Emily

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One spring night a young woman named Emily decided to go to the dance at the town hall that evening after all.

That was her first mistake.

She tied her copper hair up in a soft brown bow. Her hazel eyes sparkled as she twirled in the dress the rusty color of old blood. And, at the last moment, she chose the velvet shoes with the wobbly heels instead of the sensible grays.

That was her second mistake.

Her house was just out of the small town of Standish and only a few minutes’ walk through the woods to the hall on the hill. The warm air swirled around her, playing with the flounces of her dress as she walked, sighing mournfully because it knew what the night had in store for Emily.

When Emily arrived the town hall was ablaze with the new electric lights. Couples were swirling, stomping on the dance floor, while the widows and the wallflowers and the rest looked on. A table along the west wall held a cut glass punch bowl full of sunset red liquid with a wooden dipper beside a stack of tin mugs, three different kinds of pie, and a large heap of Mabel Worthy’s cookies that were as hard as tombstones.

Mose Brattenburg stood in a corner at the east end of the hall playing his old fiddle, bouncing and grinning with his two front teeth, the only ones he had left. His brother Frank stood beside him plucking his banjo. He was missing his two front teeth from a fistfight in his early youth, but you’d never know because he never smiled. Folks joked they made quite a pair between them. Rounding out the group was Gus Hill whaling on his perpetually out of tune guitar and Junior twanging on his mouth harp. Their boisterous music filled the hall and leaked out of the cracks into the night air.

Emily smiled coyly at all the familiar Adam’s and John’s and Ben’s before her eyes met his – a stranger in town, just passing through. Tall, dark, and handsome, everything the fairy tales swore a prince should be.

Emily sat down beside a friend on a bench along the wall. They talked of this and that, and all the while Emily watched the handsome stranger dressed in black. He was still dusty from the road, his dark eyes sliding around the room until they met hers. Emily’s heart beat a little faster. She pretended a little laugh at something her friend was saying when she heard a voice as rich as Midas and smokier than a campfire full of green wood call her name and ask her for the pleasure of a dance.

It was he, the stranger. Paul, he said his name was. He had a white scar gleaming through the stubble on his left cheek along the jawbone that made him look very distinguished. Emily imagined a thousand ways he acquired the scar while they twirled on, deep into the night. They danced with no one else but each other while the stars twinkled with tears outside. The wind had told them what was to happen that night.

Finally the dance was done, the last notes of the night packed away with old Mose’s fiddle. Paul asked Emily if he could walk her home, and she said yes.

That was her last mistake.

The trees groaned as the wind whispered its tale while Paul and Emily walked beneath their canopy. The trees waved their bud-swollen branches in protest, but Emily did not see. She only had eyes for Paul.

Paul smiled when she pulled him off the path and underneath a pine tree so tall it had clouds stuck in the uppermost branches. He smiled when she looked up at him in the moonlight with bright eyes and red lips begging to be kissed.

Then the moon covered her face because the gossipy wind hand told her his tale of woe and she couldn’t bear to watch.

In the sudden darkness Emily tripped on her wobbly shoes and dropped to her knees. Paul expressed concern and crouched to help her up.

That was his mistake.

Emily pulled the knife from her dress pocket and stabbed the handsome stranger in his neck, fresh red blood erupting onto her old blood colored dress. His smoky voice squeaked and burbled between his fingers as he fell to the ground like a freshly butchered hog.

She held him as he died and told him her sad tale of how her mother was murdered by a handsome stranger fresh from the road three years ago today. Emily wept a little as she talked of finding her mother’s body in this spot, and now, every year, she takes the life of a stranger so he can never harm another. Every year she digs a grave, and every year she fills it.

The man’s eyes were glassy as she buried him beside the first two under the pine tree that scraped the clouds from the sky. She cried and whispered her mother’s name to the wind as she covered the stranger with dirt, but he was too busy telling stories to hear.

The young woman named Emily took the bloody knife from her pocket and began to clean it. She took two steps towards home, three, still cleaning when her shoes betrayed her for the last time. As she fell on the knife, the wind howled, the trees shuddered, and the stars tried to console the moon while Emily bled to death in the cold spring dawn.

The locals all assumed she had tried to fight off the stranger and fell on her knife in the struggle. She was buried beside her mother in the graveyard behind the church on a day when even the wind was still.

