The wind howled and the roaring rapids spat on my cheeks as I plowed through the sand, drying my cheeks of the frigid water as well as tears. My cheeks were flushed, my fingers numb and cold as I kept tears at bay. The corners of my mouth were coated in the blood that was anyone’s but my own; Father had been quite generous, but my body count had to double in return.
It’s just three more people, I told myself, Three strangers; they mean nothing to you. My bare feet dried as the sand gave way to the marshes and my churning stomach settled; I hoped earnestly that Father would be pleased. With luck and nothing short of a miracle, he might allow me socks! First, though, I should probably focus on dinner.
“Father!” I called, gingerly closing our rotting wooden doors
“Cricket?” he yelled in response, “I’ll be down in a second.”
Booming down our creaking mahogany stairs, Father’s wide grin became more pronounced in the fluorescent light. Behind the grin were his cloudy blue-green eyes and a web of wrinkles and scars; sometimes, his appearance scared me if its shadows were shown.
Nonetheless, currently, his wrinkled, scarred face was stretched in a wide, childish grin.
“What’s your count today, kiddo?” he asked exuberantly.
“Two men, one kid, three women,” I replied softly, my voice cracking here and there in its usual awkward fashion.
“Six?!” he awed.
Tentatively nodding, I shrunk into myself, not meeting his falsely scrutinizing gaze. I’m strange in that regard, being scared of things that are obviously fake and cold-hearted towards things that would turn a normal human as pale as a ghost; I’ve always wondered why, though it seemed to boil down to - in Father words - “hormones.”
“I didn’t expect you to do it,” he sighed, wiping his exhausted eyes, “but you met the quota.”
From my hiding, I peered out, smiling slightly. “Can,” I croaked, “I keep the tears?”
“Sadness,” Father boomed, wrapping his arm around me, “is more than tears, Cricket.”
“I know,” I said, retreating into myself, “but they make me feel normal. Everyone cries.”
My cheeks burned, and I raised bruised hands to scratch them; I say stupid things sometimes, forgetting to think before I speak. It killed me when Father pointed that out, but I suppose that’s his job. Even so, embarrassment is my most hated emotion out of the four I’ve been permitted so far.
“Cricket,” Father sighed, exasperated, “You’re not ‘normal.’ You’ll never be normal because you’re extraordinary.”
My cheeks stung harder, this time out of rage. Father wrapped me in a tight embrace to punctuate his words.
“Abnormal,” I spat, squirming out of the embrace, “is not the same as extraordinary. I’m abnormal, so I guess you’re right, Father. I’ll never be normal.”
I clamored up the stairs, splinters stabbing my palms as my hand scraped the railing. Tears seared at the corners of my eyes and I didn’t try to keep them back.
I needed to cry that night; if I hadn’t, I might’ve been trapped for much longer than I was.
Needless to say, I skipped dinner.
The orange and yellow hues of the autumn leaves seemed distant as I crept through the forest. They crunched quietly under my worn black hi-top Chuck Taylors and the faint scent of tree sap floated in the warm breeze, raising the single dark strand from my eye. The chatter of squirrels and the chirping of birds enveloped the rosy foliage as the humming of cicadas provided a bass to the natural symphony. Father wasn’t far behind, but I couldn’t see him. I was scared, being so young and out of the sight of my guardian. I wasn’t sure why I was so terrified; most children would be feeling some sense of freedom or audacity or autonomy and just roam free, but not me. Instead, I sat under the bright red leaves of a thick-trunked oak tree and stared at the sunset. Father found me an hour later, waking me from an unknown slumber. “Cricket,” he cooed, “you won.” “Hmm?” I yawned “You won hide and seek.” “Oh,” I smiled, “I’m pretty great, then.” “Yeah,” he smiled, “you are pretty great, kiddo.” #
I woke up the next morning, happier than the night before. Father had gone to town, but he left a note. I felt the folded, faded yellow paper in my hand and crept down the stairs; they were louder than usual that morning. I grabbed a crisp green apple the fridge and took small bites, salvaging the little food that was left. Had I been in the mood to eat last night, I wouldn’t have had much to work with. I plodded out of the kitchen, retreating upstairs to my hodgepodge bedroom.
Kicking aside a jumble of old grunge t-shirts, I propped my door open and plopped down on my bed until I finished my apple and sat staring at my ceiling. After a while, I got up and put a cassette in the player. I took a moment to look at my clock, my only anchor to this plain while I’m in my daydreams.
12:45, it read.
“God,” I muttered, “how long was I out?”
Still hungry, I crept back downstairs as Alanis Morissette's jagged, raw voice trickled through the house. From the kitchen, I retreated to my miscellaneous safe haven, this time with a banana.
Finally finished with my two fruit breakfast, I fell asleep. I hadn’t realized it happened until I woke up in a fashion that was too terrifying to forget.
I saw the boy’s eyes, bloodshot and wide with fear, staring at his mother’s gaping throat. Her blood dripped down my chin as I spat out her windpipe and the boy wept for his mother. “QUIET.” I growled, “She’s dead.”
