I told Balloon Girl and Stitch Mouth about the strange encounter with my mother. Stitch Mouth nodded, like she figured something like this would happen. While she sketched a new door, she asked me more questions about what had happened. We went through, and suddenly, we were in a home I had never been in before.
A swarm of flies sat thick like a cloud the doorway. They were at my mouth and ears and eyes, eagerly seeking any part of me they could. I ducked further inside to avoid them, swatting blindly to keep them away. Pulling in desperate breathes, my stomach lurched as a rotten stench clogged my nostrils and mouth. My foot squished onto something. It was a pile of bloodied meat. Maggots climbed over each other in a wriggling mass. I stumbled away to escape, tiptoeing past horrors I never wanted to touch or see. Shallow puddles of blackened blood. Dried flaps of coiled skin, tossed aside like candy wrappers. Clumps of flesh piled in a nearby corner. The home was a feast for flies.
Stitch Mouth was behind me, mumbling, “No, no, no, no.”
I took another step further in. My hand lowered from my face. I didn’t care about the flies anymore. I had to see. Off to the side was a ragged pile of clothes, all children’s sizes, some sprinkled with blood. A toppled over pile of shoes occupied a corner. Teddy bears and children’s blankets in blue and pink. Bracelets and necklaces. Hats and caps.
“So many children,” I whispered.
Stitch Mouth and Balloon Girl remained at the door, unaware that I was leaving them.
“You lived here,” I said to myself. “The both of you.”
The kitchen was grotesque. Blood smeared bones picked clean. Clumps of hair in plastered patches. When I glimpsed the sight of a small hand on the counter, I had to turn away. Beyond the kitchen was a furnace near the back of the house. I went to it. Kneeling low, I peered inside the dark opening of the furnace. Layers of thick ash were piled high, pockmarked with flaps of scorched and shriveled skin.
“Balloon Girl, this is where you died.”
I shut the heavy door.
I discovered a stairway. A crooked door was at the top. I took a step up. I wanted to go to the door. I wanted to see inside. Someone touched my wrist. Balloon Girl was at my side, gazing up at me. She shook her head, telling me not to go.
“I need to.”
Her mouth moved. I knew the silent words she spoke. You don’t. Balloon Girl drew me from the steps and led me back through the horrors and the flies and the things I had seen.
When Stitch Mouth saw me, she ran over and began shoving me along faster. “We have to go. This is –”
“I know where we are.”
Stitch Mouth shut the door behind us, closing off the witch’s house. A part of me knew I would return there again.