|The Transformation Story Archive||Strange Things and other Changes|
The old gazebo? You stay away from that, my dear.
Why? Well, it's best for you not to know. But then, what am I saying, eh? Just an old granny who babbles on about things. Sure an' I know a little girl like you's gonna go pokin' around places, ain't ya? Yeah, you don't fool me. If I tell you to stay away, you're gonna be drawn to that gazebo like a moth to a light bulb. Then you'll end up like Kathryn.
Don't even ask, child. It'll give ye nightmares.
Oh, stop pesterin' me like that! If you must know, you must know.
No, don't sit on granny's lap. Granny's gettin' old; her bones are gettin' brittle. You'd near to break your grandma in two. Sit over there on the chair, and then I'll tell you.
It was way back when your grandpa, rest his soul, and me were just little children. Eleven, twelve, I was somethin' like that. We didn't know each other, of course. I met him after the war, in that hospital. But that's another story.
Anyhow, there was this other girl, down the street from me a few houses. Her name was Kathryn, an' she was already fourteen. She did lord it over your uncle Tommy an' me, always makin' us play her way, even when we didn't want to have nothin' to do with her. The things she put us through you wouldn't even believe, girl. Such a spoiled brat, I can't for the life of me think what her parents could have done to make her that way.
There was one thing about her, though, that made us feel like we had some kinda advantage over her: she was terrified of the dark. Me and Tommy, we weren't scared, so we tried to take advantage of her that way.
There was one glorious day when we actually managed to get her locked under the house. Boy, do I remember that! Like it was yesterday! She was furious with us once she got out, of course. Swore she'd get revenge... never did, though. You see, what happened was...
Emmy, a ten-year-old girl, walked right up to Kathryn. She shook her light blond hair so that the poorly cut ends scattered loosely around her shoulders.
The day was one of those summer days that seemed perfect. The sun was hot, the air was a little humid, and the crickets and bullfrogs sang to each other near the creek. It was a day that was just right for lemonade and baseball games and exploring in the woods. Rabbits picked their way through the thick field grasses like discoverers of new territory, and the crows overhead kept at least one eye on everything below announced the new to the world in a raucous play-by-play. The dirt of that South Carolina soil was so dry that it was either rock hard, or would spring up in attacking clouds of dust and cling ferociously to anything in the near vicinity.
"There really is," Emmy declared defiantly, staring up at the older girl. "It ran in there this morning. Me and Tommy, we seen it, didn't we, Tommy?"
Tommy nodded solemnly, his eight-year-old face smeared with dirt and what might have been chocolate: a boy's war-paint. "It did," he agreed. "A little brown bunny. With green eyes." His own hazel eyes were round with truth and innocence, an expression which every small boy perfects, and which is a much better alibi for a mischievous crime than any concocted story.
Kathryn nodded quickly, shaking her head so that her auburn curls would more picturesquely frame her cherubic, rosy-cheeked face. "Well, there had better be," she muttered. "If I get dirty under there for nothing, you're going to really wish I hadn't." She shook her fist meaningfully, although being careful not to let her carefully manicured nails bite into her palms.
The girl stooped, and lifted her blue dress to avoid treading on it as she crept through the three foot high door that led to the crawlspace beneath the house. "There had better not be any spiders in here, either."
"There is," Tommy blurted, suddenly angry. "There's big blue hairy ones with twenty legs and poison that could-that could kill you in a second!"
Kathryn shrieked, more out of desire for drama than out of actual fear.
"Don't listen to him, Kathryn," Emmy said, trying to hush Tommy. "He's makin' it up. You know how much he likes to scare you."
"Yeah, Tommy," Kathryn shouted from beneath the house, her self-assurance returning. "Don't think you can fool me." This was followed by sounds of the girl creeping further back under the house.
"I don't wanna do this, Emmy," Tommy whispered, wiping one grubby hand across his cheek. "We could get in big trouble if Momma finds out."
"Sure, you want to do it," Emmy snapped. "Remember when she pushed you out of the tree, and then told Momma you tried to push her out, and fell out yourself? Momma just said that it served you right. And remember the time Uncle Jake was going to take us camping, and then Kathryn cut holes in the tents, and put the knives and stuff in our rooms? And what about all the times that she kicks us, and hits the dogs, and everything? She deserves it, Tommy, and any punishment we get will be worth it."
"You're right," Tommy mumbled. "It just makes me scared, that's all."
"Don't be a baby," Emmy told him.
Kathryn called from beneath the house. "I don't see it!"
"It was over in the corner when I saw it," Emmy shouted back. "Look harder!"
"I need a lantern. I'm coming back out!"
Emmy turned to Tommy. "Now's our chance! I'll hold the door shut, and you put the lock on it." She slammed the door before Tommy had a chance to respond, and he funbled frantically in his pocket for the padlock.
"Hey!" shouted Kathryn. "The door closed. Somebody open it, quick!"
