“Yes” answered Mary Shaw, her mother, “but be very careful. We have only been here for a few days. I don’t want you to disappear somewhere and we have to come and search. Where do you want to go?”
“I thought I would take Lady Sprinkle and show her the barn at the back of the house.”
Lady Sprinkle was Jennifer’s favourite doll and where Jennifer went, Lady Sprinkle went as well.
“I am not too sure about that” was the answer “that barn is huge and very old. I don’t want you climbing around and causing an accident.”
“Oh, please mummy, you know where I am and there is nothing dangerous there.”
“OK, Jenny, but stay away from that well in the corner. It has been covered up and I don’t want you touching anything there or falling in.”
“No problem” and Jenny made her way over to the old barn. At last she could do some exploring on her own and might even find someone to play with.
The barn was big, enormous to such a little girl like Jennifer. Although the roof had some broken rafters, it was in solid condition. The straw had been removed a long while ago from the floor and it was just a plain earth surface. Jenny entered the barn and had a look around.
“Look, Lady Sprinkle, let’s go exploring.” Suddenly Jenny saw something move in the corner and looked in that direction. There stood a little girl about Jenny’s age. She had lovely black curly hair tied back and a long white dressed trimmed with lace.
“Who are you” asked Jenny
“I am Mildred” was the answer “Do you live in the house behind the barn?
“Yes, we moved in a week ago. Where do you live?” asked Jenny.
“I live near to here” was the answer and then Jenny saw she also had a doll in her hand, but much older looking that Lady Sprinkle.
“You have a lovely doll, but she looks so fragile and her head is not made of plastic like mine.”
“My mummy never got me plastic things, the shop didn’t sell anything like that. The head is made of porcelain.”
“You mean like the cups and saucers and dinner plates” asked Jenny
The other girl laughed, “Well, sort of” was the answer.
Jenny found that Mildred was Ok, although she had a sort of funny hollow laugh, but she supposed that was the way children were in this area. She had moved away from the town, New York, as her parents decided it would be much healthier for her to grow up in the country.
“What’s that? Jenny asked Mildred pointing to the old well in the corner “and why is it covered up?”
That’s an old well where my mother used to get our water for washing and cooking. It got covered up a long while ago and it is not used any more” was the answer “but I know how to uncover it.”
Jenny was a bit worried thinking of her mother’s words. “My mummy said I shouldn’t play near the well or go near to it, it could be dangerous and I might fall in.”
“You don’t have to be frightened” said Mildred.
“Jenny, Jenny where are you?” it was her mother coming to search for her. “Who are you talking to in the barn? Is someone with you?”
“It’s my new friend Mildred”<
Jenny’s mother was now in the barn. “I can’t see anyone with you”
“But she was here talking to me about the old well. Her name is Mildred and she has a doll like mine but with a head made of china, like the cups and saucers and we were playing together.”
Mary Shaw decided her little girl had now found one of those imaginative friends that children sometimes adopt, especially when they were on their own like Jenny was. Mary Shaw had two children, but the oldest girl Pat was at school during the day. There was a big age difference between the two girls. Pat was already sixteen years old. It was a surprise for both Mary and her husband Alex when they knew that they were going to be parents again after so many years, but Alex had a good job with an oil company and they were both proud of their little girl, although she could be a handful at times.
“It’s time for the evening meal now Jenny. So you can say goodbye to your new friend and come over to the house.”
“Yes mummy” although Jenny thought “silly mummy, my new friend has already gone home”.
The family were all assembled around the table.
“How was school” Alex asked Pat.
“Oh it was fine dad, everyone is very nice and guess what I have been invited by one of my friends to go to the movies on Friday with him.”
“With him?” Alex looked at his daughter. “Who is he, where does he live and what do his parents do for a living?”
“You can’t be serious dad” Pat said. “I can only answer half those questions. His name is Pete and he lives in the town and I have not got a clue what his parents do or who they are. All I know is that Pete has asked me out to the movies and I said yes.”
“Well, just a minute Pat... “ and mother Shaw intervened. “Alex just leave her. We only have one little girl now, Pat belongs to the teenagers and we know how we were at that age.”
“I suppose you are right” Alex answered “but Pat be careful and be back home latest at eleven in the evening.”
“Dad all my friends can stay out until midnight on Friday.”
Alex reflected quickly on his own teenager years and decided that midnight would be ok “but on the dot of midnight and not later” was the answer.
Jenny found this conversation a bit boring so decided to join in.
“Daddy I found a new friend today”
“Well my girls seem to be finding their way around. Where Jenny?”
It was over in the old barn. Her name is Mildred and she was playing with her doll as well.”
“Where does she live?” Alex asked
Jenny’s mother joined in. “You know, Alex, one of those friends that little girls have when they are smaller. I just heard Jenny talking to her and when I entered the barn there was no-one there.” And Mary Shaw gave a discrete wink in her husband’s direction. Alex realised what was meant and decided not to pursue the matter any further.
The next day Jenny went over to the barn again. She hoped to find Mildred and after a while she saw her again in a corner. It seemed strange to Jenny that she didn’t see her arrive, but she was so pleased to have someone to talk to that she decided not to ask any questions.
“Shall we play with our dolls” Jenny asked.
“Of course” said Mildred and they put the dolls side by side on the ground. It was then that Jenny noticed something.
