Alexia Jacoby graduated from Franklin and Marshall College in 2017 with a degree in English and a concentration in creative writing. She has been writing short stories ever since she was little and is currently working on a novel. She lives with her partner in New York City.


by Alexia Jacoby


The seven-year-old girl presses her nose to the cool car window. She exhales, and her hot breath clouds the glass for only a second. She draws a small cross through the condensation. The colors of the autumn trees fly by the car. Red, orange, and yellow blur together. The car slows as they drive up a quiet dirt road. The girl’s younger brother yawns next to her in the back seat.        

The children’s mother unbuckles them and goes to unpack their suitcases from the trunk. She pushes her hair out of her eyes with thin fingers. She’s twenty-three years old. Their father stumbles out of the passenger side. A McDonald’s wrapper and mini Jack Daniels bottle fall to the ground as the man peels himself from the passenger seat. With a groan, he walks a few steps away to relieve himself. The children’s mother shoots her husband a nasty look.

“Can’t you wait till we get in the house?” She receives a grumble and a hand wave in return. She turns to her daughter.

“What do you think, Tracy?” The mother motions to the house. The young girl shrugs and looks up at their new home. It’s much bigger than anywhere else they’ve ever stayed. She wonders how long they’ll live at this house and why they left their old apartment so abruptly.

“There’s nothing out here, Sandra,” the children’s father complains as he looks out at the property. The house stands alone in an empty field with only one long dirt road leading back to the small town miles away. The white paint falls off the walls and from the two massive pillars in the front of the house—flecks of the paint litter the ground. One of the window shades is missing, and the plants next to the house are dead. Even though it’s an unseasonably warm day in October, Tracy shivers.

“Look how big this place is!” Sandra says. “I’m surprised we can even afford this.” She starts moving the few belongings they have into the house.

“Where did Mark go?” Tracy asks as she looks around for her younger brother. She had just seen him a second ago. Her mother struggles to carry a heavy bag while her father lights a cigarette on the front porch.

“He probably ran round back,” her father replies.

“Go look for him, Trac. He’s probably exploring the new house,” her mother adds as she takes a break from carrying a suitcase and gives her husband a resentful glance. She debates on whether to start an argument so early in the day.

Tracy, sensing a fight might be near, walks around the house to find her brother. As she walks, she notices the grass. The grass here is not green, like at the other places they’ve lived. This grass is brown and brittle. Lifeless. It crunches beneath her tiny feet. She thinks that this is not the type of grass she wants to lay in.

“Mark!” she calls. No response. She hears nothing, not even birds in the distance.

She walks towards the swing set near the end of the backyard. This swing, she notices, has no companion. She thought all swings came in twos, but this one stands alone. The swing sways slightly despite there being no breeze. 

Again, Tracy shivers. She slowly makes her way to the swing, mesmerized by the back and forth movements. The motions grow more exaggerated as she glides closer. Her heart starts to race. An overwhelming sense of dread fills her body, and a voice in her head tells her not to go any closer. Yet, she can’t stop her feet from moving over the dead grass.

In the distance, she hears a faint high, pitched girlish laugh. She reaches out her hand. She’s close now; any closer, and the swing will knock her over...

“Boo!” A voice near her right shoulder makes her jump out of her trance. Mark is laughing at her.

“Ha! You should’ve seen your face,” Mark snickers. Still startled, Tracy lowers her hand and takes a step back from the now motionless swing.

“Where were you? I was looking for you.”

“I found a friend,” Mark grins and signals for her to follow. He crouches down into the bushes and pulls out a mangy black cat. Tracy wrinkles her nose. The cat is missing patches of fur and smells like decay.

“I don’t think you should touch that thing. What if it has fleas or something?”

Mark shrugs.

Their mother appears in the backyard, sweat glistening above her lip. She puts a slender arm to her forehead and pushes her bangs away from her face.

“Mommy, tell Mark to put that cat back.” The cat looks at Tracy with its green slit eyes. Her stomach churns.

