The little girl in the faded red dress appeared out of nowhere, at the end of the row of apple trees. It was a cloudy, chilly day; the orchard was nearly empty of other people. Mommy was busily picking apples, so Susan went to the girl.
Soon they were skipping along together, becoming friends almost instantly, in that way seven-year-old girls do...the little girl's name was Kristen, and she told Susan she stayed at the orchard all the time.
"Kids have always loved this place", she said. "There are lots of us here..."
Susan was puzzled. "Other kids, you mean? Here?"
"Come on, I'll show you!"
They raced out of the trees, to a long, low shed. No-one was around at all, and in the gloomy afternoon light, Susan began to feel uneasy. Mommy was out of sight...
"Down here...see?" Susan peered down where Kristen pointed. A dark stairway led to a cellar under the shed.
"I can't see anyth--" she turned to Kristen but the girl was nowhere to be seen. She crept forward, just to the cellar's doorway, trying to see .....in the dim light, she could just make out---was that Kristen? But how...?
Once, it had been Kristen--a skeletal arm protruded from a faded red sleeve, and skeletal legs splayed beneath her skirt. Beyond that was that another skeleton, and another, all in faded, young girls' clothing...
Susan jumped as a hand fell on her shoulder, and another clamped over her mouth. "Found yourself some friends, did you?" a man's voice...
Then both hands were around her neck, squeezing...."You can join 'em now....kids have always loved this place...."