The boy brought his knees to his chest and buried his face between them, crying quietly. His shoulders trembled under his blue suede coat and his muddy hands were shiny with tears. “Kill me then,” he whimpered, “make me pay for what I’ve done.” He lifted his head from his knees and stared at me, glassy-eyed. I then watched with great horror as his round, tear-stained blue eyes warped into my almond-shaped hazel eyes, his stringy blonde hair becoming my short, coarse, black hair, and his young innocent voice became my raspy, hardened croak. “Make me pay for what I’ve done,” he- I- we repeated “Stop,” I hissed, frightened “Make me pay for what I’ve done,” we repeated louder “Stop,” I said more forcefully We droned on. “Make me pay, make me pay, make me pay, make me pay.” “Stop!” By then, I was shrieking, tears streaming down my face. “Stop! Stop! Please!” We paused for a moment, before replying. “Ok.” I collapsed to the cracked pavement below me, nodding my gratitude as he lunged for me, teeth bared. I tasted the blood that registered as my own before everything went black. I woke up in a pool of cold sweat, tear tracks drying on my skin. I glanced absentmindedly at the clock.
6:34, it read.
My heart was racing and I sat for hours until it leveled; I know because all I did was stare at the clock
Did I kill him? Me? I couldn’t; I wouldn’t!
I did. I’m a murderer He was just a kid! He didn’t need to die. I needed him to die. It’s better this way. Better for who? The question rang in my mind and rocked me back into an uneasy sleep. As my eyelids became heavier and yawns frequented my lips, a new question formed in my mind.
Was I guilty?
I woke up the next morning to Father shouting angrily downstairs. Careful not to be heard, I tiptoed down the rotting steps to listen in; my curiosity had gotten the best of me and I - for some reason- had to know why Father was yelling.
“She can’t stay here much longer,” he seethed, “she’s becoming aware.”
An unfamiliar voice replied, “What do you mean?”
“I heard her last night,” Father raged, “she was feeling guilty. She can’t be guilty.”
I clasped a numb hand over my mouth to contain a gasp and pressed myself against the peeling paint on the wall.
“You’re right,” the voice admitted, “but that doesn’t mean anything. Are you sure she hasn’t been permitted guilt? You’re quite forgetful, Edward.”
“I’m quite sure I didn’t permit guilt, Daniel,” Father said thoughtfully.
From my futile hiding I could imagine his brows furrowed, eyes clouded, and the wrinkles and scars on his face contorting this way and that. He was scary when he was thinking, but this conversation was even scarier.
“We’d have to take her,” this ‘Daniel’ character replied, “We’d have to fix her.”
At that moment, I broke.
Whoever “they” are, I’m not going with them, I thought, tear again rolling down my cheeks.
“He wouldn’t let them,” I whimpered.
“Cricket?” Father cooed, his voice breaking.
“You can’t let them!” I cried, “You can’t let them take me away! Don’t you love me? You can’t!”
He reached for me, trying to comfort me in any way, but I recoiled.
He didn’t want me.
I raced back up the stairs, tears pricking the edges of my vision.
I’ll make his job easier, I thought, I’ll leave. As tears drew cracks on my skin, I threw everything I’d need into an old denim messenger bag. After some double-checking, I crept down the moaning mahogany stairs with a blue hoodie, three cassettes (and the player), and a stash of bills I’ve pinched from Father - or Edward as I now knew him - over the years.
“My emotions are mine now,” I said to the closed door, “Mine and mine only.”
I opened the front door, this time ignoring Daniel and Edward’s conversation, and crept out into the marshes.
The monotonous grey of the cloudy sky matched my steady, uniformed footsteps as I sauntered through the marshes. It had rained recently - the petrichor smelled fresh - and every shrub in the marsh was beaded with raindrops. I was miles from our creaking cottage, but tears still rolled slowly and steadily down my face. It reminded me of the way raindrops dripped from the ends of fern fronds into the banks of the marshes. I opened my messenger bag and put my Combat Rock cassette in the player. In my ears, the cacophonous melodies of the Clash brought peace but in my mind, my thoughts wreaked havoc.
He didn’t want me Why didn’t he want me? Why did Daniel want me? Who is Daniel? I don’t know what I was thinking; I can’t survive out here! I’m a child.
I shouldn’t be doing this. I should go somewhere safe. I chuckled at the thought of “somewhere safe” existing for me. I knew no one and was unwanted in the only home I’d ever had, so “somewhere safe” was nonexistent. I picked up speed, trying to run away from my thoughts and raced through the marshes to the river banks. Tears rolled heavier down my drying cheeks.
I laughed a deranged, hollow, sobbing laugh and took my first steps out to the river banks as a free woman. Yet again, the wind howled and the roaring rapids spat on my cheeks as I plowed through the sand, drying my cheeks of the frigid water as well as tears, but this time, I wouldn’t be returning to Father and I wasn’t praying for his approval; this time, I was free.