Knock. Knock. Knock.
Three weak, slow knocks echoed throughout the house. It gave Anna Marie a start because she and her husband rarely got visitors. “Herald, would you mind getting that? My knees haven’t the strength today.”
“Of course,” Herald said with a smile as he waltzed to the front door. He first peeked through the window to see who it was. “Annie...there’s a poor little girl out there…”
“Well good grief, open it, dear!” Anna Marie came to the door as fast as her knees could carry her as Herald opened the door. She took in a sharp gasp when she saw the slim girl’s pale face.
“Hello. I need help,” she whispered. “My house has burned and my parents are lost somewhere.” She looked at Anna Marie and her eyes got bright. A small glimmer of a smile appeared on her thin lips. Anna Marie was white with shock. She couldn’t believe who she was seeing. When Herald realized that she was at a loss for words, he spoke for her.
“Come on in, sweetheart. Would you like some tea, water, coffee, cookies? Name it and we’ll see what we can do.” The girl shook her head slowly. “Okay, then let’s have a seat and talk for a bit. Sit anywhere you’d like.” Herald gestured to the bright and welcoming parlor. The windows were small but had lace curtains that allowed much light in. There was a loveseat facing the television, two rocking chairs facing the front windows, and two recliners facing the west windows and bookshelves for the couple to read while enjoying the sunset together. In the middle of the room was a short hand-carved coffee table of cedar and an old rug adorned with cat hair.
“I couldn’t impose upon your beautiful home. All I need is a telegraph to notify the sheriff. We haven’t the wealth to own such a thing - ‘tis the reason our house burned without yielding: we live out here all by ourselves.”
Herald and Anna Marie exchanged a worried and confused glance. Anna Marie spoke first: “Honey, we don’t own a telegraph anymore. Those were phased out of use years ago around here. We do have a phone, though. You’re welcomed to it.” She led the girl to the phone and noticed she looked utterly lost. “Is something wrong?”
“I’ve never seen a device such as this. What did you call it? You must be ever so wealthy to possess such an interesting machine. How does it work?” Her voice was growing stronger with curiosity but she was still obviously tired and in need of aid. She looked at Anna Marie.
Anna Marie looked at Herald. Both were speechless. “It’s a telephone,” Herald said after seconds of dead, still silence. You dial the number like this,” he said demonstrating the rotary dial, “and you speak into this and the person on the other end can hear you and speak to you just the same.” He pointed at the parts of the phone as he explained.
“I see…” the girl pondered. After a moment, it was as if she got a new hop in her step or a second wind for she welcomed herself through the rest of the house, oohing and aahing at everything newly common to the household since the turn of the century. “What is this machine?” she asked as she gazed in awe.
“That is a refrigerator,” Herald said, opening the door to show her what it contained. “It keeps food cold without freezing it. We have a freezer, too, in our meatlocker. -So you’ve never seen one of these?”
“Can’t say I have. We have a meatlocker as well, and a fruit cellar and a small pantry, but they’re all underground and cooled with ice and nature. Well...I guess I should say we had those things. It’s all…” She trailed off with a growing expression of worry on her face. Herald took her to the parlor and let her have the loveseat to herself as he moved the rocking chairs to face her for himself and his wife.
Anna Marie sat down slowly as her knees popped and made a slight grinding noise. She breathed a barely noticeable sigh of relief when she settled in the chair. “So, dear, would you mind telling us your name? Or your parents’ names? Or where you live? Take your time and only tell us what you think we need to know.”
The girl paused as if she felt the need to reassess her trust. “My name is Sally Mae Spencer. My house used to stand all by itself on a beautiful little estate at the end of this lane. Until, of course, ‘the 1890s brought a business boom and everyone felt the need to move to Spring Creek for no good reason but money,’ as my father would say.”
“Yes, Annie? Are you okay?”
Anna Marie excused herself politely and Herald followed. They went to the kitchen and closed the door. “Sally Mae! It’s Sally Mae! Little Muddy Spencer! Don’t you remember?” Anna Marie whispered but with great intensity. She had received the greatest shock of her life.
“Yes. I remember reading it the paper, anyway. It was before I knew you. Could it really be, though? Think about this: it is 1952 and she’s talking about the world like a day hasn’t passed since 1900 hit. Could she be in a trance or something? She doesn’t even know what electricity is and she’s saying she lived in a house that burned half a century ago. Something isn’t right, Annie. I don’t know if we can trust her.”
