No Place for Children

Highbridge House loomed above me, and all my doubts about returning flooded me with fear.

I had hated the house on first sight. I told Mum and Dad that it was a stupid place to bring Becca. It wasn’t a good idea to put such a headstrong and rambunctious little girl in a place that was so obviously full of dangerous temptations.

Mum said, “Since when do you care about Becca?”

That was rude, and I told her so. Of course I cared about her. She was my sister, and I loved her, even if we did fight like cats and dogs most of the time.

Highbridge house was no place for children. Even I, as a child, knew that. I told them they should reconsider. I told them I didn’t like the path that led up from the road, and I didn’t like my bedroom and I didn’t like the forest that surrounded the place. Mostly, I didn’t like the roar of the river, the span of which this bridge was erected over.

But my parents were enamored of the place, and wouldn’t listen to me. They thought it was romantic. They told us it was a fairy-tale place, a magical house with a great history behind it.

Some history. It was a fortress in the past, meant to keep enemies from crossing the river that bordered two countries at war. I read all about it, later; bloodshed and heartache were the “romantic” and “magical” legacy of Highbridge.

I tried to excuse them for their ignorance. It wasn’t as if Becca did the reckless things she did in front of them. She saved that nonsense for me to deal with.

She was, rather much, a brat. And I adored her, in spite of it. Her spirits were always high, and we did have some wonderful adventures.

But the house–such a stupid place to move Becca into. It was an invitation for disaster. Her nature was such that every danger would call out to her, no matter where she was.

And my parents took her there. Highbridge.

It was high, that’s for sure. And wouldn’t you know it, she wanted to climb up on the side railing and walk it like the tightrope walkers we’d seen in the circus the summer before.

I begged her not to. I threatened to tell, but I was too afraid to leave her alone as she put one foot in front of the other. I could barely breathe, let alone scream, so I went to and fro between her and the door, back and forth, pleading with her to please, please get down.

“Be quiet, Willow!” she snapped at me. “You are interfering with my concentration!”

She executed a fancy about-face, teetered a bit and regained her balance. Time had stood still for me for the few seconds she’d wavered, one foot in the air, and I turned tail and ran for the door. “Mum! Come quick!”

“Tattle-tale!” Becca yelled.

I turned back. It looked as if she would obey me, now, and was going to get down. But–

–in the last second, she went over the edge. I shrieked. “Becca! No!”

She was found fifty feet below Highbridge House, impaled on a tree limb. Her body swayed in the breeze, thirty feet over the raging river.

I was so angry, but I held my tongue when I most wanted to say, “I told you so.” I didn’t say it when they removed her body. I didn’t say it at the funeral. I didn’t say it at any time afterward.

But Mum knew how I felt each time she turned around to find me staring at her. Not even a month passed before she followed Becca’s path from the railing to the forest below.

Dad sent me away to school. I hadn’t want to go, and pleaded to be allowed to stay with him. But he was wallowing in guilt, and insisted I leave. I begged him to go with me and leave this awful place forever, but he refused. So I had gone away, alone, and I had never come back.

Until today.

He visited me at school. We took holiday trips. We met for dinners in the city.

I begged him time after time to sell the place, but he insisted he had to stay.

As he grew older, I hired help for him, but there was no way I was going back to stay myself. I had children and grandchildren to protect from the dark reaches of the place.

This morning his housekeeper called and told me she’d found Dad trying to climb the railing. “How he managed to get his chair out there, I cannot say,” she told me. “He was raving about Becca and Margo, and when I wheeled him inside, he cried and carried on so! Said he promised to join them, Miss Willow.”

He’ll be angry with me when these nice young men in their clean white coats go in there to take him away, but it won’t be the first time we’ve disagreed. It will just be the first time he’ll have to believe that I’m right.

I stand at the bottom of the path with the housekeeper and watch as they wheel a stretcher up, up, up to the door, and hope he’ll still be speaking to me tomorrow.

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