• Ah, California. The ever lasting sun beat down on the powdery sands next to the crystal blue ocean. A soft breeze swept across the beach to carry the aroma of the sea through the palm trees. The streets teemed with friends and strangers in shorts and tank tops soaking up the warmth of the sunshine that hung in the sky and reflected off the glittering waves like diamonds. But the magnificent beaches rapidly turned into nothing but a vague memory for the Granes as their travels took them far from home into the dusky rain of America’s sprinkler system: The state of Washington. Mrs. Grane had thought it would be a good idea for the family to move to Index and see different scenery instead of the every day streets of Sacramento. Grudgingly, the rest of the family had tagged along with her plan, which landed them in a small house, in a cozy neighborhood, right smack dab in the middle of the tiny town. The house was a cute one story cottage, but with an awful paint job of bright turquoise and red. The walls on the inside were cracked and chipping. If that wasn’t bad enough, it had dingy green shag carpet. The Granes had their work cut out for them, but something else was waiting. It was something none of them would have ever expected, something evil, awful, and horrific… a book of nursery rhymes.

    “Jake, don’t touch that! The paint is still wet!” Mr. Grane yelped as his eldest child was about to place his hand on the doorframe out of his bedroom. The-eleven-year old boy gave a repentant grimace, then a sheepish smile as he took his hand back and stuffed it hastily in his jeans pocket. “Sorry, Dad, I forgot.” Jake was rather tall and gangly for his age and often tripped over his feet, due to their size. His friends called them snow-shoes. He was a sweet boy who was always looking for ways to help, despite his clumsiness.

    With another firm stare, Mr. Grane shuffled into the master bedroom where his wife was hanging a mirror on the intricate, flowered wallpaper she had picked out. “Oh, Brandon, there you are!” Mrs. Grane exclaimed as she saw her husband enter the room, gazing around. “Can you tell me if this is centered or not?” They came to stand in the middle of the room, and looked on either side of the mirror. After a moment, the man gave a large grin and nodded, leaning down to peck his wife on the cheek. “Looks perfect.” Mr. Grane was a tall man with a broad mustache covering his upper lip. His hair was a dark brown color, gradually turning gray, for it ran in the family. His wife, Jenny Grane, was fragile and petite. She was quite small, standing at least a head shorter than her husband. It bothered her quite a lot, for she had to crane her neck whenever she wished to look him in the eye. It was quite a nuisance.

    The sounds of feet and giggling could be heard as a young girl skipped into the room, her face and fingers splotched in bright pink and blue paint. “Miss Penelope Wiser Grane!” Mrs. Grane gasped as the little girl stopped before her mother and father; her face draining of its childish warmth, and turning into that of shame. Penelope, also known as Penny, was their second eldest child at five years old, yet she didn’t act like it. She was much more immature and acted as if she were two. Her juvenile behavior caused her to be either overly dramatic, or giddy and tremendously happy. Sadly, she rarely exhibited any behavior in-between the two.

    As her mother snapped at her, tears gushed up in her small, brown eyes and streamed down her face. “I’m sorry Mommy!” Penny wailed and cried, stumbling to fall onto the leg of her mother, hugging it in a sloppy apology. Mrs. Grane gave an exasperated sigh, and glanced at her husband, who mimicked her sigh and kneeled down to grasp firmly under the sobbing child’s arms, lifting her up to carry her out of the room. “Let’s go get you cleaned up, Kiddo.”

    Mrs. Grane looked down at her pants, now tarnished in pink paint and salt water, while yet another figure slinked into the room. Jake entered, carrying his five month old baby sister, Annabeth. She was howling and crying, tears streaming down her young face as he gave his mom a remorseful gaze. “I think she’s hungry,” he explained, trying to raise his voice over the crying as his mother sat down on the bed at the far end of the room. “Where did you put the bottles?” “On the top shelve in the cabinet above the fridge.” Mrs. Grane said, before her son muttered “Thanks.” Jake walked from the room and soon, the crying ceased. The gentle sound of running water could be heard from the sink as Mr. Grane cleaned his daughter. Mrs. Grane took a deep breath, lay back on the bed and promptly fell asleep.

