In Part I of The Haunting of Annie Whipple, we watched Annie and her mother, Marge, move into their new apartment, over the restaurant where Marge would be waitressing. At nine years old, Annie is still confused and upset about her parents' break-up--especially since her father seemed to disappear into the night, without leaving a note, or any way to contact him. Now, in this new place, Annie must -- for the third time since her father left -- settle in and find new friends.
Marge came tiptoeing in at one a.m. Annie was lying on her bed in her underwear, her nightgown flung across the bottom of the bed in a heap. The day's heat had not dissipated.
“What time is it?” Annie asked.
“Oh, you’re still awake,” Marge flicked the overhead light on.
Annie blinked and forced her eyes open, to get used to the brightness faster.
“Look,” Marge poured the night’s tips onto Annie’s bed.
“Wow,” Annie couldn't help a small smile that tickled the corners of her mouth. There were a lot of single dollar bills, and a really lot of coins. She forgot her question about time and sat up to gather half the stash in a pile between her legs. Her mother sat down and gathered the rest. They always counted Marge’s tips together.
“Nine dollars!” Annie said, dropping the last coin onto her pile.
Marge was still counting. She moved her lips with each dime or quarter. “Nine-fifty,” she glowed.
“That’s eighteen dollars!” Annie screamed, then held her hand over her mouth, glancing across the room at the clock.
“And fifty cents,” Marge grinned. “I knew this new job was going to be good for us. Now you can have those Keds. And we can get curtains for the kitchen windows. Oh, Annie, you’ll see, things will be like they used to be. I just know it.”
Annie gave a nod, enthusiasm suddenly dampened. “Sure, Mom,” she said. She didn’t say she’d rather have Sam back than have new Keds.
“Mom,” she helped Marge store the money in a box in the dresser across the room, “something happened while you were downstairs.”
Marge had started undressing. She paused with her blouse unbuttoned and looked hard at Annie. “You didn’t leave the apartment, did you?”
“Well, sort of…but, not really. I mean,” Annie waved her arms about as she talked, “I only went down the front stairs…there was this noise, you see…and I heard someone running down the steps and…”
Marge’s mouth dropped open. “Annie! You know the rules…”
“But, it was just a kid, Mom. A girl, about my age. I saw her run out the front door and I ran after her, but she was gone.” She shrugged, then fell back onto her pillows.
“I don’t want you leaving the apartment when I’m working,” Marge shook her finger at Annie, removing her blouse and throwing a nightshirt over her head.
“I didn’t go anywhere,” Annie mumbled.
“It had to be a girl from the neighborhood,” Marge went into the bathroom and spoke over her shoulder, “there aren’t any other children up here. Steve told me that just tonight.”
Annie gulped. Steve. The name sent shivers down her spine. Steve Hayden-- owner of the restaurant. The person who’d lured her mother away from the diner where she used to work, to be a waitress here, at this fancy, smancy place, to earn more money.
More like to be near him, Annie thought, turning over to put her back to Marge. They probably thought she didn’t notice, but she did. They were gaga over each other. That was bad news. Because it meant Sam was really gone-- for good. And it meant accepting not only Steve into their lives, but Kimberly, his nine-year-old daughter, whose mother had died giving birth to her...gee, wasn’t that sad? Marge thought it was. Annie thought it was just fine. She didn’t have a father, and Kimberly didn’t have a mother. At least, Kimberly’s mother didn’t just disappear.
Annie gave a sigh and closed her eyes. She didn’t want to think about Steve tonight. She wanted to think about the girl in the hallway. Steve didn’t know everything. There could be another kid living here, or just visiting, maybe. After all, if it was a kid from the neighborhood, what was she doing out in the dark? And why was she sitting on the steps in their hallway?
The next morning was Saturday. Marge didn’t have to go in to work until four. She hurried Annie into shorts and a T-shirt almost before breakfast was over. Leaving their dishes to soak in the sink, they drove off to the grocery store. Marge was full of energy. Annie begged for, and received, a nickel to buy some Bazooka bubble gum. The air conditioning in the grocery store made Annie’s arms break out in goose bumps.
As she strolled through the narrow aisles behind her mother, Annie kept a sharp eye out for a faded blue shirt, which was all she could remember of the girl in the hall. Luck was against her. Everyone, including herself, was wearing red, or green, or white, absolutely no one was wearing blue!
The check-out line was short with only two other carts ahead of them. Annie continued searching the store for a blue shirt, or some other identification that would trigger recognition. While they waited, a large woman as rumpled and disheveled as an old mattress, waddled up to them.
“Hello,” she said, smiling, “I am Mrs. Gomez.” She paused to take a drag on an unfiltered cigarette. Her eyes were glued to Annie. “I think you have just move into the apartment over the restaurant? Yes?”
