The Scarves and High Collars of Degollando

What doesn't happen in Degollando, stays in Degollando.

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1. The Scarves and High Collars of Degollando

There's no mystery in the town of Degollando.

No sights or oddities that would spook newcomers and passersby. We don't have any deep dark legends. Only tragedies heightened by time's terrible rack, thrown about here and there like common knowledge, as it is with every small town. 

The worst tale of them all, anyone here would say, being the slaughter of Lorelei Wilmot. 

It had been the year 1914, when the well-off Wilmots had inhabited a home near the town square. It was a humongous and gorgeous structure, boasting a lusty three stories in all. Yet while the wealthy couple seemed quite content to the public eye, as they should seem to be, home life was not so pleasant for the two.

You see, Lorelei Wilmot was a beautiful young lady, to all who had the eyes to see, and the brain to think. Many women might have used that blessing to exploit the faint-hearted for whatever pleasures she so desired. Yet, Lorelei remained faithful to her husband all the while, declaring that her heart was meant for only one.

Unfortunately, her husband did not believe her, taking every smile she lent and every grin from another as a sign of her inevitable lust. No matter what Lorelei swore to the good God above, his mind was made up that she must be selling herself to every man in Degollando.

Poor Lorelei fell into despair, for her forever love wouldn't dare rest his gaze upon her. She thought that perhaps she must prove her love to him, and so she set off on a quest to win her husband back.

She cleaned every dish and scrubbed every floor. She straightened all of the furniture and dusted whatever mantle she could find. She purchased a bouquet of begonias from a florist downtown, and she placed them in a watered vase upon the dining room table. And once she had completed all that she could, Lorelei cooked up the finest meal she knew to make. So that when her husband returned home, he would see all that she had done for him, and realize that he truly was the love of her life. 

He had arrived home from work a little later than usual as Lorelei stood in the foyer, beaming with a contagious joy. She waited for him to notice how spotless the wood floors were, and how amazing the air smelled of the food she had just taken out of the oven. 

Yet, he never even looked at the floors, nor noted any aroma. At once he stomped over to his wife and struck her across the cheek. Lorelei recoiled in pain, yet her husband grabbed her by the shoulders. His yeasty breath smothered her as he screamed into her face, slurring that he had heard one of his coworkers say that she had visited a flower shop earlier that day, and that she had no reason to go in there other than to cavort with the young florist.

Poor Lorelei cried that she had gone in there to get flowers for him, and begged him to understand that she loved him more than he would ever know. However, her husband would not have it, and he let go of her with a ferocious growl before he stomped straight into the kitchen. 

Lorelei stood where she was as she bawled her eyes dry. And when she felt that she had no more tears to cry, she looked up to a portrait that hung before her upon the wall. She had posed for that painting only a year ago, she recalled. The strokes contoured her lithe figure, and defined the locks that draped over her favorite buttercup gown. The lady upon the canvas was stunning, astounding, beautiful.

This lady was not Lorelei.

Now, dark circles encased her eyes, and gray hairs sprouted from her scalp like weeds. She quivered so badly that no painter would ever pay the effort to transpose her. The stress had aged her, made an old maid of a nineteen-year-old girl. 

All of a sudden, a blade sliced through her neck. 

~<>~<>~<>~

Surely, the bloodied widower was tried with murder, and was either sentenced for life, or to death. No one can agree on the technicalities. But to this day, the younger generation of Degollando swear that if you catch a glimpse at just the right time, you can spot the headless silhouette of Lorelei Wilmot pass by any window of her home, which has now become a dilapidation that no one will spare the cost to renovate.

Yet, the older folk around here just roll their eyes when the topic arises, for they all agree that this is nothing more than a silly urban legend. And besides, all who go in the house to investigate assure that Lorelei isn't there, that the place is just as dead as the very dirt we tread. 

Now, I understand why they say that. 

I am a sophomore in highschool, as is my sister, Kimi. It was nearly a month ago that she was forced to learn why everyone insists that the Wilmot house is a dull experience indeed. And I, only learned it a few days ago. 

Kimi and my relationship has always been a friendly one. We like to think of one another as more than a best friend. We'd never really understood why brothers and sisters were supposed to hate each other, or why it was embarrassing to hug them, or to tell them, "I love you." For us, it's just something of the norm, and it has been so for nearly all our lives. 

