By Samaria Rountree, Virginia State University
First Place Winner, Fiction, 2022 VSU English Department Writing Contest
Everyone was busy in the house. Spencer was playing his video game, Glen was on a business call, and Caroline was making them all dinner. Maddie was the only one left without a task to occupy herself. Stricken with boredom, Maddie decided to find something to do. She leaped out of bed and scurried out of her room. She ran down the hall and busted through Spencer’s door.
She blurted, “Hey Spencer, come play with me!”
“Get out of my room,” Spencer yelled. His focus never strayed from the video game. “We got one down boys!” He continued clicking and clacking the buttons on his controller. “I sniped one, it's another one coming down the hill!”
Maddie stood at the door and sighed. She went to pick up a pillow from Spencer’s bed and launched it at him.
Spencer screamed, “Ugh! Maddie if you don’t get out, I'm going to tell Mom!”
Maddie stuck her tongue out to taunt him before leaving his room and slamming his door shut. She decided to move on to her next target.
“Dad” she yelled. She raced downstairs into her father’s study. “Dad, Dad, Dad come play with me!”
Her father was sitting at his desk still on his phone call “You can go ahead and send the files over to Duncan.” He cut in, “uh hold on one moment for me.” He looked over at Maddie, “not right now sweetheart, I will play with you after I finish up all of my work.”
Saddened, Maddie says, “but you’re always working, you’re never going to finish.”
“I will sweetie, as soon as I’m finished, we’ll play.” He smiled at her, “pinky swear.”
Maddie smiled, “pinky swear.” She closed the door behind her and decided to find something to do by herself. She knew that it wasn’t going to be as much fun, but she thought it would be better than lying around doing nothing at all. She went into the garage and grabbed her soccer ball and headed into the kitchen where her mom was.
“I’m going outside to kick the ball around,” Maddie said.
“Alright honey, make sure you’re back when dinner’s ready.” She picked up another pan, “I’m making your dad’s favorite.”
“Okay Mom,” Maddie said as she hurried outside.
“And make sure you stay in front of the house where we can see you!”
Before Maddie even heard those words, she was already outside in a hurry to play. She went to a spot around the corner of her house and began to kick the ball back and forth into their brick side wall. She kicked a couple of light kicks, but then she wanted to take it up a notch. She pulled her leg back as far as she could and then swung it forward, catapulting the ball into the wall. The ball hit the bricks so hard that it bounced back and flew into the yard across the street.
“Wooh, I got a mean leg,” Maddie said. She looked across the street at the ball and began to make her way toward it. She stepped through the tall untrimmed blades of grass and grabbed her ball. She couldn’t help but notice how unkept the house was that the yard belonged to. The wood on the house was rugged and falling apart. The windows were fogged with cloudy dust from the inside, and the tree branches out front practically swallowed up the entire frame of the house. As she continued to scan the house, she spotted a face of a girl in one of the windows who looked to be about the same age as her. As soon as Maddie and the girl locked eyes, the girl ducked down away from the window.
“Hey wait,” Maddie yelled, but the girl didn’t resurface. Maddie, desperate to have a playmate, decided to go to the door and ask the parents of the girl if they could allow her to come outside and play. She walked up the stairs onto the porch and pulled the squeaky screen door open. She knocked three big knocks and on the third knock the door crept open. Although Maddie thought this was odd, her curiosity took over. She slowly pushed the door back, making a loud creak blare through the hollows of the house.
“Hello,” Maddie said nervously. She peered inside to look around. There were two grey sofas covered in dust and clutter, and a ridged staircase sat right in front of the entrance. The floor boards were lifting and there was an old sour smell that lingered throughout. She took a step inside to investigate further.
“Hey, it’s the girl from outside with the ball,” Maddie said as she walked into the living room. “I wanted to see if you could come out and play.” She paused to wait for a response. “My name is Maddie.” She waited again for a response, but still nothing. The house was as empty as a jar full of thoughts. Maddie looked around one last time before deciding to head out. She stepped toward the door and before she could even scream, something grabbed her from the staircase and pulled her into the darkness upstairs. Then for a moment, the house was still and silent as if no one was there. The silence was broken when a few light footsteps began to approach the living room. Out came Maddie, or a girl who looked like Maddie, skipping in from the kitchen then through the front door. This Maddie skipped all the way across the street back to Maddie’s home. When this Maddie came in Maddie’s mother, Caroline, stopped to greet her.
“I just finished up dinner, go ahead and wash your hands and get ready to come and eat. Did you have fun out there.”
“Yes,” Maddie said quickly as she went ahead to skip toward the bathroom to wash her hands.
“Where’s your ball?” Caroline asked, but Maddie was already inside the bathroom. Unbothered, Caroline went ahead to make their dinner plates and set them on the table.
When Maddie came out of the bathroom, she ran into her father, Glen.
“Hey sweetheart,” Glen said. “What did you do outside?”
“Nothing, just played with my ball,” Maddie replied.
“Nothing else missy,” he scolded.
Maddie replied shaking her head no.
“Honey, I saw you leaving that house across the street.” He folded his arms across his chest, “What have we told you about going places that we cannot see you, it's dangerous.”
Maddie looked down at the floor.
“We just want you to be safe and if you can’t follow the rules then we can’t trust you to be outside on your own,” Glen said.
Maddie looked up with eyes filled with tears.
