Recap: The new house looks like a haunted house. Yehudis and her father meet a nice rebbetzin and her daughter. The daughter is the same age as Yehudis and tells her about the theme of their Bais Yaakov yearbook. Yehudis will need some baby pictures; only, for some reason, whenever she asks her father where her baby pictures are, he is very evasive.
We ate the take-out meals of fried chicken-and-rice and broccoli in the dining room, which also lacked any overhead lighting. The only light was from the setting sun’s rays that filtered through the casement windows.
“Now don’t you get used to eating like this and expecting it,” Grandma Henny said to me. “This is for lazy people and we aren’t lazy.”
I’d never said I wanted take-out again. Why was she always criticizing me?
I cleared the table. As I trudged up the rickety staircase leading upstairs, the steps creaked. My bedroom was a small room with a thin bed, a tall dresser painted white, and a low bookshelf with sagging shelves. There was an old-fashioned lamp with a blue china design. I clicked it on and was thrilled to see the pool of light it shone on the room. The best feature of the room was a sizable picture window with a view of the acres and acres of fields surrounding us. The rose gold ribbons of sunset painted the sky outside, and the beauty made me stop and stare in wonder.
Of all the rooms in this old house, I liked my bedroom the best. The light-colored walls and big window made the room cheery in contrast to the rest of this dingy house. I hung up my clothes and my school uniforms. I wondered if I would need to buy a different uniform for this school.
I took out my journal and started to write about the new house and my impression. I sketched the outside of the house that really did look like a haunted house. I was so absorbed that I didn’t hear that someone was at my door.
“Yehudis, I’ve been trying to get your attention.” Grandma Henny stood in the doorway, frowning.
“Sorry,” I closed my journal quickly.
“What are you doing? I think this writing thing is not good for you. It takes too much time when you could be doing other things.” She hobbled over and reached for my journal.
“I’ll put it away.” I quickly stuffed it under my pillow.
“Come down and help me arrange the dishes in the kitchen.” Grandma Henny was out of breath from climbing the stairs. “Your father left for Maariv,” she said.
I followed her downstairs. It was while we were putting the dishes away that there was a loud knock at the front door. It was pitch black outside and I couldn’t imagine who would be coming to our house now. Maybe it was Rebbetzin Unger?
“Who is it?”
An old woman wearing a black shawl that covered her head and fell across her shoulders stood at the door. Her nose was long and hooked and her small dark eyes darted back and forth as she spoke. When the shawl slipped back slightly, it revealed her long scraggly dark hair. Up close, I realized she wasn’t as old as I thought. She was middle-aged.
I opened the door a crack. “Yes?”
“You just moved here?” Her voice was shrill.
“Yes, can I help you?”
“I think I can help you,” she said in her croaky voice. “I came to warn you.”
For some reason, maybe because of the moonless, dark night or the gloomy musty feeling in this house, I felt goosebumps on my arms.
I waited there with the door partially open for this strange lady in black to explain herself.
“This house has a bad reputation. Things happen here. You should tell your parents it would be better not to stay here.”
“Things happen here? What do you mean?”
Before I could ask her anything else, she turned and disappeared into the night.
I shivered, then shut and bolted the front door.
“Who was that?” Grandma Henny’s cane clicked as she approached the foyer.
“What did he want?”
“It was a woman and I don’t know what she wanted.”
“Maybe she had the wrong house by mistake. Come help me put away the pots and pans,” she said.
I was thankful for the bright light in the kitchen. The rest of the house was dark. We needed to bring lights here.
I helped stack the pots and pans in the small cupboards.
“We will have to buy something to keep the extra pots in,” Grandma Henny said.
I was happy to focus on pots and pans right now instead of the strange visit and warning.
When Aba returned from shul, I told him what happened.
“I suppose there are some eccentric neighbors around here. Nothing to worry about,” he said.
I really hoped he was right.
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of Secrets in Disguise (Menucha Publishers 2020), Denver Dreams (a novel, Jerusalem Publications, 2009), Memorable Characters…Magnificent Stories (Scholastic, 2002), Befriend (Menucha Publishers, 2013), The Road Less Traveled (Feldheim, 2015), fiction serials, and features in various magazines, including A Bridge in Time, historical fiction serial (Binyan Magazine, 2017). Fiction serial in The Jewish Press – Falling Star (2019), article in the Winter 2019 Jewish Action Magazine. She contributes to the community column for the Queens Jewish Link and writes freelance for Hamodia. She works as a writing consultant in many yeshivos and teaches creative writing to students of all ages.