TINY HANDS

I’ll be Hansel. You be Gretel.

Mrs. Harbor pulled up into the gravel drive of the Forgotthen Home for Orphaned Children, and Tommy could not help but feel his high hopes sink quite low as he stared at the run-down orphanage through the car’s rear-seat window.

The large two-story building was in disrepair, the white of the siding flecked with grey from the ravages of time, the bushes along the driveway leafless sticks, the grass of the lawn in dirty clumps of brown and tan. Even the sign for the home was in a sorry state, the red paint of the letters so worn that they were the brownish color of dried blood, except for the “H,” which was worn away to almost nothing.

“This will be your new home for the time being,” said Mrs. Harbor with a short smile. “Don’t worry, though. These things tend to right themselves, Thomas.”

She shut off the engine, opened the driver’s-side door, got out, and then opened the rear driver’s-side door for Tommy.

“The other children just arrived today,” said Mrs. Harbor. “You’re the last one. You’ll meet them soon enough, and then you’ll feel right at home…It’s 1952, Thomas. The world’s in a lot better place than it was ten years ago, and that means everyone is a lot happier in general.”

But that didn’t mean Tommy was any happier, and he doubted he would be any happier any time soon.

Mrs. Harbor, however, had a different viewpoint of his situation.

“That means it won’t take any time at all for someone to adopt you,” she said. “You’re a handsome, smart, and athletic eleven-year-old boy, and it won’t be long before you get a new mother and father…Now, come on. Let’s go meet Mrs. Forgotthen. She’s a sweet old lady that you’ll take to immediately.”

Tommy reluctantly followed Mrs. Harbor to the front door of his new home. He took a brief moment to look through one of the large building’s windows, but his hackles were raised at the sight of the rusty iron bars along the window’s interior, vertical bars that made the place feel more like a prison than a home.

Mrs. Harbor seemed to sense his reluctance, and she told him as much.

“Don’t worry, Thomas,” she said with a curt smile. “Everything’s going to be fine. There’s nothing to be scared of.”

She took the large brass doorknocker and knocked three times before settling into a waiting stance, but each one of those knocks ground into Tommy, each one a consignment to his current fate.

The door opened a minute later, and a shriveled old lady, a woman who looked to be older than Thomas’s deceased grandmother, greeted them with a withered smile.

“Come in, come in,” ushered the old woman.

“Ah, Mrs. Forgotthen,” smiled Mrs. Harbor. “This is Thomas. He’s the last one on the list, so it looks like all of the children have been accounted for.”

“Excellent,” smiled Mrs. Forgotthen in return. “Come in, Thomas. The children were just sitting down for dinner. We’re having chicken noodle soup tonight with some fresh bread from Mr. Gill’s bakery. Everyone always loves to dip their bread in the soup.”

“You see?” said Mrs. Harbor as she nodded down toward Tommy. “Everything is going to be fine.”

“Why don’t you go into the dining room and take a seat, Thomas,” said Mrs. Forgotthen in a kind voice. “Just pull up a chair at the table…Just walk into the living room here and go through the door on your right. Everyone’s waiting for you anyway.”

“You go right on ahead, Thomas,” urged Mrs. Harbor. “I’ll just finish up things here with Mrs. Forgotthen.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” replied Tommy.

He walked past Mrs. Forgotthen and into the living room of the house.

The place was a museum to times long past, and that was without the dust and cobwebs.

There were old paintings on the walls, paintings of people wearing stuffy-looking, frilly clothing, the kind of clothing you would find from a hundred or more years ago. In fact, there were antiques of all kinds in here, from an old grandfather clock to a wooden phone with a brass receiver to various dusty knickknacks here and there, things that only really, really old people would have and cherish. There was not one baseball pennant or modern magazine or movie poster or anything that would have turned Tommy’s head in interest.

He shook his head in resolution at this wasteland of uninterest and made his way toward the open door on his right. “Open door” was a relative term anyway; there was no door to the doorway leading into the dining room, just an open space, and he could see the other children in there at the table, though if they were waiting for him, they certainly did not show it.

He walked into the dining room, a small room with a large rectangular table that took up most of that space, and he sat down at the one empty chair left, that chair facing directly away from the doorway he had just walked through.

Tommy sat between a redhaired girl his own age and a towheaded boy who was around the age of six. These two ate their soup in a quiet discord of tangible unhappiness, an unhappiness he shared simply because he was here, just like them.

