We scuttled along dark passageways of Stitch Mouth’s making, door after door after door. I thought we would spend the night doing so. Then we suddenly returned to the small bedroom where we had been earlier. I was shocked to be there.
I said, “What? Why?”
Shredded clothes had been flung in all directions. A wooden shutter was dangling from the single window of the room at a broken angle. The four drawers of the flipped over dresser had been scattered to different parts of the room. The bed had been flipped over as well.
Balloon Girl remained near the door. The knobs of her knees were knocking and her arms were shaking. I thought she had been hurt or that her own fear had finally caught up to her. But when I looked towards the balloon faces, they were all smiling. Some even appeared to be laughing.
Plucking sweaty strands of hair from my face, I asked, “What’s so funny?”
Stitch Mouth answered, “Balloon Girl is laughing because we came back here.”
“Why is that so funny?”
Stitch Mouth remained as composed as she could, trying not to lose herself in her own fit of laughter. “Balloon Girl thinks it’s funny –” but she couldn’t finish. The sound of her laughter was almost better than her song, adorable and innocent.
“Okay.” I chuckled a little too, unable to resist. “And why does she think it’s funny?”
Stitch Mouth stood upright in an attempt to stiffen away the humor. “No, Sarah.”
“’No,’ what?” I asked.
“I want you to tell me why Balloon Girl finds it funny.”
Balloon Girl pointed at Stitch Mouth.
“Yes, yes,” Stitch Mouth corrected, “and me too.”
I answered, “I don’t know. I’m not a mind reader.”
“You don’t have to be a mind reader, Silly. You just have to use your brain.”
Stitch Mouth led me over to her toppled bedframe where she sat on the wooden edge. I sat beside her, still thinking about her question. After giving it some thought and considering the giggle fit I had witnessed, I answered, “Balloon Girl was laughing because you tricked the woman.”
“Yes,” Stitch Mouth said, sounding quite happy with me. “The witch didn’t think we’d come back here. So, that is precisely what we did.”
I finished the punchline, “And all the other doors have been leading the woman in other directions.”
“That was smart.”
“Thank you,” she said graciously.
And it was. Yet it was so simple. “But how’d she find us, back when we first came here?”
“Well, my doors are only possibilities, so, if she chooses correctly, then she finds us.”
Stitch Mouth patted my shoulder. “It might be a little disappointing, but it is the limitation of my tricks. And the witch is no fool, even if we want her to be.”
“So, why don’t we just keep doing that?”
“What? Creating doors?”
“Good thinking, Sarah, maybe the witch would just give up.” But when she realized I was being serious, she said, “Oh, you weren’t joking.”
“The witch wouldn’t just stop, Sarah.”
“That’s what I figured. I guess, I was just hoping, you know.”
“There’s nothing wrong with that. Balloon Girl and I used to hope and wish many things.”
I said, “Do you know what I would have done if I had magic chalk like you?” I sketched out imaginary doors with an invisible chalk. “If I had chalk like you, I would have drawn a single door to run through. Then drawn another door to run through. Then another.”
Stitch Mouth stretched her hand through my invisible doors. “Leaving an easy path for the witch to follow.”
“A very easy path,” I said. I was even more thankful for the two girls than before. “I’m sorry, you know, for whispering down there.” I pointed at the rug.
“Don’t be,” Stitch Mouth assured. “You were afraid, and that’s okay. We all do dumb things when we’re afraid.”
Balloon Girl nodded.
“Yeah, but that’s the problem. I’m always afraid.”
“That is untrue, Sarah. You weren’t afraid earlier today, were you, when you awoke?”
“No, I wasn’t as afraid. And the first thing I thought of was you and Balloon Girl, not the woman.”
“And you weren’t afraid tonight when Balloon Girl and I returned to the corner of your room. Not like the previous night.”
“Sure, but that doesn’t make me Super-Woman.”
“Yeah, sorry. Never mind. I don’t know why I even said that, it’s not like I even read comic books or anything.”
“They’re sort of like books with pictures.”
“I love books with pictures!” Stitch Mouth exclaimed and Balloon Girl clapped, which sounded like dry twigs snapping against each other. Balloon Girl must have said something, because Stitch Mouth said to her, “I miss them as well.”
“I could probably find some for you to read,” I offered.
“Oh, I would love that very much! Comic books?”