“Her eyes. Her face. It is Sally Mae, Herald. I know it. How else would she know about that house? It burned down years before she looks to have been born - it’s her!” Anna Marie was on the verge of tears. She remembered the day the hose burned. She remembered the whole story.
The year was 1902. Anna Marie Moyer and Sally Mae Spencer were 12 years old. They were the friends like no other - they were even born the exact same day and even in houses on the same road. They lived on a hidden lane with only their two houses and one abandoned one closer to the highway. That was their favorite place to play.
On August 12, 1902, the Moyers got a knock on their door. Three weak, slow knocks. Anna Marie’s mother opened the door and welcomed Sally Mae inside. She looked thinner and paler than usual. “I need help. My house has burned and my parents are lost somewhere,” she whispered. The Moyers scrambled to her aid. They sent a telegram to town and sent Anna Marie’s and Sally Mae’s brothers in search of neighbors to help. The Spencers didn’t have such resources. They were borderline poverty, so they had to rely on their friends and neighbors, the Moyers.
Anna Marie and her family, along with the whole village, went on a long search for Sally Mae’s parents when the sheriff arrived. They searched for hours, then days, then weeks. The then small town had given up. The Moyers took Sally Mae in, but she died soon of consumption. The day was December 1. Her parents’ anniversary. Her funeral was held on the 4th. She was buried by Anna Marie and her family instead of by her parents. She was the last of the Spencers in Spring Creek aside from her brother who was joining the military soon. She was buried between her older sister and the empty grave of her parents.
The town sprung to life during their childhood. The shoe-making industry was booming and brought so many people to Spring Creek that the population had gone from 30 to 300 in one decade. Mr. Spencer didn’t like that. He was threatened with being moved to a big city and when he rejected, he got fired. Because of the jump in population, there was no new job for him in town. He chose to work on the estate for the family’s own good instead of working for a big business for hardly any money. With the sudden loss of Elizabeth Opal Spencer at the vibrant age of 17 to consumption, the family hardly left the house. They had no means, money or motivation.
Anna Marie and Herald met in high school when he moved to Spring Creek. They got married as soon as they graduated and decided to renovate the abandoned house up the lane. Anna Marie’s parents still lived in her childhood home across the street. Only a year into their marriage and with only one room left to renovate, the couple were struck with a difficult decision. Anna Marie’s parents had passed of the same disease that took Elizabeth and Sally Mae. Would Anna Marie and Herald keep to their new old house or move in to her parents’ house?
The answer was obvious to them. They moved in to her parents’ house and left all as it was from the day they moved in in 1910 to the day they would die many happy years later. Deep down in Anna Marie’s heart, she always wished that Sally Mae’s parents would come knocking on their door, or even Sally Mae herself. She got her wish.
“I feel like I’m living a dream. It has to be her, but it can’t be…”
“Annie, let’s just go talk to her. Maybe she knows something we don’t. Maybe she can help us more than we can help her.”
Anna Marie nodded and they resumed their conversation with Sally Mae. They found out that though impossible, it truly was her. Every detail of her story was straight from Herald and Anna Marie’s memories. The couple excused themselves again and discussed what they should do next. They were both at a loss for words. Long minutes full of utter shock passed and they had figured out how to handle the situation.
“Let’s go on a walk. I have two places in mind,” said Anna Marie, offering her hand to Sally Mae.
Sally Mae skipped at Anna Marie’s side, holding her hand all the while. The three of them walked in a peaceful silence to the estate at the end of the lane. When they arrived at the once thriving farm, all three froze in humble adoration and disappointment.
A wrought iron fence lined the yard adorned by a small wooden sign that used to say “Spencer Green Valley Farm.” The yard was tame enough that they could see over it but didn’t dare try to enter it. On the hot and balmy August day, they could almost still smell the 50 year old smoke.
Beyond the brush stood the ghostly remains of a grand yet simple Queen Anne style house. The windows were shattered by the fire so they could see straight through to the barn and carriage house in the backyard in some places. All the furniture was charred and layed in ruinous piles on the rotting hardwood floors. The roof barely hung on; it dipped in several places but the copper sheets protecting it had served their purpose quite well. The floors and ceilings also sagged but were substantial enough for a family of squirrels and a family of bats to inhabit the upstairs. The kitchen addition had crumbled years ago.
“So strange - it didn’t look like this when I left…” said Sally Mae, confused. “I thought it could be saved! I thought we’d be able to move back in but look at it!” She burst into tears and hugged Anna Marie so tightly she could barely breathe.