His bowl of soup was already sitting before him, ready for consumption, right along with a small breadstick, and he took to eating it because he was hungry. It wasn’t bad when all was said and done.

Mrs. Forgotthen came into the dining room as Tommy was finishing up. The woman was old, far older than any other person Tommy had ever seen, yet she could still get around as if she were much younger.

This old woman wore a pink dress with green-leaf print, that dress bedecked by white lace at the hem and sleeves, but on her greyed head was a white mop cap, something that would have only been seen in colonial days.

It was disturbing to Tommy that she was dressed so, but he could not place why it disturbed him, and this disturbed him even more.

“Now, children,” said Mrs. Forgotthen. “It’s time to learn the rules…No fussing, no fighting, no talking back, and we do our chores. Does everyone understand?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” replied everyone, including Tommy.

“It’s getting late,” said Mrs. Forgotthen. “Everyone, take your dishes into the kitchen. We’ll all do our chores, and by the time those are done, it’ll be time for bed. We’ll wash up for bed when it’s time.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” replied everyone.

Tommy responded along with everyone else, but there was something about this place that bothered him, and he could not put his finger on it. That underlying omen of unease gave him an anxiety he was not used to, and this was aside from the fact that he was somewhere new.

**********

Tommy laid down in his small bunkbed for the night. He was dressed in his white pajamas, the ones with the vertical red stripes, his favorite pair, but only because they reminded him of baseball. It was not much in the way of familiarity, but he needed familiarity right now, because he needed all of the help he could get in order to get comfortable in a new bed.

There were eight such beds, one for each child, but his was one of the two that was closest to the northern wall, and it was a top bunk, with Susanna in the bunk beneath him.

The lights were on in the stairwell outside their bedroom, and Mrs. Forgotthen had mentioned at some point that they would be on all night, as was a single nightlight in their room, that little light plugged into the north wall right between their bunks, a little light to give them all some sight in the darkness.

The little upstairs bedroom was somewhat cramped with all of them, and it was also somewhat depressing, with dark wooden-slat walls and no windows. There were a couple of small metal vents in the ceiling and a couple of dressers for their clothes, but other than that, the décor was sadly lacking.

The other children, Tommy’s new roommates, were Marcus, Alison, Brennon, George, Laney, Dahlia, and of course, Susanna, but Tommy had only really talked to Susanna, the redheaded girl. She was his age, but the other kids were younger ages ranging from four to seven, so Tommy did not have much in common with them. In fact, he doubted he would spend much time with them while he was here…though how long he would be here, he did not know.

As for prior to bedtime, they had all done their chores, including washing the dishes, sweeping the floors, and other such cleaning jobs, but Tommy could tell that this place had been neglected for some time. Maybe it was the fact that Mrs. Forgotthen was ancient, or maybe it was the fact that…No, that was pretty much it. The old woman was older than the oldest person Tommy could think of, so it made sense that she couldn’t take care of herself anymore.

Now it was bedtime, but he was not tired, so there was nothing else to do but think.

He stared up at the cracked plaster of the ceiling, that plaster once white but now yellowed with age, and he thought about the symbiosis between the ancient Mrs. Forgotthen and her orphaned children as he stared at a particularly large crack in the ceiling.

“Maybe that’s why she needs kids,” whispered Tommy to himself.

“What?” came Susanna’s whispered voice.

Tommy leaned over the side of his bed and stared down at her.

Susanna, or Susie, as she liked to be called, stared back up at him with wide green eyes, a look of keen interest on her freckled face. It was clear that she liked to talk as most girls did, and Tommy wasn’t sleepy, so talking to her was better than just staring up at the ceiling for another hour or so.

He hopped down from the top bunk, and Susie sat up to address him. She was dressed in a plain white nightgown, something simple for comfortable sleep, much like Tommy’s nightwear.

“What is it?” she asked.

“I think old Mrs. Forgotthen needs to take care of orphans because there’s no one else to take care of her,” said Tommy matter-of-factly.

“Maybe…” replied Susie.

“What else could it be?” asked Tommy. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but this place is run down. Everything in this house looks like it’s from a hundred or more years ago…It’s creepy.”

“I don’t think it’s that bad,” said Susie. “There’re worse places.”

“Yeah, maybe,” frowned Tommy. “But if that’s true, then why are there bars on the windows? Why aren’t there any windows in here?”

“I don’t know,” shrugged Susie. “She’s old. Maybe she can’t keep kids from running away.”

