Thanksgiving Day was surprisingly warm—near seventy degrees.[i] Through our windows we could see people wearing no coats out on the street. It was odd. About two o’clock in the afternoon I saw some people coming up our front sidewalk. I didn’t wait for them to ring the bell; I just swung open the door.
“Well, that’s service,” laughed Mrs. Eastbrook.
“Hi, Harriet,” I said.
“Hi, Vickie,” she replied, staring at me strangely.
And then I noticed that Mr. Eastbrook was not with them. “Where’s your father?” I asked Harriet.
“He’s not … feeling well,” said Mrs. Eastbrook. The redness in her face came, I knew, not from the cold but from the lie she was telling.
“Vickie,” my father called from the kitchen, “don’t make them stand on the porch all day!”
“Oh, uh, come on in,” I said, stepping aside.
Father, wearing an apron and carrying a wooden spoon, entered the room. “Happy Thanksgiving,” he said—then hesitated when he saw that Mr. Eastbrook was not with them.
“John’s not feeling too well,” said Mrs. Eastbrook. “Maybe he’ll be over later.”
Another lie, I thought.
“That’s a shame,” said Father. “I hope it’s nothing too serious.”
“Oh no … just a headache,” she said. “A slight fever.”
“Well, something’s been going around—a virus, I guess. Anyway, we’re happy to have the two of you,” said Father, “and we’ll be sure to put together some things you can take home for John later.”
“You don’t need to do that.”
“No trouble,” said Father.
“Everything smells so wonderful,” she said. “Can I give you a hand in the kitchen?”
“How about both hands,” my father joked. And off they went to the kitchen, leaving me alone with Harriet.
“Want to see our house?” I asked.
Harriet loved our place—all the rooms, the deep closets, the long hallways. “It’s so big,” she said, over and over and over again. “It’s so big.”
Back downstairs again, she asked me about the basement.
“Oh, there’s nothing much down there,” I said. “Just a basement.”
“Can we look?”
“Oh, are you sure? It’s smelly and wet,” I said. “Lots of spiders and—”
“Ugh,” said Harriet. “Let’s just stay up here.”
I don’t know why I didn’t take Harriet downstairs that day—or on any other day. Or why I didn’t even tell her about my workshop and lab—not for a long long time. But I didn’t. Something was urging me not to, and I’d learned already—in just four years of being alive—that I should always listen to my instincts. Always.
And so I showed Harriet all my books—which didn’t really interest her, I could tell—while she ate potato chips and all the other snacks we had put in little bowls in the parlor. “I don’t know how to read very much,” she confessed. “I’ve just sort of started.”
“I’ve always been able to read,” I said.
“Always.” And this was not a lie—I couldn’t remember when I didn’t know how to read.[ii]
We were sitting alone in the parlor, quiet now, the only sound the crunch of pretzels in Harriet’s mouth. I waited a few moments, and then I asked her what had been bothering me for days: “Harriet, what did you mean when you said that you’d seen me in your dreams?”
She put a handful of pretzels back into the dish and stared at me. “You are a girl I see in my dreams,” she said. “So I couldn’t believe it when you were standing on my own front porch!”
“But how can that be?” I asked. “It must’ve been someone who just looked like me.”
“Oh no,” she said. “It was you.”
“Well, what was I doing in your dreams? I mean, what were your dreams about?”
Harriet stared at me some more. Her voice, when she answered, was low, a ragged whisper: “Vickie, it is scary, what I see. Sometimes when I wake up, I am crying because I am so scared.”
“But what is it? What do you see?”
“I see a big monster,” she said. “He looks like a man, but he’s very tall, and his skin is yellow and sick-looking. His hair is all wild. And he wears raggedy clothes. He’s chasing me, and he’s just about to catch me … I can smell him … he smells so bad … and … and …”
“And then you save me.”
“How? How do I save you?”
“You yell at him.”
“I yell at him?”
“What do I say?”
“You say”—she paused to look at me; there were tears in her eyes—“you say, ‘Son! What are you doing?’”
I waited a moment, shocked at what she’d said. Finally, I was able to find a quiet voice: “And then?”
“And then the monster disappears. He just … goes away.”
Harriet’s blue eyes bored into me like drills.