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Yuki: Hi all! We’re gonna jump right on in this week. Sorry again about the delay, it seems that those pesky investigators just won’t go away!
Assistant: I have no idea why. We gave them no reason to be suspicious.
Yuki: Were you watching them through the curtains while they left?
Yuki: Oh god…
“Oh ho ho ho!”
The familiar laugh echoes in the night as it had over the entire summer vacation. I squint my eyes and look up at the blue LED timer on my stereo across the room: 1:36AM. Same time as always. On cue, the crickets stop singing and the frogs stop croaking. They do the sensible thing and go into hiding; I know I wish I could.
My thumbs furiously tap they keypad of my Nokia:
There it is! Do u hear it now!?!?
I think so. Its rly quiet tho. U sure it isnt drunk ppl, man?
No… Its just one voice i think…
Hang on. Sounds like its getting closer. Gunna go check it out.
Several minutes pass and there’s no reply. My eyes grow heavy and I close them for a bit.
“Oh ho ho ho ho!”
I’m wide awake again and pull the sheets tight around me. What am I gonna do, run across the dark room and lock the door? As if! You know how horror movies go: the laughter goes away; it’s eerily quiet; and the second my toes reach the floor, the hand comes from under the bed and grabs me by the ankle.
No thank you. Not tonight or any night.
“Oh ho ho ho ho!”
That laugh shouldn’t be as scary as it is. It sounds like a damn woman! And not the cackling of some old-hag witch. She doesn’t sound old. In any other circumstance it might be pleasant.
“Oh ho ho ho ho!”
Nope. I take it back. That shit would sound sinister in broad daylight at a carnival.
I pull the blankets over my head. It’s different from the past few weeks. She’s closer now. The wind dies down as if to keep away from. Every thing around me is absolutely still. There’s not even the sound of a passing car in the distance or the odd freight train chugging along the tracks just a few blocks away.
And then I hear it: the patter of flesh on concrete. I know the sound well: just like all of us around the outdoor pool at the Y or when me and my friends played out in the street in the mornings, before it got hot enough to sizzle the soles. The footsteps sound denser, like they’ve got some serious weight behind them.
I could picture her out there, vividly. Closer and closer. She was walking up our goddamned driveway!
The worst part of it was that nobody else could hear her. Mom and Dad both think I’m crazy. Certifiable. Some nights I can hear their TV on in their room or I can hear them talking, all the while the laughter glides through the night air. Not once did they hear it.
I snap back into the present as the house groans. I bite down on my lip hard. ‘Oh no, Makayla, it’s just the wind. All houses make those sounds.’ What a crock.
The footfalls on the pavement stop and then I hear the swishing of the plants and flowers from Mom’s garden bed right outside my room. Still no laughter, but I can feel her presence just past the wall above my head.
I lay still and hold my breath.
Enough moonlight slips through the cracks of the blinds so that, even beneath all the bedding, not all is pitch black. My hands are barely visible to me, balled up into trembling fists.
And then it all goes dark.
I nearly jump out of my skin, but I hold my place under the covers. A tiny squeak escapes and I will myself to keep silent.
Fingernails rap over and over again on the window. She knows I’m in here! The tapping on the glass continues and eventually stops. After a minute of silence (or what I think is at least a minute) I gather enough courage to peek out from beneath the covers. I can’t believe my eyes and nearly cry out again. Almost every square inch of the window was taken up by the silhouette of the woman outside! Even my dad only took up a small portion of it when he was tending to the garden with Mom. No one could possibly be that big!
I don’t waste a second and cover up completely again. My body shakes all over as I cry as quietly as possible. The tears patter down on the fitted sheet.
And as suddenly as the moonlight was eclipsed, the full rays shine down on me and brighten the room once more.
I heard her walking up to the house, but not a sound as she walked away. It’s like she faded into the night. My limp arms manage to toss the sheets and blankets aside and I breathe in the cool air in huge gulps.
My left leg creeps away from the mattress and the old springs (thankfully) refuse to squeal. I almost hyperventilate as my toes inch closer and closer to the carpet below. The second they touch down, I know a hand with those long fingernails will engulf my ankle and pull me down into the dark. Despite what just happened at the window, the logical part of my brain tells me that this cannot happen; there is nothing beyond the bed skirt.
