This is my first published work! I hope you love it!
I will never forget the Lucienne twins. Even after ten years, they are still fresh in my memory. Too fresh.
It was my first year of teaching when they were in my class. My fresh college diploma was framed on my desk, and I had placed a signed picture of my favorite professor, now deceased, on the wall behind me. In cursive, it read- To Mary, my brightest, that you may teach the world.
I watched over my kindergarten class as if they were my own children. But the Lucienne twins were my favorite. There was Abigail, the blonde on with a minuscule nose, and Bridget, shorter with brunette hair.
“Miss Mary,” Abigail would start, tugging on my dress, before Bridget continued, “We were wondering-“ Abigail would take over, “if we could go to the sticker box-“ Bridget would now speak “And take a star?”
And of course there was no way I could say not to the couple. They were irresistible, from their broken sentences to the heart shaped lockets they wore that were embossed with their names. I could never imagine something happening to them. But fate follows no rules, and something did.
Word about the car crash spread around the school faster than the ambulance could reach the hospital. It had been at an intersection, where a pickup truck had slammed into the side of their compact car on their Friday morning commute. The driver had still been drunk from the night before.
The gas tank was immediately ruptured, spewing the right side of the car with fuel, and flames licked up through the backseat. Bridget was strapped into a car seat above them, and rumor was that Abigail watched her twin burn alive. When the firemen freed Abigail, she threw herself onto the still smoldering bones of Bridget, and her sister’s red hot locket branded itself into her earlobe. The body of her single mother survived, but the toll of the lost daughter sickened her souls.
Abigail returned to class two weeks later. The hair on the right side of her head was singed and steadily grew back, though the color was darker. A doctor’s inspection revealed nothing else wrong with her, except a deafness in her right ear. Hushed voices in the school hallways whispered her eardrum imploded by the sheer loudness of her sisters dying screams. But most unnerving was her sister’s name, scarred into the lobe of her deaf ear, and surrounded by the outline of a heart shaped locket.
From then on, no student would sit on the right side of Abigail, and I had to rearrange the seating charts to place her next to the wall. Abigail seemed content there, in an island of isolation. Before her sister died, they rarely conversed with the other students, and now was no different. In social time, I would hear Abigail talking to the wall in incoherent sentences.
“Abigail, honey, what’re you saying?” I asked a week after she returned.
“Oh Miss Mary!” She said, “I’m-“ Then she would pause, waiting, “and then we thought-“ Another pause, silence, “and we can, can’t we?”
“Sure you can, honey.” I replied, though the exchange made my hair stand on end. She smiled again, and cocked her right ear, the deaf one to the wall, pausing again, then speaking.
“She said yes!” Then the gibberish continued and the closing bell rang.
It wasn’t until I drove halfway home that I realized the gaps in Abigail’s conversation were where Bridget should be speaking.
Months passed, and Abigail became even more of an outcast in the class. The kindergarteners came to forget the disaster, and some students even began bullying Abigail. I revised the seating chart again, and moved her close to my desk.
“Miss Mary!” Clamored Abigail one day, pulling my dress. She stumbled, and I reached to catch her, but she fell against my professor’s portrait on the wall, shattering the protective glass. She picked up the remains, the glass biting deep into her soft palms. She didn’t notice.
“I’m sorry Miss Mary,” She said, and her voice changed tenor, “we didn’t mean to break” Again a pitch change, “your picture. “
I stopped. It was her first complete sentence since the crash.
“It’s ok.” I said, holding her. Blood from her hands dripped onto me, but it felt cold, and I rushed to bandage it.
“I’m sure you will teach the world one day, Miss Mary.” She said, her voice continuing the inflections.
My heart froze as I read the note on the portrait for the thousandth time. Abigail couldn’t read cursive.
“How did you know that?” I asked.
“Bridget told me, she talks to him now.” She said, curling her streak of darker hair around her finger.
“That’s not all she tells me. She tells me terrible things sometimes. And I can’t stop hearing her.” Then she started crying, and noticed the glass embedded deep into her hands. “She never stops,” Her voice elevated to a yell.
When I took the picture back, her sentences became broken again, and I moved her on the seating chart away from my desk.
Over time the other students realized Abigail’s reaction to old objects. They’d bring her in things that they found in the attic, artifacts their grandparents owned, and watched as she cocked her right ear and her sentences become whole or broken when she held them. It became a game to them, listening to the stories she made up. But the effect took an obvious toll on her, and she soon started wearing gloves, even in the dead heat of summer.
But one boy, larger than the others, a brute known for his bullying, liked the look on Abigail’s face as they pushed artifacts into her squirming palms. He was the quickest to see the fear that she felt when they once gave her an old bullet shell, and ran home afterwards to find an old box in his basement his parents forbade him to open. Inside was his great grandfather’s Nazi uniform, a warden at a concentration camp, and he twisted off one of the buttons.
The next day he found Abigail on the playground and pinned her against the chain link fence. He ripped the gloves off and forced the button into her hand, tightly closing her fingers about it. When she began screaming, he only laughed, and closed the fist tighter.
I reached them too late. When I pulled the boy off her, she was sobbing uncontrollably, both her hands locked into fists. She dropped the button like it was searing hot, but refused to open the other fist until the paramedics arrived and knocked her out with anesthesia. Only then could they pull her severed right ear out, torn off by her bloody fingernails, with Bridget still written on the lobe.
But most terrifying of all was when she screamed. I could hear two voices screaming.
