Ghosts of the living
Jenn woke from her small bed to the smell of smoke and to find herself coughing and struggling to breathe. She woke in a panic and rolled from her bed to the hard-wooden floor before she was fully awake. There was light outside in the hallway, her bedroom door was open, and she heard yelling. A screaming rather, it sounded a lot like her sister’s voice. She looked up, the ceiling of the darkened room was full of black smoke, she crawled hand and knees out of her room and looked up the hallway. Her father’s room was at the end of the hall, and an orange light came from it. Black smoke poured out of the door and she could hear her sister Laura, crying, and screaming.
Jenn forced herself to stand and run toward the doorway and the fire. She cried out “Laura, father” and she ran into the room. She wished in a way she hadn’t gone in. Her father lay in his small single bed, there was blood all over his white sheets, his head lay to the side, and his throat had been roughly cut. She saw the dark blood that poured over the sheets, the bed was on fire, and it had grown to fill the room, taking the curtains and bedside table, where his reading candle had been.
Her twin sister, Laura, stood at the base of the bed, she looked at Jenn and smiled. She was 12 and one day, yesterday had been their birthday. In her hand, she held a large kitchen knife. It dripped with blood, and she just stared at her sister. The flames grew behind her, but she didn’t move, she was staring off into nothing. Yet she’d been screaming moments ago.
“Laura?’ she said.
Her sister snapped out of her trance and looked at her; she smiled again.
“it’s over Jenn, he’ll never hurt you, he’ll never hurt me, I’ve saved us both,” she said.
As she watched, her sister drew the knife in long slow cuts up her own arms. The blade sunk into her white flesh and cut a long line up the length of it. Jenn screamed and ran to her, but she stepped back, the fire was growing and growing, the whole room was full of flames. Suddenly more people were there, they had run up the wooden stairs and she was dragged backward, she screamed as they carried her out of her house and down the stairs. The house where she’d spent the last two years went up in flames before her.
She would have said she was still in shock. She had stood and watched as the flames grew and devoured the old wooden house. Her neighbors did their best to save the adjoining houses, and a police carriage came along shortly. Drawn by two scared looking horses, a small black carriage with thick metal bars on the back. She was taken by the police in the back of the carriage to their building, in the heart of the City of London. She wasn’t a criminal, she didn’t think, but her family was dead, she was 12, and they had no idea what they should do with her. She was brought into the large stone building by a policeman, in his fine blue uniform and a little hat, and made to sit down. He looked at her.
“we’ve sent for the church ladies, they might have room for you,” he said.
She hadn’t even looked at his face or seen what he looked like, but after an hour of waiting on the hard wooden benches, a woman appeared. She shuffled along the hallway of the station and was shown to her. She looked like a church woman, old, fragile hands and a plain but full-length dress.
“Poor child, what a night you have had, they say you’ll need a place to stay, my church Rye Lane Chapel run an orphanage, you can stay with us,” she said.
Jenn just nodded at the lady.
“I am Ms.Sarah Davidson, Sarah is fine, I will stay with you for a while,” she said.
The old lady patted her leg through her dress; she liked her. She got a good feeling from her; she seemed sad that Jenn was going through this. No one had said anything to her, not a single word of regret or sadness. In moments, her entire life and family had been ripped away from her in blood and flames, but now there was work to do and forms to sign. No one seemed to think she should be upset; it was just another night in London for them.
Sarah was trying to be kind, but Jenn started to cry, she was an orphan now. This morning she had a sister, father, a house and things. She’d even had a mother, years ago and now she had nothing. They had no family in London, and her father’s in Ireland hated them all.
She cried into her hands, they still smelled of smoke, and she coughed a lot.
The women stood up “officer, has this girl been seen by a doctor? She seems like she has breathed in a lot of smoke” she said.
He looked unconcerned but did what the old lady said. Jenn sat for another hour or so until a doctor came. He was one of the first doctors she had seen, but again, looked as she imagined one too. He was short, in a suit and had a stethoscope. She looked at it and shuddered; she hoped he didn’t want to touch her with it. The man put it to her back, luckily over her dress and asked to hold her breath, she did, and he just nodded.
“minor smoke inhalation, you’ll be fine,” he said.
Sarah had been with her the whole time, she liked the lady, she just sat by her and didn’t say much, but that was good. In moments, the policeman was back, he spoke to her.
“she can take you, but first I need your statement, you’re the only witness,” he said.
She had been dreading this, what should she tell them, how much did they already know, she had to be very careful. Jenn was taken into a wooden room and sat at a table, Sarah sat next to her, like a guardian. The policeman was opposite her. As she waited, the door opened, and her heart dropped. Another man walked in. He was young, had a mustache and a pencil in his pocket, glasses, and a thin smile. She knew him well. Doctor Sinclair.
