Inside the house the air is very still. The staircase has a worn carpet on the steps. It’s almost like I’ve stepped into a museum. I expect a group of school children to come round the corner, looking bored, and rightly so: the house is empty. The layout is like Grandma’s, but there are no portraits of dogs on the walls and twice the cobwebs nestled in the corners.
“Ginny?” I ask the house, quietly.
I look into the room on the left.
It’s just a blanket over a chair. In the half-light it looked, looked…upstairs, in a room directly above me, there’s a slam against the floorboard. The room creaks.
I rush out into the lobby. At the bottom of the stairs I stop and look briefly down the hallway towards the back of the house, then I see Ginny stood at the top of the stairs. She’s standing very still, facing away from me. I move slowly, like I’m approaching something feral, or small and delicate, ultimately afraid.
She doesn’t move.
I take another step.
“Stop playing. Let’s go home,” I say.
My voice sounds hollow and quiet in so much silence. I want to shout.
“Would you stop talking and just listen?” she says.
It makes me jump. Her voice is very ordinary, like we’re talking over dinner. Her head hocks. A mimic of listening. I can’t help but hear the silence of the moment. Total. I have to give in.
I have to submit myself.
“Listen to what?” I ask.
“To the sound of someone cooking, in the kitchen, downstairs, can you hear it? The clatter of a metal spoon?”
I listen. I really listen.
“What about in the study? The room on the left. Can you hear them talking? Don’t they sound familiar, like we’ve heard them before?”
“Ginny, I just went in there, there’s, there’s no one in there. Come on. Come down here,” I was still stood one step up the stairs, I didn’t know why, I was stuck, “come down so we can go back to Grandma’s.”
She giggles. Sighs, as if in acknowledge of something I don’t understand, something I can’t hear, it is a knowing sigh, like the sigh you make when you finally figure something out: long division.
“And, what about,” Ginny raises her arm and points towards the door to her right, “what about in there?”
“Ginny, come on, this is stupid, stop it,” I fake another two steps up the stairs, hold out my hand for her, reach for her, “let’s just -”
“What about in there?” her voice is louder now, it disturbs the air, it disturbs everything, “can you hear it?”
“Hear what?” I ask, desperately.
Ginny turns around. She looks content. Serene, even. The corners of her mouth are curling ever so slightly, like they do when she watches pugs fall down stairs, or people slipping on icy puddles, and i am flooded by memories of seeing her smile and it reminds me that she’s okay, we’ll come back, make it through this, whatever this is, and then she asks, with that knowing smile ever present, she asks, quite sweetly:
“Can’t you hear them? Can’t you hear the screams?”