Bella Muetre

//She smiles, thin lips peeling back, large eyes swimming with darkness, revenge and blood. "It's Spanish, y'know? Bella muetre... beautiful death. I always thought that it'd be a cool name. All mysterious and cruel" I don't say a word- I don't dare- and she shrugs. "But whatever. People like me don't need names. 'Killer' is a good enough title."//

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2. Chapter One || Sweat ||


I don't suppose that it's normal, seeing people covered in blood wherever you go. I used to think that it was, back when I was younger, when my body was small and stumbling, my imagination limited by the steel bars of naïvety that my mother had thrown up before I even knew how to protest.

I'll admit that I didn't quite under this... Gift? Curse?... at first; there were people with stained hands, rust-red dust lurking beneath their like stray dirt, the scarlet colour clinging to their palms- as if their writing pen had snapped, ink shooting from the casing like blood spilling from a cut veins, trickling between trembling fingers before plummeting to the ground like raindrops.

It took me years to realise what the bloodied hands meant. 

When I was six, my grandmother was killed in a car crash. Her son- my uncle- was driving her home from the theatre, their heads swamped with the dulling fog of Othello, before their car hit a tree. I can always imagine the stain of burnt rubber as it spread like the Plague through the air, the despondent hiss as air trickled out of the airbags like water, filtering amid the smoke and fumes.

They'd been five minutes from home, driving through the woods I would someday run through every morning. My uncle survived, but my grandmother did not, and it was only then- at the funeral, bound into my pressed black suit, the tie around my throat stealing my breath from my lungs- did I notice the red underneath his fingernails. 

I'd simply been curious, at first. I was still only young, the weight of my parents' expectations not yet beginning to tear at my muscles, but even at that age I knew that were were expected to look your best at such an event. My uncle had always been a neat man- hair pressed flat against his skull, tie-pin firmly in place, every piece of material, however small, allocated to a spot and remained there throughout whatever event he had politely entrapped himself in. 

But that day, there was blood on his hands.

I was too young to even consider smothering my curiosity, too young to contemplate the consequences of my actions,  and so, in flashing red tones, I piped up and asked why my uncle why there was blood on his hands.

I don't remember much else of that  day. I remember my uncle's sobs, I remember how cold and quiet the church had become, how the air had hammered against my bare neck like vengeful fists, the fear and sorrow gurgling into the room like bile from a dying man's mouth, as if the elephant in the room had shattered the ancient church doors and torn the vicar to pieces.

I also remember the slap- harsh and hot, like a slap of whip on a horse's back- on the back of my head, tearing a handful of hair from my scalp. From my place on the floor, the seat of my trousers dirtied from my less-than-graceful landing onto the cruel slate ground, the strands of hair caught between my mother's fingers flickered like dying flames in the watery light, rusty hues dissolving into dirty brown, dangling like fishing line from her closed fist.

I remember her telling me to go outside, and I remember not having dinner that night.

The curious (and undoubtedly heart-breaking) thing was that, a few days later, when the sympathy cards were only just being packed away, when the flowers that coated my family's kitchen table faded, bright colours seeping out onto the marble counter like blood, the petals curling in on themselves like depressed patients at a mental institution, where the only release would be the confines of their own shattered minds. My uncle was dead, too. Too many tablets and too many greedy mouthfuls of alcohol. That evening, I sat down in the family bathroom as my father sobbed in his bedroom, a suggestion of hysteria tinging his sorrow, and I scrubbed at my hands.

They were dirty. They were bloody.

They're still bloody now- a dusting of scarlet beneath my fingernails- nine years later, when I'm spinning around and  around on the ice rink, the world dissolving into a blur, streaks of colour from clothes and lighting carving claws into the otherwise grey world that surrounds me.

I finally slow, my arms spreading and dragging at the air as I turn into a gracefully stop, my skates kicking up a spray of icy dust into Grace's face. She throws a sigh into air, silver vapour dissipating into the cool air, icy shards clinging to her breath.

"Thanks for that," she groans, but her voice is smiling. There's a strand of blonde hair hanging loose, winding out of her bun and drifting around the nape of her neck. "I appreciate it. A lot."

I grin. "You love me anyway," I shrug, reaching out for her arm and wrapping my own around her waist, pushing off towards the edge of the ice rink. My muscles are burning- a warm, pleasant burn that leaves me buzzing, as if I'd thrown another espresso down my throat. 

Grace shrugs as the corner of her lips turn up into a smile, as if she doesn't want to allow my victory but can't help but admit defeat. "I kinda do, yeah."

We've both still got a couple of hours before Grace's mum picks us up and drops me home, so we make our way to the American Diner down the road from the ice rink, the entrance adorned with  red and white flags, shivering in the breeze. Inside, the television in the corner of the room is replaying a news article, a handcuffed man being led like a bound dog into a court in London.

"I recognise him," Grace mutters, following my gaze as she pulls down her jacket hood. Her hair's dappled with snow. "He was the one who killed his sister, right?" She shuddered. "With a baseball bat. In her bed. With their parents in the next room. It's horrible."

