“And then you know Mom…” she began, a ghost of a smile tugging at the corner of her lips.
Gabriella’s glance was focused on the white lilies she was rearranging—her grandpa’s favorites. As her fingertips glided across the green stems, she heard a shuffling noise, stopping her in her tracks, freezing her in time.
Her mouth dropped downwards as she gazed upon her grandfather’s figure, his focus elsewhere as he stared through the nearby glass window.
It did not take her long to spot the blue plastic cup on the floor, rolling around by his feet, clinging on the wooden floor. Water was gradually covering the floorboards and her eyes widened as she threw herself to her knees. She reached out for the navy rag on her grandfather’s comforter and scattered it across the floor in an attempt to limit the damages.
“Are you okay grandpa? Did you get any on you?” she asked while rising to a standing position.
As expected she received no answer from him.
It was more difficult each day to see him like this. Her grandfather had been a force of nature, an explosive personality … and now. Well, now he was mostly confused.
Initially, they had wanted him to keep his autonomy as long as possible. To do that, they had moved him out of his crummy little apartment on the side of town and into the family home. It was her, her mother, and her little brother. At first, they made it work, but they quickly realized he needed more care than they could give him.
A private nurse was out of the question: when her father died, he had left them with a lot of debts, debts her mother was still paying. In the end, they were forced to move him into a home. Her mother, despite being his daughter-in-law and not his daughter came over most mornings.
Gabriella on the other hand was tied down by her university course load and only managed to make it once or twice a week. Regardless of the little time they had together, she always tried to make the most of it. She’d been four years old when her father died - her grandfather was all she had left of him.
Most of the time, he would eventually talk to her but not a lot of it made sense. Yet, she took comfort in the fact that she was still able to see him and talk to him.
“I’ll get you more,” she said as she held the now empty cup in her hand.
“Did you do it, Isabella?”
Gabriella stopped in her tracks, a soft smile adorning her face. Isabella. Her grandmother. He often mistook the two of them; apparently, they looked alike. “Did I do what?”
She rarely had it in her to correct him anymore. He always seemed so happy to be talking to his wife that she did not want to break his heart. What was the point? He would not remember this and for a brief moment, it made him happy. There was no harm.
“Did you get that loose lips bastard?”
Loose lips bastard? It was probably a movie he watched. He confused reality with fantasy a lot. “I did.” Why upset him over nothing?
“Good. Put the knife back in the attic. We need it.”
Wait. What? This time, she had to stop in her tracks. The knife? Usually, once she answered him the conversation would stop or stir in another direction—he was no longer the chatty person he used to be.
“That’s where I keep them, you know that,” he answered, never once making eye contact with her.
She highly doubted his little apartment had an attic. Maybe the house he owned back when his grandmother was still alive? All she knew about it was that it burned down. Nothing was salvaged - memories lost forever. She was being silly. It was just the rambling of an old man and she needed to stop paying any attention to it.
“Then that’s where it is,” she added with a quick breath. “I’ll be back with more water for you, grandpa.”
She tightened her grip on the glass, shaking her head as though to refocus herself into the present and to chase away any thoughts and doubts he had planted into her mind.
There was no knife. There was no killing.
“Has Grandpa ever said anything weird to you?”
“You’re gonna have to be more specific than that,” Santi said as he raised his head from his homework.
Gabriella offered him a shrug of the shoulders. “I don’t know—just weirder than usual… I guess?” Did he mention being a murderer did not quite sound like the right way to ask this.
Santi tilted his head to the left, twisting his lips. “I don’t think so … why?”
“No reason,” she lied as she continued to dry the wet plate in her hands.
Maybe it was a fluke. Maybe she was overthinking this. He had told her plenty of strange things over the years and she had never been bothered by them before. Why this one? Perhaps it was the potential murder aspect of it that had her hanging on longer than she should. There was an easy way to get over this; she could search through his old stuff. But that meant that she was giving an old man’s ramble the benefit of the doubt.
