Geraldine Farmer stared out the window over the kitchen sink, hands clutching a dishtowel. The thunderclap came again, followed by a streak of lightning. She startled and backed away, well-worn slippers scraping against the linoleum.
The rain began to fall, coming in erratic drops that beat against the window and sides of the house. After another rumble of thunder, the sky opened up and the rain poured down in sheets, droning on the roof, slapping the glass. The wind howled, and the trees surrounding the house whipped about against the darkening sky like subjects bowing to an invisible God.
Geraldine’s fingers fumbled behind her and gripped the back of a wooden kitchen chair. Without taking her eyes from the dramatic scene just outside her window, she sank into its cushioned seat. As the storm rolled on, Geraldine’s focus on the backyard softened. The woods behind the swaying trees on the perimeter of her property were thrown into sharp relief as another streak of lightning lit the sky.
It was in that split second that Geraldine saw the face. The face was young and pale with the glimmer of a smirk playing on blue-tinted lips.
A rushing sound to her left tore her attention away from the horrifying visage. The calendar had fallen off the wall. Grateful to be busying herself with anything other than the face in the woods, Geraldine rose and crossed the room.
It was as she was pushing the thumbtack back into the wall that she saw the date.
June 30, 2008
Her left side jerked spasmodically, and she gasped in pain as a hot lick of fire shot up her neck into her head. She staggered backward, only vaguely aware that her vision was becoming incredibly blurry.
June. Her daughter—
Turning, she reached for the wall-mounted telephone and dialed 911.
When the operator answered, Geraldine Farmer uttered only one word before collapsing into unconsciousness.
Molly Larson slammed the door to the sedan and flew up the pebbled walkway. Her grandmother stood just inside the screen door and bent to embrace the child as she bounded up the steps.
“Hi, Grammie!” Molly said brightly, her blue eyes dancing.
As Molly’s mother plodded up the walkway, Geraldine noticed how deflated she looked.
They embraced, and Geraldine stepped back, allowing both of them to enter her small cottage-style home.
“How are you doing, Molly?” Geraldine asked as they stepped into the living room. “Did you have a nice drive?”
“It was alright.” Molly said, twirling a long strand of blonde hair between her fingers. Her gray-blue eyes sparkled, and she lowered her voice to a whisper. “We got lost a couple of times though, and somebody cut Mommy off on the highway. She gave them the bird.”
Geraldine shot her daughter a look, but June just rolled her eyes and sagged into the love seat with a sigh.
Molly hung her head. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright, sweetie.” Her grandmother told her, “We all get angry sometimes and do things we later regret, right?”
Molly nodded, making a point to avoid her mother’s eyes. “Can I go outside and play on the tire swing?”
Geraldine nodded her approval.
“Just don’t wander off.” June called, but Molly had already disappeared out the door.
“I can’t believe the tire swing is still there.” June said, “I remember when Dad put it up.”
Geraldine took a seat opposite her daughter in a worn, paisley-printed chair. “June, things are getting worse, aren’t they?”
The younger woman’s dark brown eyes instantly swam with tears. “Mike served me with divorce papers, Mom. It’s over.”
Geraldine sighed. “Oh, honey, I’m so sorry.”
June ran thin fingers through a short tangle of honey-colored hair. “Honestly, I’m not.”
For the first time, Geraldine noticed how thin her daughter had become. The soft, cotton dress that would have hugged an hourglass figure just a year ago now hung limp as a dishrag. It looked as though somebody had picked June up and simply rung her out.
“He’s happy with Marci.” June told her mother, “Happier than he ever was with me. Molly and I are better off.”
“Well, good riddance to him then." Geraldine replied, a snap in her voice, “You can do better. You’re still young. You’ll find somebody else.”
At age 32 with a 10-year-old, she didn't exactly feel “still young.” If anything, she felt double her age most days. The affair and subsequent divorce was taking a lot more out of her than she wanted to admit.
“I’m not concerned with that now, Mom. I just want to get myself back together so I can be a better mom to my little girl. She’s only 10-years-old, and she’s already seen way too much.”
