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You know the memes that make mention to how you would be willing to do anything for a friend? I think it’s mildly entertaining how often people are willing to tag someone in one of those. But seriously, would you literally be willing to die for someone?

The answer is probably no. We live in such a self-absorbed culture. I promise I’m not one of those types that deliberately has given up faith on humanity, but there has been a lot of it lost over time. I’ve always tried to find the good in people, find the silver lining. But when it comes to the subject of Anna, I find it very difficult. If I were the facebooky-type person then maybe I would have once upon a time tagged Anna in those drastically overused memes of how I have her back no matter what- my ‘ride or die bitch’. But that was a long ago time. I wish I could go back to that, us being children, to us growing up together and maybe us never finding the descent- but I can’t go back in time.

We met like most childhood best friends start out meeting- on a local playground, pre-kindergarten. My parents were delighted to see me socializing with someone my age as all my cousins were much older than me and I never really had anyone to play with. I was so happy to introduce her to my parents who were sitting on a bench off to the side of the playground equipment. I dragged Anna along to meet them and in turn she introduced me to her foster parents. In an excited rush she said, “I’m not just ANY kid, I’m a foster care kid!” She was so pleased with herself in admitting this and at the time I had no clue what foster care meant. I turned to my parents and asked them if I could be a foster care kid too. Her foster parents and my folks got a good chuckle out of that.

It wasn’t until I was much older did I hear the full story of how Anna came into the world. Her biological mother had been pressured into not having an abortion last minute by her overly religious family, she had been told adoption was best in preventing her own soul for being burnt in hell for all eternity. The small town we grew up in, well, everybody knew everybody, including their business. My aunt was a child protective services worker and handled Anna’s transfer into state custody, she was the one who actually later told me the story.

Sometimes I think a life like Anna’s isn’t really a life worth living. Some people call abortion murder, especially where I live now in the grand ol’ state of Texas, and they say it like it is a bad thing. But I am here to tell you that even if you think of abortion as murder to an unborn child, maybe that ‘murder’ before they see the light of day is the best thing that could ever happen to them. I truly think that would have been Anna’s case.

After running into each other a few more times on the playground, my parents had discovered from her foster parents that Anna and the family actually lived fairly close by to my grandmother’s farm. The next thing I knew we were spending long weekends together out on the farm. Making mud pies and going on long adventures through the woods. Each day we spent together further solidified this tight bond between us, we felt inseparable as the years went on within our friendship. But that bond tightened even more when Anna started confiding in me the things that were happening at her house.

Even though Mr. Evans seemed polite enough, Anna told me a side of Mr. Evans I had never seen. Anna spoke of how angry he would get, how even though she had learned how to wash her hair on her own he would still make her shower in front of him with the door open, how sometimes he would touch her in places that didn’t make her feel good.

I became scared to death of Mr. Evans through all of the horrible things Anna told me about him. I asked, then pleaded, and ultimately begged her every time she told me something new and atrocious had happened to her to let me tell my parents. As a child, I always knew my parents were understanding and I told her they could help keep her safe. But she would just cry more at the idea of this, telling me that Mr. Evans had told her that if anyone found out he would hurt her. At the age of 7 I understood this feeling of fear of backlash. I had been bullied on the school bus the year before, Brian Conner would pants me and then threaten me if I told anyone he would beat my face in. So I never said anything to anyone other than Anna. To me, it made ‘sense’ why I shouldn’t tell an adult.

I couldn’t tell you though how many sleepless nights since then I have spent feeling guilty on not ratting on Mr. Evans. Maybe Anna would have ended up so much differently if I had. Maybe I wouldn’t even be writing this right now if I had.

The first weekend of summer break after the 3rd grade, Anna and I had our usual playdate scheduled to kick off the summer. She would always walk along a path that my parents had helped clear out in the woods from her house to my grandparents and I would always meet her there to walk with her the rest of the way back to my grandparent’s home so we could catch the Saturday morning cartoons together. We loved our little adventures across the farm, always made us feel like explorers.

But this Saturday she didn’t show up on time. I checked my Wonder Woman watch and it was 10:13 AM. We were going to miss the hour-long Scooby Doo special if she didn’t hurry up. At 10:30 AM I became impatient and trudged back to the house as it began to rain. When I got back, my grandmother informed me that Mr. Evans had called and said that Anna was feeling ill and I wouldn’t be seeing her much this weekend. I asked my grandma why Mr. Evans had called- as he was not a socialite by any means and always made his wife do all the talking. She informed me Mrs. Evans was out of town. Anna had told me what happens when Mrs. Evans wasn’t around.