The Confession

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Beginning of tape.

Look Doc, I’m not crazy.  I told the cops plenty, but they didn’t see it my way and stuck me in this looney bin. I don’t see why you want me to tell you the whole mess all over again. You can’t stop the voices any more than I can now; I’m locked away in a padded cell and too old to give them a proper burial.

That’s why I went to the cops in the first place. I couldn’t retrieve all those bodies by myself. See, I had forty-two bodies in my backyard alone. I didn’t use to bury them in my backyard until I got too old to travel much anymore on my own. Couldn’t carry much weight either. I’ve buried bodies in every  state, every last one of them, all those bodies stashed away where no one will ever find them. I was that good. They’ll never be put to rest, not as long as I live, but that won’t be much longer. I’m going crazy in here. They whisper to me in the night, begging and pleading for a proper burial. All that crying and moaning; it’s enough to drive a man to kill his own mother.

Maybe you don’t think so, Doc, but I’m smart. I never would have gotten picked up for murder. I never even got so much as a traffic ticket in all my travels my whole, long life. But then the voices started about a year ago, just a couple at first. Voices of the people I’d murdered. They asked me “why” and “how could you” and whined about how their families would never have closure, like I was supposed to care. I didn’t care then. When it was just a couple I could shut them up with a little whiskey. When it was five, it took a little more. Then half a bottle. Finally I couldn’t drown them out, no matter how hard I tried. No matter what I tried they wouldn’t leave me alone.

So it was that I went to the police. See, I walked in, bold as you please, and asked who I needed to be talking with if I wanted to confess to murder, multiple in fact. You should have seen that broad’s face, Doc. She smiled at me. She actually smiled, like she thought I was some senile escapee from a nursing home with trousers belted under his armpits. “There, there,” she says, “tell me your name and I’ll get you settled in no time. Want a cup of hot cocoa while you wait?”

I punched her in the face. Hot cocoa my sainted aunt. That’s when they slapped on the cuffs and took me to the interrogation room. I thought they were finally taking me serious, but no, they sent an old duffer in to question me. No sharp young detective for me, no sir, just some old fart three months from retirement with one foot in the grave and the other shoved up his own keister. Probably been a desk jockey his entire career.

Still, I took what they gave me. I told him I wanted to cut a deal. I would give him the information about the bodies in my backyard to show him I was on the level, then tell him where I stashed the rest; in exchange, they would give me a cushy cell in minimum security.I wasn’t about to hang. I’ve broke a lot of necks, Doc, but I don’t fancy having one myself. I left out the bit about the voices though; didn’t want them thinking I was crazy. Lot of good that did me. Can I smoke in here? No? Just as well.

Anyway, that fat jackass just nodded like I was telling him a bedtime story. Singing him a lullaby instead of singing like a canary. He called me “pops,” like he was so much younger than me. I guess they must have sent guys to my house anyway, because a couple hours later a cop came in the room looking a little green. “We found bodies all right, sir,” he said, “but they aren’t human.” He gives me a real nervous look. “We found cats, dogs, even some chickens, but no human remains so far. The stuff in his house would give you the creeps though. The eyeballs alone-” he shudders.

He says all this in a whisper, like I’m too old to hear. Finally I let him have it. I tell him he has some nerve lying to his superior that way. Like I’d waste my skills on house pets and farm animals. I could tell you every one of their names right here and now, and what I did before I killed them. I bet you’ve heard some stuff, Doc, talking to the looneys in here all day, but you ain’t heard nothing compared to me.

Don’t believe me either, eh? Listen. Tommy. He was a ginger, full of fight and vinegar, but I broke his back in the end. His fingers and knee caps too. Gina. She had the ugliest face I’ve ever seen. Shot her right in that ugly face while she begged for me to stop carving on her. Mr. Tiddlywinks –strange name, stranger guy – he was easy. I smothered him with a fat green pillow. I held it over his face while he twitched like a fresh worm on a shiny hook. Little Ariel. I cracked her head like you’d crack an egg. Just a little’un, crying, crying, wouldn’t stop crying, so I made her stop. Her momma cried too. Shoulda kept that baby quiet.

