Hey! Part 5
Audrey stood at her window, staring out at the streets.
The morning was dim but her apartment was dimmer, the lights all off, the TV still going ignored, the silence palpable, hovering with the presence of a hanged man before his spectators. She leaned against the wall, her head propped against the pane and the drapes tickling the side of her face. She’d crossed her arms, holding herself tightly. Forcing herself to stay and watch.
She’d awoken half an hour ago and started wandering her apartment in a senseless daze. Truthfully, she didn’t know why she was doing it. She just did. After passing the window for about the dozenth time, she’d glanced out, only to have her eye catch on a group of children at the bus stop half a block away. She could see them stepping about, talking to one another, hitting each other, darting around and playing tag before they were off to school.
But one of them in particular had held Audrey’s attention. A little girl who stood in a single spot, neither talking nor laughing. She just stood there, facing towards Audrey’s apartment and staring up her way. She wore a little dark dress and her hair was up in pigtails. And although her face was a blur from this far off, Audrey was pretty sure of whom she was, whether it was possible for her to be standing there or not.
So, to try and see if she was just flipping out, Audrey steeled herself, returning the gaze that she felt was focused on her. She waited for the bus to come or for one of the other kids to acknowledge the girl for about five minutes, wondering what would happen then. But the other kids never approached her, and when the bus came, all but her piled on. The bus drove off without her.
And the little girl never once turned away in all that time. And she still hadn’t when Audrey slid the drapes closed, darkening her apartment all the more.
Two notions had wormed their way into her thoughts the last couple of nights, as she tossed and turned. She still fought to keep the one at bay while she stood there in the dark, giving consideration to the other. Finally, she went over to her computer, the image of that girl outside deciding the matter for her.
She brought up the website for the Danville Gazette, quickly finding out what she wanted to know. She was in luck, such as it was.
She had not missed the visitation for Marcy Houghton. In fact, it was being held the day after tomorrow, and it would be open to the public.
Audrey sat in the Escalde, wondering if she could go through with this. She’d been staring down at her hands for the last few minutes, wringing them repeatedly. Her eyes were misty. Her nausea was getting worse. She kept her lips tight, breaths coming quick and harsh through her nose.
Do it, she told herself. Do it already, you God damn coward.
After another minute of stalling, she heeded her own demand and got out of the car. She cleared a path through the full capacity lot and up to the entrance of the Jenson and Sons Funeral Home, slowing as she approached the doors. She’d dressed in a smart business suit and had put on a heavy layer of makeup, hoping she looked better than she felt. Maybe it wasn’t working, because a couple gave her a somewhat wary look before pulling ahead of her and heading into the building. Or maybe they could just sense the truth of her, of why she was there, the guilt radiating out from her body like a heat wave.
Did you see who that was? the man would be whispering to the woman right this minute.
Of course, she would say back. That’s Audrey Danvers, Accessory to Child Murder extraordinaire. She helped arrange this sad little soirée.
Ridiculous? Maybe. But still, Audrey felt like she was wearing her heart on her sleeve—a heavy heart, at that—and that someone was bound to pick up on it and point the finger her way. As she stepped into the foyer, she felt like the wolf in sheep’s clothing, stalking into a pasture where she wasn’t welcome.
Music played softly from speakers situated overhead, the sounds of violins mingling with the tinkling of piano keys. The lights seemed to be dimmed, making the scene all the more somber. People dressed in a respectful black stood in clusters all about a large reception area; it took up most of the building, the funeral home’s four viewing rooms branching off to each of the corners. The far right one had a silent line of people waiting to get into the room, no doubt to pay their respects to Marcy Houghton’s family and to say a prayer over the girl’s casket.
Audrey weaved through the crowd, making for the line. She caught snippets of conversations and whispered bits of gossip as she passed the groups of mourners.
“To think that something like this could happen in a town like ours . . .”
“We live in a sad world.”
“Did you hear they confirmed it? That sick fuck did kill those other three.”
“Gas the bastard. Or bring back the electric chair. Make him feel it.”
“I heard Jade say that Chloe’s been having nightmares. The poor girl. As if losing her sister wasn’t enough . . .”
