VIEWS: 12 PAGES: 27 POSTED ON: 2/13/2010
An End 1 AN END A chilled rain blanketed the cemetery where the mourners stood, each a black clad individual a world unto his or herself, trapped in private thoughts. Jeanie could only stare as the coffin sank into the ground, taking with it the body of a man she had loved, once upon a time. Her father had once been her hero, her solid ground. How easily she had forgotten all those years ago that he was a businessman above all else, and a good businessman never chose family over opportunity if he could help it. Jeanie lifted her chin, glancing out over the sea of solemn faces, wondering how many of them really cared that he was gone. How many of them had he abandoned for his petty ambition? She knew of at least one other. How lucky Amber was to be living in England, so far removed from this awful ceremony. Kind words were said, hands were shaken, and Jeanie couldn‟t help but notice the great sigh of relief heaved by the crowd. The deed was now done. They could leave at last. „May the man rest in peace,‟ each face in the crowd seemed to say. „Lord knows we don‟t want him back.‟ Jeanie shifted her purse on her shoulder, thanked the man next to her for attending, and made to leave when, suddenly, something caught the corner of her eye. Black hair, black as her own, straight and loose. Amber had always worn her hair loose. Without pausing to consider her actions, Jeanie hurried forward and grasped the girl‟s jacket, but even as she did so, she realized with a sinking feeling that this was not An End 2 her sister. The girl turned around, eyes wide. Shamefully, Jeanie realized that this girl was a scant fifteen or sixteen years old, nothing near Amber‟s true age. Her hair wasn‟t even quite straight enough to be Amber. “Can I help you?” The girl squeaked. Jeanie smiled apologetically. “Sorry, dear,” She said lowly. “I mistook you for someone else.” Jeanie bid farewell to the poor, frightened little thing and hurried back to the safety of her car. Once she was out of the rain, she hurriedly switched on the radio and heater, shivering away to the sound of some random pop song as the car warmed too slowly. o-o-o Dark woods surrounded her. Dark woods with nothing but the promise of fear and tragedy. Jeanie stumbled through the underbrush, the hems of her great skirt catching on thorn bushes and the outstretched limbs of withering trees, her heart thudding with painful resonance in her ears as she choked down the thick air. How was she here again? How was she back at this dreadful place? Blindly, Jeanie stumbled through the black woods into a clearing. She breathed a sigh of relief, placing a hand on her heaving breast. Some open space at last. Suddenly, something thick and warm dripped onto her face. Startled, Jeanie pressed her finger against it, and knew immediately what it was. “No,” she murmured, clenching her fists. “It’s just sap… it’s just tree sap…” The blood of lost girls trickled down from the trees, cleverly disguised as the blood of trees. Jeanie cried out as it rained down in her, staining the dress she wore. Beatrice Bow’s dress… her dress now. An End 3 “This can’t be happening,” she whimpered, shutting her eyes and pressing her fists against her temples. The bloody sap soaked through her dress, staining her skin. Oh Lord… it was never going to come off. She would walk forever with skin as red as the blood of those she had not joined. Panicked, Jeanie began to rub her hands together, hoping to scrape some of the blood off, but there was always more to replace it. The trees would never stop bleeding. “Do not shun their memory thus,” a deep voice rumbled. Jeanie started and whirled around, searching for the mysterious entity in the gloom of the forest. Only darkness met her widened eyes. She crossed her arms over her fluttering stomach, struggling to summon courage from God only knew where. “I know who you are,” she whispered to the blackness. “I know what you are.” Only silence answered her. Jeanie swallowed, her mouth painfully dry. A slight trembling overtook her hands, and soon the rest of her body. “Y-You’re the Fairy King,” she stammered. “A Quinkan. But I know how to get rid of you. I did it before, I can do it again.” “Would you really burn me, my dear Jeanie?” The voice growled softly. Jeanie gritted her teeth. “I’ll do whatever it takes to be rid of you once and for all!” she cried. The voice rumbled in laughter, echoing through the clearing as though the Quinkan was everywhere at once. Jeanie turned slowly, peering through the dark trees for some sign of the creature. Something stirred on the other side of the clearing. Jeanie gasped and backed away, suddenly painfully aware that she had no weapon. She didn’t even have a means An End 4 of starting a fire. How was she supposed to defeat this thing when the last time had been an