Rose lay in her bed and stared at the ceiling. It was only her third night in her new bedroom with its yellow walls and the rectangle of light that slipped through her curtains from the street lamp outside and fell across her blanket. The little house was only a block from the hump at Potomac Yards, and now that her parents were asleep, she could hear the yardmaster calling to his switchmen as he sorted freight cars into new strings that would head on south in the morning. It was a ghostly, friendly sort of sound.
But this was louder, and closer. It sounded like footsteps, erratic footsteps in the attic over her head. She opened her mouth to call her mother, but paused. She was eight years old now, not a baby. Next week was Hallowe’en, and she had asked to go trick-or-treating on her own for the first time. How would it look if she was frightened now, in her own house?
She listened again – nothing. Had she really heard them? She turned onto her side and threw her arm around Mr. Bear, her constant, stolid companion. Nestling down, she closed her eyes. Then thump. Thump rattle ssshhht! Eyes wide, she rolled onto her back and held her breath. Something was being slowly dragged across the attic toward the trap door in her closet. Ruby bit her lip and pulled the covers over her head.
At breakfast the next morning, her parents watched her stare into her oatmeal as she moved her spoon in slow circles. Her mother caught her father’s attention and raised an eyebrow. He shrugged.
“Okay, Rosie, what’s on your mind?” her mother asked.
“Something wrong with your oatmeal?”
“No. It’s just…. Well, I heard something in the attic last night. Footsteps.”
Her father nodded.
“That’s just the leg,“ he said, “looking for its owner.”
He went on to tell the story of a boy, the son of the previous owner of the house, who had lost his leg jumping freight trains coming out of Potomac Yards and passing through their neighborhood.
“Nothing to worry about – as long as you have both of your legs.”
Ruby didn’t hear the leg every night, but it returned often enough to keep it in her mind. On a sunny afternoon months later, she gathered her courage and pulled a dining chair into her closet. She climbed up and pushed open the trap door into the attic, and there in the loose insulation between the rafters was a footprint. One footprint.
She pulled the trap door shut, put the chair back at the table and never went up there again.