    The next morning, after quite a loud breakfast filled with spilled milk and messy pancakes, Mr. Grane and his two eldest children piled into the van. It was Jake’s first day of 6th grade, and Penny’s first day of kindergarten. The two were dressed in shorts and t-shirts, until they stepped outside and the icy winds of their new climate hit them. They quickly skittered back inside to change into something a little warmer. Finally, they were on their way. Penny was bouncing in her car seat and babbling on and on about what she was going to do first when she got to school. She planned to read, do arts and crafts and then play hopscotch on the playground. Jake, on the other hand, was far from chipper. He rested his hand on his palm, staring out with a glassy gaze as the trees and small stores fled past them. “Something wrong?” Mr. Grane asked his son as he glanced over at Jake’s hunched posture. “Oh, no, just a bit nervous,” he muttered back, before leaning his head against the cold window.

    As the week went on, the school hours passed by at a snail’s pace, especially on Friday, when it seemed extra hard to endure. The long hand of the clock ticked away as the sluggish seconds went by. The plastic hand seemed to stop more often than not on the same black number. When, at last, school was out and Mr. Grane was dismissed from his tedious job as an accountant, they all came home to greet Mrs. Grane, who had worked just as hard at home with Annabeth.

    “So, how was school?” Mrs. Grane asked after giving her husband a short kiss and settling on the couch in the living room. Jake gave an apathetic shrug as he collapsed onto the armchair beside fireplace, pressing his cheek against his hand. “Well,” Mrs. Grane muttered, taking the hint that her son didn’t wish to talk about it, before moving on to her daughter, who looked like she was about to burst with excitement, “What did Penny learn today?” With a squeal to rival that of a piglet, the little girl reached into her blinding pink backpack, and returned with a rather dense book. “My teacher, Miss. Moffat, let me borrow the book of nursery rhymes for the weekend!” She giggled as she plopped down on the cushion beside her mother, cracking open the book. “Oh, my,” Mr. Grane said, peering over the shoulder of his wife and studying the book, “the words are all marked out.”

    And they were. Every letter on every page they turned to had been scribbled over in dark black ink. The words were as indistinguishable as the pictures to illustrate them. “Aw, what a shame,” Mrs. Grane cooed as she saw her daughter’s wide eyes, staring down as she flipped through the pages. “Well, we’ll have to tell your teacher th-,” “Look!” Penny interrupted, making her parents jump and lean in, “That one’s fine!”

    Dark black words in a curvy, loopy font were printed in the middle of the page. On the bottom was an old sketch of a young girl sitting on a little stool, a large hairy spider beside her:
    “Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet
    Eating her curds and whey,
    Along came a spider,
    Who sat down beside her
    And frightened Miss Muffet away.”

    “I’ve heard that one before,” Jake suddenly piped from his chair, and the whole family looked at him, for they had forgotten all about him. “Yes, I have too. It’s one of my favorites,” Mr. Grane said before straightening up, “and, I don’t know about the rest of you, but all this talking about those curds and whey sure makes me hungry.” His wife chuckled before standing up and walking into the kitchen. “I’ll get dinner started.”

    As they ate, the happy family joked and laughed about their day, the stress totally melting from their bodies. But the cheerful atmosphere didn’t last long. “Mom, it’s for you,” Jake said, handing the phone to his mother after it rang, “They want to speak to you right away.” She gave a smile and walked into the living room, as another wave of laughter rolled across the dinner table. “Hello?” As the voice on the other end began to speak in a stern, serious voice, the smile disappeared from her lips and her face flushed a sickly pale. “Brandon,” She said in a hushed tone, her eyes staring directly at her husband’s smiling face as the family went quiet. “It’s Miss. Moffat, Penny’s teacher… She’s in the hospital.” The man’s eyes grew wide, but weren’t a match for his daughter’s. “Why? What happened?” he asked, standing from his seat as Mrs. Grane hung up the phone and turned to him… “A spider bite…”

    All was quiet the next morning as Mrs. Grane cooked breakfast. Small sobs could still be heard from Penny as she picked at her eggs. No one was very hungry today. Jack still hadn’t come to the table, and Mr. Grane was hiding behind his newspaper, pretending to be wrapped up in words printed on the grey page. Sliding from the table, Penny walked to the couch where they had been sitting the night before, and picked up the large book. She walked to her mother, who had just sat down at the table with the baby in her arms, holding a bottle to the infant’s whimpering mouth. “Oh sweetie,” She said with a sigh as her daughter held up the book to her, “I’m a bit busy, ask your Father.” Penny walked around to the other side of the table, and pulled down the newsprint, handing him the book. “If I can find one, I’ll read it to you,” he grumbled, opening the cover and skimming the pages, until he found an ink free one. The drawing was of a upturned bucket, water spilling everywhere:

    “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water
    Jack fell down and broke his crown
    And Jill came tumbling after.
    Jack got up and home did trot
    As fast as he could caper
    He went to bed and bound his head
    With vinegar and with paper.”