I hear them every night now, whispering and carrying on. It’s getting so bad I can’t hardly stand it. All those voices. Except the ones in the back yard, I don’t hear their yowling anymore. The cops must have taken care of them. Animals, they said; I may have been slipping these last few years, but I swear to you Doc, the rest are human, flesh and blood and bone and human as you.

Doc, you gotta help me. The cops don’t know where to find the rest of the bodies. The voices won’t stop until they do. They’ll haunt me till I die, whispering, whispering, whispering till they’re at peace. Write this down on your yellow pad: A man from Tulsa I beat to death with a tire iron, he’s buried in Texas behind an old filling station with a faded yellow star. A teenage punk from Lansing I buried alive in an old chest freezer in a junk yard south of Springfield. A young woman, pregnant, from Albany that couldn’t swim in Lake Ontario, especially with those bricks I tied to her feet. Are you writing this down? More, there’s lots more and they won’t shut up! Doc, you gotta believe me! You gotta help me! Make it stop! Make them stop!

End of tape.

The Drying Effects of Wind: Chapter Five

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-There’s more to the story. See the Prologue, Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, and Chapter Four.

 

Chapter Five

Followed

-10 Years Ago

Inhabitant Vaughn Faul read the next item up for discussion aloud to the room.

“Inhabitants Todd, Merkle, and James are to be banished to the Unknowns tomorrow. We must decide their fate.”

Jonas Pratt, the Supreme Inhabitant looked around the crescent moon shaped table at his fellow members of the Pinnacle. He could see by the way they avoided his gaze that they were waiting for him to speak first. He waved his hand at the Secretary. “Vaughn, read us the charges against each Inhabitant will you?”

Vaughn cleared his throat. “Inhabitant Thom Merkle and Esther James were found selling faulty counterfeit upgrades that caused multiple traffic disruptions, nine hospitalizations, and one death.”

Several of the eleven members shook their heads. A poor, young couple had bought the upgrades at a bargain price to give their infant son a chance at a better life; instead, the upgrades had caused a massive seizure leading to his death.

“Inhabitant Jason Todd was observed telling tales of the old days to his daughter, Sara, by his wife,” Vaughn continued. “She also suspects he has tampered with their daughter’s implants. The findings were inconclusive and the girl will be adjusted.”

Jason Todd was the city’s most gifted inventor. To send such a valuable asset into the Unknowns was unthinkable. To allow him to stay and spread his lies would be worse. This one malcontent could infect the entire city. Still, they couldn’t kill him.

“Send him out with the others, but make sure his daughter watches from home. We don’t need anyone getting sympathetic.”

The eleven nodded in agreement.

“Dispatch the other two. Separate them from Todd, then activate the cranial implant about a mile from the city. We’ll keep track of Inhabitant Todd in case we need his help to finish this.”

Jonas grasped at the air in front of his face and made a throwing motion towards the open end of the table, bringing up a virtual screen. On the screen were partially finished blueprints for a bomb. He grinned, his gold teeth glinting in the half-light.

                                                                 ___

Sara broke into a sweat. So they had found the note; it was all over now. She’d be banished to die in the Unknowns like her father and her friend.

“Well, out with it,” the doctor prodded, “why aren’t you taking your vitamins?”

Doctor Aliah looked so stern but Sara was trying her hardest not to laugh from relief. Vitamins were a small matter next to a note from a dead traitor. She tried her best to look repentant.

“I guess I just forgot. I’ve been a little forgetful since an adjustment I had at school a couple weeks ago.”

“A thin excuse,” said the doctor, “but I suppose I can let you off with a warning this time.” She gave Sara a narrow look. “But don’t think I won’t send a ping to your mother to make sure she is fully aware of the situation.” She frowned, adding, “And there is nothing wrong with your implants electronically, Sara. Perhaps it was only a vitamin deficiency.”

It was Sara’s turn to frown. She knew she hadn’t imagined the glitches, the headaches- even the voices. Those had started three days ago. They whispered to her at night, urging her to pack and leave, urging her to come out into the Unknowns where it was Safe. Sometimes Sara could swear it was her father’s voice.

Her face must have betrayed her confusion.

“Is there anything else you should be telling me, Inhabitant?”

Sara shook her head no.

“Very well. See the receptionist on the way out to settle your bill.” The doctor waived her hand in a dismissive motion.

