Amy skipped happily down the street, her rope making a satisfying whirr as it turned over her head and under her feet. The taps on her toes clicked merrily and she giggled in delight at the thought of defying her mother who had clearly stated Amy was not to wear her tap shoes out to play. There would be consequences, she’d warned with her trademark ‘Don’t you defy me, lady’ frown. Consequences were for later. Now it was summer, school was out and Amy was as free as a bird.
Turning onto Rever Street, Amy grinned. Beneath her alternating feet passed a hopscotch grid. Another child, probably a girl in her limited world experience, had also enjoyed a happy afternoon. The colours sprang off the dull grey pavement in reds and yellows with green and blue hits here and there. Her skipping feet scuffed up minute dust storms in cloudy pastels.
The grid seemed to stretch on forever, wending its way down Rever and turning the bend onto Somiar Avenue. About halfway down Amy began to see something different. Each square of the grid started to display something beside the numbers. First came a tree, then a bird, followed by a cloud, a cat and a deer. The numbers also began to run backwards. Hurrying on Amy found herself eager to know what would appear when she reached zero.
What she saw brought her and her rope to a full stop, handles dangling, knocking idly against her knee, mouth agape. She knelt carefully in the zero square and gazed at the picture it led too. She couldn’t quite bring herself to touch it at first, but it didn’t look like chalk. More like a painting advertising a scary movie.
A rickety walkway snaked across a swamp and joined a veranda around what might once have been a simple shack but had been reshaped by a witch with architectural pretensions. Turrets and towers pointed skyward decorated with fancy wooden fripperies. Balconies and windows dotted the structure, many in places which seemed unnatural, askew. The whole house shimmered denim blue under the light wash of a grubby moon.
As Amy looked further into the picture she picked out little details. Pale lemon light wavered behind the windows. Wavered? She looked again. Paintings, chalk drawings, whatever this was, did not, could not waver. Now there were pinpricks of bright white as hanging lamps flickered on along the walkway. Intent on her observations, Amy tilted forward and her hand made contact with the surface of the picture.
A second later she tumbled to a stop on the wooden planks of the walkway. Disorientated, she staggered to her feet, gazing at the crooked house, the spill of lights ahead. She started toward it, vaguely aware of sound. A faint, rhythmic thudding, like feet on wooden floors or dulled fists from beyond glass. Scared now she ran for the safety of the house, for the door which creaked open and snapped shut behind her.
Only then did she hear the sounds clearly, the fists and feet drumming on floors and windows, the pale, wasted children now turning to stare at her, their warnings to run the other way ignored. Only then did she understand the consequences of her actions.
Her mother gazed at the tap shoes, all the police had found to return of her daughter. Found beside a hopscotch grid on an empty street.