By Kassandra Alvarado
Published by Kassandra Alvarado at Shakespir
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I was fresh out of college Spring of that year, easily jaded with my job prospects in my field of choice…History Major, go figure. Applying at different places around town, I was hired on at a Fast Food joint smack dab on the middle of a busy street across from the local mom and pop store. I liked to say a job was a job was a job – maybe, despite my family’s comments behind my back about having a “joke job.” I got along fairly well with my managers during the afternoon shifts and was rarely asked to work the closing shift as I was still new.
One day, a fellow coworker called the store and asked to speak with me. We’d never been too friendly with each other; I’d seen her kids around the lobby waiting for her on more than one occasion. Truthfully, I was a little surprised, that she’d ask me out of everyone else to exchange shifts, my early one for her late night one. I had nothing better to do on that evening and readily agreed.
The day of the shift change was the Friday of that same week. The time flew by fairly fast and soon I was greeting my new workmates on the evening shift. For a few hours or so, we’d cooked and sent out hot food to be bagged in white bags and sent out across the wide counter. Things had died down when the shift manager called me over and asked me to clean the outer room built onto the front of the restaurant. It was accessible through a door to the lobby and was called the PlayLand. The interior was wall to wall glass windows, dominated by a large set of multi-colored tubes and small octagon spaces high above with round porthole windows looking out over the rest of the room. Small tables with connected benches occupied most of the floor space.
By the time I started, the few people that had been inside had left with their tribe of collective kids. Although, the lights were on, evening was falling outside and cast a subtle gloom over the tables and chairs. Usually, I wasn’t bothered by such things and started sweeping under the shadow of the largest yellow tube. As crushed fries rolled under the bristles of the grimy broom, something creaked above me.
Like the sound of settling weight beneath a child’s light step.
I stiffened and peered up above.
The door across the room opened cautiously with a small tyke about to slip in.
“The PlayLand’s closed.” I called, forgetting for a moment the sound I’d heard. The little girl stepped back into the lobby sheepishly and I continued cleaning. Must be the ventilation system, I thought. Once the trash was picked up, I began on the tables. The smell of ammonia replaced the greasy burger smell that had lingered over the atmosphere.
In the still, warm air broken only by my brisk movements, I heard another sound, that of someone tapping on glass as if to get my attention. My head jerked toward the windows overlooking the lobby then to the cars passing by on the narrow curved stretch from the drive-through to the street. No one. Nothing at all.
Perplexed, I was much slower in returning to my cleaning than before. I was glad when I was able to wheel out the large blue bucket of mop water from the back room. Although, I wasn’t easily scared, somehow I couldn’t completely mark the incidents off as coincidence.
Later, when I talked to one of the girls who usually worked late; she confessed that she’d always been nervous in the PlayLand when the on-duty manager would send her to clean up for the night. She told me one time, it was past eleven when the lobby had barely closed and she and another girl were cleaning the lobby restrooms. She said that they’d both gone into the respective sides and were only gone for a few minutes when they stepped out with the mop and the other with the broom and dustpan. She remembered spotting the open door first, the door to the PlayLand that had been just locked by the floor manager fifteen minutes before. The girls exchanged looks and thought maybe the manager had gone into check the cleanliness of the room. Just then, the floor manager came from the back with a tray of trash from her break meal.
“Weren’t you just in there?” My coworker asked puzzled.
“No, I was in the back.” The manager was on the young side having only been recently promoted at another location before moving to one closer to where she lived. “I thought I’d locked that door.” She touched the keys clipped to her belt and looked mystified.
I got a chance to talk to that same manager the next shift I worked while she manned the fryer. “Hey, so has there been any kind of weird things going on around here lately?”
Her pretty face screwed up thoughtfully, “well, now that you mention it, there was this time when I’d gone out to my car to get something I’d forgotten. It was really late, like maybe around three in the morning. I’d been sharing shifts with Brenda, and was due to go on break. I don’t know why but as I was heading back toward the restaurant, I looked toward the darkened playroom and swore I saw movement inside. No one had been inside the playroom for hours, I’d locked it myself. Determined to get to the bottom of things, I went back in and unlocked the door, checking everywhere for any sign of a person being inside. When I found no one, I relocked the door and went on my 10.”
She shrugged to me and dumped more fries. “Guess that’s just part of the quirks of working here.”
I wasn’t satisfied with Tanya’s easy dismissal. I wanted answers. Patty, one of the cooks in the prep area, still remembered the time when they’d had the smaller outer building still operational and orders were taken from there and transferred by computer to the next window inside the main building. Patty had once worked in there before being trained in the kitchen.