Determined, Gabriella put the white porcelain plate down on the counter, tossed the red rag on top of it, and began to head upstairs. Once she made it up the stairs, she tilted her head up, staring at the rope hanging from the ceiling.
Her mother had retrieved what she could from her grandfather’s apartment. His Alzheimer’s had already progressed a lot by the time they moved in and everything had been covered in mold or wet.
Despite how stupid she felt, she grabbed it and slowly pulled down the ladder stairs so that she could make her way into the attic. As expected, once she was up there, she found herself surrounded by years of dust. She grabbed her blue hair tie from her wrist and quickly ruffled her sandy blond hair into a messy bun.
Now, she would focus on ignoring the millions of spiders that were probably crawling over every inch of her skin. Ew. She crawled her way to the metal string that was attached to the one and only light bulb and pulled it on.
It was not shedding much light but it would do. Around her were a ton of boxes, most of them darkened by the years. Where was she even supposed to start looking? It was not like one of them was going to be labeled murder knife. She sighed, her head dipping forward in defeat. One at a time it was.
Time ticked away slowly as she sat down, going through the boxes, scratching her skin off every once in a while as she was convinced some sort of bug was crawling all over her skin. At some point, she had to shout to her brother that she was not crazy and simply looking for something for their grandfather.
She fed her mother the same lie. She was glad that they could not see her face because they would have spotted the lie right away. Minutes turned into hours and there she was, squinty eyes in near darkness as she moved out of the way, yet another box. She was above to give up, tired of staring at the same old stuff, the same cardboard boxes when a glimmer of silver caught her eye.
She moved forward, trying to find its source, but she could no longer see it. All that was there was pure darkness. Still, she patted the ground, trying to wrap her fingers around something—anything.
Suddenly, she felt something cold beneath her touch. She gripped it, realizing it was a box. Since it appeared to be dark—almost black—she could not make out the edges of it. So, she threw her arms around it and dragged it towards her chest.
She brought it with her near the light source, noticing it was covered in dust. Gently, she wiped it away with the back of her hand, revealing a strange engraving in it…. It was a sphere of some sort? She frowned. Why a sphere?
Still, she opened the box, wanting to satisfy her curiosity.
And then—she could not breathe.
Inside was—a knife.
The handle was beautiful, made in wood, carved by hand with intriguing patterns along the edges. The blade was long and thin, shining despite the lack of light in the attic. So there was a knife. Her fingers were shaking as she dared to wrap them around it, lifting it from its protective box. As she carefully scooped it with her left hand, she found an unpleasant texture brushing against her skin.
Curious, she turned it around only to see that the otherwise clean blade was covered in something dark brown. She used the short edge of her blunt nail to try to see if it was coming off only to notice it peeling away. What was that? She lifted her hand, looking at her thumb, and wasted no time in realizing her nail now had a red tint. Rusty red.
The moment the realization dawned on her, she tossed the knife as far as possible, its metal clinging against the flooring. Blood, she had chipped away blood. Her heart was thundering, echoing in her ears as the blood surged through her body fast enough to make her dizzy.
She smacked her lips together, thoughts racing through her mind. It had seemed insane from the second he had uttered the word knife and—yet, there was. There had to be another logical explanation for this. It could not be that her grandfather just so happened to own a knife—covered in blood, hidden in the attic, right?
Her brain was scrambling for answers, the taste of bile was rising in her throat and she did not know if she had to be scared and horrified.
No, no. She would not jump to a conclusion—she would talk to him, she would try to get some information that might help make sense of this. Maybe there was a perfectly logical reason as to why her grandmother and him would have hidden away a bloody knife.
Yes. That was what she would do.
She would breathe.
Gabriella’s entire body was trembling as she sat in front of her grandfather. Black circles were digging into the flesh beneath her eyes, proof of the sleepless night she had just gone through. How had she been supposed to sleep? She had rushed out of the attic as fast as possible, knife in hand, and she had hidden in her bedroom.