Even the thought of Mr. Evans made me ill. But I accepted this as fact and decided to catch the last few minutes of the Scooby Doo episode that was still remaining until something outside the window caught my eye.

A ghostly pale face with red swollen eyes was peering into the window. Red and damp hair matted to her forehead, there was Anna. She put a finger to her lips as if to tell me to be quiet and motioned for me to come outside. I quietly slipped on my rainboots and grabbed an umbrella. The lightning outside was beginning to pick up and I decided against the umbrella as it had a metal tip at the end. To prevent electrocution, I had thought.

I discreetly made my way outside and this is when Anna went into a complete meltdown of hysteria. She was crying and sobbing and I couldn’t make out a single word she was trying to say. All I could understand was the panic and through the mixture of gibberish the words, “He… is… coming.”

At 7 years old I began to feel something that no 7 year old should ever be forced into feeling, that I had to protect my friend because her life depended on it.

I tried to reason with her that we could stay in the basement, that I could sneak her in, but she shook her head vigorously at that notion. “No, he will look here first and he will find me and hurt me and then hurt you too!” This is when I first noticed the blood on her head. I made the ultimate decision to grab her by the hand and rush for the woods. Twenty years later and I still wish I had never made that decision.

Now, keep in mind we thought we knew these woods like the back of our hand. For the past year, ever since my grandparents thought we were old enough to go adventuring on our own, we had explored every inch of it. Well, except past the graveyard. That was the deal we had made with my grandpa. He told me he had never even let my dad go back there when he was a kid, that it was forbidden.

There was this story he had always told me about the graveyard. I thought it was about as fake as Santa Claus, but always kept my mouth shut when he told the story because he was such a great storyteller I never wanted to miss a word. He would always start off by explaining the rich history of Massachusetts, about the Salem Witch trials, and about my family’s hand in executing a few of those alleged witches too. And then he would start in to the story about the Jakobsons. The Jakobsons had owned the patch of land just behind the graveyards. The whole community believed they had been a family of witches, especially Bartholomew Jakobson. Bartholomew was noted to always have better luck with crops when compared to the locals in the area, and it was rumored he’d made a deal with the devil. People solidified this thought especially after 1899- the great drought of Massachusetts when no one could grow a damn thing yet he had a bounty.

In the early 1900s, a lot of children began to disappear on their way to the local one-room schoolhouse, which was just a little bit further down from the Jakobson house. In earnest to save the community and the children and with all the rumors of Bartholomew Jakobson practicing witchcraft, it made absolute sense that Bartholomew was behind it all. When the locals reached his home with the expectation to hang him, he could not be found. It’s been said that no one has seen Bartholomew since and none of the children were ever found.

So, the logic of a 7-year-old who is harboring a fugitive was to find that schoolhouse. I had remembered my dad taking me there on the four-wheeler just the summer before. I knew two things for sure- that if Mr. Evans did come to my grandparents looking for Anna and they realized I was missing they would never think to find me there because I had solemnly promised never to go that far back in the woods and secondly it would keep us safe from more than just Mr. Evans but also the impending storm.

Lightning crashed overhead as we stumbled through the chaos of branches whipping back and forth and the fierce rain. I was so confident I could find that little schoolhouse, I knew there was still an old path leading to it. But as we approached the graveyard my heart began to quicken. I could feel it in my throat as I stared across the small field of handmade headstones dating all the way back to the 1700s. My feet felt like they had been cast in concrete. I was not expecting there to be two paths behind the graveyard. One went left and the other went right.

Another crack of thunder and we witnessed a tree get split in two by the lightning not far from where we were standing.

I tried to keep my cool and take a deep breath in, to just think through it logically. I hesitantly examined the paths to see which one seemed fresher, but they both looked about the same and due to the weather being so fierce, there was no hope in seeing farther than 10 yards down either path.

“What’s a matter?” pleaded Anna. I could feel the desperation at the tip of her tongue. I had to figure this out. I had to.

That was when we heard the voices.

“ANNA!” bellowed Mr. Evans.

“CARISSA!” The yell belonged to my grandmother.

I knew in that moment Anna couldn’t be caught. I knew deep down inside things had gotten worse with Mr. Evans. I knew if she was caught it’d be over, that Mr. Evans would never let her see me ever again and even if I couldn’t save her from him forever, the safety she felt in my grandparents’ home on the weekends was enough to help her survive the cruelty he put her through. “Screw it,” I said under my breath as I grabbed Anna’s hand as we ran down the path to our left.

