Adventure and travel writing

Lost innocence, by Steve Van Bakel


It began shortly after Charlotte and her four-year-old daughter, Becky moved into the old Victorian house. In fact, as Charlotte recalled, the first incident occurred on the very first night they spent in their new home. She remembered that night so clearly because during the ordeal she had tripped over an unpacked box that had somehow been left outside her bedroom door. When she landed, she had smacked her head on the old oak banister leaving a large bump and a cut above her left eye. Though the cut had long since healed and the scar had faded to a mere blemish, the events of that night still remained vivid in her mind.

After learning of her husband’s insatiable desire for other women, Charlotte had divorced him and taken their one-year-old daughter to live in the basement of her parents’ home. To move back into her parents’ house wasn’t an easy decision, but she knew she needed the time and the help, to get back on her feet. Yet, even with the help of low rent, Charlotte vigilantly saved for three years to amass a large enough down payment to purchase their dream home.
With the help of her daughter Becky, Charlotte found and bought the ideal home in the small town of Milton Ontario. To her parents the house was nothing but a rundown money pit, but to Charlotte and Becky it was a dream home.  Charlotte admitted that it was going to need a fair bit of TLC before it was perfect but even her home inspector had said that it was a solid house that just required a lot of cosmetic work.

It was a red brick Victorian style home with shutters on the windows and a large veranda in front. The property was adorned with large old maple trees that now boasted all of their magnificent Fall colours. Though the house backed onto an old cemetery, Charlotte found the backyard to be quiet and peaceful and she would never have to worry about looking into a neighbour’s backyard. The cemetery was also filled with colourful hardwood trees and, had the real estate agent not mentioned that it was a cemetery, Charlotte would have thought it to be just another park.
According to the real estate agent, in its day it had been quite a house and was known as the McDougall Estate. Of course, that was many years ago and unfortunately the previous owners had let the place slip into its current state of drastic disrepair. Eventually, the elderly couple could no longer care for themselves and they were moved into a retirement home. And that was why the place had come onto the market looking so unkempt.

Charlotte was able to see beyond the peeling paint, broken shutters, and overgrown yard. She saw the house as a historical piece that would be part of their new, and improved life. To her it was like a piece of antique furniture that just needed a bit of stripping to restore it to its original luster.

Moving-in day was chaotic but exciting. Becky wanted desperately to be a big girl and help out, but she ended up being more trouble than not and Charlotte finally sent her off to play. Becky was so excited that she ran from room to room, stopping only long enough in each room to say, “Mommy this would make a great play room.” That was all that Charlotte needed to hear to know that the small sacrifices they had made along the way had been worthwhile and that their lives had definitely taken a turn for the better.

With Becky drained from playing all day, and Charlotte exhausted from a day of moving furniture and unpacking, they were both ready for bed by eight o'clock. One by one, Charlotte turned off all of the lights, as together they dragged themselves upstairs. Although there was still lots of unpacking to be done, they both looked forward to a good night’s sleep under the roof of what was starting to feel like home.

The furniture in Becky's room had all been set up by the movers and boxes of her clothing and toys had been stacked in one corner. At one point during the day Becky had been adamant that she wanted to help, so Charlotte had taken down two boxes of toys, placed them in the centre of the room and sliced through the packing tape that held the boxes closed. “Okay honey,” she’d said, “this is your room and if you want to help you can start by putting your toys on the shelves or wherever you'd like them.” Now as Charlotte tucked Becky under the covers of the freshly made bed she looked around the room and saw that Becky had put a few toys away, but she had obviously been distracted by the playthings and had spent the majority of her time playing with them, as opposed to putting them away.

“Mommy,” Becky said just as Charlotte was about to leave the room. “Thanks for giving me my very own room. I just love it!”

“You’re welcome honey. But remember I'm going to be counting on you to help keep it clean.”

“I will Mommy, cross my heart,” the little girl said as she made a cross on her chest with one of her small fingers.

Charlotte had never before realized how important it was to Becky to have a space to call her own. Though she now wondered if Becky was aware that it would be a big change for her, and that it may not always be an easy one.
While they had lived at her parents’ house, she and Becky had been sharing a small bedroom in the basement. This meant that up until tonight, Becky had never had to spend a night in a room alone. Charlotte wasn’t sure who was more nervous about the new arrangements, her or Becky. She hoped that the excitement of having her own room would outweigh any apprehension Becky might have of sleeping alone. To help relieve this tension of Becky’s first night alone, Charlotte had taken her out shopping for a nightlight. Becky was allowed to choose any light and she settled for a small figure of Winnie the Pooh and his customary jar of honey which lit up when it was plugged in. Pooh was now plugged into an outlet near the bed and his honey jar cast a soft yellow light throughout most of the room.

“Honey, is that going to be enough light for you?” Charlotte asked.

“Pooh’s honey doesn’t need any light,” Becky giggled.

“You know what I mean, Miss Smarty-pants.”

“It's fine Mommy, I'll be okay,” the four-year-old said as if her mother was the one who needed her fears calmed.

“Okay. I'll leave the door open and remember, I'm just down the hall if you need me,” Charlotte said double checking that the sheets were tucked in tight around Becky and her favourite doll. She then kissed her daughter on the forehead and said, “Good night, Honey”

“See you later Alligator,” Becky giggled.

“In a while Crocodile,” Charlotte responded finishing Becky's favourite way of saying goodnight.