accident? The Quinkan strode through the underbrush, its movements too smooth to be human. Horrified, Jeanie placed a hand over her mouth to keep from crying out as tears sprang to her eyes. This was it. She should have run when she had the chance. The Quinkan emerged at the edge of the clearing, its viscous form hazy and indistinct. Slowly, the darkness of the Quinkan lightened. The creature took on a definite shape, with distinct features. A dark, ornate dress nearly as old as Jeanie’s own. Slim, feminine hands. Hair… hair straight and dark as Jeanie’s, and always loose. “Amber,” Jeanie croaked as her sister materialized before her. Amber glanced around the clearing for a moment, dazed, until her dark eyes fixed on Jeanie. “Go ahead and get rid of me, then,” the apparition murmured. “You promised, didn’t you?” o-o-o Jeanie started awake, shivering under the find sheen of sweat that glistened on her gooseflesh-covered skin. Her heart throbbed painfully in her chest at the memory of that horrid clearing. Even after all these years, it continued to frighten her. Few of her dreams took her out of the now-gone school and into the surrounding bush lands. It always came as a shock when she stood under those bloody trees in Beatrice Bow‟s dress. “Oh, Amber,” she murmured, pinching the bridge of her nose with one hand. These were the times when Jeanie missed her sister the most. Amber was perhaps the only person in the world she could confide in about this. Even Ms. Anu, her old An End 5 teacher and companion in the horrific events of Greenwich Private College, had not experienced the true horror of the Quinkan as Amber and Jeanie had. Jeanie started as the ear-shattering buzz of her doorbell pierced the still air of her apartment. Jeanie made to climb out of bed to answer it, but tripped in the bed sheets she had become entangled in during the course of her nightmare. The doorbell buzzed again. “Coming!” Jeanie called, extracting herself from the sheets. Flustered, barefoot, and utterly unfit for company, she hurried to the door. She hoped it wasn‟t her boss. She did not need him to see her or her house like this. Of course, if worse came to worse, she could blame her abysmal appearance on grief for her father. Yes, that would work. Her boss didn‟t know how estranged she was from the rest of her family, after all. Jeanie pulled open the door, prepared to deliver an eloquent apology about the state of her appearance and the disarray of her house, but the words died on her lips. Amber stood in the doorway, enveloped in a great tweed overcoat, purse in hand, eyes staring at nothing in particular. At the sight of her sister, Amber‟s eyes cleared and she allowed a slight smile to touch her lips. “Jeanie,” she said, bowing her head. Jeanie‟s breath caught in her chest. After all these years, her sister had finally returned to Australia. Unable to control herself, Jeanie threw herself at her sister, hugging her close and laughing gaily. Amber stiffened under the affection, as she always had, but relaxed slowly into the embrace. They stood there for a time, hugging one another, and Jeanie An End 6 allowed herself to believe that Amber was really in her apartment after all this time. At last, Jeanie broke away, beaming down at her sister. “Well, come in,” she breathed, her face flushed. Amber smiled and stepped timidly inside the apartment, shutting the door behind her. She lifted her chin, pursing her lips as she surveyed the room. “You haven‟t changed all that much,” she remarked. “There‟s just no one around to tell you to clean up.” “Oh, right,” Jeanie laughed weakly, glancing over at the train wreck that was her living room and kitchen. “Well, it‟s a small apartment, and when work is as busy as it‟s been lately, it doesn‟t take long at all for the mess to accumulate.” “I understand.” Amber smiled at her knowingly. “You should see my flat right now. It‟s a disaster.” “Right, you‟re going to have to tell me all about England,” Jeanie insisted, taking her sister‟s hand in hers. Had Amber‟s hand always been this small? She shook the thought from her head. “First, though, I‟ll make us some breakfast and you can tell me what you‟re doing here.” “Oh. Sure,” Amber replied with a shrug that Jeanie remembered well. She suppressed a shiver as Amber strode toward the kitchen, her steps careful, her body sagging with weariness. It was probably jet lag, she told herself, but she could not help but remember Amber in those last few days before Greenwich College had burned to the ground. She had been weary then, too. Jeanie pinched herself. Time to wake up, now. There was breakfast to cook and she had no time to ponder events that had long passed. An End 7 Amber sat at the table as Jeanie set to clearing the clutter in the kitchen enough to fry the two of them a decent breakfast of eggs and bacon. In the mad rush of