You patiently waited for Josephina by the big oak tree in the park. She said she’d be able to come outside today since her condition was better. It was a shame that she had such bad lungs; she wasn’t able to attend school because of that. You would’ve liked to have gone to school with her. Luckily you were on holiday so you could play together.
You turned your head and saw Josephina skipping across the street towards you, her long red hair bouncing against the back of her dress. There was a huge smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye. She was so lively for someone so sick.
“Hello, Ethan it’s so good to see you!” Josephina said happily. “I’m so happy we can play together today!”
“It’s good to see you too, but you shouldn’t run around like that. It’s bad for your asthma.”
She pouted and kicked at the dirt. “My momy gave me special medicine today, I’ll be okay.”
“Alright,” you said, “What do you want to play, Josephina?”
The little girl held her chin and looked at the cloudless sky as she thought. You wondered if you should take her over to your house for dinner. It would be impolite to do that without asking permission first, though. You had been playing with Josephina for a few months now, so you think your mum would say yes if you brought her home.
“I don’t know what I want to play. All of my dolls are at home so we can’t play house. Is there something you had in mind, Ethan?” she asked.
“Actually, do you know if your mum would let you have dinner at my house tonight?” you asked. “We could go to your house to ask your mum and get your toys.”
Josephina’s face lit up at the suggestion. “That’s a brilliant idea! I can introduce you to Momy too! She loves it when I bring friends over.”
You gave Josephina a little smile. Since she wasn’t able to go outside that often you could see why her mum would be happy about something like that. You thought she was lying about bringing other friends to her house, though. You knew that she had a lot of imaginary friends, she would get upset when you said you couldn’t see them. Perhaps it would be good if she brought home a real friend instead of an imaginary one.
“Let’s go, Ethan,” She put her small, cold hand in yours. “I’ll show you the way to my house.”
The two of you walked through the busy streets of Windsor to the less populous area closer to the Thames were the bigger estates were. Josephina got a little too excited and started having a coughing fit after running up the path to her manor. You took a five minute break and made sure that Josephina could breathe clearly without any problems before you started walking again. She could be annoying when she insisted on running and ended up having a fit.
You had never been to Josephina’s house before. It was a bit secluded compared to the other estates, but it looked just as grand as your own home. You actually lived about twenty minutes away from here, though that didn’t do much for you when you were at school. You held onto Josephina’s hand tightly so she wouldn’t run off again. Your mum would scold you if your shoes got scuffed up from running.
When you finally reached the large, oaken front doors, Josephina let go of your hand and opened them, beckoning you inside. You thought it was odd that the door wasn’t locked, but you supposed it was because she lived so far away from the other estates.
“Follow me,” Josephina said cheerfully, “I’ll take you to see Momy and then we can play.”
The inside of the house was very grand and well furbished, but some things about it made it seem a little strange. It wasn’t very light inside even though there were candles lit. Everything seemed to have a bluish glow to it. It was also a bit chilly; it was much warmer outside. You swore you could feel a breeze in the hallway. It was quiet. The sound of Josephina’s shoes clicking against the wooden floor echoed throughout the house.
“Oh look Ethan, there’s Oliver!” Josephina pointed at the air beside her. “Say hi to Ethan, Oliver.”
You waved at the air to humor Josephina. Oliver must have been one of her imaginary friends.
“I’m taking Ethan to see Momy. You should play with us after.”
Oliver must’ve said yes because Josephina smiled and told him to wait for her. She grasped your hand once more and the two of you continued down the long hallway.
“It’s a bit chilly in here,” You said.
“Really? I don’t think it is. If you’re cold I can get you a nice cup of tea.”
“Thank you. That would be lovely.”
You continued down the seemingly endless hall until Josephina came to a stop at a large, black door.
“This is my momy’s room,” she rapped her small fist against the door. “Momy, it’s me, I brought a friend.”
It was silent for a brief moment.
“That’s lovely, my sweet honey baby,” a kind, gentle voice replied. “Bring them in.”
Josephina turned and grinned at you. “She likes you already!”
She turned the crystal doorknob and pushed the door open. It was very dark in her mother’s room. You could barely make out the shapes of the dresses and chairs that were in it. You looked around curiously as Josephina closed the door behind you. You could see something at the very end of the room. The sunlight was blocked out by some dark curtains, but the light the peeked out around the sides let you make out what was there. At first you thought it was a large bed.
“What’s your name?” her mother asked.
You assumed she was talking to you. “My name is Ethan, Mrs…”
“Call me Clementia, love.”
You nodded but then realized she probably couldn’t see you in the dark. The shape at the end of the room shifted a little. Perhaps there was something hanging on the wall.
“I’m so happy you’re friends with my Josephina. Could you come closer so I can look at your face?”
You took a few steps forward and reali.zed that the room must have been so dark because Clementia had weak eyes. It was a shame that Josephina’s family was so sick.
“What a handsome young man.”
“Thank you Mrs. Clementia.”
You squinted your eyes to try and see what was at the end of the room. You were closer than before and could tell that whatever was there definitely wasn’t a bed. It was too tall and you swore it was moving. You took a few more steps forward, and as you got closer you could make out more of what was there. When you saw long, ragged hair above you, your breath caught in your throat.
You screamed and scrambled for the door, but you were grabbed around the middle and lifted into the air. You whimpered and tears flowed down your cheeks as hot breath blew into your face.
“Such a handsome young man.”
When Josephina led you out of the room you were still crying.
“Please stop crying Ethan, I’m sorry Momy scared you so bad.”
You sniffled and wiped at your nose. Josephina looked at you with sad eyes, but something behind you caught her attention.
“There you are, Oliver! And you brought Mary and Victoria with you!”
You turned around and to your surprise you saw three children about your age looking at you. There was a boy with floppy hair falling into his face and two girls next to him, one with braids and the other with a short haircut. The girl with the short hair looked as upset as you felt, but the other two looked happy enough.
“We can all play together, okay, Ethan?” Josephina took one of your hands into hers. You noticed it was a little blue. It must have been because of how cold you were. “Do you still want that cup of tea?”
You looked into her wide gray eyes and nodded slowly. Josephina smiled again.
“Alright. Mary’s new here too, that’s why she also looks a little scared. I don’t know why all my friends are scared of Momy the first time they see her. Why don’t you and Mary get to know each other while I get some tea? Talk to Oliver and Victoria too.”
Josephina dashed the down the dim hallway, disappearing around a corner. You looked back at the three children. Oliver drifted over to you and offered a tiny smile.
“It’s a little strange at first, but you get used to it after a while,” he said.
Victoria nodded. “Josephina’s nice, though. You’ll get used to her mum too. It only took me a few weeks.”
You looked over at Mary who had thin lines of tears trailing down her blue face. You offered a hand to her and after a moment’s hesitation she took it, lacing her fingers through yours. Her hand was cold.
“Let’s go to Josephina’s room,” Oliver said, “She’ll be waiting for us there.”
The four of you went down the hallway and drifted up the stairs to Josephina’s room.