Leaving the child’s room Charlotte was careful to leave the door wide open just in case Becky did get up during the night. She continued down the hall to her own room where she also ensured that the door was propped wide open so that she could hear Becky if she started to fuss.

Like her daughter’s room, there were unpacked boxes in every corner of her bedroom. The bed still hadn’t been made but Charlotte had come across her bedding in one of the boxes that she had unpacked earlier. She quickly made the bed and without even taking the time to undress she fell exhausted on the soft mattress.

The bed felt good to her tired muscles but did little to settle the thoughts running through her head. This was not only Becky’s first night alone, it was also the first night that Charlotte had been alone in a very long time. She found it somewhat disheartening to realize that she appeared to be more upset about this than her four-year-old daughter. She dwelled on her daughter’s independence for a while longer but she was exhausted and sleep soon set in.

About two hours later Charlotte woke suddenly. At first she thought it was just the cold that had awakened her because she had fallen asleep on top of the covers. She slipped under the blankets for warmth but her instincts told her that it was something more and she was unable to fall back to sleep. As she lay awake, she heard a faint sob coming from down the hall.

“Becky!” she called out as she sat bolt upright in bed.

In her haste to get to her troubled daughter, Charlotte rushed out of her bedroom and tripped over a moving box that was sitting right outside her door. As she sailed through the air, Charlotte thought, “What in God’s name is that box doing there? I’m sure it wasn’t there when I went to bed.”

Before she was able to answer her own question she hit the floor with a loud thump and her head bounced off of the oak banister. Blood immediately ran down her face and she quickly wiped it away with the sleeve of her white sweatshirt. The adrenalin was pumping through her veins now and she was quickly back on her feet.

Blood streamed into her eye and caused her to see through a red haze. She once again used her shirt sleeve to clear the blood from her face. Just as she pulled the sleeve away, she caught a flash of movement at the end of the darkened hallway.  “Becky, are you okay?” she called out.

There was no answer but as she started down the hall Charlotte was sure that she had glimpsed her daughter returning to her bedroom. She must have been frightened by Charlotte’s fall and subsequent holler of pain.
At eight o’clock in the evening the sun had just been setting and the hallway hadn’t seemed so dark. Now, at close to ten o’clock the hallway was nearly black.

“Something isn’t right,” Charlotte thought. “Why isn’t Becky’s nightlight illuminating the hallway outside her door?”
To avoid tripping over another box, Charlotte used the wall for support as she carefully felt her way towards Becky’s room. She could still hear the sobbing but it now sounded muffled. When she reached the door to Becky’s room she found it was closed, which explained why the sobbing was now muted. “But why was the door closed? She had left it open.  Surely Becky would not have closed it.”

Charlotte’s head was now starting to clear a little and she realized that Becky must have woken up scared and crying. The noise from Charlotte’s fall must have scared her even more, so she had returned to her room and closed the door behind her so that she’d feel safe.

“Honey, it’s Mommy! Everything is okay, I’m sorry if I scared you,” Charlotte said as she slowly opened the door.
To her amazement, her daughter was still tucked in bed with her doll and appeared to be fast asleep. The crying had stopped as soon as she had entered the room, so Charlotte concluded that her daughter must be faking sleep in order to hide the fact that she had been scared. Charlotte felt a chill as she entered the room and made a mental note to turn up the thermostat before going back to bed. She sat on the edge of her daughter’s bed and placed a hand on Becky’s covered shoulder, “Are you all right, Honey?” she asked.

There was no response at first so Charlotte shook her gently and said, “Honey, what’s wrong? Did you have a bad dream?”

Becky slowly rolled over, stretched her arms out from the confines of the covers, and when she saw the blood on her mother’s face and sweatshirt, she said, “Mommy, are you okay?! What happened?”

Charlotte absentmindedly wiped her face again and then rolled the sleeve of the sweatshirt in an attempt to conceal the blood.  “Don’t worry Honey, it’s okay. I just had a little fall and hit my head.”

“Does it hurt?” Becky asked with real concern in her voice.

“Not at all,” Charlotte said, telling a little white lie so as not to scare her daughter more.

“Is it time to get up, Mommy?”

“Oh no, Honey. It’s very late, you must have been woken by a bad dream.”

“But I wasn’t dreaming, Mommy. You woke me up.”

“But Honey, I heard you crying,” Charlotte said, sounding a little puzzled.

“Oh! That was probably Samantha. She was crying earlier but I told her everything would be okay.”

Assuming that her daughter was blaming the crying on her doll or an imaginary friend, Charlotte said, “Well, do you and Samantha want to come sleep with me?”

“No, Mommy! I want to stay in MY room!” Becky whined.

“But if you’re scared, wouldn’t it be better sleeping in my bed?”

“I’m not scared, and Samantha doesn’t want to go either,” Becky said defiantly.

The fact that Becky was crying a few moments earlier, and was now adamantly denying that she was scared, had Charlotte a little troubled. “Are you sure, Honey? I won’t be mad if you want to sleep in my bed. In fact I was kind of lonely without you there,” Charlotte said hoping to persuade her daughter to join her.

“We really want to stay here. Please Mommy!”

“Okay, if you insist,” Charlotte said. “But if you change your mind I’m right down the hall and I’d be glad to have your company. Oh, and let’s keep the door open from now on, okay?”

“Sure Mommy, I told Samantha not to close the door, but she did anyway.”

