My mother’s eyes opened in a sleepy daze. “Did the power go out? Is everything okay?”
I walked towards her bed. “Everything’s okay. I wanted to talk about something.”
“Can’t it wait until morning? I have to work tomorrow.”
“It can’t happen in the morning.” Kneeling beside her bed, I brushed a few strands of hair from her face.
“Sarah, it’s late. Let’s just talk in the morning.”
“Like I said it can’t happen then. I just need to explain a few things, okay?”
“You know how you’ve been having those dreams? And you’ve been acting different too, like, you haven’t quite been yourself?”
“Yeah, sure. But what is this about? Why are we talking about this now? Did you have another nightmare?”
“No.” It was now or never. “Like I said before, they’re not just dreams you’re having, and it’s not just a coincidence that you’re dreaming about the same witch that’s been haunting me.”
“Sarah, please, let’s not bring up that woman of yours right now.”
“Actually, I don’t want to talk about the witch either. But there is someone else I want you to meet.”
That was their cue. The door slid open again. The darkness of the hallway gave way to the subtle light from the street lamp outside. First came skeleton feet. Then red shoes. In a way, I had an opportunity to see Balloon Girl and Stitch Mouth for the first time. They were ghastly. Horror girls from some dark tale about demons and their demon children. I couldn’t help but smile.
“Hi,” Stitch Mouth greeted.
“Sarah!” My mom clambered out of bed, then shoved her way past me to snatch up a shoe to defend herself with. Tucked to the corner, she reached out to pull me back while waving her shoe at Balloon Girl and Stitch Mouth. “Stay back!”
Oh, boy. Maybe this was a bad idea.
I introduced, “Mom, these are the friends I was telling you about. This is Stitch Mouth. This is Balloon Girl.” The girls curtsied at the mention of their name.
My mother didn’t hear me. “I – I – I – I’m dreaming. That’s what this. It’s a dream. Just like all the others. Just a dream. Just a dream.” My mother closed her eyes and shook her head vigorously, maybe thinking she’d wake up in bed or that she could tap her heels and disappear. Then she slapped herself across the face.
“Mom, stop! Oh my goodness!”
She looked at me, trying to figure out if it was really me.
“Mom, it’s not a dream. This is where I go every night. This is where the witch is always trying to catch me.”
“Witch? There’s no witch. And those two things aren’t real. All a dream. All a dream. All a dream.”
That woman is not right in the head.
I waved at Balloon Girl, telling her to stop, then turned my attention back to my mother. “Mom. I’m sorry. It’s not a dream. You can’t just wake up. And please, stop shaking your head like that, it makes you look crazy.”
My mother stopped, looked at me intently. “How do I wake up?”
“You already are awake. But you woke up in a different place.”
“What place?” My mother refused to even glance at the door where Balloon Girl and Stitch Mouth still watched quietly. I was glad they weren’t offended by how my mom was acting, even though it was embarrassing me.
“Never mind that, Mom, please. I want you to listen.”
“I’m listening, I am. I am. Just, make those things leave.” She flicked her hand their way.
That made my blood hot. “They’re not things. They’re my friends. They’re the reason I’m alive.” I took her hand and pressed it to my face, convincing her of my realness. When she realized how very real I was, I oriented her towards the door, tilting her just enough so that she would have to face Stitch Mouth and Balloon Girl. “But I don’t want to explain anything to you. I want them to. Well, really, I want Stitch Mouth to because she’s the only one who you’ll be able to hear.”
I’d probably say something I shouldn’t.
Stitch Mouth giggled at Balloon Girl’s comment, but when my mother gasped, Stitch Mouth put a hand to her mouth. “Sorry,” she said.
I stood behind my mother, hugging her. My mother’s tears fell to my arm. I told her she was safe because I was there. With a low wave, I beckoned Stitch Mouth and Balloon Girl to take another step inside. My mother trembled when they did, but I held her tighter and gave her another promise.
“Mom, will you let Stitch Mouth talk to you?” I asked.
My mother nodded like a ransom victim.
“Go ahead,” I said to Stitch Mouth.
Through the hours, Stitch Mouth explained everything to my mother. Stitch Mouth took her time, maintaining her courtesy and the sweetness of her voice. My mother eventually asked questions. They sounded a lot like mine used to be. As the questions and answers came and went, my mother relaxed in my arms, and before the night was over, we were sitting side by side on the bed, and my mother spoke with Stitch Mouth in a way that told me she was listening. Before the night ended, my mother asked, “When I wake up, how will I know this wasn’t a dream?”
Stitch Mouth walked over slowly, as though approaching a wounded animal, and handed her the purple bow from her hair. “Here. When you wake up, this will still be with you. I just ask that you return it to Sarah. My dad gave it to me. It’s my favorite.”
“Sure. Of course,” my mother said.
“And remember –” Stitch Mouth cautioned “– you must fight the influence of the witch. We draw her away at night. But in the daytime, you must recognize when she is trying to change the way you see Sarah. We have to close off the witch’s options, and we need your help to do it.”
“Yes. Of course.”
“Good.” Stitch Mouth smiled. Then she turned to me and touched my face. “Goodnight, Sarah.”
I stood and kissed Stitch Mouth’s cheek. “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight, Balloon Girl.”
I don’t want you kissing me anyway.
I went to her and kissed her cheek as well. “Goodnight, Balloon Girl.”
They left. I stayed with my mother to explain a little more. When the sun rose, my mother and I woke in our own beds. We met at the center of the hallway. My mother handed me the bow, shaking her head in disbelief before hugging me and weeping at how sad she was for never believing me.