Luke sat on the bed, a small wooden box in his lap. He flicked the clasp open and placed Rudy’s class ring next to the gray pill inside.
You killed him.
Guilt coursed through his body. Early that morning, Rudy’s sister had messaged him on Facebook.
Did you see Rudy? Do you know if he made it out okay?
He ignored the message, letting the little Seen at 7:49 AM text pop up. He didn’t want her to have false hope… but he also didn’t have the strength to lie.
He stared down at the class ring and the pill, the two things looted off Rudy’s dead body. Two things Luke was keeping. Why? To remind me what I did to him?
“Luke, breakfast is...wait, what are you doing?”
Luke’s head snapped up. Anna was standing in the doorway, her brows knotted in concern. “Oh, Anna! Uh…”
Before he could stop her, she was standing next to him, staring into the box. “Is that Earl Grey?!”
“No, Anna, I...”
“And whose ring is that?!”
“I can explain!”
“Okay. Then fucking do it.” She crossed her arms and stared at him, eyebrow raised.
“They’re both Rudy’s.”
“Luke, I told you that he isn’t welcome here! You heard him, he called me a –”
“He wasn’t here.” Luke shook his head, staring at the floor. “Anna… I didn’t tell you everything about what happened that day. The day of the quarantine, the outbreak.”
She sat down on the bed next to him, her tone softer. “Then tell me.”
“Rudy went crazy. He was acting like those infected people in that video. He tried to make me take Earl Grey. He came after me, Anna. I didn’t mean to, but… I had a knife. I had to defend myself.”
“Oh my God, Luke…”
He looked up at her, eyes brimming with tears.
“I killed him, Anna.”
She pulled him into a hug. For a long time they were silent, their arms wrapped tightly around each other.
Then she pulled away.
“You didn’t bury him under Mom’s coral bells, did you?”
That night, Anna couldn’t sleep.
I can’t believe Luke killed someone.
She ripped the covers off, readjusted her head against the pillow.
But it was self-defense.
She rolled over. But he kept it from me! Luke isn’t the type to keep secrets. He’s so honest, he even reported Aaron’s bachelor party in excruciating detail. “I looked at the stripper… just for a second, I promise! It wasn’t longer than that!” She smiled to herself in the darkness. What an idiot.
She rolled over and wrapped her arms around Luke, closing her eyes for just a moment.
Jackson’s cries came through the wall, loud and clear.
She pulled the covers over her head. He’ll just go back to sleep. He usually does.
Mid-scream, the cry stopped.
That’s weird. Anna rolled out of bed. Yawning, she shuffled out of the bedroom.
The hallway was dark and silent. No cries from Jackson, no rustling from the bedrooms. Only the sound of her bare feet, sticking to the linoleum floor with each step, could be heard.
She looked up.
The nursery door was open.
Her racing heart began to calm. Mom probably heard him and decided to check on him. She stepped into the room, her feet hitting the carpet. “Mom, is he okay?”
The room was a mess of shadows. Her eyes flitted over to the corner, the rocking chair Priscilla often sat in – but it was empty. The pile of toys next to it was jumbled and disordered, as if someone had tripped their way throsugh it.
“Mom?” she called.
Her eyes began to adjust to the darkness. She could make out the crib, standing in the center of the room. White slats popped out against the gray and black shadows.
Over the crib stood a figure.
Too short to be her mother.
“Amelia?” Anna recognized the bent, short figure as her daughter. “Amelia, what are you doing up so late?”
Anna stepped forward. “Amelia, honey? Are you comforting your little brother to help Mommy? That’s so…”
Amelia was leaning over the crib, her face hidden beneath her tangled, dark locks. Below her, Jackson lay on the mattress.
Much too still.
Anna’s heart began to pound. “Jackson?” she called. In the murky shadows, she could see his little arms, splayed out at his sides. His eyes, pressed tightly shut. His mouth, gaping open in a silent scream.
Then she noticed something. Something thin and shiny, pulled over his face.
A plastic bag.
Amelia was holding a plastic bag over Jackson’s head.
Anna lunged for the crib. She tore at the plastic bag. “No!” Amelia screamed, trying to tug it back down.
The bag flew off, landing on the floor. Jackson screamed a horrendous, blood-curdling shriek.
“Amelia, what the fuck were you doing?!” This wasn’t the time for niceties, for censoring swearing in front of kids.
“I was holding a plastic bag over his head,” she replied calmly.
“You could’ve fucking killed him!” she screamed.
Not could have. Would have. If I’d just gone back to sleep… Jackson would be dead. Anna hugged him tight against her body, tears of streaming down her cheeks. “Amelia, why?”
The little girl looked up, her eyes locking with her mother’s.
“His crying woke me up, and I got mad.”
“You got mad… so you tried to kill him?!”
Thump, thump, thump. Luke rushed in, his hair sticking up all over the place. “Is everything okay?”
Anna was nearly incoherent, sobbing and yelling. “She, she tried to kill Jackson...”
“What are you talking about!?”
Anna lifted a trembling finger, pointing to the ground where the crumpled bag lay on the floor. Luke stared at Amelia, completely dumbfounded.
“What happened, Amelia?”
He expected a lie, or some version of the truth that was different from the horrible tale twisting in his mind.
But that didn’t happen.
“I held the bag over Jackson’s head,” she replied clearly, as though speaking to an even younger child.
“So he wouldn’t cry anymore.”