I wish I could say that was the last I had ever heard of the Lucienne twins. I wish Abigail’s story ended with the month she spent at the psychiatrist’s office after the incident. But wishes rarely come true. And this was no exception.
Abigail never came back to the school that year. A teacher that was her family friend gossiped with me over a cup of coffee in the break room three weeks later, filling in the details that had kept me awake deep into the night.
“She’s staying at home until this whole thing blows over. Three times a week she goes to counseling, though she won’t talk to anyone, and only eats if you put two plates in front of her. If you ask me, she was an accident waiting to happen. Poor thing, her grandfather was just diagnosed with terminal cancer now too. And the doctors were able to sew the ear back on- can you believe that? Apparently you can barely even tell it came off. Miraculous.”
Miraculous. I’m not sure if that was the appropriate word. Or if they should have sewn it back.
At the end of the year, the school board informed me that I would be moving to another school, a smaller institution for brighter children. I accepted- not because the pay was better, but because I knew it was their kind way to fire me. I could hear their whispers. That I was the one who made the freak crack.
So I packed away my things, and was admitted into Carrie’s School for the Gifted. There were no current openings for kindergarten teachers, so I taught second grade. My first year went by smoothly, and I received a small bonus at the end for my student’s high test scores.
When I returned from the Summer to start my second year, nineteen out of the twenty desks were filled by young children, their fresh crayons tucked away in pencil bags that still smelled like Walmart. I smiled at them, and introduced myself, writing my name on the board as I talked.
“Hello class, my name is Mary Watkins, and I’ll be your new second grade-“ Behind me, the classroom door opened, and I heard the footsteps of two students enter. The smile froze on my lips, and my marker jumped across the board as I heard her voice.
“Hi Miss Mary.”
I turned. Abigail stood alone in the center of the room. Her silver locket dangled from her neck. Bridget was still burned into her right ear, which looked as if it had never been missing.
“We missed you.”
And maybe it was the lighting, but I could have sworn I saw two shadows.
I sat Abigail near the windows. The sunlight calmed her, and she spent most her time staring up into the clouds. Despite this, she still managed to test better than anyone else in the class.
Once, realizing she was not paying attention, I called upon her for a simple arithmetic problem.
“Abigail! What’s two times four?”
She continued to stare off, her eyes glassy. The rest of the class twisted in their chairs to watch.
“Abigail!” I repeated, my high heels clinking against the tiles as I walked over to her. Still, no response. I waved a hand in front of her face, flexing my fingers, then touched her face.
Abigail threw her head back and gasped, drawing in a breath so deep it was as if she had been held underwater. Her desk rocked from the momentum and I held it down, forcing my hands over the chilled wood. She thrashed, looking from left to right wildly.
“Abigail! Honey, I’m here!” I shouted, and her eyes met mine.
Tears spilled outwards and she embraced me, her nails digging through my dress and into my shoulder.
“We’re sorry Miss Mary. We’re so sorry.”
“Shhhh, it’s ok Abigail. Everything’s going to be ok.”
“It was Bridget. She took me somewhere and we couldn’t find our way back. It was dark. And cold.” She shivered. I suppressed my own shudder.
“You’re here now. You’re back.”
She sighed and I released her. The recess bell rang and the rest of the class hurried out, carrying lunchboxes away along with questions they were too young to know the answer to. Questions that I, at twenty-seven, am still too young to know the answer to.
“Miss Mary?” She said when my back was turned.
“Bridget says the answer is eight.”
Since Abigail had returned, her speech had greatly improved. No longer were there intermittent pauses where Bridget used to speak, but the tenor of her voice continued to change at those intervals. It wasn’t until four weeks into the semester that I realized why.
In her front pocket, Abigail always carried a fountain pen. It was grey, the color of the clouds she watched outside the window, and came to a sharp point at one end.
“I like your pen, Abigail.” I said one day, and she beamed, thrusting her pocket out like a badge of honor.
“Thanks Miss Mary. My grandfather gave it to me. He writes storybooks. He wrote us one once, me and Bridget, about how we’d always be together. It had our lockets on the cover.”
“Did he now? Well that was sweet of him. I’m sure he’s a nice man.” “I love him more than anything else in the world. It’s just sad he can’t visit anymore.”
“Why’s that, Abigail?”
“He’s in the hospital, Miss Mary. Bridget says she keeps him safe. And daddy says everything is going to be alright.”
“I’m sure it will be.” I said, and left the discussion. I forgot about it, until one day Abigail misplaced her pen.
“Miss Mary!” She tugged at my dress, her hand jerking urgently. I had been teaching the class cursive, but she walked up to the board like nothing was happening.
“We can’t find” Pause, “but we just had it” Pause, “My pen. We need your help.”
My hairs raised. The come and go speech pattern was back again.
“Abigail, sit back down. I’ll help you after the lesson.”
“No!” She shouted, stamping her foot. “No! We need” pause “or else” pause “will die.”
It would be fruitless trying to continue the lesson, so I helped her search.
With every minute, she grew more frantic, throwing over rugs and backpacks in her search. When she was on the verge of tears, I found it underneath one of the bookshelves.
She sighed. “Thank you Miss Mary. We’re better now. There was still time.”
No pauses now, just inflections again.
The two girls seated behind her sniggered. One was Natalie, a redhead with freckles peppered across her face, and the other was Jane, whose shoes were always shiny and school supplies always new. The week before I had caught them poking Abigail during class, much to her distress.
I continued my lesson and instructed the students to write a sentence of their choice in cursive. Abigail took the cap off her pen and, for the first time, used it to write an assignment. She took her time, eyes furrowed in concentration as she worked.
