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It’s been months now, and I still don’t know what to make of it. For the first few weeks after the tragedy, I was tempted to call the police. But, really, what did I know? Not a thing.
At least, I didn’t think I did at the time. Now I’m not so sure, but it’s too late to do anything. Besides, they’d have me committed if I told them what I think.
I remember the first time Alice told me about Mr. Strings. We were sitting in her living room, watching some princess movie for the umpteenth time, when she turned to me. “Hey, Zoey, do you know who Mr. Strings is?”
After a moment, I shook my head. “No. Who is he?”
She turned to the stuffed bunny sitting on her lap. “Told you she wouldn’t know,” she said confidentially.
“Well, who is he?” I was curious now. Alice always had this fantastic imagination, and I loved hearing her stories. I know that might be a weird thing to say about the kid I babysat on a weekly basis.
Most teenagers just saw babysitting as a way to get money, and hated interacting with the kids they were forced to watch over. But most teenagers didn’t have a kid like Alice. Even at five years old, she was an extraordinary girl.
“He’s the man who leaves strings in our house,” she said matter-of-factly, “He leaves them mostly in the basement, but sometimes he leaves them other places, too.”
“Why does he leave strings?” I was amused now. Her stories certainly beat watching Cinderella again.
“So the spiders have a place to live,” she replied, “He calls them his min … His mini … Uh, like the yellow guys in that one movie!”
“Minions?” I supplied, smiling. She nodded empathetically.
“Yeah, right! Anyways, he leaves the strings so his mini-yans have a place to live! And also they can catch flies and stuff to eat. Mr. Strings leaves sticky strings.”
“Right. There are strings in my house, too,” I said, playing along.
“And the spiders live on them?” She looked excited.
“Of course! But we try to get rid of the spiderw – Strings. We don’t like spiders living in our house.” I expected to get a giggle out of this. Instead, she frowned, her eyes become hard and stony.
“You shouldn’t do that. He doesn’t like it when you do that.” I was surprised by her sudden change of mood.
“What? Why?” She only turned her attention back to the TV.
“He doesn’t like it when you do that,” she repeated, and lapsed into moody silence.
After a few weeks, I had all but forgotten about Alice’s strange outburst. After all, kids were kids, and they did weird stuff sometimes. She didn’t even mention Mr. Strings for weeks. Then, one night, as I was tucking her into bed, she gave me a solemn look.
“Mr. Strings is mad at mommy.” I started at this. I had almost forgotten about the strange story the girl had told.
“Oh, yeah? Why?”
Alice sighed, hugging her stuffed rabbit tightly. “Mr. Strings saw mommy clear away the spider homes he made. It made him very mad. The spiders had to go back to him after that, and he doesn’t like it when that happens.”
“Why not?” I crossed my legs, sitting at the foot of her bed.
“Because,” Alice explained, “Mr. Strings isn’t really here. He’s in another … Another di-men-sion.” She pronounced this carefully. “He sends the spiders into our dimension, because he wants to be able to cross over to be with us. But when people destroy the spider homes he leaves, the spiders got to go back to him, ‘cause they don’t have any place to stay.”
A cold sweat broke out along my neck. “If Mr. Strings is from another dimension, how can you see him?”
Alice gave a sweet smile. “Mr. Strings likes me,” she claimed, “He says that special little girls and boys can see him. And if I get enough strings in my room, he might be able to show me his home! I bet it’s really great there.”
A world full of spiders and spiderwebs didn’t sound too great to me, but I wasn’t going to tell Alice that. “I bet your parents would miss you, though.”
“Maybe,” Alice said, rolling over and closing her eyes, “But not if they keep ruining Mr. String’s spider homes. Then I don’t think they’ll miss anyone at all.” She yawned, and the conversation was effectively ended.
She only mentioned Mr. Strings one more time, while we were drawing one day. She held up the picture she had apparently finished. “This is what Mr. Strings looks like.”
“Is that so?” I took a closer look at the picture. I think it was supposed to be man-shaped, although with all of the lines hanging off of him, it was difficult to tell. Hanging off several of the lines were giant black dots with eight sticks poking out of them, probably meant to be spiders.
Spiders also seemed to make up most of his face, although she may have just drawn the eyes with really long eyelashes. The mouth and hair definitely seemed to be made of spiders to me, though. He didn’t have a nose.
“Yeah,” she said, “His strings are actually white, but the white crayon doesn’t show up on paper.”
I found myself fascinated by the drawing. “Are those spiders on his face?”
“Yeah,” she said calmly, “He doesn’t really have a face like you and me. But so he can talk with me easier, he has spiders crawl on his face and make his mouth move, and make his eyes so he can see me.” She looked at me with bright eyes. “There are almost enough strings to let him into my room now.”
“Really?” I knew for a fact this wasn’t true. I had been into her room earlier that day, and there wasn’t a single spider web that I could see.
“Yeah. I’m sure it’ll be enough soon.” She turned back to her picture, adding a smaller person next to Mr. Strings. By the brown hair and blue eyes, I could only assume that it was meant to be her. In the picture, two were holding hands.
It was a week after this that it happened. A neighbor heard screams coming from the house, and when her knocking got no answer, she called the police. The police found Alice’s parents in their bedroom, both dead. It appeared that they had been strangled by a cord of some kind, but no such tool was found at the scene. Alice was not found at all.
My dad, a police officer, was rather shaken up by the whole thing.
“The worst is what happened to that little girl,” I overheard him say to mom one night, “It pains me to say it, but death might be the better option for her.”
“I wonder how Zoey is handling it,” Mom said, “It’s just so strange.”
Strange is right,” Dad agreed, “There’s absolutely no trace of the girl. There was only one thing out of the ordinary in her room, and that’s not something we can attribute to the killer.”
“Really? I didn’t hear about anything strange on the news.”
“It didn’t really seem noteworthy,” Dad explained, “But, still, the fact that there were countless spider webs under the girl’s bed struck all of us as a bit odd.”
I keep telling myself I’m reading too much into it. That Alice was probably kidnapped by a madman who murdered her parents. That Mr. Strings was nothing more than a strange imaginary friend.
I try not to wonder why so many people are creeped out by spiders. I wish I could stop thinking about how they move, how the way the scuttle about seems so unnatural, almost otherworldly.
Mostly, I attempt to ignore the spider webs that always seem to appear in my room, no matter how many times I try to clear them away.