    When Mr. Grane had finished the small poem, he huffed and pulled his glasses off his nose, stretching. “I don’t have time for anymore at the moment, honey,” He said as his daughter begged for more, “I still have work to do on the house.” As he slid his chair back, Mrs. Grane looked up at him, “Oh, do you need anything? I’m going to the store later.” Thinking for a moment, he shrugged and pecked his wife’s for head. “I’m fine Jen.” And, kissing his five month old daughter as well, he left the room.

    Later that evening Mr. Grane was sitting on the living room floor in front of the fireplace, telling jokes to his daughter as he held the baby in his arms, rocking her back and forth. “Where’d mom and Jake go?” Penny questioned, rolling over with a pillow clutched in her arms, while scooting over to the fire. Her father gave a reassuring smile, and shrugged. “To the store. Guess they have to pick out what kind of toilet paper to buy.” Penny gave a small giggle and leaned her head on the ground, closing her eyes, relieved… but Mr. Grane wasn’t so sure. They had been out for a while. Had something happened to them? Were they okay? He asked himself these questions over and over again as he got his daughters ready for bed and turned off the lights to their rooms. He was about to reach for the phone when there came a bang and a loud thud from the living room. “Oh, you’re home!” He cried in relief while he rushed to meet them at the door. But then he stood back, aghast.

    There, standing at the door were his son and wife, barely visible because of all the thick red liquid that coated their skin. His son, with one of his arms pulled over Mrs. Grane’s shoulders, was supported by her clutching onto him. Mr. Grane just stood paralyzed for a moment and then ran to help, taking his son from his wife’s arms and laying him on the couch. “What… what…” Was all he could muster as his wife fell into the chair where Jake had been sitting just a night before. “Accident,” she gasped, leaning her head against the back of the chair, closing her eyes, “Car… Rolled… Hill…” Mr. Grane looked back to his son before him. The boy’s eyes were hazy and staring, reflective and glassy. The blood pumped out of the gash on the crown of his head as the life slowly drained from him.

    The funeral was brief, and not many people spoke. No one wished to see the body, for no one wanted to be seen crying. However, that rule didn’t apply to Penny. Her childish face was streaked, red, and puffy from the stinging tears. It was like that at the reception, and like that on the way home in their minivan. The family drove in silence, and when they arrived home they all went their separate ways; father to the bedroom, Penny to the living room, and mother to put Annabeth down for a nap. Mrs. Grane set the quivering and crying infant down in her crib, sadly stroking her forehead. After a moment, she kissed her forehead and murmured, “I’ll be right back.” When she returned, she carried the book of nursery rhymes. She gently pulled the baby onto her lap and got comfy in the rocking chair, opening the book and flitting through it. “Ah… here we are.”

    “Hush a bye baby, on the tree top,
    When the tree blows, the cradle will rock;
    When the bow breaks, the cradle will fall,
    And down will come baby, cradle and all.”

    “Right into your mother’s arms, where she will catch you, and keep you safe.” She breathes to the little girl, who was already fast asleep. Tears welled up in Mrs. Grane’s eyes as she set the baby into the crib, tucked her under a soft blanket, and flicked off the lights.

    No one could sleep that night. The wind howled and the trees were banging against the sides of the house. Rain beat down the roof, making it impossible to settle down to sleep. Mr. and Mrs. Grane lay on their backs facing the ceiling, eyes open as they laced and unlaced their fingers together.

    It was nearly three in the morning when a sudden shrill cry rang out from the baby monitor on the bedside table, making Mr. Grane sigh. “I’ll get it.” He sat up in the mattress and rubbed the darkness from his eyes. As he began to put on his slippers another sound broke through. It was huge and crashing and shook the whole house. Mrs. Grane let out a large shout of fear and jumped out of bed just as a large tree smashed through their bedroom wall. “Jen!” Mr. Grane yelled clutching her shoulders, but she wriggled from his grasp. “The baby!” They ran down what was left of the hall to their daughter’s room. The house had been ripped in two by the trunk of the enormous tree that had been knocked over from the storm. The couple could hear screaming in the rubble. “Penny! Penny!” Mrs. Grane yelled, pulling up pieces of the wall and smashed windows. After searching, they found a scratched and bruised five year old, crying covered in dust.