"Got it," Tommy exclaimed, holding up the rusty lock, which was newly decorated with pocket lint, and what might have at one time been a bit of stick candy. He slid the lock onto the door catch, and snapped it closed.
"Hey!" Kathryn shouted again. "Hey! Don't lock the door! I'm still in here!"
"We know, " Emmy called sneeringly. "And we're not going to let you out until you promise to tell our momma the truth about all the bad stuff you said about us."
"Forget it!" the girl called back. "You let me out right this instant, or when I get out, I'll make you wish you had never been born!"
"Nope," Emmy returned, and began humming very loudly. She broke off and called, "Tommy wasn't lying about the spiders, either."
"You're crazy!" Kathryn yelled, a twinge of panic in her voice. "C'mon, it's dark in here. Let me out, please."
"No way," Tommy said, feeling a little courage now that the wicked witch was safely lost away, and proud that his imaginary spiders had been able to contribute to the Grand Plot. "You gotta promise, or those spiders will get you for sure, and no one would ever find you, not until you were a skeleton."
There was a long pause. "Okay," came the voice from inside, and this time it was the voice of someone who knows that they are fighting a losing battle. "I'll tell your mother the truth."
"Promise," demanded Emmy loudly.
The voice paused again, and when it spoke, it had a different tone. A confident one. "Okay, I promise I'll tell your mother the truth."
"You'll tell how you pushed Tommy out of the tree?" Emmy demanded."
"You'll tell how you cut up Uncle Jake's tents?"
"What about the time James broke his arm?"
"Look, I said I'll tell the truth, now please just let me out of here."
Emmy was silent for a while.
The young girl folded her arms across her chest. "I don't believe you."
"I think you're just saying you'll tell the truth so that we'll let you out."
Kathryn's voice had more than just a touch of panic; now, it sounded almost frantic. "Listen, if you don't let me out right now, I'm going to break this door down, and when I get out, I'm going to tell your mother, and your father, and even the police. They'll put you in jail! Do you know how long you can be put in jail for locking someone under the house?"
"No time," Emmy said smugly. "One time Daddy said that right now I can't go to jail for anything because I'm so young."
Before Kathryn could say anything else, Emmy turned and marched away, calling, "I'll give you some time to think about it."
Heh, heh. Momma was livid when she found out, and Daddy was even worse. Then found Kathryn before Tommy and me got back, you see, but by that time, the poor girl was so hoarse from screaming that she couldn't even talk. Her immaculate curls were all covered with cobwebs and dust, and her perfect nails were chipped and broken from scrabbling around in the dark. That girl had been absolutely terrified.
But Tommy an' me were even more terrified of Momma. She made us go out and pick switches off the willow tree, and then she switched our bare bottoms until them branches weren't good for nothin'. But even though it was three days before we could sit down without wincing, it had been well worth it.
The next time we saw Kathryn, she was so mad that...
"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't make you eat dirt," Kathryn said, brandishing a pearl white fist at Emmy. The other hand was busy pinching Tommy's neck in a place that both Kathryn and Emmy knew could kill somebody if that place were squeezed too hard. It was all in a 'true-life' comic book that Emmy had read before Kathryn had taken it from her on one winter's morning long ago. Tommy was already crouched on the ground in pain.
"Because," Emmy returned, smiling triumphantly. "You're afraid of the dark, and I'm not!"
"You ugly little beast," Kathryn snarled, her nostrils flaring. "You're more scared of the dark than I am, and you know it."
Emmy's face turned red. "That's a lie!"
"Oh yeah?" Kathryn fumed, throwing Tommy aside into the dirt. "Then why don't you go up to the gazebo at night?"
"Because," Emmy said smugly, knowing she was going to win this argument now. "I already know you're scared to. You wouldn't go for... for five bucks!"
"I would, too!" Kathryn retorted, feeling assured that Emmy wouldn't have five bucks, which to them was a good-sized fortune.
"I bet you five bucks that you can't go to the gazebo and look at it for three minutes without closing your eyes or running away."
"You don't have five bucks," Kathryn sneered.
"I do, too," Emmy said. "Uncle Ralph gave it to me a long time ago. It's in my savings."
"All right," Kathryn said. "It's a deal. See you tonight!"
Kathryn just marched off like she was the queen of the street. She had her nose stuck up high in the air, and them curls o' hers bouncin' all over the place. But she was scared, and me an' Tommy both knew it. The gazebo was spooky even back then. It was there, next to the old run-down plantation house. Nobody'd ever gotten around to tearin' down the house. And the gazebo just stood there, crumbling, old. It's built of solid brick, you know, and our mothers always told us never to go in, because the roof might come crashin' down on our heads. Funny, it hasn't fallen yet. Still standin', even though the house is tore down. I wonder why they left it...