“Did you wash your doll, her clothes are damp.”
“No, they are always like that. Did you want to see the well?” Mildred asked.
“My mummy told me to stay away from the well. What is under the cover.? She asked
“Come and have a look” and before Jenny could say anything Mildred had slid the cover off and the well was open.
Jenny had a careful look down the well, but it seemed to her to be an eternal depth. She picked up a stone and threw it in and counted, 1, 2 3 and then heard a splash.
“It’s very deep isn’t it” she said to Mildred.
“If you stand on the edge you can look down and see the water. Look, like I do.” And Mildred climbed up the side of the well, which was not very high and stood perched on the side.
Jenny decided to do the same when suddenly a loud voice could be heard, almost a scream.
“Jenny just what do you think you are doing” it was her mother who carefully approached the well and saw what Jenny was doing.
“Come down at once”
“But mummy I was only looking to see how deep it was. Mildred said it was OK.”
“I don’t care what Mildred said, and where is she?”
“I am behind you” a strange voice was heard and when Jenny’s mother looked she saw a figure standing there, but not of a nice little girl dressed in a white dress trimmed with lace. More a small figure covered in green slime with a very dirty looking doll in its hands.
“That’s Mildred” said Jenny. “She is my friend.”
“No Jenny that is not a friend.” And Mary Shaw wanted to say more but then realised that there was nothing there. No horrid creature at all, just her own little girl who was now standing on the ground next to the well, thank goodness.
“Must have been a figment of my imagination” she thought.
“Mummy you have frightened Mildred away, she has gone again.”
“Jenny, we will now go back to the house and you will not play in this barn again. Is that clear?”
“But Mummy she is the only friend I have here. She was just showing me how deep the well was.”
“I don’t care Jenny, you heard what I said”.
Jenny was angry with her mother, but knew that she must obey. That evening there was not such a good atmosphere around the table. Mary told Alex what she had seen but he answered it must have been the light playing on the floor as it was reflected through the roof of the barn and that was an end to the conversation.
That evening Pat was out with her new boyfriend at the movies and so Jenny was alone at home with her mother and father. She went to bed but could not sleep. At last she had a friend and her mother had forbidden it. Jenny was drifting off to sleep when she heard something rattle on her window pane. She looked out and saw Mildred standing below.
“Come and play” she said. “I feel so alone here.” And she was making signs to Jenny that she should follow.
Jenny opened the window.
“It's late, I am not allowed to go out.”
“Just for a few minutes. I must show you something.”
So Jenny being the normal non-obedient person that six year olds are, climbed out of the window down to Mildred and followed her to the barn. The well was open and a bright light was shining out of it.
“Just follow me” Mildred said and Jenny did, although she felt so strange as if she was being guided by a force.
Mildred stood on the edge of the well and so did Jenny
At this moment it was midnight and Pat arrived home from her movie date. She saw the light in the barn and called her mother to come and have a look. Pat and Mary went into the barn and saw Jenny just getting ready to jump into the well. Mary dashed like lightening and caught Jenny’s hand just as she jumped and pulled to bring her back again. She saw that Jenny was being pulled down by another green slimy hand, that of the apparition she had seen on that day.
“No, No, No” said Mary and pulled as hard as she could “you are not taking my little girl into that watery grave.”
There was a ghostly laugh from the depth
“I don’t want your little girl, I want my mother again” and suddenly Jenny was catapulted out of the well landing on the ground and Mary felt herself being drawn downwards, until her eldest daughter Pat had caught her by her foot and pulled with all her might.
“Leave my mother alone” you phantom“ and suddenly Pat felt a strong arm around her waist. Alex had heard the noise and gripped Pat with all his strength..
“Leave my family alone” he shouted.
The ghostly apparition suddenly dwindled into the darkness and Alex, Pat and Mary lay on a heap on the ground.
“Is everyone ok?”
“Apart from having dirty hands and feet, yes” answered Mary. Jenny just sat there shivering and Pat put her arms around her. They all went back to the house.
No-one really spoke of what happened that evening on the next day, but Alex nailed the cover back on the well and put some heavy iron objects on top to make sure it stayed sealed. Later that day Alex and Mary paid a visit to the estate agents from who they bought the house and asked to see into the records of the previous owners. They found that the house had been empty for at least one hundred years before it had been renovated and brought up to modern standards. The barn was cleaned up, but left in its original form, hoping that someone who bought the place would perhaps bring it up to date or have it removed. They read that the last owners were the Carling family. The man at the estate agents frowned.
“I didn’t realise that” he said “they have all been long gone from the area, but the family grave can still be seen in the local cemetery. Very unfortunate that was. Their little girl went playing in the barn and suddenly disappeared. No-one ever found out where she had gone. They searched for a long while in the area without any trace; as if she had been swallowed by the earth.”
Alex and Mary had a feeling they knew where the little girl had disappeared to and that week they made arrangements for the well to be cleaned and filled in.
It was a strange site when the police were called to identify the skeleton of a little girl they had found in the well. She was clutching a doll in her hand with a porcelain head. It was obvious that it was the remains of Mildred Carling and the body was given a correct burial ceremony; she was put into the family grave.
Mary and Alex decided to have the well filled in and the barn removed. It was a shame for such a well preserved barn to be demolished, but they had their reasons.