The Fourth Child
My mother, my siblings and I moved into this awesome new house a few months ago. It’s a really cool plantation-style home out in what was once a rural area outside of New Orleans. By now the area is a little more built up, so it’s really more like a spacious suburb.
Anyway, it had been about 9 months since our father died. My mom really wanted us to get away from our old house; it was full of too many memories. She wanted us to have a cool, spacious house to play in and give us a fresh start. Apparently we got this place at a decent deal because the former owner was this old woman who passed away and her family wanted to get the extra house off their hands. She died peacefully in her sleep, but it still made us a little uncomfortable so no one moved into her bedroom. We just let it be a guestroom if anyone had visitors.
We have a wonderful neighbor named Miss Leah who lives next door to us (about a half mile away). She’s a small but powerfully built woman who welcomed us to the area with open arms. The former owner of the house was an old friend of hers who she visited all the time, and my own mother soon took on the role of her new friend. They immediately became best friends, always giggling in our kitchen on the weekends.
Miss Leah loves telling tales of Voodoo and even practices it herself (many people in New Orleans do). She mostly practices the “light” voodoo, like charms for good luck and protection. She told me that you can talk to spirits if you write them letters and put them in a place where they know to find them.
I started seeing her every now and then, late at night when I can’t sleep, sticking envelopes into our mailbox (I can see it from my window). When I’d go out in the morning, though, no envelopes would be there. One night I saw her doing the usual mailbox routine, and as soon as she walked far enough away, I ran out to see what she was putting in our mailboxes. I saw a little, silvery, unaddressed letter to Maggie, which turns out to be the name of the old lady who lived in our house before us. I always thought Miss Leah was joking about talking to the dead, but it’s clear she practices it herself. Just to test things out, I stood at that mailbox, watching it for a few hours. Eventually, the sun began to break over the horizon so I figured I had waited ample time. I opened the mailbox.
The letter was gone.
At first I was in complete disbelief, but then I was overcome with excitement. If Miss Leah could talk to Maggie, maybe I could talk to my dad!
I keep a little shoebox under my own bed. It’s full of little trinkets and pictures that remind me of my dad. I go through it every now and then, when I miss him most, as a sort of therapy.
A few nights after trying to rationalize what had happened with the note to Maggie, I decided the best way to test it out was to try it myself. I wrote a letter to my dad, which felt silly at first because I don’t know what dead people like to talk about. I wrote:
Miss you! How are things on the other side? Mom bought this cool house for us and we have a fun neighbor lady named Miss Leah. We’re all doing ok over here but I especially miss waking up every morning to the sounds of your loud singing in the shower. I hated it back then, but now I realize how funny and charming it was.
I placed the note into my special shoebox and slipped it back under the bed. When I woke up in the morning, it wasn’t there. I wasn’t sure how to handle it. Did he really get the message? Does he write back? What do I do now?
Well, I still needed to go to school that day so the excitement of my supernatural letter-writing subsided and I headed over to the bathroom to get ready. My older brother was singing his lungs out in the shower, something unusual for him, but I figured he was trying to become more like our dad.
I knocked on the door, “hurry up in there! I need to pee!”
The singing continued.
“Jay, how much longer are you going to take?”
The singing continued. Then someone tapped on my shoulder. I turned around. It was Jay. He said, “Calm down Julia. I’m not in the bathroom. Is the door locked? Lemme see if I can jimmy it open for you”
He opened the door with ease. The bathroom was empty. No singing. The shower wasn’t running, but the tub was wet. I walked in and started brushing my teeth, amused by what had just happened. I noticed the mirror was a little bit foggy, as though from shower steam. There was a message written in the mirror. It said “How bad do you miss me?”
I walked the fine line between being totally freaked out and super elated that my dad was communicating with me. I wrote another letter that night.
“Haha I miss you more than you can possibly imagine, Daddy! Don’t ever doubt that. But tell me, how are things on the other side?”
That morning I woke up. The letter in the shoebox was gone, but I noticed a new letter near my door. It looked like someone slipped it under there. I opened it up. It said, “what do you want most from me?” I found it weird that my dad wasn’t really carrying the conversation well, but I decided I’d write a quick response and go to school. I wrote:
“Well, I guess what I want most is for you to come back and play with me like old times. But I know that’s silly.”
When I got back from school, I went straight to my room to check on the letter. I opened my door and my dollhouse, which we stored in the attic, was smack in the middle of my floor. My mom had been at work all day, my brother was still at swim practice and my sister went to the mall with her friend after dropping me off at home. I don’t know who could have moved it…except maybe my dad. I saw a note next to the dollhouse. It said, “PLAY WITH ME.”
My body froze. Something was unsettling about this whole setup. I didn’t feel like I was in danger or anything, but I just wasn’t comfortable. I walked to Miss Leah’s house and she was sitting in her rocking chair on the front porch with her cat, Rufus, in her lap. I told her I knew about the letters she wrote to Maggie.