“Yeah, maybe,” said Tommy again.

“You don’t believe me?” asked Susie.

“I’ll believe it when I have a good reason to,” said Tommy.

A wayward but interesting thought occurred to him. It was bedtime, true, but it wasn’t like there was anywhere he specifically had to be the next day. A little exploring would take up some time, and maybe he’d be tired by the end of it.

“You know what?” he said with sudden conviction. “I’m going downstairs. I want to take a look at the stuff down there. Those antiques and things.”

“Oh…” blinked Susie. “I…I guess I’ll come, too.”

And that was that. They were a team now, an investigative pair set to uncover whatever mysteries the place might hold.

He quietly walked to the bedroom door on bare feet, and Susie followed him.

Tommy tried the door, but it was unlocked. For some reason, the thought of the door actually being locked had never occurred to him, but now that he was thinking about it, it made much more sense for the door to be locked in order to prevent any wandering children.

“That’s weird,” he said in confusion. “The door is unlocked. I didn’t think about it before, but…Wait…Why is the door unlocked?”

“I don’t know,” shrugged Susie. “If there’s an emergency, Mrs. Forgotthen will have to get in here right away, but if the door is locked, she’d have to unlock it, and…”

“She’s older than Father Time,” sighed Tommy. “I get it. Mystery solved…Come on, let’s go…Wait…The door is unlocked because we may have to use the bathroom. Why didn’t I think of that before?”

“I forgot about that, too,” said Susie with a sheepish grin.

“Doesn’t matter,” said Tommy as he waved her off. “Let’s go downstairs…but quietly.”

“Yeah,” said Susie, and there was nothing more to say on the matter.

They crept out into the upstairs hallway, but quietly, just as Tommy had suggested, because Mrs. Forgotthen’s bedroom was right across the hall from theirs. They made their way down the well-lit stairs, but Tommy was still wary of the slight creaking of the wood with each step.

Nevertheless, they made it to the living room without incident.

“It’s hard to see down here,” whispered Susie.

“There’s a little lamp on that table where the couch and sitting chair are,” replied Tommy. “It’s plugged into the floor. I noticed it earlier today.”

“Mrs. Forgotthen’s asleep,” said Susie. “We can turn it on for now.”

She walked in-between the furniture and turned the lamp key for the small electric lamp on the dusty coffee table. Light spilled into the room as the lamp lit to its full glory, but a loud thump sounded out near the east wall, and this set off Tommy’s adrenaline.

“Turn it off! Turn it off!” he hissed.

Susie snapped off the light as fast as she had turned it on.

“Hide!” she said quickly.

They hid behind the old dusty couch as a light shone from behind the east wall. There was a loud creaking as a hidden door opened, and out of that hidden door stepped Mrs. Forgotthen. The withered old lady stepped out of the small, well-lit, hidden room, and she held up a lantern in her gnarled left hand as she squinted to peer through the darkness of the living room.

“Children?” she asked.

Tommy didn’t dare breathe, and Susie clamped her right hand over her mouth. They didn’t so much as twitch as the old woman walked past them to the stairwell and walked up the stairs, lantern in hand, one foot after the next upon creaking wooden steps.

Tommy stood and looked over at the now open, well-lit, hidden room. It was a mystery as to what was in there, and mysteries were far more interesting than having to go back to bed.

He walked over to the hidden entrance in the east wall and peered into the closet-sized room, Susie right behind him.

“What are you doing!” she hissed.

“I want to see what’s in here,” he said.

“We’re going to get caught!” said Susie in unhappy reply. “She’s going to check the beds, and we won’t be in them!”

Tommy turned and gave her a very distinct, unhappy frown.

“If she’s going to check the beds,” he said as he rolled his eyes, “then we can’t just sneak past her. We’re going to get caught anyway, so I say we see what’s in here.”

“But…” started Susie, but he ignored her.

He walked into the little room and gazed upon its sparse contents.

This room was definitely not like any other room in the house. It was small, the size of a large closet, and its walls were lined with expensive-looking grey marble.

From the plaster ceiling hung a single black fan lamp, that lamp providing ample light for the room’s only contents. Upon a small white stone pillar, a pillar modeled in the style of the ancient Greeks, there rested a slender onyx jar with a rounded lid.

Decorating the jar were gold moldings of tiny arms with tiny hands, all reaching up from the bottom of the jar, the hands reaching as if toward the light above. The jar was placed at exactly their own eleven-year-old height, an easy to reach object that old Mrs. Forgotthen had probably been staring down at not four minutes ago.

