With a look as though she doesn’t know whether to cry or throw up, Milby shuffles the papers in her hands into a pile and sighs. “So young,” she murmurs tearfully. “He just died so young.” Resting her head on her arms, she closes her eyes. The single light fixture hanging above her gave her tiny face an eerie glow. I grip my husband’s hand, trying to swallow the lump that formed in my throat. Sensing my distress, he wraps his arms around me and murmurs in my ear.
“May we go now, Milby?” he asks, his politeness ringing false to my ears. Milby only nods, completely drained, and doesn’t take her head off the metal desk.
Together we walk down the stairs and out the door. illuminated by moonlight, leaves blow across our path as we stride down the street. My black heals click against the walk, and my scarf whips about my face. If it hadn’t been for his arm around me, I would have fallen and cried there on the concrete. Which was exactly why he had persuaded me to let him come.
Though I almost have to wonder why I’m reacting this way. Years have passed since the murders, almost a decade since the first one, and though I have gotten over the initial shock, my breathing fails me whenever old wounds are opened again. Death is a part of me, as are my fingers and toes, the air I breathe. It has been since the day I was born; the story has been recounted to me many times over, the story of how my mother held me in her arms for the first time and my heart stopped. It took the nurses awhile to figure out that I was dying, but when my face started to turn white they sort of guessed. Their efforts yielded no results; before long I was cold and stiff. So with nothing else to do, they put me in the infants’ morgue.
Just a bit later, another nurse came with another baby, a boy this time. She was sure surprised to find a live, crying, unhappy baby among the dead ones.
Yes, death is a part of my life, now more than ever. And so is my solid conviction that there is a God, a good God who does miracles and saved my life. But was it really a wonder that I was a wreck the way I was? Could you really get used to the ones you love dying off like wilting flowers? That’s what I ask myself. But if I had to choose, if I were really forced to, the one person I would have allowed to live would be Adam. The bitterness is gone now, I guess, but why spare me and not him?
Completely exhausted, we hang up our coats and trudge up the stairs to our room. We fall into bed, not bothering to take our shoes off, and lay in each other’s arms, staring at the dark ceiling. He traces small, absent circles on my skin, and I try to hold back the tears. It has been so long, but despite my best efforts and the passing years, I remember the day my brother was murdered with crystal clarity.
At fourteen, I was vain about my beauty and my job as a model. To me it was a rite of passage that meant the world was under my thumb. Fifteen-year-old Adam was the exact opposite of me, helping anyone he could and giving away most of his allowance and the money he got from his job. I couldn’t understand why he would do that; I gave to charity on occasion but I mostly like to keep my cash in my bank account, watching the interest grow. I knew this pride was a sin, but I just couldn’t get over it. Of course, Adam prayed for me all the time, but it didn’t seem to do a whole lot of good. The only time I could concentrate on something other than fame, fortune, and my stunning beauty was when we were dancing.
We had been dancing since I was able to walk. It was our thing, what we reserved to do together every day. Adam taught me that dance was a language, one of the Arts that God created. I lived, breathed and was dance. I didn’t think I could survive without it.
This night was the night of our first big competition. My best friend Christopher stopped by and gave me a bouquet of roses, and went to join my parents in the stands reserved for friends and family. His gift touched me, but I was nervous because it was the first time anybody outside of family would see us dance. So many people out there wanted to see something spectacular, and that’s a lot of pressure. It was typical performer’s angst.
We were the last pair. The people who went before us were good, as in, really good. Five minutes before our turn, I was a wreck.
“Just take a deep breath Hammy.” Adam was looking brilliant in his smoky grey fedora and trench coat. Hammy was the pet name he had for me from when he was three and couldn’t say Hanuara. “I’m assuming you know the routine?” Of course I did. “Then you haven’t a thing to worry about. Just trust me and follow the music.” He patted my hair into place and I adjusted his hat. My sweating palms smoothed down the length of my tight white dress.
Our names were called.