Sara almost leaped out of the chair in her effort to get out of the room. Amie the receptionist was waiting at her desk, still as chipper as ever.

“Your visit will cost you only three credits today. Thumb please!”

Sara pressed her right thumb to the glowing blue pad Amie pushed in front of her. It scanned her thumbprint to confirm her identity, then the chip in her thumb for her plan and payment information. The pad flashed green twice.

“Great,” Amie chirped, “you’re all set to go! I hope you’ve had a pleasant experience! Have a splendid-“

But Sara was already out of the building, unfolding her board and joining the second tier traffic. A hooded figure followed a few seconds later.

 

A Man and His Dog

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Former Captain Frank Able settled into his brand new recliner with a sigh. It had been a present to himself upon his retirement almost six months ago, not that he had been able to enjoy it much.

He had been on the force for almost forty-four years. In all that time he put away more than his share of bad men and raised two good ones. If anyone deserved a little time in the den in front of the T.V. by the fire with his old dog Champion snoozing by his side, it was Frank. But Martha didn’t see it that way.

Martha was Frank’s bride of thirty-eight years come December, not that she’d ever let him forget it. She was a petite woman, still trim at sixty-two, with thick gray hair she kept neatly styled in the same short waves she’d had since their wedding day. She was a culinary wizard in her bright yellow kitchen and kept their house neat and cozy. Everyone loved Martha.

Everyone, that is, but Frank. She nagged him constantly, from the minute he walked in the door until the minute he left in the morning. It had gotten even worse now that he was retired and home more often than not. Frank never let on how much she bothered him if he could help it, at first for the boys’ sake, then because he was used to her. You didn’t end a marriage of thirty-eight years simply because your wife was a bit of a nag.

Frank was warm and drowsy by the fire, only half watching the T. V. when Martha walked into the den.

“Frank, sweetheart, I’m so glad you can enjoy your new recliner dear while I’ve been slaving in the kitchen over a hot stove, but it’s almost dinnertime and you’d better get dressed; the Peterson’s are coming over and I want you to wear something nice. I laid something out on the bed for you, if you care to wear it sweetheart.”

Frank looked at Martha. The fire snapped and crackled, shadows and lights playing across her face, catching the whiteness of her teeth and the redness of her smile. She always wore that red lipstick when guests were over, another thing Frank couldn’t stand; the way it smeared over her teeth an into the cracks around her mouth as she ate, the way she laughed her loud, braying laugh with those red-flecked teeth after drinking a little too much wine, how flirtatious the wine made her.

“Frank, dear, hadn’t you better hurry?”

He snapped his recliner upright and scratched the back of his head.

“I reckon I’d better Martha,” he sighed, “I reckon I’d better.”

That night at dinner Martha drank heavily. Dan Peterson took a long swallow from his glass and addressed Frank.

“So Frank, how are you finding the retirees club, eh? Living fun and fancy free?”

“Yeah Dan, I guess we’ll have to get together in the park and play checkers like all the other old men,” Frank chuckled, stabbing at his dry steak.

“Kim’s been keeping me busy around the house,” Dan winked at his wife, “chores and whatnot, you know.”

“Oh Dan, I haven’t really,” Kim protested, “just spring cleaning the garage is all.”

“Spring cleaning should be done in spring, right Frank,” Dan guffawed.

“Good for you Kimmy dear,” Martha chimed in, “I can’t get Frank to budge from his comfy new recliner,” she laughed into her wine glass.

Frank stabbed again at his steak with a wry smile. Dan coughed and took another long swallow, draining his glass.

“Have some more wine, Dan?”

“No thanks, Martha. Excellent dinner though. I think we’d better be getting along home now.”

“Oh, but it’s barely eight, and besides, you haven’t had dessert,” Martha winked and licked her lips, smearing the hideous red lipstick like fresh blood past the border of her thin lips.

Kim dabbed at the corners of her mouth with her white cloth napkin and cleared her throat softly, looking with a sideways glance at her husband.

“Yes, well, we’d best be going anyway Martha,” Dan folded his napkin and pushed back from the table.

Frank pushed back from the table as well, though he’d hardly touched his dinner. His smile was tight as he walked with his friends to the door. “Good to have you over tonight Dan, Kim,” he said, clapping Dan on his back. “Sorry about the wife.”

