She lived in a big blue house at the end of the road, with a big garden in the front and back.
Every so often a neighbor would hear her playing behind the big fence that surrounded the backyard. If one tried to peek over the fence they could just make out a swing hanging from a tall tree branch across the way from an unkempt garden.
Usually the people watching would try and peek when they heard the girl playing, but whenever they tried to get a closer look, she would be silent and out of sight.
It was only when they stopped looking that the sounds would sometimes return. Of course it would all stop again when they tried to peer over the fence to glance at the girl, so they eventually just stopped looking.
There were never any other sounds from the house, only a child playing from the backyard every so often. The house was unnaturally quiet otherwise.
All the people in the neighborhood, from the oldest man to the smallest child had seen her and knew about her. She was far too unusual for anyone not to notice, but not unusual enough for anyone to take an interest.
Every day at noon she would open the door and skip down the road. She always skipped, never walked to her destination. She would skip to one of the parks in the area, go around the entire perimeter, stop on a corner to draw something with chalk, and then skip right on home.
Sometimes she would head to places like a school or hospital, and sometimes she would go as far as the convenience store. It really didn't seem to matter where she ended up as long as there was a stretch of sidewalk for her to draw on.
People could always tell she had been somewhere by the art she left behind.
Her little drawings varied every day. The color palate she used also changed daily and usually matched her clothes. Sometimes she drew people or animals, other times she drew a flowers or a landscape, and other times it was a pretty abstract sort of image.
The style changed too, much to the surprise of the art critics that trod upon her chalky images. Sometimes her drawings were crude and childlike, and other times her art looked like a professional artist did them.
Her pictures may have been different in theme, but each one shared one like element: a strange blue and white swirl that seemed to dance around whatever other subject was depicted. That part of the drawing was always crafted with the most care and detail.
Whatever it was, it was quite pretty. Looking at it made anyone feel lighter somehow, even though she never explained what it was.
People often tried to ask her what that strange swirl was. One person asked if it was something in the ocean or that maybe the picture was someone or something under water while another person thought it might have been wind.
No answer was ever given, or at least no one could ever remember being given an answer which made her an interesting topic of conversation among the residents of the neighborhood.
“I’d be willing to bet that she has some form of learning disability,” one woman once said, “The kind that requires homeschooling and special care, you know?”
It was a dubious conclusion to come to, but there was little anyone could work with.
“Her parents are probably pretty weird, like a hippie and an artist or something. You know the type, free loving and all that,” her husband said. “Just look at the way she dresses.”
It would appear to anyone that she was an average girl of average intelligence and average looks. She had tawny colored hair that sat in waves bouncing atop her heap with each step, sometimes it was tied with a ribbon that matched her clothes. She wore a brightly colored shirt with a different color each day of the week.
Purple was worn on Saturday, orange on Monday, red on Tuesday, blue for Wednesday, pink on Thursday, yellow on Friday and a tie-dyed rainbow ensemble on Saturday.
The person who first noted that was quite proud of the discovery.
She also had a black skirt and little black shoes that made a crisp 'clack-click' whenever she skipped along the pavement.
If it rained, she would wander around underneath a pristine white umbrella. She couldn’t draw on the pavement during the rain, but her wandering seemed even more random. She would be seen skipping quickly from corner to corner staring down at one section of wet sidewalk before skipping away to another. It was as if the rain upset her equilibrium or something.
In the winter when it snowed she would walk in circles making footprints in the snow.
She seemed to be about ten, if her height and antics were anything to go by, but it was hard to really be sure as no one saw her at school. People suspected she was homeschooled.
In spite of her colorful and timely attire the one thing that never changed about her was a silver whistle that rested around her neck. She would sometimes blow on it as if it was the only way she could speak, usually when someone asked her a question.
It wasn’t her only form of communication. She did talk to people with actual words now and again, but usually the whistle was her choice method of addressing others.
Not that she did that often.
She never carried a backpack or book bag. Her things were held in a sturdy old shoe box that had been decorated with paints and clay of all colors.
