by Susan Casper
Category: Dark Fantasy/Horror
The grass was still thin and brown from the heat of the summer, and the girl's feet had left a bald patch of earth, tracing a path as she played a solitary game of ball. A few steps east--toss, catch; toss, clap, catch--and she reached the edge of the woods. A few steps west--toss, slap shoulders, catch; toss, whirl hands, catch--and she was up against the wire fence that marked the border of a neighboring farm. Her head buzzed with the chant she sang silently: A mimsy, a clapsy, I whirl my hands to bapsy ... She was careful to see that her lips did not move; careful to give no outward sign.
From deep inside the shadow of the porch, Margaret could feel the eyes of the old woman upon her like a leash, pulling her back every time she neared the boundaries. Eyes that never left her, not even to check the deft needlework upon which the gnarled hands were at work. She was used to the eyes. They had been on her for thirteen years, come October. Touch my knee, touch my heel, touch my toe ... As she threw the ball up into the air, the heel of her shoe caught in the stiff cotton fabric of her dress, and she fell to the ground. The ball came down on her shoulder, and bounced away. Cautiously, careful not to rip the dress, she scrambled to her feet and started chasing after the ball, then pulled up short. It had come to rest in the dead leaf-mulch just inside the edge of the forest. Apprehensively, she glanced back at the porch. She bit her lip.
"But, Aunt Lilly, my ball..."
"If you're careless with things, you lose them. You know that."
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