    They hugged her and again began searching. “Annabeth! Annabeth!” But it was no use… they wouldn’t be able to find her. The sound of the rain and wind dounded out their voices, as if they were having a screaming contest with the weather. Finally, Mrs. Grane fell to her knees, tears making paths down her face in the dirt as she pressed her eyes into the heels of her hand, biting her lip. “She… she’s gone… she’s gone.” She breathed in a dumbstruck whisper.

    It was astounding. Only a few months previously the big happy family had been finding hope in a new life with each other. Making friends and having their names chiseled forever in that small town of Index, Washington. Now, they were grieving for the loss of two members of the clan of five. Like a light switch when it’s time to go to bed. Light, replaced by the velvety blackness, without even a string of reality to grab. At the moment, all that was left of the Granes were falling into that darkness. One right after the other.

    They scouted out a budget hotel, where they would stay until they could find a more permanent place to settle down. Thanking the receptionist at the front desk, they trudged upstairs to unpack their things, which wasn’t much. Just the bare essentials, and the book of nursery rhymes, which they found in the rubble.

    They worked in silence, using touches and expressions to communicate instead of words, which was perfectly fine for the whole family. They had been quiet before, but this was something different, thoughtful. Penny got on her pajamas and nestled into the itchy, thin blanket of the lumpy and sinking mattress and her parents got on either side of her. There was only one bed, but it was plenty big for the three of them. The light was flicked off, and the darkness fell on the trio. A few words shattered the silence. “Mommy, can you read me a bed time story?”

    The light was flicked on, and they seemed relieved by it. “Sure honey.” Mrs. Grane breathed tiredly, rubbing her eyes, which had large dark circles under them. She stood, and walked to a shelf in their room, taking the thick book from it and sitting on the bed. But Mr. Grane was too wrapped up in thought to even sit up. Something was troubling him about that book. The one with the nursery rhymes. All these bad things had started happening when his daughter had brought home that book. First, the spiders bite to Miss. Moffat, then the car accident, next the tree. He shivered and sat up as he watched his wife skim pages of the book. Was something wrong with a book of simple lyrics and tales? Was it, perhaps, possessed? Was it, perhaps, evil?

    “Oh, what’s this?” His wife’s voice brought him back as she squinted at one of the partly scribbled pages. “Someone wrote something here.” Mr. Grane leaned in to look over her shoulder. “It looks like they added a sentence onto the poem…”

    One, two, buckle my shoe,
    Three, four, knock on the door.

    And that was it. The words seemed to be crossed out until, it finally came to a sentence that was scrawled clumsily a few lines down:

    Nine, ten, don’t let him in.

    With sudden understanding, Mr. Granes face turned pale. Mrs. Grane looked at him worriedly. “Dear… Is everything alright?” He swallowed and looked to the door, before standing up and rushing to it. He bolted the door, twice, before he turned back to his wife and daughter. “Something’s wrong with that book.” Mrs. Grane furrowed her eyebrows and stood up as well. “What do you mean..?” Thud, thud, thud! All eyes trailed to the door as the chain rattled. “Mo-mommy?” Penny whined and pulled the covers over her head. “Brandon,” Mrs. Grane hissed, walking to the man as grasping his hand. “Don’t open the door…don’t let him in.” Mr. Grane said, turning to face his wife, his face harsh, but eyes frightened.

    Thud, thud, thud! “Daddy? Who is at the door?” Penny asked from under the covers. Thud, thud, thud! “I don’t know sweetheart.” The knocks were getting more and more ferocious by the second. Thud, thud, thud! The sound rang in the ears of the family as they cowered by the bed, watching the door pulse with the force of the fist. Thud, thud, thud! “Daddy, make him stop!”

    He couldn’t stand it any longer. Mr. Grane turned to the bed, picked up the book, and grasped it rigidly. Thud, thud, thud! He flipped through the inked out pages and began ripping them out one by one, inhumanly. Thud, thud, thud! The awful floral pages fluttered to the ground. Thud, thud, thud! Humpty Dumpty, Little Bo Peep, Itsy Bitsy Spider, Thud, Thud, Thud! Little Boy Blue, Three Little Kittens, and now One, two, Buckle my Shoe. Thud, Thud, Thud! The family watched as the last page was torn from the book, completing the pile. At last, there was nothing left but an empty skin to symbolize what was left of the malicious book. Immediately, the banging on the hotel door ceased. All was calm… The book would hurt them no longer…

    The End.