I slide into one of the booths, the plastic covering squeaking protestingly as I throw my ice-skate bag onto the seats beside me.  "No he didn't," I mutter, loud enough for her to hear but no one else.

She scowls, a trickle of water running down her forehead and beading above her eyebrow. "What do you mean?" she asks, and I shrug. She doesn't say another thing until our milkshakes arrive, when she laughs as I stir the mountain of whipped cream piled on top of my glass into my drink. "You're so weird, Xander."

I shrug and swallow another mouthful of my drink. She looks so beautiful sitting opposite me- blonde hair soaked with snowflakes and cheeks tinged pink with cold, her gloved hands wrapped around her milkshake in the middle of  an American diner in December.  She's lithe and strong from years of exercise, long hair tumbling over her shoulders- heavy gold twisting into honeyed strands.

The news reports continues to play; dead faces and empty eyes flash up onto the screen as if they were lines in a song- their appearances and stories perfected, each word assigned the ideal place like regimented soldiers, arranged meticulously into even rows. The world's so broken nowadays- stories oozing scarlet connotations of murders and robberies and black and blue bruises covered in makeup and sugar-soft excuses. Maybe I'm too pessimistic for my age- I'm seventeen, for goodness sake- nowhere near experienced enough with the twists and turns of life, the labyrinth the human race is trapped inside- I shouldn't be painting the world black and grey so soon.

We wait another hour, the snow piling up outside like fans against the walls of their favourite celebrity's house, desperate and adoring, an iron barrier separating the outside world from the flame-tinted light that we're bathed in. The man is led out of court soon after, hands bound behind his back and promises of another revisited trial pressing down upon his shoulders, as if he was the great titan Atlas, the sky weighing down upon his shoulders- as grey and tumultuous as the ocean, million cubits metres of crushing water- supported by trembling muscle and frail bone. His family conduct a small interview before the pack of journalists that claw at their words like hyenas; in short, neatly clipped tones, they announce that they are still devastated, they still with that the media abandon them to their grief for a while longer. The father nods politely and leaves with his arms around his wife, his hands dripping with his daughter's blood.

There's a polite ping as the café door opens again, a gust of cold air scraping long, jagged claws through my hair. Rather than turning to see who it is- I assume that it's just another customer retreating into the suffocating warmth of the diner  in December, just like we are- but when I see Grace frown, her forehead furrowing in disgust, I swivel in my seat anyway, the plastic covering squeaking. 

Silhouetted against the watery winter light, the girl in the doorway stands huddled in the doorway, hands shoved deep into her jacket pockets. Her face is swamped in shadow, her shoulders bowed, but Grace is still frowning when I turn back to face her, digging my hand into my ice-skate bag for my wallet. "What's she even wearing?" she mutters. "It's December, for Christ's sake. She'll freeze to death like that."

I hear the sound of shoes on smooth tile, and I throw the girl a glance again. Snowflakes still freckle her hair and shoulders, despite that brushing down her leather jacket as she tugs down her hood. Her face is narrow and sharp- cruel edges accented by harsh shadows- with thin lips that curve into a scimitar of a smile when she catches my eye. 

I can't ignore the shudder that rushes down my spin, freezing my muscles as I turn round and free my wallet from my bag. "C'mon." I say to Grace, throwing a ten-pound note onto the table. "Let's go back home. I've got work to do."

"What?" Grace chokes down another mouthful of her drink as I stand up and wave the waitress over, handing her the drink and insisting she keep the change. "What's wrong, Xander?"

The girl is still standing next to the door, dark, bird-like eyes skipping over the room, almost as if she's dragging every single piece of information back towards herself, as if they were weapons she was tying to her belt.

"Nothing," I snap, tugging on my coat. "Let's just go, okay?"

Grace doesn't talk to me as I walk her home, thick coats swamping our bodies as the wind scrapes icy claws down my spine. I'm used to her silence by now- the thick wall that slides up whenever I annoy her, purposely or not. I just leave her for a while before apologising through text a few hours later. She doesn't reply when I leave her at her door, just as she doesn't reply to me as I walk away, head bowed and the smell of sweat still not completely scrubbed free from my skin.

I understand why she's annoyed at me, for once, I really do. She didn't get to finish her drink, she knows that I really don't have any homework left to do, yada, yada, yada...

But she didn't see what I saw.

She didn't see the girl properly. She only saw the sharp face, the overlarge clothes. She only saw the dark hair dragged back into a ponytail, the shadows that drowned any light in the black, dead eyes. She only saw the slow, sarcastic smirk I was thrown as I shuffled passed her, too cautious to look a predator directly in the eyes. 

She didn't see the blood that coated the girl's hands, the scarlet that coated her forearms like a second skin, dripping from her forehead like rainwater. Grace didn't see the blood that the girl was drenched in, the blood that soaked her, the blood that leaked from her lips.

But I did. I can still see it.

I can still see the way the blood writhes, as if the lives that have been so unwillingly ripped from existence are curdling beneath her skin, like a cancer, tearing at itself like a rapid dog.

I don't want to think about the amount of lives she must have ended.

I don't want to think about the way she smiled at me.      

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