Of course, she had promised herself she would not jump to any conclusion but it had been too difficult to resist the temptation. Since her options had been limited, she had resorted to using the internet. She looked up her grandfather’s name, her grandmother’s… nothing came up.
“Grandpa, do you remember the knife you were talking about?” she whispered. “The one in the attic?”
For the first time since her arrival, he turned his head to look at her, forcing her to hold her breath. “Why did you bring it?”
How did he know she brought it? “I - to use it?” she tried in vain.
“We haven’t decided the next target yet.”
She gulped; target? She did not like the sound of that. “What do you mean?”
“Next time we meet. Don’t forget your necklace.”
Necklace? One thing at a time… “But what about the knife?” She had brought it but she did not dare show it to him. What if he got confused? What he mistook her for the enemy and things ended badly? It was best if she kept it hidden away. Bringing it had been a bad idea in the first place.
“You know we have to use it. We have to protect him.”
Gabriella felt sick to her stomach; he was talking about killing someone. Her grandfather murdered someone... And her grandmother had a part in it too. None of this made sense. She had heard the many stories; they ran a meat shop. They led a simple life.
Then one day, when she was still very young, her grandmother died. It happened long before Gabriella was even born - before her parents were even married. And then, her grandfather kept the shop going by himself. That was the story. That was the narrative. Not this - bloody murdering crap.
She slouched in the chair, despair growing in her chest. Could she see a reason why her grandfather might have needed to kill someone? None of this made sense. She was not looking at the full picture. Something was missing.
There was one problem though.
Did she even want to know more?
Could she even find out more?
“You know, I think even your grandfather hasn’t touched this since her death,” Mia said as she put down a white and gold square jewelry box on the bed, a sad smile on her face. “Too many memories I think,” she said with longing eyes. “Did he ask for it?”
Gabriella swallowed hard—great … more lying. As if this was not difficult enough. “No, it’s just, he calls me Isabella so much… I thought it might be nice to bring him something of hers.” There was nothing she hated more than lying to her mother but … what else could she do? Tell her she had reason to believe her grandparents used to be murderers? No. She could not.
“I think he really misses her. I hope you can find something in here.”
It was a long shot; all he had said was a necklace, but she figured it might be something her grandfather kept after her grandmother died. It was not too crazy; he had kept a bloody knife for God knew how long.
Once her mother was out of view, Gabriella gripped the edge of the box and opened it. Unfortunately for her, it was filled with the brim with different kinds of jewelry—including a lot of necklaces. How in the world was she supposed to find the one? Her neck corded while her toes curls as she rummaged through the pile of tangled chains.
After a few minutes, she was almost willing to give up, her throat dry from her rushed breathing when suddenly, her finger glided across something smooth and she found herself staring once more at that weird symbol. She pushed aside the silver chain blocking her view and then she fished it out of the pile, lifting it.
This was it.
The same symbol again. What was up with that?
It could be the brand right? But what company made both knives and necklaces. It didn’t make sense. She felt a chill down her spine, but she tried to shake it off. It could be anything.
It was a lost cause, it had to be.
Once more, Gabriella was lurking around her grandfather’s building. She had lost her mind - there was no other choice. Why else would she skip class to come here? She’d work hard to get good grades… she needed those good grades, else she would lose her scholarship.
Her mother didn’t need the extra burden. The smart thing to do was to head to school. Forget about this whole thing. What did it change? Her grandfather wouldn’t remember and what happened couldn’t be undone. In her twenty-two years of life, she hadn’t known this detail about him, and she had loved him like a father.
Would she let this half story ruin everything?
She could drop it but—well no. She could not.
Her fingers were clutched around the sash of her purse as she hopped onto the small sidewalk leading to the entrance. As she lifted her gaze, she noticed two young men she had never seen around before.