work and the funeral, she had eaten nothing but energy bars for breakfast for close to two weeks now. Nevertheless, a half an hour later Jeanie set two plates piled with recognizable eggs and bacon on the table, soon followed by two mugs steaming with straight, black coffee. Amber glanced down at the plate, the vague fog dissipating slightly. Delicately, she picked up a fork and began poking at the eggs for a few seconds before taking a dainty bite. Jeanie sat down opposite her and went through her breakfast with considerably more vigor. “So,” Jeanie said after a healthy swallow of coffee. “Your paintings have been selling, have they?” “Yes,” Amber replied, her eyes going misty once more as a disconcerted expression came over her face. “Surprisingly well.” “Well, that‟s good, isn‟t it?” Jeanie prompted. Amber frowned and shook her head. “Those people who buy my paintings… they don‟t even comprehend. They aren‟t witnessing anything.” “Witnessing?” Jeanie set down her fork and leaned forward, her eyes flicking across Amber‟s face. Amber shifted uncomfortably under the scrutiny. “You understand,” Amber sighed. “You just don‟t remember.” Jeanie‟s stomach turned suddenly. Her mind went back there, to those awful dark woods with the bleeding trees. The haunting memory of so many dead girls watching her An End 8 every move. The dark voice calling out to her, taunting her as she trembled in Beatrice Bow‟s ruined dress. “I remember more than enough,” Jeanie murmured, glancing up at her sister. Amber stared intently back, triggering a nervous tremor down her spine. She should have grown accustomed to this by now. Amber had taken to staring at things like that ever since the fire, but there was no accepting those unearthly eyes. “So, tell me why you‟re here,” Jeanie said, praying this change of subject would steer the conversation into a more comfortable place. “You missed dad‟s funeral, unfortunately. Did you come here because of that?” “Not entirely,” Amber replied cryptically, setting her fork down and folding her hands in her lap. “But his death did help me with this decision. I don‟t have much reason left to put it off.” Her eyes went suddenly hard and flinty, as they always did when Amber was summoning the strength to do or say something that frightened her. Jeanie swallowed and leaned forward, wishing only to take her sister‟s hand in her own. “Go on,” Jeanie urged quietly. Amber clenched her jaw. “Jeanie, I‟m going to need your help, so please accept this with an open mind,” Amber said firmly. “Just tell me.” “I want to return to Greenwich Private-” Crash! An End 9 Jeanie sprang up from the table, eyes wide, chest heaving, heart racing as the words echoed in a maddening cacophony inside of her skull. She barely took notice of the coffee that spread slowly across her floor from the shattered mug. All she could see was her sister sitting serenely in that too-big coat, her eyes flinty and unhappy. “Your memories of that place have been nightmares lately, haven‟t they?” Amber persisted softly. “Imagine how much worse they are for me. I see not only my own experiences but the horror that Mary Spector knew before she, too, was possessed. After all, we were possessed by the same Quinkan.” “What are you talking about?” Jeanie hissed, her sudden anger surprising even her. “You have amnesia. You couldn‟t even remember your name for days after.” “I had amnesia,” Amber interjected, her face still an icy mask of calm. “A year ago, everything came back to me. For the first time, I could interpret the dreams I had, dreams in which I walked through those lonely halls that I know you walk night after night. I remembered Millie‟s death, the ghosts, and even the secret I shared with you in the last moments before I was possessed.” Amber rose from her chair, her hands crossed demurely in front of her like a high- born lady. “I didn‟t die, that day I was hit by the car,” Amber whispered fiercely. “And I have not died since. I can cut myself, break my arm, fall ill, but I can never die. I can‟t say for certain, but I think I know the reason why.” “That has nothing to do with Greenwich, Amber,” Jeanie argued. “Your accident occurred before we ever went there.” An End 10 “You used to play mirror games,” Amber went on, her eyes flashing. “I remember how much you loved them, but you were never affected by the supernatural forces you summoned.” She raised her chin. “Who do you think was?” “Amber…” “I know you lied to me about the mirror game at Greenwich,” Amber accused. “And, as always, I was made to the bear the burden in your stead, as your twin and your sacrificial lamb.” “Amber, I never meant to-” Amber slammed her fists down on the table, knocking over her own coffee mug. Her face contorted in anger as her shoulders began to quiver under the massive coat. “We‟re orphans now,” Amber snapped. “You are all I