by Kellee Kranendonk

Harmony crouched in a corner of the cabin in the woods, clutching a knife. Max stalked back and forth, fuming.

“You know, don’t you?” he shouted. “You know where they went.”

Harmony shook her head.

The blade she held was clean, but she could have washed it. He could have asked her but she probably wouldn’t respond. She’d been here, bloody and singing, when he’d awakened. He would have just kicked her out—she was just the crazy bitch that lived year round in the cabin next door. The cat lady of Red School Road, only she didn’t have cats. Fish were her thing—except his wife and son were missing.

“Twinkle, twinkle, little star.” Her child-like voice was steady, calm as she sang what used to be his son’s favourite song, long ago when he’d been little.

He wiped his arm across the kitchen table, knocking off a blue ceramic bowl and a vase of half-dead roses. As they clattered to the floor, Harmony jumped and cringed, her knuckles white around the knife handle.

“Tell me where they went,” he screamed, “or I’ll dump you in the fishpond out back.”

“Dump me in then.”

“Damn!” Crazy fish lady probably wanted to live with the fishies.

“Twinkle, twinkle little star,” she sang again. “How I wonder what you are.”

“What?” Max yelled, his hands clenching into fists at his sides.

“Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky.” She stared at him, through him. Her eyes watched things that weren’t there.

“Are they dead?” Max asked. “Is that a stupid clue?”

“Twinkle, twinkle.”

Cursing again, Max stalked to the door. With one last angry glance at her, he left the cabin.

Anger, at Harmony, himself, and a world in which people could disappear leaving only drunken, blurred memories, demanded to be let out. He slammed his fist down onto the hood of his jeep. Pain shot through his knuckles, into his hand, his arm, jolted him to reality. Looking at his hand he noticed blood spattered across his fingers, his sleeve, his shirt. Some of it fresh red blood. Some of it dry and brown. He touched it, trying to recall…

Only yesterday he’d left his wife and son here in their summer cabin to go into the city for some groceries and other supplies. He’d met some buddies and they’d gone for a drink. One drink. Somehow day had blurred into night, night into morning and he’d woken up in the cabin, Harmony standing over him, staring at his face. He couldn’t remember anything after the first drink, but he was sure that damn woman knew something.

“Twinkle, twinkle, little star.”

He whirled around. “Harmony?”

* * *

The painted spirits of the dead swirling around Max came to Harmony as she sang. She’d discovered that only one song would subdue these ghosts. Spirits often screamed, as if in death they were in some kind of torturous agony. Singing seemed to soothe them.

“Twinkle, twinkle, little star.” She stretched her legs, got to her feet.

The wraiths eddied about her, their colours blending and separating like strands of nebulous string. They had no faces, no features so it was impossible for her to tell who they were, or even how many. Sometimes she thought one, other times it seemed like two or four.

“How I wonder what you are.” She dropped the knife back onto the table where she’d found it. Her fingerprints were on it, but she’d only grabbed it in self-defence, afraid Max was going to hurt her. Had he hurt his family? Or had they left him? So many questions. So much blood…

Last night Max’s car had pulled into the cabin’s driveway. He’d gotten out of the car, puking and staggering under the yard light. Then the yelling had begun, another argument with his wife. It had upset Harmony’s fish, and she spoke softly to them, telling them it would be all right, soon. But it only got worse. Screams drew her from her own cabin to the one next door.

“Up above the world so high.”

She tried to remember more from last night, but only wisps of confused memories remained, the anger at being disturbed again had pulled most of them away. Screams of terror, spattered blood…putting Max to bed, cleaning. Then the spirits had whirled in, to scream and twist about her as she waited.

“Like a diamond in the sky.”

As Harmony went outside, the ghosts followed her. “No more,” she whispered, putting her hands over her ears. She didn’t want to sing to them anymore, didn’t want them around. She wanted to go to the comfort of her home and her fish. Besides, she had to change her clothes. Somehow, she’d gotten blood on these ones.

* * *

“Harmony?” Max called again.

But there was no one around.

Cold wind whirled around him. Unseen hands pulled at his clothes, his hair and skin. Pressed themselves over his eyes.

“How I wonder what you are.”

Unintelligible voices shrieked with the wind. Max reached up to his face, clawed at his eyes but couldn’t remove the hands. They spun him, around and around, churning up his empty stomach. A child’s sobs echoed in his ears.

Then, for a moment, they stopped, gone as quickly as they came. Sunshine glistened off the cabin’s roof, momentarily blinding him. “You’re hearing things, Maxi,” he told himself. “Still hung over from last night.”

“Up above the world so high.” The clear, child-like voice again.

“Harmony? Deakin?” He looked for his son, the crazy lady, anyone.

Sunlight glared, wind whistled. Cold hands reached inside him. His breath caught as pain exploded in his chest and his sight went dark again.

“Like a diamond—”

He tried to call out for help, but the ethereal hands eddied about him, squeezed him, wrapped around him like a lover’s arms.

The last thing he heard was Harmony’s laughter.

◊ ◊ ◊

Kellee Kranendonk

Kellee Kranendonk is a Canadian writer, and an editor for Youth Imagination. Her previously published works have appeared in such magazines as Rural Delivery, 365 Tomorrows, Voluted Tales and Aurora Wolf.

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