Charlotte tucked her daughter back in bed, kissed her on the cheek, and left knowing that her daughter would eventually get scared again and join her in bed.

On the way back to her room, Charlotte stopped to pick up the box that she had tripped over and to check the thermostat. Charlotte found that not only was the thermostat set properly, but that it was actually quite warm in the hallway. She decided that there must be a draft coming through one of the windows in Becky’s room, but there was nothing she could do about it tonight. She would have to look at it in the morning.

Before crawling back into bed, Charlotte went to the bathroom to clean herself up. The wound on her head had stopped bleeding but she decided to put a bandage on it to prevent her sheets from getting messed up. She then filled the sink with cold water and left her blood stained sweatshirt to soak.

Charlotte slept intermittently for the rest of the night and each time she woke she was surprised that Becky had not joined her. When Becky was still not there in the morning, she figured that Becky must have fallen asleep shortly after the crying incident and not been awakened again by bad dreams.

Day two of unpacking was hindered by Charlotte’s lack of sleep and she found herself becoming increasingly short-tempered. This became even more apparent when, while unpacking what seemed like an endless number of boxes, she heard a crash from upstairs. Assuming that Becky had gotten into mischief again, she stormed up the stairs, annoyed at having been interrupted at a time when all she wanted was to finish the chore of unpacking.

Charlotte found Becky sprawled out on her bedroom floor engrossed in playing with her dolls. “What’s going on up here, Young Lady?” she asked her daughter.

“I’m just playing, Mommy.”

“And what was all the crashing that I heard up here?”

“I told her not play with your perfumes but she wouldn't listen.”

“What are you talking about?” Charlotte asked but headed towards her room without waiting for a reply.

“It wasn't me, Mommy. It was Samantha.”

Upon entering her room Charlotte was assaulted by the overpowering scent of sweet perfume. As she approached the dresser she felt the crunching of glass beneath her feet and noticed that the overturned box that had once held her favourite perfume bottles, now lay half hidden under the bed. The floor was littered with the broken bottles, and Charlotte's response turned from shock to outrage when she realized that Becky had chosen to hide the mess rather than attempt to clean it up.

“Rebecca Anne Rowley!” Charlotte screamed, “get in here.”

“Mommy, I'm sorry. I told her not to play with your things.”

“Her who?” Charlotte demanded.

“I've been trying to tell you. It was Samantha!” Becky started to cry as she heard the anger in her mother's voice.
“Young Lady, of all things, do not try to blame this on some imaginary friend. If you’re old enough to have your own room I think you should be old enough to take responsibility for your actions.”

“But it wasn't me,” Becky whined between sobs.

“That's it! I've had enough! You can go to your room and stay there until you're willing to tell me what really happened here.”

Becky ran from the room bawling, leaving Charlotte to wonder if she had over-reacted. While she cleaned up the mess, Charlotte realized that her exhaustion was largely responsible for her outrage. But it was high time that her daughter learned that she had to be more responsible for her actions and that Charlotte’s things were not toys.
The rest of the afternoon was very quiet as Becky stayed in her room keeping out of her mother's way. Charlotte took advantage of this time by unpacking boxes and getting a jump on organizing the house. Having almost completed this chore, she realized that a major burden had been eased, and her stress level was returning to normal. By supper time she was feeling remorseful for having berated Becky so harshly and she went upstairs to apologize.

“Honey,” Charlotte said as she gently tapped on Becky’s door and then slowly pushed it open.

“Hi Mommy!” Becky responded cheerfully.

As she entered the room, Charlotte once again felt an unnerving chill race up her spine. It was still light out and although Autumn was bringing cooler weather, Charlotte thought that it shouldn’t be so cold in her daughter’s room. Once again she promised herself that she would inspect the window before it got too late.

“Darling, I’m sorry I yelled at you earlier. I guess Mommy’s a little tired out from all the moving.”

“That’s okay Mommy, I’m not mad.” Charlotte was just starting to think everything was going to be okay when her daughter added, “But Samantha is still sad. She says that her mommy used to yell at her all the time. And when she got really mad, she even hit Samantha.”

“Now Honey, I’ve told you I’m not upset anymore. You mustn’t keep blaming your friend for what happened earlier.”

“Samantha said you wouldn’t believe me. She said her mommy never believed her and blamed her for all sorts of things she didn’t do.”

“Okay Honey, why don’t you tell me who this Samantha is?”

“Samantha is the little blonde girl I met in my room last night. She said she used to live in this house a long time ago, and she wants to be my friend.”

“Oh!” Charlotte said as she tried to hide the shiver that ran up her spine.

“And this used to be her room too. But Samantha said it was never as nice as it is now. Her mommy didn’t let her have any toys. Why would her mommy not let her have any toys?” Becky asked innocently.

“I’m not sure, Honey. How did you find out so much about Samantha?”

“She told me all about it last night after I went to bed. She said she was trying to be a big girl and not to cry, but I think she’s very sad because she couldn’t stop herself. I told her everything was going to be okay, but I don’t think she believed me. She was still crying when I fell asleep.

“She says that she’s afraid that you’re going to be mean to me, just like her mommy. I told her that you’re always nice to me and that I love you.”

“I love you too, Honey,” Charlotte said as she scooped her daughter into her arms and held her tight.

