I awoke to find my legs immobile, pinned beneath a dark mass. I peered through the surrounding darkness of the room, trying to ascertain what held me captive. My eyes finally adjusted to reveal a small figure curled up at the end of my bed. His messy blonde hair and soft snoring were unmistakable.
“Mase,” I whispered, trying to nudge him off me.
He was unresponsive, drool seeping from his mouth. I gently eased his weight off my legs, threw off the covers, and made my way towards the hall bathroom. As I crossed the second story landing, footsteps echoed below me on the winding staircase. I crept to the banister and peered down into the foyer.
The front door was wide open, encircled in fog. I frowned, certain I had locked the door behind me when I got home. I cautiously started down the stairs. Just as I neared the bottom, a shadow fell across the entryway. I paused, my breath catching in my throat as the door swayed in the cool evening breeze.
Reaching the doorway, I saw the young girl in a white cotton nightgown, her blonde hair frizzy with static. Her back was to me, her attention focused on the obscured front lawn. Samson was at her side, his belly low to the ground, his teeth bared as he growled in warning at whatever stood outside.
“Em?” I called softly.
My sister stood there, unmoving, her eyes not registering my presence. I crouched down next to her, patting Samson’s head as I tried to ease his apprehension.
Emerson finally looked up at me, her blue eyes wide. “What’s out there, Sissy?” she asked, pointing to the obscured front lawn.
In response, the fog swirled erratically, flowing in contradictory directions until it created a clearing at the bottom of the front steps. I didn’t wait around to see what would happen next. I grabbed Em’s hand and slammed the door shut, locking it once more.
“Let’s go to bed,” I urged, picking her up and propping her on my hip as we made our way upstairs.
Emerson buried her small face into my neck. “Keep me safe, Coco.”
I turned, nudging her cheek affectionately with my chin. “I promise, Em.”
THE ANNOYANCE of my ringing cell phone stirred me from sleep the next morning. I peeked one eye open and discovered that I was lying comfortably in bed, alone. My brother was nowhere to be found. I grabbed my phone from the nightstand. Squinting through blurry vision, I was able to make out Fallon’s name on the caller ID.
“Hey,” I said briefly. I hadn’t had a chance to chat with Fallon since the other night at the park. I figured she had just written me off as the creepy new girl and was doing her best to avoid me.
“Meet us at Greenwich, 11 am,” she ordered.
“11,” she repeated, then hung up.
I groaned and threw the covers back. Sunlight beamed through the lace curtains of my bedroom window, announcing the day’s arrival. I paused in front of my dresser as my eyes fell upon the smooth, silvery pendant sitting atop its surface. I picked up the necklace and turned it over in my palm, revealing an inscription.
“Love to last a lifetime,” I read softly. I gently opened the locket to reveal two childhood photos, one of a brown-haired girl and one of a shaggy, blonde-haired boy.
My cellphone rang again, startling me. I placed the locket back on the dresser and grabbed my phone.
“Hey Kinsley, I made it home okay.”
“Like I give a shit!” she seethed, the anger in her voice slicing through me like a knife through butter. “Where’s my necklace, Colette?”
I bit my lip. Well, how do you like that? I had just rolled out of bed and was already facing my first conundrum of the day! Telling Kinsley that the necklace ‘mysteriously appeared on my front porch’ would probably not go over well. I decided to play dumb.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s not here. You know I was wearing it last night.”
“Right Kinsley. You were WEARING it! The last time I saw you with it was when Abel was dragging me out the front door. Remember?”
Well, in all fairness, that was the truth!
“You’re the only one that had a problem with me wearing it, Colette. That gives you the motivation to take it,” she accused.
“Kinsley, you sound crazy. I have no idea where you fucking put it!”
When she spoke again, her tone had lowered, her voice trembling with anger. “Just give it back,” she warned. “Before bad things happen, Colette.”
My jaw dropped. “Wow, are you threatening me now? How’d you get that necklace, anyway? Wasn’t Genesis buried with it! Did you take it off her corpse?”
Christ almighty! Did I really just ask that?
“Genesis and I had a bond, Colette. She was my best friend.”
“Yeah, that still doesn’t answer my question.”
“I don’t owe an explanation to you. You’re the one that took my necklace and I want it back,” she seethed.