Amelia lifted her head and stared at her father.
In the dim light, her brown eyes flickered red.
“Amelia. Listen to me, very carefully.” Luke crouched down, looking her in the eye. “Did you take a little gray pill at any point?”
Luke’s heart sank.
“A month ago.”
“Who gave it to you?”
“A nice lady in Palm Sands. When I was trying to get money for you and Mommy.”
Luke returned to Anna’s side. She averted her eyes, tears streaming from them. Jackson whimpered in her arms, still terrified.
Then, suddenly, Anna grabbed his arm and yanked him out of the room.
She closed the door behind them. Anna handed Jackson to Luke, grabbing a few rubber bands and a chair. After a few minutes she’d jimmied a block around the door, one that would keep Amelia in.
“You’re just going to lock her in there?”
“She tried to kill Jackson,” Anna said, wiping her eyes. “She’s not, she’s not herself. Until we figure out what to do…”
“There’s nothing to figure out,” Luke snapped. “We hold her, hug her, and love her. We help her fight this.”
Anna violently shook her head. “No, Luke, I don’t think she can fight it.”
“Do you really have no faith in our daughter?”
She’s not like Rudy, not like the others, Luke thought, trying to fight the tears. We can beat this. We can fight it.
A small, quiet voice came from the other side of the door.
“Daddy, why did you leave me alone?”
Luke crouched down at the door. He pressed his hand against the cold wood and tried to comfort her. “You’re sick, Amelia. Mommy and Daddy need to figure out how to get you all better.”
“But it’s dark in here. I’m scared.”
Luke turned the doorknob, pushing the door open just an inch.
“You can see Daddy now, okay?”
Her face appeared in the crack. She broke into a huge grin. “Daddy!”
Anna stared down at them wearily. Jackson had fallen back asleep, limp in her arms. She held him tight, unwilling to let him go.
“I want to go to sleep. Will you bring me back to bed? Tuck me in?”
Luke turned to Anna, but she shook her head.
“You’re going to sleep in there tonight, okay?” he said, as sweetly as he could.
“Why? Are you mad at me again?”
Luke’s heart sank. She often asked him that question. After he found out she was begging in the streets, he barely spoke to her for a week. When she stole his shaving cream and sprayed it all over the walls, he took away her toys for the day.
He swallowed and stared at the tiny crack, where her red eyes peered out at him.
“I’m sorry, Daddy. I’m sorry that I hurt Jack... I didn’t mean to.”
“I’m not mad at you, Amie.”
“Then can you let me out? Please, Daddy? I’ll be good!”
Luke rested his face in his hands.
“Please, Daddy, let me out!” Her voice cracked as she started to cry.
Luke shook his head. He took a deep breath and told a bitter lie. “In the morning I’ll let you out. We’ll go looking for birds in the backyard. We’ll play airplanes. I’ll even take you to Cakes & Candies, and we’ll get you a red velvet cupcake. Okay? Just try to sleep right now.” The lie scorched his lips, filled him with dread.
Her face disappeared from the gap. Rustling sounds came from the other side of the door as she lay down on the carpet. Poor Amelia. She doesn’t even have a pillow. His heart sank impossibly far into his chest as he thought about his little girl.
“Amie, what’s wrong?”
“I don’t have Amelia Earhart.”
For the past two years she’d never gone a night without that doll. Not even once.
Luke turned around. Anna had disappeared back into their bedroom with Jackson.
“I’ll get you Amelia Earhart, okay?” he whispered. “But don’t tell Mommy.”
“Really?!” Amelia’s eyes appeared in the gap again, accompanied by a huge smile. “Oh, thank you Daddy, thank you!”
Luke stood up, quietly walking down the hall and into Amelia’s room. On the bed, tangled up in the covers, was Amelia Earhart. Stinky, grimy, and as gross as usual. He smiled to himself and walked back down the hall, the doll in his hand.
He sat back down on the floor. “I’ve got her.”
He tried to push the doll through.
It didn’t fit.
“It’s stuck,” Amelia wailed. He felt her tug at it from the other side, but it didn’t budge.
Luke glanced at the chairs and rubber bands holding the door in place. Then he glanced to the shut master bedroom door.
Anna will never know.
Snap. Luke slowly undid the rubber bands, pulling away the chair as he pushed the door open a little further.
Amelia wasn’t there, waiting for the doll.
In fact, from what he could see, the room appeared empty.
Creeeaaak. He pushed the door open a few more inches and took a step inside. “Amelia? I’ve got your doll –”
Amelia flew out at her father. He stumbled backwards, cracking his head on the hard floor. The doll fell out of his arms and rolled down the hallway.
Two little hands closed around his throat.
“Amie! What are you doing?” he choked.
“Making you die,” she said, plainly.
“Amie...” Patches of black swam in his vision. He could feel his strength slipping away, feel the numbness growing in his chest.
“You didn’t let me out,” she said, her eyes flashing red. “You’re mean, Daddy. You deserve this –”
Amelia crumpled. She slid off him. Her body dropped to the floor with a sickening thump.
Anna stood in the hallway, her shaking hands gripped around a smoking rifle.
“Luke, I didn’t want to... I didn’t mean to... but she, she...”
Her words came out as a string of choked sobs. She fell against Luke, sobbing uncontrollably. He watched as a pool of darkness seeped from beneath Amelia’s lifeless body, and he knew the stain would never lift.