Charlotte was shocked. Becky sounded so sincere but where on earth did she come up with such a story? Possibly, Charlotte thought, this imaginary friend was her way of dealing with sleeping alone in her new room. Unsure of the best way to approach this situation, Charlotte opted for the easy way out and decided that maybe if she just ignored this Samantha thing, than eventually Becky would just forget all about it.

After a supper of macaroni and cheese, Becky’s all-time favourite meal, Charlotte went up to see if she could find the draft in Becky’s room. “What are you doing Mommy?” Becky asked curiously as her mother felt along each of the window frames.

“I’m looking for cold air coming in through your window. Did you not feel the cold draft last night?”

“Just when Samantha was here,” Becky answered. “I’m not sure why but every time she visits I feel cold.”

Charlotte wasn’t sure what to make of this response, so she decided to stick with her original plan of ignoring the whole Samantha situation. “Well I’ll put an extra blanket on your bed tonight just in case you get cold. It’s almost bedtime, why don’t you get into your pajamas and I’ll be back to tuck you in.”

“Okay,” Becky said as she went through her drawer looking for her favourite flannel pajamas.

Charlotte went to her own room to get ready for bed. Although her window had remained open all day, the scent of perfume was almost overpowering. But it would be a chilly night, and she knew that she could deal with the scent far more easily than she could the cold. While closing her window she happened to notice that the pillows were missing from her bed. They had been there in the morning when she’d made the bed so they couldn’t have gone too far. Becky must have been playing with them when she was in the room earlier, she thought.

“Becky, do you know what happened to my pillows?”Charlotte asked while she was tucking her daughter in for the night.

“Samantha says I shouldn’t tell you that she hid them in your closet.”

“Oh! And why aren’t you supposed to tell me?”

“She’s afraid you’re still mad and may try to hurt me with the pillows.”

Shocked by Becky’s comments she said, “Honey, you know I would never hurt you, and I’m not mad anymore. I’m sorry if I scared you today, I was just a little upset about my perfume.”

“I know,” Becky said as she climbed into bed. “Mommy, can you tuck me in real tight?”

“Sure Honey.” Charlotte said, as she tucked her daughter in and made sure her doll was tucked in as well.

“See you later Alligator,” Becky said as Charlotte headed for the door.

“In a while Crocodile. Sleep tight.”

Back in her room, Charlotte found the pillows hidden away in the back of her closet. Why on earth would her daughter make up such a story? It was very much unlike her to carry on this way. Charlotte was beginning to wonder if the move was having a greater effect on her daughter than she had at first thought. Maybe she should move Becky in with her for a while, at least until she got over this Samantha thing.

Two things happened that night which made Charlotte rethink the Samantha situation. First, at approximately one a.m. Charlotte was awakened by a sudden chill in the room. Still half asleep, and thinking that she must have left the window open, she rolled over and caught a brief glimpse of a blonde-haired girl, in a white nightgown, standing in front of the dresser brushing her hair. She blinked and sat bolt upright in bed only to find that there was no longer a chill in the room, nor a little girl standing by her dresser.

Thinking she must have been dreaming, Charlotte tried to go back to sleep but it didn’t come easy, and it was close to two hours before she finally started to drift off again. But a deep sleep wasn’t meant to be, as she was once again wakened by the sound of crying from down the hall. She headed to her daughter’s room, determined that this time she wasn’t going to give Becky the option of staying in her room by herself.

Once again, Charlotte noticed a chill as she entered Becky’s room. She was surprised that at first glance, Becky appeared to be fast asleep and still snugly tucked in her bed. As she crossed the room to check more closely on her daughter, she noticed something on the floor beside the bed. Expecting to find a misplaced toy, she was shocked when she bent down to find her hair brush lying on the floor. What was more shocking was that she had used that very brush after tucking Becky in, and just before she herself had gone to bed. There was absolutely no way Becky could have gotten out of bed, taken the brush, and then tucked herself back in so well. So then, how did her hair brush get from her dresser to Becky’s floor?

Many questions plagued Charlotte’s mind as she lay sleepless in her bed for the rest of the night.

Had she been dreaming earlier when she saw the little girl in her room?

Who was this Samantha that Becky had so adamantly claimed was her new friend?

Could Becky have been telling the truth about not being responsible for some of the weird things that had been happening around the house?

For her own sanity she had to find the answers to these questions.

The next morning she woke Becky up around eight o’clock. “Hey Sleepy Head, are you going to sleep all day?”
“Hi, Mommy,” Becky said as she wiped the sleep away from her eyes.

“How did you sleep?”

“I slept good, Mommy. I had this dream that I was a fairy princess.”

“Did you get up at all last night?” Charlotte asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

“No, I slept all night, I love my room sooo much.”

That was all that Charlotte needed to hear. She decided that she was going to need some time alone this morning to try and figure out what was happening around their new home. “How would you like to go visit Grandma for a few hours today?” she asked.

“Can we make cookies?” Becky asked excitedly.

“That will be up to Grandma. Now come on, let’s get you up and dressed.”

“Can I bring some cookies back for Samantha? I think that would make her happy,” Becky said, sounding very sincere about making her new friend feel better.

“We’ll see, Honey.”

While Becky got dressed, Charlotte made a quick call to her mother and asked if she could take Becky for a few hours. Her mother was always excited to see her granddaughter and had no problems looking after her for the morning. Obviously detecting something in Charlotte’s voice, her mother asked if there was anything wrong. Her reply was brief but pleasant, “I’m fine. I just have an appointment this morning.”

