It was a cold day when Ever dug up the first body. In the first instance of discovery she had no idea that it was a body. The remains were obscured, wrapped as they were in shrouds several layers thick. And Ever had not uncovered much. Just part of an arm. Which she did not know was an arm until she tore the shroud back. The material of the wrappings was as thick as the heavy duty tarp Ever’s mother kept for camping and it took Ever a long time to hack through even a little of it with her Stanley knife. But after a long time of hacking she saw the arm. Not much of it. Merely the pallid, greyish elbow.
That was enough, more than enough to have Ever reeling away. She surprised herself by not vomiting. In a way she rather wished that she would just vomit. Her stomach had shrivelled and curdled and she was sure that any food in there was unsettled and desperately wanted to come out. It felt like it desperately wanted to come out. The words ‘contaminating crime scene’ came to her. They were disjointed as though it had been an effort for her brain to throw the idea out there. But the idea stuck, held, took root, and Ever dragged herself away from the body, back into her house.
At the time she did not think to call her mother. Ashley Deroux was at home that bleak afternoon but Ever was used to being on her own and to taking care of things on her own. So she called the police and cautiously stated her issue. Claret Fall was not as small a town as it’s crime rate seemed to suggest, so a response was immediate.
When Ashley walked into the kitchen, still patting her hair dry with a large, fluffy towel Ever looked up from the table and said, “Oh, mum, I completely forgot to tell you. There’s a body in the back yard. I’ve called the police.”
There was little cause, Ashley had always thought, to worry about Ever. She did worry, of course, in the normal way that mothers worried. But Ever had never given her a reason to. That had been a good thing. A very good thing, for Ever as well as for Ashley. Even now, Ever gave no indication that there was a need to worry. There was a body in the back yard and she had done what needed doing.
The police arrived as Ever explained the situation to her mother. They took them out to the back, and Ever seemed calm even if she stayed well away from the half buried body that was bound up like a mummy. She and her mother returned to the house as quickly as they could. There was no want to stay in a garden with the murdered dead. It took very little nudging for Ashley to get the rest of the story, small that it was. Ever omitted far more than she told, though the account was not long. It would take a different person than her to recount the way the flesh hung loosely from the bones, and the smell – not so much of rot after so long but of death and neglect and loneliness. They were things she did not want to remember. And she had only seen the arm for the barest second and should not remember the detail of it so well, but it had melded to her memory and seeped into all of its cracks so that even when she tried to block it by bringing up another memory, it would filter through.
Four bodies more were found into that late afternoon. Very old bodies, a progressively more hysterical Ashley was assured. Ashley was not by nature a hysterical woman and she had taken the news of the first body well enough, but there were limits. Very old bodies, very old murders. Ever was sorry that it had been such a god-awful cloudy day. Forgotten and underground for maybe fifty years and they had to come up on a day when they couldn’t even see the sun. It was like they had been cheated out of life all over again.
As dusk set in the last of the bodies was brought up. The entire yard hadn’t been dug up. There hadn’t been a need. Not with the ground surveying device the crime scene team had brought in. Ever had seen them on crime shows, and under normal circumstances would have been interested. But these circumstances were not normal. She retired to her room as the team did one more sweep of her yard.
All wearing jewellery so all women,” she heard one of the female detectives say softly to her partner as she started up the stairs. And for the second time that day she would have really liked to vomit.
And betwixt the four stands Life.
To Ever that day was the most horrific she had yet lived. She could not imagine worse. Well, having been one of those women was worse. For her almost seventeen year old self, though, this surpassed a bad day. And, oh, she had had her share of bad days. The only consolation was that at least it could not get worse. And that was a small but real consolation until worse it did get.
Ashley Deroux was as good a mother as she was able. And she was able to be very good. But she worked often, for long periods of time. She was tired much of the time. Too tired to put as much effort into Ever as perhaps she would have liked. Generally she thought that Ever understood. And perhaps it was true but if it was true Ever understood a little too well. Despite being sad that she could never seem to close the distance between Ever and herself with the little time she had, Ashley was very proud that Ever always seemed to know the right thing to do. What she didn’t realise was that Ever was very good at seeming.
For instance, she seemed ok with having found a body in the back yard. Ashley would have desperately liked to have had that kind of composure. She seemed fine with going to bed on her own. Ashley herself couldn’t sleep, but she didn’t for a moment think to check on Ever. Ever simply seemed too mature. Like she had always had a deep well of understanding to dip into for any circumstance.