It’s funny, eerily ironic, how many choices in our life are just like this one, yes or no, right or wrong, left or right. For a long time, I had convinced myself that left had been the best option. These days though I’m not up to the challenge of trying to lie to myself anymore.

After running down the left path for what felt like forever we finally came across a clearing. The wind was howling at our heels and the rain stinging our eyes as we tried to keep them open to find the building. And then-

“Over there!” I saw the chipped white paint across the dilapidated boards that made up the building I remembered from the summer before. We raced towards it and as I grabbed for the door it opened on its own. I will never forget hearing that exhausting creek of rusted metal hinges grinding against one another to open itself, because it was loud enough I could hear it over the cracking of the storm above us. Without a second thought, we barged inside.

There was a moment of shock for me as we stumbled in for two reasons. One, the ultimate feeling of calmness to finally be inside shelter from the storm. Two, instant fear because this was not the schoolhouse.

The house looked as if it had been frozen in time. Dust carpeted the floors and our footsteps made it apparent no one had been inside for years, decades even. It had all the furnishings any house would, except subtract nearly a hundred years.

“Is this the schoolhouse?” Anna asked meekly, as if she already knew the answer. She had also heard grandpa’s stories and knew all too well where we were.

With great disappointment, I shook my head. I peered around in disbelief at how of all places we had ended up here. There were old looking paintings on the wall, mostly discolored from the long amount of time spent hanging on the walls exposed to God only knows what. They were mostly of naked women with what I could only assume was the devil, dancing in various poses. It felt as if the devils in the pictures were peering right through my soul. I looked away quickly and my eye caught a table sitting in the corner of the room. It was a small table, only big enough for one person to eat a meal at. There was one chair sitting in front of it with a small piece of parchment leaned against the back of it. I walked over towards it.

“What is it?” Anna asked, the sound of fear etched into her vocal chords.

I examined the scrawled cursive. “It says, ‘there is safety within the descent’. What does that even mean?”

That was exactly when we heard the echoes of Mr. Evans again.  It wasn’t close, but it was too close for comfort.

Anna began to cry. Frustrated and scared, I grabbed Anna by the shoulders. I could not figure this out on my own. “Anna, think with me. Safety in the descent. What does ‘descent’ mean?”

She didn’t respond and began to wail. I was trying to use my context clues the best I could to figure out what descent would mean in this situation. As I turned my back to Anna to search for more clues, she uttered out a loud scream. I wheeled back around to see her clutching at her chest. She was hysterical and only knowing what I had observed in movies when someone is acting this way, I smacked her hard across the face. Her eyes slowly moved from the doorway across the room to meet my face.

“Did you see him?”

I slowly shook my head no.

As she raised her hand to point at the doorway, she whispered, just ever so softly. “He said to go down.”

“ANNA!”

I grabbed her by the arm and we bolted for the door she had pointed at. I had no clue what horrors existed beyond that door but it had to be better than Mr. Evans. It had to be.

It was dark past the doorway, and by the minimum amount of lighting the house already had all I could make out was the first few rickety wooden steps. The smell of wet earth reached my nose pungently. Without a second to even rethink the situation, I slammed the door behind us as we descended the stairway.

The stench of mold became ever denser with each step we took, but the storm began to sound farther and farther away. The complete darkness made me want to just crawl into a ball and give up, after all I was the mere age of 7 and had yet to outgrow the usage of my night light. I began to count the steps after the first few minutes of going down them, because it seemed to be an abnormal amount of steps for a staircase. By the time we reached the landing, I had counted 59 steps. Farther ahead I could see a small flame flickering shadows on the wall. As we approached it I realized it was actually two flames, two long and thin candles that looked freshly lit atop a wide table across from another door entrance.

Anna cleared her throat. “I think we are supposed to go through that door. I think that’s where the safety is.”

“How do you figure that?” I said puzzled.

I could see Anna shake her head in the shadow of the light. “I dunno how to explain it. I think after you’ve been through the stuff I’ve been through you start to know when something feels safe.”

And that was a good enough answer for me. I started for the door but Anna stopped me and pointed to the corner of the room.

I didn’t see anything. “Anna, what is it?”

She smiled weakly and nodded her head before turning to me. “Don’t you see him?”

The urge to turn around and run was so hard to fight in that moment. “No, I don’t.” Something did not feel right. I was prepared to take the scolding from my grandparents, the ass-beating from my own parents, and whatever the hell Mr. Evans may or may not have intended for me, but just not this.