The man sat, and he looked at her hard “I’m so sorry Jenn, but this was a danger we should have expected” he said. He was another one who didn’t look sad at all, he seemed like he had things to do and this was getting in the way.
The policeman looked at her “so this doctor Sinclair says he was treating your sister, that she was close to being admitted to Bedlam, I mean Bethlem hospital, but your father stepped in” he said.
Jenn just nodded, her sister was sick, she saw things, and they would have taken her away a long time ago if their father hadn’t stopped it. She’d almost been taken by the city twice, but each time he argued that she was just grief-stricken for their mothers passing, even though that was two years hence.
“tell me what happened,” the policeman said.
He took out his pencil and started to write what she said in a small black letter pad.
“I woke, and there was smoke, I heard Laura, and I ran to father’s room,” she said.
She tried not to cry as she imagined his dead body, she had loved him, and he loved them, for all his torments, he had been a good man.
“he was dead, she killed him, and then she killed herself,” she said.
They all stared at her, and Sarah patted her leg, the pencil scratched on the paper, but doctor Sinclair peered at her like she was a bug under a microscope.
“what did she say to you?” he asked.
“she said he’d never hurt me know and wouldn’t be able to hurt her,” she said.
He looked at his papers, notes from his “sessions” with Laura, so the city didn’t take her, she had to go and see him once a week and talk about what she saw and how she felt. The policeman looked at them.
“was he abusive? Did he hurt you?’ the officer asked.
She just stayed quiet, she’d said too much already.
Dr. Sinclair spoke up “I have detailed notes of Laura’s mental state and had spoken with your father extensively, would it be fair to say her thoughts and accusations against your father were not true and a result of her mania?’ he asked.
Jenn didn’t know what to say, she didn’t want people to say her father was a molester, but this man was dangerous.
“he never hurt me; he couldn’t, he wasn’t that kind of man, Laura was confused,” she said.
Sinclair actually laughed “confused? She killed your father, she gave me many details of his crimes, and she surely experienced something, but her accounts don’t make sense, she describes her own father as looking differently, of being much older, a permeating smell of tobacco on his hands, but I know your father wasn’t a smoker. He said.
She was silent. She knew Laura had visions; she saw things no one else saw. The problem was she saw them too. She knew a man like this doctor was just waiting for his chance to lock her up as well. He’d always asked about her, did she see them as well, she just never trusted them as Laura did. She knew she’d never get better and these kinds of people couldn’t help.
“that’s all that happened,” Jenn said.
The policeman closed his book “we’re satisfied that this happened because of a willful homicide, committed by your sister, who then took her only life, you are free to go, but as your 12, you will have to be a ward of the state until your 18th birthday, according to the orphans and war child act of 1765” he said. ”given you were born in the parish of Peckham, they will have responsibility for you”
She looked at the old woman; there were worse fates, she thought this lady and her group would at least be kind and not run a workhouse.
“no,” Dr. Sinclair said.
The policeman looked at him “no?”
He spoke to her, trying to look compassionate “Jenn the problem is your sister suffered a deep mania, and indeed we see now she was a danger to herself and others. I have done extensive work with twins, and we often find what effects one, effects the other. I think you’re smarter than Laura, I think you don’t talk about these things, but I’m sure that you see them as well” he said.
Her heart was racing; she knew he could take her if he wanted, she had no guardian to stop him.
“I don’t,” she said.
He opened his black bag, and from it, he pulled out a candlestick, it was silver and ornate, but she didn’t like the look of it. It was one of those powerful objects that almost radiated ill memories.
“now the central theme of Laura’s mania was that she claimed she could see the memories of others, all the bad things that had happened leave a mark, it was of course mania, but she was very good at convincing people it was true, you just touch this with your bare hand, and I’ll believe you” he said.
She looked at it, it looked wrong, the bottom was very solid, and she could imagine it had been used in a very bad way, why else a candlestick. She sometimes saw the memories, not as strong as Laura, but if something bad had happened, if someone had killed someone with this thing, she’d see and feel it.
“no,” she said.
“why not, any sane person would, it’s a simple candlestick,” he said.
Jenn was strong, she had been pushing them down for years and could do it again. She took off her gloves and reaching out, took hold of the silver candlestick.
The memory and pain hit her hard. She felt it as a real pain in her body; she saw an unknown person using it, he held it high and smashed it into someone’s skull. She felt the killer’s memory and the victim, they wash together. The hand that held the weapon and the skull it crushed. She felt the rage of the killer, so extreme and the pain as it hit. It was like her own head was crushed, the pain extreme.
She stared at the doctor, she tried to show nothing on her face but knew she had, she’d flinched.
“it’s just a candlestick,” she said.
“sorry Genevieve, I just don’t believe you,” he said.