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Porcelain Girl

I'm not supposed to be here. I know it, down to my very bones. The cobwebs hang thick on the windowpanes and I glance up at the darkening sky. Surely it’s safer here than taking the long walk home. I step onto the dusty porch, my sneakers scuffing dirty marks on the worn wood. My sister will worry, I know. She’ll be waiting when I get home, her hair frizzy and curled from the humidity, and she’ll yell. “Gosh darn it all, Josh!” she’ll say, since we’re not allowed to swear. “Gosh darn it! You cannot just go for a walk during a thunderstorm!” And then, when the yelling stops, she’ll cry with relief that I'm home, that I didn’t leave and never come back, like my father. But no way am I leaving. Far away thunder grumbles ominously, and I quicken my step to the front door. It’s an old house, abandoned years ago by a particularly superstitious family who suspected it to be haunted. Since then it’s grown moldy and decayed, and a piece of the roof blew off in a wind storm last April.
Someone’s shot the doorknob clean off, and a few bolts are still lying on the porch. I kick them to the side and push the door open. It moans as I swing it wide to reveal the house’s interior. Something slides past my foot and I yelp, before looking down into the face of a gray cat.
Sighing with relief, I slide into the dark house. The furniture is still in its place, so dusty the patterns aren’t visible anymore. The lights don’t work. I cross to the window and watch the first raindrops spatter the dusty ground outside, wetting the dry Arizona soil. The brushy scrub grass waves in the wind outside, and I retreat back into the room.
Now I begin to explore. The first room appears to be the living room, and the one beyond the kitchen. Both are so grimy they’re hardly recognizable. I also find a bathroom and another room I presume to be an office of some sort, complete with a desk and spinning chair. I pick my way back to the living room and head for the stairs. They’re rickety, and several floorboards have come off, leaving gaps in the steps. Thunder booms all around, suddenly, and I flinch.
Once I've edged my way up the stairs, I stand on the small landing and ponder what to do next. To my right is another bathroom, and to my left is a long hall, leading some ways away. I take a cautious step to the left, almost expecting the floor to crack beneath my size 10 sneakers, but it holds. I take another step, and then another. When the floor continues to support my weight, I continue on, still cautious. As I pass doorways, I peer in, carefully counting the bedrooms in my head. Three rooms with a single bed, and one with a double. I think to myself that there must be a master bedroom somewhere else, when I pass the last door. A quick glance inside confirms my suspicions. This is the master suite.
It’s a big room, with a queen size bed in the corner, an ominous metal headboard stretching almost to the ceiling. Two dressers stand side by side at the foot of the bed, their drawers open with clothes spilling out. I push several lacy clothing items off the bed and sit gingerly, my feet still solid on the floor, in case the bed won’t support me. It does, and I gradually relax, listening to the thunder boom outside. Rain runs in rivulets down the window across the room from me. I peer through the dark at my watch and see that it’s almost 5:00. Mom will start to worry, too.
Suddenly, an object on the floor catches my eye. It’s pale, and surprisingly free of dirt. I cross the room slowly, looking among the piled clothing at the dark, leafy pattern of the carpet. Finally, I reach the shape, and stoop, my hands catching at the rug to steady myself. Suddenly, the nature of what I'm looking at hits me, and I rock backwards, almost falling in my surprise. It’s a girl’s body, curled tightly around itself, dressed simply in a white nightgown. She couldn’t be older than me, maybe 13 or 14 at the oldest. Her long, blond hair is disheveled, her feet covered in grime. Her hands curl on her lap, one palm up, one palm down. A closer look reveals another surprise: resting on her palm is a key. It’s one of the big, old fashioned ones, gleaming dully in the dim light. I reach out slowly and take the key from the girl’s hand. Her skin is cool, and soft like she’s only asleep for the night.
In fact, upon closer inspection, I gather that she hasn’t been here long. Her body is in fine condition, and her skin is still intact. The mystery of the girl intrigues me more than the key, and I slide it into my pocket before leaning over the still form.
All of a sudden, her tightly clamped eyes open.





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