The rest of the student had left when she finished. She looked it over carefully, making adjustments for a full ten minutes, before she turned it in. I let her work- even after the transpired events, I had grown to love Abigail. And her dedication made me proud. I wanted to see what her handwriting would produce.
“You worked a long time on that, Abigail.” I said as she walked up to my desk.
“I wanted it to be perfect, Miss Mary. This pen writes so beautifully. I love the ink, it’s the most pretty blue. And it sparkles in the light.”
“It certainly is. Go home now, Abigail. Your family will be waiting.”
The sheet was blank. There was no blue ink.
She picked up her bags and headed out the door. She could walk home from this school, and I hadn’t seen her parents drive her over in over a week. When she was gone, I looked at her paper.
I held it up to the light, and could see the scratches the out of ink pen had made against the lines.
Abigail belongs to me.
Just before lunch the next day Abigail’s pen went missing again. We searched for fifteen minutes, and each passing second her panic became more evident. It wasn’t under the bookshelf. Or under the rug. Or in her backpack, whose contents she had strewn across the floor in rage.
She shook, wrapping her hands around her face and pulling her hair.
Behind her, I saw Natalie and Jane share a knowing look. A flash of grey gleamed from Natalie’s pocket.
“She’s such a baby. Baby baby baby!” Taunted Natalie as I took the pen from her.
The shrieks had already begun by the time I brought the it to Abigail. She grasped it, her knuckles bone white, and for a moment all was silent. “It’s too late. He’s gone.” She whispered, and looked me dead in the eyes. “He’s gone.”
Then she screamed so loud that I had to cover my ears and feared the windows would rupture.
“Baby!” Shouted Natalie, putting her hands on Abigail’s desk. Her voice was drowned out.
Abigail threw the pen as hard as she could at the board. It ricocheted, bouncing at an impossible angle, flying up above my head and slamming point first deep into Abigail’s desk, straight through Natalie’s right hand and pinning it to the wood. It was so embedded that I couldn’t remove it, and Natalie had to wait the fifteen minutes for the paramedics to arrive until she could move.
They rushed her to the hospital, and the school board suspended Abigail for two weeks. She spent it in Pennsylvania, at her grandfather’s funeral. The day of the accident he had died, and the doctor marked the time of death in thick blue ink at 11:44 AM.
That morning I had returned the one sentence assignment, and Natalie’s blood now stained Abigail’s paper. On the way to throw it out, I stopped, something catching my eye. Under the blood, sparkly blue writing crossed the once blank sheet.
Abigail belongs to me.
The most disturbing thing about Abigail wasn’t her queer tendencies or her morbid past. It was her innocence. It was that she didn’t know that anything was wrong with her life.
The end of the year was near, the children grew antsy in their seats as old snow turned to spring blossoms, and final parent teacher conferences were approaching.
I moved Natalie and Jane to the other side of the classroom, but it didn’t seem to matter. They avoided Abigail now. Everyone did.
She was quieter than she used to be, though she still held half conversations with the wall during social time. And the way she dressed had changed- sometimes her clothes were too small, and sometimes they matched in ways that just seemed odd, though the pen in her pocket stayed constant. Her hair was different too. She began to wear it in braids and other more complicated styles. I couldn’t help but notice that the streak of brown in her blonde hair had grown.
“Abigail, honey, I don’t think those clothes fit you just right.” I said one day. She wore a yellow button up shirt, but it was so tight that the buttons looked as if they were about to pop off.
“See? I told you she wouldn’t like it. I wanted to wear the blue one.” She said, twitching her right ear.
“It looks fine honey, I just think you might want to wear one that is bigger.”
“But Bridget said this is her favorite shirt and I should wear it today because it makes me look pretty.”
My skin began to crawl. That was when I first realized that she still wore Bridget’s clothes, which had not changed since kindergarten. I would have to bring this up at the parent teacher conference along with many, many other things.
On Wednesdays, it was my turn to patrol the lunchroom while the students ate. Abigail sat alone on the corner of one of the long tables, her lunchbox zipped open in front of her and its innards strewn around the table. She had set the seat beside her as well, placing portions of food on the table in front of it.
She took a bite of a sandwich, and something multicolored fell out onto the floor. It was a gummy worm, half green and half orange.
“What’s that you’re eating, Abigail?” I asked, poking around the rest of her lunchbox, finding a few candy bars, a baggie of sugary cereal that my own parents wouldn’t let me eat, and a bottle of chocolate milk.
“Lunch, Miss Mary. We made our own recipe.”
“Your own? Do you pack your own lunch Abigail? What does your mother say about gummy worm sandwiches?”
“We pack it every day.” She said proudly, “And mommy doesn’t like it. But I don’t really listen to mommy anymore.”
“Abigail, you need to listen to your mother. I’ll buy you hot lunch today.”
“What about Bridget?”
“She can have extra of your special lunch.”
I clenched my teeth as I watched her eat. What type of parent lets their child eat junk every day? And dress in clothes that obviously didn’t fit? Especially since it was her only daughter still left alive. On parent teacher day, Abigail’s mother and I would be having a long talk.
Next Wednesday, I caught Abigail eating gummy worms again. Now I bought her lunch every day, and every day she packed lunch for Bridget.
Abigail’s mother had the 7:30 PM time slot on parent teacher day. It was my last conference, and I had scheduled it late so that I could spend some extra time with her.
I watched the analog clock in the corner. Right now it was 7:29, but parents often showed up late to meetings.
