The Lantern Girl

I heard some scratching and clomping like one of the goats had wandered onto the front porch again. Setting down my knitting, I came outside ready to scold some lazy farm hand, but instead, I found a balled-up little girl, no more than eight, on the settee, pretending she was asleep. I hoped no neighbor had driven past and seen such filth at my door.

She wore a strange shirtwaist: white with blue sleeves attached. I said to her, I said, “You get on now, miss. I know how your kind work. I feed you and the next thing I know twenty of your kin come to my door a-begging. Us proper folk have rough times, too.”

The peculiar girl swept her fine hair from her face, and that’s when I noticed her skin. Right ugly, she was. Her face as blue as the china in my curio and shining bright, too, as if she’d swallowed a dozen torches. After glancing at me, she tucked her head back under her arm.

I stood over her a might longer, and when it was clear she was staying put, I trudged back through the house to fetch a broom. The girl was gone when I came back, though. A skein of green yarn lay where I’d found her. How’d she know I knit?

I searched the house, attic to cellar. I had Cal, the farmhand, rake through the hay in the barn. No sign of her. The rest of my day was spent looking out windows, searching for flashes of blue.

The next morning the girl was back on the porch. Seeing her there was like seeing a ghost.

I said to her, I said, “Thank you for the yarn, young’un,” and she nodded. Then she pointed to the flower bed next to the stoop. The soil showed dark against the rich greens and purples of the azaleas. Not a weed in sight. She held her hands out to me so I could see her chipped fingernails and scratched up fingers. She smiled something fierce and rubbed her belly.

“Well, come in, then,” I mumbled. What else could I have done? The little wretch was thin as a picket.

In the washroom, I poured water into a basin. The girl stared at it. “Go on,” I urged, and when she didn’t move, I said, “are you mute, girl?”

I washed and dried my own hands, then pointed at her. She mimicked my movements, giggling. It was good to hear the sound of a child in the house again. She giggled all the way to the kitchen, where I laid out some cornpone and a tomato. Its red contrasted the blue of her hand.

When we heard footsteps coming up the back stairs, the girl stopped laughing and her eyes widened.

I said to her, I said, “That’s just my farmhand bringing the corn I asked for. You know how to shuck?”

The girl growled and ran to a corner of the room. I could see her tangle of hair peeking above the counter of the hutch. The idea of fleas struck me.

The back door swung open and lanky Cal stood holding a basket.

“Morning, Widow McCrae. Found some right fine ears for you.”

“Thank you, Cal. Put them there.” I looked to the hutch. “Don’t be rude, little miss; say hello to Cal.”

Cal scanned the empty room, while I stepped closer to the hutch. The girl was gone. In her place lay clods of dirt and three of my good knives.

“Where’d she go?” I said, more to myself than to Cal.

“Who?”

“A little girl. Blue. Her skin is blue. I just fed her for doing work.”

Cal gave me a look you’d give a horse that crowed like a rooster. “I’ll check the yard,” he said, scratching his forehead.

Alone in the house again, I noticed the shadows in the room, hiding under the icebox, crouched in the pantry. How did that girl keep jumping in and out without so much as a squeak? I thought as I washed the knives she’d stole and put them back in their drawer. Crumbs still dotted the table, but I had eaten some myself before I found her. My silverware, my china, the envelope of money Louis left me in his will, nothing else was missing, but when I stepped onto the porch a message greeted me.

Green yarn spelled out WILL RETURN in cursive letters across the rug.

Early draft. Constructive criticism welcome.

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9 Replies to “The Lantern Girl”

  1. You nailed the voice of your MC. She felt very real to me. I like the hints you gave of the little girl’s personality and her mysterious magic. My only concrit would be that she doesn’t seem to speak English, so it seems strange that she can spell. I hope you expand on this. I’d love to read more.

  2. I could still feel your inner poet in this one with your word choices. Moments like “peculiar girl” and “fine hair” that made this piece special. It fit the feel of the story but contrasted with the MC’s voice in a way that made her voice shine even more. And they blended at the same time.

  3. I love your language in this! The widow’s speaking habit is evocative. I think you’ve got her speech patterns down pat. I also like the way you show her personality by the things she is worried about. The girl is intriguing.

    “The idea of fleas struck me.”– I like the way you stated this, simply, with no further explanation. It’s easy to imagine.

    I have only one minor suggestion. “How did that girl keep jumping in and out without so much as a squeak? I thought as I washed the knives she’d stole and put them back in their drawer.” The “I thought” part threw me. I wonder if you could delete those two words and rephrase the next part about washing the knives. Or maybe put the thought in italics.

  4. I really liked this. Spooky with hints of something supernatural going on, but with a narrator who is as worried about what the neighbors think as she is with the strangeness of it all.

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