By Trisha R. McKee
Justice for an old friend
Crystal was forty, and those nightmares…those
bloodcurdling, breath-stealing nightmares were still as vivid as when she’d had
them thirty-two years ago. Her skin grew cold and tight, the hair on her arms
and neck stood on end, and the sense that someone, that she was right
behind her, staring, pleading…dying.
This was the reason she did not visit home, the
reason her relationship with her mother was strained. Something more than survivor’s
guilt nagged at her, pulled her into the circle of that year of age eight when
innocence and all things kid-related came to a halt.
She gripped the phone. Her words being forced out
through clenched teeth, Crystal growled, “Mom! Don’t bring that up!”
“Wait! Crystal, don’t hang up!”
It was too late to stop the rush of memories. The
fresh, bright mornings early in a decade before the interruptions of
electronics, before kids were consumed by phones and computers. A time when
being a kid meant being outside on summer. Memories of a small town where
neighbors were friends, and trust was a given. Memories of best friends, of a
girl with brown curls and long lashes and a laugh that rang out through the
friendly streets all summer long.
Kimberly had lived down the road, and they had always
been friends. Riding bikes and swimming in the creek, the days were endless,
and the summer was their playground.
different, as they say. Doors were unlocked, kids unsupervised, and curfews ignored.
It was on one of those unsupervised evenings, when the first of the street
lights had turned on, that Crystal had left Kimberly. They had a fight about
it. Kimberly wanted to finish their game of hopscotch, and Crystal wanted to go
home and eat. It was getting too dark to see the chalk lines, and she was too
tired to jump. She left her best friend in the street alone, as Crystal yelled
that she would never forgive her, that she was stupid and couldn’t jump right
An hour later, Kimberly’s mother was knocking
frantically on the front door. It hazy after all these years, but Crystal still
remembered the frenzied questions, the grabbing and pulling, the insistence
that she think hard…the tears. She remembered policemen, large and looming,
throwing more questions at her, studying her, dismissing her.
Kimberly had never made it home. The hopscotch
outline was still there, the chalk resting in the middle of the game, and
Crystal had found that odd. Kimberly would have taken the chalk home or, at the
very least, set it aside, not dropped it in the middle of the outline,
disrupting the picture she had taken such care to draw.
Crystal remembered that outline had remained for a
week until rain washed it away.
The nightmares started a few weeks after Kimberly had gone
missing. The dreams were, of course, distorted and broken just as any memory
after years of trying to forget.
She woke up to knocking at her bedroom window. Her heart
pounded as she saw her best friend with an expression of panicked despair, her
hair tangled and dirty and her face gaunt and shadowed. In sharp, chilling
contrast, she was wearing a bright red, polka dot dress.
Kimberly reached in through the window Crystal had opened,
her hand cold and weak, her nails jagged, with dirt underneath. The corners of
her mouth quivered upward in an attempt at a smile. “Crystal, come on! Let’s
“Go where?” She wanted to pull her arm away and shut the
window, but she was frozen, her mouth dry and heart pounding.
“Home. I’m home now. Come home with me, and we’ll have a
“O-okay. But I have to tell my mom.”
“No! Let’s just go. It’ll be fun sneaking out. And, in the
morning, we’ll call your mom. She’ll be so happy that I’m back, she won’t care
about you leaving.”
She remembered shaking her head, yanking her arm away and
screaming. Because this was her best friend, but the smile was off, the eyes
glassy. She remembered falling into a terrified darkness, waking as her mom and
dad assured her it was just a nightmare. It was all okay. She was fine. But she
knew she was not fine. Kimberly was still missing.
The nightmares continued for the next couple of months,
several dreams of the same chilling pretense. Kimberly pleading, a shell of her
former living self—hollow stare, desperate tone, quivering lips. Each time,
that red dress was dingier, rattier, as if she had been wearing it for days,
for weeks. During some nightmares, when Crystal refused to climb out the
window, Kimberly would cry and accuse Crystal of leaving her there alone, deserting
One nightmare stood out to Crystal. She had looked past her
friend into the shadows and seen him—the man standing partly behind a tree,
waiting—Mr. Douglas, the retired music teacher. And she had screamed herself
awake again, her mother assuring her, soothing her, convincing her that she had
always been scared of Mr. Douglas, so it was only natural to place him in her
There had been no more of the vivid nightmares after that,
only the run-of-the-mill scary dreams every once in a while. And her
pediatrician had promised her parents that it was only natural. She had, after
all, been the last one to see her best friend. She had narrowly escaped
whatever horrible thing had happened to Kimberly: survivor’s guilt.
“You know the nightmares aren’t real, Crystal,” her mother
insisted when Crystal had asked to once again sleep in her parents’ room.
“Kimberly hated wearing dresses. She would never wear one. That’s how you know
it isn’t real, just a dream.”
Even the refuge of her parents’ bedroom had not stopped the
terror. She was positive she had heard the knocking on her bedroom window all
the way down the hall, had screamed and begged her parents to go see, to
discover she was not lying. But they calmed her before humoring her, and by the
time they traipsed down the hall, flicking on lights as they went, no one was
The entire experience had shaped Crystal into the silent, despondent
woman she was today. She moved away from the small town as soon as she finished
high school and rarely went back to visit. She resided in a busy city and kept
to herself. She worked hard, putting her energies into her job as a regional
manager of a hotel chain. She had one failed marriage behind her, ending after
her husband accused her of never getting close, never letting him break through
that wall of ice erected around her.
Friendships were shallow, never lasting longer than the
time it took to really know someone. She had many acquaintances, people to go
out with for a drink after the workday or to suffer through small talk, but no
one close. No one that could go missing and then haunt her. No one she could
And now, with her mother sobbing on the phone, Crystal
wondered what had snapped. After all these years, what had resurfaced? She
remembered her mother crying all those years ago, realizing her daughter could
just as easily been the one to go missing. She cried for the loss of a little
girl and of her daughter’s innocence. The time of playing after dark and
trusting neighbors had passed and now there were locked doors and cautious
greetings. And mothers cried…and feared.
“Mom. What is it?”
“They found her, Crystal! They found Kimberly’s body.”
The air left her in one painful whoosh, as if Kimberly’s
ghost had kicked her right in the gut, as if all those years came back in one
sudden punch. Found…after all this time? She
had assumed it would never be solved. She had just figured that after all this
time, there was somehow nothing to find. And then she realized her mother could
barely get any words out, her sobs were so loud. “Mom, I can’t understand you.
“Oh my God, Crystal!” she screamed into the phone, and that
was when Crystal straightened, her body convulsing in sharp shivers as if she
knew, as if she figured out the ending before her mother’s next words even cut
through the line. “The old teacher, Douglas, he died. He died, and they
found…her remains on his property. Crystal, she was wearing a red dress.”
Trisha Ridinger McKee, firstname.lastname@example.org, of Roaring Springs, Pennsylvania, wrote BP #88’s “Red Dress.”
She resides in a small town in Pennsylvania with her patient husband,
exasperated daughter, and hyper bulldogs. In her spare time, she loves to read,
go fishing, hiking, and become addicted to more hobbies. She may or may not be
inspired by living next to a cemetery, and she may or may not have traumatized
her daughter with some intense bedtime stories...