“No trouble at all Frank,” Dan helped his wife with her jacket, then put on his hat and overcoat.

Martha walked up to the party, sloshing her half-full glass of wine. “Sorry about what, Frank? What have I done now? Have I embarrassed you? ” She leaned on the bannister across from the front door.

“Martha, go and lie down, will you honey?”

“No, I want to know what you feel you have to apologize for, Frank? Why are you being such an old prude? We were having fun-”

“We’ll be seeing you,” Dan interjected, opening the front door and dragging his wife with him.

Frank slammed the door behind the Petersons. “Really Martha, act your age,” Frank fumed at her. “Look at yourself. You’re acting like a child. You’re slopping wine all over the place. And you have lipstick all over your teeth. You look ridiculous.”

Martha straightened in a cold rage. “What makes you think you can speak to me that way, Franklin Rudolph Able? What gives you the gall to scold me in front of our friends?”

Frank folded like a house of cards. “Martha, listen honey, maybe you’d-“

“Don’t you ‘listen honey’ me, Frank!”

Martha was all geared up to lay into Frank with a vengeance, but Champion picked that moment to see what all the fuss was about. He bounded around the corner, galloping towards his master. Unfortunately for Martha, he was unable to stop himself on the hardwood floor and crashed into her legs. The wine glass fell from her hand sending shards of glass and red wine droplets everywhere.

Martha landed hard on her backside with a yelp and a curse. She floundered for her footing, cutting her hands on the broken glass. Champion whined an apology, his tail between his legs, but she would have none of it and began screaming obscenities at the dog.

Frank had bent to help her up, but stopped and straightened. “Don’t talk to Champion that way,” he said sharply.

“You care more about your precious dog than you care about your own wife,” she accused him as she struggled to her feet.

“Just don’t speak like that to the old boy when he doesn’t deserve it,” Frank said.

Martha leered at him, blood dripping from the cuts on her hands and mixing with the wine on the floor. “Screw you and your dog, Frank. You’re a couple of worthless old men, the pair of you.” She jabbed her bloody finger into his chest repeatedly to accentuate her point.

Frank was close to snapping. Thirty-eight years he had put up with this woman. For thirty-eight years he’d provided for her and their two sons. Every Friday night for thirty-eight years he’d brought this woman home a bouquet of flowers without so much as a thank you to show for it. Ungrateful, that’s what she was. The last ember of affection he’d nursed for her disintegrated to ash.

“Martha,” Frank said coldly, “touch me again and you’ll regret it.”

She threw back her head and laughed her great, braying laugh.

“And what are you going to do about this,” she asked, shoving him with her hand. “Or this,” she asked, shoving him again, “or-“

Before she could push him a third time, Frank snapped. He shoved her with all his might. Her body flew backwards, her head slamming into the banister. She crumpled into a limp little pile.

She was dead. Frank knew she was dead. He knew she was dead, and he also knew he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life in prison for killing her either. He knew what he had to do.

He whistled for Champion to follow him to the kitchen. The dog’s tail wagged when Frank grabbed the peanut butter from the pantry. Trusting Champion never suspected that folded into the delicious treat was one of Martha’s sleeping pills from the orange bottle over the kitchen sink.

Frank grabbed a small trash bag from the kitchen and headed to the garage to get a shovel and a ladder.

He was a strong man, but it took him all night to dig the hole. It was deep hole, oval in shape and not very wide. He knew no one would see him with the tall fence and thick shrubbery surrounding his property. He had no work and no plans for the next couple of days. He had time. At five in the morning, he took his wife’s body and a week’s worth of her clothes and dumped them down the hole, shoveling five feet of dirt back in on top of her. He walked towards the house with heavy steps.

Champion had been waiting for him. His brown eyes twinkled with affection as Frank let him outside into the early morning air. Champion nosed at him drowsily, his nearly white muzzle glinting in the pre-dawn light. Frank held Champion in his lap as he slipped the plastic bag over the dog’s head, cradling him until the kicking stopped.

Frank stroked Champion’s silky ears one last time as he lowered the limp, furry body into the grave. It was nearly ten in the morning before he tamped down the last shovelful of dirt. He put the shovel and the ladder back in the garage and went inside to clean up and get some sleep.