Marge gave her a nod, and a polite smile.
“I live there, too,” Mrs. Gomez offered. “We are neighbors.” Her eyes never left Annie’s face.
Annie stepped back, not wanting to be rude, but-- somehow-- wanting to run. Mrs. Gomez smelled like a used mop. She was looking down her nose at Annie, her face resting on three chins. One long black hair grew out of a mole on her cheek, and hard as she tried, Annie couldn’t stop looking at it.
“I think new faces are good,” Mrs. Gomez said. She took another drag on her cigarette, coughed for a moment, flicked the ashes from the cigarette into a paper cup she carried in her other hand.
“Did you know Mrs. Allen?” she turned her face to Marge.
“Mrs. Allen?” Marge gave a little shake of her head.
“She was the lady who live there before you,” Mrs. Gomez said. “She was never right after…what happened.”
Marge stopped taking groceries out of the cart. “I don’t know what you mean,” she said, watching Mrs. Gomez with interest now.
“Oh yes,” Mrs. Gomez turned her face back to Annie, “Mrs. Allen think it’s her fault, but…nobody could do nothing. The little one just trip. She was so tiny. She could not live after falling down all those steps.”
“What steps?” Marge put her arm around Annie’s shoulder, pulling her closer.
“The front steps,” Mrs. Gomez bent to look right into Annie’s eyes. “She trip and fall, and never get back up. You be careful on those steps. Ok?”
Annie didn’t answer.
“Annie doesn’t go out front,” Marge said, turning her face back to the grocery cart, dismissing Mrs. Gomez.
“That's good,” Mrs. Gomez said. She waved at them and ambled away.
Annie stared after her until she disappeared around the cereal aisle.
“You’re being silly,” Marge said as they carried the three bags of groceries into the apartment. “You spend too much time alone. Your imagination runs away with you.”
“It was her,” Annie insisted. “I just know it, Mom. I saw her, you didn’t.”
But no amount of talking could convince Marge that the girl on the steps last night was the ghost of the girl who'd tripped and died. Annie didn’t care. She knew what she’d seen. If Steve was right and there were no other kids up in these apartments, then, it must have been the ghost of the little girl who died. Annie wished she had the nerve to knock on Mrs. Gomez’s door to ask her more details about the accident; like how old the little girl was, and if it happened in the morning, or at night, and where was Mrs. Allen now?
Marge left for work at four, admonishing Annie to stay in the apartment, promising to come up during her break at seven. Annie settled herself on the sofa. She fell asleep for awhile, waking only to answer the phone. It was Marge apologizing for not stopping up at seven, during her break. Annie wiped sleep out of her eyes and looked at the clock. It was 7:30.
“It’s okay, Mom,” she said. “I’m fine. Yes, I’ll eat the sandwich you made me. Ok. Bye.”
She didn’t go to the refrigerator for the bologna sandwich waiting for her, choosing instead to retrieve her Anne of Green Gables book from the nightstand next to her bed. Settling herself on the couch, she pulled her feet up and began reading. When grainy darkness made it hard to see, she leaned over to turn on a light. As she clicked the light on, the sound of someone singing drifted into the apartment. It was coming from the parking lot. Annie closed her book and went to look out the kitchen door.
It was her! The Ghost! Annie could hardly believe her luck. There she was, skipping rope over by Marge’s jalopy.
“Teddy-bear, teddy-bear,” she sang. Her voice was gruff and off key.
Annie stood just inside the kitchen, watching through the screened door. The little girl didn’t look like a ghost. But, really, Annie had to admit she’d never seen a ghost before, so…how was she to know?
There was a good way to find out.
“Hey!” she called, bursting out the door onto the landing.
The ghost-girl kept skipping rope, as if Annie’s shout was only a whisper on the night breeze. Annie saw a stray dog sniffing the tires of a black Cadillac. She watched the dog continue around the front of the car, to emerge in-between two other cars, farther down the row. It ambled off at a trot, ears and nose tuned to some sound or smell only it could find. Turning her gaze back to the ghost-girl, gave Annie a start. She was gone!
Annie hurried down the steps and into the parking lot. The ghost-girl couldn’t have gone far. The parking lot only held about 30 cars, and it was more than half full. Beyond it was a patch of weed-filled ground, then the street with all the houses. If the girl was real, she couldn’t have gotten away so quickly. Could she?
The trees were making lacy shadows on the cars in the parking lot. The parking lot was dim and foreboding. Annie felt foolish, standing there looking for someone who didn’t exist. She took a step towards the dumpster, but changed her mind. She didn’t want any surprises. Any kind of monster at all could be hiding in there.
Stupid! she chastised herself, stomping back up the stairs to the apartment. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!