Only she didn’t. Ever was good at seeming. Whether it be capable or unaffected or calm or mature. She had grown used to it. Her body responded to stimuli so quickly that almost no one could tell it was a lie. But she knew. She always knew. No matter how long she faked, how well she pretended, there was a part of her that remained true to the real her. The real her that had been cowering in bed, too frightened to so much as roll over for the past half hour. And that had been before things went bad.
Sleep did come. Despite the fear sleep did come. And then it began. The first inkling Ever had that something was wrong – more wrong than dead bodies in the garden – was an hard-ice shiver trailing the length of her spine. Her eyes flew open and, even in the dull light of the outside streetlamp she could see the old ragged remains of a female body dressed in the old ragged remains of a grey dress, hanging directly above her. Biting down a harsh cry, Ever started to roll sharply to the left. She stopped abruptly when she saw that another body stood by that side of the bed. Before she could react the body above her grabbed both her hands, held her steady and pressed its dry leathery lips against hers. Ever tried to close her mouth and, failing that, tried to scream. Around the bed the four other murdered women began a chant.
The chant lasted longer than the kiss for which Ever was grateful. That in no way made Ever feel fortunate. For a time she spat out the feel of the lips, thankful that there had been no accompanying bad taste. And abruptly the chant ended and the women, just as abruptly, were gone.
Come morning the crime scene investigators were back in the yard. Ever made herself a coffee, and sipped at it, watching them through the kitchen window over the rim of the mug. A hand brushed across the back of her short blond hair and she turned to see her mother.
Hi, honey, I don’t know how you could sleep so well. I barely managed an hour,” said Ashley, planting a brief, slightly awkward kiss on her daughter’s hair.
“I didn’t… Did you hear anything last night?” asked Ever somewhat listlessly.
Ashley pursed her lips as she did when she was worried and shot Ever an uncertain look. “Like what?” she asked.
“I dunno,” Evan’s voice was barely a mumble and she shrugged her shoulders to accompany the statement. “Like maybe – voices? Women’s voices?”
Now Ashley looked shocked. They may not have been so very close, mother and daughter, but Ashley did understand things without being told. “No, should I have?” she asked carefully.
After draining the last of her coffee Evan shook her head. “Bad dream,” she said quietly.
“God,” said Ashley, running her hands through her hair. “I should have checked on you. I should have known you’d be scared.”
Ever smiled carelessly. “Honestly, mum. What would you do? You can’t chase my dreams away no matter how many times you check on me.”
Surprise gave way to amusement and Ashley shook her head with a laugh. “Alright, will you be ok today? I can stay home if you want the day off school.”
Smiling again and wrinkling her nose in distaste, Ever indicated the back yard with a jerk of her chin. “Won’t make me feel any better about things, will it?” she commented.
Shaking her head, Ashley laughed again. “I guess not. Thank God anyway. I don’t want to be here today. What say we have dinner out tonight?”
Ever nodded her agreement and trotted out of the room to find her school bag. It was by her bed and she went across to pick it up almost cautiously. The room held none of the threat it had the night before though. Ever looked around slowly at the same room she had seen every day for most of her life. Nothing was out of place. Yesterday’s school uniform was still lying discarded on the floor, undisturbed. Looking around, Ever could almost believe that last night had been a dream. Almost, but not quite. It had been too vivid. Too authentic. She could still feel the lips. Cracked and dry with age and almost papery-thin. Shuddering, Ever wiped at her mouth with the back of her arm.
Then she shook her head and glanced at the window that faced her neighbour’s house. Next door Michelle Harrison was scooping up a massive cream Persian and cooing to it. Her long silky black hair was already pulled back into a high pony-tail and as Ever watched her mother came in to give her a cup of coffee. Michelle hugged her mother, one-armed, kissed her cheek and took the coffee. Shaking her head, Ever snatched up her school bag and headed downstairs. It was a morning ritual of the Harrison’s, so familiar that Ever had it memorised. And every time she saw it her stomach twisted, part in irritation but part in envy. It wasn’t that she wanted Michelle’s life, that wasn’t it at all. The thought of having to hug your mother every morning out of ritual rather than love was vulgar. But she envied that every morning Michelle woke up, knowing that someone was there. To talk to, laugh with, maybe just sit with. But there. And that Michelle could so easily hug her parents, kiss her parents, and know that it would be accepted without reserve or surprise every time.
