It was early November. Tanti Marie sat in the gallery of her quaint little home. It was a one-storey, brick house painted cerulean with white shutters. In Tanti Marie’s eyes, the white shutters fixed into the blue walls resembled the clouds that hung in the sky. Thus, she often told her great-niece, Laura-lei, that the house was a piece of the sky that had fallen to Earth.
Tanti Marie got off her chair slowly and carefully made her way down the four steps that led to the brick garden path. She held her crooked wooden cane in one hand and a bag of salt in the other. She glanced up at the sky; it was almost dusk. The sun had begun to make its way down the sky towards the horizon. In the last few rays of light, she scattered salt grains all around the front yard.
She proceeded to circle the house, making an oval of salt around her oblong abode. As Tanti Marie headed inside, the sun had all but disappeared from view. It was dark now. The street lamps clicked on. The cemetery at the dead-end of Tanti Marie’s street loomed in the distance. As long as that salt was on the ground, Tanti Marie was not worried about the spectres she believed lurked beyond the graveyard wall.
“Did you spread the salt around the house?” A high-pitched voice greeted her with this question as she walked through the front door. It was Lorelei, already dressed in her nightgown. Her tiny frame was dwarfed by the cozy rocking chair she sat on. Her bunny slippered feet dangled over the edge of the chair. She gave Marie a conspiratorial grin.
“Yes, Miss Lorelei, I did,” said Marie. “Good,” confirmed Lorelei, nodding encouragingly. Marie chuckled. She was not quite sure if her little great-niece knew why she trailed a line of salt all around the house. Marie grew up in a different time: one where there was no separation between folklore and daily chores. The salt was to keep away those ‘duppies’ as her mother called them. Marie was not the only one.
All the inhabitants of Wary Eye Lane would make a circle of salt around their houses before dusk. It was said that if a wandering spirit came upon your house in the night and met a yard sprinkled with salt, the spirit would have to pick up every grain, one by one before it entered. By the time the spirit had finished picking up the grains of salt, the sun would be coming up and the angry spirit would have to return to its resting place before daybreak.
“Time for bed, little one,” cooed Marie, scooping Lorelei out of the chair and placing her on her feet. She ushered Lorelei to her room. As Marie turned on Lorelei’s nightlight and turned off the bedroom light, Lorelei pretended to go straight to sleep under her mound of blankets. She even slowed her breathing for dramatic effect until Marie had left the room. Moments later, Lorelei sprung out of bed. It was time to spy on ‘the visitor’ that came to their house every night.
IN THE STILL OF THE NIGHT
The halo of light emitted by the nightlight allowed Lorelei to see fairly well in the dark. She went to her window and peeped through her curtains keep on the lookout for her visitor. The street lamps outside cast their yellow rays of light far and wide, illuminating the yard. The white grains of salt gleamed in the yellow light. The night sky was very dark in the starless sky; there was no moon. It was colder these nights.
A cold front was upon them. It did not snow in the tropics but Christmas time still brought colder weather than they were used to. Lorelei could feel the Christmas Spirit in the air. All the surrounding houses were being groomed for the season with new paint-jobs and immaculately manicured gardens.
Her friend would come soon. Lorelei waited with bated breath. Her nosed pressed against the cool glass of the window. Her breath condensed on the glass, forming a blurry area on the window. She quickly wiped it off so that her view of the yard was not obstructed. She peered out, her eyes darting around the yard.
She spotted her. In that brief moment, when the glass had been fogged, the little girl had already arrived. The small form was crouched in the yard, slowly pinching each piece of salt between her index finger and thumb and placing it in a small draw-string bag that was attached to the waist of her lace dress. Her lank, dark hair fell over her shoulders as she kneeled on the ground.
She crawled robotically across the ground. Her movements possessed an unnatural speed and precision that frightened Lorelei just a little. Lorelei took a deep breath, gathering up her courage. Since watching her the first time, she had promised herself she would talk to the little girl. She seemed to be about her age: seven or so.
