I dreamt that one had died
in a strange place
they had nailed the boards
over your face
— His Name is Alive, "How Ghosts Affect Relationships"
"It's hard to explain," said Cassandra. "It just feels like something happened here."
"It's just an unfamiliar house to you," said Dagmar. Peter set a plate of bacon on the kitchen table and walked back to the stove. "You're in a strange bed, you had some dreams."
"But this was different," said Cassandra. "Really intense."
"How did it go again?" said Peter.
"It..." Tears started in her eyes, and she pushed them away angrily.
Cassandra took a determined sip of her coffee and started again. "I woke up and saw a glow-in-the-dark Mickey Mouse clock beside me on the nightstand, you know, the kind with Mickey's arms as the hands on the clock? It said it was half-past eleven."
"You can't read or tell the time in dreams," said Dagmar.
"This was a lucid dream! And I'm just telling you what I remember."
"Let her talk," said Peter, sitting down at the table and helping himself to breakfast.
"The first thing I thought was, I better fall asleep again, but then I remembered that there is no clock on that nightstand. And so I sort of started away from it, you know? And that changed the position of my head, and I caught sight of the little girl."
Dagmar raised her eyebrows. "What did she look like?"
"Blonde, long straight hair with a fringe over her eyes. Just her head and shoulders came over the footboard, so she was maybe, what? Five? Six? But the nightgown she was wearing, it was pale blue with that stupid scratchy white lace that was popular when we were little kids, you know..." Cassandra nodded at Dagmar for support.
"You saw all this in a dark bedroom?" said Dagmar.
"Oh for pity's sake, Dag, it was a dream. There is no little girl." Peter splashed milk into his coffee cup.
"The blind was up," said Cassandra slowly. "There was light from the street lamp. And the blind was up last night, the cord got tangled, remember?"
"That's true," said Peter, sipping his coffee. "The blind was up. So that part of reality got into your dream. What did the little girl do?"
"She said, 'That's my clock, but it isn't there anymore,'" said Cassandra. "She even told me I was dreaming. She said, 'I'm not really here, so don't be scared of me.'"
"Logical," said Dagmar.
Cassandra swallowed and took a sip of coffee.
"She said she was in the cool room, and she was tired of standing up, and could I go and get her."
"And then?" said Peter.
Cassandra shook her head and busied herself with her food. "That was it. I woke up for real and the room was back to normal. It just," she waved a forkful of scrambled egg around, "it doesn't feel right."
"Dagmar's family has owned this house since it was built," said Peter. "There was no little girl."
Dagmar was sipping her coffee, but waved her free hand around in a "stop, no" gesture. "That's not true," she said when her mouth was empty. "Another family lived here first. The house was only about a year old when we moved in. But," she said, "that cool room was always immaculate when I was a kid. You know how my parents are. There are open-heart surgery theatres in this country that are dirtier than my parents' garage."
"Yeah, well, hospital standards are slipping all the time," said Peter.
"My point being, if there had been something weird in the coolroom, my mum would have noticed it." She frowned. "But now that we're talking about it... it's funny, but I think the people who lived here before us did have a little girl. I remember when we came here to view the house before buying it. What's the guest bedroom now used to be my room, and when we came to see the house it was already decorated for a little girl."
"You must have told Cass at some point," said Peter.
"I don't remember you ever mentioning that," said Cassandra.
"But I must have," said Dagmar. "Because otherwise how would you get all these details right?"
"Do you remember the family's name?"
Dagmar shook her head. "I can e-mail my parents if you're desperate to know. They probably have it on some legal papers still." She shrugged. "Maybe the little girl died. Maybe that's why they sold the house." She glanced at the clock. "Pete, you and I should head out for work."
"Right," said Peter.
"I'll clean up," said Cassandra. "Thanks so much for letting me stay."
"It's good to see you again," said Dagmar. "Shall we check your word count when we get home?"
"All right," Cassandra laughed, "but no-one reads a first draft but me. And keep in mind I'm not starting until I clean up the breakfast dishes."
"Fair enough." Dagmar stood up. "Make yourself at home. Just don't go knocking down any walls looking for skeletons."
Half an hour later the kitchen was tidied. Cassandra set up in the window seat overlooking the ocean, computer propped up on her knees, getting nothing done.
"Screw it," she said, and ran down to the basement.
Dagmar always joked she was a slob compared to her parents, but the coolroom was dust-free and smelled faintly of bleach. Two rows of metal utility shelves had been dedicated to the storage of tinned beans and packages of toilet paper, but the shelves along the interior wall were still empty. Cassandra carefully carried each one out of the room.
The interior wall was thickly coated with white paint, and looked like it was cement instead of the drywall used everywhere else. But Dagmar's parents had done the rest of the finishing in the basement — Dagmar had told her that. That much she did remember clearly.
The wall was solid and smooth, no waves or bumps in it, finished right down to the cement floor.
"Ugh." Cassandra lowered her head and scrunched her eyes shut. Stupid writer's imagination. At least she only had to put the empty shelves back. No doubt Dagmar had the tins arranged by expiry date.
She opened her eyes without raising her head, and spotted a small black something at the base of the wall.
She crouched down to get a better look. In any other basement she would have dismissed it as a wad of dust or a dead insect, but not in Dagmar's house.
The little black something was a few millimetres above the floor, sticking out of the cement of the wall. Cassandra reached out and gently bent it towards her with her finger.
A tiny metal bar ending in a cartoon-drawn gloved hand.
Thanks to Deryn Collier for the prompt that led to this story.
Here's the song that linked together with the prompt (and some other things):