The girl stood in the middle of the street as if she was guarding the town.
He had taken I-85 for the hour-and-a-half drive to Solitary, listening to a podcast he’d downloaded on his phone before leaving. It was an hour-long discussion hosted by a couple of guys who claimed to be ghost hunters. Danny assumed they were part-time ghost hunters and full-time Walmart employees or something like that. They sounded to be in their late twenties. Probably single, living in a smelly apartment, staying up late playing video games and corresponding with similar nerds on social networks and secret chat rooms online. The reason he was interested in hearing this was because they were talking about urban legends in the Smoky Mountains and this included about twenty minutes on Solitary, North Carolina.
The story that they spoke about matched the information Danny had found about the town. It was located in western North Carolina, not far from Asheville. A simple and quiet town of about 1,700 people, though reports stated a lot of them had moved out since all the happenings a few years ago.
The exit off the highway was so nondescript he almost passed it by. It took him only a few moments to get to the main street in Solitary, the one where this odd little girl was now standing. Danny slowed his car to a stop a dozen yards away from her. She had dark hair falling just below her ears and wide eyes hovering like twin moons. She wore a thick, pink winter coat with a hood she wasn’t using and matching pink polka dot snow boots even though there wasn’t any snow to be seen. The eight or nine-year-old stood straight as if she was a soldier at attention, her arms at her sides unmoving.
Danny rolled down his window letting in the cold air. “Hey do you mind? Watch out.”
He didn’t like kids. Anybody under the age of about sixteen or fifteen . . . No thanks. They all annoyed him. Junior high kids with all their confusion. Someone like this—maybe in second or third grade—with all their high-volume energy. Babies with all their smelly diapers and drool. Danny’s older sister had a couple of boys and visiting them always confirmed his vow of never repeating in her shoes.
Finding the right woman is one thing. But having children with her?
The girl didn’t move, so he honked the horn of the rental car. It came out with a loud blare, but the girl still didn’t move. She looked strange, as if she was hypnotized.
Of course there’s going to be a girl standing in the street waiting. Bet her name is Regan.
Danny began to let the car coast while veering away from the girl. Last thing he needed was to show up in the news after hitting some kid. He pulled up beside her and stopped the car again.
“You waiting for somebody?” he asked.
She was cute. Those dark brown eyes, the little nose, the round cheeks. But she’d be a lot more cute if she smiled. Or even looked halfway awake.
Her voice wasn’t cute. It was flat and lifeless.
“You know it’s bad to stand in the middle of the street? Especially when a car is coming?”
“I’m not stupid,” she said.
Ah we got a pulse.
The street behind her that led into the small town that could be taken in with one glance looked completely empty. Danny assumed it wasn’t dangerous standing in the middle of a road nobody drove on.
“You the only one in town?” he asked.
She shook her head.
What is this girl’s deal? The weirdo look. Those wide eyes.
Danny really thought someone was playing with him. That someone knew he was coming and was messing with his mind. He glanced all around the vehicle to see if there was anybody else hiding, maybe recording this.
“Is this a practical joke?” he asked. “Did someone put you up to this?”
She stepped closer to the window and leaned her head toward him. “It’s coming.”
His body suddenly felt coated in goosebumps, a bit like it had been back in his apartment right before finding the rattlesnake. The famous scene from Poltergeist came to mind when the young girl walked up to the glowing static-filled television in the middle of the night and then announced to her parents “They’re here.” Except in this case, the girl didn’t sound so sweet. This one spoke without any hint of emotion.
“What’s coming? The babysitter who’s looking for you?”
No smile in response. Nothing. Just those eyes. Like a skeleton staring back with those dark holes.
“The snow,” the girl said.
“It’s supposed to snow?”
Danny had only seen brief weather reports. They said that they might be getting some freezing rain tomorrow evening. But he hadn’t seen the five-day forecast.
“Is that why you’re wearing those cool snow boots?” Danny said.
He was trying to sound like an adult now, being nice to the girl. Trying to get her to at least act human.
“You’re going to be stuck here,” she said.
Danny gave her a nod. He was bored by this conversation. And a little bothered, too. Any second now, the girl might break out into some thick-throated mwahaha.
“Well, just tell me there’s a pub down this street then. If I’m going to be stuck here, at least I can stay warm.”
She obviously didn’t get the joke, not that the girl would have laughed anyway. Danny wondered if she could even use her arms since they still just hung there unmoving.
“You okay?” Danny asked her.
“We’re all going to be stuck. With nowhere to go.”
He gave her an alrighty-then sort of grin and then proceeded to drive away from her. It clearly had to be a prank someone was pulling. Which was fine. It was fabulous, in fact. Whoever pulled it might have a similar sense of humor. Whoever got this girl to say and act like that might also enjoy ripping the “story” of the town to shreds.
It took ten seconds to get to the row of older buildings on one side of the road. On the other side he could see train tracks. Three cars were parked in the twenty-something spots lining the stores. There was a general store, some kind of trinkets/gifts store, a clothing store, then a building with a makeshift sign above it that simply said PUB.
Maybe the owner is trying to be ironic.
Danny didn’t think that was case, however. The sign looked like it had been painted over an older one. In the lists of restaurants and bars in the town, the only one listed had been Brennan’s Grill and Tavern. Maybe the owners had been among those who decided to ditch the town after all the troubles happened years ago.
As he climbed out of the car, Danny looked back down the road where the girl had been standing. She was gone.
A cold gust prompted him to head inside the pub. For a second as he pushed the door forward, Danny wondered if it would stay shut. But it let him in.
His work was about to begin.
Actually, it began the moment I saw the creepy girl in the middle of the road.
The great thing was that he was already formulating the sort of story or stories he would be writing about this. The Exorcist girl was a fabulous way to get a reader’s attention.
It’s the end of the world as we know it. And an eight-year old girl is the one announcing it.