Bravely, she unlatched the window and pushed the glass. The window creaked open, startling the little figure and making her jump around in a fluid movement. She gazed upwards at the place where Lorelei’s head poked out. The girl’s mouth gaped open. Lorelei realised there was something strange about the girl’s face. It was weirdly slack. The skin seemed loose for someone so young as if the little girl was really an aged person somehow. There were emaciated, dark circles under the girl’s eyes. Her pupils were cloudy. She tilted her head to better observe Lauralei. She seemed to sway on the spot.
“H-hello,” Lorelei said, hesitantly. She carefully kept her voice at a whisper. She did not want to wake Tanti Marie. The girl turned a blank stare upon her. “Can you hear me?” asked Lorelei. The girl nodded mutely, cocking her head to one side. “What’s your name?” asked Lorelei. The girl hesitated. Then she knelt on the ground again, facing away from Lauralei. She traced letters in a small mound of salt one by one, each over the other, spelling out her name. She formed the letters B, then L, Y, T, H and E.
‘Blythe?’ Lorelei thought. What a strange name… it was a contradiction. Blythe meant joyous and this little girl looked anything but that. Lorelei inquired why Blythe was so unhappy. Blythe began tracing new words in the salt, letter by letter. CAN’T GET IN, Lorelei read aloud. “To the house?” Lorelei said. Blythe shrugged her shoulders and then nodded slightly. The salt kept things out of the house. Maybe it was keeping Blythe out too. This troubled Lorelei. Blythe was not bad; why would the salt affect her? Tanti Marie must have made a mistake. Lorelei was suddenly struck with an idea. She would help Blythe!
Ideas are funny things. They can sometimes be fantastic, monumental even. Other times, they are disastrous. The following afternoon, Tanti Marie lined the perimeter of the house with salt before retiring to her bed when the sun set. She was the sort of person who firmly believed that those who went early to bed were early to rise. Tanti’s bedtime was nearly always at six or seven o’clock, depending on how tired she felt.
As soon as Tanti’s head hit her pillow in the adjoining bedroom, Lorelei sprang into action. She fetched the house keys from the rack and a broom and a dustpan from the cupboard in the washroom and ran outside, barefoot. She swept all around the house, gathering the salt in the dustpan and making several trips inside to dispose of it. She did this very carefully, manually picking up a few stray grains and trying to get every grain into her dustpan. Lorelei returned to her room, feeling pleased with her work. The yard was salt-free. She settled into bed to wait for her new friend Blythe, to appear.
But as she lay in the dark on her bed, she wondered why Blythe would want to come into the house. There was nothing for her in there. Lorelei did not fully understand what Blythe was but she knew Blythe was ‘in-between’. She was not part of this physical world and yet she was not completely gone from it either.There was a tap on the window. Lorelei ran to it and pushed it open. Blythe was sitting on the sill, quite comfortably. She turned her piercing gaze upon Lorelei. Her index finger and thumb of one hand were pressed together, displaying a single grain of salt between them. Lorelei had left just one grain of salt for Blythe to pick up and she had. She placed the grain into her draw-string bag with painstaking precision.
Then, for the first time, Blythe smiled. It was not a pleasant smile.
Her face split into a wide, malevolent grin that made her appear animalistic.
She climbed into Lorelei’s room through the window and stood in the darkness, smiling that awful smile. It was a triumphant, yet tainted sort of grin.
It was the smile of a villain who had bested the hero… a cat who had eaten the canary.
The temperature in Lorelei’s room suddenly dropped, making her shiver.
She took a step backwards from Blythe, who turned her ghastly pale face towards the nightlight glowing in the corner. Lorelei realised that Blythe’s limbs were all positioned at strange angles.
With a weird twitch of her body, Blythe put out the nightlight. The small bulb exploded with a flash, bathing them in darkness.
In the cloak of night, Lorelei lost consciousness. She drifted off into an impossibly deep sleep, one so deep she worried fleetingly before the world went black if she would ever truly awaken.