It was never the same box, at least not twice in a row. She had all kinds, long thin ones, big fat ones, some that looked brand new, and others that looked like they were made in the seventies with faded patterns.
Anyone who happened to stop and watch her draw her washable art would always see the same thing inside every box. A few pieces of chalk for her many drawings, a pencil sharpened to perfection, a bit of bread, some water, and a candle made of beeswax.
People would sometimes ask why she carried a candle, but she never answered apart from a trill of the whistle, she was too focused on her drawings to look up or speak.
No one quite knew what to say to her. Whenever people would go up to her with the intent of asking a question, it always seemed to pitter out of their heads, and they would simply stop and look at her drawing for a bit before leaving her be.
In a suburban neighborhood, things become regular very easily. The people of that particular area held the girl in the same regard they would a neighborhood squirrel. It’s just there and it’s not hurting anybody or causing any trouble so why bother to pay too much attention?
The people of the neighborhood didn't see any real reason to do anything about what she did. She seemed healthy, never hurt in any way, happy and always energetic, there was nothing to indicate she was in trouble at home or under any sort of duress and looking for an escape.
Perhaps her parents were simply reclusive or afraid of other people, working from the internet. Or maybe she lived with an elderly grandparent.
If anyone did consider calling child services, the thought would always get squashed fairly soon. They all had lives of their own, and they were far too busy to get involved in someone else’s life.
In the end it came down to a matter of priorities.
People had jobs to get to, and sports games to watch. There were lawns to mow and dinner to be cooked. Hair appointments had to be kept and new shoes to be bought. Busy, busy people had no reason to pay much attention to the eccentric, little girl that drew on the sidewalk on a humid summer’s day. She was a curiosity at best.
In the back of their minds they knew that she would ask for help if she needed it. Once, Charlie Pickering decided to pick on her, and stomped on her chalk and pushed her over. She blew her whistle so loud that everyone in a mile radius could hear it, and people began to come to her rescue. Of course when they tried to ask if she was alright, she had already skipped off back home. Charlie Pickering got hauled off by his ears and was told that if he ever bothered her again he would getn earful from every mother in town. He tended to avoid her after that.
She rarely ever spoke, preferring her whistle to her vocal chords. Because she never said her name, people took to calling her the shoebox girl.
And she seemed to take to the title as well, for whenever someone said, "Oh look, there's the shoebox girl!" She would trill her whistle in acknowledgement, skip away and find a place to draw.
Even though the shoebox girl was like a constant shadow, always there doing the strange things she did, every so often someone would look at her skipping along and wonder about her.
Where were her parents? Did she even have any? Did she go to school? If she was alone, how did she eat? What went on in that big house she lived in? What was her name?
That was what Joanne Reesi wanted to find out.
Joanne was a perfectly normal girl of twelve, except that she had a head on her shoulders that was a few years too old for her. She was stubborn, level-headed, and often got exasperated with things she didn't understand.
And she was often exasperated with the shoebox girl.
She would often see her, skipping along and drawing on her corner of the sidewalk, wondering why she did what she did. Her parents told her to be nice to the strange girl, since their daughter had gotten herself into trouble with her sharp mind and even sharper tongue in the past.
Sometimes she could ignore the oddities that leapt out at her and made her cause trouble. She managed to hold her tongue and not tell Bobby Briggs how stupid he was because he couldn’t count past a hundred. And she nearly died when she held back the fact that Amanda Pinetree’s pigtails were uneven and made her head look lopsided. But this whole shoebox girl was something she could not ignore.
Finally, one hot summer day, she could take it no longer. Joanne stomped up to the strange girl drawing on the pavement, and looked at her solidly. At first, as she approached, her question wavered slightly like heat bouncing off the pavement, but she held on to it tightly and was able to keep it in her head.
"Why are you so weird?" She said firmly.
The girl looked up from her drawing, confused as to why she was asked such a thing.
"Well?" Joanne said, still quite firm.
The girl blinked, picked up all her things, placed them carefully in the little box, and stood to her full height, which wasn't that much. She looked the other girl straight in the eye and began to softly blow her whistle.
