When I was young, my parents warned me of strangers that wanted nothing more than to kidnap me, toss me into a dungeon of some sort and do strange and bad things to me and my person. I’m sure your parents told you the same things: Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t take candy from strangers. Don’t get into any strange vehicles. By the age of 10, I was a bit paranoid and suspicious of any person I hadn’t previously met.
Yet, things were pretty free for me and my friends. We went everywhere and did everything and had fun. We were the last generation of kids that found their fun outdoors.
The neighborhood was our own playground, and we used every bit of it for our adventures—every bit but the odd woman’s yard.
The old men whispered about her when she walked by, but they’d always shush themselves when they noticed us listening. They knew things, or at least they thought they did.
I’d become a bit obsessed with finding out what they knew.
She looked good for her age, which seemed to be somewhere in the mid 80’s. She was always nice. Her speech was gentle. She never raised her voice. She was always dressed the same: blue sweater, pink skirt and those strange green and white striped leggings.
Once, when she was at the corner store, I listened as she spoke with Mister Barrister about chocolate. You could still hear the hint of a slight accent in her voice. I thought it sounded European. Austrian, maybe? I didn’t know—I was just a kid then.
The story my friends and I constructed went a little like this: After the war, she escaped Germany with several secret files and documents.
She settled here in America and blended in. Eventually, she found herself a husband and had a few kids. Her cover was complete. But one day, her husband discovered the truth while looking through her things.
Furious with him for knowing her secrets, she hit him over the head with a frying pan and locked him in the basement.
She fed him and kept him alive, but she also tortured him continuously and made him the subject of her ongoing experiments.
Eventually, we all got older, and our attention shifted from the odd old lady to girls our own age.
We’d all but forgotten about the woman until she turned up on the news one day.
The truth is, she was married to a drywall installer. They lived a long and happy life until he died from lung cancer at 64 years old.
That accent that we heard was really just a regional affectation from Duluth.
She had never had any children, which is why it eventually registered to someone that it was odd that she was often seen purchasing diapers and baby food.
Of course, it’s not against the law to buy these things. People didn’t pay any attention. They all just chalked it up to the eccentricities of a crazy old lady.
But one day, a jogger happened to hear what he thought was singing coming from the basement. It sounded like children.
He thought nothing of it, and off-handedly mentioned it to his wife.
Ever the busy girl, she mentioned it at the hairdresser.
Soon, the entire community was buzzing about the weird old lady that had the strange voices in her basement.
She didn’t resist or fuss much when the police arrived and asked if they could look around. There had been complaints of strange noises, they told her.
When they asked her why there was a door marked nursery, and why that door was padlocked, she was gracious when giving them the key.
They say the smell was terrible. The children, even though they seemed happy enough, were odd and deformed.
As Children’s Services arrived and took them away, they cried and yelled for their nanny. One child in particular was incredibly distraught.
She shook her head at him, blew him a kiss, and said in her soothing, kind voice, “It’ll be okay, Kermit. It’ll be okay.”
J’Mel Davidson is a Birmingham Weekly contributing writer. Send your comments to email@example.com.