By Kristina Hutchinson
My father hasn’t been on a date since my mother’s death five years ago. And up until a couple of weeks ago, he’d been spending all his nights and weekends doing rounds at the hospital. But tonight we’re in his candy-apple red sports car on our way to see his new “lady friend.” He’s asked me to come along. I guess you could call me his wingman, or more appropriately, his wing girl. He hasn’t told me much about her, just that her name is Eudora. An unusual name, but I like it.
“Dad, tell me again how you met her.”
“At the 7–Eleven. I had just finished my rounds, and I decided to stop for coffee. When I got up to the register to pay, the cashier said it’d been paid for. Then she handed me the receipt with a phone number on it.”
I’m not sure I approve of my dad picking up women at a gas station, but I think I like this Eudora already. She seems to have what mom would’ve called: moxie.
“We’ve been talking and texting ever since,” he continues.
I don’t have to ask him if he likes her; it’s pretty obvious: tonight he’s traded in his scrubs for a dark blue sports jacket and khakis. Stevie Wonder is playing on the radio and he is singing along.
“Eudora must be someone special,” I say.
Dad gives me a wink. “She is. You’ll see, Kiddo.”
We pull off the main highway onto a pebbled drive. Up ahead is a white stone cottage with a thatched roof, the kind I’ve only seen in books.
“Dad, do you smell that?” I ask him as we walk up the drive together.
The sky above us is an orange creamsicle with swirling white clouds. The autumn air is filled with a familiar scent.
The front door opens and a tall woman in her mid-thirties steps out. She is classically beautiful with skin as smooth and pale as porcelain and long black tresses twisted in velvet ribbons. The lace of her purple gown hangs like a spider’s web.
“Thomas, you made it!” She gives my father a hug and then turns to me. “You must be Ivy. Your father has told me so much about you. I’m so glad you decided to join us.” She shakes my hand and the gold bangles on her thin wrists jingle. “Please, come inside.”
We are standing in Eudora’s kitchen. Above us, dried herbs and flowers are tied and hanging from the low ceiling. Against a panelled wall stands a hutch, its shelves cluttered with colorful ceramic cookie jars and glass canisters filled with assorted candies. On a stove with a belly larger than any I’ve ever seen, a pot is boiling and bubbling. Steam rises from the pot, the aroma of ginger and something intensely sweet filling the room.
Help. A voice whispers in my ear.
“Something smells delicious.” Dad walks over to the stove. “What’s on the menu?”
“A surprise,” she tells him.
“Is there anything I can do?” he asks.
“You can butter the bread. Here—.” She teasingly tosses him a frilly pink apron. Dad puts it on and the two of them burst into laughter. Like children in the rain.
Dad and Eudora don’t seem to hear it. And they don’t notice as I leave the room.
The hall off of the kitchen is long and narrow, and I see a door up ahead. A crack of light is coming from beneath the door.
I jump. The door is unlocked. There are stairs and, although I should know better from all the scary movies I’ve seen, I find myself descending the steps. It’s damp and smells musty. I look around me. A washer and dryer. A sink.
“Ivy, It’s just a basement,” I tell myself.
“Help. Please.” It’s the voice of a little girl.
“I hear you, but where are you?”
There is the sound of scraping metal coming from behind the stairs. I follow it.
“In here. Hurry, please!”
I am beginning to think that this wasn’t such a good idea, but when I see a round wooden door in the wall, I have to have a look inside. Slowly, I turn the knob and the door swings open. My heart pounds at the sight of a large kennel inside and in it are two small children, a boy and a girl, both about ten years of age.
“Who are you?” I ask. “Why are you in this cage?”
“The lady of the house. She’s a witch,” the girl explains. “She tricked us and locked us in here, and she’s been fattening us up!”
“She’s going to eat us!” the boy cries out.
My father’s laughter echoes throughout the house. I reach for the cage. It’s locked.
I hear Dad again, and I remember how empty our lives were only weeks ago. I look at the boy and the girl with their fat, shiny faces and puffy red hands.
“Ivy!” my father calls. I hesitate, then finally, I turn around and walk out the door.
“No, don’t go!” they beg me. “Don’t leave us—”
“I’m not leaving,” I tell them, softly, as I shut the door. “I’m staying for dinner.”