Judd Dillan Michael would never be the big man on campus of the small-town high school. Like Stockport, Judd was a scrawny, backwater type. Farm bred, farm grown. Only, he lived down the main street just past the mortuary.
Judd’s family was a bit of a quandary. His mom was dead or gone or something. No one really talked about it in town. And his dad? Well, Cash Michael was no one anyone had time for. When we were children, my mother used to warn me about the Michael’s family. ‘Those people are up to no-an good. Don’tch ya go wanderin’ which’em.’ It wasn’t so much that I had intended to go wandering with Cash, but I did come to his house that one time.
And now? Well, Judd walked into the house with Heidi close in tow. Her blonde ringlets and blue eyes the opposite to his. Her melodic giggles punctuated the still death of the gray, dingy interior.
“Judd, you can’t be serious. You don’t truly believe that there’s a ghost in your house?”
His laugh was more menacing. “She’s been here long as I can ‘member. Com’on.”
He grabbed her hand and half pulled her down the basement stairs. The cellar was dank, damp, like cellars are want to be. The old wooden steps down just planks. I was always fearful of these types of steps. I always thought that someone was standing behind, waiting to grab my leg and trip me.
There was only one light, in the center of the room and the swaying circle refused to illuminate the corners or the area behind the heater and stairs.
Heidi shivered and so she should. The temperature here was frosty; her breath jetted out in billowy clouds of diaphanous white as she scanned the room. Under the light stood a card table, three folding chairs, and the ‘wonder box’. She was drawn to it. Resting a hand on its strange cage. She didn’t observe those things she should. She didn’t see what was coming.
I did. I took my seat on the second stair and watched. Waited. Hoped.
“This isn’t what I thought you meant when you wanted me to come hunting with you.”
“I know.” Dashing smiles, flirtatious nods. “It’s the way I talk with her. Well, I mean, I used to just talk with her, but now, she can talk back.”
“Like in Ghost Watchers? It scans the radio waves and you hear voices or something?”
“Sorta like that. Only this one cuts the white noise. You can hear ‘em better. It allows Monday to talk longer.”
“That’s what I call her. It’s not her real name. But…” he flipped the box on and the fairy lights flashed, “she’ll come to it. Right, Monday? You’ll come talk to us.”
I leveled my gaze on them. Heidi trembled as she sat down and drew her legs to her.
Judd took the seat opposite hers. He patted the seat in-between as if offering it to some unseen person. “Com’on, Monday. I aint gonna hurt you. I just wantta talk.”
“Judd, maybe I should go. I’m not quite dressed for the temperature down here.”
Indeed, her spaghetti strapped singlet and short cutoffs did leave her exposed. And we all know that being exposed, letting your vulnerable side show was not favorable to life.
“Ah, nonsense. Look, come ov’r here.” He stood and began to walk towards the darkest corner. “We gotta few coats here.”
Heidi stood to follow.
“No!” My lips moved but my disembodied voice sounded through the speaker. Through the snips and grabs of the radio frequency, the girl didn’t hear me. “Heidi, run!”
This time, her head twisted towards the box behind her.
I stood and ran forward but Judd had her before I could act. A quick jet of his hand and he held her wrist firmly.
Her eyes went wide as she realized her folly. She began to pull back but he was stronger than his frame would suggest.
“Now, now, Junebug. It’s not nice to go sending the willies through our guests.”
“Don’t call me that! Your daddy called me that.”
The girl was now struggling. Flinging herself back and forth. Fighting for her life. Screaming for someone, anyone to save her.
But it was a loss. He snapped the cuff of the short chain manacle on her. Then he tethered her feet. Through her yelling, he placed the gag in her mouth.
I returned to my seat. Second step from the bottom.
“There, there, little Junebug.” Judd petted the golden curls on the head now lulled between her knees. “I think that I will call you Wednesday. ‘Cause it’s Wednesday today. Do you like that, Wednesday? Well, do ya?”
And I watched as Sunday and Tuesday joined me on their stairs.