She giggled. “He wants us to take the key from the drawer.” Anna walked over to the table and opened a drawer I hadn’t noticed before. With her thin fingers, she took out a skeleton key and tried it on the door. It opened freely.

“Let’s go. We’re safe in here!” Now it was Anna’s turn to grab me by the arm. My legs felt like jello as everything inside of me told me not to go, not to enter, not to trust this or the man that only Anna could see, but begrudgingly I walked in with her beyond the door so as not to be left alone in this God forsaken room.

At first it was too bright for me to even open my eyes. I felt the sun beating against my skin and when I did open my eyes I found myself in a giant field full of sunflowers.

Anna squealed in delight and began to run through the field. I was hesitant to join her but the beautiful blue sky and the sunlight urged me to join her. We played hide and seek among the tall stalks of sunflowers and my fear began to subside for a bit.

But there was this small ache in my heart that told me this didn’t make sense. That this couldn’t be reality. That this was not right. It felt like we had been there for hours, I looked at my watch to confirm the time, but it had quit working. When I looked up in the sky to check the time of day like my grandpa had showed me how to do, the sun’s placement still looked like noon.

“I think it’s time to go back home.”

Anna became very still. “Why?” she demanded.

“It doesn’t feel right and I can’t let my grandma worry for too long. She’ll be worried sick.”

“But-“

“I’m being serious.” It was the sternest voice I could pull off.

A smile crossed her face. “Well, I’m the one with the key to get us back out so I’ll say when we get to leave.” She stuck her tongue out at me in a playing gesture.

“Anna, I swear on our whole entire friendship we will never play together ever again if we don’t leave right this instant!” Tears were welling up in my eyes and I didn’t really mean that threat but it was the only thing I thought would break through to her.

She looked very solemn in that moment, just like she looked every Sunday when she knew she had to go back home to the Evans’ house after spending the weekend with me on the farm.

“Fine.” She walked back over to the door that just magically stood in the middle of the field, the dark door with the skeleton key lock, and marched us back into reality. She placed the key back in the drawer where she had found it and before we marched up the stairs I was smart enough to grab one of the candles to light our way. She didn’t talk to me the entire way up the stairs and back into the decaying house. Once we walked out the door, I noticed two things: the rain had stopped and I felt like I was so hungry I could eat an entire cow.

I finally mustered the courage to say something to her on the path leading back to the graveyard. “Want to come back to my grandparent’s house?”

She shrugged her shoulders which I assumed met yes.

We tore through the undergrowth of the trail all the way back and that was when something else became apparent- the ground wasn’t wet and soggy like it should have been after such a down pour the storm had brought. The farther we walked the weaker I felt, my stomach growling to an elemental roar.

As we were coming up to the house I heard the bang of the backdoor and watched my grandparents and parents run towards us. I knew we had been gone for longer than we should have, I should have never made my grandparents or my folks worry about me for being gone for so many hours. They grabbed me up in their arms and started kissing on me all over, as if I was a long lost treasure that had been misplaced and then found. I noticed in that moment the look on Anna’s face. Even if Mr. and Mrs. Evans had been there in that moment, they still would have never given her the same treatment I was getting now. It was enough to make me feel guilty.

“Where have you been?” “Oh God, she’s so thin!” “They’re both so thin!” It was the first time I really looked at Anna and then myself in the reflection of the glass windows. We were stick figures.

Almost directly afterwards we were taken to the hospital. We were both extremely dehydrated and malnourished and the police had plenty of questions to ask us, which I guess is normal in the case of two children who had been missing for 6 days.

Anna told them the story of an old man who was so nice and let us in his home because of the storm outside, an old man who was gracious to let us in after we had become lost in the woods. I saw the look they gave her, the remarks of that she was ‘insane’ from one of the cops.

I didn’t tell them a thing. Not a damn thing.

I made up some story about being unconscious the entire time. No one believed me, but I preferred that to them thinking I was ‘insane’. Anna pleaded and prodded for me to collaborate with her story, but I couldn’t. I outright refused to do so.

And of course, no one ever found the mysterious kind gentleman in the woods behind the graveyard that Anna had spoken so highly of.

It was several months before I was even able to see Anna again. Both of our parents had been pretty harsh on us about the whole event. But the next time I did see her was a planned sleepover at my parent’s house. The Evans were not too keen on the idea of her visiting my grandparents anytime soon, no matter how much they profusely apologized over the incident.

As soon as the door was closed to my room and no one was in earshot, Anna smiled really big. “The Evans are going to adopt me.”

I was confused for a moment why she would be smiling about this, and then she continued.

