding it was nothing more than her imagination; Julie turned and ran for her door, making it inside just as the rain began.
The first thing she noticed when she stepped into her kitchen was the refrigerator door standing open. It had been closed when she retrieved her camera from the table. The other thing she noticed was muddy footprints streaking across the floor.
Her heart froze. Someone was in the house. A scraping at the window caught her attention. Turning, she found herself staring into Agatha Swanson’s eyes. The girl was shaking her head… warning Julie about something? The intruder? Then the girl started to fade.
“No!” Julie said, reaching out to stop her. The girl shimmered back into existence for just a moment. Without thinking, Julie raised her camera. The flash lit the room at the same time lighting spread across the sky. When her eyes cleared, the window was empty. Julie realized then she hadn’t been breathing. Letting out the air she was holding, her knees buckled and she felt behind her for a chair. In the next room, floorboards creaked, reminding her she wasn’t alone in the house.
Continued in Complexities.