Abigail was walking home from the dollar store when she heard the little voice. She had the day off and needed some new rubber gloves for washing dishes, as she was allergic to the soap. It was a beautiful Fall morning; warm and breezy and the few leaves that had already deserted their branches were racing with the wind across the road and through the grass.
Abbey liked to look around, she found other people, and the hints about their lives you could see in passing, fascinating. She was on a quiet street and at first the voice sounded like a squeak. She kept walking, ever mindful of rats in this city but then she heard it again, and recognized words this time.
“Hello, hello,” the little child’s voice called.
She tried to see where the voice was coming from. And then there it was- the house she was passing had the front door propped open and the little girl was standing there looking out. Abbey gave her a quick wave and kept walking.
The sound of little bare feet slapping concrete followed her and the little girl grabbed onto her shirt.
“Hello,” the little girl said.
Abbey smiled warmly at her. The girl’s clothes were worn and tattered and her face was smudged with dirt.
“My mother won’t wake up,” the little girl said.
That stopped Abigail. “What did you say?” she asked gently.
“Mummy won’t wake up. I even pinched her,” the little girl did not look overly upset, just very serious.
Abigail didn’t know what to do. She hadn’t brought her phone with her. She knew she should help but didn’t want to get involved. It was selfish she knew, but this was her day off and she had so few and she just wanted time and peace.
“Has this happened before?” Abigail asked, hoping it was something explainable, perhaps a regular occurrence.
The little girl shook her head. “She always gets up. But not today. What’s your name?”
“My name is Abigail.”
The little girl’s face brightened into a smile. “That’s my name too!”
Abigail laughed. “Well I guess we should check on your mother then,” she said. “I’m sure she’s fine. Does she ever take pills?” Abbey asked as they walked up the sidewalk to the open front door.
“No pills.” Little Abigail reached out and held onto big Abigail’s hand.
The laughter stopped at the doorway to the house. There was a bad smell, and the interior of the entrance hallway was strewn with garbage.
“How long… has your mom been asleep?”
“A long time,” the little girl said. “Come on, let’s go see her.”
Reluctantly big Abigail stepped into the house. Everything was wrong, but she knew she should help. The little girl pushed the big front door closed with a bang. Then she smiled and pointed upstairs.
Together, hand in hand, they went up the stairs. They took careful steps due to the litter of toys, leaves and strange stains.
“My mommy’s in her room,” the girl said, and pulled Abigail down the hall towards an open door.
The smell was very strong there, and Abigail tried to brace herself for what she was about to see. They came into the doorway and saw someone lying on the floor covered in blankets.
“Excuse me?” Abigail called from the doorway. “Are you alright?”
“She’s not going to answer,” the little girl chided. “She’s asleep,” she tugged on her new friend’s hand and pulled her into the room.
Abigail resisted, afraid of what she was going to find. She noticed that there was no bed and no dresser, just the lump of blankets in the center of the room. There were piles of clothes, toys and papers strewn against the walls.
She moved up to the blankets, placed her hand on the dirty fabric. The smell of decay and rot was heavy. Abigail pushed on the blankets and the body rolled over, sending a cloud of flies into the air. A rotted face with patches of white skull showing with long blond hair stared back at them.
“See.” The little girl said. “She won’t wake up. There’s no one to play with me.”
Horrified, Abigail backed out of the room. Her shaking hand grabbed at her pocket for her phone even though she knew she hadn’t brought it. She hurried back to the stairs and went down quickly with the little girl trailing behind her.
“Phone,” Abigail stammered. “Where’s the phone?”
Little girl Abigail pointed into the living room, where a landline set sat on a scratched coffee table.
Abigail rushed to it and picked up the receiver. There was no dial tone. She noticed there was no cord either.
“Is there another phone?”
The little girl shook her head. “This is the phone. You can pretend. You can talk to anyone you want to.”
Abigail backed away from the child and rushed to the front door. But when she pulled on the handle the door wouldn’t budge. She looked for a lock but there was none. Putting a foot on the doorframe, she tugged with all her might, but the door did not even creak. She ran through the ground floor but there was no other exit. The windows all had bars on them, like many in the city. Abigail was pale and shaking with panic when she returned to try the front door again. The little girl came up behind her while she was pulling, then pounding on the front door.
“Do you want to play dolls?”
Abigail turned to her. “Your mother is dead,” she said. “We need to get help.”
The little girl laughed an easy silly laugh. “But you came to help. You’re my new mother.”
Abigail recoiled in horror, stumbling over a tattered blanket. “No,” she said. “Never.”
The little girl made a mad face and began to stomp around; kicking whatever came into her angry path.
Abbey began to search. There might be tools, or even knives in the kitchen- something she could use to take the door off its hinges or get through the bars on the windows. She found an old toolbox, covered with cobwebs under the bathroom sink. She carried the dirty box to the front hallway and began sorting through the screwdrivers.
“Can I play too?” the little girl asked, her previous tantrum forgotten.
“Yes.” Abigail said cautiously. “We’re going to play fixer.” She handed the girl a screwdriver. “Let’s pretend the front door is broken and we have to fix it.”
The little girl jumped up and down with glee. Together they went to the door and as the little girl pretended to be doing something Abbey looked at the hinges. All of the screws had already been removed.
“It’s not possible,” she said aloud. “It’s not possible.”
The little girl laughed. “We always play this game first. What do you want to do now?”
Next they went to the second floor and tried to open the windows there, but none of them would open. Abigail tried smashing one with a hammer but it would only bounce off. She began to cry.
“Don’t cry,” the little girl said, rubbing her shoulder. “Let’s play. It will cheer you up. Want to play dolls?”
“How long have you been here?” Abigail asked.
The little girl shrugged.
“What do you eat?”
Again the little girl shrugged. “I don’t eat anything. I just play. Come on.”
Abigail did not play for two days. There was no food in the house, but there was water from the taps. She had a tea party with the little girl.
“Is your name really Abigail?” she asked the little girl.
The girl blushed. “It is today.”
There was no way out. Abigail began to accept it after she understood it. And so they played. They played dolls and dress up and big Abigail pretended to call her own mother on the phone. They played funeral and buried the little girl’s previous mother in the basement with all the others and they played more dolls and Abigail tried to clean the house up and patch the girls clothes but without food she felt weaker and weaker.
She lost track of the days, and felt completely lifeless. She had been drinking a lot of water but she’d cut back on that now too, as her body didn’t seem to want it. She was cold, shivering, and she lay on the floor in the same spot she’d found the body on the first day she’d arrived. Little Abigail covered her with blankets and brushed her hair and played dolls right beside her.
“I’m going to miss you,” the little girl said. “Thank you for being my mom.”
Abigail did not have the strength to answer.
The little girl put on the rubber gloves that Abigail had bought at the dollar store. “See,” she said. “Now I’m just like you.”
Abigail closed her eyes and didn’t open them again.