Pretty Little… Thing
My five-year-old daughter, Isabelle, ran inside from the creek one morning. She was out of breath and covered in mud. I was ready to scold her for playing by the water, because we talked about that, and I wanted to get her cleaned, dressed, and dried for school before the bus came. But before I could do either of those things, Izzy held up a huge piece of bone, with a cute smile and sassy comment already prepared.
“Look, look who I met, Daddy! He has a name. I call him Pretty Little Thing.”
By the size and shape, I could immediately tell that my daughter was holding one half of a human skull. I tried not to panic. That took superhuman strength in and of itself. I grabbed some paper towels. I slipped the skull gingerly from Izzy’s hands and threw it into a plastic grocery bag. Then I called the cops.
My daughter didn’t like that.
Not one bit.
Izzy screamed and shouted over this apparent betrayal for the entirety of the next hour.
“How could you kick out Pretty Little Thing?”
Typical tantrums aside, I couldn’t figure out the reason for the drama. Isabelle had always been such a good kid. The perfect child for a single parent. Daddy’s little girl. We never fought as bad as we did that day. She wouldn’t even talk to me.
The authorities arrived and took the skull within the hour. They looked at the scene for a couple minutes before a call went into forensics. My daughter wailed through it all. I had to bring her inside just to calm her down. She ran to her bedroom and slammed the door.
One of the officers followed me inside and asked for a glass of water. He tried to explain the situation calmly. These things happen, he said, more often than you might think. No reason be alarmed. Sometimes bodies didn’t pop up for decades. Sometimes a good storm would dredge things up. The Valley had plenty of skeletons.
“This one looks like an oldie,” he mentioned. “But we’ll know more after forensics.”
I thanked them and told them to contact me only if needed to. They left without much more than a goodbye. Crisis over.
I suppose I could have kept Izzy home from school. Maybe that would have been wise. But I didn’t want her to see it as an “event.” Like something that happened in which she needed to recover from. Cementing it in her memory in that way might have made it more traumatizing, or so I thought.
And so, she still went to school. I still went to work. Personally, I was prepared to write the entire situation off as some unfortunate coincidence. A rational explanation would soon be provided by the detectives. In a matter of days, or weeks, we could chalk up the whole experience to some unknown cold case. Maybe we’d be on TV. Maybe the tourism dollar would finally dip into the Valley. We hadn’t seen much since that family disappeared in the nineties.
That night, Isabelle talked about Pretty Little Thing at the dinner table. She said she wished he could eat with us. She said she wished I never gave him away. I found those comments to be downright creepy, so I disciplined her by taking away television for the week. Izzy did not take the punishment well. She stomped upstairs and slammed the door behind her again. I hated seeing her like this. But I didn’t know what else to do.
I went to bed that night with a guilty conscience, worry from the skull, and a growing anxiety about the approaching storm. The weatherman claimed it would be biblical. They closed the schools on the forecast alone. I fell asleep to the first raps of rain against our shutters. I woke sometime later to a particularly loud crack of thunder.
It was late.
The dimmed screen of my cell phone read well past two in the morning. Immediately, my mind drifted back toward my daughter, and the guilt of the last twenty-four hours set in. My heart hurt worse than I could imagine. And I didn’t even know why. I hated fighting. I convinced myself to get up and check on her.
I battled the nightstand drawer for my glasses. As my feet found the cold wood floor, I heard a faint noise from the hallway, and I wondered if Izzy was feeling the same sort of guilt. I waited for her to tumble into my room in a tiny little mess, with a thousand little apologies and a request to sleep in my bed. But the footsteps drifted away from my room and down the hall.
I listened closely and waited for my daughter to shout, “Daddy!” But the footsteps sounded more like scratching now. They moved slow. Not uncertain. Just patient. My daughter’s bedroom door opened. The rusty frame creaked. A loud, obnoxious whinny filled the air. Then a cold, uncomfortably deep voice echoed behind it.
“Ah…pretty little thing. I had a few pretty little things like you once.”
The threat of another person inside the house kicked my ass into gear. I threw open my own door and darted down the hallway, stubbing my toe on a loose board, cursing all the way, fully prepared for battle. Exasperated, I arrived at the end of the long hallway and pushed my way into my daughter’s room.
Standing in front of me was one of the most disturbing scenes I had ever seen in my life.
My daughter was awake. She stared at me with helplessly wide eyes as a figure sat perched over her bed. I gasped, and the thing turned to me slowly, allowing a full view of its horrible disfigurement in the shadows of the dark. It looked like a man, once, before something tore away the humanoid features. A sickly pale smile placated its wide face as the being leered in my direction.
“That’s a pretty little thing you got there. Looks tasty, too. How old is she now?”
A hole peeked out from the back of its head.
I backed away a bit. I didn’t know what to do. I kept a bat in my bedroom. I didn’t have time to grab it. Even then, I thought, I knew it wouldn’t do any good. I darted around the bed and wrapped my daughter up in arms.
“It’s okay, it’s okay, baby, Daddy’s got you.”
Izzy smiled at me sneakily. Then she turned on the nightlight.
The room became awash in a bright blue glow that reached into every dark corner. I shielded my eyes from the strength for a second. When I opened them, the human skeleton sitting on my daughter’s bed was gone.
“You saw him, right, Daddy? You saw him, too?”
Isabelle and I slept in a hotel that night. And every night. Right up until we sold the place.
Look, I know this sounds crazy. You probably won’t believe me. That’s fine. I get it. I don’t blame you. Everyone has their own crazy ghost encounter, and each sound as unlikely as the last, so don’t worry about it. But one detail did emerge during our attempts to sell the house. For me, this was the thing that confirmed it.
The police finally received a DNA match on the skull fragment. It belonged to a John G. Blakey. You see, John developed quite a reputation in the Valley. He murdered ten young girls, all around the time of their eighth birthdays. He disappeared when the police started to close in.
For forty years, a serial killer’s remains were left undisturbed in a creek behind my backyard.
Now they’re free.
And we are most certainly moving the fuck out of the Valley.