Lilla Mae and Holly kneel on the bench and stare out the window, their breath fogging two small circles upon the glass. Holly points. “I don’t like the look of those trees. They look like arms reaching out to grab us.”
Lilla Mae laughs. “Trees don’t grab people, silly.”
Holly shivers. “What does then?”
Lilla Mae studies Holly, this woman-child who seems so much older and wiser than a typical nine-year- old. She’s certainly more mature than Lilla Mae’s sister, who celebrated her tenth birthday just before Lilla Mae was brought here. “A good school,” her parents had reassured her, they in the front seat of their old car, she in the back, right in the middle so that she could lean her head forward and speak over the roar of the engine. “You’ll get a good education–better than you could ever hope to have in the village.”
“But…it must be expensive.”
Her father had looked at her in the rearview mirror then. “They gave you a scholarship, sweetie.”
And it’s this image that has remained with her: Her father’s eyes, reflected back to her, smiling yet a bit tentative. There was some emotion he’d held back. Something he was trying to hide.
“Draw us a picture, Lilla Mae,” Holly says now.
Lilla Mae shakes her head. “Last time I drew on the window Teacher smacked me.”
Holly frowns. “She not a real teacher.”
“Lilla Mae?” Holly turns and leans in a little.
“I don’t think any of these people here are real,” Holly whispers.
“No,” Holly says. “I don’t think…Have you ever looked into their eyes?”
“I keep my head down, just the way they say.”
“Try looking at them next time. The janitor. The teachers. The cook. They’re all…not here.”
Lilla Mae feels a shiver tickle her spine. “Well where are they, then, if they’re not here?”
“It’s like…Like they’re…I don’t know, Lilla Mae. Have they ever touched you?”
“Yes.” Lilla Mae recalls Teacher’s hand grabbing her arm, yanking it from the window.
“What did it feel like?”
“Cold.” Lilla Mae shudders. “Sad. Lonely.”
“I’m afraid, Lilla Mae. I haven’t heard from my parents in eight months.”
“Not even a letter?”
“Did you get a letter?” Holly demands.
Lilla Mae shakes her head. “I think my parents forgot about me.”
“No,” Holly puts a hand on Lilla Mae’s arm. “I think they disappeared our parents.”
“I don’t know. But…”
“What about the other kids? They can’t have…”
“They’re not here, either, Lilla Mae. They’re cold, too.”
Lilla Mae looks around the bedroom: two beds, neatly made. Two dressers. White shirts and blue slacks, neatly folded and tucked inside.
“I think they want to make us cold, too, Lilla Mae.”
Lilla Mae looks again at the window, sees Holly’s gaze reflected back to her and just now she realizes the unidentified emotion she could not recognize in her father’s eyes.
It was terror.
Lilla Mae raises her index finger to the glass, traces out the words carefully. “Help us,” she writes in the fog.
And Holly begins to cry.
This was written for this week’s Studio30plus prompt: The word was fog.