“Come on, don’t be scared. All the children sing here. You can sing, too.” - All The Children Sing, Rick Larson.
Friday, 8:53 p.m.
“I know who you are.” The stranger stood before Amy Larson, soaked to the bone from the torrential downpour.
It was almost nine p.m. on a Friday night when Amy heard a series of knocks bash against the window of her front door, knocks she would soon regret—rapraprap. Pause. Rapraprap. Pause. Rapraprap.
When she swung the door open, she’d been expecting her usual Friday night pizza delivery, extra cheese with onion and garlic topping. Not this mysterious stranger with nothing to offer except a gawking stare that made her recoil.
Amy tensed, using the door to shield herself from the stranger. “You do?”
“Yeah, you’re Rick Larson’s daughter. I’m a huge fan of his work. All The Children Sing is a horror classic. Children singing in the walls when you think you’re alone? Creeeeepy,” the stranger said, miming a chill.
Amy’s shoulders relaxed, but she still kept a wary eye on the stranger. It wasn’t the first time a crazy fan showed up on her doorstep, and she knew it wouldn’t be the last.
Her father was dubbed the master of horror, Mr. Macabre himself. He was a mystery — an obscurity to most, but to others, he was their God. He knew how to make you scream with his words and squirm with nauseating horror; it was as if his hand was reaching through the book and throttling you with deadly force through the 400-page manuscript, gore and all.
“Oh, well, if you’re looking for him, he doesn’t live here. Sorry.”
As Amy tried to shut the door, the stranger placed a possessive hand on it, signaling their visit wasn’t over. “I’m sorry, that’s not why I’m here,” they said. “My car broke down, and I’m a few hundred miles away from home. I was hoping to use your phone if that’s all right.”
“You don’t have a cell phone?” Amy said instantly, annoyed.
The stranger tucked a hand into their jacket pocket, producing what looked like chewed-up plastic, maybe from a dog. “I had a cell phone. I accidentally ran it over when I was leaving the hotel.”
Amy said nothing. Instead, she gazed past the stranger at their 1999 cherry red Honda Civic that was taking up residency beside her curb. The road started to flood. It usually did when a storm rolled through, and she knew nobody would come to the rescue until the water drained, especially when a tornado warning was in effect.
“Please, just one phone call. It shouldn’t take long.” The stranger looked at Amy pleadingly, their eyes like a baby doe.
Amy sighed. “Okay, sure, but I should warn you if you’re thinking of calling Triple-A, you’re wasting your time. They won’t come out in this weather.”
The stranger smiled, delighted. “I appreciate the help, Ms. Larson.”
“Please, call me Amy,” she said, stepping aside to let the stranger pass. “The phone is over there. I’ll just be in the kitchen making a cup of tea. Would you like one?”
“That would be just fine, thank you. Oh, and I don’t think I’ve told you my name. How rude of me. I’m Sally.”
“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Sally,” she said, and went off into the kitchen to make tea.
Friday, 9:04 p.m.
Amy strained to hear Sally’s phone call as she was making their tea. There wasn’t much to hear, only the broken pieces of it, like static cutting in and out. She didn’t like being nosy. Her father always told her it was rude to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations, but curiosity got the best of her.
“…car broke…triple-A…Larson..horror writer…Amy…tea…I don’t know…two-hours…okay…bye.”
Amy took a deep breath and tapped the spoon on the cup five times before serving the tea out in the living room. She never had visitors, especially unannounced ones. The last person to visit was her father, a month ago, after the accident.
“You don’t tell anybody about this. Do you hear me, Amy? Tell no one,” he said to her.
She bowed her head. “Yes, father.”
“Give me your keys. If you want to go anywhere, call a taxi or your mother. You’ll get them back in a month.”
She surrendered her keys to him like an obedient child, and he left without saying another word.
They arrived in the mail that morning. Her father always kept his promises.
“I didn’t know if you liked milk or sugar,” she said to Sally, placing the tray on the coffee table. “So I brought both.”
“Milk is just fine, thank you.”
Amy splashed some milk into both cups, adding honey to only hers.
She noticed Sally shivering. “Would you like a change of clothes? You must be freezing in those.”
“Oh, no, thank you, I’ve intruded upon your life enough. I’ll just finish my tea, and then I’ll be on my merry way.”
“You’ve found someone to fix your car?”
“No, well, yes, but they won’t be here till morning.” Sally sipped her tea. “I’ll put the seat back and sleep in there for the night.”
Amy didn’t like that idea, not with a hurricane ready to make landfall. It would be a miracle if that car didn’t get tossed by the wind like a feather. Not to mention the poor woman was drenched. Her skin was as white as the moon, with lips as blue as death. If she covered her face with her long black hair, she’d look like the girl from The Ring.
She looked at Sally with softness and offered her to stay in the guest room. “That won’t be necessary. I have a spare room you could stay in.”