Kimi has always been fascinated with photography. In fact, most people who view her work would consider her a photographer. But she is her worst critic, of course, and believes that she is not yet worthy of such a title. I tell her all the time that's she's just being stupid, and she will gleefully respond that she knows that. Yet her consensus stills stands: until she can snap a photo that wows even her, she would never label herself something so hallowed as "photographer." 

So it didn't exactly surprise me that she had mentioned her interest in the Wilmot house. That week, the photography club at school had discussed the various aspects of rustic shots. The students' big assignment for the following Monday was a series of photos from that genre, and as that run-down home is just over a century old, there is no doubt that its interior must be the very definition of rustic. So after school, she planned to check out the Wilmot house, excited to document the saddening tale of the home, and to perhaps recreate the terror of that fateful evening through film and lens. It was probably the first time she actually felt that she could create something truly amazing. Seeing her so happy only made me just as much so. 

I thought not much else of it, and we parted ways once the school day ended. Kimi set off toward the Wilmot house, and I met up with my friends-at-the-time. I must admit, maybe these guys weren't exactly "great" friends, but hey, they were fun to hang with. About half an hour later, all five of us found ourselves at a McDonald's, where we just joked around and talked about how horrible our school days were. I don't exactly remember what had lead to it, but we fell on the topic of my sister. Although, they were just blabbing about how hot she was, and then asking me what she was doing now.

I, for one, just wanted to steer the subject away from what it was currently, and talk about her awesome talent instead, so I answered their question. I declared that she was at the Wilmot house, taking rustic pictures for her photography club. However, at the mention of the house, the subject changed altogether, and my friends grew ecstatic. They discussed how they'd never actually seen the place up close before, and how cool it would be if we made it our clubhouse—although, the word they insisted we use was "our domain." Frankly, I wasn't very enthusiastic about the concept of a "domain," but I thought it might be amusing to look around the broken place a little. It could be like an adventure. 

I still don't know why I stuck around those guys for as long as I did. 

Later that evening, I was watching TV in the living room. Our home was dimmed, as the sun had begun to set outside. Out of nowhere I heard the front door swing open, and a slam immediately following. It could have only been one person, because everyone else was already home.

I called behind me, "Hey, Kimi!" Yet my only reply was a barrage of pants, and a stampede up the steps.

It was certainly strange, but I rationalized it. She was probably exhausted, and just wanted to rest a little. Or perhaps frustrated, and needed to edit her photos now

Kimi never came out of her room that night, not even for dinner. Before I headed to bed, I thought to check up on her. After all, we always talk to each other when something is up. We've agreed before, having a sibling is just like living with a psychiatrist.

But as I was about to knock on the door, I was able to make out sobs from behind it. Shoot, I thought. This is serious, then. So I tapped a knuckle upon the wood, and the sobbing stopped.

Eventually, I heard Kimi squeak, "Who is it?" 

"It's Tristen," I spoke softly. "Can I come in?" 

There was a pause, until Kimi broke it. "I'm...I'm sorry. I need to be alone." 

The terrible pause commenced, and this time it was I who would intervene. "O—oh. Okay. I guess...good night, then.....I love you." 

A series of sniffles was the response, closely followed by, "I love you too." 

I nodded, as if assuring myself that everything would indeed be okay, and retreated to my bedroom as preplanned. 

The next morning I had been sitting at the kitchen table, crafting myself a bowl of cereal. Upon completion I reclined and began to chow down, when I heard sluggish footsteps coming from the stairway. I raised my gaze from the meal before me and watched Kimi creep into the kitchen. She wore a flannel and jeans, her go-to outfit combination. Yet a new accessory made an appearance—a black wool scarf, sitting snug below her chin.

I mean, it wasn't weird; in fact, it went quite well with her clothing. It was just different. 

"Hey, Kimi," I greeted. 

She looked up from the floor through diversion of eyes. Her head remained straight-forward. "H—hey," she crackled. Her face tinged pink like a sunburn, and bags darkened underneath her eyes. Some might consider this commonplace; everyone looks like a zombie at 8:00. But those people don't know Kimi. Usually, she's the one jumping on my bed, nagging at me to wake up. So this was strange as well. 

My grin faltered only a little, and I nodded toward her outfit. "Nice scarf," I said. "Looks good. Is it supposed to be chilly today?" 

I could have sworn that redness had drained from her face, revealing a pasty white. I think she tried to pretend it hadn't happened, displaying a smile over top of it as a distraction. "I think so," she responded. "I don't remember. I just, uh, like how it looks." 