Annoyed, Joanne reached up and knocked the whistle out of the other girl's mouth.
"Stop that!" She snapped. "I want an answer. Why do you do such weird stuff?"
There was a long pause, and the shoebox girl gave Joanne an odd look.
"I'm an alien," She said in a small but clear voice before smiling and skipping off.
Joanne stared after her. Not only had the shoebox girl actually said something, but she answered her question, sort of.
But being the sensible girl that she was, Joanne didn't believe in aliens. She was sure that the strange, nameless girl had simply pulled a joke on her to avoid the question. Joanne realized this a fraction of a moment after the strange girl had gone out of sight, and that annoyed her greatly.
She went home in a rather sullen mood.
"I talked to the shoebox girl today," she said to her parents later that evening.
Her mother and father exchanged worried looks, as this wasn't the first time their daughter had gone up to someone to reprimand them about what they'd been doing.
Their daughter had a reputation, when people were being nice they called her opinionated. What they called Joanne after a usual encounter with her isn’t suitable for sensitive ears.
"She said that she was an alien," Joanne went on, not noticing her parent's distress. "Why would she say something stupid like that? It doesn't make any sense no matter how hard I think about it.”
Her mother smiled softly. “Perhaps you shouldn’t think about it. It’s better to let people express themselves how they choose to and accept them for who they choose to be. That girl isn’t hurting anyone, so there’s no need to harass her.”
Joanna gave her mother a miffed expression.
“I know she’s eccentric, Mom. It’s just that I want to understand why she’s all eccentric like that.” Joanne explained. “I want to try and ask her again tomorrow."
This only served to send her mother and father into even more of a panic, as they knew anything their daughter did could escalate into just about anything. "If she wants to pretend to be an alien we should let her." Her mother said carefully. "She shouldn't have to be told she's wrong. Imagination has no wrong answer."
"She didn't say she was pretending to be an alien," Joanne argued. "I asked her name and she said she was an alien. It's all way too weird. I also don't get why I didn't follow her, maybe her answer caught me so off guard I forgot to think for a moment."
Her mother and father both sighed, knowing there wasn't much they could do when their bullheaded daughter was fixated on something.
"Just promise us you won't do anything to upset her." Her father said. "She's obviously a 'special' child." He used finger quotes around the word special, which his wife frowned at. "Too much trauma could be bad for her."
Joanne grumpily ate her dinner as her mother changed the subject.
The next day, Joanne returned to the park in the hopes of finding the shoebox girl again. She wasn't there, but Joanne heard from some other kids that she had been seen skipping around the school area.
It only took a few minutes of walking in the direction they pointed when she finally spotted her across the street, drawing her little chalk drawings. Her shoebox, this one painted a bright red, sat next to her.
Once again Joanne stomped over to her and gave her a stare, her arms crossed over her chest.
"You're not an alien." She said sourly. "Aliens don't exit. So what are you for real?"
It took a moment for the shoebox girl to pause in her drawing, put her things away and stand up to meet Joanne in the eyes again. She looked like she was going to blow her whistle like last time, but was interrupted.
"Don't blow that thing at me!" Joanne barked. "And don't say you're an alien this time. I'm telling you to say who you really are."
The shoebox girl stared at her, as though trying to figure something out. After a minute, she finally settled on what to say this time.
“Yes, you’re right. I’m not an alien, and it was rude of me to say that I was one.”
Her words caused Joanne to make a rather nonplussed face.
“Yes, you were rude, but it’s good that you’re willing to admit you’re not an alien,” Joanne said with a haughty grin. “There would never be a real alien around here.”
“I know what you mean. It’s plain to see that the actual aliens live in the cemetery,” the shoebox girl continued with a smile. “They’re very shy and can only seem to speak to people who are dead. Sometimes I’ll wave to them if I pass by, but they never wave back.”
There was a multitude of things Joanna wanted to say to that, but instead she stood there with her mouth open.
"I'm a witch." The shoebox girl said this time, skipping off with her things.
Joanne was confused and angry. Somehow that weird little shoebox freak had managed to give her a stupid answer and leave again and Joanne hadn’t been able to stop her.
