Hopscotch & Salt Water Taffy
by Josh Keller
Kelly stuck another bright red piece of salt water taffy in her mouth, stuffing the wrapper in her pocket for later disposal as she idly chewed the cherry flavored candy. Spring break was not terribly fun by yourself, she thought, meandering down the strip of stores that made up this section of Saint Augustine. The fact that she had just passed her third candy peddler and her fifth, maybe sixth, hot sauce store amused her, as she studied the signs, this one advertising an even more absurd number of tongue scorching concoctions than the last.
She should have figured when she had convinced her friends from school to go to Florida, they had the beach in mind. Kelly, however, was a history major, and was far more interested in the tales from centuries past that Saint Augustine had to offer. She'd already visited the lighthouse the previous day, though that time she had at least convinced her friend Deanna to join her. The pair had made their way up the seemingly endless spiral staircase to the observation deck, getting a magnificent view of the ocean as their reward.
Today, however, was a different story. Deanna and the rest of the girls had decided that they wanted a much closer view of the ocean. "There's no use in going to Florida and not getting a tan," they had told her. Kelly didn't blame them, of course. Not everyone was as fascinated by history as she was, but it still would have been a bit better if she had some company, she thought as she swallowed her taffy.
The stores were thriving, she noted, even the hot sauce stores with the dozens of competitors in the area. She unwrapped another taffy, this one bright green, and pondered if anyone had ever thought to infuse the ever-popular confection with one of the jalapeño sauces offered by the shops, creating a combination of what seemed to be two of the most popular store types in Saint Augustine. They might just make a fortune! Her bemused counting of hypothetical profits was interrupted by a soft sound from a nearby alley way. Her first instinct was to continue walking. After all, horror movies were based around girls on spring break wandering into dark places, but the Florida sun was beating down enough that there really were very few dark places, or cool ones, she thought, as she adjusted her wire-rimmed glasses on her face, realizing for the first time in a while how warm they'd become.
The sound came again, this time easily recognizable as the sob of a little girl. Kelly grimaced and moved toward the alley, which was, indeed, a bit dark, but not in a terribly spooky way. There was a little girl, probably seven or eight years old, in a very old-fashioned light blue dress sitting on the ground, a large piece of chalk beside her. The girl's blonde hair was in curls, in a fashion Kelly had only seen in Civil War era photographs, which wasn't too far off from where she placed the style of dress. Some parents were a bit far on the traditional scale, she supposed as she crouched down beside the girl.
"What's wrong?" Kelly asked, "Where are your mom and dad?"
"Oh," the girl paused in her crying, wiping her eyes and nose on her sleeve, "they're at home, over there," she pointed in a vague direction past the bustling street. "Mama told me to go out and play, but none of the other girls want to play with me." She gave a pathetic little cough and dabbed her eyes once more.
Kelly found herself smiling despite herself at finding so young a kindred spirit, but quickly adopted a concerned tone again, "Why not?"
"They're afraid they'll get their dresses dirty if they play hopscotch. Plus, they say that I can't draw lines very well," the girl replied, gesturing at a few very crooked, and far too small, hopscotch court attempts on the ground.
"Well, why don't I draw us a hopscotch court, and I'll play with you," Kelly replied with a smile. It wasn't like she had anything better to do until later on, when she had booked a ghost tour - the only other activity she had managed to interest Deanna in. Plus, the little pleasure of doing something nice for someone else immediately surged through her core when the little girl's face lit up as Kelly picked up the chalk and started drawing, "I'm Kelly, by the way."
"Hazel," the girl said, gathering herself up, "it's a pleasure to meet you, Ma'am."
So polite, Kelly thought with a smirk, "You can just call me Kelly, I'm not old enough to be called ma'am," she said, thinking how old-fashioned this girl seemed, not to mention her name. Hazel was a pretty enough name, but it always reminded Kelly of her great-grandmother. The pair began their hopscotch match and played for several rounds, making polite conversation about the weather and how silly other girls could be about their dresses and hair. Kelly once offered Hazel a salt water taffy, but the little girl shook her head, curls bouncing, protesting that she didn't want to spoil her supper. Old fashioned, indeed.