The library seemed likely to be the best place to start searching for a little history on their new home. So after dropping Becky off, that was the first place she went. Like the majority of homes in the small town of Milton, the library was built in the late eighteen hundreds. Constructed of large limestone blocks and oak cased windows the library perfectly fit the Victorian style neighbourhood. Walking up the expansive stone steps, Charlotte entered the library and headed directly to the checkout counter.

“Can I help you?” an elderly lady wearing bifocals asked from behind the counter.

“I'm not sure,” Charlotte said. “I was hoping to find some history on the house I'm living in and I'm really not sure how to go about it.”

“Whereabouts is your house, Dear?”

“I've just moved into the old Victorian house on Main Street.”

“Oh, the one that backs onto the graveyard,” she stated, as if everyone should know that house. “That's the old McDougall Estate and I think you may have come to the right place. We really don't have anything to track individual houses but we do have a book on the general history of Milton. And as luck would have it, one of the gentlemen who worked on the book volunteers here at the library. I believe he's here today, so why don't you wait here and I'll take a look around for him.”

“Thank you very much,” Charlotte said, as the librarian headed off towards a large rack of books. She had no idea what she was going to ask this gentleman but she hoped that somehow he might be able to shed some light on what was happening with Becky’s strange behaviour and the mysterious events that had been taking place around the house.

Within only a couple of minutes the librarian returned with an elderly gentleman in tow. From Charlotte’s best guess she figured that the gentleman was in his late eighties or early nineties. He walked with the assistance of a cane but he carried himself with an air of sophistication. The grey hair, wire framed glasses, and the sport coat all gave Charlotte the impression that this gentleman was, or may still be, some kind of professor.

“Mr. Anthony this is Ms...” the librarian started to say, but stopped when she realized that she didn’t know Charlotte’s name.

“Nice to meet you, Mr Anthony,” Charlotte said extending her hand. “My name is Charlotte. Charlotte Rowley.”

“Nice to meet you, Ms Rowley,” the gentleman said. “But to be honest, I much prefer for young ladies to call me Robert.”

“Okay Robert, and I prefer flirtatious older men to call me Charlotte,” she said with a smile.

Robert led Charlotte through a maze of book shelves to a table along the back wall of the library. In the typical form of the elderly who are happy just to have someone listen for a while, Robert proceeded to tell Charlotte all about himself. He had, in fact, been an English teacher at the local high school up until he had retired some years ago. He was also boastful of the fact that he was born and raised in Milton and was now the town’s oldest living resident.

“There I go again, talking about myself when you obviously came for my help, not to hear an old man chatter on.”

“True, I did come in the hope that you would be able to help me out, but I’ve enjoyed listening to you talk.”

“Now now, don’t kid an old kidder. How can I help you?”

“The librarian said that you worked on a book about the history of Milton. I was hoping you might be able to tell me a little history about the house my daughter and I recently moved into. The librarian seemed to think the house belonged to the old McDougall Estate.”

The look that came over Robert’s weathered face caused the hairs on the back of Charlotte’s neck to stand up and a chill to spread throughout her body.

“Now, that is a tragic story. What brings you to ask about this?” Robert asked with a concerned look.

Reluctant to reveal any of the details about the episodes with Becky and the things that had been happening around the house, she said, “I’ve always been a bit of a history buff. One of the things that drew me to the house was the Victorian design and the history a house like that must have.”

Though he seemed somewhat sceptical of Charlotte’s motives, Robert began to divulge the story behind the McDougall Estate.

“Let’s see now,” Robert started. “Your house was built in the 1890's, I believe it was 1894 but don’t quote me on that. It was built by one Jonathan McDougall shortly after this area was settled. It was quite a house for that era, but as the sole owner of McDougall Lumber Company, one of the biggest lumber companies of its day, he could easily afford it.

“Being of English descent, the McDougalls were well known for their sophistication and elegance. They were a centre post of the community and they often hosted elaborate parties and gatherings. I suppose that’s why it became known as the McDougall Estate,” Robert said.

“About the time of the Great Depression, Jonathan fell very ill and passed the lumber company on to his only child, a son by the name of James. Like his father, James was a very astute businessman who took great pride in the company and the social status that came with it. James worked very hard at maintaining the company and the family name, but the Depression was just too devastating and eventually it began to collapse. With little he could do to save the company, James concentrated his efforts on saving the family name and their social status.

“Unfortunately, things only got worse for James and his family. His father died knowing that the company he had worked so hard to establish was going down. James suffered a great deal of anguish over his failure to maintain the company and that soon began to effect other aspects of his life. To the rest of the community, James appeared to be handling the whole situation very well. But the same couldn't be said for his wife and teenage daughter who had to deal with his ever increasing depression.

“Trying to maintain a social status was hard enough with a desperately failing business, but just after Christmas in 1935 James was hit with yet another blow. His sixteen-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, came to him one day with the news that she was pregnant. Now at that time, for a young lady to get pregnant out of wedlock was an embarrassment to the entire family. Getting rid of the baby was out of the question in such a small and religious town, so the next best thing was to send Elizabeth away before the pregnancy started to show.

“The story James and his wife told the community was that their daughter was going away to an upscale boarding school. This, they thought, would embellish their social standing as opposed to the truth, which would have dishonoured the family name. Little did they know that behind their backs, speculation and rumour was circulating about the true cause for Elizabeth's sudden departure.