This could go on all day and I had places to be--according to Fallon.
“Fine,” I relented. “You want it? I’ll be at Greenwich Cemetery at 11. Come get it.”
I hung up and tossed my phone onto the bed. Throwing on some clothes, I washed my face and evaluated my current situation. How had it gotten to this point? In Chicago, I would have been cheering and going to parties and bonfires with friends. Now I was chasing ghosts and accusing new friends of grave robbing! I snatched up the necklace, placing it in the front pocket of my short-sleeved flannel shirt, then headed downstairs to the kitchen.
Mason sat at the table, eating a bowl of cereal.
“Hey Mase,” I said, tousling his hair. “Have you seen Mom or Dad?”
He didn’t look up at me, his eyes glued to the advertised toy on the back of the box. “Mom’s outside and Daddy went into town.”
“Thanks, buddy. Finish your cereal.” I headed out the back door and found my mom in the flower garden.
“Hey,” I said, watching her clear out the flower beds.
“You’re up? I thought you’d sleep all day. You got home late last night.”
“Yeah, Abel gave me a ride home.”
“Abel? Didn’t Jagger pick you up?” she asked, her brows furrowed in confusion.
“Yeah. It’s a long story.”
She sighed and shook her head. “Everything is a long story with you these days.”
I frowned. “What the hell’s that mean?”
“Language Colette,” she warned, looking up at me in exasperation. “It just means that you’ve been a bit dramatic lately. You cry yourself to sleep almost every night, yet you’re always rushing off to do some-thing with somebody. Your emotions are all over the place.”
“That’s for damn sure,” I mumbled.
She stopped weeding and threw her hands up. “So, what is it? What’s bothering you so much?”
I shook my head. “I can’t explain it.”
“Well if you can’t tell me, I can’t help you.”
I managed a weak smile. “I don’t think anybody can.”
She groaned and staggered to her feet, wiping the hot Georgia sun from her forehead with one of her gardening gloves. “Look, we all feel like that sometimes. And I know moving to a new school during your high school years can stir up all sorts of emotions. Just remember I was once your age too, k?”
Really? And did you see ghosts as well? But those weren’t the words that escaped my lips. I did still have somewhat of a filter.
“K, thanks, Mom.” I crooked my thumb towards my car. “I’m going to meet up with some friends. Just call if you need anything.”
She nodded and kneeled over her garden.
Moments later I was guiding Ruby towards the cemetery. As I passed through the iron gates, I was shrouded in shadows from the overhanging trees. They effortlessly masked the sun’s warm rays, causing the graveyard to appear more menacing, even during the day. Pulling into the gravel lot, I noticed Scarlett, Fallon, and Abel waiting for me by their cars.
I got out of my car and approached them, dangling the necklace by my side. Fallon’s eyes widened in disbelief and she leaned over to murmur something to Scarlett.
“Let me see that,” Abel commanded. He stepped forward and grabbed the necklace, turning it over in his palm. Upon reading the inscription, he looked back at the girls and slightly nodded. “I was with Sebastian when he picked this out for her. If Kinsley notices that you took it, she’ll have your head.”
“You seriously think I took that from her?” I spat out, shaking my head bitterly. “It was hanging on my front door when you dropped me off last night.” I hesitated, glancing at Scarlett and Fallon. “Besides, Kinsley already knows it’s missing. She’s on her way here I’d imagine.”
“Jesus Christ, Colette,” Fallon snapped.
Abel folded the necklace up and handed it back to me “So it was just hanging on your door?”
I nodded in confirmation.
“You know that sounds crazy, right?” Scarlett asked, her arms crossed in front of her chest.
“No shit,” I deadpanned.
“So, the necklace Kinsley had just magically appeared on your front porch? And we’re supposed to believe you?” Fallon asked indignantly.
I couldn’t very well blame her skepticism. “Look, I get how this all sounds. I can’t explain shit and anytime I try, I sound like I should be committed in an institution somewhere.”
“Well, at least you’re aware of your lunacy,” Scarlett mused.
Abel rubbed his hands down his face in frustration. ” Christ, already! Forget all this. We’ve got something to show you.”