When my big toe touches the ground my eyes roll bag and my shoulders drop. The tension is gone. Creaky springs be damned, I put my full weight on leg and push myself out of bed. Still no laughter, no heavy footfalls on the lawn or sidewalk. I push the curtains aside and peep through the slats.
Everything is still, save for the rustling trees past my street. The dew atop the grass glistens and the only light rivaling the moon is the porch lamp from across the street. Eased from their moment of dread, the crickets start back up letting everyone within earshot know that, yes, it was still time to be sleeping. I want to heed that advice; I know I should. But I can’t stop myself and walk to my door.
A quick scene flashes in my mind’s eye where I open the door and that massive woman has knelt down on the other side. She squeezes her way into the room, but still has to crouch to be able to fit properly. She lets out a banshee scream and stretches her long arms out and envelopes me.
I twist the knob all the way to the right and swiftly pull the door open.
Gathering courage, I step out of my room and creep down the hall. I move slowly and try to avoid the creaky spots. It’s mostly a success. With every squeak of the floorboards, I pause, wait, and listen. No one (or nothing) stirs. I sneak around the corner of the hall into the living room. The only things I see and hear are the digital clock on the microwave and the leaky kitchen faucet across the way. Once I’m at the front door, I bend my knees and lean in (ear toward the locks) like I’m some sort of safe cracker. Carefully, my fingers turn the knob and release the deadbolt with hardly a sound.
The fresh scent of damp earth puts me even more at ease. A gentle cool breeze sends a shiver up my spine. It’s wonderful. Every second that passes I’m more and more convinced that I’ve just been having recurring nightmares. I step out on to the front porch and out on to the sidewalk.
Not a single cloud in sight. Overhead, the stars and moon provide enough light for the trees and mailboxes to cast distinct shadows. It’s a pleasant sight and relief washes over me entirely.
“Oh ho ho ho ho!”
My heart stops and I spin around. Calm degrades to dread before I fully turn around to face the source of the laughter. Standing in the side yard between my house and our neighbor’s is the largest woman I’ve ever seen. She’s impossibly tall; no way in hell would she stand comfortably inside. She’s not dressed for the occasion either, wearing a sunhat and white dress with no shoes—there’s no way she’s not freezing. The lady’s hiding it well, though, her lips are turned up into a pleasant smile and her eyes are filled with joy.
“Aww, I see you’ve finally come out to join me,” the woman says. “I was starting to think you weren’t going to come out and play. Come on! We’ll have so much fun!” She takes two giant strides toward me; I don’t have time to react before she’s inches away. Her massive hand reaches for mine, but then pulls back suddenly. A shocked, almost disgusted, expression crosses her features. She wrinkles her nose at me.
“Oh, sorry little girl. My mistake.” She blushes with a tinge of embarrassment. And without another word, she stands up and walks out into the street and follows the road that leads out of town.
As the woman is walking away, I realize I’m still holding my cell phone. I quickly text Jay and send.
The woman comes to a dead stop. Her sunhat dips forward like she’s looking down at something. She turns to face me, all smiles. “Oh! So you’re ‘Mack’! You have such a lovely friend. Have a nice night now! Bye!”
She turns away once more and walks down the long road until she is no more than a speck on the horizon.
Assistant: Wait. I think that was a demon. Well…kind of.
Yuki: What do you mean?
Assistant: You’ve never heard of it? The story’s from Japan. It’s an urban legend.
Yuki: Born and raised in the US, remember. And I’m not always 100% up-to-date on what stories the youths are going about nowadays…Gad-dammit.
Assistant: Nice. But yeah, checks the the boxes: woman in white, sunhat, larger than humanly possible, kidnaps and murders boys mainly between nine and thirteen years old.
Yuki: Interesting. We’re gonna have to note this one down too. Alright everyone, we’ll see you all again. Maybe next time we’ll have less engagement with the authorities.
Assistant: I didn’t look this time, I swear!