Five minutes passed. Then ten. Then thirty.
I shook with anger when I got up from my desk. The negligence of Abigail’s mother was appalling. Opening up the directory I kept in my drawer, I ripped out Abigail’s contact information. Like it or not, her mother would be having the conference.
The drive was short, about five minutes, and I pulled into Abigail’s driveway. Her house was on top of a small hill, higher than any of the others around it, and a dead oak tree stood in one corner. The grass was high and uncut, while the flowers under the porch were wilting. I rang the doorbell twice and waited.
I heard Abigail thumping down the stairs, and a moment later the blinds flicked open to reveal her eyes.
“Miss Mary! Come in!” She said, opening the door wide.
“Hello Abigail. Is your mother home? She missed her parent teacher conference.”
“Oh yes Miss Mary. She said she didn’t feel like going out tonight.”
I clenched my teeth again, and struggled to keep my voice even.
“Did she now? Can you take me to her?”
“Of course!” She said, and whipped around, leading me to the kitchen.
My nose wrinkled- whatever Abigail’s mother had cooked for dinner smelled disgusting. We turned the corner and I saw her seated at the kitchen table. Her back was towards me and I felt my anger surge.
“I have every right to report you to children services. If you continue treating your daughter like this then I’ll have no choice.” I scolded, sitting in the chair next to her and turning to face her.
The smell wasn’t dinner. The smell was Abigail’s dead mother.
What was left of the skin on her face was taut, and much of her hair had fallen out, littering the floor around her. In front of her was a moldy cup and an empty bottle of prescription sleeping pills. I froze and Abigail embraced her mother, knocking one of her hands off of the table to fall motionless at her side.
I stood, backing away slowly. There was a video recorder plugged in on the counter and its flashing red light blinked at me.
“Abigail, honey, how long has your mother been like this?” I asked, carefully choosing my words.
“Like what, Miss Mary?”
“Here, at this table.”
No! Dead! How long has she been dead! My thoughts screamed.
“Oh I don’t know. Mommy still gets up every once and a while, but she stays in the kitchen a lot more than she used to. And she’s been sitting in my seat during dinner.” She pouted, crossing her arms across her chest. A fly buzzed around her mother’s head, but she didn’t notice. She was busy holding her mother’s shriveled hand.
“Abigail, how about you give me a few minutes alone with your mother. Go watch the TV in the other room.”
“Ok Miss Mary.” She left and I waited until I saw the blue green glow of the television before flipping open the video recorder. In the corner, the last recorded date flashed and I counted back the days. Thirty seven.
My God, I thought, and pressed play.
The screen flickered to life, and Abigail’s mother’s face materialized. Her eyes were puffy, and tear tracks from her mascara streaked down her face. I recognized Bridget’s old locket in her hand.
“I can’t do it anymore.” She said into the camera, “It’s too much. I’d be able to take it without my dad’s death, or the… things that are happening. I think I’m going crazy. But Abigail- something’s happening to Abigail. Something’s wrong, and I can’t live to see it happen.
“Abigail!” She called, and Abigail came into the picture. Her mother held two cups.
“Abigail, I made you some juice. Would you drink it with me?”
“But mommy, Bridget wants a glass too!”
“Of course she does,” And I saw fear cross her face, “Here, drink up.”
“Are you OK, mommy?”
“Yes, everything is fine. Drink all of it, I put some vitamins in there.”
“Bridget says this is hers.”
“Just drink it.”
And at that moment, Abigail’s voice changed, and the recorder’s lighting changed. Maybe it was the lighting, but Abigail’s hair looked darker than before.
I saw her drink it and heard the empty cup hit the table.
“Where’s mine?” She asked.
“You just drank it.” Murmured her mother. Her own medicine was starting to take effect.
“No, Bridget drank that one. She said it was the sweetest drink she’s ever had. I want one too.”
But her mother was already asleep. Abigail failed to notice, and for the next fifteen minutes upheld conversation with her mother. Then the recorder’s lighting dimmed, her voice changed, and she looked straight into the camera.
“Mommy is with me now.”
She smiled as the recording expired.
This explained the mismatched clothes and the lunches.
“Abigail,” I said, calling her back from the other room, “What happened to you the night your mother brought you juice. Did you get sick off of it?”
“No Miss Mary, she never gave me any juice.”
“What have you been eating Abigail? Who has been doing your laundry?”
“Bridget does everything now. Mother helps sometimes. And they braid my hair.”
I shivered. The styles she used were too complicated for her to do alone.
“Come, Abigail. You’re staying with me tonight.”
“Is that OK mommy?” Said Abigail, cocking her ear, “Alright, if you say so, I’ll be home before dinner tomorrow.”
Maybe the pills had expired. Maybe her mother forgot to spike her glass. The possibilities ran through my mind as we left behind her house, with the dead oak, the dead flowers, and the dead mother. But in my heart I could feel what had transpired.
And though it terrified me, I knew what I had to do next.
I had to adopt Abigail.
I never realized it, but the school day only revealed a small portion of the Abigail’s quirks. There were small things she did, things so innocuous that they went unnoticed until one day they became far too obvious. Like the way she climbed the stairs. It was as if she held a weight, and each step was a struggle. Or how she ate far more than should have been healthy for her age. Or her obsession with anything old. The adoption process went smoothly, especially since the end of the year had arrived and she was no longer in my class. By the end of the week we returned to her house to collect her things. The local authorities had removed the body of her mother. The videotape was all the evidence they required for her cause of death. There was no funeral since Abigail was her last living relative.