Before he could explain, an approaching car disrupted the conversation. The cherry-red convertible was unmistakable, just as ostentatious as its owner. Kinsley sprang from the driver’s door and marched toward us, her blond waves bouncing around her shoulders in protest.
“Give it back to me, Colette!” she shouted.
I stared daggers at her, unrelenting. “It’s not yours.”
Kinsley drew her fist back and swung at me, landing a mean punch square to my jaw. I staggered backward, unprepared for our duel. The sickly-sweet tang of blood trickled over my bottom lip. I brought my hand to my mouth to wipe it away. Abel quickly stepped between me and Kinsley.
“You’re quickly making enemies here,” he said with a smirk as he grabbed my chin to examine the damage. I attempted to push him away to no avail. He steadfastly held onto me, his green eyes devouring every square inch of my face.
“I’m fine,” I assured him, gently removing his hands.
He released me and turned around. I stood there motionless, replaying the last five minutes in my head like the jaw-dropping conclusion to some suspenseful movie. As the images faded to black, lucidity failed me. I should have chalked up Kinsley’s outburst to discomfort caused by menstrual cramps or toxic fumes inhaled from her bleach hair dye. But I didn’t. Instead, all rational thoughts were replaced with mayhem and adrenaline. I took a deep breath, balled my hands into fists, and then launched myself at Kinsley, hurling wild punches as we both fell to the ground.
WHAT COULDN’T HAVE BEEN any more than twenty minutes later, the four of us stood in a huddled mass. I glanced over at Kinsley. For the first time, she appeared less than perfect. Her hair hung in disarray, a blonde halo entangled with sticks and leaves. Her flawless, bronzed skin was now red and blotchy, marred by bruises earned from punches I had landed. Her cheeks were puffy and stained with streaks of black mascara.
I imagine I didn’t look much better at the moment, although I didn’t have a mirror to corroborate my suspicions. I was assuming based solely on the amount of pain I was in. My fists were sore, my knuckles bloodied from our catfight. My jaw was throbbing, and I was still trying to catch my breath when we gathered in front of Genesis Long’s grave.
The beautiful headstone had been desecrated. Its twin vases that adorned the memorial were smashed into distorted pieces; The slab of marble vandalized with red, spray-painted letters: HELP ME. I stared at the tomb in stunned silence, my anger rising.
I turned to Abel. “This your idea of a sick joke?”
He looked flabbergasted. “Huh?”
“You’re the only one I told about the note,” I said through clenched teeth.
Fallon shook her head, trying to make sense of our conversation. “Whoa. What note?”
I looked over at her. “Somebody slipped a note into my locker the other day.” I nodded at the tombstone. “It says the same thing.”
“Ew,” Scarlett moaned, wrinkling her nose.
“Yeah, well. Abel’s the only one I showed it to.”
“That doesn’t mean I did this. Just like you finding Kinsley’s necklace on your front porch last night doesn’t mean that you stole it from her.”
Damn! His logical reasoning was becoming quite the nuisance!
Kinsley’s eyes flickered to me. “Wh-where’d you find it?”
I took a deep breath. Here went nothing. “When Abel took me home last night, it was just hanging on my front door. Like it had been waiting for me.”
Kinsley’s plump lower lip started to quiver, and she leaned against Fallon for support. Noticeably uncomfortable, Fallon patted Kinsley’s shoulders as if she were touching someone diagnosed with the Bubonic Plague.
“There, there Ice Princess. All will be well in your magical kingdom again soon.”
Kinsley paid her no heed, continuing to lean on her. “After Gen’s funeral, I found a small wrapped box on my front porch. There was no return address, but my name was written on it. When I opened it and saw the necklace, I broke down. I felt that through that necklace, I was still connected to her. It’s sorta creepy to admit, but I felt she wanted me to have it.”
“So maybe she wants Colette to have it now?” Scarlett ventured, raising an eyebrow.
Kinsley ignored the proposition. “We have to tell my dad. Maybe he’s heard something about graves being vandalized.”
“So, call him,” Abel urged.
Kinsley nodded and started walking over to a nearby tree. “Oh, and uh Kinsley?” he called after her.
She half-turned in response. “Yeah?”
“Before he gets here, you might want to fix yourself up.” Abel ticked his chin to me. “You too.”
