Virginia knocked hard on the door. “I’m coming!” she could hear old Mrs. Wambly scrambling to get to the door. Suddenly the door opened and her neighbor stuck her head out. “Hey neighbor, what can I do for you?”, she asked in a pleasant voice. Virginia noticed the tired eyes, but the gentle smile as Mrs. Wambly tried her best to be neighborly. “Just wanted to borrow a cup of sugar. I forgot it at the market, you know me, always running! I can’t keep up with myself anymore. Halloween is tomorrow night so the kids are begging for homemade cookies”. Mrs. Wambly’s tired eyes lit up. She stopped to stare at her friend, whispering something as if to herself, then she smiled, “That sounds like a party! Don’t forget to put aside a few for your old neighbor”, she winked. Virginia felt a little bad for not spending more time with Mrs. Wambly. When she moved here from North Carolina ten years ago, Mrs. Wambly had been the neighbor always eager to help out, lend a hand or a cup of sugar. Virginia used to confide in her when she needed a shoulder to cry on. Mrs. Wambly’s husband died the year before. Virginia and her husband, Kurt, moved to the neighborhood, and Mrs. Wambly was glad to have new neighbors. Virginia and Kurt were newlyweds at the time. Kurt had been away a lot with his new job so Mrs. Wambly had kept her company. Over the years, children came and she began to spend less and less time with Mrs. Wambly. “Come in and sit a spell.” Jeanne Wambly took the cup and slowly walked to her kitchen. “I have been meaning to stop by all week”, Virginia yelled back into the kitchen. It was a little quiet, then she heard the shuffling of Jeanne’s slippers scraping back across the kitchen floor to the living room. She handed Virginia a box of unopened sugar. “Oh no, I can’t take the whole box!”, “Nonsense, I hardly ever bake anymore. I just bought it last week, but I don’t even know what I was going to use it for. Besides, I know how good your chocolate chip cookies are and I don’t mind sharing.” She winked again. Virginia had to laugh. Same old witty Jeanne. Always looking at the bright side of things. She hugged her friend and took the box. “Thank you so much”, I hate to leave so soon, but I have the mixing bowls ready to go. Won’t you come over for a while?” Jeanne looked tired again. “Maybe some other time, dear. Just save me a cookie.” “Sure will.”, replied Virginia. She politely took the sugar and turned to go home. She turned around again to say goodbye, but Mrs. Wambly had already retreated to another part of the house. It was once again quiet. Virginia ran home to get the cookies started before the kids got home from school. She had a lot to do. She felt a chill in the air as she closed the front door. Fall was setting in, crisp colored leaves were everywhere and other neighbors had neatly carved pumpkins sitting on their doorsteps, Halloween decorations lined the street. The chill in the air reminded her of the all too cold winter season about to make an appearance. The winters in Wisconsin were brutal. She was enjoying the sunshine as she walked back to her house, eager to get the baking underway.
Virginia had worked hard all afternoon and the table decorated in the parlor conveyed her hard work. Black and orange themed decorations were everywhere, and a bucket of bright red apples was waiting for little bobbers. The table scape was creepy and cute at the same time with fake black spider and lace designed paper plates and cups. Black cats and pumpkin decorations hung on the walls and around the table. The parlor door had been decorated with streamers and “cobwebs”. Her prized chocolate chip cookies were baking in the oven. It smelled like and looked like everything Halloween. Kurt would be home late from work, so she had a big pot of soup on for the children with some grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner. She figured it would take a couple of dozen cookies at least to fill all the goody bags of the little goblins that would soon be ringing the doorbell. She looked in her collection for some spooky music to play later. She had thought about making a haunted house, but was pressed for time, so just decorated the parlor so little guests could help themselves to vampire punch, spider’s eye brownies and other ghoulish treats. Her children would be pleased. She was the designated party mom this year. She would not let them down. She ran to take the cookies out of the oven. Light and airy, sugar sweetness filled the air. She carefully placed them on the rack to cool, sitting out an extra plate for Mrs. Wambly. When the children arrived, Donna, ten, Kurt Jr., eight and little Ginny, six, they were all excited to go in the parlor. “First, before the treats”, Virginia sternly insisted, “You must have some soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. The children ‘s excitement waned as they trudged off the dining room. They sat glumly eating their soup, with the parlor door closed. Next it was homework, then later, after they dressed in their costumes, they were promised parlor fun. Mrs. Wambly had coached Virginia to teach the children discipline and it was paying off now. They did as they were told and waited for the evening to arrive. She thought of old Mrs. Wambly. She was all alone in a big house. It was always so quiet. Now that