The White Woman
“Essie, give me a piggyback ride!” Harold shouted. I looked up from the essay I was writing.
“I’m busy right now,” I said, scribbling down a few more words. My three-year-old brother looked up at me with his big brown eyes.
“Please, Essie?” he pleaded in his I’m-cute-so-do-what-I-want voice. “Pretty please? Mommy won’t give me one.”
“What about Dad?” I asked. Harold shook his head.
“He doesn’t want to. Daddy is busy with his work.”
“Work?” I scoffed. “You mean he’s looking up poker tips on the internet?”
“What’s poker?” Harold asked curiously. I mentally kicked myself.
I frowned. Tap, tap.
“What’s that sound?” I said, turning my head. My eyes fell on the window beside my bed. Something—a hand?—was knocking on the glass.
“What sound?” Harold asked. “I don’t hear anything.”
How could he not hear it? The tapping got louder.
“It’s nothing,” I said slowly. “I’ll give you a piggyback ride later, when I’m done with my homework.”
“Out, Harold,” I said firmly, pointing to the door. His shoulders sagged and he left, closing the door with a click.
I glanced at my notebook, then at the window again. The curtains started to sway. They made a sound, as if they were talking to me. Swish, swish, swish. My heart began to beat faster. Don’t be silly, I thought. It’s nothing. You were imaging the hand, there’s nothing there.
But it’s best to be sure. I slowly got up from the chair, then made my way towards the window. The curtains became louder. Swish, swish, swish. I reached out a hand, sweeping them aside.
There was nothing out there. Nothing except for a single, white handprint on the glass. I looked at it curiously. Beneath the hand were two words written in what appeared to be white paint:
My breath caught in my throat. Then I exhaled. Dad probably did this, as a prank, I thought, trying to calm myself, even though I knew perfectly well that my father wasn’t the pranking type. He was the play-poker-and-lose-all-your-money-every-night type. Or perhaps it was someone from school. Yes, that was probably it.
If only I had known I was wrong.
That night, as I lay in bed, something nagged at the back of my head. My mind kept drifting to the mysterious handprint. Come to think of it, there weren’t very many kids at school that would want to prank me. I was mutually respected, though mostly ignored.
Or it could have been a message. Maybe someone was really going to visit me—but who? I’d crossed my father from the list of suspects. He didn’t have the time to play silly pranks on his children. I almost wished he did. And my mother? She wouldn’t be caught dead doing a prank. She was strict and businesslike, and sometimes resembled a vulture, the way she held her neck high and surveyed me with sharp black eyes whenever she saw me.
My wondering was interrupted when I heard footsteps outside my bedroom door. My heart jumped. Was it the owner of the handprint? I had the sudden urge to dive under the covers but stay put.
My door handle was turning. My blood turned to ice in my veins. I was close to screaming.
The door opened, and Harold walked in.
I breathed a huge sigh of relief. The adrenaline rush went away as quickly as it had come. I opened my arms, and Harold ran into them.
“Harold, what are you doing here?” I realized my voice was shaky. Harold buried his head in my chest.
“I’m scared,” he whispered. “Can I sleep with you?”
“Of course,” I agreed. I was glad to have some company. Harold crawled in beside me and snuggled under the covers.
“What are you scared of?” I asked. Harold was hardly ever scared of anything. He had been sleeping by himself since he was two.
“The woman,” Harold replied.
“What woman?” I was confused. “Do you mean Mom?” I wouldn’t blame him for being scared of her.
“No,” Harold said. “The white one.”
White. A white woman. Could it be?
“What white woman?” I whispered. My hands began to shake.
Unlike Harold, I scared easily. I was scared of all sorts of things, and a creepy white handprint with a white woman to match was one of them.
“The white woman that came through my window,” Harold answered. “Will you protect me, Essie? Please protect me.” He took my hand.
“Of course, I’ll protect you!” I squeaked out.
I wished I had someone to protect me.
“Thank you, Essie,” Harold mumbled sleepily. His eyes slowly closed. I wondered how he could sleep when a woman just broke into the house.
I considered calling for my parents, but thought better of it. What if the woman left—or what if there was no woman at all? Harold could simply have had a bad dream. If I woke up my parents for no reason, they would be angry—very, very angry.
My heart felt like a block of ice in my chest. Tears of fear leaked out of my eyes. I blinked them back. Stay strong, I thought to myself. You’re okay. You’ll be okay.
When I woke up, I expected to see Harold sleeping at my side. But my bed was empty. Harold was not there.
I sat bolt upright. Memories from the night before slowly came back to me in bits and pieces. The white woman. The handprint. Harold.
I got up from bed, not even caring to smooth out the bedsheets. I ran downstairs and prayed that Harold was eating breakfast or watching TV like he usually did in the morning.
When I reached the kitchen, there was no Harold. There was only my mom and dad, sitting at the table and sharing a newspaper.
“Where’s Harold?” I asked, my voice trembling.
My father raised an eyebrow. “Probably in his bedroom. Why?”
I didn’t answer him, only ran upstairs to Harold’s room. He wasn’t there. He wasn’t in the guest room, either. I checked the bathrooms and the pantry and even the attic. Harold was nowhere to be found.