“That was years ago, before the current owners bought the franchise from corporate. It was a slow evening, few cars on the road as the fair in the next city had just opened over the weekend. I’d gotten up to stretch my legs, carrying the headset over my shoulder. The speakerbox pinged as if someone had driven up to the menuboard. I hadn’t seen any cars, but I still answered with the greeting. Nothing. I leaned forward and peered out my window, expecting to see headlights bouncing off the curb. But, there was no one. At the time, I just dismissed it as a faulty connection.”
“But?” I prompted, keeping an eye on the screen above.
Patty started prepping parfaits, pinching frozen blueberries between gloved fingers.
“That was before.”
“I heard them. Los Ninos.”
Despite the warmth of the open grill, I shivered.
“It was a similar night, quiet…,” Patty’s voice lowered as she peered into the depths of memory. “A few cars had passed down the side street and then no more after nine. Again as before, I’d settled in with my thoughts, broken by the sound of the speakerbox. Something made me hesitate on answering. There was a chill in the summer air, I shuddered. Then, I heard laughter…like children at play, yet the parking lot behind the restaurant was dark as can be and when I asked Brenda if anyone had shown up on the monitors later, she rolled back the footage and said no one had. Even now, I can’t explain it.”
Patty’s story had left me with more questions than answers. We were all rational adults, and in the case of the slightly younger girls, fairly level-headed. We couldn’t all be imagining things, some mass delusion. But, if I accepted that, then where did that leave us?
“Patty,” I left the kitchen on some cardboard run, catching up to her as she was leaving. “Patty…do you think the restaurant could be….haunted?” I whispered the last part, my eyes wide in my face. I wasn’t entirely willing to subscribe to the supernatural without some input. “I don’t know,” she stopped by the doors. The PlayLand was well lit, bright with the sound of living children’s laughter. “I’ve never given the existence of ghosts much thought.” She brightened at my downcast look. “Why don’t you ask around some more…compile everyone’s experiences then see if you can dig up any history on the place, like what was here before. You’re the History Major after all.”
I supposed she was right, nodding.
“Then, what do I do with the evidence once I’ve found it?” But, there was no one there to answer my question. That night, I returned to the loft above my parents’ garage. My old room had been turned into a yoga/rec room and they’d been fairly disinclined to turn it back once I’d called them up and said I was moving back after college. Mom had suggested the small loft above the garage that dad had refurbished. It had a tiny kitchenette behind sliding doors painted a warm cream color, hardwood flooring and a set of stairs down to the cavernous garage below with a door leading to the main kitchen.
In the rain it was terrible, especially running to the bathroom in the middle of the night. The lights were off in the house when I pulled up the driveway. The one thing I’d kept from my college days was my small economical Toyota Prius. That, dad had condescended to cosign for and going on five years, my car was nearly paid for. I sat there in the dark for a few minutes, not bothering to manually crank open the garage door. Dad had come banging on my door complaining that the noise had awakened them.
I’d been trained to look through archives, mid-semester researcher, part-time archivist at the expansive library housed in an old building dated to Colonial times. I hadn’t ever given much thought to the history of the town I’d grown up in. To my modern eyes, there seemed hardly anything to know about the small, dusty town at the edge of a lake reservoir. Setting my soda down on a hardwood coaster, I turned on my laptop. There weren’t that many listings for New Smyrna on the search page, nor on the second.
Undeterred, I changed my query. New Smyrna 1923, the year the town was founded. The hourglass in the corner revolved in circles. I waited patiently, sipping my soda. The page flickered and a low wind whistled past the eaves. I glanced to the dark window reflecting the night across from me. The window looked out over the street. Somewhere a street lamp flickered. The web page took a long time to load; maybe my router was going out. I frowned at the thought and tried reloading. The second the cursor hovered over the circular arrow beside the address bar, the page jumped and text displayed in neat rows.
“New Smyrna founded 1923…built on the site of old town San Miguel de Los Noches. This settlement dated back to the 1700s. Another small settlement was located on the eastern end of the township, known as Smyrna; it flourished in the late 1890s, but was abandoned due to the resurgence of Lake Mead, eventually flooding the settlement. The remains of Smyrna can be seen underwater on clear days and is a popular spot for local history buffs.” I read quietly to myself. “Huh. Wonder how many drowned?” It made sense that a tragedy like the one Smyrna experienced, would lead to more than one disgruntled spirit.