have, and I you. After all you‟ve done, I think you owe me this one thing.” Jeanie gaped for a moment, stunned by her sister‟s uncharacteristically passionate display. Hesitantly, she spoke. “The school is gone.” “I don‟t need the building.” “It‟s on the other side of Australia.” “I can drive.” Jeanie swallowed, her heart pounding in her ears at the idea of returning to that awful place. The last time she had made the long journey, she had been young, excited, and trusting of her dear Aunt Jessie. Greenwich Private College had been an adventure, an escape from her too-busy parents and their precious personal lives. There would be no An End 11 smiling Aunt Jessie this time. There wouldn‟t even be a gate to walk through. Only bitter memories and a severely scarred twin. Amber stared at her, the first tears pricking at her eyes. Even after all these years, she looked so young. Jeanie‟s heart ached for her younger sister, and despite all logic, she suspected that Amber was probably right. Whether or not Amber‟s immunity to death was a result of the mirror games, Jeanie knew for certain that she had accidentally set the Quinkan that had once possessed Mary Spector on her sister. It truly was her fault. “Oh, Amber,” Jeanie sighed, folding her arms across her chest. “What do you need me for? Can you really not go by yourself?” “I can‟t,” Amber insisted. “Please, Jeanie, I need you.” “What for, though?” Amber pulled back, her eyes widening slightly. “To witness.” “Witness?” Jeanie repeated, her voice soft and tense. “Witness what?” Immediately, the flint in Amber‟s eyes faded and she lowered her head. “I‟m not going to tell you,” she said simply. “Why not?” “Because it would upset you,” Amber replied, raising her head ever so slightly. “But you already knew that, didn‟t you?” Jeanie stiffened momentarily, before forcing herself to relax. “Maybe I did,” she admit. “Maybe I wanted your answer to be something else.” An End 12 “Well, it wasn‟t,” Amber said shortly. “I‟m sorry, Jeanie, but it‟s your turn to be upset. Now, where‟s the guest bed?.” o-o-o The dark woods reached out to her, gnarled and twisted branches grasping at the eternally pristine folds of Beatrice Bow’s dress. Jeanie shied away from them, one hand on her chest, feeling the pounding of her heart. “Amber!” she called out, glancing about the shady clearing. Amber was nowhere in sight. Panicked, she rushed forward, cringing as the first of the bloody drops of sap dripped down from above, staining the dress . “Amber!” she cried again, spinning around desperately. She knew Amber was with her here somewhere. They had entered this awful place together. Suppose Amber was lost, frightened, susceptible to the… A twig snapped suddenly on the other side of the clearing. Jeanie yelped and whirled around, but only the thick, gloomy air of the forest met her eyes. “Amber,” she whispered. “I’m here,” a thin voice answered. Jeanie’s heart jumped into her throat as she turned. Amber. She stood alone, her thin frame encased in Mary Specter’s dark, luxurious dress, her eyes downcast. Jeanie strode forward, a smile breaking on her face despite the gloom of the trees and the ghastly crimson sap that stained her face. A dark shadow stirred suddenly at Amber’s shoulder. Jeanie froze, her eyes widening as the shadow twisted, wrapping a tendril of darkness about her sister’s shoulders. Amber stood motionless, barely conscious of what happened to her. An End 13 “No,” Jeanie whispered, her heart throbbing. Not again. Not when she finally had her sister back. “No, go back! She isn’t yours!” “She is mine,” the voice of the hateful Quinkan rumbled. “You offered her to me, and I took her.” “Well I took her back!” Jeanie shouted, balling her hands into fists. The voice chuckled throatily. “You did no such thing,” The Quinkan argued. “She never ceased to be mine.” “You can’t do this,” Jeanie insisted, stumbling forward through the gloom, the sticky, stained dress sagging heavily on her frame. “I can.” “Please, she’s my only family!” Jeanie begged. “Don’t take her from me. Not now.” “She has not been yours for years!” The voice roared. “You have no claim on her.” “Amber,” Jeanie said hoarsely, reaching out one hand. “Amber, look up. It’s your sister, Jeanie. Look at me, Amber.” Amber tilted her head lazily to one side, her eyes rising languidly until they met Jeanie’s. There was no willful flint in those dark depths, no sign of emotion or distress. Slowly, as though she moved through molasses, Amber shook her head from side to side. “No!” Jeanie shrieked, stumbling forward, her arms outstretched, but Beatrice Bow’s dress was so heavy! An End 14 The Quinkan wrapped another black tendril about Amber’s body and drew her close. Amber surrendered to the embrace, her eyes shutting as she leaned back, dissolving into the darkness. o-o-o Jeanie started awake, only to find