“What the heck is this?” asked Tommy in surprise.

“I…I don’t know,” whispered Susie. “It’s…It’s weird.”

“No, kidding,” breathed Tommy in return. “I wonder what’s in it?”

“It’s probably just the ashes of her dead husband,” said Susie.

“What?” asked Tommy.

He wasn’t quite sure what she was talking about.

“Some people burn the bodies of their relatives instead of burying them,” nodded Susie. “They call it ‘cremation.’”

“Weird,” said Tommy as he shook his head in slight disbelief. “That sounds…really weird…I wonder if that’s what’s really in it?”

He reached forward to take off the lid, but he heard Susie gasp from behind him.

“Don’t do that!” she warned him.

“Why not?” he asked. “If it’s just ashes, then I want to see them. I’m not gonna spill ‘em or anything.”

“Oh…” said Susie. “It’s just that…I don’t…I…”

“I’m just gonna take a quick peek,” said Tommy. “Don’t be such a square.”

“O…Okay…” stammered Susie.

Tommy gently lifted the lid of the jar.

A gust of wind blew out around them, and Tommy put the lid back on the jar out of reflex. The wind disappeared as quickly as it had come, but its sudden appearance within the interior of the tiny hidden room stunned them both.

“What was that?” asked Susie in wide-eyed surprise.

“How should I kn—” started Tommy.

He was cut short as the walls around them darkened. It was as if the color of the grey marble, bleak as that color was, was suddenly subsumed by darkness. A whispering picked up after that, low at first, and then louder as the black of the walls rippled like water.

Tiny pitch-black hands, each the size of a small tangerine, like little jet-black baby hands, reached out in slow procession from all around them, each reaching forth for them both.

Both Tommy and Susie screeched in terror as they ran from the little room, and they ran toward the light of the stairwell, then up the stairs, then back into their own shared bedroom, Tommy slamming the door shut behind them.

They both ran back toward their own beds out of a natural instinct to both hide and find some shelter near the nightlight.

“What was that!” cried Susie.

“I don’t know!” cried Tommy in return. “I don’t even know what the heck is going on…”

His brain momentarily stopped as the same sibilant whispering from before picked up all around him, and he could just make out the whispered word “Death” repeated over and over again.

He turned to see the bedsheets of the other children subsume into darkness, just as the marble walls of the hidden room had. Tiny ebon hands and arms erupted from the dark to wind around the sleeping children, winding around them like black cords, arms without discernable bones or joints, spindly, pitch-black arms holding them in place, and yet they did not wake. The others simply laid there as if dead, their little bodies stiffening in place as if they would never wake again.

Susie screamed as Tommy’s adrenaline spiked to all new levels. Even so, he was not one of the bad guys, and he was not a coward, either. He wasn’t just going to leave the others to whatever horrible fate awaited them in those bundles of tiny, black, clutching limbs.

“Help me!” he screeched. “Help me get them out!”

He reached over into the closest bundle of arms and hands, the one coiling from the lower bunk across from Susie’s. He reached in until his fingers latched around the arm of one of the children, probably little George, but he couldn’t remember for sure.

The black spindly arms touching his own felt wispy and solid at the same time, but they were cold, as cold as any block of ice.

Susie babbled in some incoherent form of attempted language—out of terror, obviously—but this was of no help at all.

“What are you waiting for!” he cried out. “Help me! Help me get him out!”

“Death,” came the whispering around him, only louder now.

Susie didn’t stop her terrified babbling, but she was by his side a second later. He had not been too sure about her before, but now he knew she was an actual friend, because anyone else, anyone in their right mind, would have fled by now.

She plunged her hands into the squirming mass right along next to him.

“It’s freezing!” she screeched.

“Just pull!” yelled Tommy.

They pulled and pulled, but little George’s arm felt like solid stone, cold and unyielding, and it felt as heavy as such. As much as they pulled, they could not even begin to budge the little boy.

“It’s no use!” cried Susie. “We can’t move him!”

Tiny sable hands slithered up their arms and underneath their nightclothes. Tommy barked out a warning as he backed away, releasing little George’s arm at once, and he yanked Susie back, back toward the center of the bedroom, backing away from the bed in order to escape the bundled mass of tiny onyx limbs.

The floor around them subsumed into rippling darkness, and the nubs of little fingers appeared from that oily black a moment later.

“We have to get out of here!” yelled Susie.

