I woke to the tiny call.
My bedroom was quiet. But someone was there. I could feel myself being watched, observed. I permitted my eyes to barely open while pretending to remain asleep, even as I quivered beneath my covers.
“Hello,” the greeting came again, gentle in the night.
I hid my breaths as best I could, opening my eyes just enough to glimpse the outline of the corner of my room and whatever or whoever was there. I saw balloons. They were rustling in a bundle near the vent in the ceiling. There were faces on each balloon. But I didn’t want to look at them any longer. I followed the strings, and they led down to a pinched skeletal fist. My eyes continued up the arm, then to what was there. A skeleton girl stood in the corner, wearing a pink dress. The two dark hollow holes she had for eyes appeared to be looking directly at me. I looked away, my heartbeat rising. Beside the skeleton girl stood a second girl. Her skin was purple as a plum, like the color of a deep bruise. Her dress was a lighter purple, with a bordered hem that caught the moon in white. Her eyes were red as Christmas bulbs, and they were staring at me as well, wide and round and shiny. The two girls were eerie, yet barely as tall as my dresser, standing side by side as though presenting themselves for some spelling bee for awful ghouls.
Were these two girls the children of the woman in the window, sent to unlock further fears I hadn’t even thought possible? Would they drag me away? Would they tie me down here?
I was not prepared for this at all. I wanted to shoo the girls away, scream at them to leave me alone.
The welcome came again. “Hello there.”
It was the plum colored girl. She was smiling at me, seeing through my farce. She tilted her head, putting her eyes in line with mine and waved. “We know you’re awake, Silly.”
Caught in my ploy, I opened my eyes, sat up, and shuffled back against the headboard, bringing my knees to my chest in a ball of self-protection. I clenched my fists, wrinkling the sheet into clumps. There I sat, staring at them while they stared back at me. In horrified agitation, I asked, “What do you want?”
“To help,” she said.
“Are you going to hurt me? Are you going to take me to the woman in the window?” I was becoming more brazen, like an unruly prisoner in a dark dungeon cell.
She looked almost hurt. “Not at all. And never.” Her words were muffled, and when I looked, I saw that she had stitches through her lips.
I thought maybe she was going to do the same thing to me, sew my lips together, a peculiar torture the woman in the window sent her to do, and I asked like an accusation, “Why is your mouth sewn shut?” Horrid expectations flew through my mind, and in them all, I could hear my music box screams as I imagined the two girls climbing on top of me, working at my flesh with their tortures. First, my mouth would be sewn shut. The skeleton girl, maybe she was going to skin me alive.
The plum colored girl took a step closer and I screamed. “Don’t come near me!”
She bowed her head. “I’m sorry. I was only going to show you the binding of my mouth. And no, I would never do such a thing to you. Or to anyone.”
“Then why is it like that?” My voice was shrill with fear.
She plucked at a single thread. “The witch did this to me.”
“Yes. The very same witch who has been haunting you.”
“Witch? She’s a witch?”
She giggled a little. “What else would she be?”
“I – I don’t know.”
“Well, she’s definitely a witch,” she assured with a nod.
The skeleton girl nodded along. She still hadn’t said a word.
I pointed a feeble finger at the both of them as if the gesture would keep them there. “You’re taking me to her, aren’t you? That’s why you’re here.”
“No. And never. We’re here to help you, Sarah.”
More confused than ever, I asked, “Help me?” I glanced to my bedroom door, ready to dash away. They couldn’t possibly be as fast as me with how small they were. And they definitely couldn’t be as fast as the woman in the window. My feet twitched. I leaned towards the other side of the bed for a head start.
Raising her hand, the plum colored girl made a request, “Please, don’t run. We’re not very fast.” Then she smiled at the skeleton girl, like there was a joke between them I didn’t know.
“Maybe that’s what I should do.”
She giggled. “Well, that would look quite silly, of course. You running away. The two of us running after you. And the witch chasing all three of us.” She sounded almost cheery, amused. “We’re here to help you, so please don’t go. That would make everything quite difficult. Stay, just a little longer, please.”
I made my terms. “If you stay where you are, I won’t run.”
“Agreed.” She curtsied.
“You said you’re here to help me?”
“The two of you?”
She placed her hands on her hips. “Who else, Silly?”
Though she had been speaking with me, I suddenly heard the sound of her small voice. It was like musical note. Soft and sweet. But I shook off the gentleness of her voice, thinking maybe it was some kind of hypnotism, part of a trap, and I asked “Why are you standing there? That’s where the woman always stood.”
She looked around the room as though contemplating a hide-and-seek spot. “Well, we knew that if we stood by your bed and woke you, we’d probably give you quite a fright. But we also knew that if we stood in a place where you couldn’t see us, then that probably would scare you too. And we definitely didn’t want to climb into your bed because that would be the scariest option of them all.” She tapped her heel to the floor. “So, we stood here, in this corner. Does that make sense?”