Geraldine nodded. “Do you think this spiritual retreat will help you?”
June favored her mother with a rare smile. “I’ll make it work, for Molly. Thank you for taking her for the summer, Mom. I’m not fit to be a full-time parent in the state I’m in.”
“Well, she always spends a month here each summer, right? What are two more?”
“She’s safe here.” June said, glancing over her mother’s shoulder to peer out the window. “Nothing but woods and streams, townhouses and cottages. There aren’t any freaks or child molesters running around like there are in the city.”
Geraldine turned and smiled as she watched her granddaughter play on the tire swing. She was on her stomach, and she’d wound up the rope as tight as her short legs would allow and was letting its unraveling spin her around, arms in the air, blonde hair flying.
“Why did you name her Molly?”
“What?” June’s voice rose an octave. She gave an uncertain little laugh. “Mom, that was out of the blue. Besides, you know why I named her Molly.”
Geraldine turned back, a small frown furrowing her brow. “I do?”
“Mom, really.” June regarded her mother quizzically. “What brought this on?”
Geraldine shook her head. “Humor an old woman, will you?”
“Mom, you’re only 62.” June protested. Then, seeing the strange look that had come into her mother’s eyes, June relented.
“Alright. I got the name from you. I guess I can see you really don’t remember, though.”
Geraldine’s frown deepened.
“Do you remember the stroke you had right before I gave birth?”
“Oh, yes, of course. We were in the hospital at the same time. I really thought I was a goner.”
“Yes, and I was so worried about you that it brought on my labor a few weeks early. Mike and I hadn’t decided on a name yet. She was just Babygirl Larson for almost a week.”
Geraldine nodded, listening.
“I brought the baby in for you to see. I sat on the edge of your bed and showed you your granddaughter. You’d been dozing, but you opened your eyes for a second and looked at her. The first word out of your mouth was—”
“Molly,” Geraldine finished. Her hand flew to her mouth. “Oh, June, I had completely forgotten that.”
June shrugged her small shoulders. “I took it for a sign or something. It’s a beautiful name.”
Geraldine forced a smile. “Yes, it is.”
“Ring around the rosie, a pocketful of posies…”
The singsong melody floated on the wind. It mingled so perfectly with the ambient noise of the birds, rustling leaves, and June bugs, it could have been there all along.
“Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.” The familiar words fell from Molly’s lips in a whisper.
She wriggled out of the tire swing and glanced around. “Hey! Who said that?”
Molly stood by the swing, one hand on the tire to slow its movement. She looked around but saw nobody else nearby. Somewhere in the distance, a lawnmower started up.
A movement out of the corner of her eye turned her attention to the woods. The tall thicket of grass at the edge of the property began to ripple even though there was no breeze.
The hint of a giggle coming from that same direction made Molly move closer. She began walking toward the woods as though her small, bare feet had a mind of their own.
“Allie?” Molly called uncertainly. “Is that you?”
The movement in the grass stopped and Molly, too, halted.
She was standing just at the edge of the woods now. The grass came nearly to her shoulders in some spots.
It was then that Molly noticed the change in the atmosphere. The sound of the lawnmower and the beetles were muffled now, as though two thick wads of cotton had been stuffed into her ears.
Shaking her head, she took a step forward, reaching out both hands to part the blades of grass.
When the thin, white hand came down on her shoulder, she screamed.
“How’s your grilled cheese, sweetie?” Geraldine asked.
Molly washed down a thick wad of bread and cheese with a swallow of milk. The glass had begun to sweat and it slipped in her hands, making a loud "thwok" against the table when she tried to set it down.
She jumped at the noise. “It’s good, Grammie.”
“I didn’t mean to scare you outside, honey.” Geraldine said, “It’s just that I’d been calling you and you didn’t seem to hear.”
Molly felt her insides squirm at the recollection of the incident by the woods. Why had she been so scared? Molly prided herself on never being afraid. Especially since Mom always seemed to be. When the hand had grabbed her shoulder out in the backyard, Molly didn't immediately recognize it as her grandmother's, and she'd shrieked like a baby gazelle being mauled to death by a lion.