Further down, I came across a blog link to a faded article concerning the tragedy at the lake bed. A chill ran through me staring at the clammy white faces, lying prone on the bank. Damp dresses lied wetly plastered against the bodies of women and young girls. Men lay stretched out on canvas, their eyes milky and staring.
“Scenes of Horror and Disbelief,” ran the title and others in some such vein. The gist of the article seemed to run toward the general belief that an underground dam had broken through, allowing the natural flow of the water to flood the dry bed. The dam had been built on Goody Harrison’s land, some thought illegally. The story wasn’t notable for its dramatic style imparting reaction rather than cold hard facts. Disappointed, I scrolled back to the original search results.
A tragic flood…,
The town named after Smyrna rather than San Miguel de Los Noches…,
On an online forum, I spotted a comment from someone who claimed to be a descendant of Goody Harrison’s. He claimed she’d been wronged by the settlers who’d always been jealous of her fine stone house built from rounded rock.
I was more inclined to dismiss his claims until someone’s comment beneath his, piqued my interest.
“yeah well I heard from a friend’s friend that down there’s a legend. The old witch swore to return from the grave and take the children of the settlers who’d wronged her!”
Frustratingly enough there wasn’t anything else of note in the discussion board.
My next query turned to missing children’s cases for Colima County. I wasn’t surprised there weren’t many, a few abductions, some who had wandered into the lake during family outings.
Abandoning my search query, I typed in accidents on Main St New Smyrna, Colima County. This proved to be much more fruitful. Ten years ago, there had been over 100 accidents alone on the rocky stretch of road leading into the town. That road turned into Main St at the Panama junction.
Men, women and…children. Little girls and boys run down by a plethora of vehicles. Mostly hit and runs…,
I was saddened reading of their deaths. Life was cheap, it seemed. Glancing at the clock, I stifled a yelp. Nearly two am and I had to work tomorrow!
“Late night, Noelle?”
“Um…yeah,” sheepishly I rubbed at my gritty eyes. My sight blurred into a mixture of lettuce, tomato slices and pickles. The ever-present smell of cooking meat on the grill soured my stomach. Brenda looked at me a moment longer then bent over, depositing a tray of cookies into the oven neighboring the ice maker. She didn’t press. I was glad for that; uncertain how my mission to discover the possibility of the restaurant being haunted would go over with my boss, let alone the franchise owners.
That kind of thing could really make or break a business in the case of eateries.
On my ten, I plopped down on the hard plastic bench, hunching over my tray of a still-warm burger and tiny fry. Paper rustled and dark-haired woman of medium height leaned in. “Oh, hey,” Giselle nodded to me. “Hey, yourself.” I grunted slightly more enthusiastically. Waiting in traffic at the light earlier, had given me the time to jot down a quick list of all the people I hadn’t asked if they’d had strange experiences at the restaurant. I’d always been on friendly terms with her…
“Giselle, do you believe in…ghosts?” I tried testing the waters first.
She sat across from me with a small paper sack that smelled vaguely of fries.
“Not sure…depends. I’ve heard a few things and,” she hesitated. “I know some of the other girls have.”
“Like what for instance?” I managed to take a bite of my burger.
“Sonia…you never met her. She worked here last summer, real nice girl. Anyway, whenever she worked evenings, the manager on duty would send her to collect the trash. I never heard her complain until one night not long after the autumn equinox…,”
Hastily, I scribbled the particulars of the story on my napkin.
Sonia had gone out like usual with an overflowing can of trash. She’d wheeled it out past the lights of the restaurant, entering the pool of shadow at the end of the lot. A slight cool breeze must’ve caused the metal gate of the brick walled area where the dumpsters were kept to swing shut. She winced at the sound and kept moving, pulling open one half of the doors. After dumping the trash, she’d pulled the can with her, heading back toward the restaurant. When she had passed the turn in for drive through, she’d heard a low whining creak like that of metal hinges.
“The door was open.”
“Did she go back and see?”
Our food forgotten grew cold.
“She thought nothing of it…”
Before she’d taken two steps closer, a small dark shape darted past the gate, melting into the interior shadow. “Is someone there?” Sonia called; the door creaked and swung on its hinges. Feeling less certain, she went and started to the pull the door shut and as she did so, she glimpsed a small form darker than the black, crouched between the dumpsters.
“Then, what happened?” The instant the words had left my mouth, the unthinkable happened: the lights went out. We were plunged into complete darkness. I heard shouts, Brenda’s voice and footsteps. There was a scuffling on the table. Giselle’s breathing quickened, “Noelle…,”
“Where are you?”