“But before they can, I’m going back to see Mr. Jakobson.”

My blood ran cold.

“No.”

Anna’s brow began to furrow. “And why not?”

“It’s dangerous. Couldn’t you feel it? Like something wasn’t right there, that place nearly killed us! You heard the doctors! We got sick because of that place, we can’t go back. Ever.”

“But don’t you feel it?”

I found relief in that statement and fear at the same time. Relief was that it wasn’t just me that felt that place calling me, saying my name in my dreams, telling me to come back to be safe forever within the descent. But then there was that fear, that if it wasn’t just me experiencing it, then there was something much more sinister about that place than I had initially imagined.

“No,” I lied. “You’re just acting crazy, there’s no-“

“Don’t you dare call me crazy.” Anna became very flustered. “That’s what everyone in town has been calling me and don’t you dare do it, don’t you dare.” She burst into tears and I found myself holding her and consoling her.

That was the last time I seen Anna for a while. As school began back up, we ran into each other. Same homeroom class for the 4th grade and we sat right next to each other as if nothing had ever happened. We didn’t speak a word about the house or the old man or anything. And that was the way I liked it, because I had enough reminders in my sleep when it would call out to me, enticing me to come back.

Well, things were okay for quite a while. I guess the abuse from Mr. Evans had quit happening after what my parents now call the event of us running away that summer, so there was no need for Anna to have a feeling of needing to escape. But near Christmas of 7th grade, something terrible happened. Anna’s adopted mother had died in a car accident. I think Mrs. Evans’ presence in the home was a protective barrier for Anna, because Mr. Evans would never hurt her when she was around. But now, well… all limits were off.

Three weeks after her death and I found Anna knocking on my grandparent’s spare bedroom window at 3 AM. I guess she’d overheard me telling someone I was staying there, because Anna and I weren’t allowed to talk much. What I thought I had confided in a friend that eventually became the news among everyone at school was that I was beginning to realize l could never find a boyfriend because, to be quite honest, I just couldn’t find them attractive. I had always known I had a ‘thing’ for girls, and my parents were totally accepting of this. Anna’s religious nut of an adoptive father was not so much. She had been forbidden to even communicate with me until I found ‘Jesus’.

But there she was. Peeping outside the window, lightly knocking to get my attention.

I walked across the room, scratching the bogies out of my eyes and unlocked the window. She pulled herself in by the ledge and sat there looking at me with tears in her eyes.

“Carissa, I gotta go.”

I felt defeated. I wanted to challenge her, to give her all the reasons why this was a terrible idea, but at the same time I felt like I was at a loss of words. I knew nothing I could say would stop her, not really.

“I’m guessing you didn’t stop by here for me to talk you out of it.”

She shook her head. “Nope. Just to say goodbye.”

“How long?” I walked over to my purse and grabbing a cigarette I had stolen from my uncle’s pack earlier that night when he had come by to visit.

“I dunno. Forever, maybe.”

I choked on the first inhale from the smoke in surprise. “That place will fucking kill you, Anna. When you’re there you don’t understand time or experience hunger or-“

She started to chuckle. “You make that sound like such a bad thing.”

“You act like that place is a fucking paradise. Do you realize if I hadn’t got us out of there when I did we could have died down there? For fuck’s sake, you act like that old man was your friend- do you realize he’s not your friend! He wants you there for- well, I don’t know-“

“Why does it upset you so damn much that someone cares ‘bout me and wants me safe?”

I was stumped by that accusation. “No, that’s not what I meant, I meant…” I gave up in that single moment. There was no talking her out of this and who was I to judge that maybe it was safer on the other side of that door than at her own home. “Will you at least take a backpack with you? Let me put some food in it for you and some water bottles?”

Anna agreed to this much.

I went to the kitchen and raided my grandparent’s cabinets and stocked her a backpack full of apples, pop-tarts, granola bars, an entire box of Froot Loops, and four bottles of water. I trudged back to my room and handed her the backpack.

“Do you think you can take a walkie talkie with you?” I asked in a final attempt to make sure she would be safe.

She contemplated this for a moment. “I don’t think things like that work down there.” She gave a slight frown, but then brightened back up to a new idea. “I think I can talk to you though. Something gives me the feeling that I can still talk to you.”

“What? What are you talking about?” I was puzzled.

She pointed to her forehead. “You’ll be hearing from me. Promise. I’ll have my people call your people.” She laughed, more so to herself, and started heading to the outskirts of the farm. I didn’t know if I would ever hear back from her again.