As I brought boxes from my car, Abigail rushed to her room, sliding out a chest from underneath her bed and throwing it open. A dozen objects rattled about the inside and she touched each to to make sure it was there. There was a picture, so faded that I couldn’t make it out, a shoelace, a ring, and a bottle cap among her treasures.
And there, among the trash, shined Bridget’s locket.
“Abigail, what are these?” I asked, picking up the ring.
“Don’t touch that Miss Mary! It’ll make you sad.” Said Abigail, pushing my hand down.
“Why’s that, Abigail? I think it’s pretty.”
“Pretty things can be sad too Miss Mary. And that one there,” She pointed to the bottle cap, “Makes me feel happy. But the baseball, the ball makes me angry. So angry.” She clenched a fist.
“Why would you hold it then?”
“For their stories. Sometimes I like feeling angry. Bridget likes feeling angry.”
“Who did these belong to?”
“I don’t know all of them. But they’re gone now. This is all that’s left, just the pieces they left behind.”
“Abigail, how does the locket make you feel?” I asked.
“The locket puts me to sleep Miss Mary. Bridget loves it when I wear it, but I think it makes me sleep too much sometimes.”
She took the box to my car and put it in the backseat. When she wasn’t looking, I took it back to the kitchen and hid it in the cupboard. She needed real toys to play with, and I had made up my mind to stamp out some of Abigail’s stranger habits.
But when we finished packing up, and I returned to the car, the box was on the dashboard. Abigail had not left my sight the entire trip.
As we pulled into the parking space at my apartment, Hank my Border Collie scrambled out the doggie door to meet her. Abigail outstretched a hand to pet him and his ears folded as his tail tucked between his legs. When her fingers brushed against his fur he growled, baring his teeth and backing into the house.
After we finished unpacking, Abigail helped me cook dinner. I decided upon Chicken Parmesan and gave her the task of picking basil and oregano from my windowsill herb garden. I minced them and combined them in the sauce, and Abigail said it was the best meal that she had eaten in weeks. Compared to gummy worm sandwiches, I’m sure that it was.
After dinner, we listened to the tinkling of a piano from the apartment upstairs. An old lady lived up there, Ms. Hawthorne, and she taught lessons in the evening to pay for rent.
“Can’t I learn?” Asked Abigail, and immediately I agreed. This was just the hobby she needed.
I introduced her to Ms. Hawthorne the next day, and the old lady smiled, pinching Abigail’s cheek.
“She looks just like my own Gabby.” She commented, and after we negotiated prices, walked away on her cane. Ms. Hawthorne constantly made comments about the past, and often I wondered if she was developing dementia, or should have been placed in an old folks home.
For dinner that night, we cooked homemade pizza. When Abigail brought in the herbs, they were already brown, instead of green and healthy.
“Abigail, you have to pick from the living parts of the plant, not the bits that have fallen off.”
“I did Miss Mary. “
“Here, let me show you how.”
I walked out onto the balcony, but the parsley and oregano plants were dead.
Frowning, I chose thyme instead.
Abigail was quick to learn piano. I listened to her from below, and heard her notes progress from fumbling to staccato to fluid. After two weeks, I signed the $80 check made out to Ms. Hawthorne, and slipped it through the mail slit. The next time she saw me in the hall, she stopped me.
“Mary, your check the for lessons came up a little short.”
“No, it didn’t.” I said, hoping not to embarrass her, “We agreed upon $20 per lesson, on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
“Why yes, Mary. But I don’t do package deals. That’s only one person. Lessons for two are $30 each. And that one girl wears me out like no other.”
I scrutinized Ms. Hawthorne. The wrinkles on her forehead looked deeper than usual, and she leaned heavier on her cane. Perhaps Alzheimer’s really was setting in.
“There was only one.” I said.
“Oh Mary, I’m old, but I’m not that old.” She wagged a finger at me and continued walking, coughing as she turned the corner.
“Abigail,” I asked that night, “Have you been going to piano lessons with anyone else?”
“Just me and Bridget Miss Mary.”
I paused, a creeping suspicion tingling.
“What made you want to start taking lessons Abigail?”
“I like the way it sounds,” She said, “And Bridget said she wanted to meet Ms. Hawthorne.”
“Why is that?”
“She said Ms. Hawthorne had a gift for her.”
Abigail refused to disclose any further details. At night I could hear her rummaging around in her treasure box. During the day, I could hear her play piano. Over the weeks, I saw the brunette streak of hair continue to grow among the blonde, as if it were taking territory. And I saw Ms. Hawthorne’s hair change from grey to white, her skin pale, and her movements become shakier.
Perhaps it was the shock of her dead mother finally setting in, but Abigail’s attention span was shrinking. Sometimes I would see her do her chores twice, as if she had forgotten, and I found myself repeating things to her multiple times before she would hear them.
Unless I was right next to her, I’d catch her staring deep off into space, or murmuring to herself. And even when I held her hand, she was always fidgeting and wringing out her dress. Sometimes she would sleep with me, saying, “I don’t want to go away tonight Miss Mary. I want to stay here.”
“Go away where?” I’d ask, already knowing the answer.
“With Bridget. Mommy’s there, and grandpa. But sometimes it’s hard coming back. Sometimes I want to stay there forever, but if I stay too long I’ll never come back.”
“Shhh. You’re here now with me.”
“Bridget says she can take you there too. You just have to put on her locket.”
“No. I’ll stay here, Abigail. I’ll stay here with you.”
There was no way in Hell I was putting on that locket.
