The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
Little Miss Purple Girl
by Sheri White
After the tent fire at the Under the Big Top Circus was extinguished, after all the spectators were evacuated, after the wounded were taken to hospitals, after the bodies were laid out at the city hall, and after those bodies were claimed over several days by their families, one body remained.
A little girl, only nine or ten years old, now lay alone in the hall. Earlier, when mothers tearfully looking for their children, hoping not to find them here but in the hospital, remarked that the girl appeared to be sleeping. No flames had licked at her flesh. No soot discolored her face.
For records purposes, the coroner, Dr. Murphy, identified the girl as Little Miss Purple Girl 1565, but he called her “Purple Girl” when he talked to reporters. The name fit—she wore a dark purple dress dotted with light purple flowers. Purple lace rimmed her white anklet socks. Purple ponytail holders and purple ribbons adorned her blonde pigtails.
Dr. Murphy sent her picture to media outlets for everyone to see and hopefully someone would recognize the little girl.
Do you know this child? Please contact the Hartford County Police Department with any information you may have.
Local women would often visit the city hall to look at Purple Girl, sad nobody had claimed her.
“Her mother must be so worried!”
“Maybe her mother abandoned her. Got out of the fire and figured her little girl died in there.”
“I think the mother died in that fire.”
“That makes no sense; she would have been brought here with the others.”
Speculation and rumors grew as the days passed. The coroner checked on her every day, in between performing autopsies on the other victims.
Why isn’t she decomposing? he wondered. There isn’t even an odor of decay around her.
People from out-of-state began to visit Purple Girl in the guise of looking for their missing child. They brought flowers, all of them a shade of purple. Soon violets, lilacs, petunias, hollyhocks, and lavender covered the girl, so many they fell to the floor around her.
Five days after the deadly fire, the coroner met with the town officials. Dr. Murphy directed his comments to Andrew Glass, who served as mayor.
“It’s obvious that nobody is going to claim this girl,” he said. “I think it’s time to let her go.”
“What do you mean,” Andrew asked.
“He means we need to bury her. She’s going to start rotting soon, right? We can’t have that.”
Andrew glared at the man who spoke. “Jeff, there’s no reason to be so crude and disrespectful.” Jeff served as city clerk when necessary, city asshole the rest of the time.
“He’s right, though,” said Dr. Murphy. “Even though we’ve been keeping the room as cold as we can, we should at least see mottled skin at this point. I have no idea why the process hasn’t begun, but it will. We also need to close the hall to visitors. If someone were to claim her, it would have happened by now.”
They announced a funeral the next day and prepared for a massive crowd at the cemetery.
“I’m going to stay with the girl tonight,” Dr. Murphy said. “Since everyone will know soon this is her last night, I want to protect her from freaks who might want to break in and see her or even try to steal her body.”
Dr. Murphy sat at a desk he had moved into the room for the night, catching up on paperwork from the week’s disaster. The only light in the room was from a small lamp on the desk, casting shadows on the walls and ceiling. Something moving caught his eye across the room. He hoped nobody was trying to get in and cause trouble. He stood up and looked around, but he was alone in the room.
Before Dr. Murphy could sit back down, he heard an odd sound. A buzzing fly? No, the sound was too soft for that. He stood perfectly still and silent, hoping to identify the sound. He felt a chill run down his spine when he realized what he was hearing.
“Whoever is in here, you should not be here! Show some respect.”
Nobody responded. The whispering continued.
Dr. Murphy walked around the room, even though he knew nobody could hide in the mostly bare area. As he got closer to Purple Girl, the whispering grew louder. He began to feel heavy, his legs Jell-O by the time he got to her side.
Purple Girl’s lips moved quickly, as if she were praying. Although Dr. Murphy could hear her, he couldn’t understand what she was saying. He backed away slowly.
Yeah, fuck this, he thought.
The dead girl’s eyes snapped open. They had no color, only white. She turned her head, neck bones cracking, and stared into the doctor’s eyes.
Her lips still moved, but he heard the command in his head.
“No,” he whispered. He tried to turn around and walk away, but his feet wouldn’t move.
“No.” This time he kept his voice firm. He still couldn’t move, and now Purple Girl’s lips stopped moving. She chuckled, a low, threatening animalistic sound. Then she stretched her mouth into an impossibly wide and sinister smile.
Against his will, he moved right to her side.
Dr. Murphy bent down so his head was close to hers.
Her lips moved once again. Whispering, whispering.
At 6:00am, just after the sun rose, Mayor Glass arrived.
“Are you ready, Dr. Murphy?” asked the mayor. He checked his watch, then looked up. “Oh my god!”
A police officer who had accompanied him to the building rushed in. “Mr. Mayor, are you all right?” Mayor Glass didn’t answer, he just stood with his hand over his mouth and his eyes wide. Officer Gleason looked in the same direction and gasped.
Dr. Murphy sat beside the cot, legs stretched in front of him, arms limp by his sides, surrounded and covered by purple flowers. His hair, now stark white, stood almost on end. A purple rose adorned each eye socket. His eyes lay in his open palms. His mouth was frozen in a silent scream of terror.
“Jesus,” said Officer Gleason.
“I don’t think Jesus had anything to do with this,” answered Mayor Glass in a shaky voice.
Purple Girl was gone. Only the impression of her body on the cot showed she had ever been there.
Fiction © Copyright Sheri White
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from Author Sheri White:
Don’t Turn Out the Lights: A Tribute to Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Featuring stories from R.L. Stine and Madeleine Roux, this middle grade horror anthology, curated by New York Times bestselling author and master of macabre Jonathan Maberry, is a chilling tribute to Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
Flesh-hungry ogres? Brains full of spiders? Haunted houses you can’t escape? This collection of 35 terrifying stories from the Horror Writers Association has it all, including ghastly illustrations from Iris Compiet that will absolutely chill readers to the bone.
So turn off your lamps, click on your flashlights, and prepare—if you dare—to be utterly spooked!
The complete list of writers: Linda D. Addison, Courtney Alameda, Jonathan Auxier, Gary A. Braunbeck, Z Brewer, Aric Cushing, John Dixon, Tananarive Due, Jamie Ford, Kami Garcia, Christopher Golden, Tonya Hurley, Catherine Jordan, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Alethea Kontis, N.R. Lambert, Laurent Linn, Amy Lukavics, Barry Lyga, D.J. MacHale, Josh Malerman, James A. Moore, Michael Northrop, Micol Ostow, Joanna Parypinksi, Brendan Reichs, Madeleine Roux, R.L. Stine, Margaret Stohl, Gaby Triana, Luis Alberto Urrea, Rosario Urrea, Kim Ventrella, Sheri White, T.J. Wooldridge, Brenna Yovanoff