It did. Strangely so. And her voice remained sweet with sincerity. “Yes. It does.”
“Sarah,” she said.
“What?” I pulled the sheets to my chin.
She glanced at the window. “We must begin.”
“Begin what?” I asked, looking at the window as well.
“To protect you from the witch. But we must begin soon. Very soon.”
I was almost in tears with confusion. “How – how do I know you won’t hurt me?”
Her nose scrunched up as she pondered an answer for me. “Sarah, I’m not really sure how to prove it right this moment.” She looked to the skeleton girl for an answer and turned back to me. “Yep. We just know we’re not going to.” They nodded at each other, content with their own answer.
In an act of rude fear, I asked, “Does that skeleton thing ever talk?” I was afraid that she could, and was certain that her voice would be that of a demon. She was far more unnerving than the purple girl, silent and staring. I looked at the balloons again, the faces of which seemed alive with thought, blinking at times, and shifting their expressions like a horrid circus trick. But when I asked that question, the faces on the balloons each looked embarrassed, their faces turned downward and eyes closed.
The plum girl corrected sternly, “She’s not a thing. She’s my friend. And no, she can’t talk. She doesn’t have any lungs.”
“Because she was burned alive, so she doesn’t have any lungs, Silly.” Despite her horrid comment, the plum girl giggled as though she’d told a joke, while the skeleton girl seemed to blush, tucking her skull chin to her bone chest.
“Burned alive,” I said as though it made sense. “Was it the woman in the window who burned her?” It felt as though I had a thousand puzzle pieces, and I had possibly connected the first two.
“Yes. Of course.” She fiddled at her stitched lips. “The very same witch who did this to me.”
“I don’t understand. And you’re here to protect me? Protect me from the woman in the window?”
“But you’re just little girls.”
She nodded her agreement. “We are. And we are not what you would desire. We are both –” she paused, looking over the both of them, “– not what we used to be. Really, we’re quite scary looking.” She laughed a little. “But this is not what we asked for. Just as you never asked for the witch to haunt you either.”
“The woman. The witch. She made you that way?”
“And you’re here to protect me?” I had such little faith in anything good, but a part of me wanted to believe.
“Yes. I promise, Sarah. With all my heart.” She pointed to her chest, then said gently, “Sarah?”
“We must be quick, but may I ask you a few questions now?
That startled me. “Um. Sure. I guess.”
She smiled, those red eyes bright with some strange affection she had for me. “Sarah, if the witch has entered your life, bringing her world to your own, is it so hard to believe that there might be two girls like us who want to protect you?”
“No. I guess not.”
“And if the witch wants to get you, then the two of us can’t really make things that much worse, can we?”
“No. I guess not.”
“And when you first saw the witch, did you have any doubt that she was terrible and awful and gross?”
That was an easy one. “No. Not at all.”
“Sarah, if we did want to hurt you, which we definitely don’t, well, something bad was going to happen to you anyway, right? So, again, we can’t really make things that much worse.”
I thought about it. “That does make sense in a weird way.”
She bobbed to her toes. “Well, we’re kind of weird, so maybe it’s perfect.”
She then said in a very serious tone, “Sarah, the witch wants you. She wants to eat you. Sorry, I know that’s terrible, but it’s the truth. But we’re here because we are going to protect you. And it’s what we want to do more than anything.”
“But how do I know?” I almost started crying.
“That is something we will simply have to prove.”
I wiped my eyes with my sleeves. “But why?”
“Why do we want to help you?”
“Yes.” I took a deep breath to keep composed, stifling my desire to give up and fall away.
“Well. The witch killed us years ago, and quite simply, we want to stop the witch from hurting you. We don’t like her very much.”
She glanced at the window again, as though she’d heard something. Subtle clues of anxiety tightened her purple face. The balloon faces turned towards the window as well.
“She’s coming, isn’t she?”
“Sarah,” the plum colored girl said, “Look at me.”
I tried, but couldn’t.
Her voice remained kind. She snapped her fingers. “Sarah. Look at me. Sarah. Sarah.”
“Thank you.” She smiled. “Yes. She is coming. But that’s okay. It is time for us to begin the first step in proving our promise to you. But Sarah. Sarah, look at me again. In order for us to help you, you must give us names.”
“Our names were removed from our memories when we died. So, you must give us new names, for in naming us, you give us the ability to stand.”
“But you’re standing already.”
She smiled. “Yes, I am quite aware. I was speaking symbolically. You must name us, because it will provide us our gifts.” Before I could utter any other thoughtless questions, she said, “Sarah, I need you to name us now.”