The performance was flawless. Perfectly in sync with the music and each other, we were lively and energetic. Our movements flowed fluidly like the water in the Red Deer River. Unlike the other dancing pairs, we were siblings, lived together, and were able to practice together basically whenever we wanted. And we had an understanding of each other so deep even we overlooked it sometimes. We were best friends, and this was an act of love for each other to show the world. Even looking back now, I can’t find one thing we did wrong. It’s just that the judges didn’t seem to think perfection was good enough.
Then it was time to receive the prizes. The names were called from the bottom up, starting with the honourable mentions. I knew we had been good, and every time our names weren’t called, I was certain we were getting a higher place. Fourth, third, second… It wasn’t like Adam to pray for victory, but I could tell he was. I couldn’t see my parents and Christopher, but I knew they were holding their breaths like we were. The announcer gave a long speech, before the first place winner was announced, telling us why this pair was chosen. There was a drum roll, and a pause for suspense.
“And we are honoured to award this first-prize trophy for Outstanding Performing Pairs to these two-of-a-kind dancers, Holly Eastwood and Garry Hendrickson!”
Frozen with one foot forward to claim the prize with my brother, thoughts like, There must be some sort of mistake, maybe they forgot us, maybe there’s something bigger than first prize, were running through my head in slow motion. The three top winners were called up again to take a bow before the audience. Psalms of victory were read. The head judge lead us in a prayer to thank the Lord for keeping us safe tonight and for blessing us all with such talent.
Everybody went home.
“We didn’t win anything?” I muttered as Melinda, our chauffeur at the time, parked the limo and we walked up the steps to our house. Monica and my mom and dad went on into the house to leave us alone.
“We did our best.” Adam patted my hand.
“But we didn’t even get an honourable mention. There were twenty-five honourable mentions, and we didn’t get one.”
“We can’t all be winners, Hammy. We’ll get our chance, maybe next time.”
A tear rolled down my cheek. I had prepared myself for defeat, but an absolute lose really stung. It was too much for me, and my fourteen-year-old pettiness. I crossed my arms dramatically and said, “No, we won’t!”
He told me not to say things like that. Just because we hadn’t won that night didn’t mean we never would. This truth was unacceptable. I couldn’t see past that night.
“But we worked so hard!” I wailed.
“And so did everybody else.” The railing creaked as he leaned against it to look me in the eyes. “Why can’t you just be happy that we didn’t get hurt? That we had fun out there? I’m happy.” A still silence filled the night. “Or at least I was, until you had to come along and spoil everything!”
I froze. Adam had never been anything less than a perfect gentleman to me my entire life. Even when I screamed at him he only tried to make me feel better, or made amends and compromises. But instead of warning me that I might be going too far, his little uncharacteristic outburst only made me angry as well as hurt and disappointed.
“I didn’t spoil everything!” fire raged behind my cornflower blue eyes. “You did! You don’t care about anything! Even if we had won, you wouldn’t have cared!” He flinched. “But that’s just fine. I don’t want to dance anymore. Ever!”
We stared each other down, breathing raggedly. Finally, he let out a breath. “Look, I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry we didn’t win, and I’m sorry I spoke to you that way. We’re both tired and not thinking straight. Do you want to go for a walk before supper to calm down a bit?” his gaze was hopeful. But I was out for blood at that moment, and he was acting so cool, like I wasn’t trying to rip his throat out. Like he didn’t care either way.
So did I want to go for a nice evening stroll? “No.”
I dragged my duffel bag into the house and slammed the door.
That two letter word is the word I regretted for the rest of my life. Adam still wasn’t back after supper. “I wonder where he is,” my mother said as Kendra, the chef’s assistant, cleared away our plates. I didn’t say anything. I knew exactly where he was, and so did my sister Monica, who was visiting from college. When everyone had gone to their separate corners of the house to do their nightly routines, I slipped on my lightest coat and went outside.
The walk to the river wasn’t long, but I didn’t hurry. Maybe if I had just gone a little bit faster, I might have made it in time to save him. The detectives don’t think so, but still, I wonder.
