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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4. Chapter Three || Ink ||


My mother's office is quiet, boxed in by thick, patchwork walls made from hundreds upon hundreds of books that lather each wall in the room- hovering precariously above the doorframe and lurking beneath the windowsills. I pause in the doorway before leaning through, ensuring the room is empty before stepping in.

I'm rarely allowed into this room; it's my mother's haven, the one room that I was forbidden from exploring when I was a child. I used to picture it as another land, a fantasy world imprisoned in the other side of a mirror, untouchable, unreachable. But now that I'm older, I can't help but struggle to imagine it as such. It's just a room. A quiet, hollow room, with papers neatly stacked into polite, convenient piles.

My trainers squeak on the wooden floor as I shuffle into the office, sunlight dancing atop the snow that layers the ground outside, flickering like bejewelled dancers on a stage, the sunlight leaking through the windows and trickling  over the floor like silvery water.

My mother left early this morning- scurrying out of the front door when I was barely awake, her usually clean-cut state twisted and flecked with crumpled material. I dragged myself out of bed, went for a run and came back swathed in sweat. I showered, ate and completed my homework. It was only then that I received a text message informing me that my mother had no intention of returning home for another few hours. I'm not surprised.  It has been the same text, the same exact words- efficient, unapologetic- every day this week.

Work has always snatched the her attention from me, even after all these years.

I suppose that rather than sneaking through my mother's private business and hidden dealings, I could instead revise for my exams. Or watch television. I could- I should- be doing so many different things that would be far less stressful than this: I'm still expecting my mother to throw open the door at any moment, a furious snarl transforming her pale face into that of a monster's- a vampire's, perhaps, with dead, scarlet eyes from which leak fire as she tears my throat out with her teeth. 

I frown, pinching my nose as I make my way over to the desk, which squats proudly in the centre of the room, paperweights and technology arranged precisely on the smart white surface. I rifle through the papers first- stacks of printed codes and scant messages, information clipped short into abbreviations and notes. I'm being stupid, anyway- if my mother really is trying to hide something, I doubt that she'd simply leave it lying in plain sight.

Next to be thrown open are my mother's drawers- I tear through piles of pens and pencils, the smell of dry, stale air curdling like spoiled milk in the empty room. These obviously haven't been opened for a very long time. Of course, it would help if I actually knew what I should be looking for; I've never had the time nor the patience to sit through James Bond and the like- but now it seems that maybe I should have. I mean, if anyone knows how to find important information in an office, a secret agent would.

Maybe I'm overreacting. Maybe it's nothing.

'But maybe,' the voice in my head leers, it's words twisting like viper at my ears, 'you should actually be preferring your heart to your logic, for once.'

I sigh, dragging my hands through my hair in frustration. I'm no secret agent. I'm high-school student who's been trained since infancy to inherit my mother's business. I'm a teenager with a part-time interest in ice-skating and quantum physics. I'm a person imprisoned within the four steel walls of normality and the utter predictability of human kind, whose simply bored of such a rotting world. 

But there's still something. Like a drop of water in your ear that, however hard you try, you can't be rid of. A nag. An itch. A voice that insists that there is something wrong, and it has something to do with my mother and the girl I can't help but fear. She reminds me of a hunting dog- something controlled and quiet, until the leash is removed and the fangs come away bloody. A wolf in sheep's clothing.

I turn to the bookshelves- running my hands over the spines, reading each title. There were books on money, on businesses, on modern and ancient history. So many different topics, different subjects packed together like sheep for the slaughterer. There is no way that my mother could have ever had time to read all of these.

There's one book- one solitary book pushed into the bookcase nearest the door- that's different to the others. It's been placed upside down, the words printed onto the spine scrawled out in a font that's barely readable. I run a nervous hand through my hair before crossing with little hesitation to it, pulling it free. It's a book on accounting, hard-back, with a picture of a smiling woman dressed in smart office clothes on the front. I pause.

Flicking through it, I realise that there's absolutely nothing different about it. Nothing stored within the pages, nothing scrawled over the words. Nothing. Suddenly, I notice the pages shuddering as a cold breeze fingers its way into the room, rustling the paper like autumn leaves. 

"Y'know," a voice said behind me, "you're not going to find anything in here."