“I wish Allison and her family hadn’t moved away.” Geraldine went on, sipping a glass of iced tea, “You and her always liked to play together in the summer.”
“I thought maybe she came back.”
Geraldine’s smile was tender. She placed a hand on her granddaughter's shoulder. “No, they sold the house months ago, I’m afraid. An elderly couple lives there now, but they have no grandchildren. It looks as though it will be just you and me this summer.”
Molly frowned. “There are no other kids in the neighborhood?”
Geraldine shook her head. “Not that I’m aware of.”
“I heard a girl in the woods today.”
Geraldine flinched, drawing her hand away. “You must have imagined it.”
Molly chewed on her lower lip. “I guess so.”
“You be careful around the woods, Molly, you understand?”
Molly was startled at the sudden snap in her grandmother’s voice. “Okay, I will.”
“You’re not to go into those woods alone.”
Molly nodded. “I used to go with Allie sometimes. We took a shortcut to her house.”
“Well, it was alright with Allison. She grew up in these woods. She knows them.”
Molly grew quiet. She stared down at the table and sighed. At first when her mother had told her she’d be spending the entire summer at the cottage, Molly had jumped at the chance of being able to be free of her parent’s constant fighting.
She’d imagined long days with Allie, playing in the woods, swimming in her pool, and having fun. Allie had written to Molly right before she moved. Her mother had misplaced the letter and the bad news that had come with it. It had only surfaced a couple of days before the trip to Grandma’s house.
Molly hadn’t made a big deal out of the letter in front of her mom, but when she was finally in bed, she'd cried herself to sleep. She loved her grandmother, but the thought of her being her only playmate through the whole summer made Molly’s chest feel heavy.
She did not want to cry in front of her grandmother right now, so she grabbed the slippery glass with an iron grip and chugged what was left of the milk.
“Hey.” Geraldine spoke gently, “Why don’t we go to the orchard tomorrow and pick some apples?”
“If I can just get a bit higher…” Molly spoke through gritted teeth. She stood under a small apple tree, one arm stretched so high it felt as if any moment it might come out of the socket. She was pushing so hard to reach the shiny green orb above her head that her toes hurt.
She felt a surge of renewed hope when her fingertips brushed once and then twice around the fruit.
A sudden cramp in her left leg sent her sprawling to the ground.
“Dammit!” She brushed sweat-soaked hair off of her forehead. She glowered at the apple as it bobbed in the slight breeze. It might as well have been laughing at her.
“Need a hand?”
Molly turned to see a tall, dark-haired boy beside her. Though she hadn’t answered his question, he was already stooping to pick up the apples that had spilled out of her small basket. Molly guessed him to be about 12.
“Oh, thanks.” Molly said, getting up and brushing off her backside.
The boy smiled shyly and returned her basket.
“No problem,” he replied with a shrug. “I’m Adam.”
“You live around here?”
“No.” Molly said, shaking her head, “I’m visiting my grandmother for the summer.”
Come to think of it, where was her grandmother? Molly scanned the rows of trees. She could have sworn she was just beside her only a moment ago.
“Is her house here in town?”
Molly had been concentrating so hard on trying to locate the familiar purple dress and gray hair that she started at Adam’s words.
“Um, no.” Molly said, shifting the basket, “She lives in a cottage out at Bridge Creek, right by Harper’s Woods.
Adam’s mouth dropped open, and he took a step backward. He seemed to be about to say something when he was interrupted by a sudden yell to their left.
Geraldine, face flushed, hair askew, came panting toward the two children. Her eyes darted back and forth between them as she laid a hand on her granddaughter’s shoulder.
“Where have you been? I thought you were right behind me!”
Molly felt her face begin to flush at being scolded in front of a boy who was almost a teenager.
“I’m sorry, Gram,” Molly said. “I thought you were right behind me, too.”