“Within a year of Elizabeth's departure, McDougall Lumber Company closed its doors for the last time. With his family falling apart and his business now completely belly up, James went into a deep state of depression from which he would never recover. Alcohol became his primary escape from the life he believed he could no longer control. And in the end it was the alcohol that finished him off.

“Returning from a Christmas party in December of 1939, James drove his Ford Model T pickup off of the road and into Crawford Lake. The following day, a passing farmer noticed tire tracks heading off the road and decided to investigate further. From the edge of the lake he could see nothing more than those tire tracks leading into a large opening in the ice. He notified police and by the end of the day a tow truck winched the pickup from the freezing water with the bodies of both James and his wife still inside.”

Charlotte had been so entranced by Robert’s story that even she was surprised to hear a gasp escape her lips.

“Are you okay?” Robert asked sounding deeply concerned. “Because I'm afraid it gets worse.”

“I'm fine,” Charlotte assured him. “But it gets worse?”

“’Fraid so. Are you sure you want me to continue?”

“Yes, please go on Robert.  You are such a gifted story teller. I just got caught up in it.”

Robert continued with pride at being considered a talented story teller. “Now I'm not one to speculate but rumour at the time was that James' mishap was no accident.”

“Why would people say that?” Charlotte asked.

“Well, Crawford Lake would not have been on James' normal route home, so people began to question what he was doing out there so late at night. At the party he’d been seen drinking but nobody thought he would have been drunk enough to drive that far off the road and into the lake.

“It was ruled an accidental death which proved beneficial to Elizabeth who was the sole beneficiary of James' life insurance policy.

“Hearing of her parent's death the distraught Elizabeth, with her now three-year-old daughter, rushed back to the family home. It must have been a shock for Elizabeth when she returned to her beloved McDougall Estate and the town of Milton. The lumber mill was all boarded up and the gates were locked to keep trespassers out. McDougall Estate was looking less like an estate and more like a rundown old home. You see, the final years that James spent in the house had been filled with drinking and depression and very little upkeep of the property. Elizabeth quickly found out that the community had changed too and they now shunned both her, and her daughter. I've been told that some felt betrayed at being lied to about Elizabeth's situation. And others just shunned them because of her predicament.”

“That's sad,” Charlotte said.

“That it is. But you have to remember, at that time her situation was very unusual and highly frowned upon.

“After burying her parents, Elizabeth and her daughter moved back into McDougall Estate. She attempted to re-establish herself but, with no family and few friends for support, it was difficult. She soon turned to the ways of her father and became dependant on drinking to cope with the situation.”

“But what about her daughter?”

“She unfortunately became the innocent victim of this tragedy. Elizabeth began to blame the child for everything that went wrong in her life. Not being there for her parents before they died, not being accepted by the community, and later she blamed her daughter for scaring away prospective husbands. Resentment soon turned to neglect and abuse.”

“How could she blame so much on a small child?”

“Who can possibly explain the twisted thoughts of someone in Elizabeth’s situation. She was little more than a child herself at the time. Then add alcohol to the situation, and your guess is as good as mine as to what drove her to do what she did,” Robert said sadly.

Detecting the changed tone in Robert's voice, Charlotte asked, “She didn't do something to that poor child, did she?”
“Yes, I'm afraid so. Are you sure you want to hear all this?”

“Yes, please go on,” Charlotte said urgently. As much as she was afraid of what she might hear next she knew that it may also explain what was happening with Becky.

“I believe it was late in the Fall of 1941 that the police received a frantic call from Elizabeth. 'Come quick, I think I've hurt my baby,' was all she said to the police. I remember this because that was the headline on the local paper the following day.

“The police arrived at the house to find Elizabeth drunk and crying on the couch. A friend of mine who worked on the force at the time said that she just kept saying over and over again, 'I just wanted her to stop crying.'

“They discovered the child in an upstairs bedroom, laid out on a mattress with a pillow still covering her face. My friend said that he was not only horrified by the act, but also by the living conditions of the poor girl. The place was a mess, the child's room had only a mattress on the floor, and none of the toys or dolls that you'd expect to find in a little girl’s room. The saddest thing of all is that the poor girl died just two days before her fifth birthday.

“Elizabeth was arrested and taken in for questioning. There she confessed the whole story about how she blamed the child for so much and finally, when she couldn't stop her from crying, she smothered the child with a pillow.

“Elizabeth never stood trial,” Robert added.

“Why?” Charlotte asked appalled.

“Supposedly following in her father's footsteps again, she killed herself in prison while awaiting her trial.”

Charlotte felt very little sympathy for Elizabeth but there was still one question she had to ask. “You wouldn't by chance know the name of Elizabeth's daughter?”

“I do, but only because I have a daughter with the same name. Her name was Samantha.”

Charlotte realized that she must have paled with that response because the next thing she knew Robert had a comforting hand on hers and he was again asking if she was okay.

“I'm okay, it's just such a sad and shocking story.”

“It is,” Robert said with a sigh. “Other than that there isn't much to tell you about that house. It remained vacant for about two years after Elizabeth's death, and then it was sold to a couple by the name of Carlson. The Carlsons never had children and the place was put up for sale when they were moved into a seniors’ home. I presume that is when you took possession.”

Charlotte didn't hear much after learning that the child's name was Samantha. There is absolutely no logical way that her four-year-old daughter could have so much information on a girl who died over sixty years ago. It was difficult to wrap her mind around this whole thing but Charlotte decided that it was time for her to think outside of her rational mind.