I swing around. The girl  is seated on top of my mother's desk, her boots swinging childishly. "Hello again," she says. The window behind the desk is hanging open 

"What are you doing here?" I snarl, holding the book to my chest as if it were some sort of protection. When there's no reply, I take a step forward, throwing a cloak of confidence over myself. "Tell me!"

Bella shrugged. "I had a free morning, so I thought that I'd pop in and offer some friendly advice."

"Oh yeah?" I snap. "And what would that be?"

She sighs, toeing off her boots. They're caked in frozen mud and snow, her dark jeans scuffed around the ankles, as if they'd been word when they were too long, when the bottoms would have dragged across the floor. "Like I said: you're combing through your mother's office in search for some sort of information, probably about me or why I'm disrupting your life like this, but you're not looking in the right kind of places."

I take a step closer, dragging myself as tall as I could be. I'm not cold like my mother- I'm not strong or brave or emotionless. But I can try and pretend to be.

"I want you to get out of my house." 

Bella grins. "I will, don't you worry about it. Just, y'know, not just yet. Do you know how difficult it is, climbing through this second-floor window? I can't let all that effort go to waste."  I don't say a word and she shrugs. "Whatever. Anyway, I'll tell you what I came here to tell you, and then I'll leave, okay?"

I figure that this is the best that I'm going to get, so I nod slowly.

She swings her feet giddily and laughs. "Do you remember your old maid?" she asks. "She came in every other day, cleaned everything and sorted out your clothes. Do you remember? She fell from her flat's balcony a year and a half back. It was tragic, it really was. Left her five month old son all alone. What a terrible, terrible accident it was. How unexpected."

"And what's this got to do with anything?" I ask, but can't ignore the feeling of dread that begins to rise, a black mass of worry and apprehension trapped inside my diaphragm, making it difficult to breathe.

I remember Maria. She was in her late twenties, quiet and kind, and I never understood why my mother had fired her in the first place. There'd been crying and sobbing and begging, but Maria was thrown out anyway. And then, days later, I found out that she was dead.

"Yeah," I say. "I do."

"Or what about your mother's boss? Do you remember him? Hit by a car. Awful, so awful. And then there was the head of a rival company. They were killed too. I mean, it's almost worrying how many awful accidents have occurred in the last twenty years."

The room darkens, clouds shrouding the sunlight as clouds clawed their way across Bella's face. Her eyes are cold and dead, the cocky grin replaced with a cruel smirk.

"What are you trying to say?" I snarl, because I have to ignore the treacherous thoughts that rise up like cobras, I have to quash the cruel suggestions that whisper in my ears. 

Bella shrugs as a clatter downstairs suggests that my mother has returned. "Xander!" I hear her call, "where are you?"

"Make of it what you will," she says, sliding off the desk and pulling on her boots. "I'll be seeing you soon, kiddo, whatever you think."

"Xander!" 

There's the sound of feet on the stairs. I can't let her know that I'm in here. She can't know. I throw open the door and stumble out, mind brimming with blacked thoughts. I glance back at the room and Bella's gone.

I stagger down the stairs and straight into my mother. "Oh, hi." I fumble at my words, "How was work?"

I can't help but wither beneath my mother's stern gaze, peeling away layers of skin, dragging out my secrets and lies and exposing them in the open air. "I have something for you," she says evenly, and holds out her hand. In it i, s an envelope- crisp, white and stern-looking. I take it from her hesitantly.

"Open it," she says, "while I go and get a drink."

I obey silently, peeling it open to find and equally official-looking letter. I skim over it, skipping from word to word hurriedly, unable to stop the smile from growing, almost splitting my face in half. I run down the stairs, almost skidding straight into the table. My mother looks up expectantly, hands wrapped protectively around a glass of red wine.

"Thank you," I whisper. "Thank you so, so much."  

Tutoring from an Olympian ice-skater, twice a week. My mother nods. "You start next Monday," she says, and I'm almost tempted to hug her. "I decided that the best way for us to work was to compromise. You can have your training if you also work towards the company. Would that be fair?"

I don't even hesitate. "Yeah. Sure. Definitely. I would love to."

This is my shot. The one shot I have to make it. My one chance to do exactly what I've always wanted to. I grin, and my mother surprises me by pulling me in for a hug.

I can't wait to tell  Grace.    

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