After a while of playing, Kelly could see that she'd sufficiently cheered young Hazel up, and felt that she needed to meet up with her friends at the beach for a while. Hazel was a bit disappointed with this decision, but agreed that her mother would likely be calling her for supper soon.
"Will you stop by tomorrow?" Hazel asked hopefully.
Kelly pondered this for a moment before shrugging, realizing that she had no plans in the afternoon, "All right, I'll be here at four o'clock. The maybe it'll be early enough for you to share some taffy! I can only stay to play for one or two games, though." Hazel nodded approval and skipped down the alley, her feet seeming to barely touch the ground.
That evening, Kelly and Deanna headed off to take their ghost tour. Kelly noted, with quite a bit of amusement, that in the same store front as the tour company was a hot sauce shop. Their tour guide was a middle-aged man, dressed in early twentieth century attire with a mustache to match. Deanna giggled and asked if Kelly thought it was real. Kelly hushed her friend so that she could hear the guide's instructions and rules for the night, but found herself laughing softly as she began to wonder the same.
The tour covered a number of areas of interest, from the old city gates to the Huguenot graveyard. Kelly found herself enthralled by the stories, as much for the myths behind the ghosts as for the matter of fact history behind it all. A bit of a chill went down her spine when she realized that many of the dead of the city had been buried in places that were now paved over, making way for the streets they moved along throughout the tour. The tour guide paused in front of the old wooden schoolhouse, and said that there were the last stories of the tour. He told of a woman who had lived in the second story of the schoolhouse, watching everyone passing by with interest, who allegedly still watched to this very day. The eeriness of the story was punctuated by the fact that a rather creepy mannequin was seated in the upstairs window.
Lastly, the tour guide gave a gesture to a space behind the group, "And there," he said, "is where the Little Weeper haunts." Kelly turned to follow the guide's gesture and, at first, saw little of interest. Just an alley between a pair of stores. Then she noticed it - the hopscotch court she had drawn earlier that day. "People say that they hear a little girl crying down that alleyway, and some say that they see a young lady in a nineteenth century dress curled up in a corner. All of them, however, say that the girl disappears the moment that they get too close, leaving behind only the echoes of her cries."
Kelly stared down the alleyway, wide-eyed as the guide wrapped up the tour, thanking everyone for coming, and holding out a tip jar. She jumped when she felt something softly brush her shoulder.
"You coming?" Deanna asked, peering past Kelly at the alley with a raised eyebrow, "Something wrong?"
"No," Kelly said, trying to regain her composure as she fished in her pockets for a five dollar bill to drop into the guide's tip jar.
"You look like you've seen a ghost," Deanna said, her concern clear. It was everything Kelly could do not to laugh at the statement, so cliché in every ghost story told around a campfire.
The next day, Kelly showed up in the alley at four o'clock promptly. She wasn't entirely sure if she was doing so to prove to herself that she hadn't seen a ghost, or to keep her promise to a lonely little girl. Hazel, however, was absent. Kelly called for the little girl, but received no reply. On a hunch, she decided to follow where Hazel had pointed towards where her mother and father were, and realized, not sure whether she should be shocked or not, that the girl had gestured towards one of the city's graveyards featured on last night's tour.
"Hazel?" Kelly called one more time, "I don't know if you can hear me, but I came to play. I'm going to go find my friends, though." She felt somewhat guilty for her desire to flee, as she'd had such a fun time with the little girl. Ghost girl, she reminded herself, but paused just before she turned and left, fishing in her bag and procuring a wax paper wrapped bit of yellow taffy. "I'm just going to leave some candy here for you," she said, more softly now, not wanting the people passing on the street to think she was crazy. She placed the candy on a crate that had been discarded in the alley, "I hope you like lemon." With that, she turned and began to walk away.
For just a moment, she could swear she heard familiar giggling behind her. Kelly turned slowly to look down the alleyway, and saw that everything was exactly as she had observed just a moment before. Except, she noted, not entirely to her surprise, that the salt water taffy was no longer there.