“Ms. Hawthorne’s there sometimes,” She would mumble as her eyes drooped.
And then we would fall asleep, and my dreams would be troubled, and her fidgeting combined with the coldness of her small body would wake me deep into the night.
Ms. Hawthorne died in her sleep on a Thursday night. Her caretaker, who had met Abigail several times by now, found her during a morning checkup. The caretaker knocked on my door as the funeral home removed the body, holding out a silver chained object.
“I believe this belongs to your daughter, Mary. Ms. Hawthorne had it around her wrist this morning- I’m sure Abigail must have left it at her lesson.” She said.
“Put it on the counter.” I responded, refusing to hold out my hand. Bridget’s locket clanked as it came in contact with the cold granite and the caretaker left.
I almost called for Abigail, but there was something I had to know first.
I logged into my computer and opened up a mapping website. It was easy to find Abigail’s house, and I enlarged it, viewing the satellite image. A time stamp of revealed the image to have been taken two months before I had adopted Abigail. Everything looked the same, except for the dead Oak tree in her front yard. Verdant green leaves covered every branch.
I called Abigail in from the next room.
“Abigail, where did you get your sister’s locket from?”
“Who did your mother get it from?”
“From grandpa, after he died. He kept it after the crash.”
“Abigail, what gift did you say that Ms. Hawthorne give your sister?” I asked.
“Her years, Miss Mary.” Whispered Abigail.
Outside, in my windowsill garden, my other herbs were already brown. Just like the streak in Abigail’s hair.
I hid the locket away in my dresser drawer, folded away between two folded of socks. Two days later Hank was curled under the bed, as if there was a thunderstorm outside, and I found the locket intertwined into the nametag of his collar. Under the bed was dark, but his whiskers looked greyer than usual.
I removed it with gloves and brought it to Abigail.
“You found it!” She shouted. “Where has it been?”
“I kept it in one of my drawers, did you move it?”
“No Miss Mary, you have to keep it in the treasure box.” She said as if it was a well known fact.
“Why is that?”
“Because that’s where she belongs. That’s where they all belong. She talks to the others in there.”
“Yes Miss Mary. They’re all in there.”
Then she took the locket, and put it back into her treasure chest. And for months, I forgot about it. Until her birthday.
I had never celebrated Abigail’s birthday as a teacher. It was May 28th, too deep in the summer for her to be in class. She was turning nine, and for her year before the introduction of double digits I suggested we throw a party.
“Bridget and I would love a party!” She exclaimed, and for the rest of that afternoon we wrote invitations. Abigail insisted we send them to everyone she had met in school since kindergarten, plus some extras, so by the end of the day there were seventy envelopes around the table. Her party was in a week, so we mailed them the next day, stamped and addressed.
I didn’t have the heart to tell here, but sixty five of the letters were returned in the mail two days before her party. Abigail had accidentally added an extra digit to the zip code on them.
I hoped that she would have forgotten about the party, but that was all she would talk about.
“Bridget’s so exited,” She said the day before, “Do you think people will bring us presents?”
“I’m sure they will,” I replied.
“She’s ready for gifts! We can’t wait!”
“Abigail, I’m not sure how big this party is going to be. I think a lot of people may be out of town.”
“It’s OK Miss Mary. Bridget says that everyone that she wants to come will be there.”
Then the day arrived, and the doorbell rang five times.
First, was Thomas, the brute who had forced Abigail to hold the Nazi button in kindergarten.
Second was Natalie, followed shortly by Jane, who had stolen Abigail’s pen.
Fourth and fifth were two children I didn’t recognize, Riley and David, but Abigail said were from her first grade class. I had heard their names before at night when she cried in her sleep.
Five letters had been sent, and the five visitors were here. Abigail smiled wide and clapped her hands, seemingly unaware the sole guests were her tormentors.
Though there were party games, they sat in silence at the kitchen table. Natalie and Jane huddled together while Thomas picked at a scab on his forearm.
I watched over them, protective of Abigail, and cut the double layer cake into portion size pieces. Never before had I seen children their age so still or so quiet.
They ate. Any conversation echoed off the walls and died down, stifled down immediately by an invisible force. Abigail smiled, and that was what I cared about. But there was more to it than that- she seemed like she was waiting for something.
Half an hour passed, and Natalie and Jane proposed a game. Everyone wrote on sheets of paper and cut them up, then mixed them around in two bowls. One was for questions, and one was for answers.
“I’ll go first!” Said Abigail, and they offered it to her.
She reached in and drew out a long question strip, and read it aloud.
“How many friends will be in your life forever?”
Then she pulled out a smaller, strip of paper.
“Five! Five friends with me. I’m so lucky. Maybe it’s the five of you.” She said, her voice inflecting on the last sentence. The others shifted in their seats.
Thomas went next. He read his slow, stumbling over the words, and I recalled that he had never scored well on any of his tests.
“How many years until you die? Draw two.” And from where I stood behind the counter, I could see the sparkling blue ink that had written the note.
She reached in the bowl, and pulled out two slips.
“You’re not supposed to leave any blank.” She said. “And the other one’s a zero. Looks like I’ll live forever!” She laughed, but the laughter was hollow against my ears. Abigail laughed too, but not at the joke. It was the type of laugh of someone who knew something that you didn’t.
They continued until it was time for presents and Abigail opened her gifts. Natalie had bought her a box of multicolored pens, and I frowned at the irony. When Abigail finished, she looked up expectantly and asked, “What about Bridget’s gifts?”
“Abigail, I don’t think they brought anything for Bridget.” I said.