“Hello, there,” Geraldine said stiffly, nodding curtly to Adam.
“Hello. I’m Adam. I’m here with my dad, but he knows where I am.”
Molly suppressed a giggle. The kid obviously thought he was about to be scolded, as well!
“Oh, all right,” Geraldine said, her expression softening. “That’s good to know.”
“Sweetie, are you almost ready to get going? We need to stop at the grocery store before we go home.”
“Sure,” Molly said. “Nice meeting you, Adam.”
“Nice meeting you, Adam,” Geraldine parroted.
Molly and her grandmother had made it most of the way out of the orchard before Adam bounded back into sight. He tapped Molly on the shoulder and greeted her startled cry with a wide grin. In his hand he held the elusive fruit that had caused their meeting.
“Decided you might want this,” he said, topping off her basket.
“Oh, thanks,” Molly said, glancing backward to be sure she didn’t lose her grandmother again.
“Hey, listen. I guess you haven’t heard, huh?”
Molly frowned at Adam’s sudden change in tone. His dark eyes were dancing with mischief.
“What are you talking about?”
“Harper’s Woods is haunted.”
“Oh, come on—” Molly began, but he cut her off.
“No, seriously,” he said, stepping back. “It’s really weird that you’re staying there for the summer, too.”
“What’s so weird about that?”
Adam gave her a long look before speaking again.
“I can’t believe you don’t know,” Adam said, shaking his head. “The ghost in the woods. Her name is Molly.”
Molly stared into the woods and bit down on a tart green apple defiantly. She hated that stupid kid, Adam. It had been three days since he told her that dumb story about a ghost with her name. Trying to convince herself that he was just some weird kid looking to scare people had done little to stop the nightmares.
Her grandmother kept asking why Molly looked so tired at breakfast, but Molly didn’t want to say. She was sure her grandmother would think the stress of her parent’s divorce or loneliness was bringing it on. Besides, Grandma hadn’t been feeling too well herself the past couple of days, and the last thing Molly wanted to do was make her feel worse.
After a third night of bad sleep, Molly made a decision. She was going to go into the woods. She’d been in it a million times with Allison, and her best friend had never told her about a ghost in the woods. Also, she knew as long as she avoided it, she’d probably keep having nightmares.
As she walked towards the edge of the property line, she threw a guilty glance toward the house. When she’d left, Grandma had been sleeping on the living room sofa bundled under a blanket, tissues and hot tea at hand. Molly convinced herself that it was because she didn’t want to wake her grandmother that she hadn’t asked for permission.
Molly adjusted the small pack on her shoulder, stepped past the tall blades of grass, and walked into the woods. “I’ll just walk to where Allison used to live and walk back. If no ghost gets me, then there is no ghost.”
Molly set off down the small worn path, oblivious to the presence taking shape behind her.
“Molly, Molly wants her dolly!”
Three 12-year-old girls stood in a circle around a fourth child, a thin blonde who appeared younger than the rest. The older girls tossed a doll between them, sticking out their tongues and making faces at the girl in the middle.
The little blonde jumped up each time the treasured toy flew overhead, and, though she stood on tiptoes, she couldn’t come close to reaching it.
“Don’t pick on me!”
Despite the defiance in her tone, her trembling lower lip egged the bullies on.
“Poor little Molly, want a lolli?” Marianne, the tallest of the girls produced a Dum Dum lollipop from a pocket in her overalls.
Sarah had the doll now, its short, red hair tangled up in her thick fingers. She swung it back and forth like a pendulum, a sour expression on her pudgy face.
“Don’t swing Raggedy Ann like that. Give her back!”
“Why don’t you run and cry to your grammie, Molly?” Gerry, the third girl chimed in.
“Yeah!” Marianne agreed. She looked to her friends. “Her Mommy doesn’t want her. Dropped her off on the doorstep and ran away.”
“How come your mommy doesn’t want you, Molly?” Gerry asked.
“Yeah?” Sarah agreed. “Is there something wrong with you?”
“Why do you spend all your time in the woods, Molly?” Gerry asked scornfully.