That morning was one of the rare ones in which Ashley was starting work late enough to give Ever a lift to school. Though Ever did quite strongly suspect that Ashley had called in late so that she could give Ever a lift. Death rattled Ashley. Possibly more than most things. And those deaths had been close, even if they were fifty years old or older. Understanding was one thing that Ever had, and she understood that on occasions such as this her mother was forcibly reminded of the unsaid things between them. Things that were felt but not put into words. Things that may never be put into words. Ashley was not demonstrative. Ever wasn’t sure if she herself was, but her mother’s lack of did moderate any that Ever might naturally have felt.
But that was ok on days like these. Because it was on days like these that Ever could read all the unsaid things from her mother’s fear.
That fear had Ashley drive Ever all the way into the school parking lot rather than just dropping her at the gate as she usually did.
“Thanks mum,” said Ever, getting out of the car.
“Do you have lunch money?” asked Ashley, which was more or less a mum equivalent of ‘I love you, don’t cark it.’
“Yeah mum,” said Ever who used the word ‘mum’ as a term of endearment. She’d been known to scatter it thrice in a single sentence when she was feeling particularly affectionate. And when she and her mother fought the word would disappear as though it were sucked from the face of the planet – or possibly even the galaxy.
As the Mazda drove away, Ever slung her bag on her shoulder and jogged up the front steps. She squared her shoulders before walking into the school.
School was a tomb for Ever. It sucked her lungs free of breath and left her tense and jittery. It was worse for some, she knew. She wasn’t one of the ones who went home and cried for hours every day. But she wasn’t one of the ones who showed up three quarters of an hour early every day, ready to enjoy herself either. Lessons weren’t what she hated. Several of them she even quite enjoyed. But they didn’t make school bearable.
“Oh my God, she was totally staring through my window to check me out in my underwear this morning,” said Michelle in a high angry voice as Ever veered around her to get to her locker.
Becky, a less gorgeous version of Michelle, shot Ever a dirty look. “Why do they let people like her in here?” she asked coolly.
May nodded in silent agreement.
Ever slammed her books into her locker and turned to glare at the three girls. “Close your fucking curtains if it worries you so much,” she said in a short, clipped tone.
Michelle barely paused to glare at her before saying in pained tones. “I can’t believe my parents won’t let me change rooms with them. It’s so disgusting. It’s almost like they don’t care if I’m being violated every morning. And she probably watches me while I sleep.”
Ever slung her bag ferociously over her shoulder and stormed towards her first class. Usually Michelle and her ilk wouldn’t bother her. What they thought didn’t matter to her. But having dreams of dead women seemed to lower her tolerance level. Having dead women in her back yard seemed to lower her tolerance level.
“I’d laugh if you did swap rooms and your mum got violated instead,” said May with a significant look at Ever’s now retreating back.
That made Michelle laugh a laugh that was every bit as pretty as herself. “She probably would be that desperate too,” she mused.
The longer Ever thought about it the less certain she was that the murdered women had been a dream. There was no valid reason to suspect that they had been real, but Ever couldn’t help the feeling she got that they were real whenever she thought about it.
“Lesbo,” said an impatiently calm voice and Ever looked up startled. She wondered wryly when exactly she had started responding to that name as though it was her own. Not that the name really bothered her as much as it was intended to, but still.
Delia stared back at her, dark and stunning. “I said you’re on my team.”
Ever looked around a little uncertainly. Oh, gym. Basketball.
“But she’s…” began Justine, looking slightly panicked.
The glare Ever shot her might not have shut her up, but Delia’s raised eyebrow did. “Yes,” said Delia easily. “She’s lesbisexual. They’re good at sports, lesbians. Besides, if she’s on our team she’s not blocking us, which makes us safe from her depraved little advances.”
The standard response anyone in the school gave to anything Delia said was ‘bitch.’ Ever could have used it too, but she would only be one of the many of the day, and she was rather sure that Delia collected them and did not want to add to Delia’s collection. So she moved up to Delia’s team, deciding not to play at all.
That would have felt better if the red haired Roberts twin hadn’t elbowed her and hissed, “You’re killing us,” halfway through.
The day was over finally and Ever was surprised to find her mother’s car at the gate when she got out.
“I’m starved,” Ashley announced as Ever tossed her bag into the car and crawled in after it. “You look fine. You don’t want to change before we have dinner do you?”