“Well it’s her birthday too, and she should have presents. It’s only fair. Did none of you bring her a gift?”
They shook their heads, and Abigail frowned.
“Bridget says that you each have something she wants. Wait here.” She ran upstairs and returned with her treasure box, popping open the lid.
“I don’t have anything.” Said Natalie. She had one eye on the door, and the other on the clock. In five minutes the party would be over.
“Yes you do! Bridget says she wants your hair tie.”
“Fine, take it.” Said Natalie, and handed over the bright pink elastic band. Abigail put it in the box.
“Bridget wants a hug too.” Abigail said, and held her arms wide. I could see both her lockets dangling from around her neck.
Natalie huffed and they embraced. For an instant, Bridget’s locket brushed against her neck. She inhaled sharply and backed away, but for the second Abigail held her I thought I could hear something like whispers. But then the hug was broken, and Natalie shrunk into the corner. Her eyes looked dimmer, as if someone had taken the brightness out of them, and her cheeks blue as if she had just come in from a cold walk.
Each of them took their turn, with Thomas going last. He hovered away from her, reluctant to move, and placed a chair in between the two of them.
“Go on.” I said, and pulled the chair away. He deserved it.
Once Abigail let go he shook until his mother arrived. When the school year started again, I could hear Natalie and Jane’s screams down the hall from their nightmares at naptime. Thomas was expelled from his school after biting another child’s finger off during a fight. I never heard what happened to Riley and David. None of them were ever the same. There was something missing about them, something subhuman, almost animal.
“Abigail,” I asked when they had left, “Did you know before the party that they had gifts for Bridget?”
“Yes Miss Mary.”
“What exactly did they give her?”
“It’s just like my question paper in the game said. Now they’re in our lives forever. Now Bridget has a piece of them.”
“Why would Bridget want a piece of them?”
“She says it makes her stronger.”
She looked me in the eyes, and I shivered. The streak of brunette in her hair fell across her forehead.
“How else is she going to come back?”
I’ve always loved happy endings. But you won’t find one here. And as Abigail said, even sad things can be pretty. It was the Friday before the first week of school and I had just finished buying Abigail’s school supplies. There was a new bright red backpack, crayons still orderly in the box, and notebooks with no ink to blemish their pages.
Abigail had taken to wearing both lockets now. I never remembered them being magnetic, but now they were stuck together, forming a full heart. I had given up telling her not to wear it, though when I hid it she scoured the house until she found it. It never took long. It was almost as if she could smell it.
I had promised Abigail that I would make her funnel cakes after dinner. They were her favorite dessert, and since I owned a countertop deep fryer, easy to make. While the oil heated and I hand mixed the batter, I heard her muttering to herself behind me. Usually I would ignore it, but by the time I had mixed in the sugar her voice had increased both in loudness and intensity to the point where she was screaming.
“No! There just isn’t room. There’s no room for two.”
“Abigail, honey, what’s wrong?” I asked, putting an arm around her shoulder but she twisted away.
“Bridget’s not listening to me! She won’t listen!”
“Hush Abigail. Everything’s going to be alright.”
“No it won’t.” She shouted. “It won’t.” She tugged at the locket around her neck with one hand and cupped the other to her ear.
“Both of us won’t fit. It won’t work.” She punctuated each word with another yank on the silver chain. With a snap the clasp broke, releasing the locket. The chain entangled itself in her streak of brunette hair, interweaving into the strands as Abigail’s screams grew louder.
For a full five minutes I worked to free the chain as Abigail struggled underneath me.
“She won’t let go!” She shouted over and over through her tears. “There’s no room.”
She calmed down when the locket finally was in my hands.
“Abigail, I don’t think you should wear this anymore.” I said, pocketing it.
“I don’t want to Miss Mary. But Bridget makes me.”
“I’m going to keep this for a while.”
“Bridget won’t like that. Not at all.” She said.
“Well sometimes it’s about what you like, not what she does.”
I began pouring the batter into the oil and the vigorous sizzling displaced the sound of Abigail’s sniffs. She wiped the tears away as the first cake finished and I loaded it with powdered sugar.
My shoelace caught against something under the table as I turned away to cook another cake. I tripped, stumbling against the counter and catching myself inches away from the fryer. The tips of my hair dipped into the basin, and a bubble popped to splash scalding oil onto my exposed cheek. I could feel my skin cook, and for years afterward a red burn splotch reminded me of the incident.
I wiped myself down with a paper towel and checked my shoelace for what I had tripped on. A silver chain gleamed from my right foot, and Bridget’s locket was twisted in an out of the string. I felt my pocket, and there was a hole I had not noticed, and the locket must have slipped down the leg of my jeans.
“I told you she wouldn’t like that.” Said Abigail, but I ignored her. I turned the fryer on low, even though there was still plenty of batter left. I felt more comfortable with the heat source removed.
“She says that she’s not waiting any longer Miss Mary.” Said Abigail, her voice small, “She says she doesn’t want to wait any longer.”
“Shhh. It’s alright Abigail, I’ll keep the locket with me tonight.”
We retired to bed not long after, as I wanted Abigail to have a few nights of full sleep before her first day.
Something felt off as I fell asleep, but I pushed the thought away. Something always felt off now with Abigail in the house.
The barking of Hank from outside my room woke me up. The air was thick with smoke when I sat up, and the particles clawed at my eyes and jammed into my nostrils. I coughed twice before I noticed the telltale orange glow of a house fire beneath my door.
An instant later, the fire alarm screamed to life, and I knew I had forgotten to turn off the fryer.