she thought about it, Virginia had not recalled seeing her in her garden or outside her house for quite some time. Raising the children and being a wife to Kurt was time consuming. She felt a sense of guilt. Jeanne had been like a mother to her. How could she have forgotten to call on her neighbor more often? Had time really gone by so fast? It seemed like yesterday when she had come home from the hospital with little Donna. Jeanne had been so happy for the birth of her first born. She came over to greet Virginia with a pink frosted cake with little roses and balloons. They sat for hours talking about raising children. Jeanne had three children, who had long since grown and moved away. Virginia and Jeanne had a special relationship. How had it slipped away over the years? Virginia felt a sense of loss, as if she had lost a good friend. She looked in on the children doing their homework. They were fine. It was getting late, so she decided to slip out the back door and go visit her neighbor. She put on her black shawl, to quell the chill in the air and went in the kitchen to get the warm plate of treats she had put aside for Jeanne. As she walked over to get the cookies, she felt a strange sensation, like the hair on the back of her neck rising. She stepped on something warm and soft and noticed that a cookie had fell on the floor. She did not remember dropping it, but the children had not entered the kitchen or the parlor. She looked around the kitchen and did not see anything else unusual. The strange feeling passed and she walked out the back door, and down the cobblestone street to the corner house where Mrs. Wambly lived. “Really feels like the Halloween spirit is around tonight”, she mused to herself as she walked, holding the warm plate carefully, not wanting to drop any more of her prize cookies. She noticed that there were no Halloween decorations on the Wambly house or in the yard, but there was a sign in the yard. She could not quite make out what it said in the dark. The house looked so lonely and quiet. Perhaps she is sleeping. Virginia began to worry about Jeanne’s well-being. Something that had not occurred to her before. I am a bad neighbor, she thought again, feeling a tinge of guilt. As she walked up the front steps to Jeanne’s house, she noticed that the front door looked strange. Raising her hand to knock, she noticed a doorbell. Jeanne must have had that done today, she thought, though it was strange. She felt her arm go numb as she rang the doorbell. It was still quiet. She rang the bell again. At last she heard footsteps, the click clacking of hard shoes. Those did not sound like the slippers Mrs. Wambly had been wearing earlier. She felt a sense of fear, which had nothing to do with it being Halloween night. A strange woman answered the door. “Can I help you”, she asked. “I am here to visit Jeanne. Is she home?”. She looked into the woman’s face. There was a strange resemblance to Jeanne, but the woman was much younger. The woman’s face suddenly went white. “Do you mean Jeanne Wambly?”, she asked, almost in a whisper. “Yes, she was just here this morning and I borrowed a cup of sugar. I made these chocolate chip cookies and promised to share with her. Is she here?”
The woman seemed to be gathering her composure as she looked at Virginia with a puzzled look. “Jeanne Wambly was my mother. She has been dead for 10 years. This house has been unoccupied for a long time. I am her daughter, Marie. I was living in California, but I moved here last week. Mom left the house to me. I could not bring myself to sell it, because I grew up here. But I think I will sell it after all because the memories are too painful. I put a sign in the front, did you see it? I thought maybe you were someone looking to buy it.”. Virginia quickly put her hand over her mouth, trying to keep from saying anymore that she might regret. Marie seemed to be uncomfortable and tried to end the conversation quickly “You must be mistaken, you could not have seen my mother, because she has been dead for 10 years. I have a lot to do, so if there is not something else, have a good night” Virginia apologized, and slowly walked away toward her own home. She could not hold back tears, and with disbelief of such devastating news, she kept trying to see through the windows. How could she be dead? Did I imagine that I had a conversation with her this morning? Then another thought, even stranger and sinister weighed on her mind. I met her ten years ago. A sick feeling hit her in the stomach. It was fear. Was she already dead? Perhaps it was her way of saying goodbye to a neighbor who had forgotten her. I am a bad neighbor. But wait, was she ever really my neighbor? All the conversations, all the friendly advice? Virginia went over it again and again in her mind, she could not believe it, did not want to accept it. Suddenly the Halloween decorations looked too real, and the air felt even colder. She wrapped her shawl around her tightly. She began to run home, dropping the plate of cookies. She could hear it shatter against the hard, cobblestoned pavement. Suddenly, Halloween was too real and her prized chocolate-chip cookies didn’t matter anymore. She had to get home to the children. She kept up her quick pace and dared not look back.
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