herself painfully aware of the stiff ache in her neck, shoulders, and back. She had fallen asleep in the car seat again. She glanced out the misty window at a dingy-looking gas station, its paint eroding in the steady rain that fell over them. Dimly, she spotted the figure of Amber in that tweed coat at the counter, speaking with the clerk. Heaving a sigh, Jeanie unbuckled her seatbelt and reached into the back seat, seizing the fluffy fleece blanket a co-worker had given her for Christmas a year or so ago. Just as she wrapped the blanket about her shoulders, the car door opened. In went a bag of groceries, first, soon followed by Amber‟s damp frame. “You‟re awake,” she remarked pleasantly. “Good. I just got some snack cakes. Your favorite kind.” Jeanie grunted softly as Amber tossed her a chocolate cream-filled cake. Her stomach growled softly, enticed by the promise of food, though Jeanie herself couldn‟t have cared less about it. Nevertheless, she opened the plastic wrapping as Amber climbed into the driver‟s seat and took a small bite out of the cake. It felt like ground rubber in her mouth. Jeanie forced herself to swallow before setting her snack aside. “Are you going to eat anything?” she asked as Amber started up the car. Amber shook her head, easing the car back out onto the road. An End 15 “No,” she replied. “I grabbed something from a fast food place while you were asleep. I‟m surprised you never noticed, but you were pretty out of it.” “Guess I was,” Jeanie muttered, leaning back into her seat. Amber stared out at the road, her eyes so distant that Jeanie began to suspect that she oughtn‟t be driving. Jeanie kept the thought to herself, though. If Amber had taken them this far without incident, they would probably reach Greenwich without delay. Unfortunately. “Did you have a nightmare?” Amber asked suddenly, her eyes still on the road. Jeanie glanced over, momentarily startled. Neither Amber‟s posture nor her expression had changed. She might as well have not said anything at all. Uncertainly, Jeanie shifted in her seat. “Yeah,” she mumbled in reply. “I did.” “Was it terrible?” Amber pressed on. “Of course, Amber. It was a nightmare.” “Was it more terrible than the others?” Amber clarified, sparing a brief glance across the seat. Jeanie swallowed. “I guess,” she admit. “I mean, you were in it, and you were in trouble. That made it a bit more unsettling.” Amber nodded knowingly. “I understand,” she said gently. “My dreams have been getting worse, too. I think it‟s because we‟re twins. Twins were always bad luck out in the bush lands.” “Then why are we going back?” Jeanie demanded, sitting up in her seat. An End 16 This time, Amber glanced completely over, her eyes once again wide. “I told you,” Amber insisted. “I need you to witness.” “And I told you I didn‟t understand.” Amber sighed, reluctantly turning back to face the road, her jaw clenched in obvious frustration. “I thought you would understand by now,” she bit. “You‟re the witness to the events that occurred at Greenwich.” “But why am I the witness? I don‟t understand,” Jeanie persisted. “Just because I‟m your twin doesn‟t mean I can read your mind.” Amber sighed and tilted her head to one side. Her lips went very thin as she focused on the road ahead. “The first time the Quinkan disrupted the school,” Amber clarified. “There was a set of twins. Beatrice Bow became the witness when all the events had passed because she was the only one who truly knew what happened. She never married, never even really left the school, because the burden of being the witness to those terrible events prevented it. The Quinkan disrupted the school again, and this time you remained, bearing the knowledge of the truth beyond any of the rest of us. The building may be gone, but the events still happened, and you still have the responsibility to honor those events at the witness.” Jeanie kept her lips decidedly clamped shut and burrowed deeper into the blanket, gritting her teeth as an unwelcome chill ran down her spine. She didn‟t want to discourage Amber in this instance, especially not after all those cursed mirror games, but it was such an effort not to blurt out the truth of the matter. There was none of her An End 17 superstition involved. There were only the Quinkan, and Jeanie was certain Amber wouldn‟t find the answer to her strange affliction in that horrid place. She was only reacting poorly to their father‟s death. Her timing couldn‟t have spoken more clearly, and now she had fabricated this outlandish explanation to hide her true fear. Witness and purpose be damned, this trip was ludicrous and it was about to get them killed. “Amber,” Jeanie ventured gently. “Do you think that maybe… you aren‟t taking dad‟s death as well as you should?” Amber stiffened, her knuckles tightening around the steering wheel. “I don‟t want to talk about