"How does she do that?" She wondered aloud.
Later at dinner when she posed the same question to her parents, they simply gave her a strange look.
"She didn't do anything." Her mother said. "You were the one who decided not to follow her."
"But I didn't want to not follow her." Joanne insisted. "I wanted to chase after her and demand some real answers, which I deserve by the way. I just couldn’t move. It was so strange, as though I was out of my body for a minute and wouldn’t come back until she was out of sight."
Her dad gave a chuckle. "So you say you had an out-of-body-experience, eh?" He said, giving her a look she hated, one that said 'you silly girl'. "Maybe you simply decided you didn't want to bother her and you empathized with that."
Joanne gave her dad an annoyed look. She didn’t like when her father or anyone at all spoke to her in a mocking voice. She hated being treated like she was a dumb baby. The more she thought about it, that shoebox girl did just that.
“That girl is so annoying.” She said dryly. “She actually told me that real aliens live in the graveyard because they are too shy to talk to living people!”
For the rest of the night her parents offered wild alternatives to what the shoebox girl could have meant by that. Her mother thought the shoebox girl was using the term ‘alien’ as a metaphor for being different. Her father made jokes like, “Your conversation with the girl was certainly dead and buried!” Joanne’s parents thought they were clever and funny, but they got old quickly so Joanne went to bed early that night thinking of the strange shoebox girl.
The next day she woke with more determination than ever to get a real answer out of the shoebox girl.
She set out to find her after lunch and found her sitting on a shady corner three blocks from the school.
This time Joanne decided to take the subtle approach and went up to her quietly. Maybe sneaking up on her from behind would put her off guard and get her to answer the questions. The sound of cicadas echoing through the trees muffled her footsteps as she tiptoed up right behind the shoebox girl.
“Are you going to tell me that the witches really live in the libraries or something?” She asked once she was close enough.
Joanne had to admit that the little jump the shoebox girl did was pretty satisfying. But it didn't last, as the girl once again put her things in the shoebox, and stood up to her full height.
This time around, Joanne noticed that her full height wasn't all that much, even compared to the other girl. She really was a tiny thing. On top of that, she was quite skinny, to the point where if she jumped high enough she would get caught in the breeze.
This time the shoebox girl didn't even bother with her whistle and let it dangle.
She tilted her head with a puzzled expression. “That would be a silly thing to say. Especially since witches manage street lights.”
Joanne wondered if she could be driven crazy talking to someone infuriating like this.
"What's wrong with you?" She demanded. "Why are you messing with me?"
“I don’t mean to.” the shoebox girl said with a sad expression on her face.
“So will you give me a solid answer? Who are you?”
There was a long silence that seemed to stretch forever. Joanne didn’t carry a watch, but if she had, she wondered if it would’ve stopped.
"I'm a ghost."
And again, she took her shoebox and skipped off, while Joanne stared after her, confused once again at both the response and her lack of reaction.
She wanted to react, every bone in her young body wanted to chase after her and demand an answer, but her body seemed to stop listening, only letting up when the girl rounded the corner.
It was like she really was a witch, and put a weird spell on her or something.
The whole thing was so unnerving she couldn't even bring it up to her parents as they ate dinner. When they asked about her day she simply told them that she went to the park, watched the turtles float in the pond, saw the ice cream truck and the like - simple summer things.
That night, she lay in her bed, contemplating the whole thing. Nothing about it made any sense. Each answer got more and more ludicrous, a ghost? That was just a bizarre thing to say. Not even the kids in her class pretended they were ghosts. And witches? She had heard stories of old voodoo queens in the community that would cast spells on people with a doll and a pin. But the little girl carried a shoebox, not an old rag doll. Besides, those were old wives tales meant to scare little kids and Joanne Risus was no dumb child.
“She’s a stupid Martian ghost-witch.” Joanne said as she threw her pillow across the room.
Joanne’s mind was reeling. Ghost or witch or whatever, that girl was definitely a weirdo. That was the only thing Joanne knew for certain.