The skeleton girl pointed at the window with a bone finger.
“What, what should I name you?”
“Whatever you please.” Approaching steps could be heard along leaves outside my window. “Sarah, soon.”
Fear gave words to my lips as I blurted out, “Stitch Mouth. And Balloon Girl.”
“Stitch Mouth and Balloon Girl!” Stitch Mouth was almost giddy, and she clapped her hands twice. “Perfect names! Because that’s what we are, of course!” She curtsied and Balloon Girl did too. “I love our new names, Sarah. Thank you.”
“Um. You’re welcome.”
Opening her small purse, Stitch Mouth declared, “And now for our tricks.”
I didn’t know what to expect. A gun seemed unlikely. A knife, maybe. Or maybe some ancient relic decorated with hieroglyphics which would glow with mystical power. Instead, she pulled out a black piece of chalk.
Stitch Mouth turned to the window and waved at the unseen witch, instantly becoming the bravest person I’d ever known. I could hear twigs snapping and crunching steps and a shriek. Stitch Mouth stretched to her toes, reaching the chalk high. Then she colored the window in wide strokes until it was covered black from top to bottom. She crushed the chalk against the wall, startling me, and my bedroom window disappeared, as if becoming part of the darkness itself. Stitch Mouth gave the blackened window an approving nod and proclaimed, “Done!” while brushing her hands free of the dust.
“What’d you do?” I asked.
“I hid us from the witch. She won’t be able to find us now.”
“But she was just there.”
I continued to stare at the window, ready for it to open or shatter to pieces. “How do you know it worked? All you did was scribble over the window.”
“It’s what I do, Silly.”
Any encouragement that may have been mine disappeared, just like the window. “I don’t understand.”
Stitch Mouth shook her purse, causing things to toss around inside. Then she tilted the opening towards me to display different colored chalk inside. “These are my tricks. My gifts. Each colored chalk lets me do something a little different.” She looked at the window again. “The witch won’t be able to find the window, so she won’t be able to find us. She’s going to be so mad.”
“But she was just there.” I shied away to the opposite side of my bed, just in case the witch did find the window.
“Yep, which will only make her angrier.” She giggled and Balloon Girl appeared to giggle with her, a bone fist to her mouth.
“She won’t find us?” I asked.
“No. She can’t. The window is gone. She’s probably looking all over the place right now. I bet she’s even clawing at the air.” She mimicked a haggard expression that may have been on the witch’s face, swatting around blindly before she couldn’t hold it together anymore and burst into a fit of giggles. Balloon Girl touched Stitch Mouth’s arm and seemed to say something, and then the both of them laughed.
“What?” I asked, not sharing their amusement.
“Balloon Girl said she hopes the witch trips over a root and breaks her head.”
Balloon Girl then mimed this, holding her skull head as though she’d cracked it, but stopped when I wasn’t entertained. The balloon faces seemed strangely embarrassed.
Stitch Mouth then said, “Sarah, I know we’re not pretty anymore. I know we’re even a little scary. But that’s okay. The witch is the one who is scary. Also, I am sure you have many more questions and are in need of many more assurances. Those will come with time. Tonight, you need rest.”
“Not a chance,” I stated.
“You need to.”
“I’m not tired,” I lied.
There was no way I was falling asleep with two creepy girls standing sentry nearby. My window may have been colored over. Stitch Mouth may have promised the woman couldn’t find the window. But maybe they were only pretending to help. Maybe they were actually helping the woman in the window by building false trust, like the soft mouth of a Venus flytrap. Or maybe they wanted me for themselves. Maybe I was some prize to capture in a world of darkened misfits I had only barely begun to glimpse.
Stitch Mouth seemed to hear my every thought. “It’s okay, Sarah. You are safe with us. I promise. With all my heart.”
“But how do I know?” I asked desperately.
Stitch Mouth seemed upset that she wasn’t able to convey what she wanted. “I’m really not sure. For now, all I have is our promise and the proof I have provided in hiding you this night. You need sleep, Sarah. You will want the best of you from now on.”
Balloon Girl seemed to say something to Stitch Mouth. Stitch Mouth then said, “Very true, my friend. Let’s not talk of such things just yet.”
“It is not the time. Now is the time for sleep.”
“I don’t want to sleep.”
“I know.” She seemed sorry for me.
With nothing else said, Stitch Mouth took hold of Balloon Girl’s hand. Then she began to sing a hushed song. The melody was innocent, like a lullaby sung from a rocking chair, sweet and tender. I blinked heavily. The song continued. I laid down. Still blinking.
The last thing I heard was a whisper, “Goodnight, Sarah. You’re not alone anymore.”
And in that night of moonbeams and promises, I fell asleep.