Never having been one for vanity, Ever shook her head.
Perhaps it was nerves, though Ever would have thought it was more like intuition, but either way Ever turned her web-cam on and aimed it at her bed before going to sleep that night. Should the dead women return she would not be left without evidence. And at least then she would know for sure whether it was a dream or not.
Wind is nothing without resolve.
But with resolve can conquer worlds.
Or change them.
The day hadn’t been so good. For some reason Becky was annoyed with Michelle. Generally that was ok, there was always a bit of squabbling amongst them. The last time it had been over the skirt Michelle had borrowed. Sure, she’d given it back with a huge grass stain on it, but Michelle expected that Becky had been more upset that the skirt had been looser on Michelle than it had been on her. That fight hadn’t been as terse as Michelle and Becky were now. The worst of it was that Michelle had no idea what this was about. The only thing she knew was that when she walked over Becky and May would cut themselves off and look at her as though she were interrupting – or even spoiling something important. After a few attempts she could get them to talk and May was being fine, but Becky was holding back.
Sighing, Michelle rolled over on her bed. She’d already kissed both her parents goodnight downstairs because she hadn’t wanted them to come in to say goodnight. Even that was a problem today. She shook herself a little and reached out to switch the bedside lamp off. Tomorrow she could deal with it. Tonight she could not be bothered.
But, try as she may, sleep would not come. And finally as it did creep down upon her, Michelle was distantly aware that the door to her bedroom slid silently open and a figure stepped in, clothed in equal silence. Before Michelle could rouse herself sufficiently to scream, her hands were arrested and lips pressed against her open mouth. The lips did not move but stayed stationary and open against her mouth. Then the lips pulled back and the figure turned and left the room.
Michelle lay shuddering for several moments before finally screaming enough to make her lungs ache.
Perhaps it was the recent discovery of five bodies, or perhaps Michelle’s case simply did not seem high priority, but the police took longer to arrive than Michelle would have liked and when they did arrive Michelle was frantically brushing her teeth.
“Someone broke in…” Wesley Harrison explained, showing the two officers through to the kitchen.
“No really, dad?” demanded Michelle furiously. “It was that lesbian from next door,” she exclaimed, motioning at the Deroux residence with her toothbrush. “Are you going to arrest her?”
“They’ll get a statement first, princess,” said Wesley.
“Oh, ok, how’s this? Statement: the trashy lesbian from next door was overcome by her unnatural hormones and broke into my room to attack me,” explode Michelle. “Now go arrest her, go now.”
“Poor pumpkin, she was terribly frightened,” said Wesley.
“I’m not frightened! I’m angry!” Michelle spluttered around the toothbrush before pulling it free of her mouth and spitting into the kitchen sink. “I’m furious.”
Patting her head Wesley explained, “This is how she always handles fear.”
Michelle heaved a sigh. “Are you going to arrest her now?” she asked.
Much to her annoyance, the police did not run off and immediately arrest Ever. They took statements, collected prints from the doorknobs, took photos of the trail of muddy footprints that led from the front door to Michelle’s room and checked Michelle’s room for more evidence. Arms folded over her chest, Michelle glared at her parents.
It was morning before the police even went across to the Deroux residence. Watching, narrow-eyed through the kitchen window, Michelle saw Ever open the front door, looking tousled and sleepy. She couldn’t hear what the taller officer said, there was too much distance. But Ever’s response she heard.
“What?” The voice was louder and sharper than Michelle was used to. It was also utterly astounded. So much so that Michelle would have believed it if she hadn’t known better. “Are you fucking with me?” Ever almost exploded and then turned to shoot a furious glare at Michelle.
“Fuck up, bitch! You knew I wasn’t like that!” Michelle yelled in equal fury.
“I can’t believe you!” Ever screamed back. “I can’t believe that you would stoop to this just to get your parent’s room! What is wrong with you?”
Michelle was almost spluttering with fury. So much so that she didn’t see that the officers were now regarding her suspiciously. “What’s this about your parent’s room?” asked the tall, and Michelle realised now, very dumb-looking one.
Her mouth fell open. “I can’t… you can’t possibly think…” she hissed.
But apparently the officers could and, after further questioning of Mr. and Mrs. Harrison, they left, throwing very dirty looks at Michelle on their way.
Mr. and Mrs. Harrison didn’t say anything. Mr. and Mrs. Harrison, very obviously didn’t say anything. They sat and regarded Michelle for long, silent moments. With effort she held her head high.