“Across.” I swallowed tartly the bits of burger seemed stuck in my throat. The cold brushed against my face, the same sensation of someone opening a door, the rush of wind that came with it. “That’s not you…,” she hesitated. “Standing at my right shoulder?”
Losing your head is one thing, banging your shin on the plastic leg of a table another. Brenda said later that the breaker box had blown a fuse somehow leading to the death of the entire restaurant’s power. She’d remembered us ten minutes after the fact, carrying a flashlight down the narrow corridor past the bread lined up in plastic trays. She’d found us hiding under the table, shivering and mumbling about ghosts. Thankfully, she’d been less inclined to laugh and instead dutifully escorted us outside.
The other workers stood around, talking excitedly on their cell phones.
Giselle stood next to me, silent. Our conversation hadn’t finished. I turned to her, voice quiet. “What was your first experience?”
She swallowed thickly, hesitantly beginning. “It was a week after I was newly hired. I’d been sent to clean the PlayLand for closing. It had been a rough night and no one had told me what to expect. The glass fronting the street had needed polishing…I’d taken a handful of wipes. I don’t know when I noticed something across the street, standing at the edge of the curb. A black form, small, the size of a small child. It was very dark in between the street lamps. A car passed by, blocking my sight. In those few seconds, the figure had disappeared. I couldn’t explain it, thinking my eyes were playing tricks on me. So I continued my work. Once or twice, I’d left the PlayLand to retrieve a new bottle of cleaner, the mop and bucket. I’d cleaned….the glass. I’d swear it to this day.”
I nodded slightly, believing her.
“When Steve came to inspect the room, he saw it first. Handprints made from small hands, like the condensation of sweat on glass, lined the bottom of the window. He accused me of not cleaning it right, but I was the only one who saw a pair of those handprints climbing upward on the glass to disappear at the roofline.”
I stared toward the darkened PlayLand.“Something haunts this place. Whatever it is, involves children.” Then, I told her in hurried whispers about the history of the town. The lake bed and the accidents on the stretch of road. Eventually, Brenda came back out and told us that the restaurant was closed for the night. My kitchen head and one other girl were to stay behind and clean up by aid of flashlight; I was dismissed at least until my next working day. Tomorrow, they’d have somebody come and look at the wiring. We all said our goodnights and more than once, I sensed Brenda glance at me repeatedly, but she said nothing.
During the night, I slept restlessly, my mind replaying the scenes of the day, fragmentary words. Fear, I didn’t understand. In the faint light of morning I slipped into a waking dream.
I stood in the middle of Main Street where there was no center divider. A low mist hovered around me, wrapping cold tendrils around my ankles. Someone ran past me, a child. Small and dark-haired, she was faceless when she turned to look at me.
Strangely, I felt little fear.
“What’re you trying to tell me?”
She ran off into the swirling mist.
“What…..what’re you trying to tell me?” My eyes fluttered open to the sunlight of my room. I’d left the curtains parted and a ray of sunshine lit a blazing path across the mottled wood. “You died there, didn’t you? On the site where the restaurant now sits.” Somehow, despite being jumpier than usual, I tucked into a good breakfast of eggs, fried slabs of Canadian bacon and hashbrowns my mother served before me.
“How’re you getting along, honey?”
“Fine, mom. Just fine.”
“Any rumors of a promotion, squirt?” Dad was of the mindset that history was long dead and best left forgotten. When I hadn’t gone for a degree in law, he’d moved onto the next possible life career, fast food management. He, himself, had retired two years ago from a lucrative position as a 911 Call Dispatcher.
“Depends on what,” he frowned.
“Depends on…oh! Look at the time!” I darted up from the table with a pretended glance at the clock. Mom chuckled from the kitchen. “I’ve got to get going.” I swooped up and planted a kiss on his grizzled cheek, waltzing into the kitchen with my plate in tow. Mom and I kissed the air as I left the dish sliding into a vat of foamy white bubbles. Then, I was out the door, relieved. Sometimes, it’s the nearest and dearest that are hassling.
After I’d killed some time at the local library, I showed up promptly at noon. Once again people were overscheduled and I was sent out to clean the PlayLand, never mind my apron and gloves meant for the kitchen. Brenda was stocking sauces; she glanced up at my approach. “Feeling better, Noelle?”
“Maybe, hey, I was wondering if you knew of any accidents that happened outside the restaurant.” I stepped into the alcove beside her, propping my broom against my shoulder.