“I hear you talk to yourself.” Sarah jeered.
The lollipop Marianne had been holding hit Molly on the side of the head, making a loud "thwok" in her ear.
“Leave me alone!” Molly shrieked. Her fists clenched into balls at her side as tears poured down her cheeks. “Just leave me alone!”
Just then, a sudden gust of wind rocked the trees in the woods around them. The sky, which hadn’t held even one cloud only moments ago had suddenly grown dark as though an unseen hand had reached out to block the sun.
“Thunderstorm!” Sarah announced, tossing the doll to Marianne.
Gerry seemed to be the only one to notice the sudden change in Molly. The young girl was no longer crying. She wasn’t even moving. She was glaring, emerald eyes darting methodically from Marianne to Sarah, then back to Gerry.
Gerry felt herself taking several steps backwards, nearly plowing into Marianne and Sarah, who had begun to dance amidst the sudden rain shower. A deafening boom of thunder followed a streak of purple lightning that painted the sky.
“Hey, watch where I’m running!” Marianne laughed, shoving the doll into her friend's hands.
“Let’s get out of here!” Gerry yelled above the storm, her gaze still on Molly.
Those eyes. They just kept moving. No, ticking. Gerry realized with a crawling shudder that the eyes reminded her of one of those Kit Cat clocks ticking off the seconds.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
“Yeah, let’s go!” Sarah agreed, pushing a wet tangle of hair from her face.
The two girls took off down the path, shrieking with delight. Gerry watched them go.
“I’m going to get lost in the woods.”
The voice was so close to her ear that Gerry screamed and jumped back.
Though Gerry had looked away for only a moment, Molly had somehow managed to cover the 10 or so feet between them in that time. Her face was only inches from Gerry’s, her green eyes dark with rage and still red-rimmed from crying. She snatched the Raggedy Ann doll from Gerry’s loosening grip with animal ferocity.
The smile on Molly’s pale face was pure rage. “But, I’ll come back for all of you.”
Geraldine woke with a start, her hand clutching at her sweat-soaked chest. As she struggled to right herself on the sofa, she was seized by a sudden coughing fit. Grabbing a cushion for support, she reached for a tissue and waited for the fit to pass.
“Dammit!” Geraldine cursed.
She could still see the cold eyes locked onto hers, still feel the sudden shock of cold raindrops through the canopy of dense forest.
“I’ll come back for all of you.”
The whispered threat, uttered nearly five decades ago still echoed in her mind as though the words had just been spoken.
Marianne, Sarah, and Geraldine had all made it out of the woods unscathed that day, and Molly had stayed true to her word. She disappeared. A search party had been sent out to look for her when Gerry, despite the protests of her friends, told Molly’s grandmother that they’d last seen her playing in the woods.
Neither Molly nor the body of the young girl was ever found.
Gerry had been terrified to knock on the old woman’s door. For decades, she held the title and reputation of town witch. Though she had been polite, Molly’s grandmother had stared coldly at young Geraldine throughout her well-rehearsed lie as though she could see straight through her. She knew what the kids in the neighborhood said and did to her grandchild, though she passed away long before she ever saw what Molly had in store for them.
10 years later, on the exact anniversary of the day Molly disappeared, then 21-year-old Marianne Hutchins decided to go for a walk in the woods. Though she hadn’t entered them in a decade, she got up early in the morning, left her newborn son with a neighbor and vanished. The neighbor would report later that Marianne had looked almost as if she were sleepwalking. The neighbor also noted that she thought it odd that Marianne was not wearing a coat as it had been pouring rain.
They found her body by the river three days later. The papers hadn’t been specific, but the ranger who’d found her began telling tales to anyone who would listen that the young woman had been found with her eyes wide open, face contorted in fear.
10 more years would pass before the death of Sarah’s grandfather brought Sarah, her husband, and two children back to her hometown.
By this time, Geraldine had all but forgotten the strange incidents of Harper’s woods. She’d been married and she and her husband were expecting what would be their only child, June.