From all his experience in the force he knew they’d never find her body, not in his lifetime at least. No one would question such a small looking hole when they found out Champion had passed in the night from old age.Even if they brought cadaver dogs, Champion’s body would serve as a false positive; they wouldn’t dig any further. The Peterson’s would serve as witness to Martha’s inebriated, confrontational state, and Frank would tell the detectives that she went to her sister’s place to cool off. Plenty of winding roads between here and there. Besides, Frank had a sterling reputation among his fellow boys in blue. They wouldn’t suspect a thing.

Inside, Frank knelt beside the puddle of wine and glass and his wife’s blood, crying like a girl with her first heartbreak. He was sure going to miss that dog.

You Just Wait Until I Tell Genevieve

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Anna told the doll with the blue-stitched eyes all her deepest secrets and the doll kept them in her yellow yarn hair.  Her beloved Aunt Margaret had given her the doll for her seventh birthday just before school started, and Anna named it the most splendid name she could think of: Genevieve.

Genevieve sat on the bed keeping watch over Anna’s room on her very own lacy pillow. Anna was loathe to take her special doll outside lest other children besmirch the crisp, blue cotton dress or stain the cunning white shoes with their grubby little hands, and so Genevieve sat alone until Anna came home from school.

One day Anna came home in a rage. She flew up the stairs to her room and flung herself face-down onto her bed, not even bothering to take off her shiny purple rain boots. They dripped muddy drips on the hooked rug beside her bed as she poured out her woes to Genevieve.

Anna loved the swings more than anything else on the playground, especially the day after a good rain. She loved the way the fudgy mud looked swinging back, and the way her purple rain boots touched the blue sky swinging forward.

Today the boy in the red coat wanted to swing, but they were all taken. Anna explained very kindly that he could have hers when she was done if he would wait just a little while longer.

The boy in the red coat did not want to wait.

“Genevieve, he pushed me out of my swing and into the mud and my hands got scratched and now I have two pink bandages and one green one and I wish the boy in the red coat would get pushed and see how he likes it!”

Anna took a deep breath. She stroked the doll’s hair and felt a little better.

The next day at recess the boy in the red coat ran to the swings, pushing past Anna and the rest of the children.

Nobody saw quite how it happened, but they all saw the boy in the mud under the swings, crying with all his might and holding his broken arm. Anna and the other children stared at him in shock.

She confronted Genevieve as soon as she got home.

“Genevieve,” she whispered, “are you magic? Did you push that boy?”

She searched the blue-stitched eyes for an answer, but found none.

“Genevieve, if that was you, make there be cake in my lunch tomorrow. Please.”

Anna kissed Genevieve’s cotton forehead and went to eat her dinner.

There was no cake in her lunch the next day.  Although disappointed, Anna was not surprised; her mother didn’t believe in junk food, and a silly cotton doll wouldn’t change that. Resigned, she munched on her baby carrots.

“Hey Anna, my mom packed two pieces of leftover birthday cake in my lunch and I’m getting kinda sick of it. Want some?”

Anna stopped mid munch to stare at Olivia who had plunked down on the seat across from her.

“Sure,” she swallowed the rest of her carrot, “why not?”

The next week she asked Genevieve for a red balloon, a new pencil, a pack of gum, and three bags of sour gummy worms that she ate all in one sitting. The week after that she asked for an eraser shaped like an apple (because Gillian had one), a rainbow sprinkled doughnut, a pink party dress with lots of sparkles, two new pairs of shoes, and nine chocolate bars. The week after that she asked for three hair bows, a giant box of crayons, a bicycle, a gold heart necklace, a 5 lb bag of suckers that she stashed beneath her bed, a kitten, three more chocolate bars, and a cozy, bright pink coat.

It was the coat that caused the problem on Friday.

Anna was riding the school bus home, counting the number of red coats, five, and the number of blue coats, seven, and was beginning to count the purple ones when she felt someone poke her ribs.

“Whatcha doing?”

The girl was hanging over the back of Anna’s seat. Her coat was so white it made Anna’s eyes ache.

“I’m counting the purple coats,” she replied politely.

“What for?”

“Because I am and I can.”

“That’s dumb,” the girl laughed.

Anna clenched her mitten clad hands into fists.

“It’s not dumb,” she frowned, “and you aren’t very nice.”

