I didn’t take in a word of Maths, nor did I hear any words on the walk home. My mind was far too preoccupied.
Killer? That must’ve meant that at some point soon I must kill someone. But . . . how? Who? And why? I couldn’t kill anyone. Could I? But I must do. The words never lie. It wouldn’t appear on my skin unless it was going to happen. How could it?
Borrowing Femi’s History exercise book, I shut myself in my bedroom, hoping it would be excuse enough not to be disturbed. I dropped down onto my bed and stared at the soft blue of my walls for a while, clinging to the moments my brain was too frazzled to function. I didn’t want the world to keep spinning. I wanted everything to stop here and now. It didn’t matter that I was caught in the worst moment of my life. That didn’t matter. I was too afraid of what was going to come next. It was safer here trapped in misery and anxiety forever than it ever would be to face the future. I could see why the unknown was one of the biggest fears out there.
When I’d gathered my thoughts, a hot anger surged through me. I jumped up, having to move. I had all this fuel inside me and something had to give. Why was this happening to me? I wasn’t going to kill anyone. That wasn’t me. Never would be. Couldn’t be. I ripped off my school clothes and bandana and brushed my fingers over the imprint. It didn’t make any sense.
The idea came to me bit by bit as I changed into my favourite skirt and t-shirt. It was simple. All I had to do was make it go away. Easy. Yeah.
I paced back and forth for a few minutes to gain confidence and then I willed it to be gone. Just that. Gone. Never happened. It was all a dream. Not worth mentioning. I’d never wanted something more in all my life but I couldn’t believe. So I wasn’t at all surprised when I looked down to see it still there, glaring at me.
Growling in frustration, I tried again. And again. And again.
Moving on from that, I filled my head with rainbows and kindness and heart. Someone like that would never commit a murder. They wouldn’t be able to. Sweetness was not something I knew how to be. Femi had always been the good one, the cute one, the little angel. With her filling that space there was no need for me to be loveable. At some point in our childhood I’d set myself wide apart from her. We may be identical but we were nothing alike.
I squeezed my eyes shut and thought light, airy, fairy thoughts. Butterflies and smiles and soft pillows. But I couldn’t unclench my fists. I couldn’t loosen my jaw. I couldn’t relax my shoulders. I was too tense for this. Channelling Femi was harder than I’d expected and the imprint refused to budge.
I tried everything I could think of until I was ready to rip my hair out and then I descended upon my laptop. After all, someone somewhere must’ve had the same problem. And someone somewhere must’ve figured out a way of making it go away. I couldn’t be the only person this had happened to.
As the minutes slipped into an hour, my hope dried up.
When there was a knock on my door, my wrist was covered with the bandana again and I was leaning on my desk with my head in my hands. I didn’t look up to see who it was.
“Done with my book yet?”
I shook my head.
“What’s the problem? It’s just notes.”
I shut my laptop lid as she came over. “Nothing. Got distracted.”
“Dad called you for dinner.”
“Right.” I pulled myself up. “Sorry. Didn’t hear.”
She cocked her head to the side. “You sure nothing’s wrong?”
“I told you, I don’t feel great.”
“There’s more though, isn’t there?”
“No. I’m just tired and feeling rough.”
I pushed her out of my room and tried to hide the despair on my face before being confronted with the dining room table.
Dom was laughing with Mum about something when Femi and I took our places.
“Long time no see,” I said as I took my seat, trying to force the normality back into my life.
“You’ll never guess what?” Mum started after a few minutes of silence. “Today I came across an old casefile while I was looking for something. It was just a theft case, easy enough but the weird thing was the guy who was guilty tried to argue that he was innocent even though one of his imprints branded him a thief.”
“It actually said that?” Femi asked.
“Yeah.” Mum held her arm out and pointed to a spot. “Right here according to the file.”
“And he was saying that he was innocent?” Dom shook his head. “What an idiot.”
“He thought he could get away with it?” Dad smirked. “Worth a shot, I’ll give him that.”
“But it’s so ridiculous. How can you argue against the cold hard facts?”
“Did he do it?” I asked the question before I could stop myself.
“Did he do it? Steal whatever it was. Did they know it was him?”
“Lex.” Mum’s eyebrows came together. “They saw it written on his arm. Of course he did it.”
I shook my head, gripping my cutlery tight. “What if he didn’t do it?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You mean what if he’d stolen something a long time ago and hadn’t actually stolen this particular thing?” Femi jumped in.
“Well there was more evidence than just the imprint of course, yes,” Mum said.
“But did he do it? Do you know for certain?”
“I don’t know why you’re getting all wound up about it. Yes. He did it. That wasn’t really the point of my story.”
“But can someone be sentenced based on an imprint alone?”
“Well . . . yes of course.”
“But that’s not fair.” I had to take a few breaths to chill out. “What if they’re innocent?”
“The words never lie.”
“But what if it’s a misunderstanding?”
Dad answered first. “I think it’s only in serious cases that it comes into play, Lex, it’s nothing to worry about.”
Mum nodded. “For example, I’ve seen plenty of cases where the imprint Fraud has come into play. If an imprint is new then it speaks for itself.”
“What if there’s no other evidence?”
“There’s always more evidence, it just makes it easier.”
Awkward silence filled the room as Mum stared at me. Dad continued the conversation and no one paid any more attention to me.
As my family continued chattering about their days, I tried to think of an imprint that would be worse than mine to make myself feel better, gazing around the room for inspiration. Obsessive was peeking out the bottom of Dom’s football shirt and Stubborn was almost showing on Mum’s neck, her chunky necklace having displaced itself. I knew all of Femi’s imprints and nothing even came close. In fact I’d never seen one this bad in real life.
When Dad asked me about my day, the only thing I’d thought of that could be worse was if the word Serial had appeared in front. Great.
“Fine,” was my stupid answer.
“You alright, Lex?”
“Not great.” I pushed my food around my plate, appetite non-existent. If I was going to murder someone I wasn’t sure I should get the privilege of a family dinner.
“I don’t feel too great.” I dropped my fork and was confronted with their concerned faces. That just made me feel worse. “In fact, if it’s okay with you I think I’ll go to bed.”
All eyes watched me as I left the room. Did I deserve their worry?
I crawled into bed and turned out the light, watching the ceiling and listening to the hum of their voices downstairs. They might as well have been in another universe. Femi didn’t bother checking on me as her world was revolving around Dom and Mum and Dad only stuck their heads in before they went to bed. It wasn’t until the house was quiet and all the lights were out that I flicked my light on and powered up my laptop again.
With makeup strewn across the floor and bracelets everywhere, I threw myself into concocting the perfect disguise. Layers and layers of makeup succeeded in covering it up but it didn’t take that much wear to wipe it off and I wasn’t sure if I could rely on it. It didn’t seem to matter how much I applied. If I rubbed enough, the imprint began to show again.
“No.” I flung the bottle across the room and pulled my legs up to my chest. “No. This can’t be happening.”
I continued to rub my thumb across my wrist until it hurt. The imprint seemed to be laughing at me. Shaking my head, I began running my nails over it again and again, scratching as if I had a bite. When I drew blood I stopped and just looked at it before fumbling for a big plaster.
What else could I do?