Children, especially very young children, don’t know anything.
More, they don’t know what they don’t know. Their brains are black holes, taking in everything, spaghettifying the concepts, and coming away with the wrong idea. They must be taught everything, especially the things adults take for granted. How physics works. How people work. Don’t touch that. Dropping something will make it fall. Whining and crying won’t get you anything. What is that? Don’t put that in your mouth! There’s germs. Don’t say ain’t, you sound uneducated. If you’re sleepy go to sleep. If you’re hungry here’s what to eat. Go outside. Be quiet.
Miss Lavender Black, five years old and tallest in her kindergarten, didn’t know the history of the old house they moved into. She didn’t know the house was a Victorian and older than her grandparents. She didn’t know her parents had gotten it for a steal. She most certainly didn’t know about the murders.
What she did know was that she couldn’t sleep, and it was because someone was singing. Lavender could read her numbers, and the clock on the little table next to her bed said it was twelve thirty-four, which meant it was Late. No one should have been awake in the house. She lay in her little wooden bed, under the Disney princess blankets and staring at the glow in the dark stars affixed to the ceiling. The nightlight by the door, a plain bulb trapped in a foggy square, cast odd shadows in the room. Long, twisting things that reached toward her bed. The days were getting cold, and the nights colder, and the window above her bed was open a little bit because they lived in a good neighborhood now. Lavender didn’t know what that had to do with leaving a window open, only that she wasn’t supposed to have heard it.
The singing was not coming from outside. It was coming from the hall, and as Lavender sat up to stare into the darkness beyond her bedroom door, she wasn’t afraid. She was only curious. And something else, some emotion she had seen on adults, some emotion she had felt before, but didn’t quite know enough to call it what it was. Annoyed. Lavender was annoyed. It was a school night. The bus would come to pick her up for kindergarten when the sun was still low and her breath came out in white puffs. This singing was keeping her up, and it needed to stop.
Lavender threw off the blankets and climbed out of her bed. The cold air from the window pooled around her, making her shiver. She had little slippers somewhere, as pleasantly pink as her blanket, but there was no time for that. All she had to do was find the singer and ask them nicely to stop. Then she could be asleep again. They were going to be making turkeys with colored paper tomorrow and Lavender wanted to be well-rested.
The house creaked under feet as she followed the singing down the hall. Their last home hadn’t creaked. Lavender’s mother had said it was because this house was so much older, so its bones creaked like nana’s. Lavender had pulled up the loose floorboards in the dining room but she hadn’t found any bones. Only a lot of dust and some pipes and a dead mouse.
The singing was not coming from her parents’ room. She stood outside their door, listening to their slow breathing. How the creaking house did not wake them up was a mystery. How they didn’t hear the singing was another mystery altogether. It may not be coming from their room, but it was louder, now. It was a woman’s voice, switching between humming and singing so softly Lavender couldn’t quite hear the words.
It was coming from the door to the attic.
Dust and boxes and more boxes were all that were in the attic. Lavender had to unlock the door to get in. There were windows the singer could have come through. Maybe that could be a normal thing. Lavender was pretty sure people didn’t just come in through the windows, but as she considered it in her slow, sleepy way, taking the stairs with light steps so they didn’t creak even louder, she supposed there might have been a way climbing through windows was normal that she had never been told about.
It was hard to see her in the dark, so Lavender reached for the light switch. The single bulb hanging from a hire flickered to an orange glow.
There was a lady.
She was sitting in front of a round little table with a mirror, something Lavender was sure had been in the corner covered up with a sheet. Waves of blonde hair fell over her back and plain nightgown, and as she hummed and sang a song Lavender didn’t know, the lady ran a brush through the hair over and over. Slowly, as though she were dreaming about something.
For the first time, Lavender wondered if she was dreaming. No one had ever told her how to check, so she decided to pretend like she wasn’t and if she was, well, at least she was sleeping.
Lavender suddenly felt shy. This lady was a grown up, minding her business, and she wasn’t supposed to interrupt grown ups minding their business. But this did feel like a special case. The lady wasn’t supposed to be in their house, not even their attic, and the singing in the middle of the night was very rude!
The lady did not stop singing. Maybe she hadn’t been loud enough.
The lady froze, the song dying on her tongue. Putting the brush down first, careful to not make a noise, the lady finally turned to face Lavender.
There was something wrong with her face. She was white, but even the white kids Lavender went to school with were never this pale. And her eyes were all white and chalky. Then there was her neck, bulging and black. Not the good kind of black like Lavender. A bad black. Black like rubber tires, rolling and squishy.
Lavender stared at the lady’s neck, black and round and swollen, her eyes perfectly round. The lady was smiling at her.
The voice of Lavender’s mother suddenly shot through her mind. Don’t stare at people, it’s rude.
They had been at the grocery store and seen a person in a wheelchair. The person didn’t look like any other person Lavender had ever seen. Very small, oddly shaped. She was just curious. But then her mother had snapped like that and pulled her away, and finally explained in the car that some people are different but they don’t want to be stared at. They just want to be treated like everyone else.
“If that person had been walking around, would you have stared?”
“Then don’t stare if they’re in a wheelchair, either.”
This must be the same situation. The lady was different, but she should be treated normal. So, Lavender swallowed and forced herself to look the lady in her eyes.
“I’m trying to sleep but I can’t because of your singing. Can you sing in the morning, please?”
Even with her eyes all weird and white Lavender could see the lady was surprised. Maybe she shouldn’t be staring at her weird eyes, either? But if the lady was normal, that’s where Lavender would be looking, so she held firm.
“You…don’t…like…my…singing?” Her voice was crunchy, now, almost too hard to understand.
Lavender shrugged. “It’s pretty. But it woke me up and I can’t go back to sleep.”
The woman leaned in, closer, closer, until her blonde hair surrounded Lavender like curtains and those weird, painted eyes were only an inch from hers.
“You…don’t…like…my…singing?” she asked again, her crunchy voice now rising to match her mother’s that time she cut all her doll’s hair off.
“No, ma’am. I mean, not right now, ma’am.”
The lady jerked back like she’d been burned. Maybe she should have called the lady miss. It was hard to tell how old she was what with the white eyes and black neck. She stared at Lavender for a long time, bony fingers completely still on the lap of her yellowed nightgown.
Finally, the woman relaxed, just a bit.
Lavender shook her head, and was overtaken with a yawn. “I just don’t want to be sleepy at school tomorrow. We’re making turkeys with construction paper and I want mine to go on the fridge.”
The nightgown sounded like dried leaves as the woman shifted on her seat, becoming smaller.
“They probably won’t let me take it home tomorrow. They like to put stuff in the hallway. But I can come up after school and tell you about it. And you can sing. Just not now. Deal?”
Lavender stuck her hand out the way her father had taught her. Sort of. Elbow straight, hand in the lady’s face. She was sure there was a little smile when the woman took it, her dry skin rasping against Lavender’s fingers.
Miss Rawlins watched as the little girl with her hair pulled back in puffs went down the stairs. She gave a wave before turning off the light, and before Miss Rawlins could stop herself she was waving back. Then the lights were off, the door was shut, the little girl was walking down the hallway, and Miss Rawlins was alone. Again.
This time, though, it would not be for long.
She’d been about to kill the little girl, like she’d killed the others. But the others had screamed and cried. The others had tried to run. The others had not asked her politely to stopped singing and promised to come back to keep her company.
Perhaps, Miss Rawlins could let this one live.