Originally submitted to No Sleep in April 2015.
I stand outside the house each day, just watching. Long enough that I’m sure the neighbors think there’s something wrong with me, something off about my family.
We’re the new family here, the ones that are jarring against the endless rows of white picket fences and perfectly crisp lawns. We worked our asses off to afford it, and our car isn’t as new and shiny as the others around here. It’s a few years too old, too scratched, not quite the top of the line.
Less than a week ago, this would have played on my mind, there would have been spreadsheets and budgets and trying to squeeze extra dollars out of our pay check for a car loan.
It had been so important to fit in. Being able to nod ever so slightly at the guy next door as we each tended our lawns on a Sunday morning. Not a wave or a smile, just a subtle nod. Just enough for him to know he was acknowledged, but that we belonged here, too.
But now there were no nods, no spreadsheets, no tending to the lawn.
We moved here with our beat up car and worried we didn’t fit in. We sent our daughter Katie off to daycare, the most expensive one around. All the nearby kids went there, and then off to the private school with its waiting lists and staggering enrolment fees.
We didn’t worry about Katie. She’s always been a sturdy kid. A happy, easygoing kid, who makes friends as easily as any other four year old.
She came back from that first day quieter than normal. Only enough that we barely noticed, and quickly dismissed it as being tired. I asked how her day was and she shrugged, her mother Lou mimicking her shrug from behind her.
“I don’t know what happened. Probably just a big day.” Lou said as we finally got to bed, Katie fast asleep in her own room.
This happened each day we sent her to daycare. We didn’t send her every day, just a few times a week. On the days at home after a quiet time in the morning, my wife said it was like she shook it off, whatever it was. And then she’d play and laugh and be our monkey again.
The following week we sent her for three consecutive days. We were busy.
So busy and so tired we barely registered how much our daughter faded. The first day… Hell, even the second day… We dismissed it.
A big day. Again. On the third day it was difficult to even get her to shrug in response. We took notice then.
Colouring books, movies, funny-shaped pasta for dinner.
She dutifully did it all, but she wasn’t really with us.
We’re the worst parents. I know that now. We let her go off to bed on her own and decided she was tired, maybe unwell. Moving house was a big change for a four year old. Half an hour later I checked in on her. I was tired myself, and about to turn in.
As I approached her bedroom door, I thought I heard her voice.
A flurry of movement gave away that she hadn’t been sleeping or even in bed. She looked at me, not quite guiltily.
“How do you like your daycare group?”
“It’s okay.” She wasn’t meeting my eyes, but looking down at her blanket.
I sat on the bed beside her and tucked her in properly. “Just okay? Have you made some new friends?”
“Not yet, daddy.”
“You will soon, okay?” I kissed her forehead and stood up, thinking to tell Lou about this. “I promise.”
I flicked her lamp off and was at the doorway before a sudden thought snuck its way into my mind. I hesitated. “Katie… Who were you talking to just now?”
“Just Rosie. She’s my new friend.”
Ah, I thought, an imaginary friend. She hadn’t made new friends at daycare and she was feeling alone. If she’d been staying up with ‘Rosie’, that explained why she was so tired, too.
“Okay, kiddo. You two get some sleep now, alright?”
Lou and I went to bed and I told her about Rosie. Both of us were so relieved.
I feel sick thinking that now, that we were actually happy to hear about Rosie.
Over the next few weeks, we heard more about Rosie. Her full name, all about her family, her hobbies and personality.
“Rosie loves horses!” Katie told us brightly over breakfast one morning. She stopped eating, her spoon halfway to her mouth, milk dribbling off the edge. A frown darkened her face suddenly. “She doesn’t like horses now. She hates them.”
“We don’t say we hate things, Katie,” Lou corrected her quickly. “That’s not nice.”
“Rosie hates you.” Katie had leapt to her feet, throwing her spoon down on the table.
Things got worse after that. Rosie hated horses and she never appeared to forgive Lou for trying to correct Katie. Our daughter withdrew from Lou, day after day, only talking to me about Rosie at night before bed.
Lou tried to encourage Katie to make friends, to stop spending so much time ‘with’ Rosie, but this only made our daughter angrier, made her lash out in ways no four year old should, with such rage and unveiled hatred that god help me, I started spending longer in the office.
Katie wasn’t lashing out at me, but I couldn’t handle the strange outbursts that she claimed were from Rosie, the cruel way she treated Lou, or the creepy voice she adopted when she told me more about Rosie’s life.
“Rosie hates the horses.”
“The horses are scary.”
“Daddy, I hate horses.”
“I’m scared of the horses, daddy.”
“Rosie says it’s 1923. What does that mean, daddy?”
She talked at night, at all hours. Softly, softly, but you could hear her from the doorway. Always about the damn horses.
I found a notebook and started writing down everything she told me about Rosie. Once I got to nearly a full book, once I was sitting on the floor at night outside her door just so I could write, once my wife’s eyes were full of fear when she saw our daughter…
“Daddy.” Katie whispered to me one night. “I want to see the horses.”
Once all that happened… Too late, I started looking for answers. I drove to the public library after work and wandered aimlessly, with no clues about what to do.
I found myself seated at the old machines, looking through electronic scans of the old local newspapers.
Rosie had told our daughter it was 1923. I checked each of the yellowed pages carefully, tracing my mouse over each line, determined not to miss anything.
Katie had told me that her name was Rosie Lindon and she was six years old.
Second tragedy strikes Lindon family
The article was in pretty bad shape, but I could make out enough. The Lindons had been a family here in the 1920’s. Their six year old daughter, Rosie Lindon, had been trampled to death by their own horses. It was suspected she had snuck out at night to see the horses and they’d been startled.
But this second tragedy…
Rosie’s four year old sister had wandered in to the stables at night, two months later. She had met the same fate as her sister. Investigators had been quoted as saying it was almost impossible that the four year old had been able to get into the stables on her own.
The article made a coy mention at the end of the supernatural. The kind of comment from a journalist who had spoken to a grieving family about their loss and picked up on an insane comment. Rather than leave that side out of the story, it was juicier to include it.
In the days leading up to her death, the four year old had claimed that Rosie was visiting her, talking about the horses.
The article ended with a sort of farewell to the previously unnamed four year old.
Rosie hates the horses.
Two months later… We’d been in our new house for two months.
I left the computer on and ran from the library, my thundering footsteps attracting pissed off looks from the other readers.
So much for fitting in.
Everything Katie – our Katie – had told me about Rosie had been correct. She hated the horses. It was 1923. She was part of the Lindon family and her father was one of the uppers in a local factory.
How did Katie know any of it, unless Rosie was telling her?
How did a four year old in 1923 unlock the stables and get to the horses on her own?
How did our Katie already know to fear the horses? She’d never seen a horse, she’d never…
I reached my car and fumbled unlocking it, dropping the keys, stalling it as I tried to drive away. I broke every driving law I knew getting home.
I didn’t stand outside this time. If anyone was watching, they didn’t wonder what the hell their creepy new neighbor was doing, standing out the front. They might have wondered why he left his car running, why he slammed up the driveway and ran like hell to the house.
The house was empty, the lights out.
I turned lights on as I checked the rooms, scared of Rosie. Scared of my own daughter.
I thought to check my phone. I’d set it to silent for a morning meeting and forgotten about it.
Taking Katie to see the horses. Will call after lunch.
11:45AM. No missed calls.
They must have been gone for six, seven hours.
Rosie hates the horses.