I looked down at my license—Carolyn White. That’s not me anymore. I glanced down at muddy water, slipped off my Christian Louboutin heels, threw my wallet as hard as I could, and placed my feet in the lake. The sun hung low on the horizon; darkness was near. I slowly stepped further into the vast water until the edge of my dress embraced the wet. I took a deep breath and immersed my body in the warmth of the lake. I let the water take me into it: my legs, chest, head. Before I knew it, I no longer belonged to myself. I belonged to the lake. I stood up and brushed my hair back out of my face. My dress clung to me like a glove. I walked out of the water just as the sun faded. As I took one last look back at Carolyn White, a crane swooped down and landed at the edge of the dock. Its elegant neck and its graceful demeanor were beautiful. In a moment, it flew away from me—from Carolyn. That’s when I knew I was now Vivian Crane.
I snuck around to the back door that was facing the lake. My childhood home had changed a lot since I’d last seen it. The wild Georgia woods and kudzu had all but taken over the narrow strip of land. I was instantly haunted by the memories of summer cookouts and Fourth of July fireworks as I crept on the porch. The noise of my heels was making me anxious, so I decided to carry them the rest of the way. When I reached the door, I wiggled it a little in hopes that the property manager would have left it unlocked. No such luck. I looked around for a key under dead foliage in ornate pots but found nothing. There has to be a key around here somewhere.Think, think. Just then I saw slight shimmer of something above the doorway slightly overhanging the trim. I reached and pulled down the key, unlocked the door, and toed into the house as if someone else would be there. After a moment of standing on the tiled entryway in silence, I realized it was safe to move carelessly in the house. Almost every piece of furniture was covered with drab white sheets, except for one—my dad’s favorite chair. It was in the living room with a small end table next to it. I knelt before his old chair, ran my fingers down the wicker arms, and outlined the dull plaid design of the vinyl. I closed my eyes and saw my dad sitting there nearly fifteen years ago, smiling, laughing, and looking at my mother with the most longing, loving eyes. Instantly, a streak of pain jolted my heart, and before I knew it, tears flowed from my eyes.
I couldn’t remember how long it had been since I last opened that yester-year file in my mind. I would give anything to have my parents back with me, but I can’t make any more pacts with the devil. That’s what got me here.
I was afraid to turn on any lights in the house. I knew the neighbors kept a close eye on the place. That would surely get me a visit from the local P.D. God knows, I didn’t want that. Luckily, the uncovered windows let in enough moonlight to allow me to see my way around.
After days of intense travel, I couldn’t find my childhood bed fast enough. One of my mom’s white cotton nightgowns was in her closet and I put it on, slinging my wet dress over the bathtub curtain. A pale pink comforter was in the linen closet, and it wasn’t long before I lied down and finally felt at peace again.
I awoke to a loud bang. My eyes jolted into an alert state, but the darkness kept me from being able to see. I sat in silence a few moments thinking that I’d hear it again. Nothing. Had I locked the backdoor? I remembered that Mom had always kept an oil lantern and a set of matches in every room of the house in case the electricity went off, which happened almost every time it rained here. The oil lamp was on the nightstand. I reached in the drawer and felt around for the matches. Come on. I know you’re in there. My fingers wandered aimlessly until I felt the sandpapered edges of a small box. I slid the match across the rough surface and lit the lamp. Its glass orb quickly filled, and I slowly I walked out of the room. When I reached the hall, that’s when I heard it—the very distinctive sound of heels on the tiled floor. I froze. I had no idea what to do. Where do I go?
“Find her,” I heard her say.
I hurried back to my room, shut the door quietly, and sat the lamp back on the stand. Just before I was able to blow it out, the door opened.
“Well, there you are, Carolyn.” Her face lit up with a deceitful smile.
“What are you doing here, Margaret?”
“We’re here to see you, of course.” Her eyes left mine and looked to be evaluating the room. “She’s in here, Katrina!”
With every heeled step I heard coming our way, my heart beat faster.
“We need to talk,” Katrina said as she appeared from darkness. “Let’s sit down like adults and have a nice conversation, shall we?” She walked towards the living room. “Bring the lamp too, please.”