I ran to Abigail’s room, where she was still curled beneath the covers and mouthing her incessant muttering. She was harder to wake than usual, and I shook her by the shoulders, softly at first, then violently when she failed to stir.
“Abigail!” I shouted, “Abigail!”
Her eyes cracked open, and she peered around, dazed.
“We’re awake, Miss Mary.” She said when she caught my eye.
“Abigail, there’s a fire. We have to go now. Get up.”
“Abigail says she’s coming,” She said with a yawn. With a whoosh fire in the other room intensified, and I was alarmed to see the size brunette streak in her hair had doubled.
“Let’s go!” I yanked at her hand and she stood, stumbling towards the door. She walked clumsily, like someone who has been in the hospital for a long time and was unused to the feel of her own legs.
The heat had become stifling as flames spread from the kitchen to the ceiling. I heard the kitchen tiles shattering from temperature and held a cloth over Abigail’s face to filter out the smoke. The wood frames within the walls had already begun to catch and the entire apartment creaked as the supports burned away.
“Abigail, this way!” I shouted when she turned the wrong direction. We had reached the kitchen, where the fire was most intense, and she had her hand against the bathroom doorknob. The sizzle of her flesh was audible against the brass, but she held it there, unaware of any pain. In other hand I could see both lockets, though I had placed one in my dresser drawer before bed.
She stamped her foot and turned back to face me. Her face was contorted, and she yelled the next sentence at me.
“I’m Bridget! Not Abigail! Bridget!”
Before I could argue, there was an ear-shattering crack as a section of the roof gave way. With a flurry of sparks, chunks of drywall and boards came raining down upon Abigail. She screamed as an enormous board crashed against her forehead, and as she fell she slammed her right hand against my side.
I gasped as both lockets embedded themselves point first into me, piercing through my skin and sliding in between two of my ribs.
Abigail stood, blood rushing from above her eyebrow.
“I’m back Miss Mary.” She said, “Let’s get out of here.”
She ran ahead of me, pulling me through the worst of the fire. The smoke was so thick I couldn’t see, but she knew the way, and in moments we stumbled out onto my porch and into the lawn. In the distance, I could hear sirens.
We stopped when we could no longer feel the heat, and we embraced.
“What happened back there?” I asked.
“I’m sorry Miss Mary. When the board hit me she left me. I don’t have to listen to her anymore.”
“Let me wrap that cut up for you Abigail.”
“It’s OK Miss Mary. Thank you so much.”
She hugged me again.
“For what, Abigail?”
“For everything, I understand it now. And Miss Mary, it wasn’t your fault. Remember that. I saw you turn the fryer off.”
“It doesn’t matter now that you’re safe.”
Abigail gave me a half smile, and continued.
“Everything’s better now Miss Mary. And Bridget wants me to let you know that she’s sorry. See? She’s over there.”
And maybe it was the dark, or a swaying bush in the illuminated firelight, but across the road I could have sworn I saw the figure of a small girl waving.
“I have to go now Miss Mary. But I’ll always be with you. I’ll always be here.”
She put a hand against my side where blood was spilling over the lockets.
“I hope you don’t mind, but I borrowed one of your years to tell you this. Remember, it wasn’t your fault.”
“What are you doing, Abigail?”
“Leaving. Leaving to go home. It’s dark, but I think I can make it.” She said, and yanked the lockets out of my ribcage.
I gasped, falling to my knees. And I could hear her saying above me, “See you soon, Miss Mary.”
But her body was in front of me, and the gash across her head was no longer bleeding. Her eyes were glazed and no trace of brunette was left in her hair.
She had died as soon as the board had hit her head.
According to interrogations of the other tenants after the incident, I had carried her dead body from the flames and laid her in the grass before passing out. For weeks afterward, my psychiatrist warned me of the dangers of the fumes within burning houses, and I should let any hallucinations that I may have had go. But Abigail had been too real, and there was still the hole in my side where the lockets had been. And the day after the incident, I found my first three grey hairs in the mirror.
I felt the guilt for years afterward, but with time I came to realize that the fault did not lie upon me. Somehow, I knew. Bridget did not belong in this world, and when she finally gained the strength from all the stolen years and pieces of those who still lived to step into it, fate had cast her back out. Both times, by fire she had left.
The firemen saved what they could from the building. Everything I owned had been destroyed, save for a small wooden box that was completely unmarred in the small guest room. Abigail’s treasure box. And when I took it from their hands, I came to know how Abigail had been touched by death.
When I held the lockets, I felt the distant echoes of the twins. I felt Abigail’s emotions, her misery over her sister’s death, and Bridget’s envy of her sister’s life. But I felt the other objects too. I felt the anger Abigail had felt when touching the baseball, and the sadness of a broken couple in the ring. And I heard the screams of the children from the birthday party in their gifted objects. Abigail was right- when we leave from this world, there are pieces left behind.
There were times when I looked into the mirror I could see the twin’s figures behind me, but when I blinked they disappeared. Or when I would be walking alone and could hear two small sets of footsteps to my side, and would feel a tug against my dress. My side would ache, and I’d clutch the scar where the lockets had been. I’d relive the nightmares Abigail experienced, and would awake to the sound of her muttering.
And now, to this day, Abigail’s last sentence still rings in my head as I count my grey hairs each morning.
“See you soon, Miss Mary.”
I will never forget the Lucienne twins. Even after ten years, they are still fresh in my memory. Too fresh.
Hope you enjoyed this story! If so, be sure to check out Eden’s Eye, which is similar (and better).