We saw her approaching from down by the river. There’s not much left there these days. The quarry closed decades ago, the railroad tracks are rusted, and the building roofs have mostly fallen in. There’s an abandoned church with an overgrown graveyard, an empty company store and a couple of company houses. Last time I drove past, it looked like nobody was living in them, so it surprised us a little when we saw her coming from that direction. We were even more surprised when she stopped in front of our house, then opened the gate.
She strode up the sidewalk with such determination, it was as if she belonged there. The woman was easily in her 70s, perhaps even early 80s. Standing now at the front screen door, she said, “I hate to bother. I saw the for-sale sign. I’m not really in the market for a house. I just thought I could look around a little…”
Jennifer loves small children, the elderly, and animals, especially strays, so I wasn’t surprised when she beat me to the punch: “Of course. Please come in.”
I would have been more cautious, but that’s Jennifer for you. I took her aside a moment and whispered, “Stay with her. Something about this bothers me.”
“She’s just old…and lonely.”
Our visitor said, “This…this is where our family lived when I was in grammar school. Is it all right if I just relive my memories for a few minutes?” She stood now a few feet in front of us at the bottom step of the staircase. “My father owned the quarry and built this house with his own hands. It was so lovely then. To me, it still is…”
I pulled Jennifer aside a second time. “I think you should keep an eye on her. Don’t let her out of your sight.”
She gave me a dismissive look, a look I’d seen a thousand times before, and turned back to our visitor.
They headed up the long stairway. The woman seized the banister as she climbed step by step, with Jen at her side, steadying the woman’s free arm at the elbow.
I remained at the foot of the stairs. From time to time I could hear muted conversation, punctuated by something louder, perhaps laughter–I’m still not sure. At first I didn’t see any need to go up there. That was my mistake.
After several minutes, no sounds of movement, no more voices, no more…laughter. I called up to Jennifer without response and started up the stairway. I had to stop to catch my breath at the top, more out of fear than anything else. I called out several times. “Jen? Jennifer?” Still no answer. “Where are you? What room are you in?” I searched every room, not once but twice. No sign of Jennifer, no sign of her unusual companion.
I looked up to the hallway ceiling to see if somehow they had used the folding stairway to the attic. I even began checking the closets. Nothing. Could they have somehow slipped past me and gone back downstairs? The basement? The back yard? The garage?
Nothing. No one. Anywhere.
I’ve filed a missing persons report, and the police detectives have interviewed me. Several times. And they’re not buying my story. Not a single word of it.
Me? I’m beginning not to believe it…either.
John Timm writes short fiction in a variety of genres and styles. His work has appeared in Bartleby Snopes, Fiction Attic, Dark Gothic Resurrected and elsewhere. When not writing or reading, he teaches language and literature at a university in Phoenix.