Yet every time she thought seriously about it, Joanne knew there was more to her than just a weird girl who carried a shoebox around all the time and drew on the sidewalk and communicated with a whistle. But when she scrunched her eyes together to concentrate and really figure it out, her headache just got worse and worse, so she left it alone for the rest of the night, and went to sleep.
But the thoughts were waiting for her when she woke up.
Eating her breakfast, she came to a decision to try a different approach than the other times she confronted the strange child, or anyone for that matter. She would try to be polite.
Joanne walked out her front door and was surprised to see the shoebox girl almost in front of her house on the corner of the sidewalk drawing.
She was out early.
It was more than strange for Joanne to think that the shoebox girl had anticipated this, but in retrospect it was certainly better than waiting. Little Miss Risus was never as patient as one would like after all.
Steeling herself, Joanne walked over to the girl who'd been dodging her questions. The scratching sound of her chalk on the pavement seemed too loud for some reason, as though there was no other sound to dampen it out.
“You’re not a ghost.” She said as calmly as she could. “If you were, you wouldn’t be able to pick up that shoebox of yours.” Joanne forced a smile on her face.
There was a moment of silence.
“You’re right.” the shoebox girl said. “The real ghosts live by the hospital, the ones that aren’t in the graveyard keeping the aliens company that is. The nice see-though people that others don’t pay attention to sometimes help them along, but overall they just stay there and pester the nurses.”
Joanne felt her brain spin, but she steeled herself and did not falter.
"Can I have a real answer now? It'd be nice after all the weird answers, you know."
She didn't bother yelling, having gotten tired of the constant responses. She also had to admit that her normal approach was a bit off-putting. Her mother always said so anyways. Maybe a soft sell would render better results.
The shoebox girl gave a smile, which struck Joanne as odd somehow. But her actions were the same; she gathered her things and stood up. Her shiny whistle hung around her neck and seemed to sparkle as she spoke.
"I'm a fairy." she said this time as she turned to skip away.
This time though, Joanne was ready. She reached out and grabbed the girl's arm before she could get too far out of reach. Her anger at being made fun of made her patience end. All she wanted was an answer that made sense, and by golly, she was going to get it!
"Stop messing with me!" She yelled. "There is no such thing as aliens, witches, ghosts or fairies. I'm not stupid, now stop lying about what you are and tell me what your name is?"
The shoebox girl stared at Joanne, an uncertain look on her face, as if she was trying to find the best words to use to respond.
Finally, she settled on, "If I tell you what I really am, you won't believe me."
At first, Joanne wasn't sure how to react that that, but she quickly recovered and snapped, "You're right, I probably won't."
For some reason, that seemed to satisfy the other girl. Maybe it was the honesty; maybe it was the fact that Joanne was admitting that she was bullheaded at times. Either way, it seemed to do the trick.
If only the answer given made sense.
"I don't have a name."
That confused Joanne even more than the silly responses. No name? That couldn't be true, but the look on her face said that it was. She'd heard that some parents waited a while to name their kids, but to never have one at all… ever?
"Or at least I don’t have an official one anyway." The shoebox girl continued. "People gave me names over the years, though."
"You mean 'shoebox girl'?" Joanne asked.
"No, I mean way before that."
This was making less and less sense the more Joanne talked to the little weirdo. But it was still progress of a sort, so she persisted.
"How long ago before that do you mean?"
The shoebox girl paused to think about it.
"I mean, when people first learned things."
What was that supposed to mean?
Joanne felt like she wanted to tear her hair out. This didn't make any sense. Nothing the oddity of a child said was remotely understandable. Just when it seemed like the young Miss Risus was getting somewhere, the shoebox girl would come up with something like this. It was one step forward, two steps back.
The nameless girl seemed to notice Joanne's plight, and her features suddenly stiffened as though she'd just remembered something.
"The answer is at my house."
She pointed down to the end of the road where her big blue house sat innocently waiting. Joanne wasn't too keen on going in the house, but had a feeling it was the only way to get a real answer.
"Why should I believe this is safe?" She asked the other girl.
"Because I'm assuring you it is."
Considering her track record, that wasn't reassuring, but Joanne let out a sigh and turned back to her own house.