All of her life she had heard ghost stories. Some were presented as fiction, but others had been told by people who adamantly believed them to be true. She had always found these tales to be entertaining but never thought that one day she too might believe in ghosts. If they were dealing with a ghost, then the question to ask now was, what should she do about it?

“I hope that answers your questions,” Robert said interrupting Charlotte's reflections. “Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“Would the library still have any of the newspapers from that era?” she asked.

“I spent many a day in this library going through old newspapers while doing research for our book on the history of Milton. With all of today’s conveniences you can now find them on microfiche. If you’d like I can show where to find the information.”

“Thank you Robert, you have been such a help, but I really don't want to take up any more of your time. I'm sure you have better things to do.”

“Charlotte, I'm an old man volunteering at the library to help fill my days. I have nothing but time. And if I can use some of that time to help out a pretty lady, then I'm honoured to do it.”

“Do you hit on all the ladies like this?” Charlotte laughed.

“If they give me the opportunity, then most definitely.”

Robert took Charlotte over to the area where the microfiche were kept and showed her how the machine worked, as well as how to find the exact dates that she was looking for. He then left her to browse through the old periodicals at her leisure.

“You'll have to come for dinner once we’ve settled in,” Charlotte said, as Robert headed back to his volunteer duties.
“It's a date then!” he exclaimed with a smile.

For nearly an hour, Charlotte read through articles about the events that had occurred around, what she too, now thought of as the McDougall Estate. Robert had been very thorough in his description of the events surrounding Samantha's death. The only difference was that the newspaper articles gave more in-depth details to depict the harsh childhood that Samantha had lived before her young life had been cut short.

While skimming the articles and photographs, Charlotte gasped with shock. Her body shuddered to find, that looking back at her from the screen of the microfiche machine, was the little girl she had seen earlier that morning. Then she hadn’t been dreaming! And Becky’s imaginary friend wasn’t looking so imaginary anymore.

At first glance her picture may have looked like that of any four-year-old girl but as Charlotte looked closer she saw the anguish in the little girl's eyes. Samantha's hair was disheveled and held none of the bright ribbons or ponytails that one might expect to find on a child of that age. When she felt warm tears flow down her cheeks, Charlotte knew that she had seen and heard enough for now.

After she left the library, Charlotte walked solemnly to her car, sat behind the wheel, and abandoned all attempts to hold back the tears. The horrors she had heard of today made her long for the comfort of her daughter’s presence. She was anxious to hold Becky in her arms and give her the biggest hug ever. Once she gained control of her emotions, Charlotte started her car and directed it towards her parents’ place to pick up Becky.

During the drive Charlotte contemplated their situation. She had seen all of the horror movies about exorcisms but she wondered if under these circumstances she needed to go that far. After all, their ghost Samantha hadn't caused any real problems. Minor annoyances yes, but nothing that she would have considered to be a danger to either herself or Becky. Besides, she still couldn't help but feel sorry for Samantha, and the terrible childhood she had endured.

“That's it!”Charlotte exclaimed to herself. “Maybe Samantha has reappeared because through Becky she is able to experience some of the childhood she had lost.”

“If that's what she wants then that's what we'll give her,” Charlotte said, as she pulled into her parents’ driveway.
Becky was playing on the special ‘Tired Old Horse’ swing that her grandfather had hung from an oak tree in their front yard. When she saw her mother’s car pulling into the driveway, she jumped from the swing and ran across the yard hollering, “Mommy, Mommy!”

Charlotte jumped out of the car, swept her daughter into her arms and gave her a big hug. “I love you, Honey.”

“I love you too Mommy, but you’re squishing me,” Becky giggled.

“Are you ready to go home?”

“You bet, I've already said bye to Grandma and Granddad.”

“What do you say we stop and buy Samantha a new doll on the way home?”

“You mean it Mommy? She'd love that! Can I pick one out for her, please Mommy?” Becky asked excitedly.

“Of course, she's your friend. You’d know best what she'd like.”

Charlotte was a little surprised that Becky didn't question her new found belief in Samantha. But then again she was pretty excited about the concept of finding a new doll for her friend. Charlotte thought it best that Becky didn't ask too many questions. How could she possibly relate to her vulnerable four-year-old the horrible details of Samantha's life?

They stopped at a toy store on the way home and Becky excitedly ran from aisle to aisle looking for the best doll. She finally picked out one with long blonde hair held into ponytails by bright red ribbons.

“It looks just like Samantha, Mommy. Can we get this one?”

“Of course, Honey,” Charlotte said, realizing that the doll did indeed look like the photo she had seen of Samantha. The doll however lacked the dull absent look in the eyes.

By the time they pulled into the driveway, Becky was fast asleep with her head propped against the passenger side door. A long day of playing at her grandparents’ had obviously worn her daughter out. Charlotte was also exhausted and she looked forward to getting into her own bed, but there were things she wanted to do first.

She scooped her sleeping daughter out of the passenger seat and carried her into the house. Becky instinctively wrapped her arms around her mother's neck and snuggled in for warmth. Charlotte took Becky straight up the stairs and into her room, but not before ensuring that there were no more surprise boxes or other traps waiting for her.

Becky resisted waking and kept her eyes closed as Charlotte helped her to slip out of her clothes and into her pajamas. With her doll placed safely under her arm, Charlotte thought Becky was asleep before Charlotte finished tucking her in.