Another fact about Kimi: she doesn't lie to me. She never had, and she would never. An assumption that I provided as fact, and soon forgot her paleness.

"Me too," I agreed. "I like the black and red together." 

Kimi smiled in return, and I wanted to believe it was genuine. So I forced myself to accept as such. Besides, why would she fake a smile anyway? Around me, of anyone? 

She wouldn’t. Which was why I dropped the subject, and returned to consuming my breakfast.

~<>~<>~<>~

In fifth grade, I was shoved into lockers on a daily basis. In seventh, I learned what a "swirly" is. One time in eighth, I was beaten up so bad, I couldn't go to school the next day.

This day of school, however, was the worst one I've ever known. 

Kimi was "not her usual self," and that was exactly how everyone else put it. But they didn't understand. Yes, my sister is a jokester known for her hyperactivity and disregard for guidelines, and she was not that at all that day, as she trudged about the hallways and kept movement and conversation to a minimum.

But it was more than that even. Little things that she always does, second nature habits, were absent altogether. Kimi sat alone at lunch, when she always sits by me, or at least amongst a rowdy crowd. She chose the desks in the back corners of every class, as opposed to her usual front-and-center. She asked to use the restroom in the middle of lectures, so often that I am sure she did not have to go for the vast majority of her trips. And she wouldn't even talk to me, her more-than-best-friend. We always chat with each other during passing period, but I had to work to get anything more than a, "Hey," or, "Yeah," or, "Uh huh," in reply. 

Something was wrong, and she wouldn't tell me. 

That hurt more than any blow in the gut. 

Sadly, such behavior would commence, and we were starting to expect it now. Kimi's friends would wave hello in the halls, but then be on their way. The class reserved the back row for her comfort. No ecstatic conversations were to be had, and we respected the bubble she had formed around herself. 

And that scarf of hers never came off, and soon became one of those staples. Of course I asked her why she always wore it, but she only insisted that she was cold, and she liked how it looked on her. She had it on every schoolday, even on especially toasty ones. She would wear it at home when she came out of her bedroom, which was rare in itself. I can't say for sure she kept it on for hangouts or excursions, because she had stopped planning those too. 

Though I remember one day, about a week into her personality shift, Kimi sat alone at lunch, as was usual. I ate nearby so that I could see her clearly—she's my sister, and I was worried; would you blame me? But suddenly a group of students walked up to her table, bearing no food to place upon it. They sat around her without her consent, and she looked up at them in bewilderment. 

One girl donned a dark sweatshirt, with her curls peeking out from her raised hood. Another wore a blue and purple turtle neck, and seemed to be poised especially rigid. The third had one of those decorative old-timey scarves wrapped over her head and around her neck. The fourth and final had a wool scarf too, his being knitted in red. These guys were quite the peculiar-looking bunch, and I couldn't recall ever seeing them before. 

Before Kimi could ask them what they wanted, the hoodied individual began to speak. I wasn't able to hear her, but from the enlarging of my sister's eyes I could tell it was something shocking. One by one the others began to join the discussion, and even Kimi could interject after a while. 

I took on her bewilderment. Who were those guys? What were they doing? 

She and I meet at the end of the day, and I asked her who the people at lunch were. Not much on her face changed, but she seemed to radiate something of a panic. "Nobody," she responded, facing forward. 

Believe me, I wanted to know who those five kids were. I willed to know so badly that Kimi would have never understood. But she didn't want to tell me, and my respect overbore the curiosity. I would never force her to tell me anything, ever; it's not fair to her. 

At the end of the next day, I texted Kimi that I was waiting by the entrance to walk home. A few seconds later I received a notification, reading: sorry, mr dallas wanted 2 talk 2 me. I had to think for a moment, but I came upon a face to put to the name. Kimi had Mr. Dallas for chemistry, a class that I wasn't taking as of then. But I knew who he was, and I really liked him. The sturdy muscleman of a professor usually stops me in the halls, wearing his predictable attire—a patterned sweater with a white collar peeking from underneath—only to say hello, and to ask if I'm planning on taking his class anytime soon. (Which I am, actually, for next semester.)

The message followed up with: u can go w/out me, luv u <3

I heaved a sigh, and texted her back that I luved her 2. I turned to face away from the school, and headed on down the path toward home. 