Mark wails and runs up to his mother, cat in hand. “Mommy, please, please, can we keep it?” He holds the cat up to her. Their mother looks at the cat then at Mark.

“Why don’t we give him some food and water outside and see if he likes us? He might have another family. If in a couple of days he’s still hanging around, we can keep him.”

Judging by its state, Tracy doubts this cat belongs to anyone else. Mark contemplates his mother’s words. After a minute of thinking hard, he nods in agreement.

“Mr. Cat, stay right here. I’ll be back!” He runs into the house to grab water since they had yet to buy groceries. All they have are fast food remains in their car.


Over the next couple of days, Mark spends all his time caring for the cat. Tracy finds her brother’s attachment to the cat unsettling. Their father also dislikes the creature and says for the second time that day that he’s not spending any money on that “damn cat.” On the fourth day, Mark brings the cat into the house.

“Mommy, I don’t want that thing living with us,” Tracy tells her mother with a pout.

“Sweetie, don’t worry about it. The cat makes your brother happy.”

“His name is Shadow!” Mark yells from the other room.

Sandra smiles, pleased that her son has found something to entertain himself. She hopes this move will be their last. Then, remembering her mother’s warning that she’ll never land on her feet, the smile fades from her face.


Tracy lies awake that night. She can hear the cat purring a few feet over on her brother’s bed. She sits up to look at Mark and sees two green slits staring back at her. She immediately closes her eyes and pulls the covers over her head.

The following morning, Tracy wakes to see her brother’s empty bed. Probably already playing with it, she thinks bitterly to herself. She walks down the creaky steps and finds her mother and father arguing in the kitchen in hushed voices.

“Mommy, I’m hungry.” She softly tugs on her mother’s shirt.

Sandra gives her husband an exasperated look before looking down at her daughter. Tracy jumps as her mother gasps and grabs her arm. Crouching down to her daughter’s level, she holds her arm in her hands as she examines her daughter’s small body.

“Tracy, what happened?” Tracy looks down at her arms to see them covered in thin scratches. She rips away from her mother’s grasp and hides both arms behind her back. Fear creeps into the young girl’s chest, and she begins to cry.

“The cat,” she wails. Her mother looks concerned. Mark comes in, holding the cat in his hands. Tracy sobs harder.

“What’s going on?” Mark asks. The young girl lifts a shaky finger and points at the black cat in his hands.

“Did the cat scratch your sister?” Sandra demands. 

“Shadow would never do that,” Mark protests. “He was sleeping on my bed the whole night!”

“Look at your sister’s arms! How did this happen?”

“I dunno, maybe she did that.”

Sandra shakes her head. “The cat sleeps outside tonight.”

Mark starts to protest, but their father cuts in and raises his voice.

“Listen to your mother,” he warns.


That night, Tracy has a hard time falling asleep. Her mother stays with her, stroking her hair until she finally drifts off. Sandra assures her daughter that the cat is outside and that it’s not coming in.

Tracy dreams the cat is clawing at the window, peering in at her with its green slit eyes. She tries to push the cat off the ledge, but it won’t budge and slinks into her room. Its claws are out, and it tries to scratch her eyes this time. She yells to Mark for help, but he just laughs and points.

Tracy wakes with a start to the morning sunlight streaming through her window. She rubs her eyes. As she drops her hands from her face, she sees the faintest trace of blood on her fingers. Her heart starts to race as she jumps out of bed and runs to the bathroom. She looks in the mirror, heart-pounding, and screams.


Her mother runs to the bathroom and, upon seeing her daughter puts a hand over her mouth to stifle a gasp. Like her arms, the day before, her daughter’s face is now covered in tiny scratches.

Tracy looks at her mother’s horrified face. She wants to say something to demand her mother make this better but can’t get the words out. She stares at her reflection, eyes wide. Her innocent, childlike features are gone, now altered into something sinister.

“Mark!” Sandra yells. “Get up here right now!”

Mark runs up the stairs, breathless by the time he reaches the top. His eyes widen when he sees his sister.

Sandra tries to keep her voice steady.  “Did you let Shadow in last night?”

“No! I swear!”

