Back in the kitchen, Laurie located Dora Lorton’s phone number on the pad beside the phone and dialed it. It rang several times without answer, and Laurie was just about to hang up when the ringing stopped. Silence simmered in her ear but no one said a word.
“Hello?” said Laurie. She thought she heard someone breathing.
“Who’s this?” It was Dora Lorton’s clipped, businesslike voice.
“Ms. Lorton, this is Laurie Genarro. I hope I’m not disturbing you. Do you have a moment to talk?”
The woman exhaled loudly on the other end of the phone. Laurie thought she heard a TV on in the background. “What is it?”
“I wanted to ask you about the little girl who lives next door,” Laurie said, searching now for a sign of Abigail through the bay windows as she spoke. “Do you know her?”
“There is no little girl who lives next door.”
Laurie thought she had misheard the woman. “The little girl with the long reddish-brown hair. Surely you’ve seen her. She plays in the yard.”
“There is no girl who lives next door,” Dora repeated. “The Rosewoods live next door and they do not have any children.”
“Their last name isn’t Evans?”
“No. There are no families named Evans that I am aware of on Annapolis Road, or anywhere else in the neighborhood for that matter.”
My name is Lisbeth Usher. I am cursed by beauty, the delicate beauty of a dewdrop, which lasts for but a few moments. Three days ago I could leave the house without fear. Three days ago, I had a future.
Then my sister, Honoria, put on her best dress, the one she was supposed to wear on her wedding day, and went up to the widow’s walk. No one was with her when she jumped. But I suspect that she it solemnly. Honoria did everything solemnly. She rarely smiled. Now that the curse has passed to me, I understand why.
I will not succumb. I will not. Unlike Honoria, who passed the curse to me, I will protect our youngest sister. I will not die. The house has claimed my mother and my sister. But I will prevail. In the end I will laugh at all of them, wringing their hands and wailing about being consumed by the House of Usher.
Night smothered the last crimson streak of sunlight. I had no lantern. At the cemetery’s edge, the trees jabbed the heavens. The bats winged from their roots in the forest, their bodies taking flight like charred bits of paper.
I didn’t go home.
I spread myself flat on top of a grave, my back to the earth while the night swam. The dirt beneath me was chilled, but I scarcely felt it. I didn’t want to feel anything.
There’d be no forgiveness, no mending of broken threads. Such things couldn’t be restitched.
I heard once that long-term isolation can have an effect most wicked on even the most competent of minds and seasoned mountain men, and also that guilt on its own is capable of ruin. By the time I met Henry the post boy in Crispin’s Peak while I was in for supplies with my pa, I’d experienced both, and my mind was eaten with rot.
I believe a part of myself may have died last winter.
“I’m not a superhero,” I say. It’s an awful tag. It’s egotistical, and it doesn’t fit. I don’t parade around in spandex. I don’t do what I do and receive accolades and keys to cities. I work in the dark, killing what should have stayed dead. If people knew what I was up to, they’d probably try to stop me. The idiots would take Casper’s side, and then I’d have to kill Casper and them after Casper bit their throats out. I’m no superhero. If anything, I’m Rorschach from Watchmen. I’m Grendel. I’m the survivor in Silent Hill.
This city smells like smoke and things that rot in the summer. It’s more haunted than I thought it would be, an entire layer of activity just under the dirt: whispers behind peoples’ laughter, or movement that you shouldn’t see in the corner of your eye. Most of them are harmless-sad little cold spots or groans in the dark. Blurry patches of white that only show up in a Polaroid. I have no business with them.
But somewhere out there is one that matters. Somewhere out there is the one that I came for, on who is strong enough to squeeze the breath out of living throats.
I think of her again. Anna. Anna Dressed in Blood. I wonder what tricks she’ll try. I wonder if she’ll be clever. Will she float? Will she laugh or scream?
How will she try to kill me?
I’m terrified. I’m not afraid of much, but I’m terrified that I’ll never see my parents again. I’m afraid that my twin brother, Oliver, and I will be stuck in this place, sleeping on creaky cots, locked in a cell being guinea pigs for the rest of our lives. Is this really what’s in store for our future? Will I ever call my parents on the phone or see their smiling faces after a boring day at school? Will Olive and I ever sneak down to our secret cave hideout to just be kids? Will I ever sit with my best friend Kara giggling in the mall food court watching Colin run his kiosk?…
…When I really think about it, I suppose the worst fear I have is that all these people, and the rest of the world, know me to be dead which means there’s no chance of being found and rescued. Unless, by some miracle, we can find a way to escape, this is now my life…