So much blood.
It swirled around her, filling her vision. Drip. Drip. Drip. The scarlet drops fell to the ground, staining the white tiles, the edges of the porcelain tub. The salt in it stung her eyes when she opened them, but she could not close them. Besides, the pain in her wrists was so much worse than any small sting.
That pain burned, lines of agony running across her small child arms. She thrashed and fought, and it still wasn’t enough to free herself, only enough to make the pain worse.
When she stopped fighting, relaxed into the death waiting for her with open arms, Jamie felt the pressure on her shoulders cease, felt the push become a pull as she was yanked out of the water.
Jamie wanted very much to play dead, to pretend the woman had been too late, to pretend that her mother had drowned her. But she was too tired, her lungs hurt too much, and she just had to breathe. That, of course, set off a great fit of coughing as Jamie vomited the water back to the floor.
Drip. Drip. Drip. And then a towel wrapped around her, soft everywhere except her still hurting hands. Jamie cried as only a child could, moaning and screaming as she snuggled her face into her mother’s warm body.
“It’s alright, baby. It’s okay,” her mother crooned, patting her head like a puppy. “I just needed to make sure you would remember. When the demons come for you… When they come, I want you to take this knife…”
Drip. Drip. Drip. But that didn’t make sense. She’d been wrapped up, the drops caught by the towel. Why did that sound follow her?
The memory faded out, first as if it were being washed from her mind, the scene blending in to the tiles. Then an angry red swirled out and through it, filling her vision before forming the shape before her. A very familiar shape.
“Why do you always remind me of my mother?” Jamie asked, staring at Zack as he dripped cold blood onto the floor. She knew it was cold because she could still feel it on her skin where he’d grabbed her, trying to stop her scream, but he’d been just a little too slow, or maybe she was just a little too fast now. Either way, her shriek had echoed through the large house, piercing the silence of the night, for which Jamie was sorry and not a little ashamed.
Zack’s face darkened, his insult clearly showing in his eyes. Jamie didn’t like those eyes. They saw too much, knew too much. Usually they gave away too much too, but now all she really saw was death and darkness and hate. So many sins, compiled upon one another, slowly shading his soul from grey to darkest of black, the color of a moonless night.
The arrival of Ace at the end of the hallway, his red eyes rimmed in dark circles, white hair hanging limply about his face, spared her a reply. Jamie saw the mark below his eye for what it was now, a sign of his position. At first, when she’d seen him, she’d thought it a freckle or birthmark of some sort, but the single ace of spades below his eye, dripping like a teardrop, was like her circle of tombs.
That tattoo still hurt, just as it had when first she’d been marked. Back then, only a few hours ago, really, this had all been a game. She hadn’t realized that then, of course. She’d only been grateful to escape her life, to escape her uncle and his house and all the memories trapped within. Jamie hadn’t known they would follow her here, waiting to be uncovered and released, painful truths about her own life thrust back into the light.
But this game was over now.
“Zes, come with me. We need to talk.”
Zack didn’t say anything, just glanced bleakly over to the older boy and nodded, following him back down the hall. Neither so much as looked back toward her as they went.
Jamie found that she truly did not mind. The blood, so so much blood, still burned behind her eyelids when she blinked. He’d been soaked in it. Too much blood. No one could cut themselves and lose that much blood, not and live. So it hadn’t been his, and that only made it worse.
Because Jamie was not stupid, regardless of what anyone else thought. She was no idiot. She wouldn’t delude herself, would paper over a hard truth with easy lies. She wanted to face this for what it was.
Zack had killed someone. Maybe more than one someone.
And this game was no game.
And now she was part of it.
Jamie had no doubts. If she tried to turn him in, if she went to the police and told them where the house was, she’d die. She’d meet her inevitable end. Thinking back, Jamie realized she’d never met all of the members of the “family,” only those who’d been at the house and certain times. And this group was smart enough that, although most did choose to reside in the communal residence, some lived outside. And there was almost never a time when all gathered under this roof.
Even if she had been certain of her own safety, Jamie did not think she’d reveal them. What would that accomplish? It would simply force her back to her uncle, and after their strange parting, he was unlikely to welcome her with open arms.
Mind still reeling with the revelations of the past few minutes, Jamie turned and stumbled toward the living room. Sinking down onto the couch, she idly flipped through channels, trying to distract herself from increasingly morbid thoughts.
“Other breaking news: A gristly murder in the suburbs has the whole city reeling. Let’s head out to Riley for on-the-scenes coverage.” Jamie stopped flipping, her eyes glued to the screen as it morphed into a young-ish woman in a suit, standing beside a maze of yellow caution tape.
“Thanks Mat,” the woman – presumable Riley – said over-enthusiastically. “I’m here, in the driveway of the house where the thirty-seven year old Julie Price and her teenaged son were brutally murdered. The bodies were reportedly discovered by Mr. Price upon his arrival home from work.” The field reporter turned to an elderly woman beside her.
“Here with me is a neighbor, one of the first to respond when she heard the screaming. So Mz. Miller, can you tell us what happened?”
The camera panned over then, zooming in to the wrinkled face. Jamie leaned forward, unable to help herself. There was no way. It couldn’t be a coincidence. And some part of her wanted to know exactly how bad her new “family” really was.
“Well, it was about dinner time,” Mz. Miller said, her voice raspy and weak, shaking and trembling as much as her hands. “And all of a sudden we heard this loud shout. Now Dave, he thought it might be a burglar, so he grabbed my son’s old baseball bat, and we went to look out the door.
“We could see him from there, throwing up all over his roses, and I said to Dave we should go check if he needed help, because he looked really sick. So he put away the bat, and we went, and then, when we got close, we could see it.”
The camera went back to the reporter again, her brows furrowed in fear or confusion or concern. “And what did you see, Mz. Miller? What happened, exactly?”
“There’s only one person on God’s good earth who can tell you exactly what happened, and they’re not likely to say a word any time soon. But I saw the body, or bodies. We really couldn’t tell how many there were, didn’t get a good look at them, wouldn’t have wanted one even if we could have it.
“They’d been cut up into pieces, left in a big pile. There was a head there, on the top of it all, though I couldn’t tell you which one it was. It’d been torn up too, half the skin just gone, probably cut away. Something was in its mouth, a heart I think, though I’m not an expert and I was too afraid to really look close.”
The woman crossed herself and shuffled away, as if her business was done now that she’d told the story. Jamie felt a shiver pass through her as she pictured it. But Zack couldn’t have done it. No teenager, no kid, could have. No human should have been able to either, but certainly not someone only a couple of years older than she was.
The reporter was talking again, but Jamie missed what she said, only tuning in again when the screen switched back to the news headquarters. “Well folks, there you have it, straight from the scene itself. Terrifying stuff. Another report from witnesses says there was some sort of note stuck to the wall too, but it doesn’t say what was one it. Well, we should all keep the Price’s in our thoughts and prayers tonight. And now, on a lighter note, this weekend’s new blockbuster release, ‘Zombies of the Heart,’ made a record-breaking seven-hundred and sixty-seven billion-”
Jamie lost interest and clicked the television off, then settled back and began chewing on her lip. She knew it couldn’t have been him. It just wasn’t possible.
But she had a feeling nagging at her. Lies were easy, especially she told them to herself.
And this solution felt much too simple.