Audrey took her place in the line and others followed after her. It moved quickly, and Audrey was in the parlor room in no time. She saw Jade and Darren Houghton, Marcy’s parents, up ahead. She recognized them from a photo posted on the Gazette’s website. They stood between little pillars that bore pots of lilacs, a blown-up photo of a smiling Marcy situated behind them.
A little white casket sat in the corner off to their right. It was closed. More pots and wreaths of all sorts of flowers surrounded it. Audrey’s nausea gave a bump in her gut when she noticed one was filled with amaryllises.
She felt her face go warm as she looked away. Her sight fell on the rows of folding chairs arranged to the far left, set up for when the service started. A few of them were already claimed. An older woman sporting a turned up veil stood beside a corner seat, a young girl beside her, their hands clasped. The girl was shifting her sorrowful sight between the floor at her feet and the casket in the corner, her chin dipping down towards her chest. There had been no picture of her on the Gazette, but Audrey assumed she was Chloe Houghton, Marcy’s slightly older sister.
Audrey looked to her own feet. Her hands kept up their nervous kneading. Her heart grew more restless with each step forward, the line advancing quickly. What in the world was she to say when the time came? And it was coming damn soon, if she didn’t turn and run right this instant. Maybe she should. Maybe this was a bad idea. She shouldn’t be here. She had no right to—
Jade and Darren Houghton stood before her now, waiting on her, each looking beaten down, no matter how straight and proper they tried to stand. Jade gave her a thin smile; it was a tired one, but not without its warmth. “Thank you for coming today,” she said, extending her hand.
Audrey paused, and then accepted it into her own clammy grasp. Now was the time. To say it. To have it out and damn what came next, as long as it was admitted.
I let your daughter die!
“Hello . . .”
I could have helped her! I could have saved her!
“Audrey Danvers,” Darren Houghton said in a deep voice.
Audrey gawked at him, terrified that they knew who she was.
“Our famous writer,” Jade added with an explanatory nod and a small laugh, apparently at the face Audrey had made. “We’re familiar with your work. Marcy was such a fan of your books. Annie and . . . Fink?”
Her husband gave a little chuckle of his own. “Plink,” he corrected. Then he turned back to Audrey. “We got the box set of them for Marcy’s birthday this year. She had me read them with her come bedtime. She thought they were so funny.”
Audrey felt like she was sinking into the floor, right into a quicksand of guilt. If she didn’t say something now, it would swallow her up.
“Thank you. I’m . . . so glad she liked them. I . . .”
I saw her down there! In his basement! But I didn’t help her!
“I just wanted to say how . . . how very, terribly sorry I am for your loss. And that . . .”
And that it’s all my fault! God, I didn’t realize! I should have done something!
They stared at her, looking patient as she teared up and struggled to get it out.
“And that . . . I hope, with all my heart . . . that justice is found for your little girl.”
Jade tried to smile again, but it broke. She started crying, wiping the back of her hand across her eyes. Words started to come from her lips, but they stumbled into a sob. Darren put his arm around her and pulled her closer, extending his hand out. Audrey hesitated once again, but she shook it.
“Thank you,” he whispered. “Thank you very much for that.”
Audrey stepped away, hearing a moan from Jade over her shoulder. She heaved a sigh and ran the back of her hand over her own eyes, swallowing down a lump. She walked gingerly over to the casket, as others had done, standing by it just long enough to stare at its veneer and whisper a plea of forgiveness inside her head.
She turned back and made to leave the funeral home, but she slowed as she looked towards Chloe Houghton.
Chloe had turned her wetted eyes up to Audrey, looking right at her, and with a dried hint of a tear upon her cheek. But behind her, staring over her right shoulder and towards Audrey, in turn, was a single eye set into an ashen face, the rest of the ghostly visage hidden behind Chloe’s neck. The only other visible part of the apparition was a small pigtail that jutted out from its—her—head.
Audrey went cold as she turned away, rushing out of the funeral home and out to her car.
Patrick Winters is a graduate of Illinois College in Jacksonville, IL, where he earned a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. He has been published in the likes of Sanitarium Magazine, The Sirens Call, Trysts of Fate, and other such titles.
You can find him at:
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