I walked into the living room while Margaret followed behind with the oil lamp. Katrina pulled off the sheet that was covering the couch and sat on the edge of the cushion with her legs delicately crossed. Margaret sat the oil lamp on the side table next to my father’s chair and stood behind it. I felt that they meant for me to sit there, so I obeyed. A minute or two passed without anyone saying a word. Katrina stared at me and then looked around the room, while Margaret never moved. I ran my hands through my long, brown hair and acted as though I felt comfortable, confident. It felt like the calm before the storm, the moment before eruption, and the anticipation was killing me.
“How did you find me?” I finally asked.
Katrina snickered. “The two days it took you to get here was all it took for us to find out every place that you have ever lived. We were surprised that this lake house was still in your possession. Tino was led to believe that you had sold all of your parents’ properties after they died. Actually, we should be thanking you for making it so easy on us. This was our first stop.” She readjusted and crossed her legs in the other direction, which caused her black wrap-around dress to reveal a gartered holster on her perfect thigh.
The silver tip of her 9mm caught the light, and she caught that I noticed.
“Let’s get down to business. You have something that I want. Tino has tried his best to convince everyone that you don’t have it, but it’s just too convenient that the day you go missing, so does it. I’m just here to make sure that it returns back to our family.”
I had no idea what she was talking about. I hadn’t taken anything. I left with only the clothes I was wearing. What is Katrina even talking about “our family”? She doesn’t even belong in that family. They just took her in after her father was killed. Now they’ve got her doing their dirty work?
“I didn’t take anything.” That’s when I noticed the giant engagement ring sitting on my finger that Tino gave me six months ago. This is what she wants. She’s always wanted him. “Here. You can have it. I meant to leave it there, anyway,” I said taking the ring off and handing it to her.
“I don’t want your damn ring,” she screamed while grabbing it and throwing it across the room. “Where’s the money?”
“I really don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know anything about any money!” I felt myself begin to panic.
“Margaret, tie her up.”
I knew that they were armed. There was no sense in fighting. No one knew I was here. No one could help me.
Margaret pulled rope from the black bag she had brought. She was dressed in solid black with laced boots up to her knees. Her masculine hands wrapped the woven rope around my chest, arms, and legs, leaving me unable to move from the chair. Margaret and Katrina took the lamp and searched every room in the house, one by one. I heard a lot of things breaking, and I cringed at every lost piece of my mother’s memory.
I could tell that they were frustrated when they both came back to the living room. Katrina stood over me looking at me in restrained anger. Margaret took up her place behind me. I saw them exchange a knife. Katrina held the knife carelessly in her hands, spinning it with her fingers until Margaret brought in a chair from the dining room and placed it right in front of me. Katrina didn’t sit in it, though. She hovered over me, running the dull side of the blade across my neck lightly. I began to speak, to tell her that I promised that I didn’t have anything. But she wouldn’t let me get one word out.
“Shh… tell me your secret,” she said with her eyes closed and her warm breath lingering on the side of my neck.
“I don’t have any secrets,” I answered and turned to look at her.
I glared at her long, dark lashes as they opened and revealed her bright blue eyes. There was a darkness about her. Her lips curled at the right corner causing slight wrinkles on an otherwise porcelain face. That look—her look—sent chills down my spine as I watched her glide to the seat in front of me. I knew what she wanted.
“You tell me a secret,” I dared. While my heart raced a thousand beats a second, I focused on keeping my body relaxed, yet firm.
She smiled and raised her eyebrow in amusement. “You really are a beast, aren’t you?”
“If a beast is an ordinary woman, then yes,” I answered while casually tugging at the wicker on the armrest and trying to pace my breathing.
“Ordinary? Really? That’s the word you’re going with?” She laughed under her breath.
“There’s nothing special about me. I’m nothing like all of you. I left because I didn’t want to be. I’m not hiding anything. I just want to go back to an ordinary life.” My heart rate began to slow as honesty fell from my lips.
“I agree with you. You are nothing but ordinary. Why Tino ever loved you is beyond me.” Her eyes fluttered with vulnerability. “I’m glad you left. You were nothing but crippling to him. He wasn’t able to function like the family needed him to with you there. He was too scared of someone hurting you in retribution for something he’d done,” her voice trailed.
“We need to get on with it. It’s almost daylight,” Margaret interrupted.
“There must be something about you that made him want you like he does. What’s your secret, Carolyn?”