I steadied my breathing and ran back to the kitchen, where my parents were still reading their paper.
“I can’t find Harold.” I nearly cried. “He’s not in the house.”
“I’m sure he’s around here somewhere,” my mother said in a bored voice. “Stop worrying so much, Essie, and brush your hair.”
I was outraged. Why couldn’t my parents just listen for once? Their son was missing.
“Listen to your mother,” my father said. “School starts in half an hour. Go get ready right now.”
I had no choice but to listen to him. I trudged back to my room, worried sick. It had to be the white woman—the woman that had climbed through Harold’s bedroom window.
I closed my door and quickly got dressed, putting on the first pieces of clothing I touched. I glanced at my backpack and sighed. There was no way I’d be able to pay attention in class today. Not with Harold missing.
I turned around and my breath caught in my throat.
There was another handprint.
This time, it was on my computer screen. I reached out and touched it. It wasn’t white paint—the handprint disappeared when I touched it, and reappeared when I withdrew my hand, like mist.
Below the handprint was a sentence written in the same white mist:
I await you where bodies lay
I wanted to fling myself out the window. I wanted to fall asleep and never wake up. I was so scared. So, so scared. The white woman must have left the message, I knew it. I await you where bodies lay. I started putting two and two together. The white woman kidnapped Harold, and she took him… where? Where do bodies lay?
I nervously turned on my computer. The handprint vanished. I didn’t care about figuring out what was going on. I didn’t care that there was probably magic at work. All I cared about was finding Harold.
I Googled “where do bodies lay?” I scrolled until I found what I was looking for. A graveyard is where dead bodies lay, buried inside the ground.
A graveyard. That’s where Harold was. I heard my parents calling me to hurry up and walk to school. I left my backpack on my bed as I went downstairs—I’d made up my mind. I wasn’t going to school today. I was going to pay a visit to the church’s graveyard.
My parents were most likely going to get a call from the school saying I was absent, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care about much during that moment.
I was opening the gate that led into the St. Cherry Church’s graveyard. It was only a ten-minute walk away from my house. The graveyard was cold and smelly. My heart seemed to lodge itself in my throat and I blinked against the stinging chill.
The blue sky turned grey as I stepped inside the gate. The fluffy white clouds disappeared and were replaced by even more grey. The cold grew, seeping into my skin and freezing my blood.
The grass looked brown. The roses that lay on some of the graves turned crispy and black. Everything was different.
The further I walked into the graveyard, the more wrong everything seemed to be. The twittering birds grew silent. The little fountain in the corner stopped running and turned dry. And then I saw her.
The white woman stood before me, and she was terrible. So terrible that it was hard to describe her, but I’ll try. She was unnaturally tall, about four meters, and had horrible pasty skin that was so white it was almost blinding. Her snowy hair was long, and reached all the way down to her waist. Her eyes were pure white—she had no pupils, no color. Only white. When she smiled at me, I cringed. Her teeth were the only feature about her that wasn’t white. They were bloodstained and yellow and pointed, and sharp like needles.
“Why, hello Essie,” she laughed softly. I was about to run from the terrifying white giant when I saw something behind her. It was a cage—a rusty iron cage. And inside was my little brother, clutching to the bars with a tear-streaked face.
“Harold!” I gasped. My fear turned to anger. “What have you done to my brother?”
The white woman looked behind her and cackled a rotten and murderous laugh. It sounded almost squishy, like the sound when you step on a bad piece of fruit. “Oh, he’s not hurt,” she said. “But he will be.”
I held back a sob. “What do you mean?” I wished I’d brought something—a knife, anything to protect myself from the white woman.
“I was thinking of adding his body to my collection,” the woman sneered. She gestured to her right, and I gasped.
Behind her was an assortment of people. Dead people, their bodies stuffed and turned in different positions. Men in tuxedos were sitting on garden chairs and holding glasses. Women with dresses were drinking tea. Children were playing tag in fixed positions.
“But then again,” the white woman added, “your body would be so much better. Much easier to bend. Your legs are longer. Do you know the saying, an eye for an eye? I’ll give you your brother if you give me your body.”
The first thought that came to my mind was, gross. But this was no dream. I couldn’t wake up and make the woman disappear. I had to save Harold.
“Help me, Essie!” Harold sobbed from the cage. I braced myself.
“Go ahead, take me,” I told the white woman. She laughed and snapped her fingers. I passed out and saw black.
I didn’t know I could wake up, but I did. I felt oddly calm. Then I woke up properly. I had shrunk—or did everything grow bigger? I looked to my left. I felt different. I looked different.
Harold was standing above me. He was much bigger. My eyesight was blurry, and all the colors were different. I could just make out the white woman in the background, carrying the body of a girl—my body.
Wait—if that was me, then what was I? I looked down. I had too many legs.
Harold bent down and gently put me in his hand. “The bad woman turned you into a butterfly,” he whispered.
The white woman had taken my body, but left my soul. She’d turned me into a butterfly. I wanted to talk to Harold, but I couldn’t. My mouth wouldn’t open. It felt as if I had no mouth at all, no way to speak.
“I’ll take you home,” Harold said. And he carried me away.