"Fine, let me go tell my mom where I'm going."
It was a short wait as the only delay Joanne had to go through was from her mother's baffled expression when she said the shoebox girl invited her over.
“Be polite, Joanne. Mind your manners. And be home in time for dinner.”
It was actually kind of funny the way she tried to pass it off as a casual thing.
But she got permission, and as her mother watched from the porch, that baffled expression still on her face, Joanne headed back over to the shoebox girl who was still waiting for her on the corner. It was like she hadn't even moved at all.
As they walked and skipped down the road, the shoebox girl clung tightly to her things and glanced at Joanne every so often. It made things a little uncomfortable.
“So…” Joanne said awkwardly, wanting to fill the void of silence. “What do fairies really do? You tell me what witches and ghosts and aliens do and where they live, but you didn’t get to talk about fairies. They live in gardens or something?”
“They prefer dusty places, like stores that sell old things and buildings that hadn't been used in ages.”
There was another awkward pause, and Joanne didn’t want to say anything this time out or worry over what on earth she could possibly say this time. It was like something was pressing on her nerves and making her mind race and body shiver.
Thankfully, as the blue house loomed into view, the shoebox girl spoke up first.
"You're different. You're focused on where you are more than what you're doing."
Joanne blinked. "So?"
"Most people get distracted, and can't help me. It's easy to forget things when things move so fast. When I'm like this I can't stop it from happening."
Questions rang through Joanne's brain, ones that she couldn't resist voicing in a voice so hurried, her questions all came out in a big pile of word soup.
"What do you mean? When you're like what? Stop what from happening? Do you need help from something? What does 'when things move fast' mean? Can you talk so both of us know what's going on, please?"
The shoebox girl looked like she really wanted to answer, but couldn't. So she went on skipping just slightly ahead of Joanne until they finally walked up to the big blue house.
It was even more imposing right in front than down the block. Joanne could sort of see that the windows inside were covered up by ugly looking curtains, and the paint looked like it was going to start peeling off at any moment.
Joanne held back in calling the house a dump. It didn't look bad whenever she passed by it before, why did it look so bad now that she wanted to enter?
They walked up the porch steps, which creaked under their weight. On the porch there was one of those swings that hung from the ceiling, but this one looked like sitting on it would land you on one of those shows where people film other people doing stupid things.
The shoebox girl grabbed ahold of the door handle and pulled it open. The door creaked even louder than the stairs.
The sound ran up her spine, and Joanne was ready for just about anything that could have been inside the house… except for what turned out to actually be there.
The shoebox girl held out her hand in a 'welcome to my humble abode' gesture, but one look was enough to halt anyone in their tracks. Joanne's eyes nearly bugged out of her head as she looked inside the house.
It was completely overgrown by all kinds of plants.
"What happened?" Joanne asked. "Did the garden get too much fertilizer?"
The shoebox girl simply stared into the house.
"It's because people in this neighborhood forgot," she said. "All the fastness and busyness made them forget, and they're too distracted to do anything about it. Because of that there's less fun. You were different, focused. Maybe not quite on the right thing, but focused all the same. You can help me. The real me anyway, I'm not supposed to look like this.”
Joanne was beyond lost, but continued listening.
"I'm stuck you see, and I need help to get un-stuck. It's in there, but I can't get it free. I need someone a little more solid. That's you. You have to find me in there, get me out, and everything will be alright again. I can only do it with you, cause you're too stubborn to forget about things, even if you don't mean to be.”
Joanne didn't understand what that meant. She decided not to ask for clarification, mostly because she knew the answer would just leave her with more questions.
Instead, she took a step forward and reached out. The plants were cold and a little scratchy, as though they were missing something to be real. It was unsettling, so Joanne pulled away.
She turned around, only to find the shoebox girl was gone.
"What-?" She managed to choke out from her throat. She didn't even hear her walk away, how could she have left without making a sound, especially the way she skips all the time?
Joanne sighed and turned back to the ugly plants, confused as to what the girl had been trying to tell her.