“Like I care what you think,” she of the white coat shrugged, “but it doesn’t make counting coat colors any smarter. You’re just being stupid, and your coat is ugly.”

And with that pronouncement she sat back in her seat.

Anna’s face turned a brighter shade of pink than her coat.

“You’ll be sorry,” she muttered under her breath,“just you wait until I tell Genevieve.”

That night before bed she asked the doll for two things: for revenge on the girl with the white coat, and four more chocolate bars.

Monday at school Anna found out that a stray dog had bitten the girl and she needed seventeen stitches.

Anna felt giddy with power, and a little sick of chocolate.

That night at dinner she told her parents about the girl who had been bitten.

“And she needed seventeen stitches” she ended gleefully.

“Now Anna, that’s not very nice,” her mother scolded. “Why are you so happy she was hurt?”

“She made fun of me. So I had Genevieve take care of her.”

“What in the world are you talking about,” her father asked. He put down his forkful of meatloaf and cocked an eyebrow at her. Her mother took a drink of water from her glass and wiped her mouth.

“Genevieve,” Anna repeated, “I tell her what I need and she helps me.”

Anna didn’t mention all the candy, or that Genevieve was the reason her parents had bought her all those nice things lately. She saw the condescending look  her parents exchanged. It made her angry.

“Go ahead, ask me for anything. I’ll tell Genevieve, and she’ll make it come true. Go ahead. Ask.” Anna’s bottom lip trembled.

“Honey, that’s just not true,” her mother said.

“Anna, the doll is a doll and nothing more,” her father added, “that’s enough of that.”

“Daddy, just ask! She can give you anything!”

“Anna, I said that’s enough!”

Anna pushed back from the table.

“Genevieve is not a doll, she is my friend and she helps me!” she yelled. “She gives me whatever I want and she can hurt anyone who hurts me, even you!”

“Go to your room now, Anna,” her father commanded.

Anna rushed upstairs, furious. They should believe her.

They would believe her soon enough.

Anna grasped Genevieve tightly by her cotton arms.

“Make my parents believe me,” she took a deep breath, “or make them pay.”

Nothing happened.

For two entire weeks nothing happened. For two weeks Anna fumed and pouted and threw every kind of tantrum she could think of, but Genevieve no longer listened to her secrets. Her blue, unblinking eyes only stared into Anna’s brown ones as Anna by turns berated, pleaded, bribed, and threatened.

One day, in a black fury, she threw the doll across the room. Genevieve hit the wall and fell into a tangle of arms and legs, her smile stitched firmly in place.

Three days later, her parents died in a fiery car crash while out on a date.

When Anna heard the news, she rushed to her room and picked up her doll, her face streaked with tears.

“I take it back, I take it all back,” she sobbed, “let them live! I want my mommy and daddy back! Oh Genevieve, bring them back!”

From under Anna’s bed came a scritchy-scratchy sound. She turned just in time to see a most loathsome creature, muddy brown, with three black horns, sharp claws, and a long tail crawling out from under the bed. It smiled most patiently, revealing the sharpest set of teeth Anna had ever seen.

And then it spoke in a voice like squeaky cabinet hinges and rusty, clanging chains.

“No take-backsies.”

Anna was at once terrified and confused.

“Allow me to introduce myself. I am Reginald of the Underbeds, and it is I, and not the doll who has been granting your many wishes.”

“But, but then why did my parents die last night? I made that wish weeks ago. Can’t you bring them back? I didn’t mean it!”

Reginald gave a dry little cough.

“No. Take. Backsies,” he repeated slowly. He clasped his scaly hands over his portly stomach and made an apologetic little smile.

“And as to the other matter, well, you made so many wishes I was quite exhausted.”

Another apologetic smile.

“You see,” he said simply, “I was on vacation.”

The Drying Effects of Wind: Chapter Four

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-In case you missed it: PrologueChapter one, Chapter two, and Chapter three.

 

Chapter Four

Secrets

     The morning of the tenth dawned bright and clear like every other morning as far back as Sara could remember. The blue of the sky matched the blue of the cup half full of tea she was still holding from earlier that morning. The tea was cold now. Her stomach rumbled for solid food, but she was too nervous to eat. At least she didn’t have to report to Assigned Learning until after her appointment.