dad.” “But you said he had something to do with this,” Jeanie argued. “You didn‟t react this way when mom died, or when Aunt Jessie went missing. I know you and dad were close when you were a kid, but-” “His death was a shock,” Amber stated plainly. “And I needed a shock to push me into action. Nothing more, nothing less.” “Amber, don‟t you think talking about it might be a better idea than taking us off on some suicidal road trip to the place where you-” “Hush!” “No, I won‟t!” The car wheels screeched as Amber slammed suddenly on the brakes, nearly jolting Jeanie out of her seat. Angrily, Amber turned her flinty eyes on Jeanie‟s still form. “We‟ve entered the bush lands,” Amber murmured. An End 18 Startled, Jeanie whirled around and glanced out the window. As far as she could see, the bush lands stretched endlessly around them, trapping them, save for the lonely road behind. Their only link to civilization. Her heart sank. “It‟s less tame than it was the last time we were here,” Amber went on softly. “There are fewer people and fewer fires to frighten the Quinkan. Be quiet. Finish your breakfast. We‟ll be there soon.” Jeanie swallowed feebly and stared out the window as Amber eased the car forward once again. Trees rushed by in dark blurs of dead branches and decaying leaves, the products of too-few fires to purge the dead matter. It made a grim sort of sense. Quinkan hated fire and smoke, after all. Something dark flicked between the trees. Jeanie started and yelped, her hand flying over her mouth as the mysterious form disappeared into the gloom of the forest. “Hush,” Amber cautioned, her eyes never leaving the overgrown road before them. Jeanie stilled, wrapping the fleece blanket still tighter about her frame as she attempted to count her heartbeats. One, two, three… ignore the shadow in the trees. Four, five, six… she shut her eyes, willing her imagination not to fabricate what awaited them at the end of the road. The car bounced suddenly over a rock in the road, causing Jeanie‟s heart to flutter so wildly that she lost count. How long this went on, Jeanie did not care to know. At long last, the car ground to a halt, leaving Jeanie to feel very still and small in her blanket. Amber pulled the key An End 19 from the ignition and dropped it into her coat pocket before slipping out among the wild trees. “Wait!” Jeanie called, scrambling out of her seat and joining her sister in the dank, woody air. Immediately, her heart contracted and she reached out to grip Amber‟s cold hand. “Don‟t worry,” Amber assured her. “You‟ll be all right. I was just going to the trunk.” “Oh, right,” Jeanie said bashfully, making to pull her hand from her sister‟s grasp. To her relief, Amber held firm, half dragging her to the trunk as she clicked it open. “I wanted to show you that,” Amber explained, gesturing to a large, lumpy suitcase tucked reverently in the corner. “And what, uh, is that?” Jeanie asked uncomfortably. Amber smiled knowingly. “They‟re my paintings,” she explained. “The ones I couldn‟t bear to part with. Everything is going to end up fine by the end of today, because you‟re going to return home and keep them. I really can‟t bear to see them anymore and, well, being what you are, it‟s more fitting that you keep them, isn‟t it?” “Amber, why couldn‟t you just sell them like all the others? Why do you need me to take them?” Amber smiled wryly and glanced away. “They were… personal. Paintings of Mary Spector, of Greenwich, even a couple of the Quinkan. They weren‟t as abstract as the others. You‟ll understand when you see them later. It just wasn‟t right.” An End 20 Jeanie squirmed as something cold sank into the pit of her stomach. “You weren‟t lying before,” she murmured. “You really have recovered all your memories.” “And more,” Amber answered, shutting the trunk door. “Let‟s go.” Amber turned and made her way out into the thick undergrowth with Jeanie hot on her heels, snapping twigs and rustling bushes in order to frighten away potential predators. Whether or not Amber minded the noise was unclear. She kept her head steady, her eyes forward as she pushed through the gloom. Jeanie took a deep breath and purposefully stepped on a twig. It seemed that the only noise in these woods at all was that which she made. Was everything here so dead after all these years? “Amber,” she whispered, desperate to alleviate the silence that weighed her down. “You never told me what I was here to witness.” Amber stilled and sighed deeply, one hand curling absently around a small branch. “An end,” she said softly. “Please, be quiet until we reach the clearing.” Jeanie wanted to point out that Amber didn‟t know where the clearing was, that she had never been in these woods, but she knew better. Amber had probably walked this very path, overgrown though it now was, countless times in dreams and memories over