“Ah yes, sweetheart,” she said. “Even though she’s passed, I haven’t stopped talking to Miss Maggie one bit. She’s was my best friend, and I want her to know how much I love her and how much Rufus misses the little tuna treats she’d give him. I write her almost every day, just updating her on my life so that when I pass, too, it’ll be like she didn’t miss a beat.” She asked me if I was thinking about writing to the dead, too.
For some reason I didn’t feel comfortable telling Miss Leah that I had been writing to my dad already. I told her I was “considering” writing a letter to my dad and that I would try it out that night. She laughed, “OK honey. You’ll have to let me know how it goes tomorrow.” I played with Rufus for a little while as Miss Leah talked on the phone with her nephew. The sun started going down and I figured it was about time for dinner so I said goodbye to Miss Leah and Rufus and walked back over to my home.
My mom and everyone else were already back.
“My god where have you been!” my mom yelled. I told her I was hanging out with Miss Leah, which eased her nerves a little bit since she knew I had been home alone for a while, which scared her. My sister was grounded for abandoning me for the afternoon, but she said it was smart for me to go to Miss Leah’s. She then said, “You know that dollhouse was expensive, right?” which seemed like an odd question but I answered, “Yes. I suppose. Why?” and she explained, “Well, I guess I just wish you’d taken better care of it, is all. I saw it in your room when I was looking for you and I could see you picked off all its paint and there were some dings and dents and I just thought it was such a shame. Also, next time you’re getting something from the attic, wait until I get home and I can help you, honey.”
Bewildered by my mother’s comment, I ate dinner in silence. Afterwards, I helped with the dishes and made my way back to my room with apprehension. It seemed like the dollhouse was in great condition last I saw so I knew something must have happened after I left. I prayed my mom was just seeing things, that the dollhouse was, indeed, exactly how I left it. I opened my door.
My mom was wrong. The dollhouse wasn’t a little dinged up. It had been ripped to bits. Its tattered remains were strewn about the floor. Even my little dolls were mangled with their arms snapped backwards and their heads missing. I couldn’t fathom what had just happened. Then I saw the letter…
“WHY WON’T YOU PLAY WITH ME?”
My hair stood on end. I could feel the rage emanating throughout the room. I tried to rationalize. I tried to tell myself that the context made me sense rage, but there was nothing to worry about. But how can you rationalize things when you’re going around writing letters to dead people who break your furniture? I felt terrible that I had upset my father this way. He bought me that dollhouse himself, so it must have hurt to destroy it. I immediately wrote a new letter to my dad saying:
I’m so sorry for not playing with you. I love you, but I think we need to let go. You belong on the other side and I belong here. I just want to say one more thing to you. Something I never got the chance to say before:
I slept with my brother that night. He was nice about it–didn’t even ask what I was afraid of. He could tell I was disturbed and he didn’t want to push me. Before we went to bed, he did say one thing. “You know there’s no such thing as monsters, right?”
“Yes,” I whispered. At that point I wasn’t sure if I was lying or not. It was still comforting to say it. I didn’t think I was dealing with a monster, or at least I wasn’t sure about it. I didn’t even really know what a monster was supposed to be. A dragon? A Boogeyman in your closet? An angry father?
The next day was Saturday, and I still wasn’t comfortable being in my room for long. I got dressed and walked to Miss Leah’s. I wanted to leave the house without checking the shoebox. It felt like I was leaving an angry parent, and wanted to give them time to cool off before we talked again. Miss Leah was sitting with Rufus, as usual, and they both watched the bluejays hop around in their yard—Rufus slightly more attentive than Miss Leah.
“Well hey there sweetheart,” Miss Leah called out. “How’d it go last night?”
I knew she was talking about the letter and I knew she’d know exactly how to fix things. But before I could begin speaking, she interrupted “Let me guess, it didn’t work.”
“Why would you say that?” I asked.
“Because I know better than anyone else that spirits can’t move physical objects. I have to use my special charm paper to write to Maggie, and I doubt you got any charm paper.”
I felt a little ashamed after that. I’m not sure why. I guess I just felt like I’d been deceiving Miss Leah. I didn’t tell her the whole story. I just told her I thought it worked because the letter was gone.
“Well, Julia. My best guess is you’ve got a prankster in your house. Probably your brother; he’s too silly for his age.”
She went on about all the things she’s told Maggie. She said it didn’t happen often, as it was hard for Maggie’s frail little spirit to do much of anything except read, but Maggie would sometimes write back. Maggie said she hadn’t crossed over yet, but when she did cross over, she wouldn’t be able to get letters anymore. Maggie said that she loved Miss Leah and her letters, but one day, she’d need to move one. She said eventually, Miss Leah wouldn’t have the strength to write letters and they would become fewer and fewer. Once Maggie knew it was too hard for Miss Leah to write anymore, she’d cross over and wait patiently with Petunia, another one of Miss Leah’s cats who had passed away. Maggie said Miss Leah would know when she crossed over because her letters would stay in the mailbox, and no one would take them.