I had eventually arrived after a scenic travel that I would have much rather enjoyed than start on my homework. I slugged into the living room and plopped on the couch, blissfully staring into space for perhaps a good five minutes. Until I convinced myself that I should be getting started on that history report, and so focused my lenses. 

My eyes had been staring at the coffee table, and had aimed straight at the camera. 

I considered it, but not for very long. I leaned forward and grasped the device in my hand. 

The report could wait a few minutes. 

Kimi had always said that I was free look through her photos—not out of pride, but simply because I had asked if I could.

I wasn't kidding before, she really is a photographer. 

I started from the beginning of the roll, finding nature shots and seasonal aesthetics, alongside selfies with friends, and modeling shoots they had hired themselves for. Then I came upon some pictures taken only two months ago, from my sixteenth birthday.

My gaze went stern as I sifted through the series. Photos of myself pretending to object to blowing out my candles, and over the shoulder shots of my mom, dad, Kimi, and myself. I stayed on that last one for a while, and my eyes misted. All four of us, smiling, happy, together. 

I missed it. 

But I swallowed the tears and moved on. After perhaps dozens more absolutely stunning pictures, I suddenly saw the Wilmot house. My heart leapt a little at the sight of it, the crumbling exterior and dangling shutters, yet I grinned. Finally, I was going to see Kimi's rustic shots, the ones that she had been so excited to take. I kept on scrolling to find a few interior images including a dank parlor, dusty living room, dingy cellar, and more. Snapped at differing angles and varying heights, every next one as astounding as the last. 

And then I got to see some paintings, canvases contained in their rusted frames. I thought them fascinating, and I spent a good amount of time examining each landscape, still life, and one portrait. 

I think it was my intense examination that saved me. 

In perfect contrast to the deafening silence, the front door blasted open, and the nob banged against the wall. In an instant Kimi dashed inside, one hand clutching the top of her head. She panted like a dog, as if she had just run all the way home. 

Which she had, as I know now. 

She looked to me, and her eyes widened. "Put that down!" she demanded with a point. And I did just that, as the camera dropped from my fingers and upon my lap. 

Kimi scurried over to the sofa and snatched her prized possession away. She stared into the tiny screen with her crazy eyes, as she thumbed through the photos herself. However, in time she gave up on her boggling search and set the camera upon the coffee table, and she began to move toward me. I flinched as she leaned over and grasped my shoulders, so tightly that I could feel her nails through my jacket. 

"Did you see a portrait?!" she shouted, as if I were unable to hear any less. 

I couldn't bear to look at her; her gaze was too intense to fathom. "I—I—" 

"Tristen! Did you look at a portrait?!" Kimi repeated, lightly rattling me in the process. 

In the moment, I was too terrified to do anything but nod. 

And in the moment following, her own terror was raised another layer. "Which one?!" she practically screamed. "Who was in it?!" 

Tears began to well in my eyes. "The—the Wi—Wil—Wilmots." 

Kimi went silent, still as a sculpture. Even her breath had been reduced to nothing, as had mine. 

"Both of them?" she spoke. "Not just Lorelai?" 

I didn't respond, and neither did she. We stared back at each other for what felt like hours, before she slowly released my shoulders. Her trembling figure crept backward from the sofa, and she dropped into a chair opposite. She still looked at me, but had lost her focus, as if there were no one before her at all. 

I jolted up from the sofa and fumed. "What the hell, Kimi?!" I shouted, but she still wouldn't see me. I shook my head. "What is wrong with you?!" 

Kimi's eyes now bubbled with tears, and the excess poured down her cheeks in bucketfuls. Her teeth clenched so tightly I'd have sworn they were bolted together, and her lips widened to portray those pearly whites. 

Even then I couldn't calm myself, no matter how pathetic she looked. "Are you listening to me?!" I continued to yell. "What is wrong with you?!" 

I knew it was harsh, and my words weren't very thoughtful. But frankly put, I wasn't feeling very thoughtful as of then. And I truly did want to know what was wrong with her. I wanted to know what trauma had been inflicted upon her that would prevent her from speaking to anyone, not even me. I wanted to know what bug had infected her to give her a constant chill, that moved her to wear that scarf every day. I wanted to know what terrible monstrosity that portrait must have been to contaminate my sister's mind, and to cause her to strive for my eyes' ignorance. 