Her words rang through her head. She obviously wanted - needed - her help with something, but what it was exactly was anyone's guess. She mentioned forgetting, did that mean there was something inside to help them remember?
Did she have to go in there?
The idea of crawling around in that strange house filled to the brim with unsettling and hard to identify plants wasn't Joanne's idea of a good time, but she came for answers and the only way to get them was by going in.
Seeing no other course of action, she bent down and began to crawl through the foliage.
It was a little bit humiliating, made awkward by the fact that she was indoors. Her pant knees were getting dirty, her hands had already developed a few scratches from fallen greens, and she had no idea where she was going.
Eventually, she bumped into a couch. It was rotted and there were springs sticking out everywhere, but it was a couch. That meant she was getting somewhere at least. A little more feeling around near the couch led her to the window, which had some kind of black glass, keeping her from seeing the outside.
As she navigated through and found more pieces of furniture, the indoor jungle got even denser. The floor was soft like soil, and she wondered if there were even any floorboards in the house anymore.
What's more, she just kept going, like the inside of the house went on for miles. It wasn't possible outside of science fiction.
Nothing about this made sense.
As she crawled, Joanne wondered about the shoebox girl. How could anyone live in this? She never looked like she crawled through a forest every day. And she always seemed to have what she needed in terms of food and clothing.
It didn't add up.
Was she even human? Could she really have been those things she said she was? Was she telling the truth the whole time?
It didn't matter at the moment because Joanne was lost and had no idea where to go next.
Just when she felt like she might be lost in the jungle house forever, she found something different from the strange plants and old furniture.
It was a wooden box, roughly the same size as Joanne when she was crouched down and curled up tight. There was a curved design in the wood that kind of looked like those swirls the shoebox girl drew on the pavement, and a big iron lock kept it firmly closed.
The lock looked pretty old, but there wasn't a hole for a key to fit into. There was no indication as to what might open it.
Joanne had a feeling this was the reason the shoebox girl sent her into the house, now all she needed was to crack open a box.
She gave the lock an experimental tug, but it held fast.
Her actions caused the box itself to rattle around, and Joanne could hear something soft and light inside it tumble around.
If the shoebox girl's 'real self' was in there, then she must have been made of air.
Stuck on how to open the box, she thought about what the shoebox girl said. The real her was stuck and needed to get out, because other people were too busy 'cause things were too fast in life.
It was even more confusing when she tried to make sense of it.
Joanne tried to think back to something else she might have said, but all that came to mind were the times that she was left perplexed at the shoebox girl's inane answers.
Though, if she were going to be honest with herself, it was kind of funny.
The image of herself standing on the corner while the shoebox girl skipped off suddenly sprang into her mind. She must have looked so stupid then, getting her just desserts for being so abrasive and rude to her.
Joanne wondered if other people must have thought the same thing about her as she saw the same confused and flustered look on her mom's face just a little while ago when she said she was going to the shoebox girl's house.
A bubbling feeling erupted in her stomach, something she hadn't done in a while. It felt like an old friend who went away.
Joanne wasn't sure why, but it was suddenly so funny. Her actions towards the shoebox girl, it was suddenly strange just how silly the encounters really were.
She took the whole mystery of some girl she’d never met so seriously, she forgot that she was a kid. And now she was in an indoor jungle trying to figure out how to open a box for a fairy. Or was she an alien? The whole thing was so amazing that there was only one way to react to it just then.
She started laughing.
She laughed harder than she could even remember, as though all the pent up laughs were spilling over just happy to be released. As she laughed, the box began to shake, the wood cracked a little at first, then a lot.
Before Joanne even knew what was happening, the lock broke into a thousand pieces, and the box flew open. Inside wasn't air or cloth or anything, but a strange feeling that surged through the air and seeped into her skin. It was so happy and joyous that it overpowered the whole room. Soon Joanne's laughter was joined by the sound of thousands of other laughs, each more amazing to hear than the last.
The feeling bursting from the open chest blasted all the plants away. Joanne felt her hair get blown back by the amazing feeling that carried up and up, until the roof seemed to blow clear off, and the feeling soared into the sky.
