“Never go over the wall.” My grandpa sat in the rocking chair, massaging his bad ankle through mud-stained jeans. “This isn’t the safest area of Florida. Especially at night.”
“Also, be careful with that. You could take your eye out.”
See, that’s why my nine-year-old self didn’t take him seriously. He was always warning me about various “dangerous” things. Don’t swim in the deep end of the pool; you could drown. Don’t run so fast; you could trip and break your neck.
So when—one night—I heard a voice on the other side of the wall, I wasn’t scared.
I had been playing alone in the backyard, sitting in the grass between the orange trees, when I heard it. A woman’s voice, low and soft, echoing over the concrete wall at the end of the backyard.
Being the curious kid I was, I immediately ran over to it. I wouldn’t climb over—even though I didn’t believe Grandpa, I didn’t want to make him mad—but there was no harm in taking a peek, right?
I stepped up on the old stone fountain, reached for the top of the wall, and hoisted myself up. And then I peered down.
Underneath the intertwining oak branches and Spanish moss was only darkness. I squinted, trying to make sense of the shadows flitting across the dirt floor. Maybe I had imagined it—
The voice rang out in the darkness, up through the trees.
“Hello!” I called back.
I heard a rustling sound, and the soft thump of footsteps. “Who’s there?”
“Amanda,” I called down.
“I’m Elizabeth.” The shadows shifted, but I still couldn’t quite make out the figure below. “And I need your help, Amanda.”
“Sure! I can help!”
“I’m thirsty,” she said. The wind picked up, and the branches swayed, scattering the shadows below. “So very thirsty.”
“I’ll get you some water!” I said, without second thought.
“Oh, that would be so wonderful, Amanda.”
I jumped down, scampered inside, and fished a bottle of water from the fridge. Grandpa didn’t even notice; he was watching some boring World War II movie on TV, rubbing his bad ankle all the while.
I stepped back up onto the fountain. “I got you some water,” I called. “Do you want me to throw it down?”
“Oh, well… it might hit me. Maybe you can come down and give it to me?”
I paused. The warm Florida air blew over my face, and there was a strange smell: sour, like when Dad’s meat freezer in the basement broke a few years ago. “I can’t. I’m not supposed to go over the wall.”
I was met with awkward silence.
“Please, I’m so thirsty,” the voice said, again.
I looked at the rough concrete. Maybe I could pull myself up a bit, reach down, and hand her the bottle of water? I swung a leg up over the wall, and with a grunt, pulled myself into a sitting position.
Slowly, I leaned down, and reached my hand through the canopy of branches.
But nothing took the bottle of water.
Silence. Not even a footstep, or a rustle, from the underbrush below.
Something yanked my ankle.
I jerked forward. The water fell to the ground with a sickening splat. My hands flew out, gripping the edge of the wall—
A chittering sound, almost insect-like, emanated from the underbrush. Large, dark figures emerged from the shadows, swarming towards me in jerky motions. I screamed, holding on to the wall for dear life, but my fingers were slipping—
Two rough, strong hands grabbed my shoulders. In one motion, they yanked me back over the wall.
“What did I tell you?” Grandpa shouted. “Never go over the wall!”
“But there was a woman,” I said, through sobs, “and she said—”
“No buts!” He dragged me back inside, and sat me down on the couch. “No matter what you heard—what you think you heard…” He propped my leg up on the ottoman. An angry red mark had appeared—the imprint of four long fingers and a thumb.
Fingers so long, they wrapped around the entire circumference of my ankle, and then some.
“Grandpa, what were those things?”
He didn’t reply.
Instead, he slowly rolled up his pant leg.
There was a white, shining scar—
Of long fingers wrapped around his ankle.