“This was not about a room,” she spat with the kind of conviction usually reserved for the religious.
Mr. and Mrs. Harrison didn’t say anything. Mr. and Mrs. Harrison, very obviously didn’t say anything. They sat and regarded Michelle for long, silent moments. Her chin dipped, just a little.
“I was attacked,” she said, hating the whine that leaked into her voice.
Mr. and Mrs. Harrison didn’t say anything. Mr. and Mrs. Harrison, very obviously didn’t say anything. They sat and regarded Michelle for long, silent moments. Her shoulders gave way as though under a great weight.
“You could try believing me,” she tried to say without choking. Her success was dubious at best.
Mr. and Mrs. Harrison didn’t say anything. Mr. and Mrs. Harrison, very obviously didn’t say anything. They sat and regarded Michelle for long, silent moments.
“We will believe you when you deserve it,” said Wesley finally. His tone was very cold, indicating the level of disappointment he felt.
Michelle could do little else but nod at that and creep slowly away at that. There was no cup of coffee and no hug that morning. Michelle caught up her bag and ran out of the house as though running from her life really was that easy.
Water is changeable as a Sprite.
Its body may alter as much as its soul.
Strong as a flash flood, gentle as rain.
Muddied tracks led from Lilith’s bedroom door to her sister, James’. Lilith stood in the doorway, studying them with a mildly puzzled look on her face. Before she could make up her mind about what they meant James threw her room door open and walked into the hall, her hair ruffled with sleep.
“’Ey,” she mumbled, her voice a little rusty with sleep too.
Lilith frowned down at the muddy footprints. “Did she kiss you too?” she asked slowly.
“Huh?” James eyes shot open to comical levels. “Who? What? Excuse me?”
Lilith shook her head. “Nothing. Don’t worry. I just thought…because the footprints lead to your room too…” she said, indicating weakly.
For the first time James looked down. “What the..?” she said in surprise.
“It rained last night,” Lilith explained wanly, walking over and gazing past her sister through the window. The skies still hung heavy and dark with clouds. Pursing her lips a little Lilith turned away.
“Well, evidently, but what does that…I mean, who dragged this mud in? Are you trying to say mum went slushing through the rain and then came in to kiss us goodnight?” James demanded, still staring down at the floor, and wiping her feet on clean carpet to get the worst of the mud off her toes.
“No,” said Lilith. “Not mum.” She turned to her sister. James was a heavy sleeper, but surely even she would have woken for this? “It probably wasn’t her fault,” she said finally. “I think she’s lonely. I never see her with anyone.”
“Who?” demanded James.
“Uhm…the girl. From school,” said Lilith.
“God’s sakes, Lilith! There are hundreds of them! Which one?”
“You know…the… Well, the…”
For a moment James looked like she would explode from frustration. “No, I don’t know the! I have no idea of the!” she cried, waving her arms about.
Blushing a dull red Lilith met her twin’s gaze. “The gay one. You know, the lesbian,” she said resolutely.
A blank look of incomprehension crossed James’ features before colour flooded her freckled face. “She kissed you? She what? Just broke into the house, went into your room and kissed you?” she demanded furiously.
“Well,” said Lilith, looking pointedly at the mud. “I think she came into your room too.”
“But she didn’t kiss me!” James yelled. “I’m going to bash her so hard!”
Shaking her head, Lilith turned from the window to look at James. “I’m ok with it. Or at least I don’t want anything to come of it,” she said.
“I don’t care what you want! People cannot just come into my house and molest my sister!” James exploded.
Lilith rolled her eyes in exasperation. It was odd how if the situation were reversed it would have been James saying everything was ok and Lilith declaring bloody vengeance. But then, Lilith thought, looking down at the mud again. There was no indication that the situation was not a two-way street. The muddied prints did lead straight to the bed and then back to the door.
“I didn’t feel threatened,” she said at last. “I mean, perhaps I should have, but I didn’t. And I think that girl’s sad enough. So drop it.”
The tone conveyed meaning, as much as the words and James leant back on her heels and studied her sister for some moments. Lilith knew she had given in before the words, “Ok, ok, but it’s creepy, Lilth,” were spoken.
Creepy probably didn’t cover it. On the twins’ arrival at school there was, it seemed, an uproar about Ever having broken into Michelle’s house and kissed her. Lilith determinedly avoided James’ gaze. This was not helping matters.
To be continued…
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