Hattie still ventured back up the steps to check on the Townsends from time to time, Gizmo always close behind. She felt the weight of Maya's absence on them, though the new puppy Baxter always brought a smile to their faces. Every so often, the tiny dog caught sight of Gizmo and the two dogs would tear around the house, chasing each other up and down the alls.
"Why do you think Bax does that?" Mr. Townsend asked.
"No idea." Mrs. Townsend shrugged. "Maybe he's playing with Hattie."
She loved that someone still remembered her.
School kept Maya busy, and she rarely came home to visit. When she did, everything felt like a blur. Friends came to visit, Mr. Townsend cooked elaborate meals and if Maya wasn't working on school projects she kept busy with her writing and art. She never visited the basement, but one day her parents opened a package with a gorgeous painting of Hattie in full color with a youthful Gizmo by her side, standing in front of the farm house. She hadn't forgotten her, not entirely.
And over time, letters and phone calls came in with updates on her life, and Hattie listened to them intently, proud of Maya's accomplishments.
She joined the Honor Society.
She became editor of the school's literary journal.
She met a nice boy named Derrick(unlike the others, Hattie liked him).
She graduated magna cum laude(which was apparently Latin, and meant something really good).
She and Derrick got engaged.
She sold her first book.
She and Derrick got married.
Then one day, Mr. Townsend sounded very excited on the phone, and ran over and hugged Mrs. Townsend.
"They're coming home. To stay, this time."
She'd seen Maya and Derrick a few times over the years, but she still excitedly joined Gizmo at the top of the stairs on the day they came back home.. She'd never seen the Townsends as happy or as proud as when they opened the door. Maya and Derrick stepped into what was now their home. Their smiles were beautiful and joyous, so much so that she almost felt the warmth radiating from them.
And then something in Maya's arms, swathed in a blanket, began to sob.
Hattie and Gizmo walked down the hallway and stepped into her old bedroom, which now served as Maya's office. She worked at the same desk she'd owned as a child,, though the other walls now boasted shelves full of awards and certificates marking her many accomplishments. A few showed the covers of her books, and on each one Hattie recognized things from their adventures. The castle. The forest. The rocket ship.
And on each one, there stood a familiar girl with light colored curls in a fancy dress, but always wielding a sword or wearing an astronaut's helmet or some other costume themed to the adventure. A big gray dog stood by her side with a silly canine smile on his face. The backgrounds showed exotic locales around the world and even beyond, each one promising untold adventures.
A computer monitor flickered nearby, with the latest cover sent for her approval. The little girl wore a pirate hat and an eye patch, while a set of keys dangled from the dog's mouth. A beautiful island stretched out behind them, with a fearsome ship with a skull on its mast just off shore.
Madeline McCormick, Ghost Adventurer and the Curse of the Skullduggerous Scallywags. Below was the byline, Written and Illustrated by Maya Townsend-Fields.
"Pirates this time, Giz! Isn't that neat?"
The dog let out a bark only Hattie could hear.
The sound of crying from a room down the hall caught their attention, and they walked to Jasmine's room. The door was open and they looked inside to see the little girl pressed against the headboard of her bed, blankets pulled up to her eyes. Sweet Baxter sat by her side, resting his head on her lap. At the foot of the bed sat Maya, her hair tied into a loose pony tail. She smiled gently at the child. It didn't allay her fears, however.
"No, really Mama. There are monsters in the closet!"
"I see. And what did these monsters look like?"
"They were ugly, purple with green spots and teeth like old needles."
"They sound scary!" Maya ruffled the hair on her head. "But they're not going to hurt you, trust me."
"You don't think they're real," Jasmine said. "Grandpa said the same thing."
Hattie remembered that, and Mr. Townsend lamenting why his granddaughter invented monsters instead of a friend.
"If they're real to you, then that's the most important thing. But even if there are ugly pink monsters--"
"Purple!" Jasmine insisted.
"Right, purple monsters, they won't hurt you."
"How do you know?
Suddenly, Baxter's head jerked up and he let out a single sharp bark at the doorway. The little girl looked over, and her eyes went wide as tea saucers.
And for the first time in years, Maya turned, looked at the pair and smiled smiled.
"Because Hattie and Gizmo will keep you safe."