My parents had the habit of moving every few years. Us kids were never privy as to why, for us it was just a fact of life. As a result we were rather use to being the 'new' kids, and in the interim of making friends, despite the difference in ages we were friends. Depending on where my parents had decided to go to, sometimes being my older brothers' 'friend' and not their younger sister lasted longer than others.
This particular move had set us in the middle of nowhere; 10 miles from town, 3 from the nearest neighbor. As luck would have it, instead of moving during the school year (as sometimes happened) it was at the start of summer. None of us kids stood a chance of making friends before school began. Not that far out from everyone.
At the time, there were five of us kids still living at home. Kevin was 13, Mitch 12, I was 8, and behind me a younger sister (6) and a baby brother (3). If I wasn't helping our Mom care for the younger two, then I was running with the boys. I was quite the tomboy in those days.
One day, my brothers decided they were going exploring in the nearby woods, and I tagged along. These woods were neither big nor deep, although I suppose it was large enough to get lost in, if you didn't pay attention, as it was thick enough you couldn't see through to the other side. Mitch had picked up a stick and was saying 'enguard!' as he lunged at various trees, as we traipsed through, while Kevin carefully marked our trail with chalk on their bark. This was done so we wouldn't get lost, after all we didn't know these woods and as yet, we hadn't seen any real paths. Except for the trees, and an errant rabbit or two we hadn't seen much of anything.
After awhile, I needed to pee, so I stepped away from my brothers. Glancing up from where I squatted, I could just see a house. It was a rather sad looking thing. Standing and pulling up my jeans, I called out,"Hey, guys? There's a house." Kevin asked where, and Mitch said he didn't see anything. "Are you guys blind? It's right THERE!" They squinted in the direction I pointed. Apparently, what was so obvious to me, was fairly camouflaged to them. It took a minute, maybe two before either of them saw it.
We decided to go check it out. Maybe we had neighbors closer than we thought (we were headed in the wrong direction for it to be the neighbors' we knew of). As we walked towards it, we stepped over a running rivulet, seriously not even a foot across.
Coming closer, it was apparent no one had lived there in a very long time. I can still see it in my mind's eye. A low single story structure, with a slanted porch. A broken window staring like a blind eye, with what remained so covered with dirt and dust as to be opaque. Here and there a glimpse of what had been curtains still hanging. The house's color was so faded, chipped and peeling, it seemed a non-descriptive grey. If from a distance it had seemed sad, up close it was down right depressing.
It was Mitch who had decided we should go inside. Kevin had his doubts, but then Mitch double dogged dared us. Everyone knows you can't back down from a double dog dare, unless you're just a chicken baby. (Ah, the rules of childhood and sibling rivalry.) At first the door resisted entry, but a few good shoves and it opened.
It was very dim and cool in the interior, and the air was heavy with that musty smell of being closed up way too long. We opted to leave the door open for some light and air. Kevin instructed me to stay close, and none of us should wander off on our own. The place was still furnished. If it hadn't been so thick with dust, and obviously falling apart, I would've expected someone to emerge and demand to know what we were doing there.
Almost as silently as the house itself, we wandered room to room, peering in cupboards and drawers. In each room, I felt as if something was missing. Sometimes, it was obvious, a pale rectangle on the living room wall indicated a picture once hung there, the lack of dishes and silverware in the kitchen, stuff like that, in others it was just a feeling. Kevin supposed that when the person had lived there passed, people took what was worth anything or wanted and left the rest to rot.
We found an old letter written to a Mrs. Penchant, apparently from her daughter, saying she was sorry, but it looked like they wouldn't be coming for a visit this year either. It went on about how she wished her mother would reconsider moving in with them, since she was now alone, with "daddy now gone many years, and Tom now having followed." Of course I'm paraphrasing, but I remember asking Kevin what that meant and he said that the dad had died, and this Tom apparently her brother was dead too, leaving the Mom alone. That saddened me to no end. I felt so bad for Mrs. Penchant, being all alone way out here. Kevin told me not to be sad, she was probably in Heaven with her family. Mitch, being Mitch chimed in either that or she was a ghost, just waiting for some little girl to get. Kevin told him to knock it off, just then a small ceramic puppy fell off the mantle.
I picked it up, brushing off the dust and cobwebs. "What a cute little puppy!" I smiled down at it, a tiny beagle looking thing, sitting up as if begging.
"You can take it if you want," Mitch said.
I was standing on tip toes trying to reach the mantle to put it back. I was tempted, it was such a clever looking thing, and I didn't have much to call my own. Especially when it came to 'pretties'. Still, I said, "It isn't mine."
"Old lady's dead. She ain't going to care."
"Mitch! That's called stealing! It's bad to steal, even from the dead." One of the lessons, Mitch never did learn, was taking what isn't yours is just flat out wrong. "You need to ask first!" Being all of 8, 'dead' was still an abstract idea for me, but I didn't see how that made taking their stuff okay, without permission. I still don't. Just then Mitch let out a yelp claiming that something pinched him.
Kevin kind of laughed saying maybe it was Mrs. Penchant's ghost giving him what for.
I remember Mitch saying something like ghosts aren't real, and she could just go suck an egg, or something like that. Another yelp and his hand flew to his face. "Someone slapped me! I'm not kidding, guys!" Even in the dim light, I could see he'd gone pale. Kevin said maybe we should go, all laughter leaving him and suddenly very serious. It was all I could do to nod agreement, my poor mind doing double time trying to process what was happening. Mitch had already fled out the door, and Kevin was heading towards it. I carefully, placed the puppy on a nearby table. "I'm sorry, if we upset you," I whispered. "Please don't be mad." I swear I felt a pat on my rear, like "a go on scoot" 'spank'. That was enough to set me in motion, and we ran.
After we were passed the tiny stream, we paused gasping for breath. Mitch had a bright red mark on his face. We walked home barely talking, except for their warning not to say anything about the house to anyone.
Later, I found that ceramic puppy in my back pocket. How it got there, I don't know. I like to think it was a gift from Mrs. Penchant. I still have it.