Adam, Monica and I found the tree house by the river when I was five, he was six, and she was twelve. Monica pretended to be unimpressed by it, but I could tell she was as fascinated by the archaic-looking fortress in the trees as Adam and I were. Adam called it Fortress Fei-Ling and it was our secret sibling hideout ever since. Monica and I didn’t go there as much anymore, but Adam, the most thoughtful of the three of us, went almost every day to be alone.
I was trying to think of a way to apologize to my brother. Stones skittered along the riverbank as I went; the running water blended with the chirping crickets and night-birds. The tree house looked dark and oppressing against the star-filled sky, but it was our clubhouse nonetheless. I picked up my pace. If Adam was in the clubhouse, he might not be in the mood to talk. A new surge of guilt at my callous words went through me. I wouldn’t blame him if he never spoke to me again.
But he was lying on the bank, his back to me. He didn’t hear my approach. “Adam?” I called from a few feet away. He didn’t bother to look at me. “Look, Adam, I’m really sorry about what I said to you. That was really, really mean, and I really did have fun back there, and I am happy that we had a clean number, and—” I stopped. He still hadn’t acknowledged me. “Adam, please! I’m sorry okay?” I reached out to touch his shoulder.
I barely contained a scream.
The bare skin was cool, and stiff. I jumped back with a shriek. “Adam?” I reached out again and, biting my lip against my scream, turned him over.
His chest had been sawed open, and through it I could see his unmoving, bloody heart. His eyes, once vivacious and trustworthy, were now cold and dead. Staring at me… This time I couldn’t stop the scream that rose on my lips.
Time lost all meaning; I don’t know how long I laid there, unconscious, but I remember waking up to the sound of singing. Slowly, I lifted my head from the cool gravely sand and looked around. I tried to remember what had happened, and why I was lying on the ground.
My eyes focused on Adam lying beside me, and it came back to me like a punch in the face. but there was a woman leaning over him, crying and singing a sad, harmonious song.
“Who are you?” I screamed. “Did you kill my brother?”
I realized what I had just said. Adam couldn’t be dead. I pinched myself, then took a rock and sliced a jagged line up my arm. The pain was real, this was real. Why God, why? Sobbing, I reached up and touched the cross necklace at my throat. Adam had given it to me for my twelfth birthday, saying that it was to keep the promise of Jesus’s salvation close to my heart. You don’t love me God, do you? With a scream I ripped the cross from my neck and flung it into the Red Deer River, where it landed with a small splash.
The woman raised her head to look at me, and her look of anguish disoriented me. She was a slight woman, probably no taller than I, in my fourteen-year-old’s body. She had brown hair pulled into a tight bun on top of her head, and was wearing a flowing, shimmering white dress. The starlight made her glow, and I could see every feature of her face. It was twisted into an expression of unmasked pain.
“He slipped through my fingers, like water, so thin…” she sang, her voice a high soprano. “And then he was gone like a breath on the wind.” She lifted herself with ease from his still, dark form. “And now I go searching to find him again!” The high, shimmering note kept rising until it filled the entire forest. She lifted her arms, and her voice went higher, sweeter. It was no longer she who was singing, it was the moon and the sky, and the earth and the river. I tilted my head up to gaze at the singing stars that made her shine so brightly.
But there were no stars, and the moon was completely hidden from me.
I looked back down and she was gone. But her voice kept echoing.
“No footprints except for your daughter’s. Dogs couldn’t seem to get a scent, either.” The detective scratched his head. “The only thing of relevance was the drag marks real close to the river. Looks like your son could’ve been dragged in at some point, but that was so far away from the body…”
The shady, coarse-looking detective with hazel eyes sat almost placid amongst the still forms of my family and me. My mother was in my father’s arms, and I was sitting on the carpet next to Monica, who was on the sofa. When she saw Adam’s body in the morgue, she went silent, refusing to speak to anyone. Though they had closed his chest and cleaned him up, all I saw when I looked at him was the bloody mess he had been before…and I thought, This is not my brother.