Brenda’s brow furrowed, “in 1995 there was a terrible accident involving a small child. It was a hit and run that was never solved. Onlookers said the child ran after a pet dog that had been following the family on their walk. The child never saw the oncoming Minivan.”
“So someone did die in the street outside the restaurant.”
“He died in the parking lot, his mother carried him here.”
I paled, “how awful. But, he…?”
“It was a six year old boy.” Brenda turned away, her profile cracking, her voice less steady. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
I let her pass without another word. Something had been off about the whole thing. The the shadow, the handprints and my dream, it all pointed to a little girl causing the hauntings. Abandoning my pretext of sweeping, I went through the open door of the Play Land, dragging my broom along with me. Inside the glass-walled room, the screams and shouts of children at play echoed and bounced creating a cacophony of childish delight. Beneath the multi-colored tubes and nets, parents sat contentedly with their Smartphones, a few with their open laptops enjoying free wifi.
Who are you?
Where are you?
I stared at the handprints smudging the clear glass and the road beyond where passing cars zipped by in blurs. Someone moved with labored steps down the concrete ramp on the opposite side of the drive-through lane. The woman had streaked black and silver hair; the hand that grasped the railing was thin and claw-like. She wore a flowered house dress and a shawl pinned over her shoulders. She had been staring at me, this woman. I tried placing her from memory, but failed. She wasn’t one of the regulars, not someone I’d seen among the morning risers.
I’d remember someone with a face like hers.
Something about it had impressed me with the gravity of her mourning. She had seemed that, in mourning over someone. Her expression had been rife with misery. I watched her move painfully down the sidewalk, nearly out of sight when I drew up closer to the glass. She had left something there. Brightly colored ribbons cascaded from a small cross beside a handful of plastic flowers: a memorial.
I started for the side door leading out to the steps curving along the side of the restaurant for street access. The alarm blared off when I pushed the bar, emitting a rush of cold air. Behind me, it banged shut resounding like a fire alarm. The woman had disappeared. I rounded the corner of the restaurant’s protruding square side and dropped down to the small memorial left behind. Immediately, I saw what I’d neglected to from the window, a fashion doll like what could be found at the nearby Dollar Tree, was tucked in the ribbons.
“Why is there a memorial out there?”
Brenda looked exasperated, struggling with the gallon bucket of freshly brewed tea.
"I told you, a kid -"
“This one was for a girl. What are you not telling me?”
She sighed and wiped her wet hands on a spare cloth lying on the counter. The afternoon rush was over and Sandi was out in the lobby, pushing a mop across the sticky floor. “Do you really want to know?”
Her eyes darted around, but we were quite alone as most of the other girls’ shifts had ended. “Maggie’s the one who told me that some kids had been playing near the construction site when the restaurant was first being built. One of them – a girl, disappeared one evening while the concrete was settling into the foundation. Workers claimed they found a shoe trapped in the hardened material, the corporation helped hush it up. The girl was missing, but even so there had been an ongoing custody battle with the girl’s father. No one really knows what happened to her.”
I searched Brenda’s face for a lie and saw none. “The girl’s mother believes she’s still here….doesn’t she?”
Brenda sighed. “People believe what they want to believe, Noelle. That’s all I know, or care to know about the story.” She bent and pushed the cart carrying the emptied bucket to the back past the fryers. I persisted, following her. “But, you have seen her, right? You have seen the ghost that haunts this place?”
I stopped beside the stainless utilitarian sink in the kitchen.
“The time for scares is gone. What’re you trying to do, resurrect the past?”
I felt my eyes prickle with her sharp tone.
“That’s all they are, are old memories.” She shook her head and walked off. “Who knows?” My boss said dismissively. “I don’t believe in ghosts and neither should you.”
“You can’t…bury this.” I mumbled, staring down at my greasy shoes. “Something needs to be done. These spirits…they’re restless. They need to be appeased!”
“What? Like an exorcism?” She laughed shortly. “Get back to work, Noelle!”
That day and the ones that followed, I repeated Brenda’s words and tried to make myself believe them. I could only think that she’d had a word with the store manager about my schedule as the following week, I received a deep cut in hours. “One day?” I muttered in disbelief, studying the schedule Tanya had produced for me late evening of its posting. She picked at her manicure and shrugged, “enjoy your time off, kiddo.”
I wish I could.