Geraldine had been sitting at the kitchen table the next morning, cutting Sarah's grandfather's obituary out of the paper when the phone call came in. Sarah’s husband could only conclude that, in her grief over losing her grandfather, Sarah must have woken in the night to take a walk and had perhaps gotten turned around in territory much changed since her childhood.
They found her car parked just outside of Harper’s woods and the body only 20 minutes later. Though the coroner had proclaimed accidental drowning as the cause of death, Geraldine knew better.
It was then that Geraldine made peace with the fact that she had only one decade left to live.
But death instead came to claim the life of Geraldine’s husband during the span of that 10 years, and she didn’t come in the form of an angry child on a specific anniversary day. Walter had simply stepped off the curb and been hit and instantly killed by a drunk driver.
Though Geraldine spent some time worrying over June, she soon convinced herself that nothing supernatural had ever had designs on them. The strange deaths of Marianne and Sarah were just creepy coincidences.
The insurance money Geraldine had come into from her husband’s death had helped her and her young daughter more than either of them had expected. June was able to attend a private boarding school during the fall and spend each summer at an exclusive summer camp.
Geraldine closed her eyes now and forced herself to take a deep breath. She picked up her mug of cold tea and took a long swallow to further calm her throat and prevent another coughing fit. She dabbed at the corners of her eyes with the tissue she still clutched in her hand.
She rose from the couch and made her way to the kitchen. Selecting a glass from the cabinet, she turned on the tap.
As she passed by the window, a flicker of movement caught her eye. She frowned at the calendar that hung on the wall by the phone. Its pages were fluttering as though caught in a breeze, but a quick glance around the kitchen told her no window was open.
Geraldine’s heart raced as her feet moved her toward the fluttering pages.
She felt the glass slip from her hand. It hit the linoleum and shattered, but Geraldine didn’t hear. She didn’t even feel the glass shard that penetrated the thin sole of her house slipper when she staggered backward.
A flash of lightning lit up the sky. Geraldine gasped and turned a face drained of color to the window and the woods beyond. “Oh, no…”
“Ring around the rosies...”
The voice was a whisper.
Molly whirled to face the sound but could see nothing but forest. She licked dry, chapped lips and swallowed hard. “Who’s there?”
She’d heard a twig crack a few minutes ago. Had somebody or something been following her?
When the shape appeared from behind the gnarled old oak tree, Molly gasped and took a step back.
The little girl smiled. “There’s a storm moving in. You should go home.”
Molly’s chest tightened as she stared at a young girl who appeared to be about Molly’s age with long, stringy blonde hair and a tattered dress. The only thing that stood out were her eyes, green, and almost unnaturally bright.
“Who are you?” Molly asked.
“I’m Claire,” the little girl said, stepping forward. It seemed to Molly that with each step she took, the little girl seemed to glow brighter somehow, as if bathed in her own private sunshine. “I bet you thought I was a ghost, huh?”
Molly surprised herself by giggling. “Yeah, well, somebody told me a ghost story about these woods.”
“I come here all the time,” Claire said. “I’ve never seen a ghost.”
When Claire reached out a hand, Molly felt the slightly cold but solid presence of bone and skin when she shook it. She felt her muscles relax. This girl was just as real as she.
“Where do you live?”
Claire pointed. “On the other side of the woods. Do you know the old lake house?”
Molly laughed. “I thought me and Grandma had the old lake house.”
“No, the other one,” Claire said.
Molly’s mouth formed an ‘O’ of surprise. “You live where my best friend Allison used to live!”
Claire smiled. “I do?”
“Yeah, and Grandma told me there were no other kids here!”
Claire shrugged. “I’m staying there with my grandparents for the summer.”
A sudden rumble of thunder caught their attention.
Molly looked up. Why hadn’t she noticed the sky getting so gray?
“Do you want to come over, Molly? I’ll tell you the real ghost story if you come with me.”
Molly felt a spidery shiver crawl along her spine. “Claire, I never told you my name.”