“Well, honey...that brings us to our next destination. I don’t know how else to explain it to you, I just hope that this doesn’t upset you even more,” said Anna Marie gently. “Let’s go. It’s just a short walk from here. -And it’s really pretty and peaceful.”
Sally Mae held her breath and nodded quickly. She desperately wanted to leave. At this, they set off for a secluded and very beautiful place. It was reached only by very careful footing and great navigational skills through a valley and alongside a creek. They traveled up one hill and around another before they arrived at the top of a third.
Before them stood a very neat and proper cemetery. Its boundaries were lined with the same wrought iron fence as the Spencer estate. Strategically placed peonies and rose bushes and cedar trees were dotted across the small rectangle of land. The headstones and footstones bore the names and initials and birthdates and death dates and husbands and wives and sons and daughters of the Spencer family. The stones came in many shapes: simple squares and arches, intricate benches and angels, obelisques that seemed to grow as they watched, even a small upright piano with keys made from real ebony and ivory.
In the back corner laid a small plot with a smaller, more delicate version of the same wrought iron fence. The fence supported vines of grapes and morning glories. The area was shaded by its own weeping willow tree. Beneath the tree laid the stones of Luke Burton, Ella Hazel, John Edward, Elizabeth Opal and Sally Mae Spencer.
Elizabeth Opal Spencer
Daughter of Luke and Hazel Spencer
To be wed to Joseph Roberts
b.d. September 10, 1880
d.d. March 29, 1898
Aged 17 years, 7 months, 2 weeks, 5 days.
We all have a piece of your beautiful and bright heart within us.
It’s your turn to make Heaven even brighter.
Luke Burton Spencer
b.d. March 9, 1860
Aged 42 years, or more.
Wherever you may be, God’s hand guides you.
Ella Hazel Nicholson
Wife of Luke Spencer
b.d. June 4, 1862
Aged 40 years, or more.
Follow the Lord and you will never be lost again.
Sally Mae Spencer
Daughter of Luke and Hazel Spencer
b.d. October 20, 1890.
d.d. December 1, 1902.
Aged 12 years, 1 month, 1 week, 4 days.
Your flame of youth cannot be snuffed by death,
Only kindled by God’s love.
John Edward Spencer
b.d. November 10, 1875
d.d. December 7, 1941
Aged 66 years, 3 weeks, 6 days.
The war brought you to an end,
but God has brought you to a new beginning.
Sally Mae was as still and as white as the stones that stood before her once were. “I don’t know how to explain it to you, so just start asking questions and I will try with all my power to help you understand,” Anna Marie whispered gently to Sally Mae.
After a dreadful silence, Sally Mae forced words out into the open. “What year is it? These dates don’t make any sense - what happened to 1902? I don’t...what happened…?” She sounded hurt. Her voice was broken. She trudged to the tree and crumbled at its base. Yet, she didn’t shed a tear.
“1952,” said Herald. He wanted to say more but could not find the words or the strength. He looked at Anna Marie and saw that she was crying. Small tears ran down her rosy cheeks and dropped off her smooth chin. For a moment, all Herald saw was the love of his life in a kind of pain that none of them understood. He longed to hold her and comfort her, but remembered that her priority was Sally Mae and that his should be, too.
“Did they ever find my parents?”
“...n-...” Anna Marie’s words shattered in her throat. She hugged Sally Mae tightly and said “no,” so softly it was almost inaudible. The two sat under the tree and wept. The whole cemetery seemed to turn sad. A crisp breeze caused the weeping willow above them to create a sound not unlike a whimper. A mourning dove cooed in the distance. A cloud covered the sun.
Herald surrounded the girls with his long, strong arms. Anna Marie was instantly consoled by his steady breathing and calm eyes, but Sally Mae was still weeping hard. The couple turned their focus on Sally Mae; they loosened their hugs and created just enough distance to speak to each other. Anna Marie told Sally Mae everything she remembered about her and her family’s deaths. She even went as far as to explain the wars that came after Sally Mae’s time, and the one that took her brother.
After sometime of newly realized peace, Herald pointed out that the sky was growing darker. Sally Mae stood up slowly but seemed to have a new confidence. She held her chin high and her crying ceased. She walked to the gate that stood guard afore her grave and opened it without a sound and without having to separate the vines. Her gait was one of pride, peace and happiness. She stood at her footstone and gazed at the line of headstones thoughtfully. Anna Marie kissed her forehead and she vanished, just as the sun kissed the horizon as if to say goodnight.