Her lenses had kept her awake and in pain almost every night this week. Advertisements uploaded at random. A classmate sent her notes on their combined tribute to the First Inhabitant project, but they came through at three in the morning and in a language Sara had never seen before and that her lenses refused to translate. Her eyes were stinging and red. She still hadn’t taken her vitamins. Not trusting her lenses, she consulted her holo-pad for the time: nearing noon. She decided to leave now. The sooner this appointment was over, the better.

Adjusting her stance on her hovboard, Sara glided through the park and down a side street, careful to avoid the platform in the square. The second tier traffic was light today. Sara looked down at the first tier pedestrians beneath her feet. Most Inhabitants preferred to use their air-cycles or hovboards for efficiency as well as distinction. Walking was for the poor. Cars were for the rich. Sara looked up at the smooth-bottomed XI-47 humming six feet above her head. Like hov-boards, cars used the city’s magnetic grid to float above the streets, but in the third tier and twenty-eight feet in the air. The most expensive cars had a special tint to keep out the commercials that beamed in from every business in the city. Sara had never ridden in a car, much less owned one.

She clapped her hands twice to disengage her shoes from her hovboard, jumped off, folded it down to pocket size and walked towards the gray building. It was almost indistinguishable from every other gray building in the city, save for a stubby black cross above the main entrance that marked it as the only Health and Wellness Center in Barter. For the first time, Sara noticed how gray the city was, how smooth and free of color. The one bright place in the city was the park next to the Center, but even there the benches were gray and the walking path as well; all smooth and made out of the same metal as the platform in the square.

Sara shivered and shoved her hovboard in her pocket as she walked inside.

Black plastic chairs lined the waiting room on floor eleven. The walls were off-white, the tile floor two almost indistinguishable shades of gray. Sara could have sworn the floor was green the last time she was here. She closed her eyes and waited.

“Inhabitant Sara Todd, you’re super early,” Amie, the receptionist sang out.”Why don’t you just go ahead and wait in the room for the Doctor?”

Sara’s forehead furrowed as she stood to walk back to the secondary waiting room. This was going to be a long day.

Outside the waiting rooms Doctor Aliah was training a new technician to read the diagnostic screen.

“This is where I plug in the wires that attach to the patient’s temples” she pointed, “and here is where you will sort the information feeding from the lenses. Bugs and glitches in the software are sorted into the blue folder, everyday patient life into the yellow folder, and any potential misconduct or peculiar behavior is sorted into the red folder.”

Her eyes searched the young technician’s face.

“Do not delete or misplace any information, Ro. I will know, and you will be banished. You will help with three patients today, then report back to your Assigned Learning. Have I made myself clear?”

“Absolutely,” said Ro.

“Good. First on the list is Inhabitant Tovah Fields. Let’s get to work.”

The Doctor and her technician came into Sara’s room at exactly two o’clock. Sara lay half reclined on the chair, her eyes shut. The technician taped the wires to her temples and sat behind her, reading the information that flowed across the screen in her lap, her nimble fingers sorting the information into the proper folders. Sara opened her eyes.

“Where did you purchase the lenses, Sara?” Doctor Aliah asked.

“A bargain basement trader. Elias.”

“Ah. And how long have they been glitching?”

“Not long. I made an appointment with the General Health Doctor, and he told me I needed to see you. I made an appointment right away.”

Doctor Aliah looked at the technician for conformation, and Ro nodded.

“Good. Please be comfortable while I consult your chart,” the doctor smiled, and then her eyes began to twitch and blink as she consulted the information on her lenses.

Sara’s stomach burned. She had erased the note from Love, but a good technician could find just about anything. She couldn’t see the tech sitting behind her. She hoped it was Culper. He was too lazy to dig deep into people’s heads.

Ro recognized Sara from the lab class they shared, but said nothing. She was too busy looking at the note she had found from a former classmate, presumed dead. Definite red folder material.

Doctor Aliah stood.

“Let’s see what the problem is, Sara,” she said, walking towards Ro.

She consulted the screen behind Sara’s head, pressing the blue folder, then the red. Sara held her breath.

Doctor Aliah walked around to Sara’s right side, leaned on the chair, and pursed her lips before speaking.

“Inhabitant, is there anything you want to tell me before I alert the authorities?”