And of course by the time people realized she was missing, they all came to me with questions as this was not the first time Anna Evans had become missing and the last time this happened I had been there. They asked old questions, questions I had refused to answer long ago. New questions about where would I suspect her to have went. I played dumb for a long time because I rationalized if she did turn back up and ever needed safety again, if I pointed them towards that old decrepit house she would never be able to go back there for safety. Her spot would be ruined and people would suspect that was where she had ran off to.

But then came the nightmares. I guess this is what Anna meant about communication. I could hear her in my sleep screaming out my name. The first night, I figured it was a fluke. Second night, well it became more difficult to ignore. Third night, I was determined if I didn’t overcome my fear of that damn place then it may be the end for Anna. It has been 27 days since Anna had been seen by this point.

I went during the day. I took the left hanging path. I came across the house. Went down the steps, even though I’d sworn I’d never do that again, and then I came to the door. Only one candle was lit now on the table, even though I didn’t need it with my handy dandy flashlight already in hand. I opened the drawer and found myself staring at the empty space.

Duh. Of course. Anna had to have the fucking key on the other side. I was quite befuddled. I didn’t know what to do, but right at the moment I felt a strong ticking in my head. Like a blood vessel that wouldn’t quite calm down. I had never experienced an aneurism but I was pretty sure that was what was about to happen. But then I heard her, clear as day, in my own head. There’s a spare over the door frame.

I felt above the door frame and sure enough, there was a matching skeleton key to the door. I unlocked it and bore witness to a site I am not sure I can even begin to put into words.

The beautiful field of sunflowers was still present. The sun felt warm against my skin, even though moments earlier I had been freezing as it was February in Massachusetts. It was what was wrong with Anna. She didn’t look like Anna anymore, her skull sunken in to the point she looked to be like a skeleton with the skin stretched over her bones.

“Come play with us!” she chirped, except her voice sounded dry and cracky. This is when I looked down at who’s hand she was holding. If I had thought Anna looked grotesquely thin, nothing matched this child. The only thing that made me aware that it was a little girl was by the dress it was wearing, it was practically a skeleton with small bits of flesh hanging off of bone. Where eyes should have been were spider nests and they began to hatch before my eyes.

“Anna told me all about how you like to play with little girls, yes, come play with us.” The hairless, toothless child began to screech in laughter.

Without letting go of the doorframe, I reached in and grabbed Anna by the shoulder and jerked her through the other side.

As soon as the door was slammed shut, I threw the keys in the drawer, and dragged her all the way out of the house before I began to inspect for injuries.

“Oh Anna, what have they done to you?” I began to cry as I realized patches of hair were missing and her fingernails were cracked down to the quick.

“They kept me safe is all.” She smiled weakly.

“Then why did you call for me?” I screamed at her as I shook her by shoulders.

She looked puzzled. “I didn’t call for you.”

I hid Anna out at my grandparent’s house for a few days, as I was actually there for the purpose of housesitting while they were out of town. I kept her like a refugee and made sure she had plenty of water and food before I sent her on her own way. I begged and pleaded with her to never go back and she promised she wouldn’t. But we both knew it was a lie. I hugged her and kissed her on the cheek before she left. In last minute haste, I asked her to tell someone, an adult, the police, anyone, what Mr. Evans was doing to her. But that was when she threatened me.

“You tell anyone and so help me God I will drag you back to the descent myself. I may even have my little friends help me.”

I didn’t see Anna after that for years. Mr. Evans withdrew her from public school and as far as anyone knew she was being homeschooled.

The nightmares of that place got worse. It wasn’t just calling for me to return, but was sending a little messenger of the girl I’d seen holding Anna’s hand when I had found her.

“Come play with me, and if you come back soon I may even let you finger me!” The perversion of that child in my dreams led me to experimenting with caffeine pills and energy drinks. Anything to prevent me from closing my eyes long enough to avoid her visit in my dreams.

Anna came up missing three or four more times over the course of the next few years, and of course I was questioned by the police every time. The questions were less in-depth each time. Like they had come to expect Anna to just go missing because she was some helpless kid who ran away all the time. Hell, the last cop who interviewed me didn’t even have her name right- they called her Emma. No one really cared about Anna anymore.

But I’d know each time before she went missing. I could feel her in my dreams. The dead children, yes- children, because more of them began to show up in the nightmares, wouldn’t be present. It would be her. I would reflect back on that time she told me she wasn’t the one who had called out to me in my dreams, but I really think it was. I think it was the sensible Anna, the one who knew deep down that the sunflowers she felt on her skin weren’t real. I didn’t know how she was able to break away from the place when she did all by herself, but she would always show back up after a few weeks or so. I’d find this out from a cousin who worked at the local hospital in triage. She would come in dehydrated, half-starved, missing a tooth or something else extreme. They’d doctor her up and send her back on her way.

