My grandfather shoved me into the basement and locked the door behind me. The cold, damp smell wrapped around me, and thin sunlight slipped in through glass block windows set high into the walls.
He didn’t like having me underfoot, so I spent a lot of time in the basement.
In the summer, I could sit on stairs and read. But it was late January, and too cold to be still, even wrapped in the cedar-scented wool blanket that I’d stolen from the dusty room where he stored the other things that my mother had left behind.
I jogged around the rotting workbench, hugging the blanket tight.
Between one step and another, I saw her, fragmented into a thousand pieces by the panes inside the glass blocks. A girl, older than me, with long black hair and shadowed eyes.
I dragged a broken chair over to the wall and balanced on it, face even with the window.
She stared back at me from a hundred angles, her face twisted into a plea for help.
I fell off the chair.
She was always there, after that. Maybe she’d always been there, waiting for someone to see her. But I’d seen horror movies, and I knew that I couldn’t trust her. She probably wanted to steal my body. She couldn’t have a body herself, trapped inside that window.
Still, it was hard to face her.
I snuck into the closed room and stripped the sheets off of the bed. I pulled the quilt back up over the bare mattress and smoothed it out.
I pictured my mother’s hand, smoothing the same spot.
The sheets made serviceable curtains. The basement was darker, but I felt better with the windows covered.
I dreamed that my mother came back for me, but she had the girl from the window’s eyes.
Time slipped by. My grandfather sent me to the basement anytime he noticed me, so I made myself quiet and small. I didn’t try to make friends–it didn’t seem worth the effort. And trusting people had never worked out for me.
I ran away on my 15th birthday. I took the wool blanket and $400 that my grandfather had hidden in a pickle jar. I hid in the woods for a week and lived on food I bought in the gas station. I should have gone to the city, should have had a destination. My mother knew where she was going when she left.
But I didn’t have anywhere to go, so I slept under the stars and felt giddy with freedom.
I was standing next to the Hostess rack, trying to decide what snack cake I wanted for breakfast, when a friendly voice said, “I imagine there’s someone looking for you, honey.”
I bolted, but the cops were already outside. They put me into the back of their car, and I wept all the way back to my grandfather’s house.
He pushed me straight into the basement.
I tore the curtains down and stared at the girl in the window. She hadn’t aged–hadn’t changed at all since I’d covered her up.
“If you want my life, you can have it,” I said. She pressed a distorted hand to a hundred surfaces inside the glass block. Her dark eyes glittered like stars.
My grandfather had a battered set of golf clubs in one corner, and I swung one at the window. The club bounced back, leaving a single white chip in the middle of the center block. I swung again with a cry of frustrated rage. The window cracked, a splintered spider web that spread across the panes. I waited for the girl to flow into me, to take over my body and thrust me out.
I stared at the window, at each place where I’d seen her pleading face and bottomless eyes.
She was gone.
She was free.
And I had freed her.
I slumped beneath the broken window and cried.
The next day, I saw a glimpse of her, reflected in Tina Thompson’s glasses. Maybe–maybe I could try trusting someone. What else did I have to lose?
I met Tina’s eyes and smiled. “Hey. Did you do the homework? What did you get for number 4?”
She smiled back, and told me.
Jamie Lackey lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and their cat. She has over 130 short fiction credits, and has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Cast of Wonders. She’s a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Her short story collection, One Revolution, and her science fiction novella, Moving Forward, are available on Amazon.com. Her debut novel, Left-Hand Gods is available from Hadley Rille Books. In addition to writing, she spends her time reading, playing tabletop RPGs, baking, and hiking. You can find her online at www.jamielackey.com.