“Do not lie to me, young man. I will get your father involved.”

“I swear! I didn’t! He was outside all night.”

“How do you explain your sister’s face then?”  

“I know Shadow didn’t do that! She must have done it.”

“Tracy would not do this to herself, Mark! How dare you accuse your sister of something like that.”

Tracy, still staring at herself in the mirror, her tears now silently streaming down her cheeks, stinging when they pass her cuts, turns to look at her brother in disbelief. 

“Not Tracy,” Mark continues in a shaky voice. “Violet.”

“Who the hell is Violet?” Sandra demands.

Mark shuffles his feet and looks at the floor. “Violet said she’d stop hurting her,” he says in a small voice.

“What are you talking about?” Sandra demands, in disbelief that her son would go to such great lengths to get himself out of trouble.

“It’s not my fault!” Mark wails. “She told me she’d stop scratching Tracy if I took care of Shadow!”

The fear Tracy felt when she walked towards the swing on that first day is back. The high, pitched girlish laugh fills her head as if the owner of the laughter is standing right next to her. She wants to run, but her feet are glued to the floor, her eyes on Mark.

Sandra crouches in front of her distraught son and tries to look into his eyes. She tries to say in a soothing voice, “Who is hurting your sister?”
Mark screams and runs down the stairs slamming the door behind him.

“Mark!” Sandra calls as she runs after her son.

After coaxing Mark to return to the house, he refuses to speak to anyone. Sandra gives up trying to get him to talk and instead focuses on tending to her daughter’s wounds.

That night, Sandra makes sure her husband removes the cat outside and double-checks that all the doors and windows are locked. She leaves her bedroom door ajar and keeps the door to her children’s room open. She stays up late into the night, listening.

At one point, she thinks she hears her son talking to someone, but when she looks into the room, she sees both her children sound asleep. At around three in the morning, she drifts off to sleep next to her snoring husband.

Sandra wakes early, groggy from the night before. Her husband is still breathing softly next to her, oblivious to the world’s problems.

She walks down the hall to her children’s bedroom. Poking her head in, she sees both her children sleeping peacefully. Breathing a sigh of relief, she walks down the stairs to make coffee and grab the paper from outside. Stepping out onto the front porch, Sandra shivers in the cool late October air and wraps her pink sweater tighter around her lean body.

She feels something soft, crunching beneath her toes. Looking down, she inhales sharply. The cat lies lifeless at her feet. Its neck at an unnatural angle, like it fell from a great height. Its green eyes still wide open, looking at her in surprise.    


The next day Sandra makes plans to move her family away from the house. She calls the landlord.

“I was wondering when I’d hear from you, Mrs. Portney,” he tells a shaky Sandra. “Let me guess; you want to break the lease?”

“Um, yes…That’s why I’m calling.”

Hearing the confusion in her voice, the landlord continues. “We can’t get anyone to live in that house for more than two months. Something about strange things happening.”

“Yes, there have been some unexplained things,” she offers, unsure if she should go on.

“Since you want to leave, I guess it doesn’t matter, at this point, if I tell you the truth. There are stories about that house. The owners say it’s haunted by a young girl who died there back in the 1950s. I keep telling them they ought to tear that place down. But they say they don’t want to disturb her spirit.” He lets out a throaty laugh.

Sandra clutches the phone to her ear. She does not find this funny. “Young girl?” she asks after a while.

“Huh? Oh yeah, stories say Viola was her name, or was it Violet, maybe? Anyway, I’ll be down there tomorrow, and we can fill out the paperwork.” Sandra hangs up the phone.


As the family drives away, far away from the house, Mark asks again where Shadow went. As always, Sandra tells her son that she’s not sure and that he might have gone back to his real family.

“But I’m his real family,” Mark pouts.

Tracy looks out the window then back at the house as it gets smaller the further they drive. She turns to her brother. “Maybe he fell and hurt himself,” she offers. Sandra glances at her daughter in the rearview mirror. 

“No,” Mark shakes his head. “Cats always land on their feet.”

Tracy shrugs. She knows this cat didn’t.