The Girl in Red

by Shelby Molyneaux

Holly had never wanted to go to camp, but her father insisted. “You need to meet kids your age,” he’d say. “Make some new friends.” But today Holly just couldn’t muster the energy to go back to Capture the Flag, or leathercraft, or any of the other boring activities the counsellors made her do. She had had enough of camp for one summer, and, feeling overwhelmed, she went for a walk in the woods. Holly knew she should have told someone where she was going, but she just needed to be alone, so she headed west, away from the other campers.

After a while, Holly realized she had wandered well off the camp’s property; she had stumbled into a graveyard behind an old church. Just as she was about to turn around, there was a loud CLAP of thunder, followed by a sudden downpour of rain. Rather than run back to camp in a storm, Holly decided to head for the octagonal building she spotted off to the side of the graveyard, just behind the church. Luckily it was unlocked, so Holly ran inside, slamming the door shut behind her to keep the wind and rain out. It took her eyes a minute to adjust to the dark room, but Holly looked around as she wrung her soaking wet hair between her hands. The building was full of shovels, bags of soil, all types of gardening equipment really, and Holly guessed this was where the groundskeeper kept all of his (or her) tools.

As Holly took in her surroundings, she realized that she wasn’t alone in the small building, and she nearly jumped out of her skin when she saw another young girl standing in the corner opposite the door. The girl had a red ribbon tied around her straight, jet-black hair, and was wearing a fancy dress like the ones Holly’s mom used to make her wear to church.

“Woah!” She shouted, grabbing her chest in alarm. “Sorry about that, I didn’t realize anyone else would be in here,” Holly said to the pale girl, who looked a few years younger than her. “Are you hiding from the rain too?”

“No,” replied the girl softly. “I’ve been waiting for a while. My mom should be here…”

“Your mom is picking you up…here?” Holly asked, confused. When the girl didn’t answer, Holly realized her mom was probably visiting a grave somewhere in the cemetery, and decided not to bring it up again.

“Well, I can wait with you, at least until the rain stops. No way I’m walking back to camp in this,” Holly said, gesturing out the small window to the onslaught of rain continuing outside. At least there was a board keeping the window closed, so she knew no rain could get through. “Not that I want to go back at all, really. The people there suck.” With a heavy sigh, Holly sunk down the wall until she sat on the cement floor, knees folded against her chest. She hated that, instead of getting ready for her dad to pick her up, Holly was sitting on a cold floor in what she knew was called a Deadhouse, talking to some strange, sad-looking little girl. What a way to spend her summer.

“I’m sorry you’re sad,” said the girl in the fancy dress. “I used to get sad too sometimes. Especially when mommy and daddy would yell.” Holly felt bad for the young girl, but she seemed almost detached as she talked about her parents. “But that all stopped when daddy took mommy and me to the woods.”

Holly thought that was an odd thing to say, so she asked the girl, “What happened in the woods?” But the girl wouldn’t answer; she just stared straight ahead looking lost in thought, or completely detached from reality; Holly couldn’t tell which.

So, she tried a different approach. “My name’s Holly,” she offered. “What’s yours?”

“Judith,” said the younger girl in a voice so soft, it was like she was trying not to wake someone.

“Well Judith, it’s nice to meet you.” When Judith didn’t answer, she added, “I like your dress.”

“My daddy picked it out,” Judith replied, looking down at the dress. “He says I look nice in red.”

“Well I agree, the red looks very nice on you. Can you give me a spin so I can see the whole thing?” Holly remembered that the best part of wearing those fancy church dresses was spinning in a circle, watching the ends lift up like flower petals, and she thought Judith might enjoy showing off her pretty dress too. But when she began to spin, Holly realized that there was a dark red stain of some kind running down the back of Judith’s dress. She stood up and tried to get a better look, but Judith pulled away as Holly reached for her.

“It’s okay,” Holly explained, “I just want to see what happened to your dress. Maybe we can clean it up before your mom comes back.”

“It happened in the woods.” Judith told her. “Mommy already knows.”
Holly thought it was odd that Judith’s mom would dress her up in such a fancy outfit with a big stain on it, but realized maybe Judith had been playing in the woods earlier and got something on her nice dress, so her mom probably made her wait in the Deadhouse for her.

Just then, the door to the building burst open, and an older man in overalls walked backwards through the door, with a rake in one hand and a shovel in the other. Holly knew what it felt like to walk into a room you thought was empty and find someone else there, so she cleared her throat in an effort not to startle him. As he turned to look at her, the man looked surprised, but not as shocked as Holly had been.

“What’re you doing in here?” The man asked Holly as he leaned his shovel against the wall. “You shouldn’t be in here.”

“I’m sorry, I was just hiding from the rain,” Holly explained to the groundskeeper. Though looking past him and through the open door, Holly could see that the rain had stopped, and it was a sunny day again.

“Well, it’s fine out there now, so you’d best be heading home.” As she walked out into the sunshine, Holly apologized for trespassing, and the groundskeeper graciously forgave her, saying it happened from time to time, with the camp being so close. Holly was so glad that the groundskeeper wasn’t mad, that she had forgotten all about poor Judith, waiting in the outbuilding for her mom.

“Oh, wait,” she said as the groundskeeper was closing the door behind them. “What about Judith?”

The colour drained from his face, and he slowly turned to look at Holly. “What did you say?”

“There was another girl in there with me; she said she was waiting for her mom.” But as Holly pushed the door to the Deadhouse open again, she realized there was no one in there. “Where-”

“You get outta here!” Shouted the groundskeeper suddenly, waving his rake at Holly to shoo her away. “And don’t let me catch you back here again! It ain’t none of your business!”

Scared, Holly ran all the way back to camp. Where had Judith gone, and why was the groundskeeper so angry at her, after being so understanding? These thoughts ran through her head all night and the next day, until Holly’s dad came to pick her up.

That evening, as they sat on the couch eating pizza and talking about everything she had done that week, Holly and her dad saw a news story about a double murder not far from Kettleby Valley Camp, where Holly had been staying. Her dad grabbed the remote and turned up the volume.

“After discovering the bodies of his wife and child in the woods near Kettleby Cemetery, authorities have arrested the man in question,” the reporter on TV was saying, as it showed a photo of the groundskeeper Holly had met just the day before. “It appears the victims both suffered blunt force trauma to the head. Despite being left in the woods for days, authorities have identified the females as Mary and Judith Daniels; Mr. Daniels’ wife and daughter.”

Holly went ghost white as the TV showed a picture of the young girl she had spoken to yesterday. The reporter was still talking, but Holly’s ears wouldn’t stop ringing. How could Judith have been dead for days, if Holly just spoke to her yesterday? She tried to remember physically touching Judith, but realized she never had.

“Man,” her dad said with a bite of pizza still in his mouth, “those are the woods by your camp, right kiddo? Close call, huh?”