“I never tried to make him want me,” I whispered. Instantly, I saw that she understood what I meant. She stood, pulled her dress together at the bust, and glared at me with forceful eyes. She took the knife and forced the blade into my left cheek just under my eye. I screamed for mercy but found none. She cut in a downward motion until the knife found the edge of my jaw. The look she had on her face, I will never forget. It was of satisfaction. I felt the warm blood drip down my neck and onto my mom’s pure cotton gown. Tears flowed reluctantly as I tried to stay strong.
“We’ve got to get out of here,” Margaret reminded her.
She didn’t find the money. She’s not leaving. She’s going to kill me. I panicked. I started trying to force my way out of the chair. I bounced and screamed and shook.
Katrina backed away. She gave the crimson stained knife to Margaret, which she threw into the black duffle bag. Katrina looked at her hands. She had a small amount of my blood on her index finger. She brought it to her lips and sucked it off. I stared in amazement. You’re the beast.
She and Margaret headed for the back door. What’s happening?
“What about the money?” I asked trying to make some kind of sense of all of this.
She laughed a wicked laugh. “Just remember this, if you ever come back to Tino or our family, I’ll kill you.” She meant it. Her voice was still and cold. Then she gave me one last smile to remember her by.
I sat in amazement. I listened to her heels until they eventually faded. That’s when I found my mind again. I knocked the chair and myself over, and I was able to wiggle the rope loose enough to slide out the top. I rushed to the mirror in the bathroom. I looked away just before my eyes met my reflection. I knew that it was bad, deep. It took me a moment, but I was able to gather enough courage to look. I didn’t know who I was looking at. It looked like Carolyn, but it felt like someone else—like Vivian. The tears of blood poured down my left cheek and suddenly my fear of seeing an ugly face was gone. That mark was my courage and my strength.
I cleaned the wound and held a warm wet cloth to my face. Suddenly, I heard a knock. I jumped in reflex. Criminals don’t knock. I breathed out a sigh of relief. I walked to the front door, opened it, and there stood an old man in PJs that looked to be in his seventies or so with a shotgun by his side.
“Are you alright?” he asked. He took notice of the bloodstained bath cloth I was holding.
“I’m okay now.”
“I heard screaming when I took out our Sugarbear this morning, and I went ahead and called the cops. They should be here any minute.”
“What are you doing here anyway? This is private property, you know?” His caring demeanor morphed into a good-citizen aggression. He clutched his shotgun a little tighter.
“I’m good friends of Carolyn White’s. She owns this place.” His skepticism was apparent.
I told the cops that I did not know the assailants. I said that they were looking for money, which was a half-truth, and that they left without finding much. In the detective’s search of the house, they came across my engagement ring. I told them that I had thrown it in hopes that they wouldn’t find it and take it. They tried calling the number on record for Carolyn to confirm my story of why I was there, but they had no luck. They ended up letting me go after a few hours.
Over the next few weeks, I had my name officially changed to Vivian Crane, and I went on living in the lake house. I still thought about Tino all the time despite my trying not to. Something had felt wrong for a long time when I was there with him. The whispers, his coming home late, the black eyes, and his nonchalant trips to the E.R. were all signs that I had chose not to read for a long time, but I couldn’t go on living a life where violence was sitting on the doorstep waiting to pounce at the first visitor. The vision of Tino lying in that hospital bed will never leave my mind. I didn’t want to be married to someone whom I would fear for every time he left my sight. I always sat waiting, half-way expecting to get a phone call any minute, hearing that he had been either arrested or was dead. What kind of life is that?It’s all over now. While I was trying to pick up the pieces and force other pieces into this new life of mine, I felt like something still wasn’t right.
On February 29th, I decided that it was time. I got up that morning, went into the bathroom, and waited while three minutes went by in what seemed like hours. I stood over the counter as I watched the pink cross slowly develop in the narrow rectangular screen of a pregnancy test. Memories of my love with Tino flooded my mind. I could see us as one normal family, but that was only a dream. That can never be. Fear started to creep into a thought, but it was voided by my reflection. I looked at my new self in the mirror and knew that Carolyn couldn’t have handled this alone. I ran my fingers down my developing scar and knew that Vivian could.
– Vanessa K. EcclesVanessa K. Eccles is the founder and executive editor of Belle Reve Literary Journal. She has an English degree from Troy University, and her work has been published by Deep South Magazine, Suite T,Wisdom Crieth Without, and The Story Shack. She is the author of Psalms of Me and is currently working on a YA novel.