I quickly brushed the dirt from my clothes and pulled my hair back from my face. As we waited for Chief Miller, my eyes came to rest on the stretch of woods that bordered the cemetery.
From within its depth, I could hear my name being called, compelling me to approach. I narrowed my eyes, straining to make out anything through the thick underbrush that surrounded the trees. Seeing nothing, I started towards the forest. A stranger in my own body, it was as if I was being controlled by some otherworldly force. I was within arm’s reach of the wooden perimeter, the voice much louder now--more urgent. My leading foot had just crossed the boundary of trees when I was forcefully pulled backward.
I shook my head as if waking from a dream, unaware of my surroundings. It took a moment to realize Abel’s arm was wrapped around my waist. I looked up at him in confusion. “What are you doing?”
He frowned. “I was about to ask you the same. I kept calling you. Didn’t you hear me?”
“I heard my name...” My voice trailed off as I glanced into the woods. I could feel the heavy eyes of the forest upon me, beckoning me to venture within its depth.
Abel grabbed my hand. “Come on. Chief Miller is here. He wants to talk to us.” He led me back to the group gathered around Genesis’ desecrated tombstone.
Chief Miller was a tall gentleman with salt and pepper hair. He smiled meekly as we approached, wrinkles forming around his warm brown eyes. “Abel,” he said briskly, nodding.
“Daddy, this is Colette,” Kinsley said, gesturing to me.
Chief Miller extended his hand. “Nice to put a face with the name. Welcome to Savannah. It’s unfortunate that we have to meet under these circumstances.”
I shook his hand slowly, wincing in pain. “Yes, sir.”
He noticed my discomfort and looked at me with concern. “You alright?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” I said shortly.
He paused for a moment, then gestured at Abel. “You’re the one that discovered the grave like this?”
Abel nodded. “Yeah, came out this morning to sit with Sebastian.”
Chief Miller raised his eyebrows at the prospect before making a few notes on his pad. “What time was that?”
“Nine-thirty, ten maybe.”
“Was anyone else out here?” “Not that I saw.”
He scribbled a few more sentences. “Any idea who might have done this?”
Scarlett snickered. “Isn’t that sorta your job?”
He frowned in disapproval. “Not funny, Miss Foster.” His eyes flickered amongst our group. “As I was saying, any ideas?”
The four of us collectively shook our heads.
“No,” I said, pausing before my big reveal. “But I did receive a note at school with the same words scrawled on it.”
Chief Miller stroked his chin. “Pardon?”
“The same inscription as written here.” I pointed to the tombstone. “I found it in my locker last week.”
“Do you have this note with you?”
I nodded to Abel. “I gave it to him.”
Chief Miller turned in Abel’s direction. “Bring it by the station,” he ordered. “Give it to one of my deputies and we’ll look into this further. Could be some punk kid messing around.”
“What about Genesis’ grave, Daddy?” Kinsley whined. “We need to tell her mom.”
He sighed, his eyes hesitant. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea, honey-”
Kinsley pouted. “Daddy, she NEEDS to know.”
Fallon glared at her. “My aunt is not well,” she said through gritted teeth.
“She’s staying in Charleston,” Kinsley offered, glancing around the group for support. “I think it’s only fair that we tell her in person.”
“No, no way. She’s already lost her only daughter. Hearing about this will completely send her over the edge. She doesn’t deserve that after all that she’s been through,” Fallon snapped, crossing her arms defiantly over her chest.
“Well, let’s vote on it then,” Abel said. “All those in favor of paying Ms. Long a visit, raise your hand.”
Kinsley, Abel, Scarlett, and I all raised our hands. Fallon looked at us with disgust.
“Wow... nice,” Fallon sneered. “Fine. Let’s head to Charleston. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Chief Miller tipped his hat at us. “You kids be safe.” He turned to Kinsley. “Call me if you need anything. I’ll talk to the groundskeeper about getting this cleaned up. I’ll have to run it by the City Council, but I’m sure we can scrape together enough donations to fund a replacement headstone. Tell Ms. Long not to worry about the cost.”
As we walked away from the grave and headed to our respective vehicles, none of us noticed the sandy-blonde haired boy that watched us intently from the darkness of the woods.