The evening was cool and lovely, a slight breeze rustled the trees, making the leaves ripple and carrying that wonderful woodsy scent to where Angela stood in the doorway enjoying the sunset.
“Shut the door! You’re letting the air conditioning out!” snapped Aunt Lou from the family room where the television was yammering.
Angela stepped out quickly, closing the door behind her. Aunt Lou’s voice followed her. “Don’t you stay out there in the dark! Last night you came in covered in mosquito bites!” Angela walked faster.
It was only a few steps through the neatly clipped yard to where the forest waited. It crowded up against the wire fence, vines growing up the posts, branches leaning over and dropping leaves onto the lawn. Angela slipped out the gate and took a deep breath. Under the trees it was already night, cool and mysterious. Angela made her way to her favorite spot, enjoying the way the old leaves crunched underfoot. When she reached the decaying log, she sat in the hollow that was just the right size and leaned against the crooked branch that seemed made for her back. Here she was completely alone but never as lonely as she was inside that house crowded with people. The trees made companionable noises, creaking and rustling and scratching.
Angela let herself relax, trying to forget another long day of frantic vacation activity. It had been a long string of guided tours and souvenir shops, of scuttling from air conditioned bus to stale overcrowded restaurant. Angela wasn’t sure why Uncle John and Aunt Lou had chosen such a remote vacation spot if they never wanted to be outdoors. Their idea of spending time in nature had been taking all the children down to the city pool, to lounge in chairs set up on fenced in concrete while the children splashed in overchlorinated water.
The crickets started up their nightly song. Angela sighed. She had better get back. Aunt Lou would expect all the kids to be in bed soon. “I wish I could sleep out here with you,” Angela whispered, running her hand over the smooth bole of a young tree. She thought of the stifling room she shared with three of her young cousins. Stella slept with a fan constantly running, and Izzy snored. The hanging vines brushed Angela’s dark hair as she made her slow way back to the house. “See you tomorrow night,” she said.
In the darkness, Angela couldn’t see the vines waving at her as the trees above leaned together to whisper.
It was hard to fall asleep in the tightly sealed house. So it was that Angela was the only one awake, lying in bed wishing she could open a window, when the front door banged open. Stella snorted and Izzy rolled over, mumbling, but no one seemed to have woken up. Angela crept down the hall to see what had happened, her white nightgown fluttering around her in an unexpected breeze. In the living room, moonlight was flooding in through the open door. Leaves had blown in and were now littering the floor. No one was around. Angela thought what a strong wind it must have been to have blown open the door. She slipped across, thinking to shut the door and lock it this time. If Aunt Lou found out she hadn’t locked it when she came in, Angela would have to endure an hour’s lecture. She sighed. She was going to have to clean up all these leaves, too. For a moment, Angela stood in the doorway enjoying the air. Then she reached for the door. Her hand found leaves instead.
Angela looked closer. The door was wrapped in vines. For a second, she just stared at the leaves. Then a tendril of ivy swayed forward and caressed her cheek.
When local authorities answered the 911 call, they had to cut their way through a thick stand of trees only to find a house that looked as if it had been abandoned years before. The windows were all broken. Flowering plants grew in the halls. Vines tangled through the cabinets. Dried leaves littered everything. If it weren’t for the muffled sounds coming from the bedrooms, the emergency workers wouldn’t have known anyone was still there. A family of mice skittered away as the workers moved down the hall. On the beds, they found the family, wrapped up tight in vines thick as ropes. They were all unharmed, though terrified. The oldest girl still gripped the cell phone she had used to make the call, though it, too was now hidden by the leaves.
The family were all cut free and carried from the house. They were already in the ambulances when the mother called out, “Wait! Angela! Where is Angela?”
“Who is Angela, ma’am?”
“My niece. Her parents are gone. It was our turn to have her this summer. She was in the room with the other girls.”
But no one had seen Angela. And even a thorough search of the house and woods turned up no sign. The police eventually concluded that she had run away before the unexplainable “event”.
The “event” was something no one wanted to talk about. Certainly no one ever visited the quickly rotting house now surrounded by forest. But from time to time, adventurous kids came close, and sometimes they came home with stories of a ghost who lived among the vines and branches. A ghost with a white dress and long dark hair.