Little Jonny and his sister Lizzy were playing on the front lawn of their house. It was a sunny day. The sprinklers flashed with colour every so often, as the sun caught their spray. Jonny and Lizzy ran in and out of the rainbow flecked water, giggling and pushing each other around. They had every right to be playing, because it was Saturday. Their mother was out in the back yard, hanging out the washing to dry.
On the road adjacent to the lawn, a large SUV pulled up, and the two children ran toward it, screaming something incomprehensible, which might have been about ice cream. As they got near, they saw that their father did seem to have a bag full of what looked like half a dozen tubs of something that had already made the inside of the bag wet with condensation. It clearly was ice cream. They had every right to have so much ice cream, because it was the summer and their school was to be closing soon for the holidays.
Their father, a stocky, brown haired man, grinned broadly as he saw the pair racing along on the wet grass. He got out of the car, and held out his arms, holding the various bags to them.
“Have you got that chocolate one, daddy?”
“What about my raspberry caramel delight?”
“Relax you two, I have two of everything.”
They cheered in unison, as their mother came around the house, smiling at her husband.
“Paul, you’re going to spoil…” she froze in mid-sentence when she caught sight of their front door. It was wide open. She cast a frightened look at Paul and dropped the laundry basket. Paul started forward but she got there before him and slammed the door shut. Paul stopped, then rounded on his children.
“Haven’t we told you two never to keep the door open! How many times do we have to impress upon you that it’s not right to keep it open! How many times!”
The kids, one moment ready for their father to hug them and haul them both into the kitchen for pre-lunch ice cream, now cringed away from him. He wasn’t very tall, but he was much taller than them even so. Their mother came over.
“Paul, it won’t happen again. It was all my fault. I should have checked the door when they said they were off to play; and anyway, no harm done yet right? No harm done.”
She placed a calming hand on Paul’s shoulder and led him toward the porch.
“Now, who wants that smushed up combo smoothie?”
The children looked doubtfully incredulous, and then, when they saw she wasn’t playing around, they leaped in the air and ran happily inside. Lizzy stopped inside the door, looked back pointedly at her father, and shut the door behind her. Paul sighed.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have lost it like that, Susie. I know they’re just kids…but all the same. Those people across the street, them from Colorado, them Hewitt-whatsits…”
“ The Emmerson-Hewitts,”
“Yeah, them, we don’t want to end up like ‘em. I’m going to keep this door shut sound no matter what, come hell or high water!”
“Yes, dear. I know you worry, and you really shouldn’t. I’ll be more careful too, I promise.”
Susie gave him a brief one armed hug and went on ahead of him. “And I wasn’t joking
about the smushed up combo smoothie, you know.”
Paul smiled and followed her inside. He handed her all the shopping, and shut the door behind him. A perceptive bystander would have noticed that he did it in the exact same way as his daughter had, staring pointedly at a place a few steps inside the lawn before the lock clicked, and the hubbub from the kitchen overtook his senses.
That night they all trooped out onto the lawn, where Paul put up a little cup shaped contraption in the middle of the lawn and lit a small wood fire in it. It wasn’t much but then the night was warm and breezy. The tiny campfire was enough. They got out some food to eat by the light of it, and had a lot of fun. Eventually, Susie got to her feet.
“Come on kids, bedtime!”
Both children gave an almighty groan of frustration.
“But we’re not sleepy yet!”
“How come you get to stay up past bed time anyway?”
Paul laughed. “Go on kids, or I promise you, when you wake up, I will take a bucket of cold water, creep into your bedroom, and…Put it all over your head!”
The two excitable little children shrieked with mirth at the thought, but did not budge.
“One ghost story daddy and then we’ll go to bed.”
“Yes, please, daddy, one ghost story! Just one!”
“Alright, but not out here. Once your mom tucks you in, then I’ll tell you the scariest horror story I know.”
Jonny seemed puzzled. “We want a ghost story, daddy. They’re the ones which are scary. Horror stories won’t be as scary. Because I’m not sure what horror means!”
Paul laughed. “Alrighty, ghost story it is then!”
They all stood up. Paul doused the fire with a bit of water. Then he took some of the plates from Susie’s arms and led the way into the house. The children ran after them, and raced upstairs as soon as they were inside. While Paul kept the door ajar with his foot, Susie slipped inside. Paul took his foot away, and watched as the door swung shut. But it didn’t quite close properly, it hadn’t swung to with enough force.
Paul glanced nervously at his wife, who was staring almost avidly at the door, just about open, but not quite.
“Surely that much is alright for a minute, right?” he asked doubtfully.
“Yes, for just a minute,” said Susie, tentatively.
As if they had rehearsed it, they both walked toward the kitchen very fast, and, having
deposited the dishes, they almost ran back into the hallway again. The breeze was making the door oscillate slowly, a little ajar with a whoosh of air, and closed again as it changed direction. The husband and wife froze, as if hypnotised by the steady hissing followed by silence, followed by hissing, followed by silence.
Then the door crept open further. Susie heard a thump from upstairs, followed by a squeal of pain. It sounded very much like Jonny tripping over his toy engine for the hundredth time.
“I’ll go see what that was…” Susie’s voice trailed off. Paul nodded, still apparently transfixed.
A minute or so later, when Susie got back, she saw Paul standing in the doorway, which was fully ajar now, and peering into the night. She stopped halfway down the stairs, and stood there, afraid and anxious. A shadow crept over Paul’s face, and his eyes, one moment slit like and peering into the dark front lawn, became normal and round again, as if he could suddenly see clearly.
Paul turned, and the recently oiled hinges of the door creaked ominously. The door snapped shut. Susie thought it strange. It had always clicked shut before. Why had it snapped shut?
Then she saw the look on Paul’s face, and dread sank from her throat into her stomach like an exceptionally large ice cube. It was a smile, but it looked out of place, it was almost a leer, and his eyes were questioning her, “What’s wrong dear? Saw anything that alarmed you, did you?” It was a mocking smile. The smile of something that wasn’t Paul, but something that had seeped into him. Seeped in from the night.
“I’m going up to the kids. Their ghost story, you know. Won’t sleep without it. And don’t keep the door open, honey. You remember that, don’t you?”