I hid the locket away in my dresser drawer, folded away between two folded of socks. Two days later Hank was curled under the bed, as if there was a thunderstorm outside, and I found the locket intertwined into the nametag of his collar. Under the bed was dark, but his whiskers looked greyer than usual.
I removed it with gloves and brought it to Abigail.
“You found it!” She shouted. “Where has it been?”
“I kept it in one of my drawers, did you move it?”
“No Miss Mary, you have to keep it in the treasure box.” She said as if it was a well known fact.
"Why is that?”
“Because that’s where she belongs. That’s where they all belong. She talks to the others in there.”
“Yes Miss Mary. They’re all in there.”
Then she took the locket, and put it back into her treasure chest. And for months, I forgot about it. Until her birthday.
I had never celebrated Abigail’s birthday as a teacher. It was May 28th, too deep in the summer for her to be in class. She was turning nine, and for her year before the introduction of double digits I suggested we throw a party.
“Bridget and I would love a party!” She exclaimed, and for the rest of that afternoon we wrote invitations. Abigail insisted we send them to everyone she had met in school since kindergarten, plus some extras, so by the end of the day there were seventy envelopes around the table. Her party was in a week, so we mailed them the next day, stamped and addressed.
I didn’t have the heart to tell here, but sixty five of the letters were returned in the mail two days before her party. Abigail had accidentally added an extra digit to the zip code on them.
I hoped that she would have forgotten about the party, but that was all she would talk about.
“Bridget’s so exited,” She said the day before, “Do you think people will bring us presents?”
“I’m sure they will,” I replied.
“She’s ready for gifts! We can’t wait!”
“Abigail, I’m not sure how big this party is going to be. I think a lot of people may be out of town.”
“It’s OK Miss Mary. Bridget says that everyone that she wants to come will be there.”
Then the day arrived, and the doorbell rang five times.
First, was Thomas, the brute who had forced Abigail to hold the Nazi button in kindergarten.
Second was Natalie, followed shortly by Jane, who had stolen Abigail’s pen.
Fourth and fifth were two children I didn’t recognize, Riley and David, but Abigail said were from her first grade class. I had heard their names before at night when she cried in her sleep.
Five letters had been sent, and the five visitors were here. Abigail smiled wide and clapped her hands, seemingly unaware the sole guests were her tormentors.
Though there were party games, they sat in silence at the kitchen table. Natalie and Jane huddled together while Thomas picked at a scab on his forearm.
I watched over them, protective of Abigail, and cut the double layer cake into portion size pieces. Never before had I seen children their age so still or so quiet.
They ate. Any conversation echoed off the walls and died down, stifled down immediately by an invisible force. Abigail smiled, and that was what I cared about. But there was more to it than that- she seemed like she was waiting for something.
Half an hour passed, and Natalie and Jane proposed a game. Everyone wrote on sheets of paper and cut them up, then mixed them around in two bowls. One was for questions, and one was for answers.
“I’ll go first!” Said Abigail, and they offered it to her.
She reached in and drew out a long question strip, and read it aloud.
“How many friends will be in your life forever?”
Then she pulled out a smaller, strip of paper.
“Five! Five friends with me. I’m so lucky. Maybe it’s the five of you.” She said, her voice inflecting on the last sentence. The others shifted in their seats.
Thomas went next. He read his slow, stumbling over the words, and I recalled that he had never scored well on any of his tests.
“How many years until you die? Draw two.” And from where I stood behind the counter, I could see the sparkling blue ink that had written the note.
She reached in the bowl, and pulled out two slips.
“You’re not supposed to leave any blank.” She said. “And the other one’s a zero. Looks like I’ll live forever!” She laughed, but the laughter was hollow against my ears. Abigail laughed too, but not at the joke. It was the type of laugh of someone who knew something that you didn’t.
They continued until it was time for presents and Abigail opened her gifts. Natalie had bought her a box of multicolored pens, and I frowned at the irony. When Abigail finished, she looked up expectantly and asked, “What about Bridget’s gifts?”
“Abigail, I don’t think they brought anything for Bridget.” I said.
“Well it’s her birthday too, and she should have presents. It’s only fair. Did none of you bring her a gift?”
They shook their heads, and Abigail frowned.
“Bridget says that you each have something she wants. Wait here.” She ran upstairs and returned with her treasure box, popping open the lid.
“I don’t have anything.” Said Natalie. She had one eye on the door, and the other on the clock. In five minutes the party would be over.
“Yes you do! Bridget says she wants your hair tie.”
“Fine, take it.” Said Natalie, and handed over the bright pink elastic band. Abigail put it in the box.
“Bridget wants a hug too.” Abigail said, and held her arms wide. I could see both her lockets dangling from around her neck.
Natalie huffed and they embraced. For an instant, Bridget’s locket brushed against her neck. She inhaled sharply and backed away, but for the second Abigail held her I thought I could hear something like whispers. But then the hug was broken, and Natalie shrunk into the corner. Her eyes looked dimmer, as if someone had taken the brightness out of them, and her cheeks blue as if she had just come in from a cold walk.
Each of them took their turn, with Thomas going last. He hovered away from her, reluctant to move, and placed a chair in between the two of them.
“Go on.” I said, and pulled the chair away. He deserved it.
Once Abigail let go he shook until his mother arrived. When the school year started again, I could hear Natalie and Jane’s screams down the hall from their nightmares at naptime. Thomas was expelled from his school after biting another child’s finger off during a fight. I never heard what happened to Riley and David.
None of them were ever the same. There was something missing about them, something subhuman, almost animal.
“Abigail,” I asked when they had left, “Did you know before the party that they had gifts for Bridget?”
“Yes Miss Mary.”
“What exactly did they give her?”
“It’s just like my question paper in the game said. Now they’re in our lives forever. Now Bridget has a piece of them.”
“Why would Bridget want a piece of them?”
“She says it makes her stronger.”
She looked me in the eyes, and I shivered. The streak of brunette in her hair fell across her forehead.
“How else is she going to come back?”