“Yep. She’s a woman with super powers who fights bad guys or super-villians or whatever. She has a lasso, I think.”
“Oh, I like her already. But enough of that for now.” Stitch Mouth then asked, “Sarah, what did you learn tonight?”
“You mean about the woman in the window?”
“Of course. Or anything else that comes to mind.”
I was being quizzed, and I could tell how much it mattered to Stitch Mouth that I have an answer. “Okay. What did I learn? Well, I used to think the woman in the window could always see me. But tonight, she couldn’t see us when we were down there.”
Stitch Mouth smiled. “Yes. The witch can only see what her eyes show her, and in that way, she is no different than you or I or Balloon Girl. Except Balloon Girl doesn’t have eyes like us, of course.” Balloon Girl nodded, pointing at a single empty socket. I turned away again.
“What else?” Stitch Mouth asked.
I was still in awe of the bravery of the balloon girl who had fought against the witch. Thinking back to her, I answered, “The woman can be hurt.”
“Yes. Good,” Stitch Mouth said, like it was the most important point of all. “And if the witch can be hurt, what else do we know?”
“If she can be hurt –” I hesitated before saying “– she can be killed.”
I didn’t want to talk about that, so I hurried along, “The woman can get angry.”
Stitch Mouth rolled her eyes. “Yes. But we all knew that.”
“I’m not sure I did,” I said. “With me, she was almost emotionless.”
Stitch Mouth nodded. “Yes. I understand. There was no reason for the witch to be angry, because all you did was run, which she enjoyed because she knew she could have you whenever she wanted. But I promise you, Balloon Girl and I have witnessed the witch’s anger, and she can become super angry.”
“You said, ’super.’ Like I say.”
“I hope you don’t mind. I like it.”
“Of course I don’t mind.”
“Okay, good. Is there anything else you learned?”
I lowered my head, unable to look at them in that moment. “I learned that you really are here to help me. And your tricks are pretty great.”
“They’re super great. And, yes we are here for you. Do you believe me when I say that?”
Red tears suddenly came to the eyes of Stitch Mouth. I couldn’t tell if they were red themselves, or clear, pulling from the color of her eyes. “Good,” she said.
“Why are you crying?” I asked.
“I don’t know.” She smirked. “I just know that it makes me happy to hear you say that.” Stitch Mouth then turned her attention to Balloon Girl. “I’m sorry. About the balloon you used. She was beautiful. Beautiful as you.”
Balloon Girl pointed at her skeletal face where the nose holes and gum-less teeth remained gruesome, then she shook her head and said words which Stitch Mouth alone was able to hear.
Stitch Mouth corrected, “No. That is not what I said. I did not mean beautiful as you used to be. I meant beautiful as you are.”
Girl pointed at her bone chest to where her heart might have been.
“I know,” Stitch Mouth offered.
I said to Balloon Girl, forcing myself to look at her, “Thank you for using your balloon. I know you had to because I talked.”
Balloon Girl nodded.
“You said earlier that this was your room.”
“Who built it? This house?”
“Your father?” I asked. “Like. You have a dad?”
She smiled. “Of course. I had a dad. I even had a mother, if you’ll believe it. As well as a brother.”
“Will you tell me about them?”
“I don’t think so.” She could see my disappointment. “Not tonight.”
“The woman took you from your family, didn’t she?” I pressed. “And she destroyed your room tonight.”
“Yes. But call her a witch, Sarah.”
“It is important for you to remember what she is.”
“Okay. Well, the witch destroyed your room.”
“That is quite obvious.”
I chuckled, then yawned.
Stitch Mouth stood from the bed and began settling out the room. She asked me to stand, then she and Balloon Girl managed to return the bed to its four legs. “Sarah, I would like you to rest.”
“That’s very tempting,” I admitted.
“Good.” Stitch Mouth shook a sheet out a few times before letting it glide flat to the mattress.
“In here? Your room?”
“We are safe here tonight, so it is the best place.”
I climbed in, tucking my body tight within the tiny bed. A blanket was laid over me by Balloon Girl. “Thank you,” I said.
The room darkened. Only the outline of Balloon Girl’s ghostly bones and the red eyes of Stitch Mouth could be seen. Stitch Mouth sang delicately, and the song was as sweet as I remembered.
I soon fell asleep, crying softly. I didn’t cry for sadness or despair. I cried because I had hope.
When I woke in the morning, I was in my own bed.