They ran toward the bedroom door, the only exit in or out of their shared living quarters, but the south wall around the door coated over with inky darkness, and multiple tiny hands and slithering arms began to emerge from that deep black well, just like the floorboards behind them.

“Death,” came the whispering from everywhere.

The jerking birdlike motions of Susie’s head, that reflexive reaction followed by her wide-eyed, terrified gaze, told Tommy that she was hearing it, too. It wasn’t just him.

Tommy turned the doorknob in front of him and pulled, and the door opened partway, but a multitude of snaky black arms and hands struggled against him to keep the door closed.

“Help! Help!” he screeched.

Susie joined him in his mad, frantic dash toward a rescue, any kind of sanctuary from this terrible nightmare. She gripped his waist from behind and pulled hard.

“Help us!” she cried out, and by some miracle from above, she was answered.

“Children?” came Mrs. Forgotthen’s audibly confused voice.

“Help us!” cried Tommy. “We’re trapped in here with these things! These little black arms and hands are everywhere! They’ve gotten everybody else!”

He pulled hard on the door as Susie pulled on him, and thankfully, the old woman pushed hard from the other side, but she did not sound happy about their situation.

“You let some of them out!” grunted Mrs. Forgotthen. “You shouldn’t have let them out! I had them trapped in their jar!”

“Just get us out!” screeched Susie.

“You should not have opened the jar!” said Mrs. Forgotthen. “You let some of them out! I had them trapped! Trapped!”

“We’re trapped!” yelled Tommy. “Let us out!”

“Death…” came a whispering in his left ear, up close, as if it were right next to him.

That cut it. Tommy pulled with all his might while Mrs. Forgotthen pushed at the same time. The inky-black tendrils of ropey arms and tiny hands spindled out as they were stretched, but they would not let go of the door. They clung to the wood in some unholy, otherworldly effort to keep the door closed, to keep Tommy and Susie trapped within so as to ensnare them at their leisure.

Somehow, someway, the door flew open, and both Tommy and Susie tumbled out into the hall at Mrs. Forgotthen’s bare feet. The door slammed shut after that, slamming with a loud “BANG!” that echoed round the old house.

Tommy jumped to his feet as Susie did the same. He did not know when or how those things would attack again, but what he did know was that the tiny black hands had the other children; they had them in the bedroom, and now there was no way back in.

“They have the others!” said Tommy in a panicked haste. “We have to get them out of there!”

“Those things attacked us!” cried Susie. “The others are trapped in there! Those things attacked them, too!”

Mrs. Forgotthen looked down at them and shook her head no. She was still in her same outfit, still in the old pink dress with the green-leaf print, still wearing the old-timey white mop cap on her greyed head, but her weathered face was not one of caring or forgiveness.

The tone of her voice changed from old and kind to deep and menacing, as if her throat were filled with gravel and sand, something terribly unnatural that temporarily stunned both children.

“Foolish child,” she said as she glared down at Susie. “Those little lost souls weren’t attacking you…They were protecting you!”

There was a cracking, crackling noise as the old woman’s legs bent backwards at the knees. Her face widened out at the sides, like an egg turned on its side, her broad lips spreading out to widen with her rapidly deforming face.

“Now I have to put them back!” she croaked out. “But you’ll go in the jar first, you rotten little pests!”

Her old and wrinkled skin turned to a distinctly forest-green shade, that skin taking on a leathery quality, like hide, that hide speckling out, not with distorted coloration, but with large bumpy warts.

“I smell something delicious!” she said in a menacing, spiteful voice.

She breathed in through the two flat holes that used to be her nose, smelling both of them as if they were her next meal.

Her hands and feet grew to three times their previous size, huge, flat, and grotesque things with webbed fingers and toes, and she reached forward to grab them both with those enormous, grasping pads.

Tommy turned and ran, dragging Susie with him. His brain had temporarily shut off again, this time for his own good. His body was in control now, and that body wanted him to run down the stairs and out the front door.

Susie dashed with him as they hit the bottom of the stairs running.

“There’s nowhere to go, children!” croaked old Mrs. Forgotthen. “No one will miss you here! No one will remember you here! All who come here are forgotten!”

Tommy begged to differ. He ran with Susie to the front door, gripped the knob, turned that knob, and pulled hard, but the door was locked tight, and worse yet, it was locked with a lock on the inside of the door, an interior bolt lock to keep them from getting out, an interior lock that Tommy did not have the key to. He had not noticed the bolt on the outside of the door when he had first arrived at this accursed place, much to his dismay.