Sally perked at the offer. Her body deflated with relief. “Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I promise to be out of your hair first thing in the morning, and I’ll leave you something for your hospitality.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Amy said again, and it was true. This was it, her chance for redemption. It hadn’t been a coincidence. God sent this perfect stranger as a test, and she knew she would pass with flying colors. The idea of a stranger sleeping in her home frightened her, but Sally didn’t pose any obvious threat, only desperation to be safe and warm.
The pair sat on the couch, Sally now dressed in dry clothing, and chatted up a storm. The lights flickered a few times, but luckily the power didn’t go out, only the internet and phone.
“So what’s it like being the daughter of a famous author?” Sally asked, ears perked with interest.
Amy hated this question. It was like asking a writer where they get their ideas from. It was annoying and redundant. “It has its ups and downs. The upside is I don’t have work, but the downside…” she trailed off, trying to find the right words. “It gets lonely, you know? I’m single, and I don’t have many friends. People use me to get to my father, and they only like me because of him. Not to mention, I can’t go out without being run down by his fans. I feel trapped in my home.”
Sally nodded. “Seems frustrating.”
“You have no idea. Sometimes I wish I could disappear, go somewhere where nobody knows me. Start over.”
“I think we all want to disappear in our lives,” Sally said. “It’s just a matter of how and when, and if you’re brave enough to do it.”
Amy offered a small smile, looked at the clock. It was getting late, and she felt as if someone was tugging her eyelids closed with an invisible string. Sally took notice.
“We should probably call it a night. I have to get up early for the tow truck, and I’m sure you have plans of your own.”
Amy agreed, and they both said goodnight.
Saturday, 3:35 a.m.
A scream. Bone crunching. Blood splattering. Tires screeching. Heart racing. A body—a dead body.
Saturday, 4:17 a.m.
Amy sprung awake, panting, her nightshirt sticking to her damp skin. She had the dream of the accident again. It haunted her every night since it happened. She swore to her father she hadn’t seen the girl. She was in a blind spot, she said, I panicked, I’m sorry. But even she knew that was a lie. She saw the girl bounding across the street while driving, her golden locks doing the tango in the wind.
Amy remembers wishing she had that hair, remembering how beautiful it was, how much life it had. But her thoughts were distracted by her phone vibrating, and it only took two seconds to crush that beautiful girl to death. Two seconds. That’s all it took.
Amy looked at the clock, 4:17 a.m, and threw the covers from her body. Her throat felt desiccated. She needed a drink. She carefully slid out of bed and crept out of her room, trying not to wake Sally. The house was eerily quiet; the only discernible sounds were the ticking of the clock and her heart drumming in her chest.
She reached the kitchen and grabbed a glass from the cabinet. She filled it with water and took a sip, swished it around her mouth, swallowed, and repeated a few more times before depositing the glass in the sink.
She noticed the storm had passed, and that made her smile. Only a few more hours until Sally was gone. At least that was something she could look forward to.
There were a few dirty dishes, and Amy figured since she was awake, she would wash them. So she pulled on her rubber gloves and hummed a little tune to herself as she scrubbed the plates and silverware, too lost in her mind to notice the reflection in the window creeping toward her. Or the cast-iron pan raised and ready to collide with her skull. Or the gust of wind that disturbed the stillness of the air.
And two seconds, that’s all it took, for everything to go black.
Gasoline — that one smell you can’t mistake for something else, the one smell that brought Amy Larson out of her daze. She didn’t know where she was, the floor was cold and hard beneath her, and pain lit her skull up like fireworks on the fourth of July. Everything felt electrified.
She moaned, tried to move, push herself off the ground, but she couldn’t, and for a brief, horrifying moment, she thought someone cut her arms off. Her eyes grew wide, investigative-like, and as she looked around the darkness, she realized she was on the floor in her garage, her legs chained to the hitch of her car and hands bound behind her back.
“Oh my God,” she whispered, panic tightening her insides.
“Good, you’re awake,” a voice said in the void. “I was beginning to
think I hit you harder than I intended.”
The sound of the voice jumpstarted Amy’s heart. That voice, she thought, I know that voice.
A face emerged from the darkness, a pale and pretty one. Sally’s. She made a flourishing gesture with her hands. “The one and only.”
“W-why are you doing this?” Amy said, a tremble gripping her words.
Sally crouched beside Amy, a dark gleam in her eyes. “Does the name Jessie Martin mean anything to you?”
A scream. Bone crunching. Blood splattering. Tires screeching. Heart racing. A body — a dead body.
Amy knew instantly.
Jessie Martin, the girl she killed.
A rush of bile swam up Amy’s throat, and she blew chunks all over Sally’s sweater. Sally stood up, repulsed, and reared her foot back, powerfully striking Amy in the stomach, causing another rush of bile to eject from her mouth.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” Amy cried out, drool and vomit hanging from her lips.
“It’s a little too late for apologies.” Sally grabbed a fistful of Amy’s hair, wrenching her upright. “You murdered my sister, now I think it’s time for you to get a taste of your own medicine.”
Sally brushed the tears from Amy’s face. Smiled. “Don’t be scared. All the children sing here. You can sing, too.”
And Amy sang a chorus of screams as Sally got in the car and drove off, dragging her body down onto the pavement.