I was so confused why an adult didn’t come up with the idea that this was absolutely abnormal. Why didn’t anyone start to ask questions about the parenting Mr. Evans was providing. But at the same time, I was disgustingly relieved because I feared if someone did start asking those questions and poking around, Anna would think I was the one that ratted out Mr. Evans, and that then she would come after me.

When I was 17, my pops got offered a job in Texas. I was supposed to start my senior year at Logan County High School. My parents assumed I would be devastated about the move. In all actuality, I couldn’t have been more thrilled at putting distance between me and that fucking delipidated house.

The dreams actually calmed down quite a bit after the move and I slowly began to put it all behind me, like it was a bad dream and I was just now waking up from it. I graduated from high school and then college- that’s where I met my lovely girlfriend. After living together for three years, I had actually started thinking about asking her if she wanted to tie the knot.

But then, quite quickly, my past creeped back up on me in a way I had never expected. I got a call from my grandmother. She informed me that Anna was pregnant. I hadn’t even heard Anna’s name in so long for a moment I had trouble picturing who she even was. I inquired about the father of the child, but she said she was unaware. She said she wanted to make sure I knew in case I wanted to call her up and congratulate her. And that’s when I asked, “Grandma, is she still living with Mr. Evans?”

“Why Lord yes, Anna. You know how expensive it is to get a place of your own these days.”

I became angry, so angry I wanted to scream at my grandmother on why in the ever living fuck would I congratulate Anna on conceiving a child from what must obviously had been a rape by her adoptive father. But then I stopped. Because I remembered. I remembered I was the only one aware of the incestuous relationship Mr. Evans had been perpetrating for the past 22 years.

I didn’t call Anna. Mostly out of fear for myself. If that makes me a shitty person, so be it, but I was so afraid the nightmares would come back and my life was so fucking normal why would I want to go back to that. I did eventually call my grandma back and ask her to forward my cell number to Anna. Because truly at the end of the day I wanted her to know she could always call me, come to me, get away from him, something, anything other than the descent down the stairs.

But Anna didn’t use the traditional form of calling when she did finally reach out to me.

What made this time different was not only did I feel her calling out for me, but I felt this tiny little being of light calling out for me to, only what I could assume was her unborn child.

This went on for a few days before the guilt overcame my fear. I kissed my girlfriend goodbye and told her I’d be back in a few days. I had no reason or desire to drag her into this. It was my fault in the first place so long ago. A part of me wants to reason with myself, to tell myself really if Mr. Evans had never been a fucking pedophile, none of this would have happened. But the guilt would always creep back up, I should have stopped it a long time ago, before it had ever gotten this far.

It was 4 AM when I parked down the driveway from my grandparent’s house. Not wanting to spook them in the middle of the night and having not made them aware of my trip, I set off on foot across the farm with my pack on my shoulder. The closer I got to Jakobson house, the more paranoid I became. I’m not sure if it was my mind playing tricks on me, but I could feel little hands pushing me on the back. Hands that were cold and felt like they belonged to small children.

As I approached the house my apprehension felt worse than ever before. Every cell within my body was telling me to run, run for my life. But I knew I owed this to Anna.

I went down the stairs, slowly. Something felt different this time. I don’t know how to explain it, but it was like the house knew I had an ulterior motive for being there. While going down the steps, one of them broke beneath my feet and I barely caught myself. I could feel the blood from the wooden splinters pooling in my socks. The stench of the wet earth smelled almost rotten. It was so strong I could taste it on my tongue.

When I reached the landing, I looked over and as the same as before, I saw the one lit candle. But then, as if a gust of wind had rushed the room, it was extinguished. I bit my bottom lip and tried to count to ten, like all the therapists had told me to do, all the ones I had to see after leaving Massachusetts to work hard on forgetting this fucking place. With hands shaking, I pulled the flashlight from my pack and turned it on.

Before me stood the older man Anna had told me about. He silently laughed at me with his mouth agape, his jaws opening wider than humanly possible and then he stopped suddenly and became very serious. “GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!”

The flashlight flew out of my hand and across the room. I heard the batteries fall out of it when it hit the floor.

I was grounded to the spot, afraid to move, afraid to breathe, afraid to do anything- and that is when I heard her. You’re so close, please save us.