It was all so amazing and intense and it could be felt in every molecule of her body. Joanne felt her body get sleepy, and the world went black.
Even as she passed out, that amazing feeling lingered in her body and slowly flowed out of her consciousness until she couldn’t feel anything else but herself.
When her eyes opened next she was in her yard. Her mother stood over her, a confused look on her face as Joanne stirred from what looked like a nap in the grass. It was so unlike her daughter that there was a legitimate cause for confusion.
"Joanne, what are you doing here?" Her mother asked. "I thought you were at that girl's house? What happened?"
Joanne sat up in the grass, confused. She glanced down the street and saw the big blue house on the end of the road sitting like it normally did, except...
Something seemed lighter about the big house. She couldn't put her finger on it, but Joanne could tell. The same feeling was in her own body, a feeling of lightness.
"Well young lady?" Her mother asked. "What happened with the shoebox girl?"
She blinked, thinking for a moment before turning to her mother and smiling.
"Not much," she said laughing a bit, "Just some fun stuff."
Joanne never saw the girl again after that day.
No one did.
People took notice of the lack of drawings on the sidewalk, and the no longer present 'clack- click' sound of her shoes skipping on the sidewalk.
After a while, someone else moved into the house, a friendly family of five.
Naturally, people began to wonder where the girl went. Maybe she moved, maybe something happened to her, maybe she simply left. But as time passed they began to think less and less of the strange shoebox girl.
It wasn’t the kind of ‘thinking less of someone’ that normally happened to people. Everyone forgot about her and didn’t think about her anymore.
Soon enough her memory was nothing but a whisper in the back of their minds; there but not quite tangible. What was more, as her presence faded from the suburb, something seemed to happen to the other residents.
It wasn’t long before people began to take walks more often, the smell of barbecues got more frequent, and people visited other people.
People laughed more.
The girl’s sidewalk drawings might have been absent, but the neighborhood children did their part to replace hers. The sidewalk was covered with art faster than ever.
Joanne seemed to have changed as well. She was less preoccupied with telling people off than before, much to the joy of her parents. She began to do things for the sake of doing them.
She took up hobbies, began drawing more, even started a collection of marbles and learned how to actually play the game. She began to put up her drawings on the wall, even a few posters she liked. She spoke to other children in her class more often, and was less abrasive.
Though she didn’t see the shoebox girl ever again, she did see other things. It wasn’t a big change in her world view, she didn’t see fairies leaping out at her out of the corners of dusty rooms or witches flying everywhere as the streetlight changed, but it was still enough for her to remember what happened that day.
During one particular outing with her family they had to pass by the hospital and got stuck behind some other cars. Joanne wasn’t really paying attention at first, but then she began to notice something strange.
A flash of movement caught her attention, but she looked up to find nothing. It happened a second time and this time she moved slower. What she saw surprised her.
Out of the corner of her eyes she could see people that vanished from her vision when she looked directly at them.
Overcome with excitement, she tried turning her head this way and that a few times, hoping to catch another glimpse of the strange sight. But whoever or whatever they were, they were long gone by then.
“What’s wrong sweetheart?” Her mother asked, noticing Joanne’s odd head motions.
“It’s nothing mom, just noticing something for the first time,” Joanne said as the car began moving again.
Another time she felt something strange about the world was when she was passing by the cemetery that was between where she needed to go. A small yet powerful thought entered her mind. As she looked at the mossy headstones, she could not resist raising a hand and waving to the unseen figure that might be there.
It wasn’t a big change in her world view, she didn’t see fairies leaping out at her from the flowers or witches flying everywhere, but it was still enough for her to remember what happened that day.
But unlike everyone else, the shoebox girl never once faded to the back of her mind.
She still wasn't a hundred percent sure what happened that day, but knew that nothing could change how wonderful it was.
One day, a year after the disappearance of the shoebox girl, a package arrived for Joanne. There was no name on the box, but the return address was from the big blue house at the end of the lane.
It was a shoebox, painted with white and blue swirling patterns on every inch of it.
Sitting in the shoebox was a silver whistle.