I wanted to know what was wrong, because I wanted to help her! She knows she can tell me anything! I couldn't understand why she didn't get that! I was so utterly confused, so in the dark. It felt like she were pulling the shroud just in spite of me! 

Kimi reached a hand to her forehead. Her fingers intertwined with her dark hair, weaving themselves like a wicker basket. "Leave me alone," she whimpered, unwilling to make the effort to looked at me. 

At that point, I had given up. Maybe she really did relish in my bewilderment...

So I much obliged and turned away in a huff. Only once I was out of the living room and in the hallway did I even think to pay Kimi mind, and then noted the gross sobs from behind me. 

~<>~<>~<>~

That was a week ago, and now the entire school has accepted the normality of it all. Kimi is nothing more than an outcast, amongst those five strange kids from that lunch period, whom my friends had let me know are, "A bunch'a  freaks." 

One day I had met with my friends after last period, and once again the subject of the Wilmot house came up in conversation. And with it resurfaced the idea of turning that dump into "our domain." The discussion continued for a while, as we deliberated what all we could do with it. Maybe sneak an old TV in there. Bring in a stereo. Grab some snacks and stash them somewhere. We could have the coolest parties in there, do whatever the heck we wanted. The more we discussed it, the more hyped we got. So plans were made to check it out and see what we had to work with. 

"Six o'clock tonight, guys," our self-appointed leader declared, "we meet up there. Got it?" 

We all nodded in agreement, and eventually dispersed. My grin was so wide it was stupid, but I was sure nothing on this blessed earth could wipe it from my face. 

So I had thought, until I locked eyes with Kimi. 

She stood by the front entrance of the school, backpack upon her shoulders, and that damn scarf around her neck. At the sight of her my sprint became a crawl, and that unshakable smile of mine fell to a smirk, and then disappeared altogether. 

She noticed it, but I wasn't trying to hide the fact. 

I moved on past her, and she trailed behind me like a duckling. We weaved in between the liberated students that chose to loiter outside their prison, until we finally reached the sidewalk. 

"How was school?" came from behind. 

My jaw clenched. "Great," I remarked. "Not like you'd care anyway." 

All went quiet, and I should have been proud. 

I wasn't. 

About five-thirty rolled had around, and by then I was just waiting until I could start getting ready without seeming like an overexcited dork. I threw on a pair of old, baggy jeans, a t-shirt that had seen better days, and a jacket of which I've owned for years. I had been sitting on my bedroom mattress, tying the laces of my beat-up Converse, when I heard knocks on my door. 

I froze in a panic. "W—who is it?" I called, immediately trying to come up with some B-S explanation for my attire as quickly as I could. 

Until I heard who was at the door, and I sighed a bit of relief. "It's...Kimi. May I come in, please?" 

I must admit, I was stunned for a moment. For weeks as of then I was the one trying to get something out of her, and here she was asking to see me in my room. "Stunned" was quite the understatement. 

But then I remembered, that was why I was mad at her. Why was I supposed to talk to her when she wouldn't speak to me for weeks? 

"I don't know," I snapped, double-knotting the first lace. "I might wanna be alone, you know." 

A moment of silence passed where I should have felt smug, but couldn't.

"I know you hate me," struck me in the chest, yet I overcame the mist. "But let me just tell you something, please." 

In an instant I wanted to sing from the mountaintops for her to come in, but I had to remind myself that I was angry. 

"Fine," I grumped, and began to tie my second lace. 

My door opened to reveal Kimi, clad in a tank top, yoga pants, and fuzzy socks. She seemed ready to cuddle up and watch a movie, an aesthetic completely screwed up by that stupid scarf. 

"Hey," she croaked, holding her hands before herself. When I didn't look back at her, she cleared her throat. "I—I just wanted to clarify..." she hesitated, "...that I'm not acting like this...because of you." 

I glued my focus on looping my shoelace, trying to seem like I wasn't listening intently. But honestly, I was on the verge of tears. 

"There's just stuff that I have to...figure out, on my own." There was no doubt this speech was quite impromptu, but even then it was obvious something else was grasping her attention. "It has nothing to do with you, and the last thing I want is you to think I'm.....mad at you or something..." 

I double-knotted my laces, and I made to rise to my feet. 

"Where are you going?" Kimi changed the subject. 

I made a point of not looking at her; I forced my pupils to the floor. "What do you care?" I snapped. 

Her voice had lost its sympathy. "Tristen, where are you going?" she pressed. 