the years. Jeanie peered at her sister. Amber looked smaller than ever, her tweed coat nearly falling off. But in spite of it, she appeared more resolute than Jeanie could ever recall. An End 21 Without warning, Jeanie burst into the dim light of the clearing. Amber stood before her, peering upward. A drop of red sap fell onto Amber‟s face, sliding down her cheek like a bloody tear. “Now we can speak,” Amber murmured, her eyes flicking over. Jeanie swallowed thickly and folded her arms. “And now I don‟t even know what to say,” Jeanie replied, glancing about. Somehow, despite the years, the clearing hadn‟t changed at all. It was just as dank and eerily beautiful as ever. A drop of red sap fell onto her sleeve. “All right, then,” Amber said. She knelt down to her knees, folding her hands daintily in her lap. “We can wait.” “For what?” “The Quinkan,” Amber said plainly, shutting her eyes. “The what?” Jeanie gasped. Ice flowed through her veins as the full meaning struck her. Panicked, she rushed to Amber‟s side and seized her shoulders. “Are you out of your mind?” Amber cracked open her eyes. “I know what I‟m doing,” Amber insisted softly. “No you don’t!” Jeanie cried, giving Amber a rough shake. “Amber, those things possessed Mary Spector, possessed you! They killed Millie, they overran the school, they-” “They are the answer,” Amber said, unfazed by her sister‟s fear. “Dammit, Amber!” Jeanie shouted, shoving her twin back and jumping to her feet. Her heart throbbed, her hands shook. Anxiously, she began to pace. “I can‟t An End 22 believe I let you bring me here,” she raved. “I thought you would get it out of your system before you decided to do something this crazy!” Dark shadows danced in the trees around them, causing Jeanie‟s stomach to knot in terror. But rather than give in to the fear that was soon to set in, Jeanie used it to fuel her anger. “If I had known about the mirror games, I swear to God I‟d never have played them,” she yelled. “But that‟s not good enough for you, is it? Is all this some sort of revenge? Because of the mirror games? Because I was there when dad died and you weren‟t? Because I wasn‟t the one possessed? Tell me, Amber, I‟d love to know why you think bringing us here to die was such a good idea!” The wind began to pick up, tugging at Jeanie‟s hair. From somewhere deep in the woods a low, rumbling rhythm began to grow. Amber‟s hands clenched in her lap as she glanced up, eyes wide. “Jeanie, I-” A great splintering sound tore through the clearing. Jeanie gasped and stared upward as a great, ancient oak tree tumbled down, straight toward her. Before she could react, a pair of hands reached out, connecting with her shoulder, shoving her out of the way. The ground rushed up, knocking roughly into Jeanie‟s shoulder as the dreadful crash reverberated through the clearing. Trees shook, and for a moment the sky seemed to rain red sap until they stilled. More light filtered into the wood, illuminating the thin figure in a tweed coat pinned beneath the tree‟s deadened trunk. An End 23 “Amber!” Jeanie shrieked, leaping ot her feet. Amber didn‟t move. Hot tears burned behind Jeanie‟s eyes as she stumbled forward, dropping down again when she came to her sister‟s side. “Oh, Amber,” she sobbed, reaching out shakily to brush the back of her sister‟s hand. Suddenly, Amber stirred and moaned. Jeanie started back, eyes wide. Amber pushed herself up onto her elbows, her face twisted into a pained grimace. “Help me out,” Amber grunted. Stunned, Jeanie seized her sister‟s hands and pulled. Amber twisted and wriggled, her great coat tearing until she managed to work her way free. Jeanie stared in awe as Amber stood up straight, not perturbed in the slightest by the incident. “Do you believe me now?” Wordlessly, Jeanie nodded. “As do I,” a voice called out. Both twins jumped and turned as a woman in a Victorian dress strode through the clearing. Her pretty face was calm, even pleased. Her short hair shone in the dim light, though most of it was hidden beneath her hat. She stopped several yards away, cocking her head to one side. A pleasant smile graced her lips, seeming somehow outlandish. “You‟re the orphan,” Amber stated. “The one who started this whole mess.” “Don‟t talk to her,” Jeanie hissed, edging in front of her sister. “She‟s a Quinkan.” “Yes, I am,” the girl said. “Pity that tree didn‟t hit you.” “She‟s the witness, she can‟t afford to die.” Amber insisted. An End 24 “I know,” the girl sighed. “Too bad, that. You would have made a much better witness, my dear.” The girl took several steps forward, her eyes fixed on Amber. “You cannot die but for old age, and you have so many more memories to keep. Beatrice Bow couldn‟t even hold all her own memories, you know. Some witness she turned out to be. Even so, I will so enjoy making this form of yours one of ours.” The girl