“Open the door!” screeched Susie.

“I can’t!” cried Tommy. “It’s locked tight, and I don’t have the key!”

The old woman who wasn’t a woman, this creature that looked like a giant man-toad in an old pink dress and a mop cap, rounded the bottom of the stairs.

“You can’t get out that way!” croaked Mrs. Forgotthen. “This place moves by my will and my will alone!…Ha! What did you think? Did you think you could eat your way out? Did you think this was a gingerbread house!”

“Leave us alone!” screeched Susie.

She screamed long and loud as a thick, eel-like, purple tongue spit from the toad-woman’s mouth. The long, disgusting member stretched forth the entire room and wrapped around Tommy’s redheaded friend like some kind of mucous-covered boa constrictor.

Tommy gripped Susie’s bare legs from behind, but he was pulled forward along with her, his grip failing, and he fell to his stomach to the hardwood floor below.

He looked up to see Susie fly through the air and straight into the old toad’s wide mouth. Susie’s scream muffled as her head and shoulders disappeared into Mrs. Forgotthen’s gaping maw a moment later.

Tommy was momentarily stunned as he viewed the horrifying scene before him, but something fresh in his memory, something Mrs. Forgotthen had previously said, surfaced from the depths of his consciousness to ring through his traumatized mind.

“You said, ‘some of them’!” he choked out. “Some!”

He bolted upright and dashed toward the only thing he could think of that might save himself and his new friend. He ran into the little hidden room of marble, the little room with the secret door that was still open, the little room that light still spilled from, the little room with the ebon jar on a pedestal, and he snatched that ebon jar from its pedestal.

He ran back into the living room just in time to see Susie’s bare legs kicking in the air, her legs completely vertical as Mrs. Forgotthen was in the final process of swallowing the redhaired girl whole.

Tommy did not give himself time to hesitate. He lifted the jar above his head, his hands on the bottom and lid respectively.

“Some of them!” he shouted. “You can have them all!”

He tossed the ebon jar directly at the ancient witch’s webbed feet, and it smashed apart upon the wood floor into so many onyx shards.

The room shook as a mighty wind roared over everything for a few seconds, then a muttering of many, many voices picked up all around, and the entire floor coated over in an inky-black, oily-slick darkness.

Susie was spit from the old toad’s wide mouth, and she cried out as she rolled on the floor next to Tommy.

Multiple tiny black arms and hands snaked around Mrs. Forgotthen’s bent and warty legs.

“Pestilent child!” croaked the ancient toad witch. “No one…will ever…care…about…you…”

The ebon mass of bundled, slithering arms and tiny hands wrapped around the ancient witch until she was nothing more than a coiled spool of darkness. That spool of twined sable was dragged down into the inky black as the toad witch’s muffled croaks went with it, and then that slick of oily darkness was sucked into a single spot on the floor, a singularity of pure pitch that vanished as if it had never existed at all.

Tommy helped his new redheaded friend up from off the floor, though she was covered in a thick, disgusting mucus of some sort.

They both turned to view the spot where Mrs. Forgotthen had made her last stand, and from that empty spot on the wooden floor shone a singular beam of light that burst upwards and then vanished in an explosion of spangled starlight that dissipated into glittering specks of nothing. This was followed by another roaring gust of wind, and then even the wind died, and all was silence.

On the floor where the ancient witch had vanished, on the old wooden boards, was a tarnished silver key, and Tommy instinctively knew it was the key to the front door.

He picked up the old key and walked to the front door, but Susie gripped his left hand with her right and would not let go.

“The others…” she said in a quiet voice.

“Are all right,” breathed out Tommy. “We’ll get them in a bit. I just want to see outside. I want to know we have somewhere to run.”

They both squinted and shaded their eyes as dawn’s light poured in through the barred windows. It should have still been dark from the night before, because very little time had passed since their harrowing experience, yet the light of a new day was here and in force.

“It can’t be morning already…” trailed Susie’s voice as Tommy unlocked the door and opened it wide.

Outside was the withered lawn as before, but there were no elm trees in the distance, no strewn gravel from the dirt road on which they were driven when they had arrived at the accursed manor. No, there was only the still quiet of a lake and pine trees in their view, that picturesque topped by a long and winding paved road some ways away, a scenic place of no logical existence for them to call home.

Tiny Hands Copyright © 2021 Matthew L. Marlott

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