I couldn't take it any longer. I raised my gaze back to her, but I furrowed my brow as far down as it would go. "What, do I haveta get clearance with you now? You gotta know where I am all the time?" 

Now that I could see her, her eyes pierced mine with anxiety. The very same way she had looked at me last week, as she blabbed on and on about a portrait on her camera. I thank God every day that I pitied her enough in that moment to humor her inquiry. 

"I'm going to hang out with my friends," I huffed as I moved forward. "We're gonna go check out the Wilmot house." 

I swear that all of the oxygen in my room had been sapped from the air. Kimi's eyes opened so wide I thought they might fall out. I stopped walking toward her. 

"Y...y..." she stuttered. "...you can't." 

My brow went from furrowed to knitted, except I didn't intend it this time. "Excuse me?" I spoke. 

"You can't go there," she finally spat out. "You...you just can't." 

I squinted my eyes and raised my head. "Why's that?"

Kimi stood still and silent, until I took another step.

"You just can't!" she yelled in desperation, thrusting her hands before me. Though suddenly she forced herself into a composed expression. "It's...there's just no use going there. The place is disgusting, a—and it's super boring." 

I poised my hands upon my hips. "Since when do you care where I go?" I jabbed, as cheap as it was. "In fact, since when do you care about me at all?" 

I noticed that my words had struck a nerve, snapped a fiber in the rope suspending the safe over her head.

"I...but I do," she wavered. "I do care about you. I—I just...I—"

Kimi's head suddenly nodded forward, and her hands clamped to its sides at once. They lifted it to reveal her dampened face, now contorted in an anguish so sheer it pained me to view it. 

"I can't!" she screamed. "I can't do it!" 

I staggered backward instinctively, but force of habit got the best of me, and I found myself moving toward her. "Kimi, do what—" 

"No!" she shrieked in my face, putting one palm out and keeping the other to her head. "You can't go there!" 

Now I was in hysterics. "Why, Kimi?! Why can't I?!" 

"You just can't!" 

"Kimi! Tell me what's wrong!" 

"I can't!" 

"You can't what?!" 

"I can't tell you!" 

We took a pause so that I could breathe, and Kimi could bawl. 

"What?" I spoke. "W—why? T—tell me what?" 

She slowed her sobs into heaves of air, but she wouldn't look back to me. "They said I can't tell you." 

"Who said that?" I pressed. "Tell me what?" 

"My friends." 

I paused for a moment. "Kimi...you don't talk to your friends." 

She finally raised her gait, and her eyes now met with mine. "My new friends," she crackled. "Th—the ones you asked about last week. They said I can't...that I can't trust anyone." 

At this point I had completely forgotten what time it was, but now I didn't really care. "So," I spoke, "can you...not trust me? Is that it?" 

Kimi winced. "No," she assured. "No no, that's not it." Her whimpers had returned, yet she willed to suppress them as best she could. "I wanted to tell you. But I didn't want you to hate me." She mustered a painful smile. "But I guess that happened anyway, huh?" 

I stifled a sob with my knuckle. I wanted to oppose her at once, but I wasn't even sure that such a statement would be valid. I had quite literally resented her for doing nothing at all, for hurting no one in the slightest. Perhaps it was I who had been in the wrong this whole time. 

Her face darkened. "But it's eating me," she said. "I wanted to tell you so bad. But I didn't want you to think I was..." She trailed off, but it was too obvious to ignore. 

"You're what?" I prodded. 

Kimi sniffed. "A.....a monster." 

My chest imploded at the very word. I felt I couldn't even cry. But if I had retained such an ability, I would have sobbed harder than any widower. 

"Please," I uttered, "Kimi, tell me." 

An eternity had gone by and the world with it for all we could have known, before the deathly silence that smothered us was cracked by my sister. 

"There's a portrait in the Wilmot house," she began. "I mean, there's a lot of them, but there's this one of just Lorelai. And when you look at it, you have to stare at it. Like, no matter what you do you can't stop staring. And then, she looks at you. I—I know it's just a painting but I swear its eyes stare back."

Kimi lifted her hand from her head. "And the picture changes. Her hair turns gray, and her dress turns purple. Her skin goes so pale it looks white. And now her eyes look puffy and scared, like she wants you to help her or something."

She took a wobbly breath. "And then you see a knife, for less than a second. And it...you watch it....go right through her..." She closed her eyes to collect herself. "She's decapitated," she put blunt. "But at the exact same time your neck stings." 