reached out, brushing her fingers against Amber‟s cheek. “Don‟t touch her!” Jeanie snapped, swinging her arm out with the intention of slapping the Quinkan. Rather than meeting flesh, her hand passed right through as though striking nothing more than smoke. The Quinkan-girl glanced over, annoyed. “Your duty is to witness,” the girl bit icily. “She was the be the twelfth all those years ago. She has come to fulfill her purpose as you will fulfill yours.” Jeanie made to swing again, even knowing that it would accomplish nothing. Amber held up one hand and shook her head. “Please, Jeanie,” she pleaded. “I want this.” A lump of ice dropped into Jeanie‟s stomach. “What?” Amber smiled at her. “You look cold,” she remarked, stripping off the ruined tweed coat and handing it to her. Jeanie gasped at the sight of Amber‟s bare body. Scars criss-crossed her flesh over a too-thin frame, pink, white and red, shining and dull. Jeanie swallowed, her fingers unable to grasp the coat, which fell limply to the ground. “Amber,” she whispered in shock. An End 25 Amber sighed, glancing down at her battered body. “I can‟t die, but I can scar,” she explained softly. “For a while, I developed a bit of a superhero complex. Car crashes, muggers, fires… I was at all of them. Then, I started to hate it. I had to know if I could ever… but nothing worked. I was trapped in this body, uncertain of whether I was Amber or Mary, human or ghost... It‟s time to end all of that.” Jeanie stared on in horror as Amber turned back to the Quinkan, who raised her chin. “You‟re ready, then?” the girl asked. Amber nodded. “Is there any wish you would have me grant in return?” “Don‟t harm my sister when she leaves,” Amber stated simply. The Quinkan nodded in compliance and took Amber‟s hand. The wind started to pick up again. “Amber wait!” Jeanie cried. “We can find another way!” “I‟ll say hello to mom and dad for you,” Amber replied. Somewhere in the woods, the low, wicked chanting picked up. Jeanie rushed forward to seize her sister, pull her away from the Quinkan‟s grasp. Her hand passed right through Amber‟s scarred shoulder, as though just a moment ago she hadn‟t been flesh and bone. Amber turned and smiled at her, her face relaxed for the first time in years. The girl began to dissolve into thin air. Amber soon followed, fading from the world. Jeanie could only watch in shock as her sister disappeared before her eyes. An End 26 The wind died down, and all of a sudden, Jeanie was alone. That was it, then. Amber was dead, and her body would be given to another Quinkan. There was no point in staying. Shakily, Jeanie retrieved the coat, checking to make sure the car keys were still in the pocket. They were. She turned numbly trudged back into the forest, not daring to look back. The trek back to the car almost didn‟t seem to happen. This time, she felt no fear for the forest creatures. All there was now was a great, gaping emptiness. Jeanie stored the coat in the trunk of the car next to the paintings, which she chose not to look at until she was home. Shivering, she climbed into the driver‟s seat and shut the door. That was it, then. She was alone. Jeanie started up the car and turned on the radio, desperate to bury the memory in whatever was blaring over the speakers. Once she had chosen a sufficiently loud and raucous station, she reached into the glove box to retrieve a memo pad and an old pen. There was only one person she knew of in the world who she could tell this bizarre story to. Whether or not Ms. Anu would believe her was to be determined, but Jeanie decided to write anyway, and send the letter off at the first post office she passed on the way home. Ms. Anu, It’s finally over. If you can recall what happened at Greenwich private college, you can recall that Amber was supposed to be the last girl taken by the Quinkan. We saved her then, but that stopped the whole affair from ending. Well, Amber went and saw to it that it ended. I think, at least I hope, that she, too, is happy with her decision. I will write a longer letter detailing the events in full on a later date. An End 27 Sign, Jeanie Jeanie set the memo pad in the passenger seat, the seat she herself had occupied not too long ago, and hit the accelerator. As she pulled up to the lot of the old, burned down school, to make a u-turn, something caught the corner or her eye. A figure stood alone in the woods, dark hair blowing over a thin, scarred frame. Jeanie bit the inside of her cheek and stared pointedly at the road and accelerated. She had to get home. There was a letter to mail, work to do, and a sister to grieve. As she pulled out of woods and back onto the asphalt road, Jeanie became aware of a dull ache in her chest. Amber was gone. She was really, truly gone. There was nothing to do now but remember.
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