I wandered home later that afternoon wondering if my dad was ever going to cross over. I wasn’t sure how to feel. I know what I saw and what I did. I wrote letters to my dad. I left them where he’d check (our box). They were gone later. I heard him in the shower. I saw his message in the mirror. I saw the dollhouse and his notes. I know no one in the house could’ve moved the dollhouse. I was certain it was Daddy.
I arrived in my room, fragments of the dollhouse still scattered about the floor. I remembered the last letter I wrote. The one that asked my Dad to move on. I was afraid he’d be angry with me. I was afraid he’d accuse me of not loving him enough, of lying to him. I didn’t want to check the box, but I needed to see if he got the message.
I opened it. The letter was gone.
But in it’s place was a new letter. It said “Julia” on the cover, so I knew it was for me. I figured he wrote back. I opened it. And I was horrified at what I saw.
“Daddy isn’t here”
I bolted down the stairs and prepared to run back to Miss Leah’s and explain everything. But I didn’t have to. There she was, giggling with my mom in the kitchen. I started walking toward them, but there was something on the other side of the division between the kitchen and living room, where I could still see it but Mom and Miss Leah couldn’t. We put a framed picture of Dad there in order to remember him. There was a note on the picture. It said, “SAY A WORD AND THEY’RE DEAD”
I wasn’t sure what to do. I knew I needed to keep quiet, but I also knew that something very, VERY sinister was going on. And there was nothing I could do to stop it.
My sister and brother were going to a big house party, and my mom wanted to go hang out with her girlfriends that night, so Miss Leah actually came over to take me to her house for the night. My mom tried to apologize for the late notice, but I was so excited to get out of the house and away from…whatever it was, that she didn’t even get to finish her apology.
That night, Miss Leah let me stay up late with her and Rufus. At around 12 am she started writing a letter on her special charm paper. It was very thin, and glowed a silvery hue. I asked her how to make it and she said that it comes from the soul. We walked to my house together and put the letter in the mailbox. The next day, my mom picked me up and we stopped by the mailbox because someone had pulled the lever up. There was a note for Miss Leah there, and I knew exactly whom it was from. The paper had that same thinness and silvery glow. Mom wrote it off as someone dropping it off in the wrong box and asked if I would run back and give it to Miss Leah.
I sprinted down the street to Miss Leah’s. She opened the letter and began reading while I sat and waited with Rufus. When she was done, Miss Leah’s face turned pale. I never thought I’d see such a white, porcelain complexion on a live human being. All the color was gone from her face and she trembled. She was clearly disturbed. VERY disturbed. She told me not to go home, that she’d call my mom and everyone would come over for lunch. She immediately put down the letter and picked up her phone. Once her back was turned, I took the letter to read it.
So sorry I’ve taken such a long time to write back to you. It seems that I lack the spiritual power necessary to write. Heck! I could hardly even write when I was alive and had hands.
The lady who moved into my old house with her family is lovely as ever and I want you to know that I’ve been watching y’alls friendship and I’m so happy for you. I miss giggling in the kitchen with you, but watching you and her talk is almost as good.
I’ll bet you met all her children as well. Most of them are sweet as can be. Jay has a heart of gold and seems to really care for the family. Catherine has a great sense of humor. Always makes me and the rest of the family laugh. Julia is a curious little one. She reminds me a bit of you.
Then there’s the fourth child. It’s a vicious little thing. You know the one I’m talking about? The one with the black eyes and the long, dark claws that lives in my old room? It’s always causing a ruckus.
I’m glad I’m dead because that little scoundrel really gives me the creeps. It watches poor Julia as she sleeps and leaves awful little notes around the house.
I noticed the other day that it’s started taking knives out of the drawers at night and bringing them under the bed with it. That mother should really do something about keeping it under control.
Perhaps you could help with that?
Can’t wait for your next correspondence!
I couldn’t breathe. I just sat…frozen…as Miss Leah screamed into the phone.
“Oh god please tell me y’all are ok! Pick up the phone! Please PLEASE pick up the phone!” She decided to call 911. When the police got to my house Miss Leah and I waited outside. They found my mom, my brother, my sister. They found them all over the house lacerated into shreds of flesh. They couldn’t determine how it happened, figured it was a wild animal or something.
But Miss Leah and I knew how it happened. While we were waiting outside the house we both looked up into my bedroom window. Standing there, in the room where I slept at night, was a black eyed child with an evil grin that stretched ear to ear. It raised one long, sharp finger….probably 12 inches long, to it’s mouth as if to say “shhhhhhh…”