A stray tear found its way down Kimi's cheek, and she was well aware of it. "And then it's gone. And when you think you've imagined it all you bang your head on something." She spared a moment to whimper. "But you swear you're still standing." 

I was lost, and Kimi was aware of that too. "But no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try to look away from it, it's already too late. It doesn't matter if you're seeing the painting, or just a picture of it. I...I took a photo of it. You almost saw it last week, on my camera." 

Her eyes peered downward. "That's how it happened to Mr. Dallas. His mom was a photographer, and she took a picture of it—in black and white even. He...he saw it when he was eight, and it happened to him too." 

It was beginning to eat me now. "Kimi, what happens?

My sister waited in my doorway, as if unsure of how to proceed. But in time, she lifted one hand atop her head, and the other to her black woolen scarf. 

"We joke around about how the 'headless ghost of Lorelai Wilmot' haunts that place, but then people go in and say there's nothing there."

Kimi unwrapped one layer of the scarf.

"In fact, they make a point of saying how boring their search was."

The second layer as well.

"But, that's because...they went in, and saw the portrait. And...this..." 

The third and final revolution came around, and Kimi revealed what she had kept hidden away. 

~<>~<>~<>~

The next day at school, I stood in the hallway before first period. I scanned the crowd of babbling students, in search of the four friends that most likely did not accept me anymore. 

The night previous I had called to tell them that I wasn't coming, much to our leader's heated dismay. And when I had advised that they shouldn't go either, he cussed up a storm, somewhere in there probably forbidding me from calling myself one of them.

I was concerned for them, but I had tried. And at that point there wasn't anything else I could have done. 

Finally, I found them, the hunched-over squad of four that stood out from all the rest, just as I had prayed against—donning jackets and sweatshirts, along with some comfy-looking scarves. 

"Hey!" I yell. "Guys!" 

They saw and heard me, although they tried to hide the fact. They continued on their way. 

"I know what happened!" 

That stopped them in their tracks. And one by one their bodies turned, and not their heads. I walked forward a bit. 

"You saw the portrait." 

At this their shrouded eyes went wide, and I could make out heavy breaths. 

"I'm so sorry—" 

"Why didn't you tell us?!" the leader shrieked. His voice had cracked, but he didn't seem very concerned with it.  

My face fell stern. "You're the one that hung up before I could say it. And you wouldn't answer my calls after that." 

Despite this discussion regarding his unfortunate situation, he had lost sight of the repercussions, and made to shake his head in disapproval. But instead it only tipped too far to the right, as if his neck were double-jointed. He scrambled to set it back straight. 

I quickly glanced around us. "Don't worry. No one saw it." 

As furious as they seemed, relief radiated from their gazes. 

"Look," I spoke. "I know you hate me, but you need to go talk to Mr. Dallas. He'll tell you everything." I paused. "You won't need to say anything. He'll be able to tell." 

If they were making note of my words, they were really good at hiding it. Yet thereafter, they merely continued on their way. 

I stood there for a while, until the bell eventually rang, and I made my way back to Grammar. Where my sister and more-than-best-friend, Kimi, was sitting in the front row, saving me a seat beside her. That scarf still around her neck, simply because it looks fantastic on her. And once the school day ended, we walked back home. Smiling, happy, together.

Just like old times. 

Oh, so very sorry. Pardon my nonsense.  

Just like it always had been

~<>~<>~<>~

Like I said, there's no mystery in the town of Degollando. We have no horrifying legends or deep, dark lore. Degollando is just as dull and humdrum as any small town could possibly be.

So don't go snooping where you're not wanted, and then wonder what that dilapidation near the town center is. There's no sense in speculating what might have occurred within its walls, and what may lurk there still. We just want you to be safe. Who knows what could happen in that old, unstable building. 

And don't go around asking about a Lorelai Wilmot to the locals, half of them clad in turtle necks, hoods, high collars, and scarves. We don't know what you're talking about. Not a single clue.

Oh, so you say you're with the news? Putting together a documentary? You've got a ghost-hunting team? Merely intrigued by the paranormal? Well, I can assure you that you've most certainly come to the wrong place. Whoever told you that our small town is anything special must have been on something strong. What house? What silhouette? Why, my good man, you must be seeing things. Perhaps the traveling has been getting to you. 

Degollando has no secrets. 

And with all due respect... 

We'd like to keep it that way. 

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