Without a second thought, I grabbed instinctively for the drawer in the table and found the spare key just where I had left it. I raced across the room in the dark, feeling for the door handle, and when I found it I slammed the door ajar.

There was no light this time. No sunflowers. No perfectly blue sky. Just the emptiness of an unlit room.

Anna began to laugh. “You came after all!”

I grabbed for my pocket and pulled out my cigarette pack. I had quit smoking 7 years ago, it’s a terrible habit really, but I had bought a pack on my way back to Massachusetts. I grabbed the Bic that was hidden between cigarettes and shined it in the room.

There was just Anna sitting on a stone floor, surrounded by dozens of skeletons displayed across the walls in oddly suited gestures. Almost as if they were caught up in a deadly dancing pose.

“Do you want to see the baby?” Anna asked in a slurred voice. She was missing almost all of her top teeth now, I could see them surrounding her on the floor.

I reflected back to what my grandmother had said about Anna being pregnant. The way she had described it she was only five months along. “Anna, sweetheart. The baby should still be in your tummy, right?” I cooed to her in a voice as if she were a small child.

Anna slowly and shaking, stood up to reveal her stomach. There was approximately an 8 inch by 5 inch gash revealing Anna’s insides. “No, silly. The baby has come early!” She started laughing in a croaky voice that was not the Anna I knew. “Want to hold it?” she asked as she twirled the other skeleton key between her fingers.

She revealed to me in her free hand an alien-like figure, no bigger than her palm. Its tiny fist arm waved back and forth in a jutted movement. It wasn’t normal. I began to choke back the vomit that was lingering the back of my throat. “Not right now, Anna. I don’t feel good.” I had no clue what my plan was at that moment, but I knew I had to save Anna.

“Well come on in and join us, Carissa. Bernie was just about to tell us a funny joke, weren’t you Bernie?” Anna looked over to one of the skeletons hanging from the wall and then she looked back to me quickly. “Come stay a while. Give me that key and then you can hold the baby and I can shut the door and we can all stay a while and doesn’t the sun feel good and the baby and the key and doesn’t the sun feel good I love sunflower and the baby and doesn’t the sun feel good?” Anna smiled at me with a toothless, gaping mouth.

And that’s when I heard her. The real Anna, that is. Save us, make us safe, let us go.

I looked down and realized I almost had both of my feet inside behind the door. I grabbed the original skeleton key from the hand she had been playing with it in and slammed the door behind me, locking it in place. The scream was eternally piercing into my soul as I began to cry.

“I’m so, so sorry Anna. I love you.”

I know.

“YOU STUPID FUCKING CUNT, COME BACK!”

What did you accidentally bring?

I reflected very briefly on the moment when I had realized somewhere at a gas station near the outskirts of Kentucky that I had accidently packed lighter fluid in my pack. It must have been left in the pack from our last hiking trip. I had chuckled to myself at the time at what an idiotic thing to accidently bring with me, how accidentally bringing an extra pair of panties would have been a better choice as I had forgotten to grab any at all before I left the house and at that moment had just realized it.

I grabbed the lighter fluid from my pack as I got behind the table and began to push it with my hip against the door. Taking the lighter fluid, I sprayed it all across the door and the table.

I took out a cigarette and lit it with shaking hands, making sure not to drop it. As I took a draw from the smoke, the screams got louder and the pounding became heavier.

“Come play with me, fucking lesbian whore!” screamed a child’s voice.

“I’ll let you lick my cooter, just come back to us!”

Then there was Anna. “I thought you loved me, I thought you loved me, but you were jealous of my daddy’s dick weren’t you?”

But worst of all, there came the cries of the baby that wasn’t really a baby but just a dead fetus, screaming with premature lungs that weren’t fit to scream. It almost sounded like a piglet right before having its throat slit.

And at that, I dropped my cigarette and ran.

It’s been six months since the old Jakobson house was burnt down. The police are pretty sure that it was some high school brats who committed the act of arson.

They discovered a door that led to a basement that was far underneath the ground, almost like a bunker, and there it was discovered Anna’s body. The disturbing thing is, through testing of the oxygen in the bones it was found she had been dead long before the fire occurred. They are still ruling it is arson without homicide or manslaughter. On top of her bones, they found the skeletons of an additional 29 individuals. They are going through testing of these skeletons, but believe they are children that were reported missing at the beginning of the 1900s.

As far as the nightmares, they happen from time to time. Mostly the screams from the fetus. And every once in a while, I can feel Anna calling in. She lets me know that she’s safe now.