Balloon Girl had devised a grand plan.
Balloon Girl pointed to a specific spot on the floor, instructing Stitch Mouth to sketch a door there. Then she beckoned me over to the furniture, where I helped her slide a couch across the room so we could jam it against the door. Directed by Balloon Girl, I then draped a sheet over the door and stretched another one over the couch. Pots and pans were placed in small stacks near the entrance like harmless noise mines. The traps were obvious, almost silly, but they set a discreet path that led to the open door Stitch Mouth had sketched on the floor – the true trap. The door was also covered with a sheet, and the end of the sheet was tied to the knob. With everything prepared, we snuck up the spiral staircase and waited, ducked to the floor to watch and giggling in anticipation.
It seemed to take forever, but finally, the door tilted open until hitting the couch. The witch peered from behind the sliver of gap, listening and watching. She pressed against the door a little harder to squeeze through, causing a pot to fall over, which banged loudly. The witch tucked back away. A moment later, she pressed against the door again, but when the couch wouldn’t budge, she drove her body hard, causing the sheet above to fall on top of her. She shrieked in fury and tore blindly at the sheet. Ripping the sheet from her head, she kicked it away. Then she kicked a pot in anger. When she saw us laughing at the top of the stairs, the witch took a gigantic step, right onto the sheet, and fell through the doorway Stitch Mouth had created. The witch dropped through with the sheet, and the weight of her body whipped the door shut.
Smash! Stitch Mouth crushed the chalk. The door vanished, taking the angry shrieks of the witch with it.
“Oh my goodness!” Stitch Mouth jumped to her feet. “It worked! That was the best!”
We made our way towards Balloon Girl’s room. Stitch Mouth could barely breathe with how hard she was laughing, and we all laughed. I laughed until my belly ached. Stitch Mouth and Balloon Girl began playing dress up, making themselves fancy as though they’d be attending an extravagant tea party. Long white gloves. Elegant hats. Every single piece of jewelry in the home. Seeing me off to the side, Balloon Girl became intent upon dressing me up as well. An ivory touring hat was placed on my head. Necklaces were strung from my neck. My wrists clinked with golden bracelets. A lacy scarf was wrapped lavishly around my neck.
Hands on her hips, Balloon Girl nodded in approval of my makeover.
“My mom has a hat like this,” I commented, touching the rim.
Balloon Girl appeared delighted.
I said, “We used to picnic in the spring, and we’d all dress up to look our best. My father would wear a suit. I had new dress to wear that my mom and I picked out specifically for the picnic. It was kind of our special thing.” I began telling them more. Memories were released, setting others free. I told them things I’d never told anyone. How my father had been in a car accident. How he changed from the man he had always been. He didn’t remember things like he used to. He became moody. He was irritable and quick-tempered – things he had never been. He lost his job and couldn’t find another. My mother began working two jobs. Then one day, my father became upset when my mom tried doing something for him, something he used to be able to do on his own, and he shoved her to the floor. My mother scrambled to the wall. I stood there, afraid of him. My father broke down, seeing what he’d done. He started crying. My mother said it was okay, that she should have seen how upset he was becoming. He said there was nothing about it that was okay. My mother tried to go to him. I did too. But he waved us away. Told us to stay away from him. Said he hated what he had become. Then he asked us to remember who he had always been before the accident. He hugged me. He called me his princess and wiped the tears from my eyes. He hugged and kissed my mother, kissed her for a long time. He told us he loved us. Then he left. Drove off to the mountains where a friend of his owned a cabin he could stay at until he found a permanent place to live. He moved there for good. Like a fortress to lock the monster away.
I had never told anyone about what had happened to my father or why he had left. In telling Stitch Mouth and Balloon Girl, I had let out a part of me no one had ever seen. There was little else to say. Stitch Mouth asked if I wanted to rest. I said I would.
When Stitch Mouth gave me a hug to end the night, I noticed something. The sides of her purse were sinking in. The purse was thinning. The lantern was blown out. In the darkness, I heard Stitch Mouth whisper to Balloon Girl, “The witch will not allow anything like that to happen again. She will be more wary than ever.”
Balloon Girl nodded in the vague darkness. Above her, four balloons remained. Four of eight.