Haunted Hearts

By: Kayleigh Malcolm

Chapter One

I had no idea the destructive capability of four year olds. Gwendolyn scrubbed at the sticky crimson spill before wiping the worn linoleum tabletop clean. Streamers and balloons hung haphazardly around the room while bits of ribbon and wrapping paper littered the floor amongst more streaks of red. These old tables had seen a lot of birthday parties, but all this red icing from the Nelson twins’ birthday cake made the place look more like a scene from a horror movie.

She straightened the napkin holder and condiments before flipping the silver chairs, resting their worn green vinyl-padded seats on the tables. The room almost echoed with the high-pitched squeals when she brought out the red heart-shaped cake their mother had baked for them. Gwen made quick work on the rest and then began to sweep up the crumbs and sprinkles coating the floor.

A small shimmer glimmered in the corner of her eye, trying to catch her attention, but she ignored it. Old diners like this attracted spirits like a moth to a warm flame. Thankfully, the ones who tended to appear around here were gentle and inquisitive. So far, they were happy to revisit their own fond memories of the place and then move on. By ignoring them, Gwen could keep up the illusion of being nothing but a small town girl working to take care of her ten year old brother. No one knew of her violent past, or of what she’d done to try to keep herself and her brother safe for the last five years. Nothing frightened her more than someone discovering her penchant for seeing ghosts, and losing the small control she had over her life.

Her little brother Joey kept busy doing dishes in the kitchen by hand because earlier in the day he’d decided to take apart the kitchen’s dishwasher. Gwen was terrified she would have to pay for it or, worse, lose her job. Mrs. Brown simply laughed and said she expected something like this to happen. Kids like Joey had a natural curiosity that had to be sated, she said, and they learned best when they could dig into the middle of something themselves. Of course, he wasn’t getting off scot-free. Washing dishes by hand was his punishment until he put the machine back together.

As if her thoughts had called him, Joey slipped into the room and, contrary to his habit of slamming things, quietly eased the swinging doors closed. He ran to her and wrapped his arms around her waist in a tight squeeze. Shivers shook his small body, frightening her faster than any ghost could have.

“Wendy, you have to be quiet, Ma Brown says.” Joey had started calling her Wendy after she read Peter Pan to him.

“Why? Joey, what exactly happened?”

“So, I’m washing dishes for–e–ver, and I start thinking about the dishwasher. There is a spring in there I don’t recognize, and I think that must be the problem. I bet if I put in a new one and clean out all the spouts and replace a couple tubes it will work better now than it did before. Do you know how old it is?” Joey took a deep breath, and Gwen knew he was on the verge of a long explanation on the inner workings of the antique washer.

She constantly worried about her brother. His natural abilities seemed to be stunted by his lack of social skills and immaturity. After the dishwasher incident, Mrs. Brown tried to assure Gwen. She thought one day all the parts of Joey’s brain would catch up with each other and he would end up being a great surgeon or lawyer or president. While Gwen wanted to believe her, she understood it wouldn’t happen without some specialized help. Right now though, she needed to get him focus to answer her question.

Cupping Joey’s face with her hands, she tilted his face up, and made eye contact. “No, Joey. Listen to me. What did Mrs. Brown say?”

“Oh, yeah. Ma Brown came in and whispered to me. She said to hide back here and to tell you to be silent. If we hear her yell, we are to go out the back door and go hide in the woods out back until we hear her ring the bell.”

The party room had its own entrance so the diner’s customers wouldn’t be too disturbed by large groups of people coming and going. Gwen clutched Joey closer to her and moved toward the door. Twitching aside the teahouse curtains, she looked out. Parked to the side of the building sat a brand new Mercedes. The amount of dust covering the hood proved it had been driving a long while on back roads.

Her heart thudded hard in her chest and she clenched her teeth together. A metallic taste flooded her mouth from where she caught the inside of her cheek. She had tried so hard to stay hidden. She stopped straightening her hair, dyed it black, changed her name, and tried to hide in a small town.

“Joey, you stay here by the door. Don’t make a sound.”

He nodded, his eyes reflecting the fear she tried to hide. “Do we have to run?”

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