My mom had tried to shoo me out. I really didn’t want to be there, but I didn’t want to be alone, either. The servants had all been sent away.
“What about finger prints? A piece of hair? A drop of perspiration? Anything!” My mom looked like she would have cried.
The detective shook his head. “Nothing.” He looked pained, and about to add on to the sentence. But Monica stood up suddenly.
“What, then? Are you saying a ghost killed my brother? Is that what you’re trying to say?” We stared at her, especially me.
Eyes wild, she broke into sobs and ran from the room.
Mom started to get up, but Dad tightened his arms around her and whispered something in her ear. She was still. Our eyes locked on the detective. He sighed, and though he couldn’t have been older than forty, right then he looked older than the world. “No,” he said, reaching into the breast pocket on his jacket. “Not nothing. We did find this.”
Mother took the crumpled piece of paper he held out with trepidation. Her eyes skimmed over it almost blindly, and then she covered her mouth with her hand and gasped.
“What is it?” I asked dully. My father had the paper now. He seemed to be reading it over and over. “I want to see.” I held out my hand to him. Mom wasn’t moving and they were both in a deeper state of shock than they had been…before. He wordlessly handed over the paper. At first, I didn’t understand the words printed neatly on the slightly grubby piece of paper. I read them over again, as my father had, to make sure they were real. My breath caught in my throat, and sweat coated my palms.
Now I have one
There’s two more who must fall
So beware, pretty daughters
Soon I’ll have you all.
The words were almost meaningless to us, to the detectives’ disappointment. Though they did guess that it had something to do with revenge. “A poet’s vendetta,” said Officer Keats. Mom and Dad couldn’t think of anyone who would want to harm us. I couldn’t, either. Mom and dad were great, successful people who were nice to everyone they met. I didn’t think they had an enemy in the world. It made Mom and Dad so sick with worry they wouldn’t let us leave the house for a month. Not that we would have. Beware, pretty daughters. Adam’s killer wasn’t finished. Monica and I were so fretful at night that we were often snappy in the morning, and arguments broke out more often than not. Mom had video cameras installed and security guards hired and our lives were pretty much ruined. And always, faceless murders starred in our nightmares. The night gave every impression of killers waiting in the shadows, ready to pounce.
Shortly after the murder, mom announced to us that we were moving. I looked up from my eggs Benedict with clouded eyes. “What?” I asked with dull confusion.
“We’re moving,” she repeated.
She sat across from me at the dining room table. “We can’t stay here, Hanna. It’s too dangerous.” Her voice cracked. “I found a beautiful place for us to live, an adorable little island. It’s called Dan Cae.”
“Yes. It’s a Christian country, it’s even shaped like a cross.” She shook her head with wonder.
“I don’t want to move.” I went back to my eggs.
Mom shook her head. “I’m sorry, honey. It’s not nonnegotiable. We’ll be safe there.”
“I won’t go.” I almost didn’t care either way. But I didn’t want to leave, not just yet. It was like having something embedded deep in your flesh. It hurts, but it hurts more to try and take it out. I was happy with my state of almost numb being. I couldn’t deal with more pain.
“You’ll do what I tell you to.”
“What about Christopher?” He hadn’t been to visit in a long time. When he had come, I couldn’t speak to him. He sensed that I wanted to be alone. Before he left, he scrawled me a note and left it on my desk. I didn’t even notice it before last week. Call me when you’re ready, Chris. PS: I love you.
“You can visit Christopher when you want. But right now we have to go. The jet leaves in three weeks.” Her tone was final.
I sprung to my feet with a sudden fury. “No! I’m not going! You can’t make me!” I began to cry. “Please don’t make me.”
“Oh, baby, I’m sorry.” Mom came around to wrap her little arms around me. She barely reached my ear, but right then I felt like a little girl again, crying in my mother’s arms. “It’s for the best, Hanna. I promise. I don’t want to go, either. But we have to. I won’t lose another child. I just can’t.”
She was holding back tears, and I knew those menacing words were circling in her head like they were in mine. I couldn’t have a choice in the matter.
Soon I’ll have you all.