Anyway, at night, the gazebo was REALLY spooky. People talked around town. Nobody ever got a straight story, but they always heard it from a friend of a relative, or a brother of a neighbor, that someone had seen misty shapes dancin' in it, dancin' the night away, all slow and quiet. Other people said it weren't so quiet. They said they could hear this tinny kinda music, kinda like an old music box.
There was ONE man who told us he saw somethin' there, told us to our faces. He said he was walkin' by there one night, not really doin' nothin, just on his way home (and this fella ain't never took a drink in his life, y'understand), and he said that as he walked by, somethin' startled him. He didn't know what it was, at first, he just kinda jumped. But then, he looked up, and he seen this skeleton standin' there in the gazebo, bones as white as parchment, just standin' there, starin' out across the field at him. Man ran like he had just seen Old Scratch himself, and he moved outa town several days later.
All these stories, we kids heard 'em, and these were stories the adults were tellin' us! The ones who came into our rooms and looked under our beds at night to make sure there were no monsters! The brave people! If somethin' was scarin' them, it had ta be real. And the stories we kids told amongst ourselves were even worse. Things about heads bein' chopped off, and seein' bodies lyin' all over that field in little pools of blood. Walkin' by there at night and seein' bodies everywhere, bodies that weren't there in the mornin'. That's what scared us kids.
So now you can see why Tommy and I were scared the night we snuck outa the house to meet Kathryn at the gazebo...
Tommy's eyes were beginning to droop. "Why isn't she here yet? I'm gettin' sleepy, and Momma's gonna be mad if we don't get home soon."
Emmy pressed her lips together tightly. "She prob'ly chickened out. She's too scared, Tommy. She's not coming."
Tommy scowled. "I bet I knew she wasn't coming. She's just a scaredy-cat."
"Maybe not," Emmy interjected. "Look." She pointed down the street. A light was swinging toward them, like someone carrying a lantern. Soon, the two of them could make out Kathryn walking toward them, a lantern swinging from her left hand.
"All right," she said when she came close. "Do you have the money?"
"I'm not stupid," Emmy said. "If I brought it, you would just take it. It's at home. I'll pay you if you can do it."
"You were supposed to bring it with you," Kathryn hissed.
Emmy sniffed. "That wasn't part of the deal. Now go over to the gazebo, or you don't get any money at all."
Kathryn scowled, and bit back several vicious retorts. "All right." She strode through the high grass, the heads tickling and scratching her legs. "There are probably ticks and chiggers in here! If there are, you'll regret it!" She drew within thirty yards of the gazebo.
Tommy and Emmy crouched in the grass to watch her. They could see her walking toward the gazebo, and then she stopped still. She was absolutely rigid. Emmy could see one of the girl's eyes, and it was wide open, staring, unblinking.
Emmy looked toward the gazebo. It was very dark, and a mist was settling cooly over the field, but inside the gazebo she could see translucent, white figures, in oddly human outlines. They seemed almost to be dancing as they swirled gracefully around each other, twisting and stretching and pirouetting. They seemed almost to be a crafting of the fog, but at the same time they were thinner, less there. The fog seemed solid in comparison. Emmy had the unnerving feeling in her gut that they were smiling hungrily at her. Instinctively, she cast her eyes down and huddled low in the grass. She pushed Tommy down beside her, and he did not protest.
As they crouched, terrified, trembling, their ears caught the sound of a tinny melody, almost like an old music box that had been wound up, and was now playing its metallic, charming tune for all who cared to listen, and for any who cared to dance. The crickets and wind went silent at its tone.
The two children heard only one other sound, and that was the rustle of grasses as Kathryn began walking. The sounds did not come nearer to them-Kathryn was approaching the gazebo! Something was pulling her, or calling for her to walk, into it.
At this realization, Emmy seized Tommy's hand and fled wordlessly down the streets, dragging him behind her but not looking back for fear of what she might see, not daring to listen for fear of what she might hear. The noise reached her ears anyway: the sound of Kathryn's scream.
I had nightmares about that scream for years to come; I still do. We never saw Kathryn again. Her parents had the police lookin' for her. They never found her, of course. Other people saw Kathryn, though. They saw her late at night, when they walked by the old gazebo. She wasn't quite herself, they said. She must have been happy, though. Why else would she be dancing?
I did find something in the field when I went out to look for her the next mornin'. It was this old music box, the wood all brown and rotting. I opened it up, and it played the tune that Tommy an' me had heard the night before.
What, child? No, it doesn't explain it all. It wasn't just a music box and the fog that scared us that night.
How do I know? Why, because of what else was in the music box. It was this little painted wooden figure, turnin' around, and around, and around. The face looked like it was screamin' in fear, but my dear, the head... it had these intricately carved wooden curls that were painted auburn, and as the carving of the little girl turned around, they seemed to bounce up and down.
So, child, if you really want to, go out tonight, and take a look into that old gazebo. Heaven knows I'm afeared to. Like as not, though, you might see Kathryn dancin' out there, dancin' still. Just don't look too closely...
The Gazebo copyright 2000 by Jason The Skunk.
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