Claire turned back, frowning. “Yes, you did.”
Molly shook her head. She stepped back. “No, I didn’t.”
Thunder clapped again. Molly looked up as lightning flashed across the sky. When she looked back, Claire was gone.
Molly gasped, turning right and left as large drops of rain splashed her head and arms.
“Ring around the rosies….”
The voice was a deafening whisper all around her.
Somewhere in the depths of the woods, Claire laughed, a maniacal giggle that reverberated off the trees and seemed to chase the falling rain deep underground.
Geraldine screamed as she slid down the embankment. A sharp pain shot through her leg, and she prayed as she tumbled and rolled that it wasn’t broken. Nobody knew where she was. She could die out here.
She landed on her hands and knees in a deep puddle of muddy water. “Molly!”
She’d been combing the woods for nearly an hour, but so far, had seen no sign of her granddaughter.
The rain poured down in sheets.
Geraldine lurched blindly into a tree and held on. For a moment, she was 12-years-old again, helping her friends pick on a helpless little girl. She saw the rage in the eyes of the girl in that not-so-distant memory. 50 years to the day. How had she not realized the date?
Lightning flashed and lit a streak of blonde in the distance. At first, Geraldine was struck by an urge to scream. Then, she recognized her grandchild.
Barefoot, both slippers lost long ago under muck and leaves, Geraldine staggered barefoot toward Molly’s unconscious form.
“Molly?” Geraldine slid down to her knees and cradled the rain-soaked head in her arms. “Oh, God, please don’t be dead. Baby? Honey, wake up.”
But the face was gray, the blue lips parted. Geraldine put her hand to those lips and felt no breath. “Oh, God! Molly!”
Geraldine pushed Molly onto her back and began performing the CPR she’d learned from a YWCA course over 30 years ago. Though she had no idea if she still remembered what to do, instinct took over. She pressed on the small chest and blew frantically into the child’s mouth.
A strong gust of wind picked up, wailing through the trees and nearly knocking Geraldine to the mud-soaked forest floor.
She looked up, gasping, momentarily distracted from her task. Had she just heard a voice? Something moved in the distance. A figure. Was somebody out there?
“Help! Help! Over here! Please, it’s my granddaughter. I think she’s drowned!”
Something moved, an amorphous figure melting into the trunk of a tree. Geraldine squinted, shook her head and resumed the chest pumps on her grandchild.
An explosion happened beneath Geraldine’s hands as Molly sat bolt upright and gasped for air. She fell onto her side and began coughing up water.
“Molly, Molly!” Geraldine cried, holding her granddaughter close. “You’re alright. You’re alright.”
“That’s right, honey. Grammie is here.”
Geraldine pulled Molly away and held her at arm’s length, checking her over for any injuries. The child’s face was still pale but the color was quickly returning. Geraldine smoothed the hair out of her granddaughter’s eyes.
Her granddaughter’s eyes.
They were green.
All pretense gone, the strange child's mouth twisted into a wicked smile.
Geraldine staggered backwards with a shriek.
“No! No! Where's my granddaughter? Where's Molly?”
The little girl shook her head slowly, looking down at Geraldine as though she were a slug beneath her feet. Crossing the short distance between them with unbelievable speed, Molly knelt down and pressed her face close to the older woman's.
“I am Molly, silly.”
“No! No, you're not MY Molly!” Geraldine yelled, trying to pull herself upright in the mud. A sudden pain shot through her arm and radiated upward through her jaw.
The crushing chest pain soon followed suit, and Geraldine knew she would never make it out of the woods alive.
“Your eyes. June will know that you're not her daughter.” Geraldine croaked.
Molly from 50 years ago smiled again, moving away from the older woman who lay dying in the rain. She closed her emerald eyes, and when she opened them again, they were the same shade of gray-blue as her those of her late grandchild, whose body was now being piloted around by a vengeful spirit.
“Mommy, June and I will have a wonderful life together. Don't you think?”
Those were the last words Geraldine Farmer heard as the darkness closed in, the woods finally claiming her for its own.