“You’re not in trouble, I just don’t want you to do it again. Plus, your mom made my favorite so why ruin the night,” he smiled at Maddie. “So, I am going to keep this between us,” he stuck out his pinky, “Pinky swear.”
“Okay,” Maddie said. She brushed past him with clear and calm eyes and skipped into the dining room. Her father still stood there for a moment with his pinky out, almost as if he thought she would come back and wrap her pinky finger around his. Maddie, however, didn’t look back. She was already sitting at the table waiting for everyone else to come and eat. Her mom was already at the table and Spencer was on his way downstairs to join them.
“Grilled chicken pesto, yum yum yum,” Glen announced as he walked into the dining room. He grabbed the seat at the end of the table across from Caroline, While Spencer and Maddie sat across from one another. Caroline said a quick grace and they all dug in, all except Maddie. While everyone else cleared their plates, Maddie did not take one bite. Her family noticed that she wasn’t eating, but she kept telling them that she wasn’t really hungry and that she had a few snacks before dinner. Her family didn’t question it any further and continued to eat. When they were all finished eating, they all began to get ready for bed.
“Goodnight mom, goodnight dad,” Spencer said as he closed his room door behind him.
“Goodnight mom goodnight dad,” Maddie said as she walked inside of her room.
“No goodnight kisses tonight?” Glen asked Maddie before she closed her door. Maddie walked back to her father, and then he leaned down to give her a kiss on her forehead. “Muah, now sleep tight honey,” Glen said. Maddie went in her room and closed the door. Glen turned around, “Caroline?”
“Yes honey,” she answered.
“You go ahead and get some rest, I'm going to try and get an early start on some of this paperwork for tomorrow,” Glen said.
“Okay sweetie, make sure you don’t stay up too late,” Caroline said.
“I’ll try,” Glen said as he headed downstairs into his study. After tackling most of his paperwork, Glen realized that it was super late. He looked at the time, “geez, 1am! I got to give myself a break.” He began to pack up his things and straighten the documents on his desk. All of a sudden, he heard a thud that seemed to have come from the kitchen. He tip-toed toward the door and crept it open just enough to see a small view of the kitchen. He noticed that the fridge door was slightly open, and the light from inside snuck through the crack of the door. He also saw a small silhouette nearby. When the figure got closer to the fridge light, he realized that the figure was Maddie. She opened the fridge wide, so the light was able to fill most of the darkness in the kitchen and took out a pack of ground beef. She opened up the pack of beef and leaned down to take a long whiff of its aroma. She looked pleased. All of a sudden, she slammed her face into the raw meat and began to chow. Shocked, Glen accidentally pushed the door he hid behind, making a loud squeak. He tried to hide extra quietly for a moment, hoping that Maddie didn’t hear him. He slowly leaned forward to peek around the corner and see if Maddie was still there, and as soon as he peered around, Maddie was standing right in front of him.
The next day Glen woke up in his bed, with a banging headache. He got up, put on some new clothes, and went downstairs.
“You must’ve been up late,” Caroline said, “You missed breakfast, and the kids are already off to school.”
“Uh, yeah,” Glen muttered. “I'm going to um, take a walk really quick and get some fresh air.”
“Okay sweetheart,” Caroline said. “That’ll give me some time to have the house to myself for once,” she giggled.
When Glen got outside, he looked across the street to that old house he saw Maddie leaving the day before. He knew that something was off with Maddie, and he also knew that she didn’t start acting strange until she left that old house. Glen decided to figure out what may have happened over in that house that made Maddie this way. He walked over to the house, through the thick grass. He walked up the wobbly stairs onto the porch and knocked on the door. When he knocked, the house door slowly crept open just as it had done to Maddie. Glen took a small step inside, “hello,” he said as he looked around for life. No one answered. He carefully walked into the living room where everything was unkept and covered in dust. He picked up a photo that was on the coffee table and wiped the dust off of it. There was a woman in the photo, but her face had been scribbled out. He thought this was strange, so he put the photo back down and decided that he should just leave. As he was heading to the door, he heard small faint footsteps approaching him from behind. He turned around to see who or what it was. “Maddie!” Glen shouted. He couldn’t quite see the girls face but he knew it was her. However, when he began to approach her, she ran away from him. “Maddie, what are you doing!” He followed her, “Come back Maddie, where are you going?” She continued to scurry throughout the home, and Glen continued to follow her deeper into the maze. They eventually ended up upstairs in the main hall that had many closed doors on both sides. Maddie stood at the end of the hall with her back facing Glen. “Maddie, come on, quit playing around,” Glen said. “This is not a place to play, we don’t even know whose house this is.”
Maddie just stood there still with her back toward Glen.
“Maddie?” Glen said nervously, he began to slowly approach her. He reached out his hand and placed it on her shoulder. “Sweetie,” he turned her around. In disbelief Glen stumbled back at the sight of his daughter. Maddie had no face, she had no eyes, no nose, no mouth, just all skin. Glen continued to stammer back lost for words, until finally turning around to run for it. Just as he turned around, something snatched him into one of the dark rooms in the hall. As soon as Glen disappeared, another Glen emerged from a different room. This Glen walked down the old hall, and then down the old rickety stairs whistling an eerie tune that echoed through the empties of the house. This Glen whistled and walked all the way across the street, back inside Glen’s home.
“Honey, I'm home,” Glen said as he smiled at a mirror that they had on a wall.