Greg walked through the house, smiling at the various guests that were enjoying themselves at his house party. So far everyone had approved of his purchase of the rustic two floor home, his wife going so far as to begin writing thank you notes to the various people that had brought gifts for the new home, despite the fact that the party was still in full swing. Sometimes Ashley lost sight of the trees for the forest, so to speak.
Walking to the bathroom, Greg grabbed the handle only to find it locked.
“Occupied,” someone said from beyond the door.
Grumbling, Greg turned and nearly walked over the diminutive form of his real estate agent, Fred Andrews. Short in stature with black hair and a goatee, the miniature man barely reached five feet in height, and was prone to lurking about from what Greg had noticed. Stepping back, Greg smiled at Fred, who returned the friendly gesture with a tight smile of his own.
“How are you this evening Fred? Do you like what we’ve done with the house?” Greg asked.
“It’s lovely,” Fred drawled, looking around at the small tableau of knick-knacks that sat near the bathroom. “I hadn’t envisioned this gloomy place to become so… homey in my wildest dreams.”
Greg laughed. “You say that like this house was doomed to being some depressing cavern of a home!”
Fred coughed into his hand. “Yes, well, I just stopped by to see if you’ve been settling in alright.”
Greg nodded happily. “Yeah, the neighbors have been friendly and the house is great. A tad drafty, but I’m going to reapply the sealant to the windows this weekend, so that should solve that problem.”
“Drafty? What do you mean by that?” Fred asked his tone curious.
“Oh, just that it always seems to be cold in the foyer where the stairs lead up to the second floor. I figure it’s some wind coming in through a leak in the windows because the chandelier hanging in between the winding staircase is always swaying at night.”
“Is it now?” Fred asked, reaching up to tug on his sweater collar. “How strange. I do apologize if I sold you a house that needed renovations.”
Greg waived Fred’s concerns aside. “With the price of the house so low, I figured something was wrong with the place. Some minor repairs are nothing to be concerned with.”
“Still, I would hate to be saddled with the guilt that I sold you something that had such deficits to it. Allow me to make an offer to buy the home from you again, what you paid plus an additional ten percent.”
This caught Greg by surprise, which must have been obvious on his face. Fred quickly set his drink down and raised his hands up as if to calm the man. “I am just making the offer as I feel bad about selling you a property that has problems with it. I would buy it, renovate it properly, and then sell it once I am sure the home is clean.”
“I can assure you, our home is clean,” Greg said congenially. “I thank you for your offer, but my wife would absolutely kill me if I were to give away our new home, even for the generous offer you are making.”
Fred bowed his head, scooping up his drink once more. “I felt obligated to offer at the very least. I would have felt as if I wronged you without at least offering to take the property off your hands when I discovered you were having such problems.”
“A small draft is hardly a problem,” Greg smiled.
“Perhaps,” Fred conceded before nodding. “But perhaps it is a sign of an even greater problem that you are unaware of?”
“I somehow doubt that,” Greg scoffed, moving to push past Fred, now tired of the conversation. “If you’ll excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom.”
“By all means,” Fred said, stepping to the side.
Greg walked away, shaking his head. The strange real estate agent had been nothing but friendly during every encounter, including this one, but he had hardly ever seemed desperate; about selling the place or getting a good price for it. Now he seemed intent on buying the property back, as if he knew there was something valuable here.
Greg was no fool; the only reason Fred would want the house was if something was here that could prove valuable. Greg would just have to look over the house thoroughly when he began his next set of repairs. Stopping in the foyer, smiling at his sister-in-law and his brother, he motioned around the house.
“Where’s my darling niece?” He asked, speaking above the den of conversation coming from the rest of the crowd.
“She’s playing on the stairs, near the second floor landing.” Greg’s brother, Alex, said.
“She grew tired of hanging out with the rest of the adults a while ago,” Sarah, Alex’s wife, said while stirring her drink.
“I was just about to head upstairs, I’ll check on her and see if she needs anything,” Greg offered, handing Alex his drink.
“Would you? That would be awfully sweet of you,” Sarah said.
“Anything for my little Willow,” Greg smiled, turning to begin his ascent up the stairs. He caught sight of his wife entertaining his boss and her husband and locked eyes with her. Ashley smiled at a joke one of the two must have told, her smile reaching her hazel eyes as she laughed. She locked eyes with Greg, who nodded at her and mouthed the words “thank you.” She merely smiled back at him before returning her gaze to Greg’s boss, who had clearly had one too many drinks by the way she was waving her arms.
Greg, hand on the railing, continued up the stairs, following the spiral stairs until he came across his little Willow, the four year old sitting with her legs sticking out between the banister rods to where her feet were dangling in mid-air. She was making a face where her pale skin was turning red, her eyes crossed. Greg walked up beside her, causing her to look up at him, relaxing her face.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hello there,” Greg said. “What’re you doing?”
“Playing with the lady with the braid,” she replied before turning back out to the empty space below the chandelier.
“Is she your imaginary friend?” Greg asked, leaning on the banister.
“No, I just met her. She says she hasn’t talked to anyone in a long time.” Willow replied, making another cross eyed face.
“What’s her name?” Greg asked.
Willow was silent for a moment, staring off into space, before she looked up at her uncle. “Caitlyn. She says she doesn’t like you.”
“She doesn’t like me? What did I do to her?” Greg asked with a laugh.
“She says you’ve moved into her house and are making it ugly. She wants you to leave.” Willow said.
Greg chuckled, patting Willow on the head. “Well you can tell your little friend that I’m not going anywhere. You two can play whenever you come over, maybe that’ll make her a little happier?”
“I don’t know, she’s kind of old.” Willow said, sounding uncertain. Her eyes grew wide as if she heard something only she could hear. “Oh, I’m sorry Caitlyn, I didn’t mean it like that! I just mean that you probably don’t want to play pony or hide and seek with me.”
Greg watched as Willow seemed to listen intently, shivering as the draft blew over him. Looking around at the walls, he held his hand up to see if he could feel where the draft was coming from. He stopped when he heard Willow speak again.
“I don’t want to play that game; I can’t make my face blue like yours. I wouldn’t know where to get a braid long enough to wrap around my neck.”
Greg looked down at Willow before looking out at the space below the chandelier, which was swaying in the cool breeze.
“Willow, what does the braid look like? Is it long, longer than anyone else’s hair you’ve ever seen?” Greg asked, eyes locked on the area Willow was looking at.
Willow looked up at her uncle and nodded. “Yup, she says it isn’t a braid, but a noodle.”
Greg blanched at that, quickly interpreting what Willow was saying.
Her "imaginary friend" was someone who had a noose around her neck, and was hanging from the chandelier.