Red Rover

Avery saw the small door on the back wall of the chicken house. It hadn’t been there yesterday evening when she’d gathered eggs. Or at least she hadn’t noticed it then. It was so dark underneath the roosting bars, she might have overlooked it. But she didn’t think so.

Had her daddy made the opening between the coop and adjoining shed where the feed corn was kept when she was at school?

“When did you put the door in the chicken house, Daddy?” she asked him at supper that night.

“What door?” he said around a mouthful of cornbread.

“The one in back under the roosting bars.”

He washed down the cornbread with a big drink of buttermilk, and turned his full attention on Avery. She squirmed under the gaze of his narrowed blue eyes. They always seemed to see right through her and not like what they saw: a girl, not the son he had wanted. His only child, and there’d be no more since her birth had messed up Mama’s insides so bad she couldn’t have any more kids.

“You’re seeing things, girl, there ain’t no door. Why in hell would I put a door there anyway?”

Avery looked at her plate, stirred the beans and potatoes together. “I don’t know…”

“Are you telling a story, Avery?” Mama asked from the other end of the table.

“No…I saw a door.” She glanced at her mama through the curtain of her hair, saw the same disapproval she’d seen in her daddy’s eyes mirrored there. As usual, they both lined up against her. “I did.”

Her daddy sighed, pushed back his chair. “Get the flashlight, girl. We’re gonna go see your door.” He paused at the back door. “And you’d better hope there is a door…”

There was no door and Avery got a whooping for lying, and sent to bed early without having any of the banana pudding Mama had made.

#

The door was back the next evening.

After Avery gathered the eggs, she circled around the coop to the lean-to. She placed the basket of eggs on the ground, slid the wooden brace from the door, and stepped inside. The lean-to was small and crowded with boxes of glass fruit jars, unused and broken farm implements, sacks of worn out clothing her Daddy used for grease rags, and a fifty-five gallon barrel of whole corn. The barrel rested against the wall shared with the chicken coop, right where Avery figured the small door was located.

It wasn’t easy to move the barrel, but since it was two-thirds empty, Avery managed with much pulling and straining to duckwalk it away from the wall far enough to see behind it. And there was no door. She pulled the boxes stacked beside the barrel forward, and everything else against the shared wall, and still no door. How could that be?

Doubting her own eyes, she rushed back around the weathered building, and into the coop. The sun was sinking behind the horizon, but there was still enough daylight for her to see. The door was there in the shadowed space underneath the nesting bars. It was small, no more than three feet high by two feet wide, but it was definitely there. At least it looked like it was there. But how to explain that there was no corresponding door in the lean-to? I need to touch it, make sure it’s real, that I’m not seeing things like Daddy said.

The chickens ignored her as, hunched over, Avery eased beneath the roosting bars on one side. The chicken droppings squished under her shoes, stirring up the unpleasant smell of ammonia, as she made her way along the the back wall to the little door. Her fingers circled the flaking, brass-plated knob. A real knob, not an imaginary one. And she turned it. Pulled.

She opened the door only a crack, but that was enough to see that the lean-to wasn’t on the other side, nor a wall of boards. Instead, a flight of stairs led upward, each step a different color giving a rainbow effect. And from somewhere above the risers, a bright, golden light shone down. She felt its comforting warmth on her face and arms; it reminded her of late-May sunshine, the gateway of endless summer days.

Avery folded her body over more, stepped through the opening. Here, she was able to straighten to her full height, and as she turned her face upward, eyes closed against the dazzling light, a smile crept over her face.

She didn’t know how long she stood there before she became aware of childish voices. They spoke in whispers, giggled softly. From the conflux, one voice rose above the others: Red rover, red rover, let Avery come over…

And she almost did. Thinking of the carefree weeks spent at her grandparents’ home—now only a distant memory since her grandparents’ death, only weeks apart—with her cousins, Avery took one step, two, three. Then one of the chickens started clucking, pulling her back to the here and now. Suddenly uneasy and a little afraid, she clattered down the stairs and back inside the coop, slamming the door shut behind her.

That night, Avery got a whooping with Daddy’s belt for getting chicken poop all over her good shoes, and sent to bed early with no supper. But she knew it would’ve been worse if she’d told her parents about the door and the stairs and the voices, and she didn’t like worse. It involved lots and lots of cleaning and scrubbing with lye soap that left her hands raw and bleeding and her knees sore.

#

A few days later when Avery was gathering eggs, she heard the voices again, and she wasn’t anywhere near the small door. She had avoided even looking at it since the bad whooping. But there was no avoiding the voices; they followed her from the coop into the chicken yard…red rover, red rover, let Avery come over…

When she got into bed that night, a sadness so deep her chest hurt crawled beneath the covers with her.

#

Avery got another whooping, this one for dropping a stack of dirty plates she was carrying to the sink to wash. She hadn’t meant to, but the grease from the pork chops had made them slick, and her hands were small. Again, no supper.

She was still awake when her mama and daddy turned out the lights and went to bed, her belly growling and her mind fuming. Every time she turned around, she was getting a whooping. Seemed like the stripes on her legs that welled blood no sooner healed than she got more. A long time ago she had run away from home, walking all the way to her grandparents’ house on the other side of town, and would have stayed there if Daddy had let her. But even though she pleaded with him to stay, and her granny had said it was alright if she did, Daddy had brought her back. She’d gotten a real bad whooping for that. And now, she wanted to run away again, but there was no place to run to.

Except…

Red rover, red rover, let Avery come over…

In her gown and barefoot, she was standing in the black-as-sin chicken house shining the flashlight’s beam on the little door. She didn’t wonder how she’d gotten from her bed to the coop; she didn’t wonder about the excited voices she heard or the light seeping around the edges of the door; she didn’t wonder about the steps that looked as if they were going up, but felt like they were going down; and she didn’t wonder about Granny and Grandpa waiting at the top of the stairs, and that their faces looked somehow wrong. She just knew she was tired of whoopings and never being believed and never being looked at like she mattered.

Red rover, red rover, let Avery come over…

She saw a bunch of kids grouped behind her grandparents. In her peripheral, more kids followed her progress up the stairs, and she felt even more crowded behind her. Their not-quite-right faces leered at her, clawed hands stroked her arms, brushed her face. Eyes that danced with red light saw her, welcomed her, wanted her.

Red rover, red rover, let Avery come over…

And she did.

©️2019 KT Workman

Photo via Pixabay

Published by

KT Workman

KT Workman grew up in the rural South without the benefit of cell phones or the Internet, a time and place that has heavily influenced her writing. To this day, when she puts pen to paper—or fingers to keyboard—nine times out of ten her mind veers south onto that old, familiar road. It goes home. KT resides in Arkansas where she writes a wide variety of gothic and speculative fiction, and dabbles in poetry.

25 thoughts on “Red Rover”

  1. Your story reads like a Jack In the Box, each paragraph another turn of a creepy children’s rhyme, faster and faster, eerie, off key, until the final three word sentence goes POP! in the readers face!

    “And she did.”

    Liked by 1 person

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