“See you later, Alligator,” Becky called out, as Charlotte was about to leave the room.

“In a while, Crocodile. I love you, Becky.”

“I love you too, Mommy,” Becky responded in a softly fading voice.

The new doll was still in the backseat, so Charlotte made a quick trip out to the car. She unpacked the doll and returned to Becky's room.

As she stepped back into Becky's room Charlotte felt the familiar chill. She now associated both the chill in the room and the chill that ran down her spine, with Samantha's presence. At least that's what she was hoping for as she said, “Samantha, I'm sorry for what happened to you. But I want you to know that I'm not like your Mommy. I would never hurt Becky, I love Becky and I can love you, if you give me a chance.”

Charlotte felt a little weird talking to the empty spaces of Becky's room, but she had to finish what she came to say, or she may never get the nerve to do it again.

“You’re welcome here for as long as you’d like to stay and I want you to feel at home. So, Becky and I brought you a present,” she said, holding out the doll and placing it on the window sill. “There’s only one thing that I ask of you, and that’s for you to stop with the mischief and tricks.”

Unsure of what else to say or whether she was making a fool of herself, Charlotte finished by wishing Samantha a good night.

“Mommy, Mommy!!” Becky hollered with excitement as she ran into her mother’s room the next morning.

“Samantha loved her doll. And she says she’s sorry for the scrape on your head and the broken perfume.”

For the next few weeks it was pretty quiet around the McDougall Estate. Charlotte finished the unpacking and started the long task of renovating the old house. Becky still talked about her friend Samantha, but there was no more crying late into the night and no more pranks or mischief.

Becky’s fifth birthday was coming up and because she was new to the community she hadn’t been around long enough to make friends with the neighbourhood kids. Charlotte suggested that they have a very special party to celebrate both Becky’s and Samantha’s birthdays. Becky jumped at the idea and was anxious to start setting up decorations. Together they blew up balloons and hung them from the walls and ceiling. Above the door, they hung a large colourful sign that read, ‘Happy Birthday Becky and Samantha!’

The party was a hit with Becky and she surprised Charlotte when she ran to her room and returned with a small wrapped gift for Samantha. Becky made a show of opening that present, which was a small box filled with many of Becky’s favourite hair ribbons and barrettes. After Becky opened her own presents, Charlotte brought out a cake that had both Becky’s and Samantha’s names printed on it in blue icing. With their bellies full of cake, Charlotte took Becky up to bed and tucked her in with the new doll that she had received for her birthday.

“That was the best party ever,” Becky exclaimed.

“I’m glad you had fun, now to bed with you. And no playing around tonight,”

“Goodnight Birthday Girls,” Charlotte said.

“See you later Alligator.”

“In a while Crocodile.”

A couple of nights after the party, Charlotte woke to the sound of crying coming from Becky’s room. She sat up in bed anticipating that it would be Samantha again, but this time she recognized Becky’s distinctive cry. She rushed to see what was causing the commotion and found the door to Becky’s room closed. Charlotte was about to burst through the door into Becky’s room when she heard soft talking on the other side. At first Charlotte had difficulty distinguishing the softly spoken words. Eventually she realized that the only voice she heard was that of her daughter.

“See you later alligator,” she heard Becky say.

Then after a short pause she heard Becky’s voice again. “I’m going to miss you, Samantha, and I think Mommy’s going to miss you too. She says she really likes you.”

Charlotte entered the room to find Becky sitting on her bed crying softly. “What’s wrong, Honey?”

“Mommy,” Becky said, jumping out of bed and running to hug her mother. “Samantha says that it’s time for her to leave.”

“I’m sure she’ll be back, Honey,” Charlotte said encouragingly.

“No, Mommy,” Becky said between sobs. “She said she wasn’t sad anymore and she’s going to the other place. She really liked her party and she said she loves you for having it for her. She thinks I’m pretty lucky to have a mommy like you.”

“Well, I’m pretty lucky to have a special daughter like you, and a special friend like Samantha.”

“Mommy, what did she mean by the other place?”

Charlotte had to think about this for a minute before answering. “Samantha had a very sad life and now it’s time for her to go to a place where she will always be happy. It will be very nice there. I wouldn’t worry about her too much.”

“I’m not. It’s just that I’m really going to miss her.”

“Well tomorrow we’ll go say a special goodbye,” Charlotte suggested. “But for now you have to go to bed. Do you think you want to sleep with me tonight?”

“That would be nice!” Becky said, taking her mother’s hand.

Morning came way too soon after being up so late. With Becky’s help, Charlotte made a big breakfast of pancakes and bacon before heading out to a local flower shop where they picked out a bright bundle of flowers. Next, Charlotte took a chance on the location of Samantha’s grave and drove to the cemetery that backed onto the McDougall Estate. Immediately after entering the cemetery’s wrought iron gates, Charlotte saw the maintenance shed with a caretaker milling around outside. The caretaker was all too familiar with the graves and was easily able to point out Samantha’s small grave site.

Hand in hand, Charlotte and Becky walked through the freshly fallen leaves to the area pointed out by the caretaker. In a row of tiny graves, Samantha’s was the second headstone that they looked at, and Charlotte read aloud the inscription for her daughter.

Lost Innocence
Here Lies a Child of God
Samantha McDougall
September 27, 1936 - September 25, 1941

They stood facing the headstone for some time before Becky laid the flowers down and said, “See you later Alligator.”