As I was leaving, someone moved ahead of me, furtively keeping their head down. “Hey—hey, wait!” I hurried after the figure I only then recognized as the woman from the memorial. “Hey, I want to talk to you!” I ran after her and grabbed her arm. The woman tottered on her feet, uttering a helpless little cry. The full light of the streetlamp above shone on her face, pooling into her dark eyes.
“It’s about your daughter,” I said, putting on my best customer-first voice. “She’s the one who went missing…why do you think she’s here?”
The woman watched me suspiciously, her hands fluttering nervously to the ragged ends of her shawl. “She comes to me in dreams. People say she’s gone but I know better.” Her voice was a horrible rasping croak like that of the very-aged. When she smiled it was a terrible grinning visage. “She is here, she is there,” she pointed to the glowing lights of the restaurant spilling out into the dark night. “She cannot be contained.”
“What do you mean?” I managed to keep my voice from trembling. My throat felt thick, my body cold in the faux leather motorcycle jacket I’d worn over a T-shirt and jeans. “I’ve dreamed her too! What does she want? Discovery? Her body removed from the concrete beneath?!”
She shook her head and her smile slipped. “Even a mother doesn’t know all the secrets her child’s heart contains.”
I let her go, watching her stumble off alone, muttering to herself in low whispers.
“What does she want…?”
I walked back to my car, hands stuffed into the pockets of jeans. Glad for the moment when the bright lights of the burger joint faded to a pinpoint distance. Something had to happen, I thought. There had to be a reason behind the spike in activity. Perhaps the season, maybe a change in the temperatures as we descended toward the coolness of fall?
On a hunch, I hopped online and searched missing persons again. One of the reports I’d overlooked matched the age and time frame of the franchise’s construction. “Matilda…Swanson. Matilda…,” I stared into the face of a happy, smiling five year old. The caption beside the picture said it had been taken a month before her disappearance. My heart ached thinking of the woman’s broken sorrow and the shoe that had been found at the construction site.
“No one knows what you want, do they, Matilda?” I looked once more into the face of the child who had been faceless in my dreams and gently snapped the laptop shut. Sometime during the night, I dimly heard the sound of sirens and in the morning, a low haze of smoke hung over the town.
Mom knocked on my door when I was getting dressed.
“What is it?” I called, hopping one foot.
Mom’s voice was muffled, but I still heard every word. “Oh, sweetie, I’m sorry about your job, but the burger place caught fire last night. They said on the news that the fire started somewhere beneath the building and spread upward into the kitchen.
What? I froze, one leg still stuck in the jeans, the other out firmly planted on the cold wooden floor.
“There were a few minor injuries,” mom continued, oblivious to my dawning horror. “Some of the workers were taken by ambulance to Valley State Hospital.”
An hour later, I drove past the restaurant. Yellow tape stretched across the threshold, a few blackened marks charred the roofline on the sides and puddles of ashen water lay scattered across the parking lot reflecting the dull leaden sky. Giselle called me while I cruised the hospital parking lot. She’d gotten the details from Tanya who I’d seen the night before. Apparently, she’d gone walking across the street to the 24-hour convenience store for a bag of chips and other goodies. Brenda had come in after I’d left, staying in charge to supervise the PlayLand cleaning. Tanya hadn’t known what had gone on exactly. She knew she’d heard a scream echoing across the deserted street, she’d seen the lights wink out of existence plunging the restaurant into darkness and by the time she’d run back across, smoke had been pouring inside the lobby.
“Has Brenda said anything yet?”
“Not much, only that she had a report to file with Lupe. What do you think happened, Noelle?”
I leaned against the car window, staring out over the fenced expanse of the hospital grounds where the parking lot overlooked a grassy, shaded area. A few kids in drab pajamas frolicked while nurses in white looked on. “Children are fickle,” I said, “even some adults are. They don’t know what they want or even how heartless their actions can be. Maybe that little girl didn’t want to be forgotten. Maybe her death was an accident and she couldn’t move on from this plain of existence. Whatever it was, let’s hope it’s over now and she can finally rest in peace.”
I found another job soon after. The franchise owners sold up their holdings, allowing the county to demolish the ruins. A year later and another building erected on the old foundation. From time to time, I still see my former coworkers, whether now in new jobs of their own or still coming and going from that fast food joint on a busy street. I’m left wondering if it is truly over or do they still see handprints on the glass and see dark shapes running to hide at night?
AN: This story blends fiction with real events. Some of the experiences contained in this story happened to real people who I came to know last year. Thanks for reading :)
The small western town of New Smyrna has plenty of secrets to hide.