Granted, she didn’t know everyone who came and visited family members but - these two stood out. This place was - cheap. These men didn’t look like they were poor: expensive suits, not a hair out of place, shining watches… Something wasn’t adding up.
But who was she to judge them on their appearances? Anyone was allowed to be wherever they wanted, right? Maybe… they knew an employee?
Still, there was something deep inside her that was ringing—telling her there was something else. She slowed down her pace, leaning to the left, hoping to catch a few words of what they were saying.
“.. a call…the old man.”
“Impossible … ain’t no way.”
“Can’t tell him…”
“I ain’t lying … there was… a call … yesterday.”
It took every inch of her self-control for her to not stop dead in her tracks. Yesterday? The knife … could it be? No. She hadn’t even taken it out of her bag. How would they know? This entire thing was turning her paranoiac.
Her mouth felt like cotton as she took wobblier and wobblier steps. She could feel the sweat dripping down the back of her neck, making its way down her spine and forcing the cotton fabric of her t-shirt to glue to her skin. She was not going to make it inside, was she? Nope, she was going to faint before she reached the door.
Focus on walking, she told herself. She only needed to get away from them. Then she’d think a little clearer.
The harsh sound of the foreign voice startled her and she came to a halt. Oh for the love of God. That was directed to her was it not? Fudge. The dark hair guy stared right into her, as though he was piercing through her soul, and he began heading her way. “What are ya lookin’ at?”
Was it that obvious that she had been staring? She swallowed the saliva that had been pooling in her mouth and did her best to stretch her lips into a smile. “I-I, hm, sorry.”
Part of her wanted to drop her purse to the ground and make a dash for her car. Would she make it? Could she outrun him? Maybe enough that he would think that she was not worth it?
But then what if he did not know anything and her running away made him suspicious and he came after her even harder? Her heart palpated as she cleared her throat, trying to come up with better words—an explanation … anything.
“Leo, come here. Check her out.”
Okay, what now? She took a step back, creating a distance between herself and his body. “Excuse me?” she asked, her voice louder than she had intended.
“Sh,” he said with a wave of the hand.
Did he just shh her?
The one he had called Leo also seemed to completely ignore her as he closed the distance, his shoes hitting the ground loudly with each step. Her grip on her purse weakened as the sweat pooled in her palms. She needed to get out of here. She took another step backward, her eyebrows furrowing.
“Miss, you alright?”
The sound of a fourth voice added to the mix seemed to stop all current actions as both men took a step back from her. Gabriella was able to see the tall security guard behind her, throwing glances at the two men. He took another step forward, his hand on his belt. “Is something the matter?”
“Nah,” Leo said as he wrapped his fingers around the other man’s arm. “We just leaving.”
His companion did not seem to agree with that decision, and yet, after a few tugs, he followed his friend. However, the fact that they were walking away did not prevent them from staring at Gabriella, a fire shining in their eyes. Was it the necklace? Was it her? And why would they know about this? Was it—revenge? Had her grandfather hurt someone they knew?
She could hear his voice but it sounded far away. It was like she had stepped into a new dimension. A few days ago, her grandfather was just a senile old man, and now? Now she did not know anything.
“Sorry—thank you,” she said before turning around to face him.
“Let me know if they bother you again.”
“Will do,” she said with a smile, the corner of her lips twitching as she tried to compose herself enough to walk inside. As soon as she passed the door, she turned around and smacked her back into a nearby wall, her knees wobbling, threatening to buckle under the sheer amount of stress she had gone under.
What the fuck.
She closed her eyes, trying to slow down the pounding of her heart. This would have to be the last time. If she could not find out anything now, she had to let this go. Either something bad was going on or nothing was going on and she was about to lose her mind over this. Neither of the options was good. It was time to back away.
She tilted her head slightly to the right, catching the sight of the retreating figures into the distance.
She had lost her mind.
That had to be it.